Visiting : Mt Buller, Circuit Road, Upper Howqua Campground, Howitt Spur
Distance : 63km
When : Sunday 28th October, 9:00am @ Mt Buller
The purpose of this ride was nosin’ around. The Mt Howitt area has fascinated me for years now and my ill-planned walk around Howitt and The Crosscut Saw a while back has only served to increase my interest in that high, windy range. I’ve often stared at the maps and thought about various loops and traverses but have yet to commit, partly because I don’t know what the trails are like in reality – there’s plenty of trip reports online which cover that area but I wanted to see for myself.
So, this was a recce mission to check out Howitt Spur basically. What does it look like on the ground? Would it go?
I got out the door around 6am in the trusty rusty Falcon S-Wag. Quick stop in at the Yarra Glen bakery for salad rolls and croissants for the day and then pegged it all the way to Mt Buller. The base of Howitt Spur is not the easiest to get to at the best of times (especially for a 2WD vehicle) but on this day the roads were still closed for winter so I’d be doing a chunk of cycling whichever way I approached it.
I parked up at CSIR carpark and rolled up to the Mt Buller Village for a look-see before rolling the resort backstreets and stumbling down trails behind the sewerage plant and finding Corn Hill Road. Still a bit of icy crud around in the shadows.
Nice rolling and the views were great. Blue sky day.
No cars at all, or bikes, or walkers. I had the place to myself.
Passed Howqua Gap without stopping and then let it roll down Circuit Road.
More fantastic views south to The Bluff and other hills I don’t know the names of.
Bindaree Road would take me down, down, down to the Upper Howqua Campground. Research suggested that it was fine for 2WD unless it was wet. I took the opportunity to note the conditions for future reference and can report that, yes, I have full confidence that the mighty ’96 Falcon would have handled Bindaree Road just fine on that (dry) day. It was wide, no big rocks or ruts to speak of, not too steep, no river fords. There was a lot of red clay which I imagine could become treacherous if it was wet and gouged up but on this day it was a doddle.
Soon enough the fast fun descent came to an end as I rolled on to the bridge just before Upper Howqua Campground.
Still not a soul to be seen. I found the start of the Upper Howqua Walking Track just before the bridge over the river. There were a couple big logs across the track presumably to keep vehicles out.
And then it settled into the next chapter of this recce ride. Riverside singletrack.
I followed the Upper Howqua Walking Track and it was beautiful. An idyllic singletrack following the Upper Howqua River, surrounded by bush, so many bird sounds, the shallow river babbling away over the rocks, blue skies overhead. Magic.
The track was generally easy going and so inviting. What’s around the next corner?
I stashed my bike and continued on foot – probably increasing my average speed in the process – it was ridable in part, but scrambling through windfall is always easier without a bike to slow you down.
There were four or so crossings of the river – water was never over my knees and the rocks were rounded but not too slippery. Might be a different story after heavy rain but, on this day, the fords were fine and the cold water felt beautiful on my hot feet.
At one point on a clear section of singletrack, I happened to look up the trail ahead and saw a dog approaching. Ha! My first thought was that there’d be people coming right behind it. But no. The dog saw me and, surprisingly, kept on trotting down the track right at me. I froze and then scrambled to get my camera out.
The dog casually stopped in the middle of the trail a respectful distance away.
It looked like a dingo pup.
No other people around. Must be wild. It was tan coloured with some darker patches, white socks, broad across the head. Probably interbred to some extent – most of the dingos in the Eastern Highlands aren’t “pure” dingos but fall somewhere on the spectrum of dingo, dingo-dog hybrid, wild dog, feral dog.
This particular pupper stopped and looked at me quizzically for a good 20 seconds before casually turning around and trotting off back the way it came.
I see signs of wild dogs on almost every ride or walk that I do. Poo, tracks. I know they’re everywhere in the bush but I almost never see them! And if I do, it’s just the arse of them as they’re running away as fast as they can. So to be confronted by this curious little doggo in such a casual manner just blew my mind. Highlight of the ride!
I kept an eye out for it as I continued up the track but I never saw it again.
I ate salad roll as I hiked up the trail.
Eventually, after a bit more scrambling through downed trees, I reached a signed fork in the track. Left to go “To Thorn Range”, right to go “To Howitt Spur”. There’s a little campground just beyond the sign, no facilities, but it would make a top bivvy spot.
I foolishly took what I thought was the track to Howitt Spur and quickly became entangled in blackberries as the overgrown “track” gave way to thick bush.
I pushed on for a little bit but it was quite ridiculous so eventually backtracked and found the sign at the perimeter of the campground pointing up the real track.
Good! The base of Howitt Spur, clearly signposted, steep yet easy going. I started up it for a look-see and began to run the numbers.
My goal was to get home before the kids went to bed and, if I wanted to do that, there was no way I’d have time to get to the top of Howitt Spur. It was a minor bummer but I had no problem making the decision to turn around and start heading down.
It was a recce mission and I was satisfied that I’d recced what I wanted to recce i.e. I’d made it to the base of the spur and seen that, yes, it would go.
And so I started heading home.
Back through the little campground – a few muddy deer wallows and lots of tracks – I bet that place gets pretty wild with animals at night – what a spot.
It always seems quicker on the way back.
Pretty soon I was getting back on my bike and rolling the nice singletrack along the river.
I got back to the start of the walking track and filled up water just near the bridge. All I had to do now was ride back the way I came, all the way back up Mt Buller.
Can’t say it was unpleasant.
I tapped it out and kept my mind clear.
Less stress these days than there used to be. Would I make it back home for the kids bedtime? Maybe, maybe not. Worrying about it wouldn’t help. Hakuna matata.
Was feeling knackered by the time I got back to Howqua Gap. Not much fitness at the moment.
I sat for a while, ate another salad roll, then got back on the bike and rolled out for the last section back to Buller.
Mt Torbreck on the horizon on the right and possibly Mt Skene a bit closer on the left.
Mt Buller resort not far away now.
I skipped the resort detour this time and took Corn Hill Road right to the end.
And BAM! I arrived back at the car at CSIR carpark.
It was a long drive home – coke, chocolate bars and singing along to my 80’s nostalgia mix (bite me!) – and I rolled into home with an hour to spare before bedtime.
Good weather, good country, good headspace, good decisions.
Now I just gotta find the time to get back out there and finish the job…