In the heart of Toolangi
Story and photography by STEVE ROBERSTON
Victorias tall timber forests are closer to civilisation than many might think. Here is wilderness and waterfalls an easy 90-minute drive from Melbourne.
|Hands up, everyone
whos heard of Victorias Murrindindi Scenic Reserve.
Amazingly, for such an accessible, yet natural place, the reserve and its surrounding attractions barely rate a mention in most tourism guides. Good thing, really. Those of us in the know can delight in Murrindindis 70-metre-high mountain ash forests and abundant waterfalls without a lot of other folks getting in our way.
|The Spectacular Trees of Murrindi Reserve|
Murrindindi sounds like the name of some wild and distant outback locale. In fact its less than 90 minutes drive north-east from the Melbourne GPO. And while this scenic reserve in the heart of Toolangi State Forest is the natural jewel in the regions crown, there are plenty of other close by attractions to keep a couple or a family busy for a week.
If youre camping, Murrindindi Scenic Reserve is your ideal base of operations. Choose from among eight camp sites in the reserve one of them is so developed it even boasts flushing toilets. The others are comfortable and scenic, sited as most in tall forest along the rushing Murrindindi River.
Once youve picked your perfect spot and put up the tent, heres the A-List of things to do and see.
Take a 30-minute walk through the bush to Wilhelmina Falls. Its an easy stroll to the falls, then you can press on and make it a two-hour loop walk through the reserve. Dont miss the short walk to Murrindindi Cascades, a track with three footbridges allowing the whole family to enjoy great river views. Theres also a walk that takes you alongside the rushing Murrindindi River for up to six kilometres, but its not a return track.
About 25 minutes drive south of the reserve is Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre, a strikingly-designed wood structure with displays about Victorias different forest types. Theres historic film footage showing the men and women who worked in the many isolated sawmilling villages early in this fast-closing century. Maps for sale here will help you plan where to explore, and theres a nice gift shop full of locally-made wood carvings and other souvenirs.
Dry eucalypt forest dominates much of the landscape here, but now and then you come across a pocket of wet rainforest that looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park. Such a place is Wirra Willa Nature Walk just 10 minutes drive from Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre. A short track alongside both banks of tiny Sylvia Creek leads through a steep gully filled with rainforest myrtle trees and lush green ferns. Save this walk for a cloudy or misty day to get the full dinosaur-era effect.
Fur and feathers
An award-winner for many years, Healesville Sanctuary is justifiably rated as the nations number one place to see more than 200 species of Australian birds, mammals and reptiles close-up in a natural setting. The sanctuary is 20 minutes drive south from Murrindindi and has to be rated as a dont-dare-miss-it attraction. Be sure youre there for the exciting and informative daily raptor show, not to mention the koala talk. Call (03) 5962 9314 for show times and further information.
Just west across Melba Highway is Kinglake National Park, a sprawling world of tall trees, mighty waterfalls and attractive picnic areas. To experience it properly youll need to devote at least a day to the park. There are an amazing 24 bushwalks to try, but be sure you dont miss the 43-metre-high Masons Falls one kilometre from the picnic ground, and the sheltered cool walk through the soaring mountain ash of Jehosaphat Gully (well-developed with modern toilets, electric barbecues and a picnic area).
For camping, check out The Gums camping area, a site in the parks northern sector with facilities suitable for disabled people. It has the parks only camp sites.
Not at all disappointing!
Theres an outstanding forest drive which starts at Kinglake West and takes you through the ominously-named Mt Disappointment State Forest. Just follow the blue road signs or map markings and youll soon be deep in dense bush. Besides driving, you can ride horses, do a bush motorcycle tour, or fossick for evidence of the gold mining boom of the 1870s, when rip-roaring towns like Clonblaine or Strath Creek were alive with the whoops of joyous prospectors. The highlight is the summit of Mt Disappointment and some great views of Melbournes skyline in the distance. By the way, the explorers Hume and Hovell gave the reserve its gloomy name. They wanted to climb to the summit but were defeated by the thick undergrowth.
Check out the heritage of C.J. Dennis, creator of The Sentimental Bloke, and one of our countrys most beloved poets. There are sites associated with him all throughout the district. Dennis lived in the Toolangi/Murrindindi area between 1918 and 1924, managing a sawmill and still finding time to write about the old-timers he met, hardy veterans like 83-year-old "Dad" McGee and a colorful woodcutter with whom he got into a spot of trouble:
|We were cartin laths and palins from the slopes of Mt St
With our axles near the road bed and the mud as stiff as glue
And our bullocks werent precisely what youd call conditioned nicely
And meself and Messmate Mitchell had our doubts about gettin through.
Just up the road from the scenic reserve is the attractive town of Yea. Here you can organise a trip out to some steep rock faces northwest along the Goulburn Valley Highway. This is the perfect locale for learning to abseil.
But if you prefer your holiday adrenaline-free, a relaxing stay in the campgrounds of Murrindindi Scenic Reserve is just the ticket.
As soon as the tent is up and the lilo's inflated the relaxation starts
Our two favorites were Bull Creek (about half-way up the nine kilometre-long snake-shaped reserve), and Pine Tree, at the northern end. Incredibly, even on a sunny holiday weekend there were still plenty of tent or campervan sites at both locations; other campgrounds like The Ferns and Blackwood were even less full.
Campsite booking is only necessary if you are coming here as part of a large group.
A special place
The mountain ash (or swamp gum, as its called in some states) is the worlds tallest flowering plant, reaching skyward up to 90 metres and beyond. As a tree species, its height is second in the world only to Californias cathedral-like redwoods.
There are only a few places left in Australia where we can enjoy such tall forests in all their soaring majesty. Murrindindi Scenic Reserve, Kinglake National Park, and the forests around them are collectively just such a place. Its a joyous privilege just for a while to be part of it.