Planning your Trip to the High Country
Victoria’s High Country is filled with breathtaking views, quaint towns and an abundance of challenging tracks to explore, whether you are on foot, two wheels or four. But going hand in hand with these alpine region delights is the unpredictable weather and conditions that require you to do some necessary pre-trip planning. From when to visit, what gear to bring and some insider tips on how to best prepare your tow vehicle, you’ll be ready to experience the beauty and excitement of the High Country.
When to Go
Victoria’s High Country is part of Australia’s cool temperate zone, meaning it experiences cold winters and mild to warm summers. But it also has the bonus of alpine weather which is notoriously changeable. So even if you visit in the warmer months, there’s a chance of surprise snow (which has been recorded in the region in all months of the year).
Be prepared should be the motto of all who are planning a trip to the region, as a surprise blizzard can make visibility non-existent and the rough and mountainous terrain can make bush navigation a nightmare for anyone who is unprepared or ill-equipped.
But the question of when to go comes down to what you intend to do.
As one of Australia’s premium snow regions, the High Country sees countless snow enthusiasts flocking its mountainsides through the winter and spring months.
By late spring the snow has usually dispersed, and the soft green plains come alive with wildflowers. This is the time for bushwalking, car touring, four-wheel driving, horse riding, camping and fishing.
Mid-summer is the domain of wildflower lovers, but walkers and cyclists may prefer visiting through the autumn months to avoid the intense sunshine. Although the region is usually a few degrees cooler than the lower altitudes in mid-summer, during hot weather extremes it’s advisable to steer clear from forest country due to the prevalent bushfire danger.
No matter what time of year you plan to visit, it is always best to check the weather and fire danger conditions and get the latest information before heading out. The Bureau of Meteorology website has plenty of information on day-to-day weather patterns as well as the ability to track daily fire danger ratings.
Time to Drive - 4WD Tracks
If you are planning to explore the various 4WD tracks, November to May is the prime time to visit.
Many tracks in the region are closed from approximately the week after the King’s Birthday long weekend in June until the Melbourne Cup Day long weekend in early November, and Alpine Resort areas and some environmentally sensitive tracks experience longer closures.
Before you leave the house it’s always best to be prepared for all possible conditions — but this is particularly important when heading into alpine regions such as the High Country.
By its very nature, the weather in alpine areas is unpredictable, so it pays to be prepared. Snow, blizzards and thunderstorms can occur at any time of the year, and they can come on quickly and without any warning and can turn any 4WD excursion into a life-threatening experience.
Most of the High Country is designated as a ‘remote area’, the same classification given to the central deserts of Australia. Relatively short distances can take you a very long time to cross, and if you experience any mechanical problems or become bogged, you may have to rely on your own resources as many of these roads are not highly travelled.
Carrying suitable clothing and equipment for all conditions at all times is doubly important for any trip to the High Country. And doing some research ahead of time will keep you prepared.
Phone reception in much of the High Country is patchy or non-existent and therefore it is important to consider satellite communication devices, such as satellite communicators (e.g. Garmin InReach, ZOLEO), satellite phones or Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and physical maps for navigation.
Hema Maps has several guides and maps that will give you an in-depth understanding of Victoria’s High Country and provide plenty of useful information for your pre-trip planning. Other Hema Maps products to consider having onboard are the HX-2 on and offroad GPS navigator and the Hema 4x4 Explorer App.
What to Take
Before heading into the High Country, it is best to ensure you have appropriate tyres and tyre chains. Generally, 4WDs perform better in snow than 2WD vehicles, but chains are still an essential safety feature and must be carried during winter and should be the right size for your vehicle’s tyres. Try fitting your chains on your tyres before the trip to ensure they fit properly and that you know how to install them when it comes time.
Please note, diamond-pattern chains are now the only legally allowed chains. Other styles, such as ladder chains, are not allowed on the Great Alpine Road or in the Alpine Resort areas.
If you’re planning on going offroad or on any tracks designated as subject to seasonal road closure, make sure you have all the necessary recovery gear onboard and know how to use it.
This checklist should ensure you are ready for alpine travel:
- Ground sheet (for putting on chains), spade, rubber gloves, a towrope, a plastic ice scraper and a torch in addition to recovery gear.
- Warm clothing such as thermals that offer proper insulation — avoid jeans and other materials as these take a long time to dry.
- Check your battery is in good condition.
- Check the condition of your tyres, including the spare. Ensure their pressure and wheel balance is correct. Tread depth is very important as tyre performance, especially braking and steering in wet or slippery conditions, deteriorates significantly below 2mm of tread.
- Make sure that all your vehicle’s lights are working.
- Ensure the roof rack is on tight and that it is strong enough to withstand a good dump of snow.
- Add anti-freeze compound to your radiator and pack spare hoses.
- Check your fuel tank is topped up; you may experience lengthy delays in bad weather when you need to keep the motor running.
- If you drive a diesel-powered vehicle, fill your tank with alpine mix diesel from a servo near the snowfields to avoid the freezing (waxing) of fuel. Dual fuel vehicles (LPG/petrol) should switch to petrol before entering alpine areas.
- Bring a spare key, as the last thing you want is to lose your only one in the snow. Some people use wire to hang the spare in a secret place under the car or attach a lockbox.
- Make sure you have plenty of water. (When touring, a good rule of thumb is to allow 10L of water per person per day, particularly in hot weather, and replenish as frequently as you can.)
- Food: make sure your fridge and its power source are in working order before heading into remote country. Or ensure there is somewhere to get ice near your campsite.
