Classic Treks: Wonnangatta-Moroka

East of the Snowy Range, violent twisting and tilting of the Earth’s crust and millions of years of erosion has created a rugged and spectacular landscape; while most of the high country is characterised by rolling hills, this is a land or rocky peaks, sheer cliffs, knife-edge ridges and steep gorges.

The slopes drained by the Wonnangatta and Moroka rivers provide some of the best walking country in the Alps – or, indeed, anywhere in Australia. If you’re really keen, and have a few weeks to fill, you can pick up the Australian Alps Walking Track at Mount Howitt and walk all the way to Canberra. But the area is also ideal for overnight  walks. And despite the short distances involved, this really is wilderness; in most places you can look to the horizon without any evidence of human impact on the landscape.

The closest town is 80km away, and that is using the word “town” generously. Licola, the only settlement in Victoria not connected to the mains electricity grid, consists of a general store and a caravan park and its population is often listed as “nominal” (in the 2006 census the town and surrounding area has a population of 21). It is one of Victoria’s more remote locations, but at 256km from Melbourne, it’s close enough to make an overnight hike in the mountains attainable on a weekend.

You can be sitting in your office one day, then relaxing beside your tent with a mug of Trangia-brewed hot chocolate as the sun sets over the rocky ridges, wild mountains and deep forested valleys you walked through to get there the next. It doesn’t get much better than that.

The notes below describe five fantastic two-days hikes in this special part of the alps, plus an epic six-day traverse from The Bluff to Mt Cobbler. The notes for this hike were published in Wild issue 175 (Autumn 2020). Note that this walk requires a substantial car shuttle. 

MOUNT SPECULATION: 2 DAYS, 30km

Day 1: Howitt Plains car park to Mount Speculation (15km, 6 hours)

Fill out the trip intentions book at the car park and follow the signposted walking track north through snowgum woodland. An old fire track, the route is easy to follow and makes for comfortable walking to Clover Plain, where there is a track junction. Ignore the Zeka Track to the right and continue north. The track swings west and climbs over a rise to drop to Vallejo Gantner Hut in a small clearing among the trees.

The A-frame hut was built in 1971 as a memorial to Melbourne Grammar School student Vallejo Gantner and has a fireplace, a large table and a loft with room for several sleeping mats. It makes an ideal base for exploring the area and a good plan is to make the long drive from Melbourne and the short walk to here in one day, making for an interesting night out and a handy head-start when heading deeper into the mountains.

Vallejo Gantner Hut

There is a composting toilet (with outstanding views!) about 50m from the hut and Macalister Springs is a short distance downhill beside the track; this is a great spot to fill your water bottles – check with the rangers in late summer to make sure the spring is running.

The track continues west along a ridge at the top of Devils Staircase; occasional views are obtained between the trees of the rocky steps and Terrible Hollow below before the track emerges in more open country and reaches a junction marked by Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) markers. To the left is Mt Howitt, a worthwhile detour (about 30 minutes return) if you have time, but remember there is a tough day’s walking ahead.

Hiking near Devils Staircase, Alpine National Park Victoria

Continuing straight ahead (north-west) at the junction, the track climbs above the treeline, revealing outstanding views of the Terrible Hollow and the peaks beyond, with the jagged profiles of the Razor and the Viking on the horizon. Mt Howitt looms to the south and behind you are rugged cliffs known as the Devils Staircase. Ahead is the Crosscut Saw, a narrow ridge that in profile resembles a saw blade with 13 “teeth” or high points that must be negotiated via a series of steep climbs and descents. The “saw” is very exposed and almost completely devoid of trees, and the traverse can be tough going in bad weather. On a clear day the views all along the ridge are simply magnificent.

Hiking on the Crosscut Saw

The Crosscut Saw is 3km long and ends at the top of Mt Buggery, a 1608m peak. Views here are obscured by trees, but the clearing at the summit makes a good rest point before a very steep descent into Horrible Gap (a drop of 200 metres in about half a kilometre) and the climb up the other side to Mount Speculation. Several clifflines are negotiated before attaining the open summit ridge, where you can attain outstanding views from multiple interesting viewpoints. Tents can be pitched right on top of the mountain if the weather is good. If the weather is poor there are good campsites in a small saddle about 500 metres past the summit. Water can be found here or by descending down a steep track on the western side of the summit, where Camp Creek crosses the road in a (not very wild) concrete pipe.

