An outdoor adventure to Big River on the border of the Lake Eildon National Park.
Unlike our previous camping trip to Toorongo Falls, we were unsure of which campsite we would stay at along the Big River. The Taponga, Jimmy Bullocks, Big River, The Pines, Bulldog Flat and Burnt Bridge campsites were all within a 5 minute drive of each other, so we decided to visit each one before making our decision.
Having found such a relaxing site at Toorongo Falls, we set our standards high and set out to find a sheltered spot somewhere along the river bank.
We left the eastern suburbs at 5:30am and headed down Maroondah Highway through Wonga Park and Yering, stopping at our usual spot – Roadrunners Roadhouse in Coldstream – for breakfast. We continued along Maroondah Highway through Healesville, the Black Spur and Buxton before taking the Taggerty-Thornton Road to the Goulburn Valley Highway. Turning off the Goulburn Valley Highway, we started the 45 minute journey along Eildon-Jamieson Road; winding our way through incredible bush landscapes that ranged from rugged hills with open woodlands through to dense forest. Google Maps guided us until a few kilometres from the Taponga campsite, which was relatively well signed and accessible by car or caravan.
We arrived at the Taponga campsite 8:30am to find a large, protected campsite that was empty but close to the road and set back from the river. We spent a few minutes walking through the campsite, finding the river hidden at the end of a walking track and surrounded by dense bush. While the campsite was certainly nice, the sound of the passing cars and location of the river made it easy to eliminate the site from our list of options. We hopped back into the Hilux and found the Jimmy Bullocks site only a few hundred metres down the road. This site, while close to the road and set back from the river, was popular with motorbikes and caravans as it was easily accessible and had a range of large sites to choose from.
Like the Taponga site, we crossed Jimmy Bullocks off our list and continued along down the road to the Big River campsite.
When we arrived at the Big River site, we were immediately optimistic; a large campsite, only one other tent set up and no noise from passing traffic. We drove through the site and found a short walking track that led to the pebbled river bank. We walked along the track to find what we had been searching for; a flat, shaded spot set up on the river bank with only the sound of birds and the flowing river for company. We stopped for a few minutes to take in our surroundings and snap a few selfies, before reluctantly returning to the Hilux to visit the remaining three campsites.
Of the remaining three campsites, Burnt Bridge offered the most appealing alternative to our spot at Big River. Driving through what seemed like an endless maze of twisting tracks and sites, we arrived at the end of the main track to find an incredible view through the forest, out to the river and pebbled banks. We decided that it might be a better spot for camping during the cooler months, as the views were spectacular but our tent would be unprotected from the sun.
Unfortunately, The Pines was closed due to back burning, and while the Bulldog Flat was an amazing site surrounded by gorgeous forest, we were keen to camp by the river. We knew we had our ideal spot, so we headed back to get settled in.
We set the tent up and unpacked our latest ‘glamping’ purchases – two Wanderer KingCamp100 mattresses and two LifeStraw Go drink bottles from Rays Outdoors. We don’t mind roughing it up while hiking, but drive-in camping – for us – is about relaxing and enjoyment. We visited a range of outdoor stores and tried every available self-inflating mattress, with the KingCamp100 being by far the most comfortable and akin to sleeping on a comfortable bed at home.
They did take up a bit more space in the tent than we were expecting, but it’s certainly a sacrifice we were prepared to make.
Having spent some time exploring the campsite and enjoying the view from the tent, we set off along down the road to Jamieson for lunch. The 45 minute journey to Jamieson was equally as beautiful as the drive from Eildon to the campsite, with the landscape changing constantly as we moved through the hills and valleys. We crossed the Goulburn River and made our way to the town centre, where we hoped to try the parma from the pub. While the barman was friendly, the pub was very dark, empty and uninviting, so we headed down the street to Deb’s Jamieson Cafe. Our eyes may have been larger than our stomachs, as we ordered three pies, a sausage roll and chips to share. Unfortunately we had to sit inside the cafe as the town was inundated with wasps fleeing from the back burning, but it did give us a chance to chat to some other people who were visiting the town. The food was very nice and the staff were more than happy to provide some suggestions for things to see and do in the local area. It was a really enjoyable lunch and we’d certainly recommend the cafe to anyone passing through Jamieson.
After lunch, we retreated to our tent for a nap and some reading. We had spent a large part of the day driving, so it was nice to relax and enjoy a lazy afternoon with the sound of the river in the background.
Well rested and still keen to sample a local parma, we set off for Eildon at 5:30pm. After another 45 minute drive, we arrived to find a town that was far quieter than we were expecting for a Friday night. We drove through the town centre and along some of the main streets, but didn’t manage to find any restaurants or a pub worth visiting. Slightly disappointed, we jumped on Google and found what seemed to be our only option; the Aqua Bar & Café. The reviews ranged from good to bad, with one review from Junnay on Trip Advisor being fairly reflective of our experience:
This place is in a fantastic location overlooking the houseboat mariner and Lake Eildon and could be an absolute gem, but it’s very lacklustre when it comes to the food and service. They try hard, but just can’t quite get it together. It’s really hit and miss, some days good, others terrible. Maybe just go for the views and have a drink? – Junnay (Melbourne)
The food was ok but not worth returning for, with the biggest disappointment being a coin-flip between not offering a parma on the menu and the standard of the desserts. We sampled a few of the cakes, but none came close to matching the promise they had while they were sitting in the display fridge. The staff were friendly and the view was nice, but the restaurant may survive simply by being the only option in a quiet town. If we had to go back we would, but only because there isn’t another choice.
As we drove back to the camp, the forest seemed to envelope us; with only glimpses visible as the Hilux’s headlights pierced through the darkness. We drove slowly and made the most of the blackened journey, listening to music and chatting about life until we reached the campsite. It wasn’t long before we were tucked up safely in our sleeping bags, delighted in our decision to splash out on new mattresses. As with our previous trip, the sound of the gently flowing river sent us gently to sleep.
We woke early the next morning and in no great rush to get out of our sleeping bags. We spent close to an hour reading in the tent and talking until we mustered up the courage to brave the river for a morning dip. Unsurprisingly, the water was as cold as we were expecting it to be, but it did wake us up and helped kick-start us into gear. We reluctantly packed up the tent and loaded our bags into the Hilux, ready for the drive home. We stopped for breakfast at the 4-Ways Cafe and Diner and were greeted by a lovely owner who was more than happy to chat and ask us about our adventure. We tucked into the sort of breakfast that can only be justified while on an adventure – a schnitzel roll with a yo-yo cookie – before completing the final leg of the drive home.
The Big River Campsite is a fantastic campsite for all types of campers. Whether you prefer a tent, a caravan or a swag, it really is a great place to visit and is easily accessible by car, 4WD, truck or bike. The two and a half hour drive from the eastern suburbs is a little bit further than other places you could camp – and the nearest towns are 45 minutes from the site – so we would recommend bringing your own food if you wanted to stay more than one night. We’ll certainly be revisiting the area soon to camp at the Burnt Bridge site.