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Major Mitchell Trail Part Two – The odyssey continues

This entry is part 10 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #23

In issue #21 three riders followed the trail of Major Thomas Mitchell who, as a government surveyor, led an expedition searching for new farmlands throughout NSW and Victoria in 1836. Bad weather called an early halt to the attempt, but the riders weren’t to be denied. They finished the trail…and now Ray Lindner finishes the story.

It was never our intention to serialise this trip, but when the heavens opened in Harrow, Victoria, last April we simply had to postpone our journey of discovery until a later date.

Our group had a change on this second leg of the trip as Mark was unable to take leave. The third rider joining me on my Tiger XC and Andrew on his BMW 800ST was Leigh Wilkins on his 800GSA.

Once Leigh knew he was coming on the ride he researched Mitchell and the trail to the point where he knew even more about both the man and the trail than we did. Added to that was Leigh being a guru when it comes to plotting a course and finding trails.

Catching up

Together with Leigh’s skills was a fabulous find by Andrew: a touring book titled Victoria’s Great Outdoors that included a turn-by-turn drive of The Major Mitchell Trail and more maps.

This was a great addition to our trove of information.

Like the other publication we’d been using, this book was also out of print, and finding parts of the trail would’ve been far more difficult without the out-of-print information we’d gathered.

Leigh and his GSA set off many days before Andrew and I. He wanted to ride the section we’d done so he had more of a feel for what Major Mitchell and his party had accomplished back in 1836. Not only did he ride what we’d previously ridden, he rode as much as he could locate of the route Mitchell had used after leaving Orange in NSW.

When the three of us assembled at The Hermitage Hotel in Harrow in early December Leigh had lots to share about his ride following in Mitchell’s footsteps in both NSW and Victoria.

Down time

Our first day took us from Harrow to Portland, a riding distance of just on 280km, and this day had more twists and turns than a Harry Potter novel.

Andrew set off on bitumen to meet with Leigh and I in Casterton. We followed the trail which presented us with varying riding surfaces including deep sand.

We seemed to be continually turning onto different trails and roads, and along the way we came across an old bridge over Pigeon Ponds Creek on Koolomurt Road. This bridge may have been in use by an occasional farmer, but it’d long been retired from general traffic.

It certainly was a little shaky!

Prior to reaching Casterton, Leigh and I were riding in an area known as Wando Bridge. This was a pleasant gravel ride through some undulating country not far off the Glenelg Highway. Leigh was just ahead when he came upon a minor causeway crossing the Wando River.

There was just 60mm of water over theconcrete so, ‘No problem!’ right?

I was kind of glad he got there before me as the bike went out from under him.

He had a lot of trouble just trying to stand up. The concrete was covered in slime and lifting the bike back onto its wheels was a challenge.

What a surprise this crossing was. I think many people would’ve done just what Leigh did and ridden straight in. I know I would’ve.

We got the bike out and found a better track for me to ride through.

When we look at the photo of this downed bike it’s almost a shock to see just how big an adventure bike is when you add panniers and camping gear.

It’s almost a shock to see just how big an adventure bike is when you add panniers and camping gear and lay it on its side.

Cave in

Moving on, we met a farmer who knew all about the slime on the causeway as cars had slid off it in the past. He invited us to ride on to his property to a point where Mitchell had camped.

After meeting up with Andrew in Casterton for lunch we had to leave him again and arrange another rendezvous.

This happened on almost every section of this second part of the trail which had lots of tracks unsuitable for the 800ST – although Andrew did ride some gravel here and there. Leigh and I were disappointed we didn’t get to share those rides with him.

We’d read about sections where Mitchell’s party had trouble getting through deep sand and maybe we struck the same area. We were on our way through to Nelson when we really had to battle. My bike laid down for a rest on two occasions but there was no damage done – not even to pride. Although difficult, this is what we were after:adventure! Realising there was probably going to be extensive sand riding, tyre pressures were dropped, feet were dragged (have we no shame?) and eventually we were through safely to a sealed road at Princess Margaret Rose Caves, close to the South Australian border. I had no idea this tourist attraction even existed, so it could be worth a visit at another time.

It’d be impossible to find the trail relying on signs directing to the next turn.

Out of sight

We rode into Dartmoor where Mitchell had camped at the convergence of Glenelg and Crawford rivers. It was a great campground, but we kept moving after viewing cypress trees carved into different animal and human forms.

Briefly crossing the border back into Victoria we rode into Nelson at the mouth of the Glenelg River. It was rather a sleepy little place, but the river is really beautiful.

