You can nibble away at the edges or take one big bite, but as with any smorgasbord of delights, to truly appreciate the Victorian High Country a little bit at a time is your best bet
Being local to the Victorian High Country is one of those things I probably take for granted just a little. I have been known to rave about it to mates and colleagues from around the country but then when I am queried about where an out of state visitor should go, I have to say I am stuck for words. It is just such a large and varied area you cannot just “do the High Country” in one go. That is as stupid as the “let’s see Tassie in 2 weeks” brigade. Still pretty nice but you will not do it any justice at all. People who know it well will even struggle to tell you a favourite spot. There are just so many to consider. So I thought maybe an attempt to explain this magnificent area would be in order, knowing I am destined to fail to get it across properly because every item I have ever read on this huge area has missed the mark with me. But I will give it a guardedly feeble effort. In my mind I have sectored it according to the closest entry points so the smart traveller can check out this fantastic area in what I reckon are manageable chunks.
It is an imperfect science too so feel free to disagree with the way I have sectored the areas up. The network of tracks across and around this section of The Divide is massive. With years of pillage of these natural areas with mining, cattle use and timber collection the legacy has been some very nice access tracks so in that sense thank goodness our predecessors were so intent on profit and progress. Many are suitable for 2WD and many better for 4WD, and then a few where a proper 4WD is mandatory. If you need to ask what I mean by a proper 4WD it probably means you don’t have one. Anyway the guts of it is that you can focus on one area and do a loop trip or you can go from one area to another via loads of interconnecting roads. It really is a fantastic network that has been left behind by the logging and mining activities and these are now maintained for fire management and on-going recreational use. It is such a terrific use of our taxes in my view. In fact it is the sort of public utility that makes me happy to pay my taxes.
Caravan access is possible in many areas and it is also feasible to select a nice camp next to a river in the lower country and do day trips to explore the steeper areas. Places coming to mind include the Howqua River, the Upper Goulburn, the Wellington and McAlister Rivers and Buchan River but really there are hundreds of these places. If you prefer the amenities of a caravan park as a base camp, most of the gateway towns will have them. The gateway towns include the likes of Bairnsdale, Omeo, Mansfield and Bright, Licola, Dargo, Orbost and Maffra. But bear in mind the Victorian High Country has a profusion of free camp areas that are mind boggling in number as well as quality.
Also be aware that there are seasonal road closures in some areas, usually from Queen’s Birthday Weekend to Melbourne Cup Weekend. Some campers get a little touchy about these but the reasons are around track damage in the wet. And really, if you like cold weather camping, there remain plenty of areas readily accessible so no need to fret.
The sectors I have chosen are identified by a town or locality which tends to be the gateway to that area and a handy spot for fuel, supplies and that last latte. The idea of this is for those unfamiliar with the areas to have some names to Google to maybe look into it a little more. Anytime you get an idea generator that prompts another trip away, well, that is always a good thing in my book. So here we go, dividing and conquering in no particular order.
The Mansfield Area
Handy to Melbourne, this is an area well known for the Howqua Hills, Mounts Stirling and Buller, Cobbler and the areas up to Woods Point and the Upper Goulburn River. Many parts of this are 2WD accessible with some great camping along the valleys that wind their way into the mountain country. I could list hundreds of great camps in this area that are 2WD and even more that a 4WD with high clearance would give you. There’s a nice mix of alpine locations and river valleys and lots of fascinating gold mining history to investigate if it interests you.
Three major attractions accessed most readily from Licola include the Mt Wellington Plateau and Moroka Gorge area, the Howitt High Plains, and the Wonnangatta Valley, often referred to as the “jewel in the crown” of the Alpine National Park. This is real “Man From Snowy River Country” with numerous cattlemen huts and cattle history. Some of this is easily 2WD accessible and only about 4 hours from Melbourne. There are some easy marked trails to several waterfalls and gorges and if you are very lucky you might spot a High Country dingo. They are pretty wary so you may have to content yourself with the vast array of flowers and the local sport of whacking March flies. There are numerous ways to loop back to Licola via 4WD tracks as well so this area really has something for everyone.
