Victoria - Grampians and High Country

Sunday, Mar 09, 2014 at 13:15

Peter Beard (WA)

In early January 2014 Pete and Ali had a family gathering to attend in Hobart to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Pete's great-great grandmother's arrival in Australia from Ireland. To celebrate the celebration they decided to take the 80 Series and do a bit of exploring. After completing the run from Esperance to Balladonia via Mt Ragged, Israelite Bay, the old Telegraph Track to Twilight Cove then up to the Eyre Highway at Cocklebiddy (see the blog for that trip here) they headed across the Nullarbor to explore the Victorian Alps, with a run through the Grampians as a warm-up.

Friday 27 December 2013
An early rise today. After the run across the Nullarbor with overnight stops at Eucla, Streaky Bay, and Hahndorf, we stayed last night in Horsham. We decided we'd had enough of the roof top tent for a while so phoned ahead from Hahndorf and managed to get the last room at the Comfort Inn, choosing to stay there because they advertise an in-house restaurant. Once we'd checked in we asked the lady in reception what time the restaurant opened and if we should make a booking, only to be told the restaurant was closed because they "weren't very busy". Even though they had a full motel they "weren't very busy".

So we got on the phone to find a restaurant or even a pub for dinner. According to Horsham has no less than 17 restaurants of varying cuisine and reputation - and they were all closed. Okay, it was a Thursday night but it was also the peak holiday season between Christmas and New Year and all the pubs and restaurants are closed? Big fail Horsham!

One of the pubs at least answered the phone and said to try the council-run recreation centre across the road from our motel (no thanks) or the RSL club a couple of blocks away. So we called the RSL and booked a table. When we got there just before 7pm the place was packed with people queuing for tables, food and drinks. We were very happy the RSL had a better business plan than any of Horsham's restaurants or pubs and had decided people need a feed even if it is Thursday. Although they were flat out the staff was friendly and the food and drinks were good - and cheap, especially compared to Perth where you can't buy a schooner in the CBD for less than $11. If we ever visit Horsham again (and it won't be for the pubs and restaurants) it's the RSL again for us for sure.

This morning the streets of Horsham - the town with a pub on every corner and every one of them closed - were just as deserted as last night but we did find a café open in a side street for takeaway coffees. It was already warming up and a clear blue sky promised a fine, hot day for our drive through the Grampians and the long haul across to Mansfield.

We entered the Grampians National Park from the northwest, turning off the main highway not far out of Horsham and driving through farmland to Zumstein Camp. The Grampians rise very suddenly out of flat country – you can see them for miles around. The road climbs as precipitously as the hills, heading steeply up to the first point of interest at McKenzie Falls. There were not many cars on the road – a bit too early - but there were a few hardy cyclists tackling the seriously steep climbs. McKenzie Falls was very pretty and we walked the kilometre or so round trip to the falls lookout, the wind quite cool despite the sunny skies.

Next stop was The Balconies, a car park and fire lookout right at the edge of one of the huge cliffs looking across the central plateau of the Grampians towards the peaks to the south. The central area of the Grampians is quite flat, a dam was across the south east and we could see for miles.

The road weaved down to Halls Gap in tight bends, the drop off to the left very abrupt and a bit sickening. We turned right and followed Grampians Drive south, skirting Lake Bellfield to Silverband Road, the start of the track we had downloaded from ExploreOz. We also had a paper copy of a 4WD track we found on the Parks Victoria website – yep, that’s right, a government website giving info for four wheel drivers! Can’t imagine that happening in WA.

Unfortunately, neither map nor Hema Navigator showed that Silverband Road was one way at the southern end. We couldn’t access the track from here. Using a combination of OziExplorer and the paper map, we found what looked like a track that would cross over the Serra Range to the central plateau so we could pick up our planned track. We soon found it and were climbing steeply up a well formed if narrow track over the top of the mountain range.

Picking up Syphon Road we were soon back following the blue line on the Hema across the central plateau to Sawmill Track, although we missed it at first and had to double back. At this point we began to climb steeply again through heavily wooded slopes to the amazing Victoria Range Track. It follows the ridgeline north along the top of the Victoria Range offering spectacular views. It is a bit steep in places but nothing too outrageous for the 80 Series.

