Victorian Alps Trip, March 16-24, 1996

Mike and Gloria Osborne                                        Discovery tdi200

Roy Bendal                                                               Discovery tdi300

Terry and Jan Miller +JB (through March 20)               Land Cruiser

Chris and Beth Heyde                                                Pajero

(to March 17 on account of change of government)

Day 1: Terry decided he didn’t like early mornings so set off for Jindabyne on Friday evening. The rest met at the Monaro Highway information bay facing weather that didn’t look too promising. A large contingent from the Southern Tablelands Club were meeting at Williamsdale and the CB radios were working overtime swapping information for quite a while. By the time we met Terry at Jindabyne we had tearing wind to add to the rain with worse threatening. It seemed reasonable to put plan B into operation and use the Barry Way to the Benambra Road postponing the Davey’s Plain leg to the return journey. We found later that a party of 11 vehicles of the South Coast 4WD Club were heading south also and the track would have been somewhat crowded given the conditions. The Barry Way proved slippery enough – especially for some oncoming traffic, but we reached Suggan Buggan by lunch time and the first break in the rain. We camped at the Playgrounds around mid afternoon during a further lull in the weather, but a further heavy storm sent us early to bed. This splendid campsite is a short detour off the Benambra Road along the Cobberas Track. It has a good view of the mountains.

The first break in the rain

Playgrounds camp

Day 2: We had sunshine and a quick run to Benambra to start. Chris and Beth had to leave us here, but with promises for a better attendance next time. We reached Omeo for morning coffee and to top up the fuel tanks. We left the bitumen shortly after for the Birregun Road heading for Dargo. Lunch was at the Dog’s Grave, an odd memorial to a stockman’s dog with origins in the nineteenth century. The track passes over Mt. Birregun with extensive views to the south, then comes into Dargo along the Dargo River past pretty properties and good camping areas. A short stretch on the bitumen brought us to the Wonnangatta turn. We decided that a better trip for Terry and Jan would be provided by heading straight up to the Wellington Plains and then into the upper valley. So Roy got his very first introduction to 4WD on the Billygoat Bluff Track which climbs 1200 metres in 7 kilometres in a manner that is not conducive to regular grading. Once he learned the significance of the difflock on particularly nasty spoon drain he passed the test with flying colours. As it was getting late in the afternoon we decided that a view from one very exposed ridge was good enough (saving the pinnacles for another day) and moved onto our campsite at Horseyard Flat. This was sheltered enough to provide relief from the wind which had been very strong (and cold) on the climb up. Again we had a splendid campsite to ourselves.



Dog’s Grave

Near the top, Billy Goat’s Bluff

Day 3: The plan was simple! The Moroka Road to the Howitt Road to the Zeka Spur Track into the Wonnangatta Valley. The roads were in very good condition, the weather fine, and we made a detour to Dymock’s Lookout for views north and morning coffee. The road continues over the quaintly named "Bastards Neck" and we quickly reached the top of the planned descent. Terry’s map from club trips from earlier years had a "down only" note for Zeka Spur, but it has received a lot of recent attention and barely rates medium difficulty. We had lunch after the zigzags and before the descent of the spur proper, and reached the valley in early afternoon. We had our third splendid campsite in a row beside the river. Christine, Terry, and JB set out to prove that this was warm enough for swimming. Then we explored the cemetery and station ruins on foot. We had company for the first time with a couple in a Range Rover camping in the station hut. Returning to camp we found a flat on Roy’s Discovery, pumped up the tyre to await developments, and settled down to enjoy the camp fire.

Day 4: This was planned as a lay day, so what better way to begin than by checking that tyre. It was flat again so had to be changed. That occupied a bit of attention, but once the embedded screw had been removed – its head had broken off and the tyre had to be removed to find it – and a plug inserted, we had the only moments of excitement trying to seal the tubeless tyre to the rim again. It took quite a bit of pressure from a rope loop to hold the Michelin tyre tight enough to the soaped rim to prevent air escaping and well over 20 psi pressure before it resealed. Then the aim was to find a track Terry had not been on, and we succeeded better than expected. We had decided to follow the Wonnangatta Track to the Selwyn Track to the Barry Saddle and then walk along the Alpine Track towards the Viking. But we ended up following a nice new track (unmarked on the Vic. Gov. 1:50,000) which detoured us several Kilometres, and made us rather glad of the GPS. This got us back on the Selwyn Track however, and we continued with our plan. Lunch at the Barry Saddle followed by a pleasant stroll among the snow gums, an encounter with a group of ladies with large packs stepping out in the general direction of Canberra, and return to camp along the originally intended route. Celebrations around the campfire were cut short by a heavy shower.


