Looking down at the sheer drop, my vertigo is back with a vengeance. I’m not sure whether it’s caused by a recurring inner ear playing havoc or the fact that I’m standing twenty metres off the ground, in a canopy of mountain gums.
We’re walking along the edge of a historic trestle bridge in the thick of the Loch Valley, not far out of Noojee, a small forest town in the wilds of Gippsland. This beautiful area is a fabulous place for some scenic touring. It’s green and lush and possibly one of the wettest places in Victoria, but don’t let that deter you.
The word “Noojee” is Aboriginal for “resting place”, an apt description for this region which combines adventure and relaxation and a chance to camp amongst some of the prettiest forest in Gippsland. We last ventured here four years ago and, although we don’t often return to the same camp spot, there’s something infinitely special about this historic timber town, whether in the depths of winter or in the warmer seasons.
The Loch Valley and Noojee is less than two hours from Melbourne, about 129kms from the CBD. It can be reached via the M1 Princes Highway, turning left at the Drouin exit, or you can take the scenic route via Powelltown, a small settlement with a long history of timber mills and tramways. It’s an easy drive even with a caravan, just watch out for the logging trucks.
Noojee is tiny, though it was once a major timber town. A sawmill still operates but the town’s importance has significantly declined. Today it consists of a pub, a general store, a post office and The Little Red Duck café, which serves great coffee and delicious home-made food. There’s also a water wheel in town, beside the Latrobe River, behind the Noojee pub, a popular place on weekends. A recent addition since our last visit is the Heritage Centre, located at the restored railway station and detailing the forestry history of the area. You can’t miss it, there’s a 1950s J Class locomotive out the front.
There are two main free camps in the area, the large Toorongo Falls Campground and the more intimate Poplars, located in the picturesque Loch Valley, not far from Noojee, which is where we set up camp. There’s twenty camp sites in this dog-friendly campground, plus fire pits and drop toilets close by. The campsites are bordered by poplars, close to the creek and shaded by large gums. It was quiet when we arrived on the Friday, except for the kookaburras, and we secured a nice flat site, large enough for three vans, with a table and a fire pit in the middle.
Once our camp was set up and, with the day slowly disappearing and the cold seeping in, collecting firewood was our first mission. Fortunately, there are numerous tracks close to camp where you can find plenty of fallen timber.
One of the best tracks to check out is the driveway that leads to the Toolshed Bar and Outback Bistro. This is undoubtedly the town’s most famous watering hole. It was originally a tool and chook shed but is now famous for its corrugated iron bar, massive fire place, good beer and exceptional food. Call in for a beer, soak up the friendly atmosphere and choose from one of their 12 parmas. Those who prefer to catch their own dinner can visit the well-stocked Alpine Trout Farm nearby, for a guaranteed fresh catch of the day.
For us back at camp, the blazing fire was soon the central point of our campsite and the biggest decision wasn’t what to throw over the coals for dinner but what drinks to have beforehand.
Whilst the fire was burning down I ambled down to the creek hoping to find platypus. This place is abundant with nature: kookaburras, crows, rosellas, magpies and hordes of blue wrens that took a liking to our warm fire.
With the temperature dropping below zero that night, away from the fire and inside our camper it was arctic. Fortunately these days, in our new Journey, we have a gas diesel heater which we’re looking forward to using on future trips.
Back in the tiny town, the Heritage Centre at the restored Noojee station is worth a visit when you’re passing through. The Centre gives an insight into the local history and, even if it’s not officially open, there are plenty of interpretative signs near the JClass Locomotive on display. From the car park there’s a flat and easy walk from the centre to the Trestle Bridge on the old rail trail.
This bridge, standing at an impressive 20 metres tall and 100 metres long, is the tallest surviving wooden trestle bridges in Victoria, a legacy from the old railway that ran from Noojee to Warragul.
The bridge is the last one remaining of seven bridges originally built in 1919 as part of a railway used to freight timber out of the district along a broad gauge railway. The bridge was rebuilt in 1939 after being burned in the Black Friday Bushfires of that same year.
In its heyday the train line carried goods and passenger trains and was an impressive sight crossing the heights of the valley, though it would have been a slow trip. Apparently the 143km trip from Flinders Street Station to Noojee took six hours. The line was last used in 1954 when locals travelled to Warragul to see Queen Elizabeth 11 during her first Australian tour.
Today you can walk across the bridge, snap your pics and soak up the serenity. Just watch out if you suffer vertigo! The bridge is preserved as part of the Noojee Trestle Bridge Rail Trail which runs between the old station site at Noojee and the bridge.
Another must see walk in the area is to Toorongo Falls. It’s an easy circuit of 1.5km, which leads deep into mountain ash forest and towering tree ferns alongside the Toorongo River. The track follows the cascading Little Toorongo River up a winding gully track, leading to a viewing platform.
Amid the lush greenery and giant trees there’s heaps to see along the path: funghi, snails, moss on rocks, frothy streams that look like rice mounds, all tiny reminders to slow down and take it all in. From Tooronga Falls we continued onwards to the beautiful Amphitheatre Falls.
If you fancy hitting the snow fields, travel onwards through Noojee, past Icy Creek and the tiny hamlet of Tanjil Bren and you’ll reach Mount Baw Baw. In the colder months this is a favourite spot for snowboarders and cross country skiers, but even when the snow melts, this alpine village is magical.
The forests around Noojee have some of the tallest timber you’re likely to see but undoubtedly the largest is the Ada Tree. It’s well worth the detour from the Powelltown Noojee road to do this pretty 1.6km hike. The Ada tree towers above the forest and at 76 metres high, she’s one of the largest trees in Australia, an ancient mountain ash estimated to be over 300 years old.
Noojee is a magical place that sits amongst some of Victoria’s most spectacular mountain country. Its close proximity to Melbourne, accessible free camp areas and fabulous scenery will keep the most ardent adventurer satisfied and itching to return, in any season.