Syphon Road crosses the range at the northern end and we dropped down to the Billimina Creek on the western side of the Grampians. Here the soil is very different from the central and eastern parts – much sandier and the vegetation more sparse. Following Red Rock Road north we found the final section of tracks to link us back to Zumstein Camp. As we started the climb up Launders Track we came across a couple coming down in an FJ Cruiser, the driver gripping the wheel tightly and the passenger with eyes bulging and looking as if she was trying to melt through the front seat into the back. We soon understood why. Launders Track climbs several hundred metres in several hundred metres – it felt like it was vertical. It was also very rocky with big step-ups over boulders when we were already on an impossible angle. We hadn’t let much air out of the tyres so the car did not feel as secure and grippy as it usually does, the wheels spun over one section and we slipped a bit sideways. Being from WA we're not used to steep climbs in mountain country (we don't even have any real mountains in WA) so for us it was pretty scary! See our video of Launders Track here.

The final 22km to Zumstein Camp took nearly an hour. After the challenge of Launders Track we had to weave our way carefully along Wallaby Rocks Track (we even saw a wallaby!) and then down Rose Creek Road before finally completing our circuit. The whole trek had taken us longer than anticipated – we were thinking that we would be leaving the Grampians around lunchtime but it was now 2pm and we had more than 400km to reach our next destination, Mansfield on the western edge of the Victorian high country. Download our plot for the Grampians loop here.

Saturday 28 December 2013
The drive across to Mansfield was a nightmare. It was four to six lane motorways most of the way, we dipped down towards Melbourne from Stawell on what will be the M8 one day when it's finished, hit the M80 ring road then scooted north on the M31. It was definitely the quickest way to go, but the speed and constant stream of fast moving traffic was exhausting. Keeping the Landcruiser – which with the roof top tent and suspension lift handles like a block of flats at anything over 90km/h – within the lanes took enormous concentration from both of us. We were very relieved to turn off the motorway near Trawool and head into the hills.

We called ahead and once again jagged the last room at Alzburg Resort. Once we'd arrived and checked in we discovered Alzburg Resort also has an on-site restaurant, which was - you guessed it - closed. Friday night, holiday season, full house, restaurant closed. Fortunately, the friendly lady in reception was kind enough to recommend a good restaurant in walking distance, the Old Firehouse, and we'd recommend it to anyone travelling to Mansfield. The manager's husband was also there and we got chatting. He told us he also drives an 80 Series and makes a living organising and conducting off-road motorcycle tours in the region. He said he would bring in some maps and point out some of the area's highlights plus a few of the not so well-known attractions. Looks like the Old Firehouse for dinner again tonight!

So after a good night’s sleep, this morning we topped up the fuel, grabbed a coffee (Mansfield's High Street was packed with holiday makers all intent on finding something open and getting breakfast and coffee) and we headed into the mountains for a day trip up to Mt Stirling following a track that Pete had downloaded from ExploreOz.

Taking the Mansfield – Mt Buller Rd east out of town, we drove through rolling, rich farm country before turning onto Buttercup Road. Here it soon turned gravel, so we pulled over under a tree to lock the hubs and let down the tyres. After yesterday’s scary scrabble up Launders Track we both wanted to ease our passage by having less air in the tyres.

Buttercup Road lived up to its name – both sides of the track were covered in bright yellow flowers. About 10km in we started to climb and entered a long section that had been completely devastated by bushfire. The massive trees that once covered the slopes were tall, white-grey skeletons towering either side of the track. New growth had started from the ground, but only occasionally would we see a big tree regenerating. The fire must have been particularly intense, at one point we could see down a valley and could trace the path of the fire up from below. A centre line of white, where the trees were almost ash, showed the fire's route. Either side the grey, dead skeletons of massive trees marched to the summit. It was very eerie.

