1. Happy Campers – Bright Big 4 Caravan Park
From the expletives, it appeared the rain-lashed grey nomads repeatedly jack-knifing their massive van into the bushes around their campsite as thunder rumbled thorough the night were NOT “Livin’ the Dream” their van proclaimed. Although their inadvertent behavioural benchmark reinforced the pact between Pilchard and I.
‘If I ever …’ Pilchard began, but I knew how this story ended. Unlike the hapless travellers cursing their way through the wanton destruction of several fine shrubs before they gave up and departed, we’d so far avoided setting up on an unfamiliar site in the rain and dark. BUT … I knew what to do if it ever happened. I tuned back in as Pilchard concluded with his usual instruction – ‘… just shoot me’!
The caravan park was an unlikely spot for our adventures in and around North-eastern Victoria’s Bright to begin. But strangely appropriate! Our wicked and unkind laugh over the night’s misadventures was accompanied by the spectacular colours of the ever present falling leaves – magically whisked away each day by the caravan park cleaning fairy!
But Bright and surrounds aren’t just about the annual Autumn Leaves festival. In between adventures, the two local bakeries are worth many several a visit – but be warned! If there are any country Victorian towns without at least one fine bakery, I’m yet to find them …
2. Altitude, Alps and an Aussie record – Falls Creek
If heights scare you rigid, try to avoid sitting on the drop-off side of the car on the steep and winding roads up into Victoria’s High Country – at the very least, don’t look down! That way you might even enjoy climbing the range – first through the ironbark forests where Superb Lyrebird could make an appearance; then into stands of endemic species Alpine Ash; followed by the stark and ghostly remains of the 2003 bushfire that burned out millions of high country hectares; and finally into the sparse Alpine vegetation above the tree line.
And there, above the tiny village of Falls Creek precariously perched on the side of the mountain range is Australia’s highest body of water – Rocky Valley Lake. As the snow began to fall – Yes, SNOW! – the signs about snow-chains and the orange road markers suddenly made sense … and the Outback seemed far, far away to this Aussie traveller who’d only ever seen snow twice before!
While I’ve experienced sub-zero temperatures before, 0º C is the coldest maximum temperature I’ve EVER lived through!
3. Going Nuts – Wandiligong
As we lurched from Bakery to Berry farm; Indian/Italian to Sri-Lankan/Aussie pub cuisine; hot chocolate to champagne, the whole trip seemed to be turning into a deliciously tragic over-eating marathon.
I couldn’t have squeezed in the local pub’s ‘Alpine Breakfast’ (whatever in hell that was) eaten under a ‘heated umbrella’ (whatever in hell that meant) for quids (whatever in hell they are).
So indulging in hot roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate and dutch pancakes smothered in maple syrup, lemon and icing sugar at the annual Wandiligong Nut Festival was true to type. The local April sun was so pleasantly warm I can’t imagine why the Dragon classic wasn’t titled ‘April Sun in Wandiligong’ – but it didn’t stop us singing along with the excellent cover band. Aussie classic anthem Downunder, sounding absolutely NOTHING like the Kookaburra song, had Melbourne Yuppies – all haircut and GQ country weekend – kicking back with grey nomads, locals and travellers.
And while I’m no singer, listening to that mixed crowd singing along to ‘Eagle Rock’ was one of the most tragic music experiences of my life …
4. Save Our Souls – Beechworth
Once we’d finished up at the Beechworth bakery, we were ready to give our full attention to yet another town with links to bushranger Ned Kelly. While I loathe the word ‘precinct’, it really is the easiest way to describe the section of the town set aside for such things as the gaol with its fabulous Crime Scene gift shop (Hey, D! I haven’t forgotten your birthday prez!), the courthouse and holding cells, early fire-fighting equipment displays, the inevitable statues of NK – and the self-proclaimed busiest Morse Code Telegraph station in the world!!
I’m not sure how many other contenders there are, if any, but surely the Morsecodians wouldn’t make this kind of claim lightly. Would they??
Starting at a mere AUD $5 (although it’s probably worth more than that in many other currencies at present) sending a message in Morse code to anyone in the world has never been so easy. You KNOW you want to!!
5. Undercover – Bogong Village
While I’m not afraid of lizards, I have no desire to prove it by picking them up and playing with them.
Just as well.
I thought the scaly reptilian head I spotted peering up at me through the grass at the side of the walking track round Lake Guy at Bogong Village was a lizard.
I called Pilchard over as it looked a little different to the usual skinks scuttling about in the sun. Then it moved backwards. Uh-oh. Lizards aren’t able to move backwards which meant it was – AAAARRRGGGHHHH! A snake!! Red-bellied black, according to Pilchard. I was miles away by then, so I can’t confirm his identification.
Don’t even think about looking for a photo …
Along with random and unexpected wildlife, the lake circumnavigation involves beautiful scenery, a magnificent lunch setting, Steve Parrish-like photographic opportunities – and a somewhat disconcerting walk through a tunnel under the dam wall. Just as well the snake didn’t appear in the tunnel – nowhere to run or hide down there!!
6. On top of the world – the Buffalo’s Horn
It’s a little known fact that altitude sickness can kick in from as low as 1700 metres above sea level.
That’s the only explanation I can find for the dizziness, shortness of breath and constant need to stop and rest as I climbed the track to the summit of the Horn – at 1723 metres, the highest point of the Mt Buffalo National Park, a monolith that looms behind Bright. Or in front of it, if you prefer.
Then again, the vertiginous sheer drops and cold buffeting winds could have caused it too. But I’m sticking with altitude sickness – because the Horn is the highest lookout to which I’ve actually climbed (from the carpark below, not from sea level).
And just as well we climbed it when we did – rolling mist was already obscuring the view when we reached the hiker’s hut of yesteryear. Tragically no St Bernards carrying restorative brandy casks appeared through the fog to offer assistance. But the bakery lunch we’d had the forethought to bring didn’t last long …
After a couple of days in the Victorian high country, staggering views from unbelievably scenic lookouts became commonplace.
But no matter how commonplace, they never become ho-hum.
A few of my favourites:
And Australia’s highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko obscured by cloud and this tenacious traveller who just WOULD NOT MOVE!!!!
The life-changing message – ‘We are all reptilians and the aliens are stealing our souls’ – was an incongruous addition to the spectacularly scenic landscape of Lake Buffalo. But perhaps it’s a cryptic message of courage – if we are indeed all reptilians, then there’s no reason to fear snakes, right? And if the aliens are stealing our souls, then it probably doesn’t really matter if I fall from a great height, does it?!
I had no idea our Victorian Alpine country adventure would be so much fun it’d make battling my twin fears of snakes and heights such a pleasure! But now I DO know, I’ll be back for more!
Not quite enough photos here for you?
RELAX! There are WAAAAAY more HERE on Flickr!!