The first day’s ride had disclosed a few tourist signs pointing to the trail, but we believed it’d be impossible to find the trail relying on signs directing to the next turn. We believed there should have been more signboards than we’d seen, and in Nelson we learned some signs had deteriorated or been damaged and simply removed by local authorities.

With no booklets or maps available to the public and signs deteriorating and/or being removed, it’s clear that without action Victoria’s first-ever Heritage Trail is fast becoming ‘The Vanishing Trail’.

Mitchell’s party had trouble getting through deep sand. Approaching Nelson, the riders did too.

Need a lava

Our overnight stop was in Portland, a very beautiful area.

Leigh and I rode into the camp park sometime after Andrew who had set up and was washing his bike. It hadn’t even seen any dust!

Okay, it looked quite smart. In his defence it was clear he’d ridden into a massive swarm of fat bugs that splattered both bike and rider.

Next morning we were off to Cape Nelson lighthouse with another monument to Mitchell close by. The lighthouse area is well worth riding the few kilometres out of town.

Riding in an area known as Byaduk – there’s no town there – we found ourselves on Old Crusher Road, no doubt an area where there was once a crushing plant. There are huge mounds of lava rocks which, we agreed with Mitchell, looked as if they must’ve been dumped in heaps by mankind. In fact they were left by volcanic events in past times. They’re the amazing Tumuli Lava Blisters.

The blisters can also be seen on the edge of the Harman’s Valley Flow at Wallacedale, 13km west of Byaduk Caves on the Old Crusher Road.

Much of the ride had been done standing on the ’pegs

Peak condition

Near an area known as Hotspur we came upon a viewing spot over an extensive plain. Signs advised it was one of the largest volcanic plains in the world. It’s simply amazing what we’ve learned about our home State while riding this trail. Research even told us there was a lava blister in Williamstown, Victoria, which is about four kilometres from home.

Before going to a great camping park in Dunkeld we rode to check out Mount Abrupt in the Southern Grampians. This was significant as Mitchell was the first European to climb several peaks within the Grampians.

We made a visit to the local Tourism Victoria office where they confirmed they had no information whatsoever on The Major Mitchell Trail. However, what we did learn was the State government is building a walking path to be known as The Grampians Peaks Trail that will take in the Major Mitchell Plateau. We can only hope the walkers will learn about Mitchell while doing the 13-day, 12-night walking adventure.

So far $26 million has been spent and there’s still a long way to go. Surely a little can be found for the Major Mitchell Trail?

The road-makers must have torn down a Mitchell Trail sign and replaced it with a bright new one.

Talk it up

Riding out next morning we visited a Mitchell monument at Glen Thompson and hit some dirt riding on Stavely,Drysdale, Lalkaldarno and Maroona Roads to Willaura, an area Mitchell travelled through. He wrote in his journal “…a land more favourable for colonization could not be found.”

It was in this area we met a local character keen for us to ride to his workshop and view his motorcycle restoration projects consisting of several Triumphs and a Matchless.

He was an interesting guy, and as I can’t recall his name I’ll call him Mr Have-a-chat. He certainly knew his bikes and had a lot to tell us, but we had to take our leave if we were to reach the destination planned for that day.

Lava blisters are huge mounds of lava rocks which looked as if they must’ve been dumped in heaps by mankind. In fact they were left by volcanic events in past times.

Food for thought

It was mainly gravel from Willaura to Buangor on the newly duplicated carriageway on the Western Highway.

The road-makers must have torn down a Mitchell Trail sign and replaced it with a bright new one which leads to a Mitchell monument and out-of-date information sheet. There are no further signs to show the route from there.

Buangor looks to be dying now the highway has passed by.

There was a great old Cobb & Co building that looked to have been turned into accommodation. Unfortunately it’ll struggle now, as it’s not visible from the re-aligned highway.

Fortunately the information we’d gathered allowed us to continue, albeit with one or two wrong turns. Some deep sand on what was a well-formed farm road gave us some challenges, but we were soon onto better gravel.

The weather was getting quite warm, so after meeting up with Andrew in Talbot we lodged at the pub and got lucky when we were invited to the pre-opening event at a new restaurant in town.

That night was very special indeed. We met some great folk and drank good beer and wine to wash down truly great finger food – of which there was plenty.

What really was amazing was the restaurant having a framed map of The Major Mitchell Trail on the wall.

That night the heavens opened while we were tucked away in our hotel room and it continued into the morning, delaying our departure. But we did ride all day without rain after that.


After the rain we rode off to Newstead, where a coffee break was welcomed. We did squib out at a river crossing (‘river’ sounds more serious than the creek it actually was) at Tullaroop Creek, which had a very near vertical exit and was flowing rather deep and hard.

