Story By Mark Muller
Buchan Caves Reserve sits nestled in the folds of a beautiful Gippsland valley. Described as the gateway to the Snowies, it’s the sort of place that you nevertheless have to be told about. Popular as it is, it’s easy to drive by and miss out on one of the real gems of Australian camping. The reserve is home to an exquisite series of caves, beautiful bushland and one of the most charming caravan and campgrounds you’ll find. Part of this charm lies in the exotic trees that stand mature sentinel throughout the park area, which was originally landscaped in the 1930s. For back in the early days when such things were in vogue, other parks and visitors would send trees to Buchan to add to what is virtually an arboretum. Sequoias, maples, elms, poplars and the like are dotted across the lush lawn of the valley floor, which is kept meticulously trimmed by mobs of mellow kangaroos. It may not be the done thing now – and there is of course great beauty to be had in our own fine eucalypt – but the exotic trees lend something old-worldly to Buchan. The caves themselves were discovered 100 years ago (the reserve marked its centenary in 2007) and it is this long history that is part of the ambience to be experienced there.
For ranger-in-charge Dale Calnin, the appeal of Buchan has kept him there for the past 30 years. “Certainly the caves are world-class,” he says. “But there’s more to it. There are 260 hectares in the reserve and good walking tracks throughout – I just love it here.”
Buchan may be the gateway to the Snowies if you’re heading north, but it is also the gateway to the lakes and coast of Gippsland if you’re coming south along the Barry Way, a truly beautiful drive in itself. Whichever way you’re travelling, it’s well worth stopping for at least a couple of days, or indeed making Buchan a base for exploring to both the north and south.
You don’t need a caravan. While Buchan has more than 60 camping sites, 40 of them powered, it is also the first place that Parks Victoria has rolled out a new concept in accommodation – “Wilderness Retreats”. These amount to voluminous permanent tents that borrow much from the luxury safari camps of Africa and are becoming increasingly popular in Australia. These steel-framed tents are elevated and weather-proof and have big, polished timber beds that allow you to lay to rest between fine cotton sheets, well worth considering if your days in a swag are behind you, and you don’t want to haul a van.
Buchan Caves Reserve is 360 kilometres east of Melbourne. Powered sites start at $22 per night during peak season. Wilderness Retreats cost $120 (double) per night; minimum two-night stay. Cave tours start at $13 for adults. Visit www.parkweb.vic.gov.au or phone 131 963.
This story excerpt is from Issue #57
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008