Probing The High Country - Part 1

Wednesday, Jul 03, 2013 at 18:58

Kevin S - Life Member (QLD)

While a visit to the High Country was not the prime reason for going south in April, the trip provided an opportunity to take a closer look. That was something we had wanted to do for some time. In my later teen age years to walk out of our front door at home was to look at Mt. Baw Baw on the southern fringes of the Victorian High Country. Snow on the peek was visible provided that the cloud base was not too low.
In my early twenties, after I had acquired a 125 cc Vespa motor scooter, with a friend similarly equiped, I travelled through much of the fringes of the ranges from Baw Baw to the NSW border, including a memorable visit to Buchan and the magnificent McKillops Bridge on the Snowy River. We couldn’t carry much gear but it was enough to have a lot of fun. Who needs a mattress to get a good night’s sleep when you are young?
We had travelled through a much flat country in the first three weeks of our trip but headed to the mountains from Temora, where we had attended Tenth Anniversary celebrations of Angel Flight at the Temora Aviation Museum. We travelled through Wagga Wagga and then turned east towards Tumbarumba. I had not realised the extent to which the Hume Highway skirts the western foot hills of the ranges until we passed under the highway and immediately were committed to a long climb. On the 59 kilometre run from the highway to Tumbarumba we encountered a couple of sharp climbs that had the Challenger working hard to tow the van up the incline.
It was now late April and the autumn colouring of alpine deciduous trees was in full swing. Having never travelled this road before, I was unprepared for the valley full of colour as we descended into Tumbarumba.The town centre is nestled a valley, complete with an attractive stream and appeared to be surrounded with gold. I wish now that we had turned back to the brow of the hill where the road starts its descent to take some photos, but it was getting late and the weather was threatening.
Our goal for day’s end was Corryong in Victoria. As we moved south from Tumbarumba and passed several superb roadside camping spots I cursed the work commitment that dictated a reliable internet connection over the next couple of days. The road leads through genuine mountain country and reaches significant altitudes by Australian standards. Views from high spots are of tier after tier of mountain ranges.
The terrain is what makes the memorial to the Southern Cloud, Australia’s first commercial air disaster, so appropriate and poignant. It is built by the side of the road, on a high ridge, overlooking the mountains where the Southern Cloud crashed at about 9.00 am on 21st May 1931, with the loss of two pilots and six passengers. The memorial tells the sad story.
We paused at the tiny town of Tooma where the hotel was closed. It was not clear if it was just for the day or longer. Then, on to what I think is the prettiest crossing into Victoria, where the road crosses the Murray River over a rather rustic bridge at Towong and finally through Corryong to our caravan park at Colac Colac.
We had a day at Corryong. We used it to drive up the Alpine Way as far as the camping areas at Geehi. It was a wet and misty morning. A late start got us to Khancoban at lunch time so we lunched at the cafe in the general store, toasting our feet at the log fire. We almost called for another cup of coffee and stayed right there!
First stop on the drive was at the roadside viewing point for the Murray No 2 power station. That’s the one with the three huge white pipes coming down the hill to it. Even from that distance, the large building with multiple power lines coming from it and marching up the mountain side looks most impressive.
Heading on we made a brief stop at the start of the Major Clews 4x4 track. Major Clews was chief surveyor for the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Then we moved on to take in the views of the mountains from Schammell Lookout. It was one of those days when the mountains have been cloud covered and the clouds have mostly risen to provide a clear view, but with remnant clouds of mist drifting across the face of the mountains, driven by the breeze.
The Geehi camping areas are extensive with their picturesque stone huts and the “books” of details, large weather proof pages in a stand, that tell their story. We spoke to an angler in a motor home who claimed to be having no luck at all, inspected Geehi hut and checked out the river crossing that leads to other huts and a range of 4WD tracks. Several camping groups were spaced through the area and a team of workers were planting shrubs near the crossing.
On the return journey we drove into Murray No 2 power station and called at the visitor centre. At that time of day there were no inspections available. On closer inspection those three huge white pipes could use a coat of paint. With the price of electricity it’s a wonder that they don’t have staff busy polishing them.
Our plan had been to go over the Omeo Highway to Lakes Entrance but there had been snow on the High Country and the Omeo Highway had been closed. We enquired with the police at Tallangatta and after a discussion on conditions decided to continue down the edge of the ranges and reach Lakes Entrance via the outer suburbs of Melbourne. To achieve this objective we cut across to the Kiewa Valley Highway with a view to calling at Mt Beauty before continuing on to Bright.
As we drove into Mt Beauty we saw a sign that said “Omeo 110”. At the information centre they told us that caravans used the road regularly so we booked into a caravan park for the night with a view of reverting to plan A the next day. But on overnight reflection I decided that I did not want to tow a caravan over a mountain road that I had never seen before so we decided to remain in the caravan park for another day and do a day trip up the mountain to Falls Creek and the Bogong High Plain.
As we set off towards the mountain locals were setting up for the ANZAC day march. It was cool and overcast but with the promise of better to come. We turned aside to see the small alpine village of Bogong. It was so quite that we thought it must be deserted. At 10 am there was not a soul in sight.
Continuing up the winding road we satisfied ourselves that it would be a reasonable tow for a caravan, provided due care was exercised. The road is narrow but adequate. But the cloud cover was total. Just short of the Falls Creek ski resort wisps of mist greeted us and soon became a blanket of fog. It was head lights on as we turned into the first car park and stopped to get our bearings.
Dimly, through the cloud, we could make out what appeared to be a tavern and it had lights on. Closer investigation showed it to be open. Beauty! What better than hot cappuccino with scones, jam and cream as we looked out into the white wall of mist outside the window.
It seemed a pity to come this far without seeing something of the Bogong High Plains so we headed towards Rocky Valley Dam which is only another couple of kilometres on. From this vantage point we could see what was happening with the weather. Strong south westerly winds were blowing clouds up a valley and on to the plateau. The gyrations of the cloud above the surface of the dam were a sight to see, but beyond the wall of the dam, which is also the road, the sky was noticeably clearer. We drove about 20 kilometres across the plains to a point more than half way to the junction with the Omeo Highway before we turned back.
The park authorities have done a lot of work to make the area as user friendly as possible. The main walks are well marked with car parks and information pavilions provided in many cases, the latter serving as shelters from the constant cold winds. The surfaces of many of the tracks have been gravelled rendering them safe for those who are not as sure footed as they used to be.
A biting wind was sweeping the whole area, ensuring that there was nowhere with sufficient shelter for a lunch stop. So we returned to Falls Creek, diving into the cloud for as long as it took to emerge from its lower limits. [We returned to Bogong village where there was by now signs of life as residents and visitors moved about. We had lunch by the small water storage that feeds a hydro electric generator, admiring the brilliant autumn tints of the poplars and maples against the verdant green of the forest clad mountain.
A sign on the tavern, one of two retail facilities in the town (the other one is a general store) assured passersby that it opened every day at 11.00 am. But not today! Perhaps the proprietor is a Vietnam veteran off marching and remembering with his mates.
It is important to always maintain a sense of proportion

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