The Victorian High Country encompasses a huge part of central and eastern Victoria, and there are plenty of local favourite spots and hidden gems within this area. One such place is the Mitchell River National Park and the adjacent State Forest, which has many of the attributes that the High Country is renowned for such as fantastic scenery, pristine riverside campsites, and challenging 4WD tracks.
With a Trayon Camper you can make the most of this fabulous region – you can camp in luxury at any of the camping areas and tackle any of the 4WD tracks without having to worry about what you are towing.
The Mitchell River National Park is located in East Gippsland, approximately 25km north of the Princess Highway between Stratford and Bairnsdale. The main access is via the Dargo Road and the first attraction in the Park is the Den of Nargun which is 5km from main road.
Den of Nargun
At the Den of Nargan there are barbeques, picnic tables, and toilets. This is a great spot to stop for lunch, and perhaps tackle the 5km Den of Nargun walking track which takes in the awe-inspiring Bluff Lookout.
Right adjacent to the Den of Nargun is the Echo Bend Bark Hut & Camping Area – a privately run campground with facilities such as toilets, showers, supplied wood and even a shop.
Echo Bend is a great place to relax and unwind for a few days, while experiencing the attractions of the Mitchell River NP which it adjoins. There is plenty of wildlife around the camping area with plenty of photo opportunities. For the adventurous there are walking tracks to the Mitchell River and Den of Nargun that leave right from the campground.
After a couple of days at Echo Bend perhaps head further north to one of the nearby camping areas within the National Park such as Billy Goat Bend (limited spots only) or Angusvale.
The main camping area of Angusvale is relatively easy to get to, with access only 18km from the main Dargo road via a well maintained gravel road. Angusvale is a great location to start a trip exploring the area, with pit toilets and riverside campsites beside the Mitchell River. The good road is courtesy of the plans in the 1970s to build a dam in this area that never eventuated, leaving the Mitchell River as the last undammed major river in Victoria.
History of Mitchell River
The Mitchell River is closely associated with the early exploration and settlement of the Gippsland region. Explorer Angus McMillan named the river in 1840 after Major Mitchell, the Surveyor General of New South Wales. European settlement followed on the fertile floodplains. Grazing runs were established on the undulating country between Dargo and Tabberabbera between 1845 and 1847. In 1857 gold was discovered in the foothills. The alluvial fields along the Mitchell River and its tributaries were worked from the late 1850s to early last century. Reef mining began in the area in the 1860s. Relics of early European exploration, settlement, gold sluicing and farming, including the Glenaladale Weir on the Mitchell River constructed in 1881 are found in the park. The site of the Angusvale Hotel is evident at Horseshoe Bend.
The Mitchell River National Park covers a relatively small area of only 11 900 hectares in size, yet still contains some of the best forest country in Gippsland. There aren’t many roads or tracks into the park, but there are a few great tracks as well as walking tracks to view the impressive river scenery, rainforest gullies, rugged landscapes and a range of other vegetation.
The park also has a rich Aboriginal cultural history which tells of conflict between different tribes as well as Europeans, dreaming stories, journeys, food gathering and community life. Two clans of the Gunaikurnai Tribe inhabited the park; the Brabuwooloong east of the Mitchell River and the Brayakooloong to the west. The Den of Nargun is one of many places of great cultural significance to the Gunaikurnai people, especially Aboriginal women. Aboriginal legend describes the Nargun as a beast that was all stone except for its hands, arms and breast. The fierce creature would drag unwary travelers into its den, and any weapon directed against it would be turned back on its owner.
From Angusvale there are only a few options to continue exploring the area – backtrack to the Dargo Road, or take the Mitchell Road and Angusvale Track to the infamous Hortons Crossing. This river crossing has claimed many vehicles, prompting the authorities to place a prominent warning sign at the crossing. When we visited, the river was running strongly with spring flows making crossing impassable at this point in time. So the sensible decision was made to backtrack to the Dargo road and head into the fabulous town of Dargo.
