Snowy Mountains Trip
December 2002 - January 2003
Pictures from our December 2002 - January 2003 Snowy Mountains Trip
The last two trips we took to explore parts of Australia involved a fair amount of changing location and packing / unpacking. This time, we wanted to see a new area, but also to stay in one location and just relax a bit. We also liked the idea of exploring a part of Australia which would be both familiar (in the sense of feeling at home) while still different and representative of Australia. To be absolutely frank, what Tim really wanted was to come as close as he could to one of our vacations in Montana, staying in a cabin on the West Fork of the Bitteroot River! So, he did a lot of web surfing and looking at magazines (particularly fly fishing magazines) and Sandy spent some time on the phone - and we ended up at Penderlea, located along the Alpine Way between Thredbo and Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales (immediately adjacent to the Thredbo River, one of Australia's blue ribbon trout streams, and Kosciuszko National Park.)
We decided it would be too hard to try and celebrate Christmas elsewhere, and we really wanted to be able to do a traditional Christmas at home, with tree, decorations, and time to celebrate the season - especially since last Christmas, we were still settling in and dealing with driving lessons and tests, etc. So, we booked into a chalet at Penderlea starting on Boxing Day (Dec 26) and running through January 5. The distance from Adelaide to Penderlea isn't that great, only 1250 kilometers - but it is a long trip timewise. One of the ways in which we have found Australia to be like America in the 1950s or 60s is in the area of roads - Oz is very much like America before the Interstate highways were built (or at least completed). This is not at all surprising, considering that Australia is essentially equal in land area to the continental US, with 1/14 the population - and with most of that population living on the eastern seaboard - they just don't have the resource base to build Interstates running east-west and north-south across the country. There are a few Interstate-like roads, primarily concentrated in or near the half dozen major population centers - but that is not where we were headed. This means that trips take longer than is apparent from the mileage alone. So, we decided to leave at mid-day on Christmas Day, which would hopefully get us into Penderlea late-afternoon on Boxing Day (December 26), with time to find our chalet in daylight, unpack, and still make it to Jindabyne in time to do grocery shopping.
We left Adelaide about 12:30, and didn't have long to wait for our first "surprise." We were going down the eastern slope of the Adelaide Hills, and noticed a car on the side of the road, and, just beyond it, a police car. Tim checked his speed, and noticed it had crept over the limit going down the hill - but it was too late. The blue lights came on, and Tim received an extra "Christmas present", courtesy of the South Australian police. Not our preferred way to start a holiday. However, we were soon back on our way, crossing the Murray River for the first time at Murray Bridge, where it was broad, slow and gray. Then it was on through Tailem Bend, Lamaroo, Pinnaroo and into Victoria, where we lost a half hour to the time change. (Yes, half an hour.)
We were now on the Mallee Highway, and the Mallee Plains. This region first came under settlement pressure in the 1860-1890 timeframe, but resisted early settlement efforts. In the late 19th century, the combination of the discovery of the Great Artesian Basin under the area, along with the arrival of sheep and wheat, turned the area into a successful agricultural region. At the time, every yard had a windmill in the back, to pump the water from the bores (bore is the Australian term for a drilled well). The Mallee scrub consists primarily of Mallee bushes, which are tough and resilient, with roots much valued for wood-working. However, these days the land is mostly indistinguishable from the American Midwest - that is, if you ignore the trees (mostly eucalypts) and the color of the soil (reddish brown). There is little of the original Mallee scrub left except along the edges of the roads. We made a short stop in the town of Lameroo. The feeling was very much of a town out of a Western movie - very broad street, not a soul around, and the only sound was that of the wind, and the rope on the flagpole slapping the pole. Strange. Guess everyone was inside enjoying their "Christmas lunch!"
The names of the towns we passed were another indication we weren't in Kansas - Danyo, Cowangie, Boinka, Underbool, Walpeup, Timeroo, Ouyen, Boorongie North (no sign of Boorongie South, or plain Boorongie), Manangatang, Toolybuc, Nyah... And many of the "towns" were simply railroad sidings with a grain elevator. While Underbool had more than a grain elevator, the "Pink Lakes" advertised in the sign are salt lakes tinted by red algae (as we saw on Red Centre trip) - pretty to look at, but not much of a recreational resource! We passed seemingly endless fields of wheat, with occasional potato fields (and racks containing bags of potatoes) along with occasional "paddocks" (fields or pastures) containing cattle or sheep. Our path across the Mallee was fairly straight, whereas the Murray River which we had crossed in South Australia winds its way north to form the northern border between Victoria and New South Wales, and then turns southward again, on its way to its source in the Snowy Mountains. We were drawing ever closer to it, and met up with it again when the Mallee Highway intersected the Murray Valley Highway near Toolybuc.
As we neared the Murray, we began seeing many more vineyards, orchards (oranges, lemons, cherries, etc.) and plantations (poplar, pine, and willows in particular). The poplar is used for matchsticks, the pine for general lumber, and the willows for cricket bats (which, on the face of it, is no stranger than forests of hickory or ash in America which are dedicated to keeping the Louisville Slugger factory churning out baseball bats! But we have yet to see an aluminum cricket bat - so perhaps wooden cricket bats are less endangered than the wooden baseball bats...) There were also a lot more (and bigger) gum trees, and everything was once again much greener. We arrived in Swan Hill about 5:30, and checked into our rooms at the Burke and Wills Best Western Motor Inn.