The track was tight in places, with big boulders and the occasional fallen tree, but with softer tyres it was fine. We followed Carters Track up to Tomahawk Hut. As we came over the top we found people camped (a car and a motorbike on the track enjoying the sunny day). We also left behind the burnt devastation and found thickly wooded slopes as we weaved across Tomahawk Gap to Mount No 3 and Number 3 Road. This took us along a long ridge between Charlies Rock and Mount Winstanley, fairly straight until we hit Razorback and the descent along King Flat to Pineapple Flat. It was quite a hairy ride down to the flats, in places the track was just wide enough for the car, a sheer drop to the left and a cliff face to the right. Fortunately the track cambered towards the cliff, we suspect the grader driver also suffers vertigo!

Crossing the Fork Creek a few times we eventually got to the bottom – quite a few cars were also enjoying the track and we were glad we didn’t meet them on the descent. The track follows the King River along Basin Road, crossing a few times over fords and occasional bridges.

For a finale we climbed Clear Hills Track past Craig's Hut and onto Mt Stirling itself – a 1,749m peak opposite Mt Buller. The original Craig's Hut was used as a film set in the movie "The Man From Snowy River" and was destroyed in the fires of 2006/07. The current one is an exact replica of the original. The climb up to Mt Stirling was steep and quite scary, we came across a couple of cars including a guy in a Subaru WRX half way up who looked like he was actually contemplating the track to Craig's Hut! We turned onto the steep section and figured he wouldn’t be silly enough to attempt it – it was rocky step ups and slithering stones most of the way.

Rising above the tree line, the track snaked across the summit, which was covered in low grass and rocks. A line of tall poles marked the edge of the track, guidance for winter when it would be covered in deep snow. It was cold and clear up there – the view nearly 360 degrees. We could see the Alpine Village and ski runs on Mt Buller across the valley and mountains stretching to the horizon all around.

The descent was steep but short, we turned onto Cornhill Road in the valley between Mt Stirling and Mt Buller and followed it around to the Alpine Village we had seen from the summit of Mt Stirling. Here we got back onto the bitumen and made our way slowly back to Mansfield, deciding not to pump up the tyres as we would only have to let them down again tomorrow morning when we started the Wonnangatta trip.

Dinner was back at the Old Firehouse Restaurant, walking distance from our hotel.Too easy! Unfortunately the manager's husband hadn't been able to make it - the babysitter had bailed - so our insider knowledge of the high country would not be forthcoming. The secrets are safe.

Sunday 29 December 2013
A leisurely start to the day in Mansfield, we had a few cups of hot tea, packed the car and braved the madness of Mansfield's High Street for fuel, eggs, sandwiches, a marking pen and coffee. The marking pen is to colour in the rather large crack that has developed on the driver’s side of the windscreen (one of a few courtesy of the shower of stones way back at Esperance). Yesterday's flexing of the 80's muscles has turned a little crack into a big crack, which catches the sun and sparkles in a most disturbing way when driving. But it is now a thin black line that isn't bothering anyone.

It took ages to get coffee, we didn’t get on the road out of town until after 12 midday, heading back towards Mt Buller and Howqua Hills Road. Pulling under a tree just to lock the hubs after the gravel started, Pete noticed oil seeping from the right hand rear axle flange. Two of the six nuts holding the rear axle in place had come loose, a potentially disastrous event given the tracks we are about to tackle. We also experienced the first wave of cars that were to plague the first 40 odd km of the track. Around 15 cars roared past – going both in and out of the track. Nobody slowed down to limit the dust and rocks, stop to ask if we were OK or even acknowledge us. Strange.

The track to Howqua Camp was reasonably well formed if narrow – about one and a half cars width – with a hump in the middle. The track certainly wasn’t a problem. What made this section very frightening was the cars coming towards us flat out in the middle of the track, hardly slowing down to let us scuttle into the bush to get out of their way. There was even a sign asking people to keep left, this is obviously a long term problem in this neck of the woods. The camping grounds were packed; five or six big camping areas along the track were full of cars, tents, trailers and people. We thankfully climbed out of the valley heading up Brocks Road to Eight Mile Gap.

The track was very steep but still well formed, we let a couple of cars pass us half way up, happy for them to do a breakneck speed while we drove along cautiously. The drop down to the valley below on the left was way too steep for risk taking.

