* An Easter Outing *I am a good horse to travel, but not by choice a roadster.
Why this jolly mountain creek should have suggested to anyone the melancholy stream of the underworld from which it derives its name is a mystery. Perhaps the explanation if that each is a place of shades. The upper reaches of our Acheron are certainly shady enough, but the shades are those of gracious timbers, and the sunlight is not wholly barred. It is only the upper reaches which concern us on this trip, an ideal outing for the five holidays of a fine Easter. The portion is from Narbethong up to practically the river's source in the hills which divide the Goulburn waters from those of the Yarra. In such a rich and well-watered country the tracks are soon obliterated if not looked after. Neglect has spoilt altogether what is known as the Edgar track, which runs from the hairpin bend at Cement Creek, near Warburton, over the mountains to Marysville. As portion of this track must be followed on the present excursion, none but the sturdy should attempt it.
Jump Off at Healesville.
Carry a sleeping bag and a couple of days' food to the Healesville train on Thursday evening, the Thursday before Good Friday. It may be 8 or 9 o'clock when you reach Healesville, not too late to drive the 14 miles to Narbethong if you wish to conserve time. A specially chartered conveyance will not cost much individually if there is a party. Alternatively spend the night in Healesville (there are plenty of good camps and plenty of other accommodation), or leave town on Good Friday morning. I shall assume that you start your walk from Healesville on the Friday morning. First arrange for your swags to go on the coach to Narbethong, keeping out a billy and enough food for the mid-day meal. You have 14 miles of picturesque road to cover before you turn from the broad highway and court the shyer and more seductive bushland track. En route you can lunch where the Watts crosses the road, and a fine linden and some other deciduous trees mark the site of the old-time Fernshaw, seven miles from Healesville. Immediately you find the famous Blacks' Spur rising before you. It is worth a trip in itself. Were the hill twice as long, and the grade twice as bad, you must still admire. And along the top and going down the other side are equally good. There is an hotel at Narbethong, so you have the choice of sleeping indoors or of making a camp under the shelter of the trees near the little creek.
Up the Acheron.
As you face towards Marysville a paling splitter's track goes off to the right at a cutting not far past the hotel. Take it for half a mile, then follow a turnoff again to the right, keeping the top of the ridge for about three miles. The track drops abruptly there, and is merged in a dray road, to which you must keep for the whole length of the valley. It will introduce you to many beautiful things. Very dense is the bush through which it winds, and it crosses the Acheron charmingly several times. Despite the timber-getters whose road you are using, many noble trees remain. One big fellow, standing on three buttresses, has a girth of 50 feet. If, as is likely, these gums are in flower, their waving branches will be alive with wattle-birds and other honey-eaters, chasing one another and shouting and calling. You cannot miss the way, the only tracks coming in being little pads made by the "small deer" of the bush on their way to the water. All the while you have been rising gently. At 12 miles you strike a very steep timber slide, up which you must climb to about half way to get to the splitters' hut, where your day ends. The hut is off to the right some 200 yards. A small flat there makes a handy camp; the water is just below in a bed of tangled fern, musk, mintbush, hazel, and dogwood. From the slope above rise numberless clean-stemmed giants with never a branch for 100 feet or more. Presently their tops will be full' of stars, and you will lie and watch the eternal procession until sleep blots out all material things.
The Edgar Track.
There is a longer journey before you to-day (Sunday), so make an early start. It is not that the mileage is so great (it is probably 20 miles into Marysville), but the way is more difficult. You have a choice of routes in the beginning. One is to go back on your tracks for a mile, where you turn to your left and follow up the Warburton pad (about south) until it strikes another going east or north-east at a junction where are several signposts. That is the Edgar track making for Marysville. The alternative is to follow up the creek, which has been singing all night below your camp (it is slow going with the tangle of scrub and the decaying logs which break beneath your feet) until in a long mile you find the Splitters' Falls busy in a sort of green twilight. They are pleasant, but do not call for much notice. Work east, by compass, up the slope above them, and you will soon cut the Edgar track. The chances are that you will find it in a very bad state of neglect, almost completely blocked in places. Turn along it to the left. The height gives you good views down the Acheron Valley, full of green timber, and presently you will observe that you have got amongst the Woollybutts (Eucalyptus Delegatensis), a sure sign of elevation, for they mark the last stage before the snow-gum. You cross an attractive saddle, rounding the end of the Poley Range (4250 feet) as you do so. Now your outlook is east to some distant ranges, and the heads of numerous small creeks are passed, each making for the O'Shannassy River and so to the Yarra. The way becomes closely walled with bush, and if you go quietly you may see one of the lyrebirds that are calling from it. You skirt Mount Strickland's 4000 feet, and just before reaching Mount Bismarck the track divides. That to the right heads for Paradise Plains; take the left-hand way, ascend to Keppell's Lookout when you come to the notice board, and by steady dropping you will be in Marysville by nightfall. There are camping places in abundance, as well as boarding houses and an hotel. Stores may be renewed here.
