River outlet at Fitzroy River Reserve

Camping on the Fitzroy River at Tyrendarra

Leaving a week of glamping in Berwick behind us, we drove down the Monash and said goodbye to Melbourne probably for quite some time. Our plans at this stage are to head to Western Australia early next year, visiting friends and family in Adelaide along the way. However, todays destination is the Fitzroy River Coastal Reserve at Tyrendarra.

Heading through Geelong, we drove along the Princes Highway and encountered several roadworks between Winchelsea and Colac. The going was slow, with many reduced speed limits to 40Km/Hour and short sections of automatic stop/go lights. We discovered there’s a $363 million project underway to upgrade the Princes Highway, with completion in 2019, so try to avoid that stretch of road for a while.

From Warrnambool, we followed the coast road via Port Fairy. Just past Tyrendarra East, we head south down Thompsons Road toward the Fitzroy River Outlet into the sea (Bass Strait).

Easy access dirt road to the river outlet

Thompsons Road is an easy access dirt road all the way down to the river outlet. It has a large area suitable for about ten or so sites about 250m before you arrive at a smaller area suitable for about three sites near the water. The larger area where we stayed had longish green lush grass about 20cm long in most places. This could potentially be a haven for snakes but we didn’t see any.

We met one of the locals camped near us who comes here often who was quite annoyed at the local group who manage this campground.  He said they collect quite a bit of money in the busy holiday periods, but don’t provide bins nor remove any rubbish that, inexcusable as it is, people have left behind due to a lack of bins. There was a large amount of rubbish in the area near the river that was an eyesore that had been there for two months. Facilities include a toilet block but we didn’t use it so can’t comment on its condition.

There seem to be very few free camps located in this part of Victoria. We wanted to stay on the Glenelg River but all the camps need to be booked for $26.50 per night, for just a long drop, table and fire pit. Many comments on WikiCamps talk about people boycotting these camps due to the exorbitant price per night. If they were more reasonably priced, say $5 or $10 per night, more campers would stay and get to experience the area. This campsite is $5 per night, or $30 per week, but only in the busy period or when someone decides to visit and collect camp fees. No one came to collect the fees for our overnight stay.

History of Tyrendarra and the Fitzroy River

Digressing into some history of this area, the local guy told us Tyrendarra comes from an Aboriginal word from the indigenous Gunditjmara people meaning the meeting of two rivers, viz. the Darlot Creek with the Fitzroy River.

If you can get Internet on the road, it’s useful to research the area you’re heading into before you arrive. Otherwise you can miss uncovering interesting facts and learning about places worthy of a visit nearby. Reading about it afterwards is not fun when you realise you’ve missed out seeing an interesting place around the corner from where you were!

As was the case with this area. Although we only spent one night, there is much more to explore, like the Budj Bim National Park, Mt Eccles, Eel canals, and the story of Kitty Wallaby, one of the indigenous inhabitants in the 1800’s.

Quoting from that article about Kitty, “Some thousands of years ago, the Gunditjmara engineered an ingenious system of using stones from the lava field to form a system of weirs that trapped eels and other fish, providing them with a year-round supply of fresh food, even in drought. The eels were smoked in hollow trees. There was enough for trading with other indigenous peoples. The Gunditjmara became settlers, and defended their rocky citadel fiercely. The Commonwealth government is currently studying a proposal backed by the Victorian government to begin the process of recognising Kitty’s country – Budj Bim – for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site”. We’ll need to return one day to find these eel canals.

The locals love this place

For a Tuesday, there were surprisingly more campers than expected. We initially drove down to the area near the water outlet. There was already a camper van and a couple of tents setup. Later that evening, after setting up in the larger area further back where there were three other campers, we met a young couple, Joe and Gabby. They were one month into a lap around Australia in just four months. This would be a speedy trip, but was all the time they could get off.

Joe had custom fitted the van himself, and did a great job making cupboards and a slide out double bed. We learnt that the tents alongside them are not being used and had been there at least a few days. They were in one of the best spots of the campground. We think this was somebody “reserving” the spot for an upcoming weekend by propping up empty tents. This is a practice we think is selfish and unacceptable, especially in a free campsite. Even in a paid campsite, it’s depriving someone else the pleasure of that site.

