Stratford to Mansfield
Our group of seven Idlers 4WD Club vehicles gathered at Stratford at 11:00am on Sunday the 19th January. This was the weekend of those terrible bushfires in Canberra, and the building of the bushfires around Mt Hotham and the north-eastern areas of the Victorian High Country.
We set off north travelling through Briagalong, eventually turning right onto Marathon Road and heading to the bush. Using Gillios and Scrubby Creek Roads we found our way to Paddy Lees Track and the start of some 4WDing. After a bit of a descent down to Valencia Creek we had a long steady climb along the ridge that is now Stans Track (Note: Stans Track was some 1.5km north of its marked position on our CFA maps) up to Mt Angus Track.
Mt Angus Track follows a ridgeline, starting off at about 600m with a few roller coaster like dips and climbs along its 5 kilometre length. It then has a short sharp pinch, which peaks at 1000m, just as you swing right onto Pleydells Spur Track. Pleydells Spur Track descends 500+m over its 3 kilometre length before joining Valencia Creek Track. Valencia Creek Track was for me the highlight of the day. It weaves its way along the valley floor through some very beautiful thick bush before finishing with a steep climb to Moroka Range Road. A wonderful drive, which to me is what 4WDing is about, finding these almost hidden gems of countryside. Right turn into Moroka Road and after a short trip we found our way to the excellent Horseyard Flat Campgrounds on the Moroka River.
The next morning we woke to a hot day (Total Fire Ban) and the air filled with smoke. After keeping an ear to the radio for bushfire reports and finding that nearly all Victoria was covered in smoke, we decided to continue on with the planned trip to Mt Wellington and the Sentinels.
We returned to Moroka Road and headed west to Millers Gap Road and to Millers Gap where we turned onto Mt Wellington Track. Mt Wellington Track is a long 9 kilometre steady climb over a very rocky track to the summit. So it was mainly a slow, low range let the vehicle do the walking, trip. Unfortunately the 360-degree views that Mt Wellington affords were totally obliterated by the smoke. It was a total whiteout; still there was a sense of achievement in having reached the peak at 1640m. We continued on slowly over similar terrain for another 9 kilometres to Millers Hut for morning tea.
The group decided to continue on to the Sentinels despite the smoke. A 4 kilometre trip over a rocky track that presented us with an old fallen tree that had to be cleared. Whilst at the Millers Hut a large 4WD Campervan came back from the Sentinels, but he made no mention of the tree, only that the track was slow and rocky. We have no idea of how he got around or over this tree. To reach the Sentinels there is a 15min "mountain goat" walk from the car park over rocks/boulders that is a tad strenuous. Still it was enjoyable sitting there on the boulders at 1550m, eating lunch and trying to picture the mountain ranges out there beyond the smoke. Lake Tali Karng was barley visible in the valley below. The return 22 kilometre trip back along Mt Wellington Track to Millers Gap was slow.
Here we attempted to take Moroka Range Track to Moroka Hut but were turned back, as is usual in the most awkward spot, by a huge tree across the track. So it was back to Moroka Road and around to the other end of Moroka Range Track and down to the hut on Racecourse Creek. A delightful setting for a hut, a pity you cannot drive up to the hut to camp. After a good look around it was now only a short trip back to camp. Although we only covered some 70 kilometres, about half of this was on the slow and demanding Mt Wellington Track, Happy Hour was most welcomed by all.
Next morning was still hot, though the smoke had cleared somewhat. After listening to the fire reports we then headed east along Moroka Road to Pinnacles Road, then onto the Pinnacles Fire Lookout. This lookout is a structure build on the ground atop a ridge that gives the most magnificent 360-degree views. Although there was a lot of smoke haze the views were much better than expected. Surprisingly, with another hot Total Fire Ban day, the tower was unmanned.
It was now right turn into Castle Hill Road then right again to go down Billy Goat Bluff Track. This track is one of Victoriaís icon tracks. It effectively follows the razorback from near the Fire Lookout all the way down to the Wonnangatta River in the valley below. From the top the first section drops 700m in 4 kilometres over some very rocky/shaly sections with some rock ledges just to add to the excitement. At the end of this section is a helipad, where stopping for morning tea and looking back up at the mountain, some were surprised at what they have just driven. At the helipad, many coming up from the valley floor take one look, though they donít see the rocks etc. on the track, then turn around and go back. The bottom section of the track drops 1000m in 8 kilometres to the valley floor, and though steep/twisty in parts, it has a much better surface overall than the top section. Some of our group had not travelled this track for 5 years and believed it had become cut-up badly. My recollections from travelling up this track 2 years earlier are that it is still the same. A rough track that should be treated as a "hard" track; definitely to be avoided if wet.
