The campsite at Tom Groggin, on the NSW side of the border, provides for an excellent base for walking, canoeing and, of course, fishing for trout along the broad pools and reaches of the upper Murray River, which flows in its alpine tract above Hells Gates.
A number of rafting groups run expeditions down the Murray from Tom Groggin through the Hell’s Gates downstream to Fisherman’s Bend and the adventurous can join these trips out of Khancoban. The Murray River in these parts is normally tranquil and serene and the angler can find many an undisturbed location.
Angling along these reaches allows one to commune with nature in solitude, although the almost impenetrable masses of blackberries remind one of the magnificent errors in judgment made by our forebears. Come prepared to wade the river upstream to secure the best results. It is always interesting to view the river flats from the heights of the Alpine Way on the NSW side of the Murray and contrast the blackberry growth. On the NSW side it is substantial, while on the Victorian side on Tom Groggin Station, the growth is restricted due to cattle nipping off the succulent new growth of this noxious briar.
Driving south through the National Parks Tom Groggin campground, one eventually winds down to a narrow crossing of the Murray. Take care to check this crossing before proceeding – the ford involves driving in a wide arc to cross the river and thence ascend a steep bank before proceeding through a gate, which is usually open.
You now join the Davies High Plain Track. Turning left (south), the track follows the Murray River, which is often viewed through the treeline. A number of indistinct tracks lead down to the river, allowing access for the angler. Here, the Murray is flowing in a V-shaped valley with steep slopes either side, numerous tributary streams and long stretches of rocky riverbed characterised by long pools and riffles – classic alpine trout country.
About 4km from the Tom Groggin ford, you cross the deep and rapidly flowing Buckwong Creek, which descends steep gradients in a deep valley from the high alpine plains adjacent to Mount Murphy, to the south. The discharge from Buckwong Creek can be substantial so watch this crossing, especially after heavy rain. This creek intersects the Murray at 90° degrees and often forms a turbulent jet as it enters the river, a feature quite visible from the track as one approaches Buckwong crossing.
The camp at this crossing is excellent, a great base for the angler desirous of walking the Murray upstream (horse and brumby trails will be encountered along the banks as the Davies High Plain track now heads south away from the Murray), as well as ascending the challenging reaches of Buckwong Creek.
Beyond Buckwong Creek, the Davies High Plain Track ascends the steep spurs that form the northern slopes of the residual plateau that is the Davies High Plain. This ascent used to be known as The Silks, reflecting its highly slippery and dangerous slopes – up to 40° in places – before the construction of the current diversion tracks which deviated from the original route. The new track meanders up the slope to reduce gradients and danger while the original track went straight up the slope. During wet conditions this track was renowned for its challenges and dangers and even today, one needs to apply extreme caution when ascending this long and arduous spur.
The track in places is narrow and does not allow for passing. Accordingly, the driver needs to be well-versed in 4WD techniques and be capable of handling steep ascents, stalling and backing off down extremely narrow sections of track on steep slopes when confronting by approaching vehicles. This track, and the Davies High Plain, are closed during the Winter when they are treacherous. Closure also minimises environmental impact from 4WD vehicles.
The ascent to the High Plains allows the traveller to pass through a continually changing set of ecosystems and vegetation – in particular tall stands of alpine ash giving way to black sallies and snowgums towards the summit. As one ascends onto the plain (in reality a series of small elevated and shallow valleys forming the top of a long ridge running north-south), the vegetation changes to alpine heath and, in places, grassland within the small valleys surrounded by snowgums on the ridges.
This track still is used by high-country cattlemen who move their herds up to the plains in Spring and bring them back down again before Winter. Cattle will often break from the scrub as you approach and keep an eye out for the brumbies which roam this country.
Crossing Davies Plains Creek, we soon encounter Davies Plain Hut amongst the snowgums on an expanse of alpine meadow. This hut has been lovingly maintained throughout the years and survived the fires of December 2002 and January 2003. Horse corrals have been restored and the original dog kennels, along and under a fallen log, remain. Water can be obtained from a spring-fed stream on the eastern side of the hut and, for those in the know, some traditional brumby traps still remain in the forest. The camp at this hut is one of the very best in the high country. This country takes on a fairytale appearance during snow, which can be encountered at any time of the year.
