AN EASY DAY CRUISE FROM SHEPPARTON TO AUSTRALIA'S OLDEST SNOW RESORT

By Peter Russell

Mt Buffalo National Park is a leisurely drive from Shepparton, rewarded by majestic views, crystal clear air and cool temperatures even during the peak of Summer.

The jewel in the crown is the Mt Buffalo Chalet building which is under major refurbishment. The mount is a great place for walks and picnics and provides fantastic opportunities for photographers. Bird life is abundant and if you're lucky you can see Little Eagles around the horn. If you're there at the right time, you can see hang-glider pilots launching themselves off a ramp into the wild blue and down into the valley below. An amazing day trip peppered with fantastic views.

Mount Buffalo is a moderately tall mountain plateau on the west side of the Victorian Alpine region. The top of the mountain has striking granite boulders and rock formations. From the north, the mountain is quite remarkable, with the highest accessible point being a prominent peak called The Horn. A walking track leads to The Horn and visitors can enjoy a 360-degree view from the top.

Visitor accommodation was available at the historic guest house, the Mount Buffalo Chalet, built in 1910, until January 2007. Parks Victoria and the Victorian Governments have developed plans to restore the main parts of Chalet having the cafe and visitor access by 2016. Tatra Inn, located at the west end of the plateau near the Cathedral, was destroyed in 2006 by an escaped fuel reduction burn. The view from the chalet overlooks large sheets of granite and spectacular views of the Ovens Valley and Buckland Valley below. This is a popular rock climbing, abseiling and hang-gliding site. There is also adventure caving at Mount Buffalo. The camping ground at Lake Catani is open from November to April. It also provides good fishing and kayaking.

During the winter season, Mount Buffalo is a popular destination for cross-country skiing. There are many cross-country ski trails near the Cathedral (Cresta Run), and toboggan runs at Dingo Dell and Cresta Valley, both of which are ideal for beginners. Cross-country lessons and many cross-country trails for more experienced skiers are also available.[citation needed] Visitors can stay in the nearby town of Bright.

Aboriginal people made summer ascents to Mount Buffalo and other alpine areas to gather and feast on protein-rich Bogong moths that cluster in rock crevices, and also to meet and hold ceremonies.

Explorers Hume and Hovell named the mountain in 1824 from its supposed resemblance to a buffalo. Gold miners and botanists later began to find routes up to the plateau. With the beginning of tourism in the 1880s, an area around the spectacular Gorge was reserved as a national park in 1898. The park has been enlarged several times since and now takes in all the plateau and surrounding slopes. The Mount Buffalo Chalet was built in 1910, soon after the first road to the plateau was constructed, replacing some earlier more "rustic" accommodation. The park became a popular holiday destination for succeeding generations and a place for early skiing and ice skating ventures. In fact Buffalo had the first ski tow in Australia. For many Melbournians in the pre-war years, a trip to Mount Buffalo was their first encounter with snow.

When the Mount Buffalo Chalet was run by the Victorian Railways the restaurant was known as an official "Railways Refreshment Room". Staff worked in railway uniforms, blew whistles and imposed curfews for guests. Railway tickets were issued for equipment and activities such as "Motor to Wangaratta" and "Skis, steel-edged with cane stocks and boots 2nd Grade 8/6-".

Due to the range in altitude in the park, there are a variety of fauna habitats. The foothill forests contain kangaroos, wallabies, and several species of possums and sugar gliders. Smaller mammals such as native rats and mice inhabit the plateau. Wombats occur in all habitats. The alpine silver Zenica is a species of butterfly found only on the plateau of Mount Buffalo. Bogong moths shelter in rock crevices at the horn, and it is common to see birds darting in and out of the cracks to feed on them during the day and bats doing the same at night. Peregrine Falcons sometimes nest in the granite rock faces. Crimson Rosellas are abundant throughout the park.

This is an easy day-trip from Shepparton. Travel time is about three hours to make the near 200km journey. The slowest and most interesting part of the trip is up to the mountain, with bends and switches. In Summer a car is fine, but chains may be recommended during Winter.

On return to Shepparton, consider stopping in at the rustic Thoona hotel. This route takes you from Wangaratta, over the Warbies and drops into the Major plains. The pub serves cold beer and food. You may need to let the staff know you want a meal. Call  (03) 5765 2224.

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