The Victorian High Country is not for beginners in winter. Many of Australia’s most experienced 4WDers have ventured to this spectacular alpine environment seeking a challenge and scenery found nowhere else in the country. They’ve faced trials and learned how to navigate snowy terrain while uncovering stunning mountain vistas, encountering unique native wildlife and enjoying rare solitude.
When it comes to tackling the Victorian High Country, equipping yourself with the right gear, knowledge and advice is crucial to experiencing a memorable holiday for the right reasons. Steep ascents and descents, difficult water crossings and possibly thousands of kilometres of ever-changing tracks make this 4WDing playground also one of Australia’s harshest environments.
If you’re planning some Victorian High Country camping and 4WDing, we’re here to help with some expert advice, suggested gear and plenty of highlights to make this trip one for the ages. Please be safe and sensible out there. The more rescues Victorian authorities need to make, the more likely these last remaining winter tracks will be closed off forever.
Note: Many of the Victorian High Country tracks are subject to closure during winter, so make sure you check which tracks are open before leaving.
Victorian High Country Highlights
1. Mount Terrible
Mount Terrible sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings. Fortunately, scaling this picturesque mountain is anything but terrible for conscientious 4WDers. The riverside township of Jamieson is the best starting point. From here you take the Mount Terrible Track to Fire Tower and stop for breath-taking views of Mount Terrible and its surrounding countryside.
Make sure your 4WD has a high clearance and stays in low gear the entire way. You can deviate onto Ryan Spur Track for some vintage 4WDing action on rugged dirt roads. Then take the Corn Hill Road to the Warburton – Woods Point Road into Woods Point. This historic little town has several old mine sites and a well-stocked shop for supplies.
Nothing beats that feeling of finally reaching the top of Mount Terrible, especially when it’s covered in fresh snow. Stop for an obligatory photo next to the sign and to admire panoramic views of the Great Dividing Range, Australia’s largest mountain range, from 1,325 metres above sea level.
2. Billy Goat Bluff
One of the steepest tracks in the Victorian High Country, Billy Goat Bluff should only be attempted by experienced 4WDers. We’re talking low range and a high clearance, especially at the bluff itself. How you approach Billy Goat Bluff depends on whether you want to ascend or descend this steep and challenging track.
You can descend Billy Goat Bluff from the Pinnacle lookout/Pinnacles Fire Tower, which itself is a scenic spot for 360-degree views of the Victorian High Country from 1,500 metres high. Alternatively, drive to the bluff from Dargo and prepare for an ascent of 1,200 metres over seven kilometres.
A few spots to keep an eye out for around Billy Goat Bluff:
- The 1,500-year-old Lake Tarli Karng
- Century-old walnut trees around Dargo
- Horseyard Flat camping area with toilets, fire pits, a picnic area and drinking water
- The local pub in Dargo for a fantastic chicken parmy
3. Davies High Plains
This iconic 130-kilometre 4WDing route through the Victorian High Country requires high clearance and a mixture of high and low range depending on the terrain. Take the Alpine Way from Thredbo, passing the blacktop over Dead Horse Gap (possibly the coldest place in Australia, mind you) before spending the night at one of the camping grounds near the Murray River.
Once you hit the Davies Plain Track, you’ll encounter steep and rocky climbs best handled in low gear. Dense forest eventually gives way to dead snow gums still recovering from the fires in the early 2000s. Next you’re driving through majestic, open snow plains and crossing Davies Plain Creek.
Stop off at the historic Davies Plain Hut (built in 1892), before tackling the steep and eroded Limestone Creek Track and making a final run to Benambra on bitumen. Keep your eyes peeled for cockatoos, wild horses and deer. You’ll also find scenic campsites at Limestone Creek, The Poplars and Buckwong Creek.