We stopped and chatted to some locals visiting for the day in their four wheel drives, along with dune buggies in trailers. They confirmed this is the best campground in this area along the coast and come here often. Some other locals were jet skiing in the river and heading in and out of the outlet into the sea. The temperature of the outlet is warmer than the sea and provided a safe and shallow area for the children swimming there. There was one person fishing in the sea but we didn’t venture that far to see if they’d caught anything. Tempting as it was for Vic to go fishing, we decided to cook a BBQ and take in the surroundings and the spectacular sunset that evening.

Morning sounds…

The next morning we awoke to a still and vivid blue sky, with the sounds of spoggies in trees next to us and the cawing of crows. Outside there was an earthy, but not unpleasant smell of cows from the big dairy over the hill who had just had their morning milking.

The Fitzroy River weaves up from here North West up to Heywood about 30Km away. One of the locals who camped near us with his mate comes here often “to get away from the misses”. They were keen fishermen all setup with their tinny and outboard. Apparently you can travel a few kilometres up the river, then you need to get your boat over some shallow sections, and you can keep travelling up the river. They returned in a couple of hours with three nice sized brim and Vic was envious. If only we had a tinny on top of our 4WD! But where do you draw the line with what you can take with you? We’ll leave that discussion for a future blog post.

The people you meet on the road

The campers next to us, Amanda, Adrian and their young daughter Ella had just completed one year on the road. They were travelling in their Toyota Landcruiser 200 series towing a Franklin caravan. It’s great to share stories with other passionate travellers on the road. We just stood talking to each other in the sun for at least an hour. As well as interesting, it’s where you learn about the hidden campsites and road conditions. They were kind enough to share details of their last campsite, Lake Cockatoo, in South Australia’s South East. It’s a small, free campsite on a lake just south of Padthaway and one of their favourites. It sounded perfect, and we made it our next destination. Thanks guys, it was great to meet you and we hope to run into you again sometime. You can follow them on Instagram @getabout2015.

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Bushrangers and Big Lakes

From Cheshunt, we drove back to Whitfield then turned West onto the C521 Mansfield-Whitfield Road up to Powers Lookout. This vantage point provides a great view over the King Valley, and over where we had camped the last couple of nights.

We’re in bushranger country!

Powers Lookout is named after one of Victoria’s most notorious bushrangers, Harry Power who committed over 30 crimes, was locked up most of his adult life and mentored a young Ned Kelly in hold-ups and how to escape the police and survive in the bush. Despite that, he was coined “The gentleman bushranger” as reportedly he didn’t take any money in hold-ups from people he thought couldn’t afford it, and was always courteous to the women he held up.

Continuing with the bushrangers theme, we decided to drive via Archerton, taking the C517, visiting the Ned Kelly tree at Stringybark Creek along the way. This is the place of the shootout between Ned Kelly, his brother Dan, their two accomplices Steve Hart and Joe Byrne and police on 26 October 1878. This resulted in the death of three policemen and marked a turning point in the Kelly saga and created the Kelly gang. A manhunt for the Kelly Gang then lasted 20 months before the siege at Glenrowan and capture of Ned Kelly, who was subsequently trialled and hung. There are numerous interpretation panels in the area explaining the history and a plaque commemorating the policemen who were killed. The bush is so thick in that area it’s hard to imagine how they used to travel and live back then, let alone navigate without a GPS! It’s a very scenic drive, travelling through timber country and you need to constantly be on the guard for log trucks.

Beautiful Lake Eildon

We travel through Mansfield then onto Lake Eildon near where we’ve camped a few years ago, on the Delatite Arm. Last time we were there it was a January long weekend, hot as hell, over 40C and there were people everywhere. We had to resort to camping at the end of a bend on the waters edge, but it was awesome nonetheless. There have been times this giant lake has been close to empty, but it’s currently about 70% full according to the Goulburn-Murray Water website and it’s a vast boating and fishing lake, even has houseboats, only a few hours from Melbourne.

One of the first campsites we checked out was called Newtons. It’s a large area with a great view with no other campers. But never being satisfied with the first campsite you arrive at, we continued on looking for other sites, but they all either had campers or were very sloped. So we ended up going back to Newtons.

Click here for a map of the area with some of the campsites marked.

Fish or swim?

When we arrived, it was all blue skies, hot and humid, in the low 30’s. Fish were seen jumping and Vic was keen to even the score with his fishing record on the trip so far, so he tried a bit of lure casting but again no luck. So he went swimming instead!