Dawn on Mount Speculation

Day 2: Mount Speculation to Howitt Plains car park (15km, 6 hours)

Retrace your steps into Horrible Gap (the reason for the name is even clearer in this direction) and up to Mount Buggery, along the Crosscut Saw to Macalister Springs and back to Howitt Plains car park.

Snowgums on Mt Speculation

MOUNT MAGDALA: 2 DAYS, 20km

Day 1: Howitt Plains car park to Mount Magdala (10km, 3.5 hours)

Follow the notes above to walk the 4.5km from the car park to Vallejo Gantner Hut. Fill your water bottles at Macalister Springs – there is no guaranteed water until you return here tomorrow.

Continue along the ridge to the junction with the AAWT, then instead of heading north along the Crosscut Saw turn left to climb steadily to the broad summit of Mount Howitt, at 1742m the highest peak in this part of the Alps. The summit is 7.5km from the car park and the views are excellent, especially to the north.

The track continues west, heading down from the summit through open snowgrass country before turning south – ignore the Howqua Feeder Track which joins from the west in two places just below West Peak. The route drops to a saddle then climbs again before skirting around Big Hill on a ridge that offers occasional views to the valley of the Macalister River to the south, then drops again to another saddle.

Mount Howitt

This snowgrass meadow is particularly attractive when wildflowers are in bloom and it is recommended you find a suitable spot to pitch a tent. Small creeks lead off the northern and southern sides of the ridge and can be a source of water, but it is best not to rely on this source.

After setting up camp pack a day pack with some water and snacks, grab your camera and continue along the track to the west. Ignore a junction to the right (you will return along this route) and climb up the eastern slopes of Mount Magdala to reach the summit about 1.5km from the campsite. The views from the top are magnificent.

After admiring the view continue west, dropping steeply to where a small side track joins the main path to the right. Take this small track to return to the campsite under the dramatic cliffs of Mount Magdala and the crack in the cliffs known as Hells Window. The side track rejoins the main path about 700m east of Mount Magdala, and it is about the same distance back to camp.

If you have the energy the climb up to the summit of Mount Magdala is recommended at sunset when the late evening light paints the western profile of the Crosscut Saw a deep crimson. Remember to take a torch!

Mount Magdala sunset view, Alpine National Park Victoria

Day 2: Mount Magdala to Howitt Plains car park (10km, 3.5 hours)

Retrace the track back to Mt Howitt and the car park via Macalister Springs.

BRYCE’S GORGE: 2 DAYS, 12km

Day 1: Dimmick Lookout to Conglomerate Creek

A car shuttle is required to complete the route as described; leave a vehicle at the finish point on Howitt Road, where a four-wheel drive track joins the main road 9km north of the turnoff to Dimmick Lookout. The walk starts at the lookout car park. The lookout itself is just 20m from the car park and is worth a visit before setting off.

Head north-west initially into a river valley. There is no marked track but the walking is fairly easy through open forest, passing in and out of two small valleys. Keep clear of the steep incline to the east. After about an hour of walking descend to cross Piemans Creek and intercept the east-west track to Piemans Falls. Turn right and follow the marked trail to two lookouts that provide excellent views of the falls, which tumble as a thin stream over a rock face for about 25m before disappearing into the valley below.

Conglomerate Falls

Continue along the signposted track north to Conglomerate Falls. The track passes through forest along the cliff edge and after 1.5km the first view is obtained of Conglomerate Falls at the head of Bryce’s Gorge, which is really an indentation in the cliffs. As the track closes on the falls the views become more impressive before the track reaches a clearing perched at the top of the cliffs large enough for two or three tents. This site is not recommended for sleepwalkers! If the campsite is occupied, or if you have a fear of heights, there are suitable sites a short distance up the track beside Conglomerate Creek.

After setting up camp, continue north and take the junction to the right which crosses the top of the falls and descends steeply to their base. It is a hard slog back up the slope to return to camp.