Next step took us onto the Bluff Link and across to Bluff Hut. The track followed a ridge line between a couple of mountains offering fantastic views either side, forests of thick, tortured gums (either burnt or windblown, and covered in lichen) and meadows of brilliant white, yellow, pink and purple mountain wildflowers nestled in low hummocks of grass. There were even cows standing quietly along the edge of the track, munching grass and completely unfazed by the car as we passed very close by. We made a wrong turn at the start and had to double back, although finding a place to turn around was difficult, with a sheer drop one side and a cliff face the other. A bunch of people with horses waved to us as we came back around for a second go at finding the right track.

Just after Bluff Hut we came across a NSW 4WD club of 14 cars heading towards us. We pulled in to let them pass, it is much easier for one to find a place to pull off the track than 14. Not far after we were waved down by a Queensland couple in a single car, the driver asking us if he was on the right track to Bluff Hut. We reassured him and his wife folded the map and shoved it away.

The climb from Lovick’s Hut to a lookout on the slopes of King Billy No 1 was incredibly steep. Ali got out to video the ascent, Pete slowly ground his way up the slope passing a couple of hikers who were on their way down. The two old blokes must have been in their 70s, one looked like a scarecrow with wizened skin covering his face. They had walked across the King Billy Track and were heading back to camp at Lovick’s Hut. We were getting tired doing the same track in a four wheel drive!

We had a sandwich at the top then started along King Billy Track, passing another group of friendly hikers who commented on how far we were from home. Crossing a narrow ridgeline with a sheer drop to the right we came face to face with a group of 10 cars, a nightmare. We wedged ourselves up against a bank, leaving just enough room for the cars to file past, getting really close to the rear end of our car as their passenger side edged towards the abyss.

The track dropped down into a long valley, following a river through thick bush, man ferns, lush grass and lots of flowers with boggy water filed holes and dried mud sections. Trees and rocks had fallen across the track in many places; they had been cleared effectively although some sections were a bit narrow to get through. A couple of fallen trees covered the track like an arch – it just cleared the tent. See the video here. A long section of dead burnt trees had a profusion of new growth bursting from the ground, the thin trunks of the new gums a deep, rich purple and the leaf stems bright red.

We came across another single car from Queensland with one guy inside, who stopped to chat. He warned us of the river crossing ahead – a short but deep section with steep entry and exit. Someone had put a log on the far side to give a leg up out of the water, we found it was fine in low range first gear.

The climb out of the valley was very steep over a rocky track, which crossed and recrossed a scree slope formed by an avalanche in times past. We emerged onto Howitt Plains, a beautiful, flat pasture on top of the world. We are at about 1600 metres and have set up camp a short way down Butcher Country Track at the edge of a big meadow covered in short grass. It is only just after 6pm but we have decided to stop, eat and rest before tackling the Zeka Spur – a 21 km stretch rated at three out of five for difficulty, the same level as Launders Track back in the Grampians. It is cooling fast although still nice and warm in the sun, the forecast is for five degrees tonight, another cold one in the tent! Ali has boiled some eggs for snacks on the tracks over the next few days, we are going to have sausages, beans and fried eggs on toast for dinner then from our high vantage point listen to This American Life on Radio National.

Monday 30 December 2013
Every time we spend a night in the tent it’s freezing. Last night was no exception, but once we snuggled down into our sleeping bags we still managed to have a very good night’s rest. There was no wind at all and because it was so cool we slept in to 8:30, despite the sun beating down on our tent. A couple of cups of tea, a muesli bar each and a leisurely pack made it after 10am by the time we headed back to the main track to tackle Zeka Spur. We were both feeling a bit apprehensive, this track has a high difficulty rating and we are very high up.

The track started to descend almost immediately – long steep sections with big humps in the middle down to hairpin bends. The brake warning light came on soon after we began to go down, it took a few switch backs to find a spot level enough to stop, check the brake fluid and top it up. It was close to the minimum, the wear on the disc pads and the cold air overnight must have shrunk it down, and the steep incline triggered the switch for the fluid level warning light. It was soon fixed and we were on our way, weaving ever down, backwards and forwards along the switchbacks through thick trees, scrub, flowers and man ferns.

