15-17 March 2023
Total Part 2 kms: 2509 kms
Total trip kms: 5757 kms
15 March 2023 – Orbost to Yalmy River – Gunaikurnai Country – 51 kms
Once again, we’re riding off at first light. At least all the early starts should make it easier to go back to a job at some point. Of course, it’s easier to pry yourself out of bed for a day of riding than it is for a day at the office. I do miss those early start jobs I had when I was younger, because they also had early finishes. White-collar jobs start early and end late regardless of your official hours… too much to do and too many responsibilities these days with all those lean, mean company and government corporate structures.
But that is for another day. Today’s task is to get ourselves back up into the hills. At 6.45 am, the petrol station and café next door are busy. Fuel for the vehicle, fuel for the soul (I’m assuming most of those café orders are coffee, not food).
We head out Jarrahmond Road and then along open hills. There are cows grazing the lush, green paddocks and bright lights on in the milking sheds. I pass two female cyclists heading into town who have no pedaling form and shit bikes. Good on them for getting out there.
I turn off on the Yalmy Road as several construction-related vehicles head straight. That directio takes you out to a camping area on the Snowy River and other 4WD tracks that connect to a waterfall. I’d considered that, but I’m not too interested in campgrounds, particularly ones that don’t have a good water source. Plus, I can get to that waterfall from this direction, too, if I feel inclined.
So up the Yalmy Road we go. It’s a steep start, but thankfully, the road is sealed to get you up that first big hill and past a few homes – some that sit high with good views, some more shed-like and tucked down in the hills.
I get up into the forest which has been heavily logged and burnt. It’s not too attractive, so we just churn out the kays. The fire here came from the Buchan direction and hopped the river. The fire’s origin was waaaaay back north of Bruthen (where we rode in late Jan). The distances travelled and severity of the burns in the 19/20 fires continues to blow my little mind.
The gravel is pretty average. I’ve seen better; I’ve seen worse. The annoying bit is that there is a lot of big, loose stuff sitting on top to avoid.
Up and up. The forest is ugly – short and scraggly and burnt. I really don’t think there were any big trees left to burn anyway, so maybe this ecosystem was already toast before the fires.
There are occasional views to distant ridges. This is how you know you are climbing, even if you don’t feel it in your legs. Up and up, until we get to the junction with the Pinnak Road. This road connects back up with the Yalmy Road further ahead. It stays low before climbing to a ridge whereas the Yalmy Road climbs to the ridge and does a big C-shaped arc along the ridgetop. The grades seem like they’ll be easier and maybe there will be more views.
So we head on further up the Yalmy Road, only the road goes down to start in some long, sweeping curves along a creek. The watercourse has cut down between a rounded mountain and a hill on the other side. I’m sure this little bit was scenic before the fires. The road flings us down to a bridge over the creek where a big, red-bellied black snake slithers away in front of us.
Then we get the long climb up to the ridge. Along the way, two 4WDs come bouncing over a crest. Damn, I’m in a climbing cadence and don’t want to stop. But the lead 4WD pulls to a stop next to me. The driver winds down the window and looks at me with furrowed brows. He can’t quite believe he’s seeing a cyclist out here. He says, “Jesus! Where ARE you going? And where did you fuckin START?”
They’ve already been driving for two hours. A third 4WD broke down on some really steep stuff, so they are heading to town to get a part. This area of the national park has some well-known, difficult 4WD tracks that lead down to the Snowy and back toward the road along the Deddick River near its confluence with the Snowy (the Deddick Trail – we passed it a couple days ago). Some of the tracks are still closed post-fires, as this area has seen a lot of fire over the past 15 years, and the 19/20 fires burnt quite hot through a lot of this part of the national park.
The guys ensure I’ve got water and everything I need, and we confirm that they’ll probably pass me on their way back into the forest. They ask if I want them to bring me a beer. And there you go… a positive interaction with some 4WD folks, that’s not all that common.
The road gets rougher. We wind around, high on that ridge, and after those 10 kays of burnt and logged forest, we get some really good views over to the Snowy Plateau and various ridges. The topography in the Australian mountains is so complex with all the drainages eroded into plateaus.
We still have some more climbing to do, but two kays from re-meeting the Pinnak Road, the views are expansive and worth all the effort. The forest is still decimated and open, but that does give us good views. (I think the Pinnak Road might not have been quite so burnt, so maybe give that one a go if scorched earth is not your cup of tea).
We have a short climb through less burnt forest that feels incredibly lush after all the ridgetop burnt bits over the previous kays. I can also see a very steep gash in the hills ahead. I know that is our road. Ugh. But that is not for today. That is tomorrow, first thing.