Monday morning could be devoted to visiting the Steavenson Falls and returning in time to make the eight miles of road to Narbethong, where the night could be spent, leaving an easy stroll over the Spur for Tuesday. Or a full day could be put in along the Taggerty River, up through the Forest of Arden to the Meeting of the Waters and Keppeli's Falls, a seven-mile walk, and the night passed in Marysville. In that case the swags could he left for the Tuesday's coach, and flying light, the 23 miles to Healesville would not be difficult. I cannot, at this stage, dwell upon the attractions of Maryville, a beautiful little township at any time, but especially so in the autumn, when the old-world trees in the street are changing colour. It may be possible later to give details of some of the best of the outings.
We had crossed the Blacks' Spur the previous night, and had camped on the roadside intending to make Marysville the next day. But early morning brought mountain rain, and drenched and weary, the enthusiastic pedestrians of the previous night discussed the idea of a quick return to town when daylight should come. The more dauntless of the party, however, suggested a compromise, and that was to take a dray track which ran into the forest opposite the Narbethong Post Office, and which struck a mining track clearly marked on the tourists' map running between Marysville and Warburton.
We set off, with the whole day before us but knowing very little except that we might find a splitters camp at the end of our walk. The first stage of the walk did not tend to raise our dejected hopes. The road was a corduroy road, rougher than most forest roads, and passed through uninteresting messmate country, along the top of the ridge at the back of Narbethong township. We could see little of the surrounding country except Mount Dom Dom ( 2500 feet ) on our right and Mount Strickland ( 4000 feet ) on our left, and altogether the future did not look inspiring. We had climbed many ascents and clambered over fallen trees in our endeavour to keep to the indefinite track. We had mooted the idea of returning more than once, when those some distance ahead were heard shouting that they had "found it". Though none of us knew there was anything to find, the expectant ring of our leaders voices urged us on, and running down a very steep decline. through a natural plantation of great tree ferns, we found ourselves on the banks of a clear, swift flowing river. We were in the valley of the Acheron, and it had been quite a transformation.
The stream was crossed at this point by a ford, but it was too deep for us to wade across, and owing to the recent rains would have been too deep for vehicular traffic. Having been rewarded for our ventures by this definite discovery, and the dray track now merged into a road of fair order ( used we afterwards discovered by timber wagons to bring the palings out of the forest ), we decided, after a brief respite, to follow up the track. The scenery at this point certainly gave no indication of what was to come.
Situated in a cup of the hills, the showers seemed to perpetually hang there there, and probably no wetter place could be found in all the ranges than at this spot on the Acheron. We were glad to leave it for some ground of slightly higher elevation, but always in the valley. In less than a mile the scene was again transformed. Unexpectedly and unknowingly, we had entered into some of the finest forest scenery that could be imagined. The valley had gradually opened out until it lay like a plain between the hills which rose on either side of it. The whole scene was like some great amphitheatre with the hill for its walls. On the slopes we could discern the numberless, steely white trees of the forest, rank, file after file, always trooping somewhere, up the side of the hill, to pause at the crest before descending on the other side into the unknown. And here close to us, and all around us, were giant trees shooting up from out of the luxuriant growth of the river valley, in all their first strength.
