Mt Buffalo Chalet: Garden of the gods

By Siobhan Ritchie 12 April 2010
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A beloved Victorian mountain lodge, and Australia’s first ski resort, is celebrating its 100th birthday.

HIGH IN THE VICTORIAN highlands, nestled among the bush and boasting spectacular views, the Mount Buffalo Chalet started as a playground for budding adventurers – and is turning 100 in May.

Perched 1000 m above the surrounding valley, among land described by geologist E.T. Dunn as “the garden of the gods”, the chalet was one of the most popular destinations in the Mount Buffalo National Park.

Built at Bent’s Lookout overlooking the Gorge in 1910 by the Victorian government, the chalet, according to the park’s chief ranger Peter Jacobs, was once pretty conservative.

“There was no alcohol and everything operated on train tickets because it was run by Victorian Railways,” he says. “Originally people came to the chalet by horse or rudimentary vehicle, then by a train and bus. The way used to be quite an adventure and people tended to stay for longer periods. The [chalet’s] historical ambience is still maintained today.”

THE CHALET SITS ON the site of one of the original accommodations in Mount Buffalo NP built by James Manfield, a settler who originally led prospectors on a vain search for gold in the region. Visitors flocked to the area and, seeing the opportunity for tourism the government evicted Manfield, destroyed his chalet and built Mount Buffalo Chalet, now listed as a place of significance on the National Heritage List.

At first unheated the chalet offered its guests basic lodgings but despite this was extremely popular with guests who returned year after year in all seasons to take up horse riding, ice skating, skiing, bushwalking or simply to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and beautiful views out over the Gorge. “A lot of people have very strong connections to the Chalet,” Peter says. “There are some that have been coming for generations.” One example is the Whitcroft family, that has returned for generations after Laurel’s honeymoon in the 1950s sparked an affinity with the building (see video below).

“It’s a tradition in our family to go to Mount Buffalo Chalet,” Laurel says. “This love has lasted through four generations.”

TODAY, THE CHALET remains in the hands of Parks Victoria who hope to find an operator that will be sympathetic to the refurbishment of one of their most prized sites and maintain its character and charm.

On May 8 a day of celebrations will be held to mark the chalet turning 100. Among other things visitors will be able to look in and around the famous chalet, hear people speak about their past involvement with the historic landmark and take interpretive heritage walks in the Gorge.

“There will be music and activities, it’s going to be good,” says Peter. With something for everyone to enjoy this winter it seems that, occupied or not, the Mount Buffalo Chalet will continue to encourage and captivate visitors.

For more information, visit the chalet’s website.

Australian Geographic thanks the James Northfield Heritage Arts Trust for the use of the historic poster advertising Mt Buffalo National Park and the chalet.