Camping on top of Bryce's Gorge

Day 2: Conglomerate Creek to Howitt Road

From the top of the falls the track heads west, leaving the cliffline and following the valley of Conglomerate Creek. After 1km the track reaches a faint junction, take the minor track to the right. The track disappears and reappears regularly; head north-west to reach the broad treeless valley of Conglomerate Creek.

The track follows the snowplain upstream along the creek. (Do not follow the track marked on the SV Buller-Howitt map which continues north and eventually descends into the Wonnongatta Valley.) Stick to the creek bank, picking up another rough track as it heads west and leaves the creek after about 3km, heading uphill to the crest of a ridge to intersect a vehicle track. Turn left to follow this track west to Howitt Rd, where your vehicle awaits.

LAKE TARLI KARNG: 2 DAYS, 37.5km

Day 1: McFarlane Saddle to Lake Tarli Karng 

A car shuttle is also required for this walk. Leave one car at the Tarli Karng car park on Tamboritha Road 22km north of Licola and continue north to Arbuckle Junction. Turn right and follow Moroka Road for 14km to the walk start at McFarlane Saddle. If a shuttle is not available, it is possible to visit the lake in a return trip from either end.

Carry plenty of water as there is no opportunity to replenish supplies for 13.5km. Follow the walking track south from saddle for 500m, then turn right onto a vehicle track to reach a junction with Spion Kopje Track about 1km further on. Ignore this, taking the left fork to continue south.

Pass Dunsmuir huts and cross Wellington Plain, which provides easy and pleasant walking for about 3km until the Spion Kopje Track joins again from the right 5km from McFarlane Saddle. Stay on the main track and after 800 metres take the Moroka Gap Walking Track, which heads east to Moroka Gap then ascends the summit ridge of Mount Wellington. Drop packs to make the short side trip to the 1634-metre peak for great views.

Pick up your packs and continue south along a ridge before the track descends to Taylor Lookout then swings west and drops steeply to Millers Hut, a good lunch spot. From here the track heads north to cross the upper reaches of Nigothoruk Creek, providing the first chance to refill drink bottles since the walk start.

It is a short climb to a sequence of track junctions; ignore the McFarlane Saddle Walking Track and Spion Kopje Track (again) on your right. A little further Gillios Track joins to the south – turn right here for the descent to Lake Tarli Karng. The track initially drops steadily through forest then drops steeply in a series of zig-zags to meet the northern shore of the lake.

This is the only natural lake in the Victorian Alps and was formed by a landslide 1500 years ago, when a chunk of the Sentinel crashed into the valley, damming the Wellington River. It is 51 metres deep and 850 metres above sea level. Walking around the lake is not difficult and there is space for numerous tents at the western end. The area is also well worth exploring; a series of cascades can be found a short walk upstream from where Nigothouk Creek joins the lake. Note that this is a fuel-stove only area and remember to boil any water taken from the lake before drinking.

Day two: Lake Tarli Karng to Tarli Karng car park

From the lake climb up the Echo Point Track to its junction with the Riggals Spur Track, then follow the latter west and downhill to its junction with the Wellington River Track – a former route over the old landslide and through the picturesquely named Valley of Destruction has been closed due to flood and fire damage. The Wellington River track contours above the river before descending to its banks and crossing it at a large bend, the first of 16 fords that you will be required to undertake between here and the end of the track. Take care if the river level is high, and bringing a spare pair of shoes can be a good idea.

The track criss-crosses the river as it heads west, with a break from the river crossings on the short climb over Shaws Gap before another 4km of river walking, and several more crossings that take you to Tarli Karng Car Park.

THE BLUFF AND THE KING BILLIES: 2 DAYS, 34km

Day 1: Bluff car park to the King Billies

The walk begins by heading south from the car park towards the Bluff. The track soon begins to climb, ascending steeply towards the base of the huge cliffs that rim the northern face of the mountain. You might expect it to veer east or west at this point, but instead it continues relentlessly upwards, finding a way through what appears from below to be an impenetrable escarpment. At the top of the cliffs the track abruptly levels out, and it is a 400-metre walk to the summit cairn, which offers grandstand views.

