2 days, 20km return
Just south of the NSW border are a group of remote peaks that feed alpine creeks which form the source of the Murray River. These rocky mountains that bushwalking guide writer Glenn Tempest calls “Victoria’s last truly wild big mountains” include Mt Cobberas No.1, Mt Cobberas No.2, Cleft Peak and Moscow Peak. They can be explored individually or collectively over a few days, walking initially on vehicle tracks then rough foot tracks and eventually using a compass to find your way. For a two-day excursion the top target is Mt Cobberas No.1, a large (1810m) hill covered with dense forest with a pile of boulders on top. From here you can enjoy grandstand views of the surrounding peaks and as far as the highest summits in both states – with no sign of human activity. If that’s what you love about getting out into the bush and you don’t mind a long drive and some bush-bashing to get there, this hike is for you.
Day 1: Cobberas Trail to Mt Cobberas No.1 (10km, 5 hours)
The first 3.5km of the walk follows Cobberas Trail, making for easy navigation although there are several dips and rises to warm up the thighs as you get used to carrying a heavy pack. After 3.5km, or about an hour of walking, a rough vehicle trail leaves the four-wheel drive track to the left at a large clearing known as the Playgrounds. A sign here points the way to Mt Cobberas No.1, 6.5km away.
After crossing Native Dog Creek just beyond the sign there is another that warns that a map, compass and GPS is essential beyond this point as tracks “are poorly defined in places”, there is poor mobile phone coverage and this area is subject to extreme weather. Parks staff have a tendency to be over-cautious with these things but the sign is accurate in all three respects; this trip isn’t long but shouldn’t be taken lightly.
A rough foot pad continues east, roughly following the creek for about a kilometre before swinging north (left) – watch for orange arrows on trees as the track, which is never more than a well-trodden route through the grass, disappears and reappears at unpredictable intervals.
Beyond the Playgrounds the route starts to wind its way up the slope, heading roughly north-west for about 1.5km. The track is very overgrown and you’re likely to find yourself bush-bashing your way through the dry eucalypt forest–try not to be too harsh on the native vegetation. After gaining about 150m in altitude the track turns left to reach a high point at 1610m. Take extra care here to locate those orange markers as the trail takes a dramatic right turn to head north-east up a ridge.
Fortunately, from here the vegetation opens up, making walking easier and there are views ahead to the rocky summit of Mt Cobberas No.1, which still seems a fair way off. But it doesn’t take too long to cover a kilometre or so to the north-western end of the summit ridge, marked by large gnarled snowgums and grassy meadows. The track can still disappear without warning, but the walking is very enjoyable and there are a number of clearings that make for excellent campsites.
It is recommended to pitch your tent in this area before continuing south-west to the summit. The rough foot pad leads all the way to the base of a large pile of rocks on top of the mountain. A metal summit cairn is visible on top, but there is no clear way up. Whichever way you go, it’s a scramble, but the easiest route is to scout around the boulders to the left where you can climb on to a grassy ledge and up a gap in the rocks to reach the summit.
The views from the top are some of the best in the Alps, looking over nearby Middle Peak and Cleft Peak to The Pilot just over the NSW border and the peaks of Kosciuszko National Park beyond. In fact, there are mountains in every direction. It’s worth spending some time to explore and enjoy the various rock stacks around the summit before returning to camp. This is a great spot to watch the sunset–remember to bring a torch and take extra care finding the path in the dark.
Day 2: Mt Cobberas No.1 to Cobberas Trail (10km, 3.5 hours)
The second day consists of following the same path back to the walk start. It’s quicker going downhill but care still needs to be taken to locate the next orange marker indicating the route down the slope and through the plains to The Playground. From here follow the four-wheel drive track back to the gate on Limestone Road.
The walk starts at a gate where Cobberas Trail four-wheel drive track leaves Limestone Road, about 45 minutes’ drive past Benambra, a tiny town 30km north of Omeo in Victoria’s north-east corner (access Omeo via the Great Alpine Road from Bairnsdale to the south or Wangaratta to the north; driving from Melbourne takes 4.5 hours. All up it’s about six hours to the walk start so it’s advisable to camp the night at Native Dog Flat campground, about 1km down the road, and start hiking the next day. There is a small parking area at the trailhead on the left of Limestone Road). The last 40km from Benambra is unsealed but passable in two-wheel drive vehicles. Cobberas Track itself is very rough and would take serious four-wheel drive skills to navigate. Best to proceed on foot from here. If you’re travelling by public transport, you can take a train from Melbourne to Bairnsdale and a bus from there to Omeo, but you’re on your own from there.
NAVIGATION AND SAFETY
The hike involves a long steady climb but the biggest challenge is navigation. It’s very easy to lose the track and finding it again can be taxing, mentally and physically. Take regular breaks to find your bearings and if you stray from the path, take the shortest route back to it, even it means going backwards – attempting short cuts through the bush usually doesn’t end well. The best guide is orange triangular markers attached to gum trees at regular intervals. A map (Cobberas 1: 50,000) and compass are essentials, and an app that tracks your location even when there is no signal, such as Avenza Maps, is also highly recommended (remember to download the map before heading out; there is no mobile phone reception until you get close to the summit). It’s also worth carrying an EPIRB. The GPS points for the summit are Native Dog Flat are -36.864699° S, 148.152855° E.
No permits are required to hike or camp in Alpine National Park, but make sure a friend knows where you’re going and when to expect you back.
There is no water at any point of the track so carry enough for two days of walking, plus meals and a hot cup of tea!
Indigenous Australians inhabited Victoria’s high country for thousands of years before European settlement. In 1832 Austrian naturalist John Lhotsky ventured south from Sydney to explore the Alps and reported sighting a wide plain the local Aboriginal tribes called “Omeo”. The first cattle station in Australia was founded at Benambra and gold was found in Livingstone Creek in 1851. The frontier town that formed as a result was regarded as the roughest in Australia. Today sheep and cattle grazing are the biggest industries along with attracting visitors to the nearby mountains – the Australian Alps Walking Track, developed in the 1970s, skirts the Cobberas en route from Buenba Hut to Cowombat Flat.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Twisted snowgums and alpine wildflowers are features of the upper sections of the mountain. The densely forested slopes are home to native animals that go mostly unseen by visitors, but one animal you are likely to run into is a brumby; thousands of wild horses live in this part of the Alps. You will definitely see evidence of them in the form of large piles of dung, often in the middle of the path.
CLIMATE/WHEN TO GO
The peaks are covered by snow in winter, so don’t attempt this hike between June and September. It can be undertaken at any other time, but beware it can get very hot in summer.
The closest town to the trailhead is Omeo, which has a motel in the main street. There is a national parks campground at Native Dog Flat just down the road from the trailhead.