- Have a jerry can filled, or ready to be filled — get colour-coded ones if necessary.
- Ensure appropriate communication and offline navigation tools as phone reception can be patchy.
- First aid and snake bite kits — make sure components are not out of date.
Ensuring your vehicle is well maintained both before and during travel in the High Country is important — particularly if you’re planning on exploring backcountry 4WD tracks. Make sure to check engine oil, coolant levels and screen washer levels before setting out. And make sure you’ve added anti-freeze where necessary and check tyre pressures.
If your vehicle has a diesel engine, make sure you top up with ‘winter diesel’ fuel for the cold conditions — no matter the time of year. This can be found at towns like Bright or Omeo. Diesel becomes waxy in cold temperatures which can cause your engine to stop running. Be aware, if you go to servos on major highways, you may cause some confusion when asking for ‘winter diesel’, so it’s best to stick with operators in the alpine regions, who will also be best suited to answer questions and perform an electrolyte test on your engine’s coolant and add anti-freeze for you as well.
Consider the vehicle setup requirements for recovery. As well as the recovery gear listed below, it is essential that your vehicle has rated recovery points and consider whether a snorkel is required (for river crossings) and a winch is added for more efficient recoveries.
A Trusty Toolkit
Whether you are travelling in the High Country or heading off to another adventure destination, having a stocked toolkit on board at all times is always advisable. Even if you don’t know how to use it, a bush mechanic or someone else on the road might be able to help you out.
Toolkits should include:
- Set of combination ring/open end spanners (Check whether you need metric or AF for your vehicle. Metric is most common on modern vehicles)
- Large 250mm adjustable spanner
- Jacking plate — 30cm square x 2cm thick board
- Kit of screwdrivers
- Pliers and side cutters
- Air compressor and tyre pressure gauge
- Workshop manual to suit your vehicle
- De-watering fluid, WD-40, CRC or similar
- Plastic tubing for fuel transferring
- Hacksaw with spare blades
- Tyre deflator
- Battery jumper leads and/or booster device
- Spark plug spanner (for petrol engines)
Vehicle spare parts:
- Radiator hoses
- Fan belt
- Heater hoses
- Assorted fuses
- Fuel filter
- Assorted globes
- Insulation tape
- Gaffer (100mph) tape
- Engine oil
Other useful items:
- Water — 20L
- First aid and snake bit kits
- ZOLEO or Garmin InReach
- Fire extinguisher
- Emergency food and cooking equipment
- Insect repellent
- Masking tape
- A bundle of plastic bags
- Wheel chocks (not wooden)
- Poly tarp
- Firelighters and waterproof matches
- Tyre chains (these can be a legal requirement in some areas)
- Communication equipment as necessary, UHF radio, satellite phone
- GPS, maps and navigation equipment as necessary. For Victorian High Country, we recommend:
- Victorian High Country Map Pack (4 detailed High Country maps)
- 9mm snatch strap
- 4 x rated shackles (consider soft shackles due to strength and light weight)
- Recovery rope
- Soft shackle hitch
- Hitch pins
- Recovery ring
- Winch damper
- Long-handled shovel
- Hand winch and pulley block (if your vehicle is not equipped with a winch and bull bar)
- Winch extension strap
- Tree protector
- Recovery boards
Tips from the Experts
Travelling in hilly terrain such as the High Country requires good driving technique to help maximise safety and taking it slow and steady is the best way to ensure you reach your destination in one piece. Slow the vehicle down to a crawl when travelling rocky descents or ascents, keeping it in low (first or second gear) range. Manual vehicles perform better than automatics because of their gearing.
When going down steep tracks, whether they are rocky or sandy, try to avoid using the clutch as much as possible, as when engaged the vehicle is thrown into uncontrolled forward motion that can have disastrous results.
Having a lighter vehicle is also in your favour on the High Country’s terrain. So, as you are checking off all the necessary items to have on board, it is worth reviewing what other items and camping gear you do or don’t need, or what can be replaced with something lighter to take the load off your vehicle and in turn help with your handling through the tough terrain.
When preparing for a remapping tour of the High Country, our team at Hema Map Patrol was working over their vehicles and sourcing new and lighter items to bring the vehicle’s weight down as much as possible. Hema Maps field work admin GIS officers Patrick Kemp and Rhys Holmes were really happy with the new gear they sourced, such as the new and lighter aluminium MAXTRAX gear that replaced the original steel recovery gear, as well as a stronger and lighter Factor 55 winch hook and pully from A247, which are not only lighter than the previously installed products but also safer. All up, by reviewing and replacing recovery gear, the team was able to shave off 30kg from the vehicle’s weight.
When it comes to what car will handle well in the High Country, Rhys suggested that a max 3.9-tonne vehicle such as a D-MAX, HiLux, or a LandCruiser that is fairly well modified for extra weight, will do the trick.
For accommodation, the team is quite happy to get out a swag and is currently using the Darche AD Swag 1400 which can be inflated with a hand pump (no poles required) with an XL100 Ultra Stretcher. With the inclement weather often seen in the High Country, the Hema Map Patrol LandCruiser 79 series is also fitted with a Darche ECLIPSE 270 awning which provides 11.5m2 of coverage.
In terms of food tips, Rhys cooks a pretty mean beef stew and Pat is partial to a Japanese chicken curry, both ideally suited to a chilly night in the High Country.
At Hema Maps, we strive to provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps and guides for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore Australia's natural wonders.
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