I think Mount Howitt is my favourite mountain in the state.
It’s a wonderful peak that feels nice and remote, that sits on ancient trade routes, at the confluence of the Howqua, Wonnangatta and Macalister Rivers. Its always a bit of work to get into – there are no roads within about 7 kilometres.
The mountain is surrounded by deep valleys, where forests of Manna Gum dominate. As you climb to higher altitudes, Mountain Gum – Snow Gum forests begin to dominate, then eventually you climb above tree line. The summit plateau is a broad area, almost like a plain, and holds snow well into spring on the east side, while on the west, the Howitt Spur drops steeply to the Howqua Valley.
The hard way in is up Howitt Spur, from the Howqua. Follow the old 4WD upriver to where the river splits into north and south branches, then upwards. Its a good few hours of hard walking to the tree line, as Mt Magdala rises up on your south side, and finally that wonderful view back out west along the Howqua valley, the calls of Currawong and Ravens, that nice open summit and the steep drop of the north face. There are many others, of course, the through walk on the Alpine Walking Track, up Stanley Name Spur onto the Crosscut, or the easiest way in – from the Howitt Road, across several k’s of undulating snow gum and meadows.
Aboriginal people used the King and Howqua areas as major trade routes across the Great Dividing Range from Gippsland into western and central Victoria, including over Mount Howitt itself. They also had several quarries in the area that yielded the hard greenstone which was highly valued for tools and weapons. This is the headwaters of Taungurung country, the Goulburn River people. There were nine clans of the Taungurung. According to the Delatite Indigenous Reference Group, the Yowung illum balluk, or stone dwelling people, lived on the Delatite River and up into the mountains around Howitt. Over the east and south side is Gunnai/ Kurnai country (some researchers say that the Braiakaulung of the Gunnai/ Kurnai were also associated with the mountain).
Early European accounts talk of the trails up along the high country and the early gold miners followed trade routes up the Howqua River. Fison and Howitt, in their work on the Kurnai people, first published in 1880, tell the story of a Gippsland warrior retreating into the mountains, chased by settlers. He lead them way up into the hills, finally disappearing somewhere on the Howitt Plains, something like 150 km from where the pursuit started.
Farmers from the Mansfield plains claimed it for a while, summer grazing their cows on the alpine pastures, and loggers ventured into the deep vallies below from about the 1940s. But up on top, the flowers are coming back – the cows are long gone – and the streams rip up the old four wheel drive tracks in the spring floods and each year it seems that bit more remote from the 21st century, a rarity and a blessing.
In the mist – a journey to Mt Howitt