High Country After the Fires Loop

Submitted: Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 13:40
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High Country After the Fires Loop

For Easter we did a loop of 900km Melbourne to Melbourne thru the high country
from bottom to top to see how the country side looked after the fires.

The main part of the trip was from Princess hwy south of Dargo to Dargo
-Talbotville - Kingwell bridge - Eaglevale track to Wonnagatta valley.
Then north via Harry Shepards track to Abbeyyard and on to Mansfield via Whitfield.

Unfortunately the bush was burnt to varying degrees over the entire trip.
Seen plenty of fires before but never on such a widespread scale.

If that wasn't enough we even came across a burning bus near the end of the bush which according to fire services that soon showed up looked and smelt like it was a covert Majurania factory.

Left Melbourne 7am thursday in pouring rain which was a great bitumen test for
a newly fitted set of 255/85/16 Bighorn M/T tyres.
They did well here in the rain but this was only damp spot on an Easter of near perfect conditions.
Fire damage began well south of Dargo and about 1/2 of the tracks were closed.

What we did notice for the first time however was that many tracks were open but
with yellow A4 sized signs at there entrance warning of increased driving hazards.

Store owners at Dargo advised business was now good but they needed a lot more to catch up.

North of Dargo to Talbotville the damage really began to show itself but essentially
the McMillan rd to Talbotville road appeared much as it used to be but with some small signs of recent roadworks and tree clearing.

Talbotville looked a real picture in the brilliant autumn sunshine with lush gums and
green grass everywhere. The entire campground had not been burnt, but there appeared to have been low intensity fires thru the cemetery and right along the west side of the Crooked river.

We'd left Melbourne a couple of hours ahead of those would go a day early ,as we did, to get ahead of the Easter crowd, and were rewarded by having the entire area to ourselves for most of the day.
We set up in one of the prime spots under the trees near the large swimming hole at the north west corner.

We immediately noticed something new - CDMA coverage was available now for the first time.
We presume that coverage may have been increase in support of those fighting the fires.

The swimming hole is a big reason why we have camped here over several summers. Even before we'd unpacked the gear it was obvious that something was wrong and as we walked to the rivers edge we could see that the entire swimming hole no longer existed. There is a ridge rising hundreds on meters on the opposite bank and it forms into a gully just there. A flash flood had apparently occurred and washed down hundreds of tons of silt and coarse gravel and filled in the river completely.
Now the river trickled over its new elevated base at a depth of maybe 200mm.

Later exploration of the entire area revealed that, while there was no swimming hole anymore we had probably camped at the only place within kilometers where the river base was your clean classic gravel. Everywhere else was devasted by black mud slush and silt.
Parts of the river looked like those asian mud slides you sometimes see on the news.

While we sat enjoying the day a Parks troppie ute drove thru the campground empty and drove back out a couple of hours later full of "Road Closed" signs.

We didn't need a hint and soon got our wheels into areas that had been officially closed off for months but not before another surprise.
Immediately out of camp is a usually tame river crossing. I had noted the rivers were shallow (300mm) so we just drove across but instantly the car lost it and began to go sideways in the deep black slush. The new mud terrain tyres and instant selection of both difflocks
dragged us thru ok, but we were more cautious after this.
Just one day later this crossing was much easier, as many vehicles using it had helped remove the slush layer.

Camping at Talbotville for a couple of days was near perfect dropping to only 7c at night. There were no bikes looping around the camp ground and incredibly no music at night that we could hear. I don't think there was one fly or mosquito at all, and one can only wonder at the billions of insects that had probably died.

Someone let off some red flares at the opposite end, but really it was a very well behaved group. Friday night saw 45 cars and a dozen camp fires there but this is well below capacity and the site next to us was left empty (a very territorial Belgian sheppard does help here !).

One woman in a nearby camp panned out some gold flakes about the size of 5 cent piece and explained to us that she always got more gold than her husband who was going over the newly formed silt plateau with a $4000 gold detector.

We put the "L plates on" and young son drove a loop taking in the steep Collingwood spur and Bulltown spur tracks where apon we saw just how bad some of the ridges away from the valley floor were burnt. In the valleys there was much green re-growth but higher up the trees were often burnt to the core with no re-growth.
(The green house near base of Collingwood spur survived but lost some sheds - I suppose thats good)

Time to move on , and we drove via the valley floor down to Wonnagatta river
at Kingwell bridge, all tracks were open but as we got to this classic bridge all
was not well as its entire south end was missing. Looked like it had been washed away in a flood as the bridge didn't appear burnt.

Next to the bridge is a long angled river crossing where a "PMG" cable was once laid. Often this is too deep, but not this Easter and water depth markers had been added to assist locals who no longer had a bridge. The depth was only 400mm and according to signs the bridge is due to be fixed by May.

Drove north thru a mixture of damage past the now open Billy Goats Bluff track (new signs) and stopped for a long break at the shallow black slushy Eaglevale river crossing - where we gave our dog a long break as she would need to be kept in the car as we drove thru the Wonnagatta valley.
Even saw a few roo's playing amongst blackened trees.

No real issues into the Wonnagatta however the valley was looking the best I can
ever remember as the whole valley had short green grass and almost none of the
Blackberries and tall weeds of the past. Several small culvert bridges were burnt
but in general I'd put fire intensity at low to medium.
The north exit river crossing up to rileys road was shallow and for the first time on this trip we saw beautiful clear creek water.

