I was eager to head off from Wonnangatta nice and early, as I knew I had a long day ahead of me. I set off at 5:30am, whilst it was still dark, and made good progress along the river flats for the first 9 or so kilometres.
The morning fog and mist cleared as I started climbing Wombat Spur Track. What a climb it was too, like bloody sharks teeth. I’d get up one steep section, and then have an equally steep descent. This went on for for about 15 kilometres. I was rewarded with some fabulous views but no phone reception. I was getting pretty thirsty but doing a good job of rationing my supply knowing I had a bit to go. I clambered up another steep knob and was absolutely buggered. Definitely time for a rest. I dropped my pack down and admired the view. I looked at all the knobs along the Spur, wondering why the hell they had to make a track that went over every one. I checked my phone... yay, 3 bars.
After enjoying a generous break, calling home and then catching up on Facebook, I was just thinking about hitting the trail again, when I heard the rumble of a 4WD. I gathered my gear and moved it off to the side of the track. It was a nice woman, with her kids, who asked if I had reception and whether she could borrow my phone. She was staying at Wonnangatta and had forgotten to register her daughter in an upcoming Rodeo, so had set off to get reception, and make the call before the deadline. We got to chatting and before too long my generous break turned into a luxurious break. I finally got going, and made good progress in the heat, as most of the big climbs were behind me - the views along the ridge were sensational! I hadn’t checked how much water I had, but figured I was getting close to the halfway mark, and resigned myself to not having any water for the final leg to camp. I wasn’t severely dehydrated, but was imagining how good it would be to guzzle down half a litre of sweet, cool, cloud juice.
I heard the rumble of a 4WD convoy, so moved off to the side of the track to let them pass. The lead vehicle pulled up, the others pulling in behind. Steve, the lead driver, asked if I needed any water and offered to top up my hydration bladder. I don’t know what I’d done to earn this positive karma, but I seriously enjoyed guzzling down my remaining water and getting a refill at the halfway mark. It was great having another longish break chatting to these blokes. They all did introduce themselves, but I’m useless with names, I remember the first and last (Steve and Lewis) but not the two in the middle, sorry gents. Being currently unemployed, and not knowing what I’d like to do after my hike, I was very interested to hear that these guys were on their way to work. They are contracted by the government to clear rivers and streams of invasive flora such as willow. They 4WD in on tracks and then don their packs and disappear into the bush to do their business. How cool, sounds like something I’d have fun doing. I said to them I was busy presently but might be fit enough when I’m done. They bid farewell, and off they went, but not before leaving me with a yummy museli bar.
I set off again, but before I reached my resupply point, I was rewarded with some thunder, lightning and enough rain for me to put on my raincoat and pack cover. After collecting my supplies, the skies cleared and the sun came back out with a vengeance, making it hot and muggy. I got to Pioneer Racecourse, but it looked overgrown and it appeared that access to the river would be tricky. I decided to push on towards Talbotville, but it was 4:30pm, I was exhausted and Talbotville was about 9kms away. As I reached the junction of Crooked and Wonungarra Rivers, I saw a group of campers at a great little spot just before the river crossing. “Do you mind if I pitch my tent down by the trees?” I called out on approach.
After 43.5 kilometres, which included all those steep climbs and descents along the “sharks teeth” called the Wombat Spur, it felt wonderful to let the pack down for the final time that day - 12 hours including a few luxurious breaks, not a bad effort. I quickly set up camp and went and introduced myself. As long as the day was, I really enjoyed the company and generosity of Pat & Pam and Tony & Jan, both lovely couples. They were sheep farmers from down Torquay way, and shared their campfire with me. Geez those couple of beers - and mug of red wine - went down a treat.
Pat, Pam, Tony and Jan were packed up and gone the next day by 9am for their six hour run home - but not before sharing some coffee with me and leaving me with a heap of firewood. My rest day at the river junction was very relaxing. I got all of my washing done and enjoyed a good soak in the river. It was the middle of nowhere, but fortunately no 4WD arrived this time when I was naked and having a much-needed wash.
The next day was a bit longer than I had planned. I think I was expecting it really, which is why I didn’t lose my lolly when I arrived at SpringHill and confirmed there was nowhere to camp, let alone any water, as the guidebook update had warned. My plan B was to press on to Trish & Paul’s place in Upper Dargo. Whilst it was all downhill, I had already hiked 26 kilometres, most of which was an unrelenting climb up Mt Grant, and Trish’s place was a further 12 kilometres on. I called Trish (fortunately there was reception) to check that it would be ok for me to arrive a day earlier. I had only met Trish a couple of months earlier when I knocked on her door unannounced to ask if she would hold my food resupply bucket for me.
I arrived exhausted at Trish’s place around 5:30pm. After a quick chat with Trish, a couple of bottles of water and an icy beer, and confirming it would be ok to stay another night and have a rest day the next day, she showed me my room and the bathroom, suggesting I enjoy a long hot shower, and put my clothes in the washing machine. After days and days going feral in the bush, the long hot shower was wonderful. Trish and Paul’s place is gorgeous. They are living an off-grid life style that I have often dreamed about - a real slice of paradise! I slept wonderfully that night.
