Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Snowy River Catchment Falls

Early Spring unleashes the melt waters of the Australian Alps.


Nimmitabel, Flour Mill

The best adventures start with a tower. We are a bit short on towers in Australia, so we will have to make do with the ruins of the old flour windmill at the lonely town of Nimmitabel. The town is on the edge of an alpine desert, but within coo-ee of the eastern rainforests, the high forests, the supposed resting place of the bushranger the Long Tailor and the cascades of the Snowy River.

Nimmitabel is a gem - full of surprises (like the elephant next to the pie shop - and the pies are pretty good too).

Buckleys Crossing, Delegate

Weir at Buckleys Crossing
Down Dalgety way is a bit desperate in dry years but when the snow starts to melt, the Snowy is going to be running hard very soon.

About 200 years ago, at the time of white settlement, the Snowy River in South East Australia was a fierce torrent.  High and unpredictable, it was a tangible barrier to exploration and trade.  The river could only be crossed reliably at a couple of points – and these places became small towns.

I had been searching for one of these crossings, in many western districts referred to as falls. In a coronial inquest from the time, the place I was searching for was called Buckleys Crossing.  A couple of years ago, while filming a history of the coronial, I came across it by accident.  Crossing the Snowy River at the town of Delegate I found the Buckley’s Crossing Hotel on the side of the river.  Scratching the surface, I found that the Buckley brothers had used an old first people crossing to establish a route into northern Victoria in 1839 using the crossing at this point, and that it was used as the launch point for cattle drives into that part of the country.

When Australia embraced the hydro-electricity after the Second World War, water from the Snowy River was diverted from the coast into inland rivers.  The Snowy River was reduced to a barren rocky creek, and its surrounds dried out and died.  At the coast, salt water moved into the mouth of the river, poisoning the fertile farm lands on the Victorian coast.  Recently, protests from rural areas finally have been heard, and some of the flow of the Snowy River has been restored.

Back in January 1867, when the town was still called Buckleys Crossing, the river still ran deep and swift.  A place beyond the law – a pathway for stolen cattle into the South.  There was an inn and a punt took travelers across the river.  I sat by the river for a little while and thought about the Long Tailor, camped here, the night before his supposed death.  Risking coming into the hotel, speaking to the barkeep, seeking directions to the South – into Gippsland.  Topping up his flask with hard liquor and telling the barkeeper he was called “Jemmy the Warrigal”.

Delegate had one last moment in the sun – it was unsuccessfully proposed as the location for the nation’s capital.

The cascades and falls of the Upper Snowy River, Byadbo Wilderness 

The upper Snowy River has a number of pinches and rapids. There are at least three named river falls along the upper reaches - more rapids or races than a traditional waterfall.

Australians consider the Snowy River to be their iconic River, but the reasons for that have little to do with any real experience. Few people come here. Hydro schemes cut the water flow to it to just 1% of annual flow. Recently, under great pressure, the flow has been returned to 10%. Still, apart from the time of the snow melt, it is just a shadow of its former self.

Mckillops Bridge
 But the roads in to this area are horrifying. The river and its tributaries drop drop 100-600m from the hills in the distance, but the falls are in remote locations. At first glance it might appear that their is reasonable access to the upper river - but that is an illusion. The roads that follow the upper reaches of the river are some of the most dangerous in the world. Even if you don't fall off the edge, you run the risk of a heart attack.

Jacobs River

Jacobs River Cascades

About 20 kms south of Australia's highest mainland mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, this creek has dropped a couple of hundred meters and is running with recent snow melt. This is about the first bit of flat ground the creek has seen.
At the pinch point, a small bed of moss cushions the turbulence.
A wide angle shot to catch upstream views and the sparse dry environment of the alpine region.

Half-way Flat

Brumby reflected in the Snowy River

Along this part of the river there are numerous rapids and at least three smaller river falls but the views of the river valley are worthwhile by themselves.

Wild ponies (brumbies) can be found throughout Australia's wilderness areas. It is a tough life. A few can be found foraging along the banks of the Snowy River near the Pinch River, but stallion mounds can be found at regular intervals along the edge of the river.

Pinch Falls

Flowing with early snow melt, near Pinch Falls, the Snowy hits a rocky stretch.

Pinch Falls, Snowy River

Little River Cascades, Wulgulmerang Wilderness

Emus, grass lands above the falls

The moss banks underlying the upper cascades of these falls have been exposed by the dry conditions. While the bush land nearby is tinder dry, the river bed remains humid.