It was in a close-by area known as Muckelford South we came across an old Ford high up in a tree. This was on a remote track that ultimately dead-ended. There was never going to be a flood powerful enough to put that car in position, so somebody had brought in a significant crane to do the job. It must’ve been quite an effort for a humorous gesture few would see.

After a bit of a giggle and the obligatory photos it was onwards through Expedition Pass (named after Mitchell), Faraday and Kyneton (more monuments) before reaching the Memorial Cross at Mount Macedon. Here we not only got to further appreciate Mitchell’s effort to reach that point prior to roads, but also to reflect on the gallant men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice during times of conflict. With views that seem to go on forever this is truly a fantastic site for such a memorial.

An old Ford high up in a tree near Muckelford South. Quite an effort for a humorous gesture few would see.

Missed a bit

Our camp that night was at Nagambie.

We met up with Andrew who’d once again parted from us for much of the day due to the extensive amounts of gravel and mud. Leigh and I certainly had many sections on the ride where our ‘adventure’ bikes were well put to the test. As for driving the trail, there were several parts that wouldn’t be negotiable in a 2WD vehicle, but of course one can bypass sections if needed.

One trail led to areas at the rear of the Australian Army ordnance training area at Puckapunyal, with plenty of signs warning about the possibility of unexploded devices. It wasn’t hard to keep us from crossing the fence line.

Surprisingly, this remote roadway did have signs for The Trail.

On this track and others ridden during the day we encountered some water and mud. The water wasn’t very deep and provided a welcome change in riding conditions while some deep mud proved a little much for the street-biased tyres on Leigh’s bike. It was difficult even for the aggressive tyres on the Tiger, so that section was averted.

After setting up tents in one of the local caravan parks it was off to the Nagambie pub. Great food was served with a choice of ale which was most welcome after a long day where much of the ride had been done standing on the ’pegs.

Dirt-oriented bikes are really the choice for this ride.’

Great help

The final day on the trail arrived and most of the terrain was to be gravel tracks, so again Andrew rode on bitumen to meet up with Leigh and I in Wangaratta.

By the time we arrived in town Andrew had already checked out the local tourism office. The staff members at that office were simply amazing. One staffer who’d been there at least 15 years quickly produced a lovingly maintained file of information on Major Mitchell in which there was material we’d never seen anywhere else. As she’d recognised that much of the material on file there couldn’t be replaced, and therefore didn’t let it out of the office, she ought to receive some sort of award.

The staff obligingly sent some material for copying at a local facility, so we walked away feeling very pleased indeed. We had tourist maps released back in 1990 but not available nowadays.

Some deep sand gave some challenges.


Wangaratta has a close affiliation to Mitchell. The main bridge over the Ovens River is actually called ‘The Major Mitchell Bridge’. Mitchell had crossed at this spot on October 15, 1836. In a publication of Wangaratta’s Significant Trees there’s an article on a large tree adjacent to the bridge under which it is believed Mitchell camped. Maybe it’s a guess, but it makes a good story anyway.

After fuelling both bodies and bikes we set off on the last leg of our journey, with Andrew once again having to bypass the significant dirt sections.

Dirt-oriented bikes are really the choice for this ride.

Apart from reaching the finish point on the Victorian side of the mighty Murray River at Howlong, NSW, the highlight of the afternoon was finding an information shed in the Chiltern Valley.

In an isolated area a tin shed had been built with a couple of open sides and it housed extensive information on the history of the area, including Mitchell’s discoveries. Unlike other information boards seen on the trail, all information in the shed had been protected from the elements and remained in pristine condition. There was even a Major Mitchell Road nearby, with – you guessed it – another monument.

It was with a great feeling of accomplishment we ended the ride at a small park where the Howlong monument stands.

We’d ridden 1263 kilometres from Harrow to reach that point. There’s no doubt that’s a greater distance than the official length of the trail between those towns, but at times we had to search for roads and tracks to find where the trail continued.

The official length of the trail from the first monument outside Mildura to Howlong is 2100 Km.

Without some action from Victorian Government authorities we believe Victoria’s first ever Heritage Trail is doomed.

How sad is that when Mitchell’s work was considered to be of such value that 70 monuments were erected in recognition of him and his team?

We’ve started work on trying to ensure the trail and information is revived by writing to our local State member of parliament, and with more work to follow.

We can only hope we get some action so others may readily follow this trail of history and discovery.

In terms of increased knowledge of our State’s history and geography, riding The Major Mitchell Trail has been both rewarding and enriching to us all.

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