We came across our first car of the day not far in, we were on the way down on one long section, he was on way up on the long section below us. We managed to pass easily (at least we were on the hill side, not the chasm side). He warned us there was another car coming towards us with a trailer; he had passed it a while back.

About halfway down to the valley below the track levelled off and followed the contour of the mountain around, a very narrow path along the line of the mountain with a cliff face on the left and a sheer drop to the right. We came across the car and trailer combo on this section. Once again we were very relieved that we were required to pull up against the cliff face. Pete gets vertigo standing on a kitchen chair and, while Ali doesn't mind heights normally, sitting in a tin box weighing a few tonnes on a cliff edge even makes her a bit nervous.

The track took us around the mountain and into another valley before finally descending in similar steep straights and hairpin bends to a sandy valley with some longer sections that looked like dried mud. Tracking along a river for a bit we began climbing again towards Wonnangatta Station, an old pastoral property bought by the government in the late 1980s to become part of the Alpine National Park. We passed a couple of cars coming towards us, and then a motorbike came flying past us going the same way. It took us completely by surprise and we watched the mirror in case he was travelling in company but it seems he was alone. Just before Wonnangatta Station a group of five bikes came towards us, signalling with their hands how many were behind. A very effective and safe way to communicate. We pulled over to let them all through.

The old Wonnangatta Station is a lovely cleared area nestled in a valley between mountains, covered in low grass, small shrubs and flowers. We stopped to use the toilet (not flushing, but even a long drop is a sight for sore eyes in the wilderness). The old cemetery had a few graves dating back to the 1870s, neatly fenced and clean under the shade of two big old trees.

The Wonnangatta Track took us south east, following a small river at the beginning that we crossed a few times. The first two crossings were quite straightforward, in one side and straight out the other. The exit at the next crossing was about 20 metres to the right, we splashed through the shallow, clear running water over big, round, smooth stones. The next one was a bit puzzling a first until we found the exit straight across, a tight left turn hidden by small bushes. It was very pretty.

We had decided not to do the Wombat Range Track up to Cynthia Range Track – it is rated category four on the Parks Victoria map and we didn’t feel quite like that much of a challenge – so opted for the Herne Spur Track instead. At the base we came across a car with two following, we pulled over to let them through then started to climb. And climb. And climb. It went straight up more than 500 metres very, very quickly. It felt almost vertical in places, the car chugging up in low range first gear between the massive track conservation humps that punctuated the ascent. Every time we thought we were nearly at the top we would clear another vertical section and then see yet another vertical section in front. A slight plateau of about 50 metres showed the true extent – we were only about halfway up. We could see the track disappearing up a sharp ridgeline to the very top of the mountain in front of us. It looked even steeper than the section we had already done.

The trip to the top was absolutely terrifying but also exhilarating, on the final two sections of the track it felt like the car would tip over backwards. When we got to the top we stopped for a sandwich and drink of water to gather our druthers and stare at the incredible view. The top was the intersection of the Wombat Range Track. Looking at the map tonight we have discovered that the Herne Spur Track has a warning “Very steep. Do NOT attempt this track if wet”. The Wombat Range Track doesn’t have a warning. Maybe we took the wrong punt? Regardless, it was amazing to be there having lunch, we felt on the top of the world - metaphorically and literally.

Halfway through our sandwich we heard a vehicle in the distance and were able to video three cars coming up the Wombat Range Track, only to turn immediate right and go back down the Herne Spur Track we had just come up. An interesting way to spend the day!

Cynthia Range Track followed the top of a long line of mountains, firstly a sheer drop to the right then a sheer drop to the left as we passed between peaks. The descent was steep but not as frightening as coming up, the car in low range first gear seeming to defy gravity to take us slowly but surely down.

Once in the valley we came to the abandoned Howittville townsite and followed the Wongungarra River for a few kilometres. There is a farm here and also a few people camping, as we crossed the river for the first time we were waved to by a couple of kids heading for the water with inflated car tubes to play on. Now that looks like fun!

We took a wrong turn near the old townsite itself, crossing the river in a particularly deep section and having to double back and cross it again. The exhaust was under water and reckoned we left a few kilos of Esperance mud from the bottom of the car in the river.