Hiking up the King Billies

From the summit continue along the track as it sidles downhill along the lee slope of the Bluff, passing through a small saddle known as the Blowhole on the way to Mount Eadley Stoney – drop your packs about a kilometre past the saddle for a quick scramble to the summit. After this point the track soon re-enters attractive sub-alpine forest and descends to Bluff Hut, about three hours from the walk start. The hut is beautifully atmospheric and makes a great lunch spot, and you can also camp here if you are starting the walk late in the day and want to make this a four-day circuit.

At Bluff Hut the walking track joins Bluff Track, a four-wheel drive track, so for the next few kilometers you will need to keep an eye out for the occasional vehicle. The four-wheel drive track meanders along an undulating ridge past the nondescript summit of Mount Lovick, with the walking punctuated by views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, before reaching Lovicks Hut, a reconstruction of the original cattleman’s hut which burnt down in 2003. Continue west on the four-wheel drive track, past an attractive viewpoint known as Picture Point, to a saddle and a junction with the Australian Alps Walking Track. At this point ignore both of these main tracks and instead follow the faint walking track up the ridge, emerging above the snowgums onto the peaks of the King Billies. The views from these twin peaks are spectacular, encompassing most of the major features of the Wonnangatta-Moroka area including Mount Howitt, Mount Clear and the Crosscut Saw. The small saddle between the peaks is big enough for one or two tents; alternatively you can return to the saddle which makes for a pleasant campsite.

Camping on the King Billies

Day 2: King Billies to Bluff Hut

Return the way you came to Bluff Hut. If you feel like a change of scenery or time is short continue on Bluff Road back to the car park – the distance is the same but it’s downhill most of the way which will save you an hour or so of walking time.

ALPINE TRAVERSE: THE BLUFF TO MOUNT COBBLER: 6 days, 59km

Day 1: Eight-Mile Gap to Bluff Hut (11.5km, 5.5 hours)

To begin the walk head east from Eight Mile Gap on Bluff Link Road, a four-wheel drive track that winds its way through the valleys beneath the cliffs of the Bluff. This is a good time to enjoy the feeling of walking under a lush forest canopy, since for the next five days you will be spending most of your time above the treeline. After 4.5km ignore the track coming in from the right and continue straight ahead as the track starts climbing to Refrigerator Gap, then onwards for another kilometre to Bluff Car Park.

From here follow the signposted walking track to the Bluff, which soon begins to climb steeply towards the base of the huge cliffs that rim the northern face of the mountain. You might expect it to veer east or west at this point, but instead the path continues relentlessly upwards, finding a way through what appears from below to be an impenetrable escarpment. At the top of the cliffs the track abruptly levels out, and it is a 400-metre walk to the summit, which offers grandstand views.

alpine everlasting, wildflower

From the summit cairn continue along the track as it sidles downhill along the lee slope of the Bluff, passing through a small saddle known as the Blowhole on the way to Mount Eadley Stoney – drop your packs about a kilometre past the saddle for a quick scramble to the summit. After this point the track soon re-enters attractive sub-alpine forest and descends to Bluff Hut.

The original Bluff Hut was built by mountain cattlemen in the 1950s and was lost in a bushfire in 2007, but it was rebuilt by volunteers led by the grandson of one of the original builders. There are many excellent campsites in the flats around the hut, which is shared with four-wheel drive campers. The hut itself has basic facilities including a table and bench seats, as well as a water tank – check with the rangers before you go whether this has water in it, as otherwise you will need to carry your first two days’ water from the car.

DAY 2: Bluff Hut to King Billies (10.5km, 4.5 hours)

At Bluff Hut the walking track joins Bluff Track, a four-wheel drive track, so for the next few kilometers you will need to keep an eye out for the occasional vehicle. The four-wheel drive track meanders along an undulating ridge past the nondescript summit of Mount Lovick, with the walking punctuated by views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, then descends steeply down a ridgeline. Keep an eye out for a walking track on the left (if you miss it, don’t worry – just take the 4-wheel drive track on the left a little further down the hill) and follow this down to rejoin the main track. Turn left and in about 300m you will reach Lovicks Hut. Like Bluff Hut, this is a reconstruction; the original Lovicks Hut was built in 1960 by Jack Lovick and used by his family for many years to run horse trail rides. The hut burnt down in 2003 but was rebuilt in 2014-15.