At the bottom of Billy Goat Bluff those with petrol vehicles headed right to London Stores Corner for more fuel whilst the rest of us turned left and headed for Eaglevale. Whilst waiting for the group to reassemble we enjoyed a relaxing time swimming in the warm waters of the Wonnangatta river.
On regrouping it was across the river and up Eaglevale Track to Mt Cynthia, a short but easy steady 600m climb, then turn left onto Cynthia Range Track (Wombat Spur/Range Track on some maps). We turned left at Herne Spur Track, which drops down quickly (400m) to the Wonnangatta River at the eastern most edge of the Wonnangatta Valley. This track had obviously been graded recently and one steep section near the middle had become like beach sand. We came across a Trailbike rider who had fallen off, uninjured except for pride, who could not get his bike through this section. We helped get him going then continued on the long drive along the valley floor, through some magnificent country, to our campsite opposite the homestead cemetery on the river flats. The Wonnangatta Valley did not seem to be as pretty as on my previous visit. The exotic trees around the old homestead were not in their autumn colours. For me it is that "foreign" splash of colour that adds that bit extra which makes the valley so special.
Next morning after a quick look around and a check of the bush fire reports, another hot Total Fire Ban day, we were off heading north out of the valley. Firstly it was Rileys Track as planned, and then what turned out to be Sambar Spur Track. We then found ourselves using Harry Shepherds Track to get to Razor Track. Tracks that had been used 5 years previously were no longer there, or now for Management Vehicles Only. No matter the alternate tracks were quite good.
Razor Track was another highlight. Initially you are driving through this thick "rainforest" whilst crossing over a few streams, absolutely magical. Then you climb up to the ridge and follow it north until you come to a helipad. Here there are some great views of Mt Cobbler to the left and Mt Hotham to the right (though unfortunately Mt Hotham was on fire). From the helipad you continue north along the ridge gently climbing until the track swings east and drops rather quickly down, over some huge spoon drains, to the Western Branch of the Buffalo River. During this descent, and the trip along the deep valley floor, I effectively lost GPS signals for about 8 kilometres despite having an external GPS antenna. There were no satellites anywhere near 45 degrees above the horizon and the GPS could not get a lock on those just above the horizon. A situation I had never encountered before. Another vehicle, without an external GPS antenna, faired much worse not having GPS fix for a longer period, plus losing signal for much of the rest of the day.
We lunched beside the river at the Lake Cobbler Track Campground where we decided not to continue northward but head west, away from the fires, on Cobbler-Abbeyards Track. It was a long steady climb over an interesting track that had some rather large spoon drains. At the helipad we opted not to go to Lake Cobbler as we had already had enough 4WDing that day. Instead we would take the easier Williams Logging Track and Little Cobbler Track directly to King Hut near Mt Buller further away from the bushfires.
Williams Logging Track obviously has seen little use, and is certainly not as long as shown on our CFA maps. It twists and turns, more than a bit, but is a good track though slightly overgrown. Little Cobbler Track provided a long but relatively smooth run to King Hut. That night whilst sipping port around our non-existent campfire a Ranger drove up. He said that as of 10am tomorrow the Alpine National Park was closed and signs were being placed around all the park entrances tonight. This was because of the danger of the fires to the north-east spotting in the next couple of days, plus all firefighting resources were over there. The park would be closed for the coming long-weekend and any one caught in the park by the sweeping patrols would cop a hefty fine.
Next morning, another hot Total Fire Ban day, we broke camp early with the aim of getting out of the park by 10am. We headed to Pineapple Flat along King Basin Road, then turned right onto Burnt Top Track and followed this all the way to Cherry Tree. These tracks are all marked as 4WD on the CFA maps but in fact they are excellent forest roads (2WD). We turned left onto Stockyard Track then to Long Spur Track, a bit more interesting than previous tracks, and then around Lake William Hovell on the bitumen to Evans Creek Track.
Evans Creek Track becomes a little more interesting as it nears Cambatong Road. We turned left at the intersection and headed along Cambatong Spur Track to Bald Hill (1211m). There is a very interesting section of track as you approach Bald Hill. A narrow, short steep climb over rocks/shale being the best part of the day so far. Bald Hill has an automatic weather station on top. At this point we had problems sorting out what tracks were still in existence and ended up following Cambatong Spur Track, another wonderful twisty drive through some very lush forest, down the mountain to Carters Road. From there we took Buttercup Road, lots of potholes, and on to Mt Buller Road and to Mansfield.
Overall the trip was great, although extremely dusty for the vehicles not in the lead.
It was 426 kilometres in length and the 3.0L TD Patrol consumed 96 litres of Diesel (aircon. on most of the time).
Hema The High Country-Victoria, and CFA Regions 9 & 10 and 23.
OziExplorer Track file for download...
19th to 24th January 2003.