We made little progress for every few yards we stood spellbound at the majesty of the perfect works of nature about us. We were constantly summoning each other to new and greater specimens of nature's architecture. Wherever we looked, these great trees seemed to be outrivaling one another in height, girth and symmetry. Time and again we could not help observing how two would start side by side and rise without a knot or limb to a height of close on 250 feet, when graceful branches would top them, like the decking of a tree fern. It was a race for light - a desire to gain the soft blue of the heavens in place of the dark dampness of the valley. We tried to gain some idea of the exact measurements of these steel-grey columns and estimated that the average might be set down at 250 feet in height and 6 feet in diameter.
In the valley, protected as it was from the severer storms that sweep the hilltops, stood a most magnificent primeval forest. The day was gloomy and showery, and the sun that did at times defeat the clouds rarely penetrated down to us. Everything was in shadow except when a smaller giant allowed the sun to pour in his splash of liquid gold. Far up in the leafy tops we could hear the wind sighing, rustling, scurrying, and whispering and muttering about something, but it was all peaceful below. A little distance from us the Acheron was babbling along. We never lost the sound of those rushing waters all the time we were in the valley, and yet we seldom had sight of them. It was easy to forget the presence of forest waters with so many other things to attract, and yet a moment's quietness and thought, and incessant jingle came back to us again. Underfoot the soil was springy and moist and yet not muddy. The faint forest flavor pervaded the air which gives that subtle, invisible breath of freedom. And thus we passed through this inspiring scene for a couple of hours with, few obstructions on the path.
We crossed numerous rushing tributaries of the Acheron and passed through exquisite beech groves and fern glades, that every half half mile or so intersect the track and break right across the valley through heavier timber. One spot in particular claimed our attention for a long time. It was canopied with a thick cluster of beeches, and the ground was strewn with yellow autumn leaves of the trees so thickly that one could not hear the footsteps. The beeches themselves, covered with moss on trunk and branches bordered it on three sides on the fourth a babbling stream dashed away into the undergrowth, it's banks hidden by clusters of ferns that grew in thick profusion. It was a Temple of the forest, and to see a spot like this is a justification for the opening of the track. That silent place in the pathless woods will always live in our memories. And so we wandered slowly on through the cathedral solemnly and lovable mystery of this forest. We were tired from our lack of rest the previous night but the deep physical joy of going on and on for ever into unknown valleys and bends, down a long slope that must lead somewhere, through things animate and inanimate, the road opening silently before us to give passage, an closing silently behind us after we had passed - these made us forget our fatigue of the moment.
It was almost a rude shock to come suddenly upon a splitters' hut in a sheltered space off the track. It is at such a point that the Government authorities in their new scheme might arrange a convenient shelter shed for tourists on this road. Not only would it meet the convenience of midday travellers who will frequent this track but it would be a welcome haven to the camper, when forest winds are high and rain frequent. The day was by this time showing signs of closing in. We had spent from 12 noon at Acheron Ford to 4 p.m. wandering along the valley, and if we wanted to reach the destination we believed to exist we would need to forge ahead. We seemed to leave the last of our big forest companions around the splitters hut for now the timber was much smaller and limited to undergrowth with occasional lightwood here and there. This we accounted for by the fact that we had commenced a gradual ascent. It was at this junction that we located the Acheron Weir, hidden away in the thick growth, with nothing to tell of its presence, apart from the river, except a slight crossing near this point the dray track we had followed. And after an hour's hard search we found the "definite track" which was to take us to Warburton. It consisted of an almost outgrown triangular blaze on two or three trees, and was almost impassible, even to footmen. Soon after we recrossed the Acheron, at a spot where it was wider and deeper than at any time we had seen it. From thence the ascent grew steeper. We were passing now along a narrow track with a few great trees about, but nevertheless, with white wooded hills in the distance. The had been with us all the way, like the Acheron itself, but whereas we could only hear the hidden river. Along the track were evidences of the tracks of nature's animal life, and at one thickly covered spot we stumble across a black native bear, who was evidently to surprised to stir at the sight of his strange visitors. Abundant traces of wallaby were observed throughout the valley.