Hiking along the King Billies

Continue west on the four-wheel drive track, passing an attractive viewpoint known as Picture Point, to a saddle and a junction with the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). At this point ignore both of these main tracks and instead follow the faint walking track up the ridge, emerging above the snowgums onto the peaks of the King Billy Number One and King Billy Number Two. The spectacular views from these twin peaks encompass the entire walk, with the ridgeline you have just followed leading away to the Bluff and Mount Lovick in the west and the view to the north dominated by the Crosscut Saw and the distant bulk of Mount Cobbler. Meanwhile, to the south another ridge leads away enticingly to Mount Clear and Mount McDonald, the first truly alpine peaks hikers encounter on the AAWT.

The small saddle between the peaks makes for an excellent campsite for one or two tents; alternatively you can return to the track junction and set up camp. If you have time it’s well worthwhile continuing over Mount King Billy Number Two to explore the AAWT for a few kilometres to the south. At this point the route becomes closed to vehicles and is the sole domain of hikers. The rough management vehicle track meanders along a gentle ridgeline under a canopy of snowgums for about 3km to Chesters Yards, an old cattle mustering site. This makes for a good turnaround point, though it is possible to go on another 3km to the summit of Mount Clear or – if you are really dedicated – an additional 150km to the start of the track in Walhalla (the AAWT is one of the longest tracks in Australia, after all). On the way back you can fill up your water bottles from a small creek 400m south of the track junction below King Billy Number Two.

DAY 3: King Billies to Macalister Springs (11km, 5 hours)

The scenery on this day and the next are truly spectacular. In fact, they make up what is arguably the most impressive landscape in the entire Australian Alps.

After a short scramble back to the top of King Billy Number One for sunrise (the view is unforgettable on a clear morning) pack up your tents and head back to the junction with the track from the previous day, then turn right onto the AAWT. This descends gently to a cliffline, then more steeply to a saddle. From here it climbs to another track junction between two alternative routes; the path on the left leads around Mount Magdala and the track on the right heads to the summit. If the weather is good take the right fork and climb to the top for more outstanding views.

Australian Alps Walking Track sign, Alpine National Park Victoria

After admiring the panorama, you have a choice. The main track continues to the north-east, descending along the cliff edge. A more interesting alternative involves backtracking to the junction you just left behind, then taking the alternative track. This drops below the peak and heads east under the cliffs of Mount Magdala and a crack in the mountain known as Hells Window before a short climb to rejoin the main track about 700 metres east of the summit. From here the path drops to a beautiful alpine meadow that makes a great campsite if needed – there is even a small creek (follow a rough foot track south-west off the ridge for about 200 metres to find water). From the meadow the track leads up Big Hill (1668 metres) before dropping to another saddle then embarking on a long, steady climb to the top of Mount Howitt, the highest point on the walk. The track emerges from the trees and can be lost in the snowgrass (and a profusion of wildflowers in summer) – follow the AAWT markers and bear right at a junction with the Howqua Feeder Track to continue to the summit, marked by a large rock cairn.

View to the Crosscut Saw from Mount Howitt

Take a breather at the top, an excellent spot for a snack with fantastic views, especially to the north, the direction you’ll be heading over the next few days. Then continue east to drop off the eastern side of the summit. After walking for 900 metres the track reaches a T-intersection. The path left will be followed tomorrow, for now turn right to follow a winding track which leads to a clearing at Macalister Springs 2.3km from Mount Howitt, where you will find Vallejo Gantner Hut, tonight’s campsite.

The A-frame hut was built in 1971 as a memorial to Melbourne Grammar School student Vallejo Gantner and has a fireplace, a large table and a loft with room for several sleeping mats. There is plenty of room for tents outside, a composting toilet nearby and Macalister Springs itself is a short distance downhill; you should be able to fill your water bottles here – in late summer and early autumn you might have to trace the gully a short distance to find water.

DAY 4: Macalister Springs to Mount Speculation (10km, 4.5 hours)

The day – for many hikers the highlight of the trek – begins by retracing the last 1.4km of the previous day’s walking towards Mount Howitt. At the track junction on the eastern side of the summit continue north-west (right) to climb above the treeline towards Mount Howitt and onward across the spectacular Crosscut Saw.