Moss banks, Little River Cascades

Little River Cascades, Light flow

Little River Cascades, Light flow
The cascades are the prelude to a challenging gorge and a number of high drop waterfalls downstream.

Basin Creek Falls, Buchan

This is a cascade waterfall in the Snowy River National Park. The waterfall is best seen from the base of the fall. A gravel road and walking trail will take you to the cliff edge, from which you may not be able to make out the waterfall, but you will see amazing views of the Snowy River below.

from the top of Basin Falls, the Snowy River

Road access is difficult and very confusing, complicated by the lack of telecommunications facilities. If you are planning to drive here, get a detailed map. Do not rely on road signage. Access is via the Buchan-Orbost Road near the locality of Wilsons Cave. Follow Basin Road and turn onto Old Basin Road until you come to a confusing 5-way intersection. Ignore the Balley Hooly Roads and the Westlea Road at this junction and instead continue along the indistinct steep Old Basin Road which at this point quickly becomes a dangerous single-lane cliff-edge drive alongside the Snowy River. The drive terminates in a very small car park with signage to a track (a strenuous walk) that will take you to the falls. At the cliff edge there is a sign that points at the falls. Exercise great care at this point.
Avoid the area when it rains - in such a case, you will not see the falls, because all the mountain you are standing on becomes a waterfall.

Seldom Seen Creek, Brumby

Taking its name from Mount Seldom Seen, this unexplored small creek is typical of the fractured Gippsland high country. This creek cascades and falls unevenly in the high country, with larger falls on the slopes of the Mountain and down the escarpment to the NE of Gelantipy.

The spiritual world of the First People is populated with distinctly Australian mythical creatures that differ from place to place. Today modern rural dwellers tend to lump them all together under the label 'Bunyip' and use it to scare kids away from dangerous places.

The First People (the insular Kurnai) in this area divided the mythological world into three groups of beings.

The first are the evil Narguns - stone beings that can detach themselves from the sides of mountains or emerge from holes in the ground. They drag travelers to their deaths underground.

The second are the friendly Yabungs that live in trees and give friendly warning of things to come by the crack of a dry branch.

Finally, there are the Mraats, pale colored (like the palm of a first person's hand - the color of death), who were thought to be spirits of the dead.

When the Kurnai first saw pale colored Europeans (mainly Scottish colonialists) they  took fright thinking that they were Mraats.

You may never see a Nargun, Yabung or Mraat, but when alone in the bush you can feel their presence.

W Tree Falls, Buchan

A 20m (60')+  stepped fall close to the Buchan-Gelantipy road. The flow eventually joins the Buchan River before meeting the Snowy River.

Note the tree trunk lodged in the right plunge, and the tree branch balanced above the falls) - a reason to take care if considering swimming in pools below a waterfall.

There appears no obvious way into the ravine (perhaps it is possible to follow the creek to the waterfall base from the road at the bottom of the cliff).

There is an anomaly in the falls, possibly a natural feature. If you look at the lower left rock of this extract from the image, there appears to be an eye, which becomes the figure of an Australian 'platypus' when a wider view is taken.

The small local community boasts a Buddhist retreat, eco villages and a cooperative, mixed in with older farming stations - all of which have had to survive fire and drought in the past decade. An elderly green warrior took a little time to tell me about this place (a place full of whimsical names, like Mount Seldom Seen) and to warn me about trees that storms had brought down on the roads near the alps.

This fall is not signposted, perhaps because parking on the road up the escarpment is very limited. Typical of many basalt falls in the region, this has developed a fan-like shape (which may have contributed to the strange name of the creek) and provides a gentle micro climate for mosses and ferns.

Platypus carving in the center of the W Tree Falls

I think i see a lot of things that are not really there.

Still, if this was a deliberate carving, it caught the movement of the animal rather than its static shape - plus the finer details of the beak.

A platypus would not have been able to pass into the upper reaches of this creek because of the falls - they are quite small. Perhaps this is a place where they left the creek bed in dry times and went cross country in search of water upstream.. And maybe that is the reason for a carving?

Platypus are very timid and this is the shape i remember when they see me and dive. I wonder if the different rock color is indicative of a harder/softer granite, or maybe exfoliation.


W-Tree Falls is poorly sign posted. Drive slowly when nearing the location (you will be travelling up a steep incline along a cliff, so be cautious) - you will see a small area where you can park a car together with some signs about Flora in the area.

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