For now, we get a really nice ride down more sweeping curves on decent gravel into lesser burnt areas. It’s shady, and some of this looks like it might have missed the fire altogether. Aaaaahhhhh. Or maybe it just happened to be a small area that escaped conflagration as it happened to sit between the fire that came from Buchan way and other fires that started near Wulgulmerang and Gelantipy.
We drop and drop, heading down through rough vibrations like a wooden rollercoaster that’s never been retracked. Yee-ha!
We end up at the Yalmy River. On the opposite side of the river, up the hill a bit, and then down a steep track, is a claustrophobic, informal campsite that is mozzie and litter-ridden. No thanks.
So I head back down to the river. It’s flowing low and there is a large, exposed bank covered in cobble and flat river stones. That will do us. I wouldn’t normally camp this close to water. However, I head way up the road and hill for toilet and dishwashing purposes, so I won’t be dumping any dish water or any other material on the riverbed, so I won’t have any impact. And sleeping on rocks means I won’t squish any vegetation either. Besides, it is evident that lots of vehicles have driven over the rocks and there’s several campfire rings with burnt wood and charcoal… I won’t be dropping any vehicle fluids or contributing any further charred wood either. That’s how I justify camping a few feet from a river to myself anyway.
So I just hang out in the shade on the river cobblestones for the rest of the afternoon. It is peaceful and quiet and there is no one on the road. Only one vehicle goes by in three hours. There are big trees and thick bush overhanging the river that hide the hot sun. The guys float the day away, and I cannot think of anywhere else that would be a better place to be. I nap on the cobblestones, as all the mozzies are over in that bushy campsite instead of here. I chase away a lizard that seems intent on running up my shorts. Nah, mate, I’m not into other species, thanks.
The guys I passed this morning eventually come by about 4.30 in the afternoon. They wave and toot their horn. Sheesh. I passed them about 7.45 this morning. What were they doing all that time? Did they have to drive way further than Orbost to get the part? Or did they decide to have lunch and a beer while in town and the day got away from them? They likely still have another hour or 1.5 hours of driving back to their broken down 4WD – it’ll be late in the day before they get back.
What an absolutely perfect afternoon. I set up the tent on the flattest bits of cobblestone I can find, and then sleep straight through, as hard as a rock, from 8.30am until the alarm goes off at 5.50am.
16 March 2023 – Yalmy River to Bonang Picnic Area – Gunaikurnai Country – 63 kms
Okay, let’s go do this! We’ve got an 11-kilometre climb to take us from 150 to 800 metres first thing. We’re a tough crew these days, so the numbers don’t even give us pause. We just get up, get packed and get into it.
We’re up and away on okay gravel. Our life has simply become a series of climbs, usually starting first thing in the morning each day, as we climb out of one valley and its water source, and up onto a ridge or plateau, before dropping down to the next watercourse. We are sampling a heck of lot of drainages on this tour.
The climb is steady. It is steeper in a few parts, but it is always up. It’s pulling us up to the northwestern ridge that defines the edge of the catchment. This section hasn’t burnt everywhere, so it’s a nice respite.
After a whole lot of climbing, there is a nice, fast drop to a saddle where the Lightning Ridge Track heads up and parallels the Yalmy Road along the ridgetop for a bit. Some years ago, a bulldozer driver from Bendoc was killed along that track during a fire. There is a memorial to him in Bendoc that we’ll see later in this trip.
We climb again from the saddle. This area has burnt, and it is just damn ugly off to the right on the state forest side where it’s been so heavily logged. It’s national park to the left, and though that has burnt, too, it doesn’t look nearly as bad. There’s diversity in the regrowing understory, not just crowded saplings or burnt skinny sticks of regrowth.
Ridges always burn hotter, and it may look better down in the valley, but it’s kinda apocalyptic up here where we overlook the upper tributaries of the Rodger River to the north and occasional views off the plateau to the upper reaches of the Yalmy River to the south.
We weave along the ridge, just below the ridgetop, losing elevation to a saddle, and then climbing again. We climb in a stair-step fashion for most of this road.
I’m feeling a bit fatigued by the time we get to the Mt Jersey intersection. It’s time for a break and some food.
I could take this road down, and then approach Errinundra National Park from the BA Road. That would involve a bigger drop and climb than just sticking to the Yalmy Road. There’s a bit more climbing in total if we follow the Yalmy Road, but we’ll start our climb to the national park a bit higher, too.
So on with the Yalmy Road we go, after I find a weak phone signal that is just enough to get a text off to Nigel with my location and intended direction.
