A short trip back to the Yarra Ranges – Big River Section.
Three days after our trip to the Big River Pines – and wanting to take advantage of the cold weather that seemed to be keeping everyone at home – we were back in the Hilux and heading for Peppermint Ridge Camping Ground, with a quick stop off at Supersoil Garden Centre in Healesville for some kindling and firewood. The drive along Lake Mountain Road proved a different experience this time around, as the temperature was ever so slightly warmer, with no fog to be seen. The lookouts along the road provided some stunning views back toward Marysville, but we decided to wait until the lunch-time trip back into town to stop for photos. We were late leaving home – partially due to both of us ‘sleeping in’ until 5:30am – so we were keen to head straight to the camp site to get settled in.
While making the slow descent to the Big River Road turn-off, we noticed that a dense fog – appearing more like thick cotton wool – blanketed the lower half of the mountain. It wasn’t until we turned on to Big River Road our surroundings changed dramatically. The fog hid the dense forest from our view, barely allowing the sunlight to pierce through. It was an incredible sight that made for some stunning photos and a unique driving experience. The fog did eventually retreat back into the forest as we drove past Petroffs Camping Ground and didn’t return for the remainder of the trip.
When we arrived at Peppermint Creek, we jumped out of the Hilux and walked eagerly to our chosen spot. When we arrived, I realised that despite all of the photos, notes and site assessment summary (see blog post – big river pines camping area), I had managed to confuse myself into thinking the image I had in my head of Peppermint Ridge, was in fact Frenchmans Creek. Both camp sites offered amazing, private camping areas with great river access, with the biggest difference being the forest canopy. The Peppermint Ridge site was well shaded and perfect for winter, but we knew the sun would be out and the sky was going to be clear at night, so we wanted to stay at Frenchmans Creek to take advantage of the exposed nature of the site. We walked quickly back to the Hilux, hoping that the Frenchmans Creek site only a few hundred metres down the road would be available.
When we arrived at Frenchmans Creek, we saw something that we hadn’t seen so far this trip or at all in our previous trip; another tent! Luckily the campers had decided to set up close to the road and entrance, leaving our spot free on the other side of the camp. After parking the car and completing a short walk along a dirt track, we found our spot at the confluence (don’t worry, I had to Google it too – it means the point where two or more bodies of water meet) of Big River and Frenchmans Creek and set up our tent and camp fire.
After relaxing in our camping chairs for a few hours, we headed back to Marysville and once again attempted to have lunch at the Duck Inn. With the Hilux kept in H2 mode, we made it to the pub without incident and ordered our long awaited parmas. The food was excellent and we enjoyed a relaxing chat before heading up the street to find something to take back to the camp for dinner. Having brought no food or equipment with us, we weren’t in a position to cook our meal, so we strolled along the main road in search of something that would keep in take away containers until dinner time. We stopped at Elevation 423 to look at the menu, and we were greeted by one of the owners. We both chose the chicken salad and a ginger beer, until we saw the two specials on offer – butter chicken and goat curry. We both enthusiastically changed our order to goat curry, but the chef was making the curry in preparation for dinner service, so we would have to drive back into town to pick it up. Not wanting to drive back again, we changed our minds again to the butter chicken and went for a stroll to get some fruit for breakfast from the local Foodworks while we waited for dinner.
When we returned to the restaurant, our food was ready and waiting; neatly packed into individual containers so the rice wouldn’t get soggy. The owners knew we were taking it to our camp, so they made sure to include spoons and serviettes in the bag as well. We chatted for a few minutes as the owners told us their story of how they came to own a restaurant in Marysville and how they spent time in both Melbourne and Marysville, depending on the seasons and peak periods. The owners were lovely and clearly passionate about their food and restaurant. While we do enjoy cooking our own meals, supporting local businesses and meeting owners who are both passionate about their businesses, and care about their customers, can be a major highlight of a trip. With butter chicken in arm, we strolled back to the car as relaxed as could be.
The afternoon brought more sunshine and the sounds of the Big River as we sat in our chairs and read. Having only recently remembered that I own an SLR camera, I chose to read parts of the instruction manual; testing out different settings and features.
As daylight began to fade, we decided to eat dinner early to give us plenty of time to get settled in for the night before the temperature dropped. We set up our chairs next to the camp fire and unpacked our butter chicken. As soon as we had figured out a way to balance all of the containers and utensils on our laps, we took one mouthful each and were blown away at just how good it was. The flavours were sensational, with the curry having a slight, spicy kick that took it to a clear level above any other butter chicken curry we had ever had. We both agreed that the combination of the food, setting and tranquility made this one of the very best dining experiences we had ever had.
Having found a way to resolve the fact that dinner had to end at some point, we packed up and sat outside until the darkness set in. The sky was crystal clear and the number of clearly visible stars in the sky was incredible. Living in suburbia, it’s easy to forget just how beautiful the night sky is when there’s no light to hide the stars. We sat in relaxing silence for just over half an hour, breaking the silence only to point out two shooting stars as they tore across the sky.
Once in our sleeping bags, we unpacked our laptops and spent a few hours taking notes for our respective businesses. While I wouldn’t expect that working while camping would be most people’s idea of relaxation or fun, being relaxed and having a clear head provides a great opportunity to reflect and plan. If you get stuck juggling too many thoughts at once, you can easily return to the sounds of the river and breeze for as long as you need to clear your head before re-focusing.
Unlike our previous trip, we didn’t wake up at 5:30am. By the time we were awake and dressed inside the tent, the darkness had started to retreat; making it easier to leave the comfort of the tent to start a camp fire. Breakfast was spent the same way as dinner, by the fire and river, before we decided to go for a walk to fully explore the camp site. We found some walking tracks and more access points to the river before finding a track that took us back to the camp site entrance off Big River Road. As soon as we entered the camp site, we immediately saw what appeared to be a cow hanging from a tree. Being more than slightly curious, we made our way toward the animal where we were greeted warmly by some hunters who had pitched their tents nearby. As it turned out, the cow wasn’t a cow – it was two deer they had shot the previous afternoon. One of the hunters was a chef and the other a butcher; both loved venison and got out into the bush as often as they could. They offered us a piece of venison back strap which we happily accepted – partly because you don’t refuse gifts from people with guns and partly because we had never tried venison before. We returned to the tent and spent another hour relaxing before deciding to head back home before lunch; giving us some time to unpack and organise ourselves for work the next day.
Despite only being another short overnight trip, it was an adventure that left a lasting impression and made us keener than ever to make our way back as soon as we could.