Wombats, Wallabies and Wilderness Walks - Taking the Scenic Route from Melbourne to Mallacoota

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October 12th 2015
Published: October 18th 2015
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Ready for ActionReady for ActionReady for Action

Linda and the Afro Van at the base of Mount Buffalo
After nine months living and working in Melbourne, Linda and I bid farewell to our work colleagues at the start of October and spent Grand Final weekend packing up all of our belongings in preparation for our much-anticipated road-trip up the East Coast of Australia. And on Monday 5thOctober, the day finally arrived for us to pick up our new home on wheels from the Wicked Campers depot in Melbourne - which thankfully was only a short drive from where we had been living, since we immediately had to return to the depot after loading up the van and then realizing that the button used to pop the bonnet had become disconnected!

Nevertheless, we were both in agreement that while our new 'Afro Van' might not win any beauty contests, it was certainly a darn sight better looking than 'Jolly Roger' had been on the West Coast last year! And thus, with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts we finally put Melbourne in our rearviewmirror - though no sooner had we left the city behind than we were already making our first stop of the trip, to say a quick hello/goodbye to our friend (and my former
Home on WheelsHome on WheelsHome on Wheels

Our new home outside our former home in Melbourne
boss) Steve in nearby Berwick.

From there though we made good time the rest of the way to our eventual overnight stop at the Tidal River campground in Wilsons Promontory National Park. But while 'The Prom' may be regarded by many as the most beautiful of all Victoria's national parks, that reputation comes at a cost - both in price ($55 per night for an un-powered campsite at off-peak rates!) and in popularity (the campground at Tidal River contains almost 500 campsites in all).

Still, as we made our way slowly along the winding road that leads through the park, it was hard not to fall for The Prom - what with the slowly setting sun perfectly highlighting the contrast between the lush green of the vegetation and the deep blue of the surrounding sea; not to mention the added attraction of numerous wallabies grazing leisurely by the road, as colourful crimson rosellas flew overhead. And then just to top it all off, as we finally pulled into the campground at Tidal River shortly before sunset, a lone wombat ambled casually by in the undergrowth - fulfilling another of Linda's (not to mention my own) wildlife dreams for
The perfect setting for a hikeThe perfect setting for a hikeThe perfect setting for a hike

View upstream from the Tidal River footbridge
the trip... and we'd not yet even reached the end of our first day on the road!

After a hot and windy first night in our campervan (so hot in fact that we left the sliding door open for most of the night to let the breeze in - though with the winds coming from the north even that offered little respite from the heat) we were greeted by more of the same the next morning, with the incessant gusts of wind repeatedly thwarting our attempts at cooking toast in the frying pan on our little portable gas cooker, and forcing us to settle for cereal with milk instead! But with breakfast out of the way and another clear blue sky overhead, it was time for us to explore some of the hiking trails that fan out from the campground, and for which Wilsons Promontory is justifiably famous.

As we crossed the footbridge over Tidal River, the beauty of the surrounding landscape became apparent. From there the views started to open up almost immediately, as we steadily climbed the ridge that runs parallel to Tidal River whilst following the crystal clear river downstream past it's outlet at the
The Prom at it's finestThe Prom at it's finestThe Prom at it's finest

View of Norman Beach and Mount Oberon from Pillar Point
northern end of Norman Beach, and all the way to the rocky headland of Pillar Point, where the views were nothing short of magnificent! With Oberon Bay backed by Norman Beach on one side and Leonard Bay protecting Squeaky Beach on the other side, the sheer beauty of the coastline reminded me of Cape Le Grand NP which we had visited (and fallen in love with) on the West Coast last year. Add to all of that an impressive range of mountains covered in dense vegetation culminating in the imposing rocky bulk of Mount Oberon rearing up behind the campground at Tidal River, and it was a most impressive sight indeed!

After clambering about on the giant boulders at Pillar Point for a while, we then continued on down the other side of the headland to Squeaky Beach, where a number of giant boulders were all clumped together at the northern end of the beach, creating a maze of narrow passageways that would surely keep young ones entertained for hours. Having raised quite a sweat already, and with the temperature hovering around the mid-30's (thanks to the persistent northerly winds), we decided it was time to get the swimmers
Beautiful BeachBeautiful BeachBeautiful Beach

Picnic Bay
on and cool off in the sea - only to discover once and for all that no matter how warm the AIR temperature may be in Victoria in October, the SEA temperature is most definitely still butt-numbingly cold!