The track, which from the ford had been very definite and in need of a little repair, now turned suddenly, and seemed to exhaust itself at the foot of an abrupt hill. Looking hastily about, for night had fallen suddenly, as it does in the mountains, we discerned a couple of log sledges, and not far from them a log slide. We could not be far from the splitters' camp now, and clambering up the hill we found a hut and made preparations for the night. We had spent a glorious day on a feast of noble scenery. We had seen Nature in her truest aspect, unsullied and untouched by the destroying influences of civilisation. We had discovered the truth that "there is a pleasure in the pathless woods" and it was with the thought of a memorable day in our minds that we sought the shelter of a fantastic shingle hut on the brow of the hill.
It is here that the Government might again build shelter houses, if not a hospice. It must be remembered that this point, known now at the Splitters' Camp, is not on the Marysville mining track but a couple of miles on its eastern side. The journey to the camp never takes one out of the valley, so the distance should be no obstacle to the exploration of the country in this direction. And the views which can be obtained from the hill on which the camp is located will repay the adventurous spirits who make their way there. Anyone who has spent the night on the brow of that hill will tell of the grandeur of the attraction it would prove were decent stopping places arranged there. The comforts of civilisation could not destroy its charms and wildness. We would much have appreciated a less draughty place in which to sleep than the splitters' hut. It was not the novelty of the mysterious hut that appealed to us. It was the presence all around of the great forests which is always the same. We had again come into the heavy timber, and from the door we looked out in the semi-darkness along the tops of the trees in the great valley we had traversed.
The noises of the forest were close about us yet they failed to penetrate the little area we had reclaimed about our roaring fire. The simmering only and the crackling flames kept ward. Shadows of great trees could be seen thronging down the slope of the hill towards us, threatening in their stillness, but at the sentry outposts of our firelit trees they passed like wild animals, and advanced no further. The great forest, untamed and natural, was all about us, but this one little spot was ours, and we knew all it contained. It was a tiny area in the vastness all around - a vastness which now seemed more intense in its blackness - but the fire, the best companion of the forest dweller, made it a cosy spot, from which we endeavoured to pierce the mystery of the unknown about us. Every noise we heard, the little noises grew larger, the rushing river seemed to die away so incessant was it, but the cracking of the twig, the groaning of a tree startled our whole being into activity. The stillness of the forest was no stillness at all as far as our mental rest was concerned. It was the silence of the place that spoke to us and not its noise.
Sleep did not come to us this night in the lengthened periods. The hoot of an owl or the bark of a dingo[ the scratching of some animals outside the hut frequently awakened us, until, throwing off our blankets, we stepped out to see the forest in its early morning attire. A coolness in mind and body thrilled through us as we emerged from the hut.
The silence of what had passed already had keyed us for what was now everywhere around. Our sense was keener and our sight more discerning. A faint perfume of the dampness of foliage and wood greeted our nostrils. A clear moon had risen in the cold night and previous blackness had gone. The fire was low, and the shadows of the gaunt trees came closer about us. Everything now seemed at rest except the gurgling Acheron far down below, us in the valley.
We felt the lure of the forests, its subtlety and its mysteriousness. How vast and dreadful, and yet gentle and kind and lovely. How lonely, and yet so companionable. Variable in her many moods of night and day, of sun and cloud of calm and storm, she remains more enduring than than them all. Such were our reflections as we watched the light of the day gradually creep along the valley. We were bathed in light when the river bed was still a dim black track, and as we sat on a great log, with the great white giants ever becoming whiter, we felt we had seen Nature in one of her best aspects. It was a scene which no soul could fail to perceive the sublimity, and no better spot could be found throughout the district in which to remain and ponder over the problem of the forest than this hilltop.
A track from the splitters' camp along the top of the ridge to Warburton would compete a fine trip as could be found, and at the same time reveal much unknown scenery. This country is one of the most magnificent parts of our State, and the Government, by opening up the Acheron Valley and making tracks through it, will give to an increasingly appreciative public still another easily accessible tourist resort. Indeed, the fact of its proximity to the townships like Healesville, Narbethong, Marysville and Warburton is one of the strongest arguments for making it known. The valley, extending along the present track for a distance of about 15 miles, maybe easily traversed on foot within the day, and accommodation is certain at either end. The Tourist Bureau could do nothing better than add the Acheron Valley to its itinerary of Victorian beauty spots. It certainly surpasses many that are now in the public favour, and only needs to be made known to become as popular as the Buffalo or the Baw Baw.
more to come