The track notes we had downloaded from the Parks Victoria website mentioned MacMillan Road but the blue line on the track Pete had downloaded onto the Hema took us up Collingwood Spur Track. It was Herne Spur all over again. Vertical, humps and just kept on going. We finally popped out onto a plateau with breathtaking views either side. A group of Victoria-plated cars were parked there taking pictures, we had the usual conversation of “you’re a long way from home” as we stopped take some photos and chat. One guy pointed out a winding track between two mountains in the distance and told us it was Billy Goat Bluff Track – our challenge for tomorrow. It looked so close from this vantage point, but will take a few kilometres to get there in the morning.

Descending from Collingwood Spur Track to MacMillan Road was not as daunting as we thought it would be, obviously that climbs as well, but probably not as suddenly – or we're getting used to it.

About 10km further down the track we finally reached the bitumen at Grant. We took it slowly down the winding road to Dargo and have managed to score a cabin at the only pub in town. The camping area is packed with bellowing yobbos taking turns to do bog laps (4WD style) in the car park, the crowd cheering on the doughnuts and burnouts. We are both feeling absolutely knackered after a hot shower and we're now sitting on our cabin's veranda with a beer watching the boys yob it up in the camping area. Very entertaining. Dinner tonight at the pub, then I don’t think even the yobbos will keep us awake!

Tuesday 31 December 2013
The bed was so comfortable and the curtains so thick that we slept until 10:30 this morning. Nearly twelve hours sleep! As soon as I realised the time we quickly started packing. When Pete took the bags out to the car the cleaning lady reminded him that check out was supposed to be 10:00. Oops!

Coffee in hand we left Dargo around 11:30, heading towards Crooked River Road and the iconic Billy Goat Bluff Track. It was pretty busy along Crooked River Road, we followed the dust of two 4WDs all the way to the Billy Goat Bluff Track turn off, passing rich farmlands and full camping grounds. The road meandered alongside the river for a bit, then climbed up the side of a mountain and we could see the river way below us on the left. This meant we were on the precipice when encountering oncoming cars, not a pleasant feeling. The river crossing at Black Snake Creek Hut was over Kingwill Bridge, an old steel box girder bridge; we haven’t seen one like that for years and Pete said his dad, a WWII sapper, would have been very impressed.

Billy Goat Bluff Track has two distinct stages – the first climbs to a helipad on one mountain (although how on earth you could easily get anyone to the helipad to be rescued is beyond us), the second follows a ridge to the top of its neighbour. A couple of hundred metres in we heard a call on the radio asking if anyone was on the track so we stopped and made contact. There was a group of six heading down from the helipad towards us, a single car coming down from the top to the helipad and a couple of motorbikes also heading down, we were the only ones climbing. We settled the protocols – the group of six would pull over and wait for us to pass, the single car would wait at the helipad until we got there and we’d all keep a sharp eye out for the bikes. Having sorted all that out we began the ascent.

It was incredibly steep, with scrabbly rocky sections feeling almost vertical, humps and a few scarce flatter sections that only seemed to go up at a 45 degree angle instead of closer to 90. We passed the group of six on one of these sections; they were nestled into the bushes at the side of the track. It was a tour group, we stopped to ask the leader what the track was like from the helipad to the top but he said they didn’t do it, he’d heard it was very difficult and chewed up so they had only gone as far as the helipad, turned around and came back down.

We continued climbing and soon emerged onto the helipad, a small, flat section on top of a mountain. The track was so steep as we arrived that all we could see was sky and had no idea whether to turn left or right once we got there. Pete swung slightly right and we landed next to a 79 Series flattop Landcruiser with a couple happily chatting to two young guys next to their motorbikes. We stopped to chat, take photos and ask about the section to the top. The guy in the car reckoned we’d make it – he said there were a few sections that were tricky and one covered in slippy rocks that might be a bit challenging but low range first gear should see us through. Looking up to the top we could see a glint of a windscreen along the track – the motorcyclists’ mate was coming down in a ute. We decided to wait until he cleared the track before heading up. It would be hard enough fitting three cars and two bikes on the helipad, let alone trying to pass someone on a vertical section. The ute soon roared up, tyres spinning and P-plater driver grinning. With that, there were no more obstacles or excuses, we got back in the car and took off.

