The High Country beckons like a flame to a moth. The rugged tracks, spectacular backdrops, peaceful campsites — what more could you ask for. The tracks are reopening as the warmer weather removes the evidence of winter hibernation, the creeks flowing thanks to high altitude snow melts.
Mansfield is a great place to take a break, with the bakery popular for coffee and cake, the pub for a parma or the Social Bandit Brewing Co for a pizza and a frothy. Spending some dollars in High Country towns is a great way of supporting local economies hit hard by bushfires and other abnormalities. With Mount Buller standing tall in the distance, it’s good to fuel up for the final time before heading for the hills.
HIGH COUNTRY HUTS
Having followed the Mount Buller Road, turn left onto Buttercup Road — which leads past a couple of great creek side campsites — before reaching Tomahawk Hut. Built by Forest Officer Arthur Dale in 1927 and rebuilt in 2007, the hut reflects what early Forest Commission Huts in the Alpine region were like.
The supplies left on the mantelpiece by fellow travellers are fantastic. It’s also a good opportunity to reduce tyre pressures to 24psi — camper tyres included — and lock into low range before crawling up No. 3 track. Upon reaching 1500m at Mount No. 3, the views across the gap are breathtaking. The snow gums look petrified, though, after being damaged by the 2006–07 raging bushfires.
Refuge Hut 3 here has a great campsite. Located 1.5km west of its original position, the hut was rebuilt by the North-Eastern Horse-Riding Club in 2008. A communal fire pit and drop toilet add comfort and a homemade axe is chained to the cutting block. Most of the camping is located behind a rock boundary, but there is a flat section on the opposite side of the track that will easily fit a couple of camper trailers.
Being awoken by the sound of cattle chewing their cud as the sun rises above the peaks is different and they will watch, intrigued, as you pack your camper.
From here, the No. 3 track is a simple drive to the junction with the Circuit Road. This 2WD road twists and turns its way, circumnavigating Mount Stirling, with some awesome 4WD tracks feeding off it. Clear Hills Track is one of these and leads to Craigs Hut before continuing to Mount Stirling.
Unlike the other huts dotted around the High Country, Craigs Hut was used only as a movie set. Built on the Clear Hills Plain in the 1980s for The Man from Snowy River movies, the current version of the hut didn’t appear in either movie! Version one was left to rot before being restored and version two was destroyed in bush fires. The current hut is version three and it’s the best-known mountain hut in Australia. While you can’t camp at Craigs Hut, there’s a flat clearing just before the hut turnoff with room for a group of campers.
CLIMBING THE BLUFF
While it is possible to continue along Clear Hills Track before tackling Monument Track, it isn’t advisable to tow a camper along this challenging route. It’s better to retrace your steps back to the Circuit Road and follow this to Bindaree Road at the junction with Monument Track.
Bindaree Road is suitable for 2WD vehicles as it takes you past Bindaree Falls to Bindaree Flat, a great campground on the Howqua River. It is well worth the effort to stop and walk the 400m to Bindaree Falls, as it generally flows well. It’s possible to walk behind the falls and feel the mist, just like the moss and ferns that are plentiful along the creek bed and perfect on a hot day.
Access to the campground and hut at Bindaree Flat requires crossing the Howqua River. With a rock base and low water, it looks like a piece of cake, however, be aware when exiting the river. Many have bottomed out their hitch on the rock bed, bending the receiver bolt — not good! The original vertical slab Bindaree Hut was built in 1914, with the current version made of broad leaf peppermint logs erected around 1937.
Bluff and Lovicks Huts are the next challenge. Climbing the mountain via Bluff Link Track is easy when dry, but slippery when wet. However, the drive to Bluff Hut is amazing. The views across the range to the Mount Buller are simply stunning.
The flies are welcoming when you arrive at Bluff Hut so thankfully refuge can be taken inside. Information boards tell the local history and tales of the mountain men who built them. An old fireplace dominates one end — the stories it could tell.
The drive to Lovicks Hut is slow going along the ridgelines, across treeless plains then back amongst the twisted snow gums. You can often encounter horse floats along here, with Lovicks Hut a popular camp for horse trails. If continuing to check out the spectacular views at Picture Point, it’s advisable to leave your camper at the hut.
Picture Point is also where Jim Craig rode his horse over the cliff when chasing the mob of wild brumbies in the first Man from Snowy River movie.
Camping at Sheepyard Flat is picture-perfect, so from Lovicks Hut drive back to the Bluff Link Road and head towards Brocks Road. You’ll experience glimpses of The Bluff as you descend before reaching Brocks Road. Alternate access to Lovicks Hut is available via Cairn Creek track that comes off Brocks Road to the left — however, it’s rarely used and not as well maintained as Bluff Track.
Sheepyard Flat is a great place to relax on the banks of the Howqua River for a few days. In the past, shepherds yarded sheep here at night to keep the dingoes at bay. At times the fire pits had small piles of wood beside them, a nice thing to see. However, if you are thinking of warming yourself in front of a fire, bring your own.
Don’t be surprised when an Australian King Parrot or six land at your feet or on your awning. They are very friendly and on the hunt for some food. It’s best not to feed them so hide your chip bowl or they will forage from it.
The nearby Frys Hut is also a great camping option, with better access to the Howqua River. The hut was built by Fred Fry in the late 1930s using spilt timbers and he lived here until he died in 1971. A master bushman, Fred lived a solitary life, prospecting in the nearby hills when not building huts for others along the Howqua River.
Getting back to Mansfield is via the Howqua Track that reaches Mount Buller Road just east of Merrijig. Home to a great country pub and the annual Merrijig Rodeo (March Labour Day Weekend) it’s a picturesque hamlet.
As you make your way back into Mansfield, it’s great to reflect on a fantastic few days spent exploring the Victorian High Country and remember just how lucky we are.
Region: Mount Stirling
Nearest town: Mansfield for fuel and supplies
When to go: A lot of the tracks are seasonally closed from Queens Birthday weekend in June until 1 November. Summer is a great time as it is a bit cooler up high.
What to take: A full tank of fuel, water to keep hydrated, food and some warm clothes. It can snow even in January in the High Country.
Mobile Coverage: Limited — up high great, down low bad.
Tips: Keep an ear to the local radio for weather and bushfire updates.
4x4 Difficulty: In the dry, high clearance and traction control/low range is required. In the wet, some tracks are impassable or require lockers.
Tip: Learn how to read a map so that you can determine how steep a track is by the distance between the contour lines.
More Info: Parks Vic — parks.vic.gov.a