Back on the trail we continued to follow the coastline north, crossing another densely vegetated headland before arriving at Picnic Bay, which with it's perfect crescent-shaped arc of white sand was possibly the most beautiful of all the beaches we had come across so far. From there a short trail led up to a viewpoint overlooking both Picnic Bay and Whisky Bay immediately to the north, where we finally decided it was time to turn around and head back the way we had come... though we couldn't resist taking a lengthy detour towards the end of our hike to take in the views of Tidal River and Mount Oberon from the top of the ridge overlooking the campground (called, funnily enough, Tidal Overlook).

No sooner had we arrived back at the campground after our 14km hike than the winds suddenly switched direction (just as the weather forecast had predicted) and started blowing from the south, with the resulting sudden drop
On top of the world... or at least Mount OberonOn top of the world... or at least Mount OberonOn top of the world... or at least Mount Oberon

Yours truly, with Norman Beach and Squeaky Beach in the background
in temperature immediately sending us scurrying for our warm clothes! But while the cold winds may have made our al fresco dinner (coconut curry with rice - one of Linda's specialties!) a slightly less inviting affair, it certainly made our sleeping situation much more comfortable than the night before. Meanwhile Linda had another wildlife encounter to cherish when a seemingly friendly (but more likely simply curious) wombat wandered past as she was cooking up a storm, allowing her to briefly stroke it's back as it trundled past in search of it's own dinner.

Day three of the road-trip saw us leaving Tidal River and taking the short road up to Telegraph Saddle, from where we tackled the 7km return hike up to the summit of Mount Oberon. And while the hike itself might have been on the boring side, the views from the top were outstanding - as the same stretch of coastline that we had hiked along the previous day was laid out before us, with Oberon Bay and Leonard Bay taking centre stage, and the vast camping area beside Tidal River spread out immediately beneath us at the base of Mount Oberon.

Back in the campervan
Falling WaterFalling WaterFalling Water

Agnes Falls
we set off back towards the mainland proper, before taking a short but scenic detour through the rolling hills of Gippsland's dairy country to check out Agnes Falls, which at 59 metres is reputedly Victoria's highest single span waterfall. And with a scenic picnic area situated right beside the falls, it proved to be the perfect place for a relaxing lunch in tranquil surroundings.

Having forked out a ridiculous amount of money to spend the two previous nights at Wilsons Promontory, Linda and I had decided it was time we found a free rest area for the night, and as luck would have it a little further up the coast on the road between Seaspray and Golden Beach were scattered a number of free basic campsites that each consisted of little more than a short gravel track leading from the main road into a clearing immediately behind Ninety Mile Beach! And so with the sun just about to set we chose to make campsite C12 our home for the night, before making our way down onto Ninety Mile Beach to watch the day draw to a close.

The next day started out somewhat frustratingly, as a swarm of
No end in sightNo end in sightNo end in sight

Ninety Mile Beach at dusk
tiny bugs hovering beside our campervan insisted on gatecrashing our breakfast - so that in the end I had to seek refuge inside the van, sitting in the drivers seat to finish my cereal! Once on the road though we quickly made our way to Bairnsdale, where we stocked up on food at what we figured would be the last supermarket we would see in a few days, and then headed down to a riverside park to indulge in some Subway sandwiches for lunch.

On our way out of Bairnsdale we turned onto the Great Alpine Road - which like it's more famous coastal cousin is renowned for spectacular scenery, though it is also renowned for being quite a challenging drive as it winds it's way through, up and over some of the highest mountains in the country. In fact it is the highest sealed road open year-round anywhere in Australia, reaching an altitude of 1820 metres at Mount Hotham. My plan though was to take the Great Alpine Road only as far as Omeo, then turn off and take the Bogong High Plains Road up past the ski resort of Falls Creek and then over to Bright, from
Winding, climbing roadWinding, climbing roadWinding, climbing road

The Great Alpine Road near the top of Mount Hotham
where we could take the Great Alpine Road back past the twin ski resorts of Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain in order to complete a loop drive back to Omeo.

The only problem with this plan was that while the Great Alpine Road remains open year-round (with snow chains being a legal requirement from the beginning of May through until the first weekend of October), the Bogong High Plains Road is closed during the winter ski season - which had only just ended one week earlier. However, with the whole of Victoria having had five days in a row of northerly winds (and their resultant warm temperatures) during the past week, we felt sure that by now any snow on the roads would have melted away and the main roads would all be open again - a theory that was supported by the lady we spoke to at the Bairnsdale Tourist Information Office.