The very first section goes down slightly from the helipad, then starts to climb along the ridge. The first steep sections were okay; Pete kept to the right bouncing over the rocky step-ups. The right side of the track proved not so good a bit further on, we rumbled over shifting rocks on a particularly steep bit then hit a very high step up. The front left wheel would not get over the rock face and we sat there spinning the wheels. Pete tried to rock it a bit to get a run up to no avail – we would have to back down and try again. Ali was shaking so much she could hardly hold the hand-held radio so she put the main receiver in her pocket and clipped the microphone to her t-shirt to make sure she didn't drop it, and to have both hands free in case she slipped on the steep slope. She climbed out and slid back down the track to the previous flattish section, making sure she stood in the bushes to the right and well out of the way of the reversing car. Ali guided Pete back down to the flatter section. Pete then took a run at the track to the left, bouncing over big rocks to clear the section. Ali said it was so spectacular to watch that she wished she had had taken the camera with her to video it, but she was still shaking so much that she probably wouldn't have been able to hold the camera still. Pete kept climbing until the track levelled out slightly and poor Ali had scrabble about 100 metres back up the track to the car, being careful not to fall.

Our next scary encounter as we roared up a steep section to a hump was to see the headlights and grill of a 100 Series coming over the crest towards us. Pete leaned on the horn and the car quickly reversed, thank goodness; if we'd stopped we wouldn't have got going again and he would have had lot of momentum once his wheels came over the top of the hump. We squeezed next to him to the left, every one of us grinning maniacally at each other and babbling in relief that we had avoided a head on collision. As we headed on up we heard him tell his travelling companion in the car behind over the radio about the near miss and could hear the cackle of fear in his voice. It certainly frightened us!

So it just kept on going up and up – seven kilometres to the summit. The final 500 or so metres was on a very narrow ridge like a knife-blade, with a sheer drop off either side and a definitely single lane track (it felt more like three quarters of a lane). Finally we reached the bluff – a massive rock face at the top with the track skirting to the right. We made it! We stopped to take a few photos and draw breath. Ali was still shaking but not quite as much. Watch the entire 45 minute video of the climb here.

A couple of kilometres along was Pinnacles Hut and a fire lookout on East Pinnacle at 1445 metres. Time for lunch. We walked up to the hut munching an apple and marvelled at the near 360 degree view over the Alpine National Park. The sky was brilliant blue with a few wispy clouds to the southwest; it was just magnificent. A group in a couple of cars was also enjoying the view, we left around the same time but we made sure we got in front. I was not pleasant following the cars way back down the start of the track and we wanted to avoid having to do it again.

The track heading west out of the Pinnacles was very easy – mind you, the guy in the fire tower wouldn’t want to have to do the Billy Goat Bluff Track every time he came to work. As we pulled onto Moroka Road (still gravel) a warning sign claimed “Moroka Road closed at Little River Bridge”. We kept going anyway, surely we would be able to find a way around? We didn’t fancy having to turn around and head back down Billy Goat Bluff Track. Once was enough!

Someone had moved the barrier blocking the track and we skirted around it and found the river, evidence of lots of road works and a brand new bridge. Tyre marks clearly showed it had been used recently – someone had even done a burn out on it! We crossed easily and kept on going, passing the barrier and road closed signs from behind further up the track. The risk of a $500 fine for driving on a closed road was a more attractive option that tackling the Billy Goat Bluff track twice in one day.

The trip down to Licola was very pleasant. The track was well graded and wide, following mountain ridges, streams and camping grounds down to the tiny town of Licola nestled next to the Macalister River, where we finally hit bitumen and stopped to pump up the tyres.

The Victoria high country is magnificent and we wished we had more time to keep exploring. But we have a ferry to catch to Tasmania in a couple of days so we're heading for Melbourne. We only explored a tiny corner of the high country but it has whetted our appetite and we'll definitely be back! Download our plot file for the Victoria high country here.

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