Walhalla is a fascinating place to visit in its own right being the site of Victoria’s richest gold mine but it is also the central access way to the eastern side of Mt Baw Baw and the old gold mining areas around Donnelly Creek, Store Point, Aberfeldy and Jericho. There is still some logging done in the area but there are many tracks linking old town sites and mining artefacts are all over the place. A particular favourite is the old water wheel near Store Point. This stuff was too difficult to lug out at the end of its operational life so you will find some interesting bits and pieces, and with each of them you get a bit of a sense of discovery which is oddly satisfying.
This was a famous gold rush area with old town sites at Grant, Talbotville, Hogtown and Mayford rising and disappearing and leaving some beaut camping along the waterways in the area. The scenery is spectacular and many of the roads are 2WD suitable. I reckon I could easily occupy myself for 3 weeks in this particular area and for the 4WD’ers there are places like the Blue Rag Range with views that go on forever. Dargo has a profusion of easily accessed campsites along the Dargo River just north of the “town” and there are walnut trees all over the place so bring along a nut cracker.
One of the more remote areas in Victoria, Omeo is something of a crossroads with good 2WD roads providing access over The Divide via Dinner Plain back to Bright or the Omeo Highway heading north to Tallangatta and Wodonga and a good quality dirt road up to Colac Colac and Corryong. And of course there is the Great Alpine Road down to Bairnsdale. A number of 4WD trails also originate here with the Limestone Track and others taking you up towards the source of The Murray. It also has some European history that pre-dates the gold mining with settlers moving down from the Monaro Plains around 1835 so earlier than the settling of Melbourne.
Orbost and Buchan
These are the launch points for either side of the Snowy River and can be done in an interesting loop taking in the Deddick Trail and the 2WD accessible MacKillop’s Bridge. The western side via Buchan provides limited access to the Snowy but it can be done and the eastern side provides several very nice points of access to this iconic river. Just north of here via the Barry Way are Jindabyne and Thredbo for a loop around to Corryong or you can cut through the bush to Omeo via 4WD trails. As with all of these destinations there are just so many options.
Porepunkah & Bright
This is the gateway to Mt Buffalo, a stand-alone chunk of high country known as “the island in the sky” as it is an alpine plateau separate from the main Dividing Range. It is also on the self-proclaimed “Great Alpine Road” from Wangaratta to Bairnsdale. In some ways Mt Buffalo is a mini High Country with similar environments all collected into one. A highlight up there is a small camp area at Lake Catani and a number of walks up to high tors with views you could sit and look at all day.
This is the resting place of “The Man From Snowy River” and is a gateway to the upper reaches of the Murray River in the areas where it is a vibrant and clear mountain river rather than the brown and throttled waterway past Wodonga we are more familiar with. From here you can overlap with the Omeo zone with several link tracks or you can cross the border into the Kosciuszko area with Thredbo and Jindabyne nearby. The downside is that in many of the NSW areas you pay to camp and in Victoria you do not.
From Wodonga you can have a fair crack at the areas around Mitta Mitta and Lake Dartmouth as well as taking in the Falls Creek and Mount Beauty areas with good highway access to all of these. Again the bush campsites are simply too numerous to count but in this area you are a little closer to civilisation so there will also be plenty more services and luxuries on hand.
Well that is about it. I have probably left out a few sectors that would be just as worthy. All I can say is that many travellers set up a 10 week trip to go an explore deserts on the other side of the continent. It makes just as much sense to get your act together and spend 10 weeks exploring the High Country as well. Because to do it justice, that is about what it will take.
Our High Country areas only make up about 1% of Australia so it is a rare, precious and magnificent asset. Pretty much all of it is there to see for free with no bookings, hundreds and hundreds of fantastic campsites there to use (practically all for free with just the odd one with an inexplicable fee) and some of the best scenery you will see anywhere. No wonder we are called The Lucky Country. Hopefully the photos provide a little inspiration or my feeble descriptions will get you thinking . . . . . . anyway, welcome to my back yard and enjoy.