Harry Shepherds track was also in reasonable state but by the time we got to Abbeyard conditions had changed for the worse. Indeed along that narrow valley as it followed the West Buffalo river we saw probably the worst fire damage of all, once coming across a group of 4wd's parked around a lone standing Chimney.

The spectacular Goldie track is closed and will remain so for some time as the entrance bridge is burnt out.

The trail of damage continued as we came out of 4wd areas into Whitfield and on to Mansfield via Tolmie. Pine forests appeared to be harder hit than the bush with
just so many miles of dead burnt trees. Huge piles of logs existed around Powers
lookout area I guess in an effort to recover as much as possible.

Overall , while the area has been widely and badly affected I can see a reasonable future ahead although I suspect some small side tracks will be "forgotten" and this is where we will place our efforts.

See also last 5 photo's under members rig

Robin Miller

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Reply By: nickj - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 14:32

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 14:32
Gday Robin, we took the almost opposite trip. Starting at Licola on Saturday, through to Zeka Spur trk, we were to go on to Mansfield but went through to Wonnangatta due to road closure. Camped overnight just before Wonnangatta Homestead, went through Wonnangatta, via Hart Trk, Wombat Range trk through a few murky river crossings to Talbotville and ended up in Dargo on Sunday afternoon. Stopped just enough time for a beer and headed home. A great trip for almost first timers like us! There was devastation from massive fires (everywhere) and mudslides (Licola side) a plenty.

Nick Johnson
Go the Mighty Pathfinder!
AnswerID: 232545

Reply By: Des Lexic - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 16:10

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 16:10
Thanks for the report Robin. We were up in some of those areas just before the fires and the Dargo / Wanangatta area a few years ago. Love the place. Glad to see that regeneration is taking place. I hope more rains come at a gentle pace so that the area recovers.
AnswerID: 232560

Reply By: bobthe - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 17:43

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 17:43
Hi Robin,it was with great pleasure that I read your story,thanks for sharing it,I haven't been to the high country for 2 years and I was wondering how it was going. Thanks again.
AnswerID: 232578

Reply By: Mike Harding - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 18:23

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 18:23
Thanks for that Robin.

The Aussie bush is _tough_! It'll be back to normal before too long :)

Interesting about the Crooked River crossing and the silt - all those crossings were pretty simple unless the river was too high.

Mike Harding
AnswerID: 232590

Reply By: Member - Tim - Stratford (VIC) - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 18:51

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 18:51

We spent the week on the Moroka River, north of Licola, great spot and the water was crystal clear and drinkable.

We went up Marathon Road as Tamboritha wasn't open when we left. We came home via Moroka Road and Tamboritha Road - lots of fire damage and water erosion.

It was a bit different looking at our old campsite lower down, but as Mike said, it will bounce back pretty quickly.

I spoke to a few locals of Dargo a month back and they said the CDMA coverage was only a tempory measure whilst the fires were on. The locals have been trying to get the portable phone tower left where it is - but aren't holding much hope.

Good to read other's trips around the 'burnt' areas.

It's good to also see you kept the dog in the car at Wonnangatta - the picture in your members rig sure looks like $50!!!!

AnswerID: 232598

Follow Up By: Robin - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 19:36

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 19:36
Hi Tim

Certainly hope phone coverage remains - twice I got into trouble from inlaws for failing to call over Xmas whilst camping around Dargo and on each occasion I'd driven all the way into town only to find the public phone booth jammed full of coins and unworkable.

Still nothing much changes - yesterday we drove home via Yarra glen only to be held up in a 3km traffic jam due to one only pedestrian crossing traffic light in town , which was not on a special cycle.

Gee hope the death in car accident there yesterday wasn't caused by impatience brought on by this sequence.

Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Leroy - Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 09:59

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 09:59
you go to these places for the piece and quiet - not to be bothered by ringing mobile phones.

FollowupID: 493573

Reply By: srowlandson - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 20:23

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2007 at 20:23
Hi Robin, Saw your GU parked at Yaark on Sunday Morning. We were coming back from Crows Hut, which is just off Skene.

your right, spots a re VERY badly burnt, with no signs of regrowth yet, other areas are bouncing back. Interesting to see the changes.

worth carrying a chainsaw up there, still lots of trees coming down, a mate was caught on the Jamieson Licola Rd for 1/2 an hour waiting for a chainsaw to turn up as the road was blocked. the tree fell within the last hour as the others they met there were just coming back form a afternoon run to Mt Skene.

AnswerID: 232639

Follow Up By: Robin - Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 08:44

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 08:44
Hi Steve

Chainsaw was one of first things we packed - but as you guess, never needed this time until we got to near the front gate at Yarck !

At Talbotville camp ground all the dead branches of even unburnt trees were cut off and lying on the ground.
We had a huge pile of beautiful burning firewood for our stay.

The path we took thru the Wonnagatta was the only open track out I believe
as Skene to Licola was listed as closed - do you know if it was actually closed ?

Robin Miller
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Follow Up By: srowlandson - Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 09:55

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 09:55
I spoke with the Jamieson Police and DSE, all told me Jamieson Licola Rd was open, and that lazarini was closed but they were happy for me to go down the 1km i had to go to get to the Hut. Mainly closed as they can't keep it clear of trees.

There was a detour just our of Licola which was why the road was previously closed. A fair bit of track upgrades had been done and this little road was quite busy when we went through.
FollowupID: 493572

Follow Up By: Robin - Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 10:37

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2007 at 10:37
Thank you Steve

Thought it might be , even though its still listed on latest re-opening page as closed till 1/11/2007

Robin Miller
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