Mt Speculation, hike, walk

See the notes for the first walk on this page for a detailed description of the traverse along the spine of this narrow ridge, ending with a steep descent into Horrible Gap and an equally sweat-inducing climb up the other side to the summit of Mount Speculation. If the weather is fine look for a campsite near the summit. More sheltered sites can be found about 500 metres further on if needed. Water can be found by descending down a steep track on the western side of the summit, where Camp Creek crosses the road in a (not very wild) concrete pipe.

Mt Speculation

DAY 5: Mount Speculation to Mount Cobbler (13km, 5 hours)

If you have an alarm set it early to ensure you don’t miss sunrise from the top of Mount Speculation – one of the best experiences in Victorian bushwalking. The mountain vista is magical, especially when the Terrible Hollow is filled with cloud and the Razor and the Viking rise above the mist.

After packing up camp head east to a track junction. Turn left to head downhill to Speculation Road. Refill water bottles at the pipe – you will need enough water for the next two days – and turn left to follow the four-wheel drive track north. The next 6km or so is the least exhilarating section of the hike but a sizeable distance can be covered in relatively quick time – put your head down and you should reach the next real section of walking track in a couple of hours (the map indicates a rough foot pad departs the main track just west of the Mount Speculation summit and runs parallel to the road, including visiting the top of Mount Koonika, but we didn’t see it). When you reach a road junction you’re almost there – don’t follow Speculation Road left; it drops very steeply to the King River Valley. Instead, continue north on what is now Cobbler Lake Track for about 500 metres to where a clear walking track leaves the road to the left.

Mount Cobbler at sunset

 

It’s a relief to be back on a walking path which climbs gently through snowgum forest, heading west then swinging north to reach a clearing at a track junction after about 1.5km. This is a nice flat spot to pitch a tent. Continue without packs to the north; the track peters out after a few hundred metres but it is not difficult to find a route up the slope as vegetation thins out. About 1km from the campsite you will hit the cliff edge; the views here are again sensational especially south towards Mount Speculation. There is a little further to climb – a narrow path crosses a steep gully and rises up the other side to the summit of Mount Cobbler (1628 metres), a rocky prow over a maze of twisted valleys. This is the last grandstand view of the trek so drink it in before returning to camp – if you’re staying on the heights for sunset (highly recommended) remember to take a torch.

View south from Mount Cobbler

DAY 6: Mount Cobbler to Lake Cobbler (3km, 1 hour)

Head west from the track junction on the Mount Cobbler walking track, which descends through forest, via a steep creek crossing, to reach Lake Cobbler. The small lake was created in the 1960s by damming a swampy area at the headwaters of the Dandongadale River and there is a small hut on the western shore. At the end of the walk there is one final treat: drop your packs and take the 2km return walk to the top of Dandongadale Falls, which plummet off the cliff in an uninterrupted stream for 255 metres. From the top of the falls the views are tremendous, with forested ridges stretching into the distance. After spending as much time as you like contemplating the vastness of the alpine wilderness where you have spent the past six days, return to your cars and the long drive home.

Lake Cobbler, Alpine National Park Victoria

NEED TO KNOW

The walks described above – with the exception of the Bluff, King Billies and the six-day traverse – are all accessed via Licola (scroll down for directions to setting up a car shuttle for the traverse). To reach the town follow the Princes Highway east from Melbourne for 165km to Traralgon, then turn left, following the signs to Heyfield, which is 42km from the turnoff. If you need any supplies, this is the last place to stock up; it is a good idea to make sure the car is full of petrol for the long, windy road ahead. It is a further 54km to Licola. Just before the bridge into town, turn right on to Tamboritha Rd which initially follows the Wellington River, then turns to gravel as it winds up into the mountains past access points for the Crinoline and Lake Tali Karng. After 49km you reach Arbuckle Junction – head left and drive for another 22km to the reach Bryce’s Gorge and 37km to Howitt Plains car park, the starting point for walks to Mt Speculation and Mt Magdala. To reach the starting point for the Tali Karng walk, turn right at Arbuckle Junction and drive for 14km to McFarlane Saddle.

