Exploring Victoria August 2005 - Part 1 Canberra to Dimboola

Wednesday, Feb 02, 2005 at 01:00


Its 5pm on Saturday 6th August and we are beside the mighty Murray surrounded by koalas. Birds are calling as they settle in for the night and the river is rippling through snags close by. We are in the Barmah Forest Park, and seem to have the place to ourselves. This afternoon we drove into a potential camp site beside the river and found ourselves almost directly under a koala. We found another 10 or so within a half a kilometre; some were asleep but some were actively feeding. One had what appeared to be a half grown young one with her. Some were growling, so tonight could be noisy. We are camped about 50m from where we first saw them.

Our travel so far has been straightforward, not counting a close shave with a P plater on a roundabout in Cobram.

We left home about 10am yesterday and travelled down the Hume Highway to Holbrook. Country there is looking green and fresh after the rain and plenty of water in the creeks and lying in the paddocks. From Holbrook we headed west through Culcairn and Walbundrie. Somewhere west of there, just north of Oil Tree Lagoon we found a great campsite in a big TSR. Lots of cyprus pine and yellow box so plenty of wood for a fire, and well away from the road.

For the first time on a trip we tried out our newly installed pre-owned HF radio - we called into the VKS network coming in very clear from Charters Towers. We had a pre-prepared meal and turned in quite early as we were rather tired and the night pretty chilly.

After an uneventful night we faced a brisk morning – heard someone from Wolfe Creek Crater calling VKS. The range is quite amazing. On the road about 9 and went in to Corowa where we shopped for missing items – a thermos and tissues are the only things missing so far. Also went to the I-place for some local maps and brochures. Then out through Rutherglen through lots of vineyards and wineries, then heading west along the Murray Highway.

Near Mulwala we stopped in at a boat ramp for views across L. Mulwala, full of dead river red gums. Quite a sight that would look great at sunset, but its only morning tea time so a bit early to stop. On past Mulwala then we took a side road that took us to a beautiful beach on the river with big gums lining the bank. There was a perfect campsite there and we toyed with the idea of staying, but had lunch and decided to move on in the hope of finding a similar spot in the Barmah forest.

The Barmah Forest Park is reached by some muddy roads but we only saw one other vehicle on the way in even though it is Saturday. We have had a fair walk Koala spotting, and some exercise setting up camp and gathering enough wood for the night. We have downloaded the photos into the laptop, another new experience, so the technology is working well. And the Murray River is about 30m away.

We had a cold but comfortable night and we slept well. No sound of the koalas. This morning we found one in a tree almost right beside our camp and another in a tree leaning out over the water. This one seemed to be on tourist duty – awake and smiling for the camera.

After a leisurely pack up we headed back to the highway, though we did a little unplanned exploration of the park in the process as the network of tracks certainly did not show on the info sheets that we were using.

Back on the main road we headed for Echuca through flat fertile country, the roads lined by stately red gums and lots of dairy cows on lush irrigated paddocks, and a few sheep. What is about dairy farms that they so often look messy?

We arrived at Echuca late morning and managed to find the port area – it is the big tourist destination in town, so it is well signposted. There is a tourist precinct behind the old wharf, where we had a quick look at the sawmill, the woodturners, and the furniture makers. There were 2 or 3 horse drawn carriages and of course pubs and eateries. Unfortunately there is a charge to go on to the wharf, but by walking around the river a short distance it was possible to look back at the river side of the wharf – not as big as expected but high out of the water, and all built of red gum. There were a number of paddle boats, some very small, others quite big, tied up at the wharves, along with a lot of house boats. A couple of paddle steamers were doing river cruises.

We found a spot beside the river for lunch where we had a good view of the wharf and boats coming and going. The river here was surprisingly narrow, though flowing swiftly.

After lunch we found a supermarket and garage, then fully stocked up again headed off towards Swan Hill with the intention of turning off somewhere near Gunbower to find another river camp. There appears to be a front moving in – cloud is building up, some wind and what appears to be rain in the south west.

We found a spot in a state forest near Tubamurray Weir – didn’t find a weir but did find a sheltered site, clear of red gums, beside the river, here enclosed by high banks. We have rigged tarps over the tent in anticipation of rain, gathered plenty of wood, and had a welcome sponge down. VKS reception from Adelaide is very poor – we were hoping to get news of the weather conditions further west. Will try again in the morning.

Apart from a couple of trail bikes for a while we again have the place to ourselves, although it is an area that clearly gets plenty of use.

After a mild night with only a couple of lights some distance away we packed up in a leisurely fashion, taking time to watch fish jumping and a family of kookaburras that seem to expect a feed. We can hear VKS but have trouble getting our transmission out. Anticipating scarce firewood in the national parks where we are heading we bundle up a good collection to take with us. Nevertheless we still manage to leave a stack of cut wood behind – seems to have become a tradition for us when we are camping, having done this many times before.

Back on the highway we turned west into flat dairying country with lots of lakes and swamps. There are some granite hills aptly named Pyramid Hill. These side roads are very good and go in long straight stretches. Many of the roads are lined with mallees some of which are in flower. This is wheat country and the further west we go the bigger the properties seem to be. There has been rain so the country is very green.

We are heading for the Little Desert National Park, reached via Dimboola. This town has seen better days, and like many of the towns that we have come through there are plenty of vacant shop windows. The pub is the biggest building in town but it has been burnt out. We found a baker and butcher then headed out to the park. There is a big camping area beside the Wimmera River – quite a pretty spot but only one other vehicle in sight. After a quick late lunch we head out into the park, and for our first shock – most of the roads are closed and the one service road was of very soft sand. Away from the river the vegetation is mainly low scrub and heath, maybe pretty in spring but not much to commend it now. So we decide to head to the central section of the park where there is another camping area with a series of walks going from it.

We set up camp, said hello to a couple of other travellers then set out for a short walk – about 2km – that took us through some different vegetation types. We got some photos of banksia and a spectacular old red gum. There had been a Eucalyptus oil distillery based on blue mallee (no sign of that now) but only a few heaps of sand and a few bits of rusty metal to mark the spot now. The soil here is almost pure sand, and it’s hard to see how the adjoining paddocks can grow wheat.

Away from the river the night is cold. Fortunately there is plenty of wood so we don’t have to use the supplies that we are carrying. There is a good fireplace so although we cook on the gas stove we can have a good blaze for warmth. A friendly possum comes looking for a handout. We try calling VKS but do not seem able to get through – some problem with us apparently.

We are sleeping better, getting used to a different routine. The night was cold and a bit damp so we packed up a rather wet tent. Still no joy with VKS.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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