Yalmy Road finally gets out of the fire zone, and I’m grateful for some big trees and shade. This is all in the national park, too, so there is no recent logging.
Eventually we drop into private, cleared land on Rising Sun Road. It’s a fast and squirrely drop on a narrow road with erosion ditches and banks of soft gravel. I love that feeling when you are just on the edge of control and the ride comes down to reflex and quick, tiny movements to rebalance. Woo-hoo! I love the feeling you get in the moments after the rear wheel gets loose and then catches again. Once a BMXer, always a BMXer.
Down the bottom, on the outskirts of the Bonang locality, I can get some mobile service. So I quickly download the forecast and update Nigel again. I also download topo maps from the More to Explore App for the bits to come. This is a free app from the VIC government, and you can create maps to store offline. It’s been really useful on this second part of the tour in the mountains. I still see no need for GPS.
We then overlap our ride down to Goongerah for six or seven kays as we climb back to a gap. The main road continues on, but we turn off on the road that heads to Bendoc. We head down to the Bonang River (‘river’ is a bit grand of a word to describe that little creek-like thing) to an informal campsite. However, there is a pump and generator set up to pull water for the water tanker spraying down the gravel for the Bonang Highway road sealing. I’m not too excited about this as a water source. My water filter is really good – it gets 99.99 percent of everything – and I haven’t been sick yet, but….
So I head up the Errinundra Road. I have no informal campsites marked on my map for this road, so I’ve got no idea where we might camp. We do need to get water at some point, and I’m not sure where we’ll be able to access water either. I’m hoping a picnic area not too far up the road will give us access to the river. It is all quite uncertain, but I’m very comfortable with all of that now. I would have more worries in a drought year, though.
The Errinundra Road quickly becomes a slightly rocky two-track with a gentle grade. It hasn’t burnt here recently, so it’s shady, and tree ferns line the way.
We come to a saddle and then drop down into the national park on a shady run with overhanging trees and a few old growth loners scattered along the road edge from time to time. There is more climbing, but it is all pretty gentle.
In my mind, the picnic area on my map will be a drop down off the road to a flat, grassy area along a creek. Um… no. We are high on a ridge that separates the Bonang from the Broadribb catchments.
The picnic area is a lone, decaying picnic table in a very small clearing that is up higher than the road. It is all overgrown and no one has had a fire in the metal grill in a very long time. I had thought maybe I could camp here, but the clearing is tiny and there is no good spot for a tent. It’s all lumpy ground, there are heaps of ants and there are some overhanging trees.
I do really have to get water here though. Unfortunately, a big, likely 250-year-old tree has recently come down, and there is heaps of vegetation around. Finding a way down to the water is going to be a challenge. I can’t hear any water flowing, so maybe there’s not water up this high at this time of year either.
So I put on my pants and raincoat and put my helmet back on to hold the rain jacket hood in place and close to my face. I tuck the pants into my socks. Rainforest plants can be sharp and stingy, and the leeches will be an issue, too. I’ve already seen a few. (Australia is one of only two places in the world with terrestrial leeches. They look like little inch worms in the way they move).
I clamber over the big, fallen tree, climbing it like a rock wall with my knee very close to my face at one point. We traverse its trunk and then drop down into a bunch of grasses, sharp sedges, blackberries, ferns and bracken-type plants. There is a faint path that is overgrown, so we tramp down the vegetation a bit as we go, so we don’t have to fight through the blackberries again on the way back.
There is water down there in a maze of moss-laden tree trunks. The water is only a couple inches deep and runs over a sandy bed. Luckily, there is a six-inch deep pool after a small collection of rocks and tree roots. I can dip my pot into that. I filter all five litres and then climb back up to the picnic area. I only have to pull three leeches from my socks and pants.
I decide to just camp by the road where the little track heads away from the road. I have not seen any vehicles, and there are no fresh vehicle tracks, so I think it will be fine. It’s less lumpy, leechy and mosquito-y down there. There is a state forest track junction ahead, but there’s more climbing to get there, and I don’t know if there will be any larger area near the road there that will be better than this.
So up goes the tent so I can get away from the leeches. It’s a nice little spot, actually, if you discount that I’m a couple feet from a track. There are tall trees behind but not overhead, and there is plenty of green vegetation transpiring and cleaning the air. It’s damp, but not wet. This will work.
It’s a good thing, too. The rain comes in early. It starts about 4.00 pm, a half hour after I get the tent set up. I climb in the sleeping bag and ponder the big swings in temperature we’ve experienced the past few days – cold up top, hot down in Orbost, hot yesterday, cool and clammy this afternoon. But when you are dry and leechless and safe, it is not a bad way to spend an evening listening to the patter of light rain on a tent fly.
