Fred’s Hut is the place to be for AOR adventurers, with magnificent scenery and the best camp feast you’ll ever encounter
If Fred Fry could see his hut now, he’d be amazed. Old Fred was an icon of the Victorian High Country, building a good many huts in the Howqua Hills area where he led a bushman’s life couriering with cattle drays, prospecting and fishing. Life could be worse…
Fry’s Hut sits deep in a magnificent valley, a large grassy camp with the bubbling crystal-clear Howqua River threading its way down from its headwaters on the western side of the Victorian Alps between Mount Howitt and Mount Buller. It meanders its way through the flats, gorges and ranges below snowfields, rainforest and mountain, manna and snow gums, before eventually meeting with the mighty Goulburn River and on to Lake Eildon.
Spring erupts with crisp mountain mornings that become warm, sun-filled days, before the night-time brilliance of starry skies through the billowing smoke of roaring open fires. This is a destination that teases the senses with magnificent views, the smells of the bush and crispy bacon, the gentle tumble of a mountain stream, singing birds, and a plethora of wildlife merrily grazing on the green fields. And yes, there is the occasional snake.
Parks Victoria manage the large camping area which, along with the nearby Sheepyard Flat, is extremely popular with horse riders, fishos, 4WDers, bushwalkers and families simply wanting to camp in the beautiful valleys surrounded by the alps.
Fry’s Hut is the site for the annual Australian Off Road Campers (AOR) owners get-together, a jamboree that has quickly gained momentum growing from 19 campers in 2013 to a massive record of 73 campers for its most recent adventure. This was the sixth annual gathering and, from the overall response, it won’t be the last.
This is a friendly soiree put together purely by the owners of these premium Queensland-manufactured campers that have a massive following throughout the country. While there are still a few original Odyssey pop-tops, the bulk of the group are high-end hybrids such as the magnificent Quantum and Quantum Plus, Matrix pop-top, Eclipse and the top-of-the-range Aurora, ranging from around $70k to a whopping $160k. AOR present beautifully manufactured and equipped trailers that are designed for extended touring by adventurous owners that appreciate quality and comfort with all the trimmings.
The gathering is organised by Bright, Victoria-based AOR owners John and Annie Robinson, who arrive on site some days before the event to claim the campsites and even mark out the layout due to the vast number of attendees. There’s a central marquee for gatherings with large firepits welcoming the owners who travel from all over the country for the event like bees to a honey pot. We even had visitors from as far afield as Western Australia.
While it’s mainly a four-day affair, many take the opportunity to stay longer to enjoy like-minded company and explore the magnificent Victoria Alps and Alpine National Park. This is truly the ‘Man from Snowy River’ country that is simply alive with wildlife and exceptionally popular with large groups of horse riders enjoying the hills after the snow melt. Some campers actually come here during the snow season and use it as a base to travel to the high peaks for both downhill and cross-country skiing.
It’s a very sociable affair, with travellers sharing their intrepid tales of adventure and a great spot to discuss the virtues of future treks with those that have already experienced them. It’s not only a place to catch up with some old friends, but one that extends a heart-warming welcome to newcomers.
While there are some organised daytime activities such as off-road 4WD treks through the high mountain tracks, some prefer to cast a line for a wily spotted river fox (trout), walk, climb, swim or perhaps drive into the surrounding tourist highlights. There’s untold adventure to explore in the surrounding mountains plus nearby towns like Mansfield and Merrijig, the gateway to the snowfields. Some prefer to just put the feet up with a frothy and enjoy the ambience.
The ‘Pirates Dinner’ on the Saturday night brings the whole group around the marquee with roaring campfires. Every camp cooks up one of their favourite dishes and shares it with the group. We had Thai and Indian curries, roasted, fried and cured meats, fish and poultry, a great selection of vegetables and a concoction of interesting salads, as well as my personal favourite – homemade German sausages with sauerkraut. The desserts followed, with everything from baked shortbreads, pavlova, cheesecakes and even the delicious old-time favourite: bread-and-butter pudding! The celebrations began in the early evening with some still enjoying the experience into the wee hours, albeit with a few sore heads and bleary eyes the next morning.
Yet the most memorable activity is the photo competition. Photography and fishing have risen to the two most popular activities of RV users according to recent surveys, and with the high-quality cameras that many smartphones have nowadays, any traveller can snapshot memories like an expert.
The campers are invited to create a display of their travels in their own annexe and all of the attendees do the rounds to judge their favourites. There were some magnificent displays of on-road, off-road, wildlife and landscape photography. There were three prizes offered with one for the best set of six images as voted by all of the campers, and another for the overall best image, both won by Bill and Joy Danaher from Canberra, plus another award for the best display awarded to Peter and Anne Davis from Inverloch, Victoria.
I found the entire AOR owners group to be exceptionally lovely people arriving at the conclusion that such appealing characters are endemic to the brand. The common thread was their love for their individual AORs and of course their towing vehicles, predominantly LandCruisers, however, the rebel Land Rover Hill segment proudly took a stand displaying their flags. Talking to a good many of the attendees there was a common theme of great towing confidence in their AORs, particularly as their units are no wider than the towing vehicles. Photo competition winner Bill Danaher said, “I could never buy any camper that doesn’t have a diesel heater!” … but then again, he and wife Joy are from Canberra.
Unfortunately I was unexpectedly detained this year and missed the opportunity to be the judge of the overall best image, which in hindsight is probably a good thing after the merriment of previous years where many campers tried to bribe the judge (and his faithful dog) with copious quantities of food and alcohol –all in good fun!
I found the entire AOR owners group to be exceptionally lovely people arriving at the conclusion that such appealing characters are endemic to the brand. The common thread was their love for their individual AORs and of course their towing vehicles, predominantly Land Cruisers, however the rebel Land Rover Hill segment proudly took a stand displaying their flags. Talking to a good many of the attendees there was a common theme of great towing confidence in their AORs, particularly as their units are no wider than the towing vehicles. Photo competition winner Bill Danaher said, “I could never buy any camper that doesn’t have a diesel heater!” … but then again, he and wife Joy are from Canberra.
Most of the owners commented on how well the AORs performed on the many miles of heavy corrugations that are common all over this huge country. The other common love was the ease of set up when you finally arrive after a big day on the road, or the fact that you have such easy access for a roadside break. But the most common response was the ability to be self-contained and capable of extended outings into remote areas.
Many people feel a little unsure, and perhaps a tiny bit scared, to take off by themselves on extended trips around Australia, so I asked a large group of owners if they had ever had trouble on the road. I was amazed with all of the shaking heads, with one woman saying “you’re never alone!” Many did confess that back-to-base GPS and personal locator beacons were a big comfort when out alone in remote regions.
The AOR owners gathering at Fry’s Hut is the venue to forge long-term friendships and develop plans for the next sojourn. Owners gatherings like these, no matter the brand, provide a great place to share knowledge with those of similar interests exchanging individual experiences that enhance that dream life on the road – preferably with your premium AOR camper, of course.