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Victorian High Country: 4x4 Adventure Series

By Matt Raudonikis | Photos: Nathan Jacobs, 27 Jul 2018 VIC

Victorian High Country 4x4 Adventure Series feature

The extraordinary people and places throughout the Victorian Alps.

If you’ve been watching the videos that came with this issue of the magazine and the two before it, you’ll know we had a pretty good trip through the Victorian High Country.

Ronnie Moon planned the route to capture some of the best places the High Country has to offer four-wheel drivers during a two-week adventure, and we reckon he nailed it. Stunning landscapes, challenging tracks, historical mountain huts and goldfields, as well as some top camps with great mates.

To join us on this adventure we gathered some of the best brands in the 4x4 industry, and some of those guys took the time to join us on the trip.

Lightforce was the principle sponsor of the video series, and Lightforce’s Craig Brumby joined us in his freshly-kitted out Toyota Hilux. Leigh Hardman from Marks 4WD brought his amazing portal axle and auto trans-equipped Land Cruiser 79 double-cab, which made light work of the tracks.

GT took care of the catering on the trip and he was driving MSA Accessories’ fully-equipped Hilux. Having the MSA drawer system and drop-down fridge slide in the ’Lux made his task easier, and we all know you have to keep the crew well fed and hydrated. We also brought our then long-term test Nissan Patrol along for the ride, while Ron was in his trusty LC79.

Other supporters included Toyo Tires, who sent us a set of its yet-to-be-released Open Country R/T tyres to fit to our Patrol; while Ron scored a set of Open Country M/Ts on his Cruiser. Ron’s Cruiser also has a pair of Clearview’s wide wing mirrors on it, as well as a set of Lightforce’s amazing HTX230 HID/LED combo lamps.

We also put a Lightforce 40-inch LED light bar on the Ironman rack on the Patrol. So we had a solid group of well-eqipped 4x4s and a top crew along for the ride. 

Snowy Start

Nothing symbolises the High Country as much as the Snowy River, so we thought that was the ideal place to start this adventure. The convoy assembled on the banks of the Snowy close to the Victoria/New South Wales border, before making the long, low-range climb up into the mountains proper.

4x4 Adventure Series: Vic High Country episode 1

Steep, rocky climbs, gnarly descents, river crossings and stunning mountain views all became the norm for the two weeks of off-road driving. The High Country is one of the few places, perhaps the only one, in Australia where you can drive for weeks and be in low range the entire time.

Our adventure wasn’t just about the driving experience; Ron’s knowledge of the history of the area is incredible and his stories along the way, as we visited the historic huts and locations, were mesmerising.

Travelling mid-week we had many campsites to ourselves, but what soon became interesting was the people we met along the way. Aside from the occasional 4x4 traveller passing in the other direction, and the National Parks and forestry workers we encountered, for the first four days we didn’t speak to another soul.

Then when we camped at Taylors Crossing on the Mitta Mitta River near Benambra we caught up with regular 4x4 Australia photographer Michael Hurren. When Mick isn’t shooting music videos or off-road racing, you’ll finding him wading up a river or stream in the High Country, Snowies or New Zealand, casting flies into the water in search of trout.

We were amazed when Mick’s afternoon effort hooked close to 30 small trout in the knee-deep river in just a few hours, all of which were released back into the fast-flowing stream.

Then, as we were packing up camp at Taylors Crossing, a lone walker crossed the footbridge where the Australian Alps Walking Track crosses the river. John was trekking solo the 655km track that links Walhalla in Victoria with Tharwa in the ACT, and it was interesting to chat with him about why he was doing it, how he planned ahead and what few things he was carrying in his backpack.

4x4 Explore: Walhalla-Woods Point Gold Belt

Interestingly, he carried a small solar panel on the back of his pack so that he could keep emergency items like his phone and radio charged over the three-week journey. It made us better appreciate the comforts of our fully-loaded 4WDs with our big, comfy swags and fridges full of food.

Log Splitter

Later that morning we arrived at PO Hut to find a massive mountain ash had fallen and dissected the old tin building. Stopped here for a smoko break were two blokes travelling around in their Patrols for a couple of weeks, enjoying the tracks and the scenery. We bumped into them several times over the next week as we criss-crossed the tracks, including a big night at the Dargo Pub.

