Garden lovers are nature lovers and one of my favourite pastimes is packing my rucksack and saying goodbye to reality before taking off into the Australian bush on my own for a few days of walking. Midsummer is not a typically popular time for bushwalking in Australia. Summers regularly reach a windy 40 degrees celsius, and avoiding remote bushland on such days is as much about avoiding chafing thighs as it is an act of self preservation. Bushfires are a constant danger and with a vegetation type that has evolved to burn it’s not wise to traipse into tinder-dry scrub in sweltering heat.
That being said there is one part of the country that has some stunning walking and floral displays that is relatively safe in summer. Known locally as the High Country, the Alpine and Kosciuszko National Parks traverse the Australian alps, running from the ACT, through New South Wales and into Victoria.
Last summer I walked from Falls Creek to Mount Hotham, a Victorian section of the Alpine Walking Track. Its 37 kilometres takes you through some of the most stunning scenery this country has to offer. Forget your deserts and arid inland, this part of the country is lush and gently undulating, which makes it a landscape that’s satisfyingly easy to explore.
Unlike other national parks closer to sea level, the High Country hits its floral peak from mid to late summer. Herb-rich alpine and subalpine areas are awash with hues of pink, yellow and white. Around every bend and atop every hill are stunning massed displays of flora, much of it rare.
It’s a landscape that is important to our indigenous people. Covered in snow and impenetrable on foot in the winter, when the snow melts it gives way to lush vegetation and an abundance of wildlife that attracted First Nation’s people from far and wide. The annual Bogong moth harvest on the Bogong High Plain was the main event of summer where Bogong moths were roasted and eaten whole. Yam daisies, Microseris species, grow in their hundreds of thousands in the alpine region and formed a starchy summer staple for first peoples as well. I’ve grown yam daisies in my vegetable garden in previous years as a curiosity. They have a rich coconut-like flavour when roasted whole.
Hiking and eating nothing but dehydrated nosh with the odd bit of cheese to keep things interesting, you begin to crave fresh food. The sheer number of yam daisies made look at them with hungry eyes – they would be a tempting tasty treat despite the illegality of harvesting them. Being a national park there’s no picking of flowers or leaves allowed, so excavating tubers was completely out of the question. Luckily the scenery was enough for my eyes to eat at the very least.
The first day of the walk saw me slowly ascending to the Bogong High Plains, camping overnight at a cattleman’s hut before traversing the plains proper. I had been told by doe-eyed friends that the sky in the High Country is limitless and had to be seen to be believed. I would liked to have believed them but my first day walking was under heavy cloud, and that night’s campsite was shrouded in a thick fog of low cloud that clung damply to everything. It had disappeared the following morning and after a quick breakfast I packed up camp and headed across the plain.
I had never seen trigger plants (Stylidium graminifolium) so numerous! The drifts of them were extensive, throwing pink hues over whole hillsides. Where they intermingled with yellow daisies was particularly eye-catching. It was a stunning experience and very different from the Australian bushland I’d come to love after working in habitat management for years.
With treeless plains and stout vegetation, nothing above knee height, it felt more like walking through the highlands of Scotland than the rooftop of Australia. The temperature certainly felt Scottish! I had intended to pause for lunch and linger a while to soak up the scenery but the 8 degree temperature and windchill factor, moving on was essential to keeping warm. Just to reiterate, this was in mid-summer January! More’s the pity, as the spot I stopped had some pristine little bogs with some fascinating emergent plants growing in and around them I wanted to explore. Seeing them in all their fragility made me wonder why on earth they used to let cattlemen bring their herds to the plains for a summer feed.
Leaving the plain and descending steeply into the Cobungra Valley, I set up camp for my second night. A steep climb down meant a steep climb out the following morning, and after taking a good hour to cover a single kilometre, signs of civilisation soon began to appear. A couple of emergency shelters for cross-country skiers here and there. The closer I got to Hotham the more ski lifts I encountered, their abandoned theme park vibe leaving me more than a little creeped out. Coming to the end of a new walk, there’s always a sense of achievement, but also a sadness that it’s all over and you have to face reality again. But thankfully I now have plenty on photos on my computer to stare at when things get a bit stressed. A few months later and my feet are back in Melbourne but my head is still in the High Country.
Until next time, happy gardening.