As I sit and write this, I’m in New Delhi where the temperature is already reaching 42C and summer hasn’t actually arrived. Perhaps it’s no wonder that at various times my mind goes back to Northeast Victoria. There at the moment the Autumn light and wind and chill have arrived. In mid-June, the snow season will officially open, and this long weekend will see large numbers of visitors up in the valleys – often on wine and food trails – and making early visits to the snow-fields.
It’s one of my favourite times of the year in the Victorian mountains, and more generally up in the mountains of the Australian Alps, where the air will be particularly crisp and clear, with always an outside chance of early snowfalls (which have just occurred actually). It’s a great time to get some camping and walks in before snowshoes come out of summer retirement.
Mt Buffalo is a great place for this time of year – a little lower than some other mountains, it got its name from early European explorers likening it to a sleeping buffalo as they approached it from the valley floor. To be honest, I’ve never seen this particularly, and I’ve approached it from plenty of angles, but it does have a plateau and it rises from the valley floor, unconnected to the rest of the Alps. So who am I to question the aesthetics and the imaginations of early European explorers?
Of course the mountain was well known before then. Indigenous movements to the foothills and the plateau tended to be dominated by gatherings to feast on the Bogong moth. These included a range of ceremonies, both within the different groups who came as well as between them. There is still evidence of these gatherings if you know where to look.
Lake Catani. Notice the burnt snow gums – it’s quite a haunting landscape at various times of the day.
On top of Mount Buffalo is a beautiful camping ground – Lake Catani. It used to be that campsites were nestled in amongst snow gums. Many still are, but now, after significant fires around eight years ago, some of these snow gums have been burnt beyond regrowth – a testament to both the role of fire in these Australian landscapes and, perhaps, to climatic changes which have seen fires burn with an intensity previously unknown.
From Lake Catani there are any number of walks that can be done – some long, some short. Here is a fabulous short one – a walk to the Chalwell Galleries.
This well formed and well signposted one hour walk leads to a deposit of granite rocks and tors, a common characteristic of the Buffalo plateau landscape. The galleries are named after Ernie Chalwell, the stable master at the Buffalo Chalet in the 1940s and 1950s. The Galleries are a granite outcrop with magnificent views of the Buckland valley and out towards Mt Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria as well as the NSW Alps.
On reaching the galleries, a granite playground can be found. You pass through crevices and chimneys to reach the other side. Or, if you like, you can pass through other crevices and chimneys because, well, because you can.
When you’ve finished playing, reflecting and looking, and you’re ready to get to the other side, you pick up the trail and the walk loops back to Lake Catani. All along – the way up, the way down, playing at the top – you should keep an eye out for the views to the more classically Alpine-looking Mt Feathertop and the more rounded profile of Mt Hotham and the High Plains. Views of these are found at various stages as you emerge from chimneys and crevices – you get vignettes of the Alps, stretching through Victoria on one side and NSW on the other. And of course, here are the valley views as you get closer to the edge of the Galleries.
Coming down from the Chalwell Galleries. Just over the top, views open up as you reach the edge of the plateau
As a package of things – camping at Lake Catani, then walking to the galleries early in the morning, for example - it’s really hard to beat. And of course you can add this to the Big Walk, my post of 10 February 2014 (see here) to really stretch the legs and take your time exploring.