The Bluff is accessed from Mansfield, 200km northeast of Melbourne. Take the road towards Mount Buller, which passes through the small town of Merrijig. Two kilometres past the town turn right onto the unsealed Howqua Track, driving for a further 16km to Sheepyard Flat campsite beside the picturesque Howqua River; if you have time this is a great spot for a short break. The track gets rougher from here but is still usable by four-wheel drives if you take care. 20 kilometres past Sheepyard Flat, at 8 Mile Gap, turn left onto Bluff Link Road. It is 7km from here to Bluff Car Park, about 800 metres past the clearing at Refrigerator Gap.

The Buller-Howitt Alpine Area SV map (1:50,000) covers the three northern walks (Mount Speculation, Mount Magdala and Bryce’s Gorge). Vicmap’s 1:50,000 Howitt-Selwyn map covers the same territory while Tarli Karng is on Vicmap’s Wellington sheet.

Mt Speculation

SETTING UP CAR SHUTTLE FOR TRAVERSE

The two ends of the walk are approximately four hours’ drive from one another, which is inconvenient but a small price to pay for spending six days in some of Australia’s best walking country. We advise breaking up the journey by taking two vehicles to Lake Cobbler and camping there overnight, then leaving one car behind and driving to the start of the walk the following morning.

To reach the lake from Melbourne follow the Hume Highway north towards Sydney for about two-and-a-half hours, then take the Glenrowan exit. Just after you leave the freeway turn right onto the Glenrowan-Moyhu Road and follow this for 28km to the town of Moyhu, then turn right again onto Wangaratta-Whitfield Road. The next town is Whitfield, turn off here onto the King Valley Rd. This road takes you all the way to Lake Cobbler, though it changes its name to Rose River Road and Lake Cobbler Road, and also becomes unsealed as you head up into the mountains (this 70km drive takes about two hours, which provides some measure of how windy and slow the road is). The last few hundred metres of the road to Lake Cobbler is very rough and only suitable for four-wheel drives, so if you’re driving standard cars you’ll need to park by the side of the road and walk in.

To get to the trailhead from here head back to the Whitfield then turn left onto the Mansfield-Whitfield Road and follow this for 65km to Mansfield. From here take the road towards Mount Buller, which passes through the small town of Merrijig. Two kilometres past the town turn right onto the unsealed Howqua Track, driving for a further 16km to Sheepyard Flat campsite beside the picturesque Howqua River; if you have time this is a great spot for a short break. The track gets rougher from here but is still usable by two-wheel drives if you take care. Eight Mile Gap, where the walk starts, is 20km past Sheepyard Flat.

Note: Some of these roads are closed during winter for safety reasons, and to prevent erosion which can impact on the mountain streams. These closures usually last from the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June until the end of October, but they may be extended depending on seasonal conditions. For updates on which tracks are open visit https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/get-into-nature/safety-in-nature/seasonal-road-closures.

ACCOMMODATION AND SUPPLIES

Finding a good campsite is not a problem in this part of the world. There are plenty of flat patches of snowgrass that make ideal campsites, many with outstanding views. Just beware of overhanging tree limbs. Camping is permitted anywhere in the national park provided you are 20m from streams and lakes. There are creeks throughout the area but finding water can take some work and it may need to be carried to the highest peaks. Licola has a small store but don’t rely on it for any hiking supplies. Make sure you are stocked up before leaving Heyfield – and the car is full of petrol for the long, winding road ahead.

Camping on the banks of Conglomerate Creek, above Bryce's Gorge

SAFETY/WARNINGS

The tracks in the described walks are mostly well defined. Sturdy boots are recommended as the terrain is rocky in many places and there are some hair-raising scrambles, but nothing too dangerous provided due care is taken. Boiling drinking water is recommended. This is an alpine area and weather conditions can change quickly and at any time of year, and some of the ridges and peaks are extremely exposed. Take wet weather gear and be prepared to make alternative plans if conditions turn ugly. The rivers can often rise rapidly and dangerously after rain (which may fall upstream even if the area where you’re walking stays dry) so keep an eye on the weather reports and be prepared to change your plans if necessary. The proximity of Mount Buller means mobile phone reception can be obtained around Mount Howitt.

Hiking in early morning cloud

MORE INFORMATION

Book online at www.parkstay.vic.gov.au or with Parks Vic on 13 1963. On the way drop into the Parks Victoria office in Licola Road, Heyfield.