Mount Buffalo National Park rises as a granite massif from the Ovens valley. Views of Mount Buffalo become more and more spectacular along the Alpine Road from Wangaratta. However, from Melbourne, the initial acquaintance with the plateau is likely to be from the Hume Freeway just past Glenrowan. The mountain stands out to the right, an obvious plateau in the valley with the Victorian Alps in the background.
One of the unique characteristics of Mount Buffalo is the way it is separated from the rest of the Australian Alps – an Alpine environment but a plateau isolated from the main part of the Great Dividing Range. As a result of this, Mount Buffalo’s granite cliffs as well as its vegetation, provide a unique presence in the landscape of the Ovens Valley.
The Park is well serviced with picnic areas, a camping ground with showers and toilets and more remote camping areas with toilets. Many walking and bike riding tracks are found on the plateau, and the park provides options for day and extended visits and a wide range of activities.
History of Mount Buffalo
Indigenous movements to the foothills and the plateau tended to be dominated by the gatherings to feast on the Bogong moth. Often, these gatherings included a range of ceremonies, both within the different groups as well as between them.
Hamilton Hume and William Hovell, the legendary European explorers of the region and beyond, first sighted the plateau in 1824. It was named Mount Buffalo because, from the west, it resembled a sleeping buffalo (at least to them).
The first grazier to arrive was Thomas Buckland in the 1840s. His manager, Thomas Goldie, cut a track up to the plateau to allow cattle to graze there in late Spring and Summer.
By the late 1880s, the Bright Alpine Club was lobbying the Victorian Government to protect the area. In 1898, 1152 hectares surrounding the Gorge was declared a national park, making the park one of the first to be declared in Victoria. In 1908 the road up the mountain was formed. With this came increased tourism and, alongside it, the development of tourist accommodation in the form of The Chalet. The Chalet was originally accommodation and holiday centre for the Victorian Railways. Guests would come up to Porepunkah or Bright by rail and be taken to the Chalet by bus. The original rail line is now a popular rail-trail, allowing walking and cycling along the valley.
Now Mt Buffalo is a popular park and camping at Lake Catani is by ballot in the peak times of Christmas/New Year and Easter. Booking is required at all times of the year. In winter, there are very limited spaces for snow camping.
Fire on Mount Buffalo
Most of the park (by some reports, 98%), and all of the plateau, were affected by the fires of January 2003. For many people who have visited Buffalo over the years, these fires brought the kind of devastation that made us wonder if the plateau would ever recover. But it mostly has, though not all at once. The intensity of the fires can still be seen, with many snow-gums burnt, others feathering and still others almost recovered. Even though much of the Mt Buffalo landscape was burnt, ecological succession and increased biodiversity can be witnessed. Walkers at Buffalo are in a privileged position to observe and experience this part of the natural cycle of fire and regrowth.The valleys of Mt Buffalo
It’s possible to walk from the top of Mt Buffalo to the two valleys that form its eastern and western boundaries. The Buffalo River valley connects with the road coming from Lake Cobbler and the King Valley. the Buckland Valley is the eastern boundary.
Towns of the valleys
Myrtleford is a town of 3500 people. The community has experienced a wide variety of economic changes which have occurred as a result of changes to landscape use. A town of tobacco farming, hop growing, mining and logging from the 1960s through to the early 2000s, the town has undergone a significant change with the demise of tobacco farming and hop growing. Now, the economy is sustained by wine-making, dairy and timber.
Myrtleford has also become a centre for tourism. It provides visitors with a range of accommodation and is a central base for travels along the valleys of Mount Buffalo.
Part of the re-emergence of Myrtleford after the loss of the tobacco industry in particular, has been wine-making, chesnuts, berries and other local produce. This provides visitors with plenty of local produce at the farm gate, in local restaurants and bistros, and further afield.
Porepunkah (the name is thought to be an extraction from the Hindi word for ‘breeze’) is located on the Ovens River between Myrtleford and Bright. It is the gateway to Mount Buffalo and has a very relaxing picnic area on the river.
It was the Ovens River that brought people to Porepunkah in the 1800s. The river was mined for gold by the large numbers of miners seeking to make their fortunes in the area. As with the search for gold in many places, townships expanded, services became available, and infrastructure like rail and roads was built. The original track, hacked along the valley beside the river and which brought these miners, is now the Great Alpine Road.
There are a number of caravan parks, motels and apartments in and around Porepunkah and along the road to Bright. Those caravan parks and camping grounds closest to Porepunkah and Mt Buffalo include the Porepunkah Mill Caravan Park (www.porepunkahmill.com.au; phone 03 575 62216), Riverview Caravan Park (www.riverviewcaravanpark.com.au; phone 03 575 62290), and the Porepunkah Bridge Caravan Park (porepunkahbridge.com; phone 03 575 62380 or freecall 1800552380). All these caravan parks and camping grounds are located on rivers, providing relaxing camping possibilities.
The picturesque town of Bright is located past Porepunkah on the way to Mt Hotham.
Mt Buffalo doesn’t have many long walks for those wanting to explore deep into the landscape. The Big Walk is the longest walk in the National Park, from the valley to the plateau.
However, this doesn’t mean that Mt Buffalo is somehow diminished as a walking experience. With over 90km of well signposted tracks taking walkers through a variety of landscapes, the Buffalo plateau is a very popular destination and provides unique experiences for the walker.
There are a variety of walks on offer at Mount Buffalo, from short strolls through granite and snow-grass plain landscapes to steep climbs onto the plateau. All are well-marked tracks and range in time from 45min strolls to walk-in camping opportunities taking 4 hours each way. A classic walk of Mt Buffalo is the Big Walk, a track taking walkers from the picnic area near the entrance to the park to the top of the plateau. You can link to one of my posts on the Big Walk here.