17 March 2023 – Bonang River Picnic Area to Errinundra Rd Quarry – Gunaikurnai Country – 16 kms
The rain continues through the night and into the early morning. It’s dark and grey and very foggy out there at 6.30am. So I snooze longer. When did I last have a sleep-in? But I’m well and truly awake and ready to go by 9am. The fog persists – it’s so thick that it continually drips off the trees like rain.
So I wait and wait and wait some more. Finally, the fog lifts just enough that I feel like the day will eventually come good. We don’t actually shove off until almost noon.
We climb on through the forest. We’re in national park, but it obviously hasn’t been national park for too long, as there are still big clear cuts, open areas and not-very-old forest just beyond the trees left by the road.
I see two big deer that don’t seem all that scared to see me – the park will be closed in early April for aerial shooting, so hopefully their days are numbered. The road doesn’t seem to get too much use, as it’s not even two-track in some of it. It’s all just grass.
I do get passed by a convoy of four 4WDs. The lead vehicle is driven by a guy with very bad teeth who just tells me to get out of the way of the other guys coming. He also says, “You do realise it’s all up from here, right?” As if I hadn’t already done half the climb?
Bad teeth man then says, “I hope you’ve got everything you need. You do realise it’s very isolated up here and there’s nowhere to get food or water?”
Um… yeah. That’s the whole reason I’m here. Well, one of the reasons anyway. This national park protects cool and warm temperate rainforest, wet open forest, mixed forest (a combo of eucalypt forest over understory rainforest) and montane forest. It’s the largest stand of rainforest and tall eucalypt forest left in Victoria (they’ve logged so much of the rest!). It’s the only place on mainland Australia with continuous intact natural forest ecosystems from the alps to the coast (though how intact after the 19/20 fires, I do not know). The national park is the source of seven rivers, flowing north, east and south. The plateau is an extension of the vast Monaro Tablelands.
They’ve extensively logged all around this park, and in the park before it was protected, so it’s a pretty special place to finally have some protection. It’s special, too, because of how hard the greenie groups have had to fight to stop the government from logging absolutely everything. Environmental groups have been protesting since the 1980s to conserve these magnificent ecosystems. The citizen science and monitoring has resulted in the government slowly adding bits and pieces to the park as significant stands and sizes of trees, as well as significant populations of threatened animal species, are documented.
We eventually reach the main park road which is in decent condition, but very mucky after last night’s rain. There is more climbing and falling to Errinundra Saddle where there is a short rainforest walk. This is the site of a 1980s blockade that resulted in some of the first protection for the future national park.
It is wet and soggy and the air is thick. It smells like damp earth and decaying leaves with a hint of astringent cleaner – it’s the tannins and the leaves transpiring. It’s a bit claustrophobic, and the variety of plants is just fascinating. I’ve not spent much time in cool temperate rainforest, so it’s pretty much all new to me. It’s funny how you feel a bit on-edge when you are in dense forest with plants you don’t know.
The walk is well done. The info boards are out-of-date. This little patch of rainforest is just a patch, but I do like that the sign boards acknowledge that the greatest threat to a rainforest is not fire in and of itself, but human disturbance. It describes how intact rainforests resist fire and act as fire breaks. The edges will burn but fire won’t generally penetrate too far in – then, if it gets in, there are very, very old trees that are large enough to survive and continue reproduction. Logging allows fire to penetrate… as we certainly saw down on the Bonang Highway in the Martins Creek Reserve. This article by Australia’s top forester copied onto a greenie group website explains it better: https://eastgippsland.net.au/media/the-state-government-is-increasing-our-bushfire-risk-right-now/
We then head on up the road to the Mt Morris Picnic area. It’s another tiny little spot with one picnic table and space for a couple cars to park. The walking tack to an overlook has been hacked back into all the vegetation pretty recently, so it’s easy enough to walk out to the overlook through all of thick understorey and the widely-spaced trees from a past logging coupe.
The overlook is on one of three large granite outcrops in the park. We’re overlooking the headwaters of the Broadribb River below us. There are views all the way to Mt Delegate near the border with NSW, to the Snowy River plateau (where we were yesterday) to the west and down to very burnt forest just to the south at Mt Ellery. I’d hoped to go down there, too, but there’s a lot of climbing to get there and back, and it is in a severely burnt area, so I’m not sure if the walking track would be clear or open (the website is not clear about this). So I’m giving that one a miss on this trip.
