Visiting : Old Moroka Road, Wellington Plains, Marathon Road
Distance : ~145km ride, ~16km hike
When : Saturday 7th March 2015, 10:00am @ Briagolong

Lake Tali Karng has been on my list for years now. A hidden lake high up in the mountains on the edge of the Avon Wilderness with no vehicle access, just a walking track. What’s not to like? I had an overnighter pencilled in for March and decided to make Tali Karng the destination. If not now, when, right? So, off I went to see the hidden lake.

The drive to Briagolong was uneventful, unless you count missing the turnoff onto the Princes Highway and almost ending up in Frankston due to sausage and egg McMuffin related distractions as eventful. Serves me right for eating that bloody thing – they’re terrible.

The plan was to ride up Old Moroka Road, across to Tali Karng, hang out for a bit and, hopefully around sunset, wander back along Moroka Road to find a campground for the night. The next day I’d get up early, snap some photos and bomb it back down Old Moroka Road to Briagolong. Seemed simple enough.

I rolled out of Briagolong on two wheels about 10am. Later than I’d hoped but hey, it is what it is.

I could see the mountains in the distance and suspected that I was looking at Gable End which was very near Tali Karng. Nice.

The first couple of km were good flat Gippsland farmland and then I joined the Valencia Creek and we both wound our way up into the hills. It’d be pretty much all uphill to get to the lake – Briagolong is at about 50m ASL and I’d hit 1500m before the day was through.

This first part of the climb was pretty cruisy. Nice wide dirt road, campsites visible along the creek, even a passel of cleared land for sale in there. Would be a great place to live. After Paddy Lees Crossing, a little concrete ford over the creek, the road turned to proper 4wd terrain and I was off the bike hiking up steep switchbacks. This set the tone for the rest of the climb. The road got gnarlier, the pitch remained steep and the views just got better and better.

Took a while to fix a flat – small piece of wire. Patched it. The creek was far down below, the hills on either side were steep, the road bench cut into the side of the range.

There was plenty of ridable road but I’ll remember it most for the hiking. Frequent sections of steep and loose rock, lots of hiking. Some of the downhill parts were equally steep and loose and required full concentration to pick the right line and not bin it. The track was quite rocky and I touched the rims at high speed once or twice. I’d say doable on a CX bike but only if you’re into Type 2 fun. I was happy to escape some sections without pinch-flatting.

The higher I climbed the more apparent it became that the big mountain over the way that I’d been looking up at all day was indeed the Gable End/Sentinels/Mt Wellington massif. Kinda cool to have the destination in view all throughout the day.

Later in the day, I came across the only traffic I’d meet on this climb. A couple of small bunches of trail bikers coming down the track towards me. Thumbs ups, nods, waves, grins were exchanged. We were each in our element, I figured, and the place was big enough for all of us to have our fun.

I had a bit of a sit down at the “top” where the road meets Moroka Range Track. That was the main part of the climb done and I was at about 1200m. That long slog up the Old Moroka Road had taken a lot longer than I thought it would. I didn’t sit for long – it was still a ways to go to get to the lake and I was keen for a drink by now, which meant reaching the Moroka River.

Moroka Range Track was relatively easy going, more well trafficked, less sustained climbing but still plenty of short sharp pinches to hike up. I heard some vehicles coming towards me over one such pinch and got off the road so they could pass. First guy stopped and we chatted a bit.

He and his wife grinned out of their 4wd at me, called me crazy etc., the usual stuff, and I must admit I had no good comebacks for them. I was feeling knackered, there were just no smartarse remarks forthcoming. Very disappointing, sorry guys. Anyway, they had a good laugh when I told them I was heading up and over Mt Wellington to the lake. The said they’d just come from Mt Wellington and it had taken them about an hour to drive down off it, it was so rocky and steep.

Hmmm, ok. I did the maths, quickly realised I wouldn’t reach the lake before dark. Hiking up and over Mt Wellington sounded like it was going to take ages. Guy mentioned the walking track from McFarlane Saddle and I had to agree that sounded like a good idea. Off they went, off I went, each in their element, plenty of room for fun etc.

I took a quick break at the start of Mt Wellington Track to check my GPS. I’d originally planned to ride up and over Mt Wellington but if I rode from here out to the main road (Moroka Road. Everything’s called Moroka up there) then I could get to McFarlane Saddle on easy terrain, stash my bike and hike out the 13km to the lake unencumbered. Yep. That’d be the go. Seemed better than pushing my bike up unridable tracks for ages.

As I was nutting this out, another little convoy of 4wds pulled up, first guy hanging out his window, glaring :

Him: “You right mate?”

Me: “Yeah, no worries, thanks mate.” Back to looking at my GPS…

Him, still staring, concerned and a little nonplussed : “You right?”

Me: “Yeah, no worries mate, all good” thumbs up, wave, smile etc.

Him, brow furrowed, confused : “Well at least you’re not wearing lycra!”

And then he gunned it and they all took off up Mt Wellington Track in a cloud of exhaust smoke, dust and indignation.

I chuckled, mentally locked in my revised plan (kinda thankful that I wasn’t going up the same track as those dudes were) and rolled down the hill to Moroka River where I got that welcome drink.

Out on the main road the riding was easy, albeit mostly uphill to McFarlane Saddle. When I got there… fark me, I knew it was a popular place, it being one of the trailheads for accessing Lake Tali Karng, and it being a long weekend weekend but still, there must have been about thirty cars parked there. No people around at all so that meant thirty car loads of people were already in there at the lake or nearby, exactly where I was going.