So after making our way up through some twisty sections of road to Omeo, we filled up with fuel and then turned off onto the Omeo Highway, which eventually led us about 40kms later to the famed Bogong High Plains Road - a marvel of
Classic mountain streamClassic mountain streamClassic mountain stream

The Ovens River flowing through Bright
engineering and persistence that teeters it's way up the side of mountains and along ridge-tops... or at least it did for about 13kms, before we came to a giant locked gate across the road and a sign declaring 'road closed for winter season' at a place called Trapyard Gap. We were gutted. Aside from the fact that this would prevent us from completing the loop drive that we had planned, it would mean that if we were going to make it to Bright as we had hoped to we would have to back-track all the way to Omeo to then take the Great Alpine Road all the way up to Bright. Still, we didn't have much choice - and the longer we sat and stared at the locked gate and 'road closed' sign, the less likely it was that we would make it to Bright before dark.

Eventually we did make it back to Omeo - though our little detour (55kms each way) had taken over two hours - at which point Linda made use of the brief window of mobile phone reception to firstly call the Bright Holiday Park where we hoped to spend the night to find
Satisfying end to a long daySatisfying end to a long daySatisfying end to a long day

Enjoying a pint of IPA at Bright Brewery
out what time their reception would close (7:30pm; right around sunset) and then Bright Brewery to find out when their kitchen would be closing (8pm, according to the guy who answered the phone) since neither of us could be bothered going to the trouble of cooking dinner, and we would surely both need a drink (or two) by the time this day was over!

So with the sun sinking lower in the sky we set out from Omeo for the second time, this time making good progress on the excellent quality road before we inevitably had to take it slower on the climb up to Mount Hotham - and then even slower on the long, winding descent to the Ovens Valley floor at Harrietville. Thankfully though luck was on our side, as we not only made it to Bright in time to check into the caravan park (where we ended up with a beautiful spot right beside the creek that flows through the park, and without a single other vehicle in the vicinity), but then once we had finished showering and setting the van up for the night, we managed to order ourselves a couple of delicious pizzas just
Vertiginous Valley ViewsVertiginous Valley ViewsVertiginous Valley Views

View of the Ovens Valley from The Gorge
as the kitchen was closing at Bright Brewery - which were washed down with some of their excellent M.I.A. IPA that I had been looking forward to sampling ever since trying a bottle in Melbourne a couple of months earlier. By the time we made it back to the caravan park (situated only a few hundred metres from the brewery, by pure coincidence!) we were both feeling relaxed and content, and looking forward to some serious mountain exploration the following day.

Thankfully this wasn't hard to achieve, as just a short distance from Bright lies Mount Buffalo National Park, where a massive granite outcrop rears up above the Ovens River valley to a height of over 1700 metres. From the bottom, 1400 metres below, the view of the mountain and it's imposing cliffs was impressive enough, but that was nothing compared to the views from the top looking back down over the valley and the surrounding mountains. Adding to the spectacle was the rather unimaginatively-named The Gorge, where a waterfall drops down into a narrow gap in the almost vertical cliffs, offering numerous vantage points from which to take in the breathtaking vista.

After completing a short loop
Mountain LakeMountain LakeMountain Lake

Looking back at Lake Catani from the end of the Lakeside Trail
walk that followed the cliff-top, we returned to the lookout area for a relaxing and scenic lunch before setting off on a longer hike that took us down into the slightly more imaginatively-named Haunted Gorge where a stream (the equally cool-sounding Underground River) flows underneath a jumble of boulders that have tumbled down into it's path, then across a swampy clearing that contains pools of crystal clear mountain water in a field of lush green moss, before continuing on to the artificially-created Lake Catani (why it wasn't named simply The Lake I'm not quite sure).

Following the Lakeside trail that circumnavigates Lake Catani we were constantly avoiding wombat poo, which along with the number of wombat burrows we discovered beside the track offered pretty clear evidence that the lake is just as popular with the furry marsupials as it is with people. And after working up quite a sweat by the time we returned to our van, we immediately high-tailed it back to the lake to indulge in a brief but refreshing swim... though the water was at least slightly warmer than it had been at Wilsons Promontory a few days earlier!

Having warmed ourselves up again in
Conquering the BuffaloConquering the BuffaloConquering the Buffalo

Looking back down at the final climb up The Horn
the sun, we hopped back in the van and followed the road right to the very end - passing such notable attractions as The Monolith, The Cathedral and The Hump along the way; and having to negotiate the final stretch of steep, switch-backing gravel road - where we set out on the short climb to the top of The Horn, which at 1723 metres is the highest point on Mount Buffalo, and which rewards those who make it to the top with an incredible 360 degree panorama.

