Take the high way
We hesitate to call this the 'bludger's bushwalk’ but why should only the die-hards get all the spectacular views.
There is not a lot of doubt as to how spectacular the High Country is in Victoria, but to many the mere thought of climbing the rugged peaks will cause blisters to erupt.
Of course, blisters were the least of the problems for early explorers around Mt Howitt, in Gippsland's Wonnangatta Moroka area. They had more to contend with, going by place names in the region: The Bastard’s Neck, The Terrible Hollow, Mt Despair and Mt Buggery.
Thankfully, for bushwalkers today travelling in the Gippsland region, there is an easier way to access these spectacular mountains and set foot on top of Mt Howitt to admire the views, which would otherwise require a long trudge up one of the many remote and steep tracks.
At about 1742m above sea level, Mt Howitt can't compete with the highest peaks in the Alps, but it’s certainly one of the most scenic and spectacular. Its gateway initially requires an early start for a picturesque drive to Licola, about an hour north of Traralgon via the Macalister River Valley. Turn right just before the Macalister River at Licola and take the seasonally open Mt Tamboritha Rd to Arbuckle Junction and veer left onto Howitt Rd.
The set-off point for walking to Mt Howitt is about 83km from Licola and much of the road is unsealed, so take care over corrugations. And do stop occasionally to take in the spectacular vistas that are among the best in the Alps. Soon, after seemingly endless driving along the high altitude snow grass plains, the Mt Howitt car park appears.
The walk to Mount Howitt takes just over 1½ hours from the Howitt car park. Given that all of the walking is in an alpine environment, be prepared for sudden changes in weather. Snowfalls are possible, even in summer.
From the car park, a signposted track heads west along an easy undulating trail surrounded by snowgum forest. Occasional snow grass clearings give way to views of distant mountains to the north.
After about an hour walking, take a break at the Vallejo Gantner hut. Built in the 1960s, this structure is inspiring with its rustic geometric shapes and angles and is a haven for bushwalkers, especially in bad weather. A visit to the newly constructed toilet block is a must too, if only for the spectacular window view towards the south.
Continuing from the hut, the track passes a small spring and heads west uphill along cliff tops with spectacular views north into The Terrible Hollow. Unless you’re planning to venture down into this remote and rugged valley, the walking so far is really not all that challenging. So far, so good! From here, there are also excellent views towards Mt Despair and The Viking, both remote and rugged peaks situated in a wilderness area and are usually best left to hardy bushwalkers.
Take the left fork at the Australian Alps Walking Track sign several hundred metres further. It’s not long before the open tree line is reached and the summit of Mt Howitt becomes more apparent as you head west.
Once on the summit, take a well earned break and admire the spectacle. As there aren’t too many other higher peaks in the immediate area, the view from the summit is, for me, one of the best in the High Country. To the north lies the aptly named Crosscut Saw that leads to Mt Buggery and Mt Speculation. On a clear day, the distant high peaks of Mt Cobbler, Mt Buffalo and Mt Feathertop can also be seen towards the north-east.
Turning towards the south, the sheer rugged cliff face of Mt Magdala dominates and, looking westwards, the Howitt Spur drops away steeply into the Howqua Valley where just beyond, the very familiar Mt Buller and its seemingly incongruous ski resort facilities dominate the horizon.
It’s very easy to linger on this wonderful alpine peak but you’ll soon need to leave for your return trip to town. It’s an easy, mostly downhill walk back to the carpark.
If time permits, however, it’s worth back tracking from the summit of Mt Howitt and taking in a small section of the Australian Alps Walking Track to the Crosscut Saw. This knife-edge ridge of sawtooth-like peaks is a bushwalking delight.
From here, the long-distance Australian Alps Walking Track continues towards the north-east and is considered to be a major walking trail magnet for the adventurous bushwalker. It’s a big walk and on its 650km total distance, there’s more than 27,000m of climbing and descending to be contemplated. We’ll leave that trip for another day.
Go to www.parkweb.vic.gov.au and search for Mt Howitt, for notes and a walk map.