A storm front was coming through, so we ate overlooking great lake views, then battened down the hatches ready for the storm. There was lightning and thunder about and a little rain but nothing heavy. We only stayed overnight, tried for some fish again in the morning with no luck so then packed up and headed down to our friends place in Berwick in Melbourne so we could get the tail gate repaired.

We’re not sure how long it will take to get fixed, but are really appreciative of our friends Kim and Leo letting us stay at their place, especially so as Leo is an awesome beer brewer and has a 19L keg he wants finished of pale ale! Vic will be in hop heaven!

We took the scenic drive back through Yea then down the B300 Melba Highway, stopping at the Yarra Valley Dairy in Yering to buy some tasty local cheese, then took the B380 just past Coldstream to Wandin then onto Beenak Road to Yellingbo, the C411 via Cockatoo , the C406 past the Cardinia reservoir to Beaconsfield Upper then finally Berwick.

Phew, what an exhausting drive, so lush green and scenic and windy and up and down! Time for a few refreshing home brew pale ales with some great friends!

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The King River and Fishy Tales

Heading to the Victorian High Country, one of our favourite destinations!

Leaving the Pines campground near Mt Camel in the Heathcote-Greytown National Park, we decided to continue our intended journey around the Victorian High Country for a few days before returning to Melbourne so we could get the car into the repairer.

We drove back through Heathcote so we could set the post box re-direction in place and head off. We drove down the Northern Highway and turned left at Tooborac, within a stones throw from the Tooborac Brewery. Vic sighed that this would probably be the last time for quite a while that he’ll be here, one of his favourite breweries in the Bendigo region. If you’re ever up this way, stop in, as well as great craft beers, they also do a fantastic pub meal and are famous for their home made pies which you can also buy frozen for take away. The rabbit ramble being Vic’s favourite, and Leonie’s is the Lamb and Shiraz. Combine any of these with a Gunslingers American Pale Ale and you’re in for a real treat!

We’re in no rush

The road to the Hume Highway takes you past the Puckapunyal Army reserve. Sometimes army vehicles are seen but none on this trip. Despite 110Km/Hour being the limit on the highway, we sit on 100Km/Hour. There’s no rush, and this conserves fuel. 90 is even better, but then you’re constantly overtaken by cars and especially large semi’s, so we’d rather sit on 100. We’ve been using RoadTrip, a great iPhone app to keep a tally of our car mileage and expenses. Peggy (our Toyota Prado) is quite heavy with its steel ARB bull bar, roof rack and under carriage protection so we’ve only ever managed around 13L/100 without towing anything. The grey storage box on top which carries the chain saw and our battery powered coal BBQ rotisserie also adds considerable drag. We’ll need to really evaluate whether we need to carry that throughout WA, but a chain saw always comes in handy. Add the Vista and we’re getting around 17-18L/100. Not great, but we’ll keep tabs on it.

There’s a van selling fruit on the side of the Hume Highway, so we stop for a break and buy some blueberries and apples. We’re conscious we can’t stop at every bakery and eat bad, not only from a budget perspective but we’re keen to get fitter and eat healthier, one of our goals of this new lifestyle.

The King Valley is magnificent

We leave the highway at Glenrowan and head towards the High Country, a bit quicker and infinitely more comfortable than how the bushranger Ned Kelly would have travelled it by horse around the 1870’s.

The head to Lake William Hovell via the King Valley through towns like Moyhu, Whitfield and Cheshunt and it’s as we remember from previous trips, so scenic, green and lush, especially at this time of year. We’ve camped around the lake before, but in our Oztent. There are some great campsites only accessible via 4WD track at the end on the lake on Upper King River Road but we could not remember if the sites were beyond a particularly steep ascent. That’s no problem for just a 4WD vehicle, but we are towing our home around plus we have a broken tail gate and we didn’t want it to spring open up the hill. Our suspicions were confirmed, you do need to go up that track to access those sites, so we decide to head back and check out some of the tracks we saw coming up to the lake. We could also see there were several campers already in those sites, so it made the decision easier to move. Those sites are also accessible by going down Long Spur Track and crossing the river, but we’ve never done it that way and don’t know how rough the track is.

We stop at Long Spur Track and Vic walks down the track to see if we could get Peggy and the camper down and if anyone is camped down there. It’s quite a walk and relatively steep, but probably do-able with the camper. Unfortunately there are people camped at the base of the track, just before the King River where you can drive across, and then more campers on the other side. The woman at the camp says we’re welcome to stay and there was enough room for us, but we don’t like to intrude. Incidentally they had towed a Jayco van down there, so we should have no problems getting the Vista down. She gave us a tip that there are several spots down the road just near the Crismont winery, so we decide to head there.

