The long way to the top
Take our word for it: walking up Mt Buffalo is easier than walking down, and it takes you to places that can leave you speechless.
Asked why climbers pitted themselves against Mt Everest, just before the peak claimed his life in 1924, British explorer and mountaineer George Mallory famously answered: “Because it’s there.”
The same reason could be given for pitting oneself against Mt Buffalo, rather than driving the perfectly good road to the top. The main reason, though, is this is one of Victoria’s best day hikes: a jaw-dropping climb from tall-timbered river flats to sculpted granite plateau.
Ascending rather than descending the Big Walk, as the 11.3km route is called, is also kinder to knees.
We could car-shuffle to avoid walking both ways – a Herculean endeavour best left to those in serious training – but with only one vehicle we firstly drive to the top and book a Bright Taxi to take us back down. The driver is delighted to have an excuse to enjoy morning mountain panoramas from the top.
The Big Walk begins at Eurobin Creek picnic area, just inside the national park, and initially heads away from Buffalo, whose top looks a dishearteningly long way up. Across a swing bridge over pebbly Eurobin Creek, we step up into eucalypt forest.
The first 2km are the steepest but the well-formed track allows steady progress, and we are compensated for Buffalo’s disappearance with glimpses of the Ovens Valley and the pine plantation-patched range between Bright and Mt Beauty. This first section ends on a 4WD track leading to a U-bend on Mt Buffalo Rd, with the walking track continuing up the bitumen at a sign directing us 2.9km to Mackey’s Lookout.
Criss-crossing the road and continuing uphill, those 2.9km take us through massed handsome flat pea bushes (yellow flowers and heart-shaped leaves), hickory wattles (distinctively veined leaves) and tree ferns, and they also give us through-tree views of the valley, the sometimes snow-capped Alps and a waterfall splashing down Buffalo’s granite flank.
The Big Walk heads south-east below Mackey’s Lookout and traverses a great granite slide decorated with lichen rosettes and moss. Facing the granite, we can now see the summit, suddenly within reach; backs to Buffalo we overlook the first of many views that still our feet.
The next leg of the walk is poorly marked, with too few, faded arrows which we almost miss. A zigzag crazy-paved path that can run with water like a stream takes us onward and upward to a seasonal waterfall forming rock pools, in which we fill our water bottles and dip our toes.
Still climbing, we meet venerable eucalypts grown big and fat over centuries of watching humans come and go: the Minjambuta people gathering on Buffalo to feast on Bogong moths and hold ceremonies; 19th-century gold miners, graziers and botanists (three of 550 plant species identified in the park are found nowhere else); and bushwalkers shunning the road.
Above Marriott’s Lookout, from which we watch geology performing a balancing act with monumental granite wall and boulders and scarlet robins darting from tree to tree, we enter the realm of snow gums and disconcertingly beautiful skeletal mountain gums burnt in bushfires. Fording creeks and wetlands on stepping stones and boardwalks and traversing more granite, we get increasingly stunning views, with Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest peak, showing itself on clear days.
A massive boulder guards the track junction where we are turning right to follow the Gorge Heritage Walk about 1.2km back to our car.
But first we walk 300m out to Wilkinsons Lookout, on the sheer north wall of Buffalo Gorge, down which brave-hearts and thrill-seekers can do an all-day abseil. Perched atop the far gorge wall is elegant Mt Buffalo Chalet, built in 1910 and scheduled for major restoration in 2015. Below and to our left are folds of valleys and ranges. And to our right, Crystal Brook Falls launches itself off the plateau and pours down the narrow canyon it’s been cutting and polishing for millennia.
The splendour leaves us open-mouthed.
Explore the far reaches of the Buffalo Plateau and its wonderful formations plus the tranquil Lake Catani, and then pick any direction home: west for Milawa gourmet items; east to Omeo; or south over the ruggedly beautiful Dargo high plains to Gippsland.
Rather than a car, park bikes on Buffalo and return to the valley via an exhilarating free-wheel. Too much adrenaline? Enjoy a flatter spin on the Murray to Mountains trail from Bright to Wangaratta