Oh well. Plenty of room for all of us to have our fun.

I stashed my bike in the bushes and, almost as an afterthought, took a GPS waypoint of where it was hidden before starting the hike out onto the Wellington Plains.

The Wellington Plains were amazing. They’re at about 1500m, scrubby grass and short gnarly trees – it feels alpine, well, in the Australian sense. It was great to get a big wide view right before me after riding all day in the trees and sneaking peeks of faraway ranges. Now I was on those faraway ranges, hiking along the top of them, more or less. There was such a sense of space – a big wide open field after crawling along through the trees all day. I felt up high, on top, above. It was great.

The sun was getting low in the sky as I eagerly hiked and jogged my way along the singletrack. I came across a dilapidated old hut – Dunsmuir Hut – and went in for a look. Nothing inside but graffiti dating back to the 70’s. Clearly “Nugget” had loved the place so much on his first visit in our Bicentennial year, that he decided to return again and again. Onya Nugget!

I scampered on, eager to get there. The more I walked, the more I realised that “there” would be Nyimba Camp, the campground high above Lake Tali Karng, just near the trail that shoots down steeply to that hidden lake. I figured the lake would be packed with people and I’d probably get there in the dark. Hm, why not stop at Nyimba Camp, sleep and then duck down to the lake in the morning? This plan solidified in my mind as I hiked.

Honestly, I’d never really resigned myself to camping at the lake anyway. Everywhere you read about Lake Tali Karng it’s said that it’s a sacred place to the Gunai Kurnai people. They don’t go there themselves, they tolerate other people going there for a look but they see it as disrespectful when people camp there and ask that visitors camp up at Nyimba Camp or below the lake on the Wellington River. In the end, I was happy to respect their wishes.

I settled into the rhythm of walking, watching my footing, swapping my sadddle bag and water bottle from arm to arm as they became uncomfortable (could have used a backpack), watching out for animals, scanning the horizon to see new views opening up befo…BARK!!! HOLY CRAP! Startled, I looked up from watching my feet on the track and saw a deer crashing through the bushes away from me. It must have been thirty metres away when it saw me and let out a warning bark and took off. Awesome!

I stopped dead and watched, a dumb grin on my face. It got to a safe distance in the trees and stood there, just looking at me, and barking periodically. Its barks echoed all around the plain – it was loud! Any other deer or animal within kilometres would have heard that warning. I was well and truly busted. I took some photos but the deer was too well hidden by the trees so I shot a quick video to capture he sound of its barking. Even though I thanked it, said goodbye and took off down the trail again, the deer kept barking periodically for ages. “Alright already! I’m going, man, you can shut up now!”

I was stoked to see the deer and wondered if I’d be able to spot another animal that had left a lot of evidence of its presence. I’d spotted plenty of dog poo along the length of the trail so far and on a previous ride in the area I’d seen a lot of dog tracks in the snow. I know there are lots of dogs out there but I’ve yet to see a single one. I didn’t see a dog this time either, but I’ll bet that a dog saw me.

On I hiked, the sun getting lower and lower. The signboard at the trailhead showed that the trail crossed Moroka River – I was keen to fill my bottle again and kept an eye out for it. Well, I crossed a couple of seeping, swampy bits in the track but I couldn’t see anything that looked like a river. I figured it’d be small up here but I guess I was so close to its source that I couldn’t find it at all. To think, what starts off as just wet patches on the ground, a puddle, a smear of mossy water across a rock, would become, just a few kilometres away, a good sized river. Amazing place.

The sun was fast disappearing in the west as I approached Nyimba Camp. At one point, I turned around to have a look at where I’d been, to scan the scene, as I’d been doing the whole way, and…

wow…

Mt Wellington turned golden by the setting sun. Everywhere else was now grey and getting dark, out of reach of the sun for now, starting to turn to night. My eyes were accustomed to the greyness, the gathering dark, the shadow that was taking the colour from everything as I walked. So when I turned and looked up at the bulk of Mt Wellington radiating golden sunlight from its position just a few kilometres away and a couple hundred metres higher… the effect was stunning. Jaw dropping. Amazing. I was literally stopped dead in my tracks, amazed, with my mouth hung open in a slack jawed smile.

It silenced my mind.

I savoured the experience a while and then hiked on.

Smoke rising from the trees not far away. Nyimba Camp. I smelled food. Saw unnatural colours in the trees, tents, people, campfires, voices, laughter. I wandered around the campground a bit before choosing a likely spot to lay down. Not too close to anyone else, though I could hear adjacent campfire conversations quite clearly.

I discovered that I had phone reception if I stood halfway between my camp site and the drop toilet so I called Rae and checked in. All good. Max didn’t want to talk to me, probably playing on his iPad.

I lay down and sorted out my gear for the night. Not much else to do so I zipped myself into my bivvy and tried to get comfortable. Bright stars overhead. No wind. Just a cool calm night. Laughter and talking floating around in the trees. The occasional flash of torchlight and footsteps as someone walked to the toilet or to get some water. A massive moon rising. The silhouette of tree branches. Shuffling to get comfortable. The campground noises became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether.

I dozed and then finally slept, zipped up in my little bag, high on the mountain plains.

END PART ONE

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