4. Wonnangatta Station
The Wonnangatta Station route delivers plenty of steep climbs, river crossings and magnificent alpine scenery and wildlife. You’ll find peaceful camping areas at Black Snake Creek, Horseyard Flat and Howitt Hut, as well as the Wonnangatta Station Hut. Many of these huts are over 100 years old. They’re no suite at the Ritz, but they certainly keep you warm and dry.
Once you reach Wonnangatta Station, check out the cemetery and the ruins of the old cattleman’s hut. Travelling with a group? Spark up a little conversation over the old UHF around the unsolved murders of James Barclay and John Bamford. Their bodies were found out on the Howitt High Plains, but no one was ever convicted. Just a little local mystery for your campfire stories at night.
Recommended Gear for Victorian High Country 4WD
Gear is gospel when it comes to camping and 4WDing in the Victorian High Country. It goes without saying that the usual 4WDing supplies should be packed, but here are some essentials we recommend taking for winter 4WDing in Victoria:
- A well-stocked and water-resistant first-aid kit (check out the Survival Workplace First Aid Kit)
- Snow chains (always take snow chains, but only use them when absolutely necessary to avoid damaging the tracks)
- Alpine fuel (can operate to -7 degrees Celsius before wax development)
- Recovery equipment
- Sub-zero rated sleeping bags
- Ample food, water and warm clothing
- Maps and compass
- Emergency contact equipment
- Lightweight and heavy-duty lockable storage boxes that are weatherproof (check out the Expedition134 storage box)
- Back-up light bulbs or handheld spotlights for your vehicle
- An ice scraper and brush
- A collapsible shovel
Advice on 4WDing in the Snow
As great as advice is, nothing beats experience when it comes to 4WDing in the snow. If possible, practise somewhere safe before attempting the Victorian High Country 4WD routes.
- If the conditions look too challenging, stay home.
- Take your time and be aware of your surroundings. Look out for fallen trees, heavy dumps of snow and slippery sections.
- Look as far down the road as possible. Know exactly where you want to go and what’s ahead of you.
- Practise using your anti-lock brakes (ABS). These will make your wheels shudder forward and find traction, stopping your vehicle from sliding. Experienced 4WDers often favour threshold braking instead of slamming on the ABS.
- Always drive on matching tyres. Purchase new tyres before your trip if you’re worried.
- Know when to turn your traction control on and off. Spinning your wheels can sometimes help you become unstuck in snow, so turning off traction control might help in certain situations. It’s best to be aware of whether your spinning tyres are actually helping or making the situation worse.
- If you have concerns about your 4WD’s battery, get it tested before Victorian High Country 4WDing and replace it if necessary. Get your oil changed before your trip and opt for winter-grade fuel or a cold weather fuel additive if you have a diesel engine.
- Experiment with tyre pressure when it’s safest to do so. Generally, anywhere between 16psi and 20psi will do the trick in the snow.
- Lift your windscreen wipers when stopping for the night to prevent them from sticking to your windscreen.
- Apply throttle control for better steering around corners.
What to Do If You Breakdown in the Snow
God forbid you find yourself in a breakdown situation, but if you do, here’s some advice that might save your life:
- Don’t fall asleep. Staying awake can help prevent you from catching hypothermia.
- Don’t eat snow to quench your thirst, as it only makes you more dehydrated because your body has to work harder to heat up and melt the snow before you can process it. Instead, pack it into a thermos or water bottle and wait for it to melt.
- Rev your engine sparingly, about once an hour for 10-15 minutes, to help you stay warm.
- Clean the snow off your car so it’s more visible to other drivers.
- Crack a window and clear snow from inside and around the exhaust pipe to help ventilate your vehicle and minimise the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged. Keep it charging while driving.
Want more advice and inspiration? Head to Tim Bates 4WD Adventures. He’s one of the experts on winter 4WDing in the Victorian High Country. We’ve included one of our favourite videos from his winter 4WDing adventures. It always gets us itching for some Victorian High Country camping and 4WDing.