You don’t have to be the Bush Tucker Man to tackle a four-wheel drive adventure in Australia’s snowy high country, finds city slicker CHRIS ORD.
As everyone knows, a road trip of any distinction requires the sanctity – and safety – of isolation. So while the holidaying hordes heave west around Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, we stump for the long drive into the state’s far, far east.
Ahead is an emerald necklace of wilderness, beginning with surfing jewel, Cape Nelson Coastal Park. Then it’s on to Croajingalong National Park stretching 100km to Cape Howe and Victoria’s farthest tip, before steering our four-wheel drive into the remote high country, looping back west through Coopracambra, Snowy River (of movie fame) and Alpine National Park. Middle of bloody nowhere stuff.
Four hours from Melbourne and we’re already there, sort of. Before us the beach shoots back to the horizon where dinghy fishermen reel in their twilight haul. Unloading his board from a battered ute, a local deadpans: Crowded out there, eh?” Only one other surfer is silhouetted against the fading day. We join the locals making it a busy session in paradise.
The next morning, we plunge bull-bar first into the 87,500-hectare, 100km-long Croajingalong National Park. There’s a choice of trails leading north. We choose one at random and push into fern-filled oblivion. Weaving through towering stands of forest, the track is little more than two ruts divided by grass standing bonnet-high. There’s no sign of life except for a goanna eyeing us suspiciously and kookaburras laughing sardonically at these city boys in Hawaiian shirts.
It could be the eucalyptus cigarettes, but I’m captivated by this place. We wind our way towards Errinundra NP. Three tracks later our chances of making any kind of map-marked campsite is diminishing in inverse proportion to the amount of fun we’re having. A deep gully mud bath and 10 crossings of the same crossing later we agree that this four-wheel lark is alright.
Pushing on we meet a posse of high country mountain cattlemen straight off the set of The Man From Snowy River. “Not much surf out this way mate,” says a Russell Crowe lookalike, nodding his Akubra at the surfboard strapped to the roof. Not long after crossing the mighty Snowy River we make camp on its sandy banks and slip into our own stereotype: bonfire, beer and guitar ditties.
The final leg is less mud, more gravel as we track through Omeo towards wintertime skiing mecca, Falls Creek. The rustic Blue Duck Inn, a pub plonked near the trout fishing oasis of Angler’s Rest, serves up gourmet game pie and chips. On full stomachs we agree: roughing it in the high country ain’t that rough.
With a guilty twinge we swear our last night will be spent hunkering down in Victoria’s oldest mountain hut. Dubbed ‘Seldom Seen Inn’ for obvious reasons, Wallace’s Hut, built in around 1890, now serves as shelter for hikers and cross country skiers. As we prepare for the night, an icy wind pummels over the ridge and through sizeable cracks in the log walls. Reviewing the map with blue fingers, we pinpoint that Falls Creek Village is only 20 clicks away. Pub there open in summer?”
Later, in the warm confines of The Man Pub, it strikes me that Victoria’s High Country will never be far enough away. There will always be a rowdy mob to ruin the majesty of its vast bush silence with a borrowed four-wheel drive and out-of-tune guitar. In essence, the only factors protecting nature’s pristine isolation are our ‘mountain men’ constitutions, weaker than our three-beer bladders. •
• For more information about 4WD and camping adventures in Australia see www.exploroz.com. To get your hands on a 4WD, try www.britz.com; www.fourwheeldrive.com.au; or www.campertravel.com.au.
• Information on Far East Gippsland and the Victorian high country can be found at www.parkweb.vic.gov.au or www.lakesandwilderness.com.au.
Unbeaten tracks around Oz
It’s not a big country, it’s bloody huge, so there are hundreds of dirt roads to nowhere ripe for exploration. All you need is a 4WD, map, tent and a billycan, so for your bush-bound pleasure here are TNT’s top four 4WD adventures in Oz by state:
Wadbilliga National Park, south coast hinterland
Four hours south of Sydney, rugged Wadbilliga has survived as a remarkably untouched mountain wilderness. Once in its heartland you’ll find a paradise brimming with ancient woodland, heath, rainforest and the striking Tuross Falls and Tuross River Gorge. Native animal populations remain undisturbed here thanks to the isolation – you’ll be swerving round wallabies, kangaroos, wombats and echidnas. Keep an eye out for possums and platypuses too, and be mindful of ‘drop bears’ – savage koalas that drop from gumtrees on unsuspecting city folk. Seriously.
Cape York Peninsula, north coast
It’s a popular classic, but don’t underestimate it or you’ll be pushing your 4WD out of deep river crossings while being snapped at by crocs. Take it slowly and marvel at some of the world’s most rugged swathes of tropical rainforest, spectacular waterways and relics of European and Aboriginal history. The daunting but rewarding journey from Cairns, 1000km north to the Peninsula tip, can only be undertaken in dry season (May-November). A side trip along the coast from Cairns takes you through Cape Tribulation and the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, both worth the effort.
On the state’s south-eastern coastline between the pretty seaside villages of Robe and Beachport 4WDers will find some challenging tracks featuring towering sand dunes and endless expanses of beach driving. There’s good fishing and bushwalking in the Little Dip National Park along the way and some pretty special camping spots. Further north is the Coorong where you can drive along a narrow ribbon of sand called Younghusband Peninsula for 150km, right to the mouth of the mighty Murray River. This is no drive for the faint-hearted: success depends on the fortunes of the wind and tide and the route shouldn’t be attempted in winter.
Darwin to Broome via Katherine
This one’s a big drive across two big states that combined make up an area the size of 16 Britains. Much less traffic here than on the M1, though. This trail takes in a mere slice of Australia’s north west, but what a slice, including the iconic likes of Katherine George, Kakadu National Park, the Bungle Bungles, Mitchell Falls and the Kimberley Ranges. Be well prepared and don’t, whatever you do, go in the hot season.”