Then there was Ted Gilliam, who we bumped into near the old mine site at Glen Willis. Ted is a diesel engineer who has spent the last five years working with a group of blokes and Parks Victoria to restore and get running the old Ruston diesel engine, which has been there since the 1940s.

Ted was only too happy to spend some time with us and tell us all about the project. You would’ve met Ted if you watched episode two of our DVD series.

That night in camp near Omeo, Ron recognised a Classic Range Rover he knew belonged to an American couple who were overlanding around the world, so he stopped in for a chat with them.

4x4 Explore: Land Rover celebrates 70th Anniversary in Cooma

These weren’t the only international tourists we came across four-wheel driving in the High Country; there were also folks from Italy and France, which just goes to show the appeal this amazing location has to travellers from around the globe.

There were plenty of folks to chat with in the hotels in Omeo and Dargo, as you can’t beat the hospitality and atmosphere of these bush pubs for a great night out. The bush telegraph was in operation as we left Dargo and headed out along the ridge towards the trig point on Mount Blue Rag. Low cloud and fog blanketed the area and four-wheel drivers heading back along the road told us not to bother, as there was nothing to see up there through the fog. 

We ventured back down the range to Talbotville and just about had the expansive campground to ourselves. There were a couple of other fellas there, but they were having a party all on their own, which we best thought we should stay away from.

Mountain Celebrities

It was coming out of Wonnangatta Valley up the Zeka Spur when we came across the Italian travellers, but for the rest of those three days we didn’t see another vehicle or person. It wasn’t until after we’d driven along King Billy and stopped at Lovicks Hut for lunch that we met some more travellers in their 4x4s.

The ladies in this group recognised Ron as the face on their Vic High Country guide book and took the chance to have the author sign it for them and get a selfie with the man himself. Talk about a celebrity!

A couple more legends joined us that night for camp at Bluff Hut. The old hut here before it burnt down was known as Stoney’s Hut, and Graham Stoney and Charlie Lovick, two of the last High Country cattlemen to have run stock over these parts of the alps, sat around the fire with us and told tales of the old days and how things have changed in the mountains ever since the cattle stopped grazing there. A pair of nicer blokes you will not find anywhere.

If you’re interested in the High Country cattlemen and their history, the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria has a great website and hosts a fantastic get-together each year that celebrates all things mountain life. Check the site at: www.mcav.com.au

As our convoy headed back down the range we were flagged down by a couple of bushwalkers, one of whom had rolled his ankle and was looking for a lift. We took him through to Bindaree Hut where we met up with Bruce McCormack who was able to send the wounded walker back to Merrijig in his support vehicle.

Bruce is another bloke who comes from a long line of mountain cattlemen, and he was out on one of the guided horse rides his family offers in the mountains; this one heading along the Howqua Valley.

Joining one of McCormack’s rides is another great way to experience the High Country and hear stories of mountain life. They offer many rides, from one-day trips to Craigs Hut, to multi-day treks and mustering rides. Have a look at www.mountainvalleytrailrides.com.au for more details.

Opinion: High Country huts need to be protected

Speaking of Craigs Hut, this was where we finished our trip, linking the Snowy River with the hut that was made for the film The Man From Snowy River. With its stunning location and reasonably easy access by car, Craigs is one of the most popular places for High Country visitors. It was originally built for the film, but was burnt down in one of the many fires that are always a threat in the alps.

Four Wheel Drive Victoria’s (FWDV) Alison McLaughlin joined us at the hut to tell us about the work FWDV did with some of the local 4WD clubs in rebuilding the hut and the ongoing work in maintaining it.

Craigs Hut was a fitting place to end our drive and look back on the two-week journey and the many people we met along the way. The High Country is a diverse place and attracts a diverse range of users. Local four-wheel drivers are just one group; we also met international travellers, mountain bikers, fishermen, horseback riders, cattlemen and people responsible for the maintaining the tracks and huts.

Destinations for the adventurous on 4x4 Explore

Some of these folks helped forge the legends of the High Country and some are there to preserve it, while others are simply there to enjoy the beauty and spectacle the alps have to offer. There’s something up here for everyone, and it’s no wonder the High Country is one of Australia’s favourite off-road destinations.