With some threatening-looking storm clouds sweeping in from the south, we beat a hasty retreat back down the mountain to the relative safety of our creek-side camping spot at the Bright Holiday Park; before not surprisingly ending up back at Bright Brewery to indulge in a tasting paddle and some vege tacos, while I enjoyed my first internet access of the trip courtesy of their free wi-fi. Having initially decided to spend a third night in Bright - which by now both Linda and I had fallen in love with - we then changed our minds after seeing that the weather forecast for Saturday was predicting afternoon showers and a likely thunderstorm,
Walking the RazorbackWalking the RazorbackWalking the Razorback

View from the start of the Razorback Ridge
at which point we decided it would be more prudent to head back along the Great Alpine Road and down out of the mountains the following morning, before any nasty weather came along.

But with the sun once again shining amidst a cloudless blue sky the following morning, I couldn't resist going for a leisurely stroll alongside the river through the centre of Bright; before we belatedly hit the road and tackled the countless switch-backs and blind turns of the gruelling climb towards Mount Hotham. And with clear skies in (almost) all directions once we finally reached the top of the climb, we decided to throw caution to the wind and tackle the first portion of the famed Razorback Ridge trail that follows the crest of an undulating ridge from Mount Hotham all the way to the summit of Mount Feathertop some 11kms away. With the walk starting at an altitude of 1745 metres (by comparison Mount Feathertop and Mount Bogong, at 1922m and 1985m, are the two highest peaks in the Victorian Alps), it goes without saying that the views from the Razorback Ridge trail are outstanding, with ridgeline upon ridgeline stretching off into the distance in every
Adding a splash of colour to the viewAdding a splash of colour to the viewAdding a splash of colour to the view

Viewpoint overlooking Lakes Entrance
direction. If only we'd had time to go all the way to the end...

No sooner had we returned to the van than the predicted storm front started closing in, so needless to say we high-tailed it the hell out of there, hurtling through the high plains to Omeo and then following the winding Tambo River all the way to Bruthen, where I picked up a couple of take-away beers from Bullant Brewery to enjoy later on once we reached our overnight stop at Log Crossing - a small but scenic picnic area located 2km off the highway in the midst of a forest. As I sampled a couple of Bullant's offerings, Linda re-lived her childhood by building a camp-fire and then cooking stick bread (a first for me, but pretty tasty!); after which we enjoyed a barbecue dinner whilst watching lightning flash in the distance. And all the while, we waited for the heavens to open...

Emerging on Sunday morning however, it was clear that although there had been some rain overnight it had by no means been the downpour of biblical proportions we might have expected, and so we packed up and drove the short distance
Spectacular end to the weekSpectacular end to the weekSpectacular end to the week

Lightning over Mallacoota Inlet
to Lakes Entrance (where an artificially-created channel connects the Gippsland Lakes system to the sea) for a tranquil breakfast on the waterfront. From there we continued two hours to the east, finishing up in the tiny town of Mallacoota where we headed straight for the council-run Mallacoota Foreshore Holiday Park, and ended up with a campsite no more than ten metres from the water's edge on the shores of the vast Mallacoota Inlet.

In a week where we had come across some beautiful locations for camping, this was yet another gem, and perhaps even the best of the lot - not the least of which because it offered us the chance to sit back and watch yet another sound-and-light show put on by Mother Nature, as the storm clouds rolled in once more and lightning flashed and danced in the sky; and a pair of starry-eyed wanderers lay back in their mobile home and hoped for more of the same over the next seven-and-a-half weeks...!

Additional photos below
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Afro Van in Wilsons PromontoryAfro Van in Wilsons Promontory
Afro Van in Wilsons Promontory

Our campsite at Tidal River campground
Afro Van in BrightAfro Van in Bright
Afro Van in Bright

Our campsite at Bright Holiday Park
Afro Van in the Gippsland LakesAfro Van in the Gippsland Lakes
Afro Van in the Gippsland Lakes

Our campsite at Log Crossing
Afro Van in MallacootaAfro Van in Mallacoota
Afro Van in Mallacoota

Our campsite at Mallacoota Foreshore Holiday Park

19th October 2015
Afro Van in Bright

What a vehicle
19th October 2015
Afro Van in Bright

Afro Van
Indeed! It's been put through the wringer in the first two weeks of the trip too - but still going strong!

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