We head back on Upper King River Road and turn right down Burrowes Road alongside some large sheds. There are quite a few campers at the first large campsite, right on the King River. It looks like a great spot but there are too many campers for our liking so we push on. We pass another small solitary campsite with a camper trailer setup and a woman reading in her deck chair. About 500m on there’s a small opening towards the river and what looks like an area for a camper trailer. Leonie gets out to have a look around. She gives the thumbs up, this will do nicely for a night, maybe two.

The King River looks breathtaking!

The river is accessible by a short walk about 40m through a narrow path in large thick bushes, but easy enough to walk through and emerges right on the King River, by a shallow section around 30cm deep, enough to collect water from and with great views up and down the river. The King River looks breathtaking. Down the river there are some rapids, but up the river it’s calmer and there seem to be deeper spots and looks appealing for fishing, always on our selection criteria for a great camp site. Grassy knolls and babbling brooks are others. Camping anywhere near rivers like this in the high country is always amazing. We are greeted by our favourite whip birds, and there are magpies, kookaburras and other tiny birds we think is a Yellow-rumped Pardalote (No, we’re not that good, we had to research it). They burrowed in holes near the base of a tree, in what looked like a dig out people had made. Vic managed to get a photo of one emerging from its hole. It looked as if they were building a nest as they were exiting, collecting small twigs and returning to their nest. The next day you could see the result of their diggings as they kicked the dirt out of their hole.

It was a perfectly still night with only the sound of frogs, running water and the occasional bark falling from the tall gum trees adjacent to our camp being heard. Sometimes you can be too close to a river and the babbling sound is quite deafening, but being a short distance from the river and having the bushes shielding us, the sound level was perfect.

We decided to stay two nights. The weather was ideal, blue skies, little to no wind and in the low 30’s. There are parts of the river deep enough so we enjoyed a refreshing swim.

Leonie went for a walk and found out that the small camp just up the road were a family from Wangaratta who come here often, as its only 45 minutes away and they were leaving Sunday. To see if we should move, we checked it out and discovered it’s closer to the river, with the sound of the river crossing the rapids much louder than our site, and has a steep embankment and rocky steps to get down to the water so we decide to stay put.

Time to get the rods out!

Vic went fishing by wading up the river to test out the deeper pools. The stones were very slippery walking through a small set of rapids but nothing was taking his fly, nor any of the three types of lures he tried.

Not to be beaten, on the morning of our last day there, the lure of landing a large brown trout on the King River was too great so he walked down the dusty winding road alongside giant elm trees (we think) to find a path to another section of the river which could be heard gurgling away in the distance. The undergrowth was reasonably thick from the dirt road to the river, and with the weather so warm he was wary of snakes so all the time banged a stick around him to warn any of his travels. Fortunately none were seen.

After about 200m of weaving around the thick lush spring grasses and bracken ferns, he emerged fairly unscathed apart from the usual minor cuts and scratches from blackberry bushes to discover a beautiful section of the King River flowing steadily over large pebbles causing small rapids then smoothing out to a deeper area and flowing past to another rapid section about 200m further down.

Who won, the fish or Vic?

Armed with his burgundy/red coloured floating and diving lure which looked like a caterpillar without legs from a Japanese monster film he flicked it about 5m into the middle of the river and gently reeled him in, working him up and down about half a metre. Closer to the bank it became much shallower and the lure scraped the river bed a few times. When the lure was just about to be brought ashore, an enormous splash surrounded his lure when a fish pounced but did not catch and the lure emerged unscathed! With senses heightened he quickly returned the monster lure to the same spot and repeated the actions. It was like rewind and playback, the exact strike happened again at about the same spot, and the lure came out of the water again with no fish attached! A third attempt proved fruitless, no doubt the monster fish got spooked and even after trying a multitude of different lures and spots and navigating up and down the river on slippery moss covered stones not a sign of another fish was seen! Trout 1, Vic 0, unfortunately a very common score.

Vic is looking forward to a rematch but it will have to be from another camp. We are moving camps to be closer to Melboume as we are staying with friends Tuesday night so we can bring our car in to get the tail gate fixed on Wednesday which could take anywhere from three to five days.

We decided to stay overnight on Lake Eildon, so we packed up camp and headed there.

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