Wonnangatta Camp

Viking from Wonnangatta Track

Day 5:The rain had certainly cleared during the night because the wet tents had frozed solid! We set off for Dargo via Hearn Spur, the Cynthia Range Track, and the Eaglevale Track. But first we had to make 6 river crossings. None provided much excitement with the river low, but Roy had a little clutch trouble on the early stages of Hearn Spur as a possible consequence. The rain had done more to lay the dust than make the conditions slippery, and Hearn Spur proved very routine after Billygoat Bluff. As we approached Mount Cynthia our CB conversations became entwined with the South Coast Club on Collingwood Spur. They were heading for Billygoat Bluff, and there was some interest that our paths would cross without too much visual contact (nothing personal you understand – just 11 vehicles one way and 4 the other do present some logistical problems on narrow tracks).We actually passed the tail of their convoy as they headed up the Billygoat Spur. We said farewell to Terry in Dargo, and retraced our steps to Jones Road with the intention of camping at Bentley’s Plain. Our plans came adrift about a kilometre past the Birregun Road turn where two large trees had fallen across the road. Assuming we could have cut them, the clearing would still have taken too much time, so we decided to detour and camp at Dog’s Grave which we reached about 5 pm. This worked out well – we were being very spoilt with our campsites. It was proving very quiet without JB!

Day 6: Once we got the Range Rover started – this involved Christine oiling carburetor dashpots and some subsequent jiggling – we had a quick run to Swifts Creek where we restocked supplies, and passed on the information about the trees on Jones Road. The baker’s shop proved popular , with seats and tables outside. That way we got to notice a pool of oil forming under the Range Rover – the trees on Jones Road may have done us a favour. Cover bolts on the gearbox housing proved to be loose and reluctant to tighten. The service station used a pile of gravel instead of a hoist . Once the bolts had been removed it was found that the threads on the nuts were stripped. The nuts were special of course. Some alternative bolts were fitted as a temporary measure, and we proceeded to Bruthen planning to check the condition again at the RACV garage there. Fortunately it looked pretty good, and stayed that way with one further tightening up on Davey’s Plain. We continued on the bitumen to Buchan, making up useful time, and then on the Basin Road towards Jackson’s Crossing on the Snowy. An intimidating sign on the junction with the Tulloch Ard Road suggests that the road ahead is closed on private property, but enquiry’s at Bally Hooley Station gave us the go-ahead to proceed. The crossing is a long one in two parts with a sandy island in between. The Snowy is low at the moment, and the only complication comes in avoiding large boulders just under the surface, so some time was spent prospecting a good route. The crossing was then effected without incident. We went on to the Hicks campsite on the Roger River. This might even have been the best site of them all. – a lovely grassy spot above the river. However, Gloria, who had been complaining of being off colour for the past day or so, had a very bad night.

Jackson’s Crossing

On the Deddick River track

Day 7: Gloria felt a little better in the morning, and we headed up Varney’s Road and the Yalmy Road to the Deddick River Track. Obviously the last time I had done this it had receiver recent attention because we had had a very easy run to Mackillop’s Bridge by lunch time from Hick’s. This time it was much rougher with the added complication of a number of trees across the road (none substantial). In particular, the descent of Mt. Joan was very shaley as well as steep. Still the almost continuous canopy of big trees, and the views through them to both sides of the ridge, are inspiring, even if the fact that it was a gloriously sunny day was not too apparent under the canopy. The GPS had a great deal of trouble getting readings in the dense cover. The Roger River was barely inches deep. Repairs were being made to Mackillop’s Bridge, and these were taking much longer than expected, so we got to meet Wilson, the juvenile wombat. He was travelling with his minders who run a wildlife refuge and were the only others to be held up at the bridge. Eventually we decided we would camp at the Bull Flat camp ground by the Deddick River and try to make up time tomorrow. Just as well because the bridge was not reopened until around 7 pm. Dean provided the major excitement of the night by tripping over a guy rope and jarring his elbow rather badly.

Introducing Wilson

Day 8: An early start was made, then a break to admire the Little River Gorge, a refueling stop at the "Seldom Seen" service station, and back on the Benambra Road. Soon after, Dean felt well enough to reclaim the wheel of the Range Rover from Christine. We turned off on the Limestone Creek Track which proved to have the steepest sections of the day, mostly organised so we seemed to be descending the worst, lunch on the Murray at McCarthy’s Track, then to Davey’s Plain with a high point of 1780 metres (snow gums, snow plains, and lofty views). About here I discovered a flat tyre but it pumped up well enough, and held to camp with relatively little loss of pressure. Soon after the Range Rover lost its speedometer reading. Next an afternoon tea stop was made at a well used Cattleman’s hut which will need repairing soon as it is far from weatherproof, followed by an easy descent from the top of the range, then a final campsite at a creek crossing just before joining the Murray. This was another very good one (once the cows from Tom Groggin station had been chased away) beside a strongly flowing creek. Christine, Gloria, and Roy all felt obliged to swim in some of the deeper holes. The crossing had some ugly boulders under deepish water in the direct route, and inspection was again necessary to find a suitable path.

Day 9: A leisurely start was made with only 5 kilometres to go to the Alpine Way. The tyre had gone down during the night and had to be changed. We crossed the creek and then the Murray without incident, closing the new gate at the Murray crossing and essentially closing the trip at the same time. Canberra was reached about 12.45 pm.

The trip has provided an extended tour of beautiful alpine country in very good conditions after the first day. Although some parts of the route were demanding enough, it was completed without incident, and snatch straps remained in pristine condition. Mechanical problems were minor. We had the benefit of calm autumn weather and low creek levels which add up to a good reason for choosing this time of year. Apparently it is usual for there to be a small number of visitors at this time. Possibly they are holding off until Easter.