The next day was so relaxing; after enjoying the lovely bacon and eggs breaky Trish had cooked up for me, washing it down with freshly brewed coffee, we had a quick zip around the paddock in Trish’s Suzuki 4WD to check if any of the cows had calved yet. Not yet, but they certainly looked ready to pop. There was no phone reception, but Paul and Trish shared there wifi password with me so I was able to message my family and catch up on the news. I then pottered around in Trish’s vegetable garden whilst she picked the broad beans and asparagus for dinner that night. We then picked a bucket full of strawberries that I think I pretty much single handedly demolished myself....yum!! The afternoon was even more relaxing, a couple more beers and I got flogged in scrabble. That nights dinner was to die for: rib eye steak, fresh asparagus and broad beans, topped with a blue cheese sauce.
I had another wonderful night sleep and woke early for a head start to the days hike along the Dargo River Valley. Trish had brewed a pot of fresh coffee, and had a bowl of fresh strawberries and raspberries ready for me.
Before setting off we had another chat about walking fitness, and the anatomy of walking, I took a few photos of the section of the biology book covering that topic for later reading. Trish had studied exercise physiology extensively as part of the Aerobics business she ran; and with Paul into extreme sports, they were both “fit as fuck”. It was great getting advice and insights from someone so knowledgeable and interested. It’s a shame I didn’t get to meet Paul, as he was away putting the finishing touches to his yacht, but look forward to visiting again with Beth and the kids when my hike is done. Whilst, I had only just met Trish, it felt like we were old friends who had known each other for ages.
The climb up Stockroute Spur Track was exhaustingly steep, but fortunately only a few kilometres. Once I hit Birregun Rd it was a long and steady climb for the rest of the day's hike. The views from Mt Birregun were pretty impressive and was topped off with excellent phone reception. I enjoyed a brief flattish section before arriving at the turn off to Dogs Grave. Thunder was again threatening as I was nearing the campsite, and I was mindful of needing time to dry my soggy tent. What a spectacular campsite this was, born from a grave site and later it grew to be a memorial to the pioneer history of man’s best friend. You can imagine my relief, and then delight, when I saw the near new hut..score!!! It was great place to enjoy a rest day. I spent the day sleeping and sun baking on the picnic table whilst my solar panel charged my devices.
The next day’s hike was again longer than planned. I got away just before 5:30am and arrived at the Livingston Creek camp around 11am. I decided I’d press on and make Omeo, unfortunately I was about 5 kilometres ahead of myself, and the day turned out to be a mega 48 kilometres by the time I was sipping on my second pint at the second pub I visited in Omeo. I was pretty rapt to have finished guidebook 12 though. The hike from Healesville to here has been amazing and I’ll certainly enjoy a few rest days here. I’m very weary, but only that. The rest days will set me up well for guidebook 11. I’m still taking one day at a time, though.
Before I crap on further, I think it’s important to add a little disclaimer. When I talk about how many kilometres I’ve travelled, there are so many versions of the truth to choose from. There’s the guidebook, GPS pre-plotted route, actual maps and then the health app GPS tracking on my iPhone. Like me, I think the iPhone is prone to exaggeration, but I use the iPhone numbers as they tell a better story.
Usually when I write my blog updates, the reason for my title choice is obvious very early on. This time round I think it works better to explain it in closing.
I started to think about possible themes and titles as the base for my update in earnest on the way to Collins Flat. There were a number of lame ideas quickly discarded, but two contenders emerged; Lord of the Flies and Southern Comfort. Lord of the Flies would have been a very different update, wrapping up with the revelation that, after hours of torment, a stern and loud “Arrrghhhh!!! You little fuckers, you can fuck right off” mysteriously works......for about 15 seconds. Instead, clearly, I went with Southern Comfort.
I’ve had a crack starting from the north, completing guidebook 1. I’ve now worked my way through the southern end, having just completed guidebook 12, arguably the most physically demanding section, and the most remote, devoid of regular towns along its route. The thing is, at no point have I got lost, taken wrong turns, or got sidetracked. I’ve not been overly anxious at any point. I’ve been comfortable. I don’t think it has anything to do with the absence of crocodiles. Well, maybe a little bit. I’m a southerner, Victorian born and bred, this is my stomping ground. It’s been gruelling at times, but I’ve loved every minute. I don’t want to put the mozz on myself, but so far the legs are holding up and I’m feeling good. At this point up north I’d only just made the last day of the first guidebook, and it fell apart straight after.
The generosity and hospitality extended to me up north was staggering, and l’ll be eternally grateful for it. That said, from the updates I’ve shared from my southern experience so far, I think it is pretty clear, there have been a lot of people who have made my trip a lot more comfortable, totally unexpected. My tribute to this southern hospitality - Southern Comfort!
At 47 years young, Chris Anthony, who is married with 3 wonderful kids, tried his hand at being an adventurer for the 12 months tackling the BNT.