From up here, the tall trees all merge together in a canopy of green below. It does feel vibrant. It is in stark contrast to the views to the south where it has burnt hot enough that the trees are just standing black sticks, like lit and burnt matchsticks.
It is so concerning to think about all of these ecosystems that burnt that have natural fire frequencies of 100 to 300 years. If we are going to get fires this severe every 10 or so years… Have we already reached the tipping point? Am I really visiting a living museum with vegetation that will no longer exist in my lifetime?
It is a lot to think about – and it only pisses me off even more that we’ve done such extensive logging that we invited the fire into these areas and significantly reduced the ecosystem’s ability to withstand and recover from it.
I removed six leeches at the overlook (pants tucked into socks, of course!), and now that I’m back at the picnic area, I remove five more. I hope I’ve found them all! They supposedly don’t transmit disease, but it’s very messy to remove them. Here’s a good pic of the leeches I’ve been encountering and some basic info: https://www.burkesbackyard.com.au/fact-sheets/pets/pets-pet-care-native-animals/leeches/
Many of the roads to the south of the park are still closed. I’d hoped to head south out of the park and then back into the park to camp at Ellery Camp. This was another blockade site established near some of the largest trees found in the state (at the time). There are some big shining gums and mountain grey gums down there, but I can’t figure out how to make it all work with the various closed roads. I suppose that is for another time.
(I read later that the Ellery Camp Mountain Grey Gum (13.2 metres in girth and once 55 metres tall was burnt badly in the 19/20 fires. The fires took out the top 25 or more metres of the tree. The tree backed onto a cool temperate rainforest gully with southern sassafrass, but post-fire the rainforest vegetation has been replaced by vines and wet sclerophyll species).
Instead, we’re going to head down the Goonmirk Rocks Road and check out the rainforest and ancient trees over there. We’ll miss an area of forest with ‘kuark’ trees and where cool temperate rainforest meets warm temperate rainforest south of the park. However, that is all within the burn area, so I’m not sure what that would look like anyway. It’s disappointing since I don’t know when I’ll get back this way.
But right now, we need to figure out where we are going to camp for the night. Since we didn’t start until noon today, it’s now getting on 4pm. Rainforest is not conducive to just wandering into the bush and setting up camp. I’ve not seen a single person since the bad tooth brigade four hours ago, so I could find a wide spot in the road reserve, or head back to the main road junction. However, I did see an old quarry on my way up, so I think we should check that out.
You don’t realise how much you’ve climbed until you go back down the way you came up. Yippee! We cruise past tall eucalypts and back down into the cool temperate rainforest. There are signs that tell when various bits were logged, which reinforces to me how long it takes for these ecosystems to recover. We are running out of time!
The quarry hasn’t seen any extraction too recently, and there are a couple fire rings around, so people have camped here before. I get everything out to dry and look around for the least stabby bits. It’s all slate-like rocks that are quite sharp and pointy here. I’ll have to be very careful to ensure the groundsheet covers the floor of the tent. Nothing like sleeping on rocks 2 out of 3 nights in a row.
I do find a pretty flat spot that will work and go about cooking up some dinner in the last of the sun. Before the sun gets the chance to set, however, the fog rolls back in. I quickly gather up all my gear and get the tent up so that only the fly will get wetter. I also get my rain jacket on, since it has gotten distinctively cooler as the sun disappears.
The warm dinner (rice and lentils with some zuke, and last of the capsicum and carrot) tastes really nice tonight. I don’t know why warm meals always taste better when it’s cold and damp vs cold and dry. I really should have invested in a stove much sooner. I suppose my American tours had resupply sources most days, so the weight probably would not have been justified. And I’ve never really minded cold dinners in all the years of backpacking and hiking. But gosh, it really does make for a more satisfying and healthier meal. The spirit burners are just so easy to work with that I’m totally sold on carrying a stove if I’ll be out for more than three or four days. Old dogs can learn new tricks 😊
The wildlife is loud and rowdy, but it’s good. It is not the sound of domesticated livestock or wild dogs – it’s all native wildlife: owls, gliders, possums, and who knows what else. It is definitely not a quiet, silent night though. I really like those nights where it is so silent you can hear your heart beating in your ears.
But I think one of the calls is a yellow-bellied glider – it sure sounds like one. This area is well known for greater gliders (it is disregard for protecting their habitat that is at the crux of the current logging injunction), but I don’t think they make much noise. The yellow-bellied gliders are the most vocal of all of the glider species.
Regardless, it is a loud night in the forest! But goodness, I’ll gladly give up silence for the noise of threatened or endangered species announcing that they are not extinct just yet.