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Hema’s Top Local Getaways in the Victorian High Country

Words and Pics by Glenn Marshall

Exploring the High Country is easily accessible both in a 4x4 as well as with towing a rig.

(Image: Exploring the High Country with a camper trailer is rewarding.)

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 well and truly reopened, as the warmer weather has removed the evidence of winter hibernation, with the creeks flowing thanks to high altitude snow melts. 

Mansfield is a great place to take a break, 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 the local economies hard hit by bushfires and the pandemic. With Mount Buller standing tall in the distance, it’s good to fuel up for the final time before heading for the hills.  

 
(Image: Tomahawk Hut is an old forestry classic.)

HUTS IN THE HIGH COUNTRY

Having followed the Mount Buller Road, turn left onto Buttercup Road that leads past a couple of great creekside campsites before reaching Tomahawk Hut. Built by Forest Officer Arthur Dale in 1927, then 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 all-round 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, snow gums looking petrified, damaged by the 2006-07 raging bushfires. 

Mt No. 3 Refuge Hut 3 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 to help in splitting wood. 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 whatever you’re towing.

(Image: Craig's Hut at sunset.)

Being woken 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 you to Craigs Hut and then continues 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, this particular version of the hut never appeared in either movie! Version One was left to rot before being restored and Version Two was destroyed in bushfires. The current hut is Version Three and 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 rigs.

 
(Image: Bluff Hut has been a refuge for many over the years thanks to the legendary Stoney family.)

THE BLUFF

While it is possible to continue along Clear Hills Track before tackling Monument Track, it isn’t advisable to tow 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 little campground on the Howqua River. It is well worth the effort to stop and walk the 400 metres to Bindaree Falls too, as it is generally flowing 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 a good thing! The original vertical slab Bindaree Hut was built in 1914, with the current version made of Broad Leaf Peppermint logs erected around 1937. 

(Image: Clear Hills Track with a camper is doable as far as Craigs Hut.)

Bluff and Lovicks Huts are the next challenge and climbing the mountain via Bluff Link Track is easy when dry, slippery when wet. The drive up to Bluff Hut is amazing. The views across the range to the Mount Buller ski runs are simply stunning. 

The flies are welcoming when you arrive at Bluff Hut and thankfully refuge can be taken inside. Informative boards retell the local history and tales of the mountain men who built them. An old fireplace dominates one end — oh, the stories it would 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 up to check out the spectacular views at Picture Point, it’s advisable to leave your rig 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.

 
(Image: A fire is a requirement at this altitude.)

CAMP AT SHEEPYARD FLAT

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.

(Image: Scenes like this is why the High Country is such a great destination.)

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 and 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 he wasn’t 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 little 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, either just with your 4WD or with a rig and remember just how lucky we are.


(Image: There are plenty of water crossings in the High Country.) 

TRAVEL PLANNER

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 in high regions.

What to take: A full tank of fuel, water to keep hydrated, food and some warm clothes. It can even snow 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. Learn how to read a map so that you can determine how steep a track is by the distance between the contour lines.

4x4 Difficulty: In the dry, high clearance and traction control/low range is required. In the wet, some tracks are impassable or require lockers. 


Contacts and Info-
 

Hema Maps: hemamaps.com/high-country-vic

Parks Victoria: parks.vic.gov.au/safety/fire,-flood-and-other-closures

Vic Emergency: emergency.vic.gov.au/respond

2 comments

  • Dayv: December 01, 2021

    As a dyed in the wool Queenslander who’s driven the Howqua Gap Hut Trail to Mount Stirling, let me issue a word of caution to those new to the world of the High Country – this land is on steroids and needs to be respected. If you’re unsure of the tracks do your research. But, the rewards of the views are equally off the dial. Thanks for the run down Glenn.

  • GERARD FAUCHEUR: November 29, 2021

    So informative – Thank you
    You should also specify when towing, if it is possible for a caravan ( what size ) or only camper trailer.
    Because more and more people have both.

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