Behind the image 31 May 2014

Mountain Creek Alpine National ParkThis is Mountain Creek, at Mountain Creek camping site, at the Bogong area of the Alpine National Park, northeast Victoria, Australia.  Here is the starting point for a classic walk which takes you up the Staircase Spur to the roof of Victoria – the top of Mt Bogong (1986m).

This is one of my favourite places – I’ve been coming here for years.  The thing about the Kiewa valley, where this is located, is the ways it’s reinvented itself with a thriving economy now based on recreation (walking, mountain-biking and skiing) and locally grown produce. It’s a living example of the ways conservation, national parks and LoST ideas can contribute to local economies, mosaics of land-uses and community resilience.


A quick walk around Mountain Creek

Mt Bogong is Victoria’s highest peak at 1986 metres (6516 ft). With its cap of snow in winter and its summer grey-green colouring of eucalypts and snow plains, it stands as a silent sentinel looking over the high plains, the valleys and the villages which make up this section of the Australian Alps.

The Bogong region is unique in the Australian Alps. Ten of the 11 highest peaks in Victoria are in the area, and there is an abundance of well-signposted walking and mountain biking tracks (both in the foothills and on the High Plains themselves) that keep visitors busy for hours, days and weeks. In addition, the landscape provides a combination of natural and cultural heritage which the visitor can experience. The natural heritage is characterised by Peppermint and Alpine Ash Forests in the foothills, the snow plains and landforms of the High Plains, and a variety of fauna and flora, including the endangered Pygmy Possum. The cultural heritage of the area incorporates indigenous use of the landscape, the huts of the Mountain Cattlemen, and the Hydro-Electric developments which contributed so much to Australia’s post-Second World War development. In some of the villages close to the mountains, Australia’s gold mining heritage can be discovered.

Camping site Mountain CreekThe peaceful Mountain Creek camping ground, not far from the town of Tawonga, provides a base for exploration around the foothills of Mount Bogong as well as for more adventurous walks onto the Bogong High Plains. From Mountain Creek, it is possible to walk through tall forests and ancient ferns, follow well-maintained 4WD or park management tracks, climb to the roof of Victoria by ascending Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, explore the Bogong High Plains, or relax at your campsite by Mountain Creek, the choice is yours.

There are a number of shorter walks starting here. The 30 minute ‘Shady Gully Walk’ takes you along Mountain Creek and through Peppermint forests. Keep an eye out for ancient ferns along the route, as well as the patterns cast by light and shade as you walk along the track. Getting closer to the creek you will feel the shadows of the trees and the ferns and see the moss-covered rocks. The shadowy depths of the forest begin to impact on the landscape – the cooler air, the softer gurgle of the creek and the emergent sounds of birds speak for the changing nature of the walk.

This walk can be extended quite easily.  All you need to do is follow well-maintained tracks and the information guides available.

Mountain Creek Alpine National Park

Mountain Creek, at the camping ground

A quick walk for Autumn – Chalwell Galleries, Mt Buffalo

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

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.

Brian Chawall 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.