The view from the crest of Mt Selwyn was dazzling. To the north, the indented skyline of The Horn on the plateau of Mt Buffalo could be seen, while to the west was the jagged outlines of Mt Cobbler and Mt Speculation. To the south, Mt Howitt stood proud, while to the east were the high snow plains of Hotham Heights and Falls Creek. In between and all around, the ridges, peaks and valleys of the Australian Alps and the Victorian High Country filled the scene from horizon to horizon.
We had been coming to this area of north-east Victoria for more years than I care to recount, but we had never taken the Yarrabuck Track that joins the Buffalo Range Track along the high ridge that borders the Buckland Valley to the west. That was a crazy oversight, we discovered.
The track climbed from the main road at Buckland Bridge up onto the top of the ridge where we turned south. From there it had dipped and climbed along the ridgeline, clambering steeply before descending in a rush to a saddle where you could grab a breath before another long climb began. For most of the time, the 'Cruiser coped easily in third low, the track being in pretty good condition with a firm and even surface, even though it was bloody steep and narrow in places — it’s maybe not as exposed or dramatic as Billy Goat Bluff or the Blue Rag Range tracks, but it’s still a little challenging, with impressive views all round. Only on the short scramble to the crest of Mt Selwyn did I slap the gearbox into second and floor the accelerator, with the V8 responding, the Cooper STT Pro's jostling for a grip on the pot-holed shaly rock, while the suspension bucked and jostled the wagon to the top.
BACK ON ROAD OR STAY OFFROAD?
From Mt Selwyn our route dropped down the narrow Great Divide Track through a forest of dead giants that towered overhead until you meet with the Selwyn Creek Road and come to the Twins Jeep Track. From here you can follow the high ridges and cut across to Mt Murray and Mt St Bernard on the Great Alpine Road, just below the glitz and glamour of the Mt Hotham Resort.
From the junction with the Mt Selwyn Road you can head deeper into the ranges to such places as the famed Wonnangatta Valley or the old goldfields along the Crooked River. We opted to return to camp and headed north, winding downhill and meeting with the east branch of the Buckland River just before arriving at the large clearing of Beveridges Station. Named after the first pioneers here, the Beveridge brothers, who, in the mid-1800s, had some large parcels of land in the High Country, including this delightful clearing beside the river. Today a section of the cleared land is in the Alpine National Park, while downstream the area is private grazing land, marked by the ruins of an old shack that's slowly succumbing to the elements.
But the Buckland Valley is much more famous as one of the richest alluvial goldfields in Victoria, discovered in the winter of 1853 when a small party of men led by Henry Pardoe obtained 360oz of gold in just a couple of days. By spring, 3000 diggers were in the valley, with another 3000 arriving by January 1854.
Disaster quickly struck with typhoid disease sweeping through the rough camps and Buckland gained the reputation of having the highest mortality rate of any Victorian goldfield. It was said that the valley was so thickly dotted with graves that the river seemed to wind through a churchyard.
In July 1857, the infamous Buckland Riots occurred when European diggers violently attacked and expelled the Chinese gold seekers who had arrived there in the thousands. Many were killed before the police arrived from Beechworth, led by Superintendent Robert O'Hara Burke. He was to find lasting fame by dying on the banks of a distant Cooper Creek, leading what became known as the Burke and Wills Expedition, but on this trip from Beechworth he ended up getting lost. Great navigation skills, eh?
Hydraulic sluicing followed the diggers and in the early 1900's the bucket dredges came along turning the already worn and torn river flats along the valley into seemingly one big gravel pit. The dredges worked the complete length of the river including both branches of the Buckland upstream from Buckland Junction. Meanwhile, on the steep ridges, hard rock miners sought the gold bearing quartz reefs, with dozens of mines including the Band of Hope, Comet, and the Rip and Tear extracting the wealth that laid beneath the rocky soil.
Today the valley is quiet, peaceful and surprisingly green, with grassy flats between the dense stands of native forest. Access is pretty easy, with the bitumen expiring a few kilometres south of Porepunkah where the main access road turns into well-maintained dirt. That’s the way it stays until deep within the ranges. While that makes it a bit of a doodle for a 4WD and a camper trailer, the tracks off to the east and west are not so obliging or easy.
One of those not so easy routes is the drive across from Buckland Bridge onto the Goldie Spur Track, which cuts across the rugged southern face of Mt Buffalo. At the junction with the Mt Buggery Track, you can turn south which takes you to the crest of Mt Buggery itself. Just south of here you can turn west on the Camp Creek Track, which can be difficult, or if you want something easier, turn east and meet up with the route previously described along the Buffalo Range Track.
On the eastern side of the Buckland Valley, there are a number of 4WD tracks to explore and enjoy and once on top of the ridgeline you can either head south to Beveridges Station or north to again meet up with the main access road into the valley.
Along the way — whichever route you choose to take — you’ll see reminders of the effort and toil of the past, with piles of rock along the river, low cliffs formed by the hydraulic sluices and the channels and races cutting across the landscape. At the old cemetery at what was once the site of the Buckland townsite, just beside the main road through the valley, poignant headstones testify to the tough past while a monument to the Chinese who died during and after the riots is nearby. Little remains of the machinery that helped work these mines, apart from some scattered and torn metal fragments of boilers and furnaces. Flecks of gold can still be recovered from the river and occasionally a rich pocket of alluvium, missed by those early miners, can be discovered by the lucky fossicker.
For most people who come to the Buckland these days it is the tranquillity of the valley that is a major attraction, along with the possibility of catching some trout, finding a fleck of gold, hunting a deer, or enjoying a 4WD trail. There’s plenty of wildlife around with small eastern grey kangaroos and black wallabies, along with wombats being the most common mammals seen. At night, with a spotlight and a bit of a walk from camp you’re sure to see a few possums and, with luck, some rarer and delightful greater glider possums. Birdlife is varied and widespread and you’ll enjoy the call of the kookaburras in the evening and early morning, while currawongs and magpies hop around the camping area. Smaller bush birds such as wrens and pardalotes will be seen in the nearby bushes while eagles and falcons soar overhead.
We enjoyed our recent trip there so much we went back again a few weeks later with friends to camp on the Buckland and to drive Buffalo Range once more. It was even better the second time around!
WHERE: Buckland Valley is 380km north of Melbourne. Porepunkah and Myrtleford are your best bet for last minute supplies.
WHEN TO GO: Spring–Autumn.
DRIVING CONDITIONS: Most tracks are easy to moderate.
CAMPING: Numerous sites, most with fireplaces, but just only Ah Youngs has a toilet.
PERMITS/RESTRICTIONS: No permits required. Some tracks (not the main access to valley) are subject to seasonal closure.
FACILITIES: Normal travellers’ facilities and camping ground/accommodation at nearby Porepunkah, Myrtleford and Bright.
MORE INFO: brightvictoria.com.au