Page 109: The Mount Buffalo Chalet
|The mount buffalo Chalet.|
|Mount Buffalo Chalet, an incredible building in incredible surroundings.|
|On our previous visit to Mount Buffalo we had passed the turn-off to the Chalet, earmarking it for another day. Well, finally that day arrived and to the Chalet we went. What a surprise! Having heard about problems finding anybody to lease the place we had a mental image of some run-down dump of a hotel. How wrong we were. The Chalet was palatial and its terraced gardens were beautifully tended. This Chalet stands at an altitude of around 4,500 feet - way higher than Mount Snowdon in Wales and higher than Ben Nevis, Britain's highest point.|
|The drive to the chalet.|
|As I described previously, the drive up the mountain is steep and the road winds and twists like a demented snake. Periodically there are signs warning of ice on the road. The air temperature was high enough for us to disregard those warnings but we did drive over several sections of wet road. Where the water was coming from we couldn't tell, but had the temperature been lower we appreciated that those wet sections would have been treacherous.|
|Kangaroos playing leapfrog with wombats? Sounds fun . . . but it certainly wasn't fun for this poor little wombat.|
|On the drive up the mountain we saw a road sign that seemed
to indicate that we should be on the lookout for kangaroos playing leapfrog
with wombats. Unfortunately the only wombat we saw was one which didn't
realise that motor vehicles can't leap over you. The plateau used to be
rich in wombats but the introduction of foxes to Australia brought diseases
and now our fast cars add to their plight.
The scenery on the climb is spectacular with craggy rocks, small waterfalls, tumbling creeks and steep drops into deep chasms, all with a backdrop of towering mountains. Once again, as you get higher you climb into the region of the Mountain Ash trees, all dead after a horrendous fire some years ago. It worried us that the skeletal remains extended right to the roadside and were liable to fall across the road without warning. Some already had, as the sawn off trunks indicated. Apparently the Greens object to these trees being felled because of the wildlife that still relies on them. Well, fine, but that doesn't prevent those posing a potential danger to road users from being cleared, does it? Come on, you're supposed to agree with me!
|The one hundred year History.|
|The Chalet itself is located a short way up an access road
off the sole road to Mount Buffalo's summit. The site is the perfect choice,
the building being constructed on a large area of granite set back from
the head of the dramatic Buffalo Gorge. Originally there were two private
'hotels' near the site, owned by far-seeing entrepreneurs who anticipated
the tourist boom. Both men were experienced mountain guides who saw the
need for shelter - for that's all their 'hotels' were - on the mountain.
One of these gatherings of wooden shacks was built just before the area
was dedicated as a national park, the other just after.
In 1909, the Victorian Government recognised the tourist potential and decided to built a huge granite 'castle in the sky'. Well, that never happened but the first stage of the present wooden chalet was built, albeit a 'temporary' structure! The two existing businesses were disposed of, one by demolition and the other in a later bush fire.
|In the back yard of the Chalet - where the sign
said I wasn't allowed to go - was a rather large granite boulder.
In the metal building on the right a generator was running.
|What an undertaking the construction of the Chalet must have
been, given the size of the building, the steepness of the mountain, the
altitude and the state of the road one hundred years ago. There was no mains
power available then and there still isn't; the Chalet has its own generators.
There was no piped water; I don't know where the Chalet presently obtains
its water but it has to be treated before use. There was no sewage treatment
plant for a hostelry with 96 guest rooms, that also had to be provided.
The climate alternated between scorching in summer and freezing in winter
with high winds, rain, hail and snow.
A steam saw mill was dragged up the mountain so the timber could be cut on site. A creek was dammed to supply water for the mill. Lake Catani resulted and is still there; it was used for swimming, fishing and skating when the Chalet was open. The saw miller ran out of seasoned wood and was instructed to carry on with green timber. He was appalled; green wood would shrink and warp as it dried out. It was totally unsuitable for building. "Carry on," he was instructed.
|Hello, what have we here? It's a swimming pool in need of a spot of paint and a lot of water.|
|Initially the Chalet had no lining to the outside walls and
no heating. The first lessee found that the roof was leaking and a lot of
bedding was ruined. Window catches snapped and the windows swung in the
wind, breaking the glass and causing cold draughts through the building.
Guests arrived for meals in overcoats and wrapped in blankets. The gas lighting
plant repeatedly failed leaving guests in candle light. There was no refrigeration
for the food and brown water flowed from the taps. Waste food disposal and
the septic system resulted in noxious odours. The kitchens became, and remained,
dirty. In its early days the Chalet must have made Fawlty Towers seem like
Later Victorian Railways took over the lease. The Government wouldn't allow the Chalet a liquor licence so entrepreneurial guests travelled down to Porepunkah and returned with carts loaded with drink which they sold to fellow guests. Everything operated on train tickets. Want to go horse riding? Here's your ticket.
At first arriving guests would travel by train to Bright where they stayed in a hotel overnight before taking a stage coach to Buffalo. When Victorian Railways took over the Chalet lease they updated Porepunkah Station and supplied transport from there to the Chalet making it a same-day journey and keeping all the profit for themselves. The traders of Bright were furious but to no avail. Even so, the Railway only made a small profit in two out of the twenty years that it leased the Chalet!
|During our visit there was a constant succession
of airliners flying high over the mountain,
all on the same heading, probably bound for Melbourne or Adelaide.
|The journey to the Chalet from Melbourne was an adventure in itself and - amazingly - guests would tend to stay for long periods, despite the archaic state of the accommodation. In fact, the same people would return year after year for the horse riding, ice skating, skiing or bush walking, such was the incredible allure of the mountain. The views from around the Chalet were - still are - spectacular and the relaxed atmosphere of the place seemed to get into people's blood. We have never set foot inside the doors but we are totally captivated by the Chalet; as soon as we win the big lottery we'll be taking it over and giving it a major upgrade so you must all be ready to visit. You won't be disappointed.|
|The view from Echo Lookout near the Chalet. The
red dot on the right indicates where our caravan is located
behind a stand of pines. It's only about 9 km. as the crow flies but about 30 tortuous kilometres by road.
|The Mount Buffalo Chalet Today.|
The last lessee negotiated with Parks Victoria for an
early release and the Chalet is currently looking for new management.
Doubtless it needs a great deal of internal modernisation but anyone who
takes it on is hamstrung by its heritage status.
There is a need to restore and upgrade various parts of the Chalet in order to comply with current regulations and to provide better visitor amenities. This, in addition to the removal of inappropriate layers of development from the period after 1940 is supported by Heritage Victoria. However, heritage permits will be required to undertake redevelopment and refurbishment work at the Chalet.
Ho-ho-ho, now there's a can of worms if ever there was one! We'd better make our lottery win in the billions rather than millions.
Here we have a wooden ramp perched over a thousand foot drop. What could it be for?
|The almost sheer granite faces of the Buffalo Gorge.|
|So there you have it, good friends, the Buffalo Chalet. Watch these pages for news of our lottery win. It might not be tomorrow as we haven't started doing the lottery yet, but when we win we'll bring the Chalet up to world's best standards and we'll all party every night. They'll hear us in Melbourne. There's only one rule: No politicians.|