Dargo is a great little town with the iconic pub (www.dargohotel.com) and fantastic general store. The store is great for picking up some additional supplies, topping up with fuel, or grabbing a nice coffee. If you have timed things right perhaps a meal at the Pub is on the cards, where you can check out the photos and memorabilia while enjoying a cold one. After some time in Dargo it is time to explore the nearby State Forest and Mitchell River National Park from another angle.
From Dargo take the Lower Dargo road on the Southern side of the town which pasts the Dargo River Inn and then follows the Dargo River southwards. During our trip there was a small bushfire that had been contained, a good reminder to always be extra careful with your campfires in the High Country. The main road then comes to a bridge – head straight across and follow the Tabberabbera Road up the hill.
There are some great views of the lower Dargo Valley as you climb up the Tabberabbera Road. There are a few tracks to the right but continue to the Punchen Budwuin Track on the left which is well signposted and heads northwards. The track follows a spur line with frequent good views across the valleys and ranges, eventually joining Gidley Track. Continue straight ahead on Gidley Track for another 2km where there is a signposted turn-off on the right to a helipad – this is Orton Track which is one of the more challenging tracks in the area. If not wishing to tackle the challenging Orton Track you can continue following Gidley Track to the intersection with Mt Steve Track and turn right travelling 3km to the intersection of Orton Track.
Any track that has a warning on the maps to carry full recovery gear is going to be a challenge, and Orton Track definitely provides a big test! The first part of the track is pretty benign following the spur to the Helipad that offers fantastic views of the area. But it doesn’t take long to up the ante with a wicked dropoff from the helipad with large rock steps and loose shale. Here it is critical to choose the right line as a wrong decision could result in panel damage or something even worse. At the bottom of the hill there is a tight creek crossing that will test out your vehicles entry and departure angles, and then it is straight back into the challenges with a steep climb back up the other side. There are some overgrown sections to negotiate before Orton Track finally terminates on the Mt Steve Track – turn right and continue eastwards.
Mt Steve Track is a major well maintained track that shouldn’t pose too many issues, with the track eventually dropping down to the Wentworth River. Here there are a few good campsites adjacent the river including Kilgowers campsite, and here you have the option to head north on Wayne’s Track which joins Jones Road which is the major road between Dargo and Swifts Creek. Alternatively you can continue following Mt Steve Track and head south, which is the option we will take on this trip.
From the Mt Steve Track crossing of the Wentworth River it is about 7km to the Friday Spur Track which peels off to the right and drops steeply down to the Wentworth River. This crossing can be deep depending on the season and recent rainfall, but didn’t pose any problems during our trip. Another 1km further on are some campsites and Wallers Hut.
Wallers Hut is typical of the High Country huts with sawn timber wall and roof frame, wooden floor and iron walls and roof. It has the traditional brick fireplace and iron chimney, essential for the typically cold nights. The hut was built in 1969 by Owen Waller who took over the crown cattle lease of the area to graze cattle. It is now commonly used by deer hunters in the non-summer months.
From Wallers Hut take Storer Track west to Gidley Track, turn left and follow Gidley Track southwards. A few kilometers along Gidley Track there is great helipad just off the main track that affords fantastic 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside – a fantastic spot for a photograph and a quick break.
Head down the hill following Gidley Track, turn left onto Tabberabbera Road and then perhaps pick a campsite at Tabberabbera for an overnight stop.
From Tabberabbera continue on Tabberabbera Road then take Sandy Creek Road southwards. Sandy Creek Road joins Wattle Creek Road and eventually comes out at Wuk Wuk near Lindenow. From here you can head down the Dargo Road to Bairnsdale, or head south down to the Princess Highway turning right towards Melbourne.
Mitchell River National Park Summary
The Victorian High Country is one of the premier camping and 4WD destinations in Australia and this area around Dargo doesn’t disappoint. Venture into the Mitchell River National Park and surrounding State Forest areas – this area may surprise and will definitely reward you with a great few days of camping, 4WDriving, and exploring this region.