Over The Bluff
In May 2010 I finally managed to hike over The Bluff, a 1725m peak in Victoria’s Alpine National Park, about 60km from the town of Mansfield. I had been eyeing this walk off for a while. Nearly ten years earlier I had hiked along the Howqua River with my son, then aged six, to camp at Ritchies Hut. The start of that walk is also the start of the climb along Eight Mile Spur, which leads onto to The Bluff. I promised myself to return and make the climb.
In the end the hike was shortened a bit – from a 27km, two day hike up Eight Mile Spur and returning along the Howqua to an 11km hike over two days. We started hiking at Bluff carpark at the top end of Eight Mile Spur and climbed steeply to the cliffs below The Bluff. The track works its way through the cliffs to an alpine herbfield with burnt snowgums and magnificent views and heaps of cold wind. Rugged up, we dropped packs and explored a little, taking in the views towards Eagle Peaks in the west and Mt Buller in the north.
After taking numerous photos, we headed to the summit proper for lunch. (When hiking, lunch should always be eaten either by a river or on a mountain top.) The wind, however, made us quickly change our plan and we were soon sheltering below the summit trying to keep warm. Keeping us company was a dog fitted with a radio collar and various tags. The Bluff is within Victoria’s Alpine National Park so dogs are not allowed. Just to the south is State Forest and the area is popular with deer hunters. Deer hunting has two main forms – stalkers, who walk through the bush stalking their prey, and hound hunters, who release dogs into the bush to flush the deer into areas where they can be shot. The dogs generally don’t recognise the borders between state forest, where they are allowed, and national park, where they aren’t. The radio collars allow the hunters locate and retrieve their dogs.
Leaving the dog behind, we headed east towards The Blowhole. Given the wind that day, walking past The Blowhole was going to be an experience. However, when we got there, the wind was gone and we had sunshine. Beyond The Blowhole is Mt Eadley Stoney from where we would descend to Bluff Hut and our camp for the night.
The Stoney family settled in the area in 1864 and established the early routes into the high country in order to graze. Eadley Stoney ran cattle on The Bluff in the 1940s and Mt Eadley Stoney was named for him after he died. The family also built Bluff Hut to support their musters. Inside the hut is information about the Stoney family and the pioneering days.
The hut was rebuilt after being destroyed in the fires of 2006 and offers some camping around it but we chose instead to head off track a bit and camped on a small escarpment with views of the Howqua Valley. We cooked a good diner and Andy, my walking companion, pulled out a bottle of red to quaff while we watched the sun setting over the mountains.
The next morning was a bit of a slog back to the car along Bluff Link Track, which runs below The Bluff and Eadley Stoney escarpments, with the occasional four wheel drive cruising past. Road bashes never offer the best walking and I thought to myself – next time, along the Howqua.