Dung heaps deposited by stallions marking their territory are along the tracks and in the clearings and one can lie in a swag next to the fire on a starry evening and imagine what it must have been like in the days when the cattlemen reigned supreme. However, this period of history can often be relived if you are privileged enough to encounter some of the old-timers on horseback. They still round up the cattle or come up on horseback to fish and relive the past. Sharing an evening camp with these fellows is an experience to be savoured and remembered.
The track continues south along the Davies Plain Ridge with numerous grassy hollows encountered. Sadly, some of these have been ravaged by idiots in 4WDs who seem to think that the alpine meadow, often saturated, provides for some excellent off-road bashing. Their scars are living testimony to why National Parks wants to close off this fragile environment. As is so often the case, the enjoyment of the majority who access this country with respect and care is jeopardised by a small redneck minority without intellect and environmental sensitivity. About 10km south of Davies High Plain Hut, just south of Horse Flat Creek and its associated hut and excellent camping, the Kings Plain Track descends steeply to the south-east to the Murray River, flowing in a deep, narrow valley.
The flats along the river at this point allow for extended camping and excellent trout fishing, as this location is very isolated. Farther south of this junction, we encounter the Four Ways intersection where the Davies Plain, McCarthy’s, Buckwong Creek and Mount Misery Trails meet. The Mount Misery Trail takes the adventurer out to the Benambra Road, while the Buckwong Track heads west to the alpine high plain encompassing the headwaters of Buckwong Creek. This plain forms a giant soak with many fishing holes renowned for their trout.
The Buckwong Hut has been long used by cattlemen for shelter while droving – and angling! This excellent camp allows the angler to walk down the upper reaches of Buckwong Creek before it plunges into a deep gorge down to the Murray. This camp, with its alpine grasslands, heath and snow gum forms a beautiful scene during Autumn and Spring mornings, with fog shrouding the trees amid the sounds of silence. Farther to the west along this track one encounters the Mount Murphy Track, accessing the abandoned copper mines adjacent to the summit.
We descend McCarthy’s Track (take care – it is very steep and slippery when wet) to rejoin the Murray River east of the junction with the Limestone Creek Track. This location is referred to as The Poplars, reflecting the stands of poplars on the eastern (NSW) bank. These flats were used in times past for grazing and relics of this period can still be found, including the poplars – long may they stand!
You used to be able to ford the Murray here to camp on the NSW side – a magnificent location – but both fords have been closed off by NPWS. Camping is restricted to the Victorian side, with excellent walks on the eastern bank. The fishing is excellent. Walk the river up and down at your leisure, it will never cease to delight the spirit and soul and fishing truly takes place in pristine wilderness. You are in the Upper Murray Gorge – enjoy!
All the off-road tracks in this article require a 4WD and appropriate off-road driving skills. Steep slopes will be encountered and these can be treacherous when wet.
All drivers should have training relating to steep slopes, rutted slopes, stalling and key-starting and descents. This is dangerous country when wet. Sudden Summer storms can drop temperatures below zero and even snow can occur. Vehicles have been known to be stuck in valleys for days, waiting for slopes to dry out.
Take care – prepare your vehicles thoroughly, carry a full range of recovery gear, carry a UHF radio and know your local repeater station frequencies and carry warm clothing just in case.
• CMA Snowy Mountains Tourist Atlas. Available at all good bookshops or map shops.
• Corryong District Access Map – A must. Available at Corryong/Khancoban.
• Victorian Country Fire Association North East Rural Directory Regions 23 and 24 – all are 1:100,000 topo maps for this region in one volume – the best topo maps bargain in the land! Available from Wodonga CFA from June 1
Fording fast-flowing Buckwong Creek. There’s great camping nearby.
The broad valleys which characterise the Davies high Plain – alpine grasslands, heath, snowgums, black sallies and stringybark.
The area around the Davies high Plain Hut is one of the best campsites in the entire High Plains area.