As a passing note, regarding the name of the motel, here is a quote from the Burke and Wills website developed by the State Library of Victoria:
"The Victorian Exploring Expedition [Burke and Wills] of 1860-1861 was the largest, costliest journey of exploration ever mounted in Australia. It was also one of the worst failures in Australian history, with many lives needlessly lost. Led by Robert O'Hara Burke and his navigator William John Wills, it set out to cross the "deep" continent from southern to northern coast - Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria - at a time when coastal cities were booming but the interior was almost unknown: terra incognita."This was the norm for most explorations of Australia - almost none of the explorers had any clue what they were getting into - almost all of the North American explorers had it easy in comparison - plenty of running water, food to catch / harvest, and reasonable climate (in comparison to large parts of Australia!)
We were prepared to find no restaurants open, and had brought along snack-type foods just in case - but we were lucky and found the only open restaurant in town on Christmas - and, to Tim's pleasure, it was a Chinese restaurant. Our timing was also good, as several groups (including one of 14 people) arrived shortly after us. So, we had a pleasant meal and went back to the motel. The girls had of course immediately noticed the spa (they were hoping for bathtubs on this trip, as they sorely miss not having a bathtub at home!) - finding the spa, they were in heaven. Then it was into bed, and we were up and on our way just before 8 the next morning. We stopped a block away at the McDonald's for breakfast (which had been closed on Christmas). Then we were on our way again. As we passed through the fields, we saw a lot of wooden telephone poles, which surprised us after a year in Adelaide and it's concrete-and-steel Stoby poles. These poles also suggested that even though timber is more plentiful in the river regions, neither the quantity nor quality were very high, as the poles were quite twisted. The fields in the region also showed signs of the problems that accompanied irrigation and land clearing - fertile fields intermingled with salty fields, or even salt pans. Throughout much of Australia, there is a salt table not far below the surface - cutting too many of the native trees or bushes, combined with irrigation, tend to raise the water table sufficiently to intersect the salt - which results in salt fields which are good, at best, for planting with salt bush.
Near Gunbower, a small airstrip marked out with old tires caught Tim's eye. Something else soon after, however, caught the eyes of Sandy and the girls. In Echuca, we came upon one of the high points of the trip for them - the Beechworth Bakery. As their website says, "More than 250 varieties of pies, cakes and pastries are baked fresh daily." Sandy's comment: "Fantastic!" We got snacks, and went down to the river to eat them. Echuca also bills itself as the Paddlewheeler Capital of Australia, and we watched the paddlewheeler Emmy Lou make it's way downriver, then turn on a dime to head back upriver. (See also here.) Then it was back on the road, and eastward again.
We continued along the Murray, and through more agricultural regions. We crossed the Goulburn River where it joins the Murray near Kotupna. The Goulburn is well known for its fly fishing; but at the moment, the water was a very muddy brown - however, one gent was out fishing anyway. We passed more poplar plantations; one plantation near Yarrawonga supplies Brymay's matchstick factory with about 30,000 trees annually, each one of which can produce about 1,500,000 matchsticks. A little further on, we came to Lake Mulwala, one of the large but shallow lakes created by means of a weir (shallow dam) across the Murray, to provide water for irrigation and recreation. In many places, the drowned trees are still standing, in some cases filling large parts of the flooded areas (we saw a small resort adjacent to water like this advertising water skiing - we hope they have a clear area somewhere for the skiing, and aren't simply providing slalom practice amongst the trees!) We also passed a ranch raising deer, and advertising "organic venison" for sale.
Eventually, we came to Corryong - gateway to the Snowy Mountains. The Snowy Mountains (and Kosciuszko National Park in particular, where we were to spend most of our holidays) are part of a larger area spanning eastern Victoria, southwestern New South Wales, and much of the Australian Capital Territory, which are known as the Australian Alps. This region encompasses most of Australia's snow country (outside of Tasmania), and is an attractive region, even more so in winter.
Immediately past Corryong, we crossed the Murray and entered New South Wales. Just past Corryong, we stopped in Khancoban at the National Parks office to get a Park pass and a fishing license for Tim. Then it was just up the road a bit to our first encounter with a piece of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, the Murray 1 Power Station. (The actual plant is not curved as it appears in the picture; that is an artifact of the way we took the picture.)
The Snowy Mountain Scheme is a massive engineering feat which was primarily prompted by the dryness and frequency of drought in western New South Wales and parts of South Australia and Victoria. From the late 19th century onward, these areas were viewed as potentially very good agricultural regions. However - very little rain fell, and, what did was unreliable. Drought routinely decimated crops and sheep flocks. However, in the southeastern part of Australia were the Snowy Mountains, where large amounts of snow (up to 20 meters on the highest peaks) fell each winter - and then melted, turning the Snowy River (and others) into raging torrents, and dumping into the Tasman Sea. However, the two major river chains such as the Murray and its tributaries (flowing to the west into South Australia) and the Snowy and it's tributaries (flowing east and south into Victoria) would routinely nearly dry up during the summer. There had been proposals since the late 19th century to somehow redirect this snowmelt water to the west where it might be useful - but it wasn't until the years of World War II that serious progress was made. Part of the problem was that while the states of Australia became federated in 1901, they were still very strong compared to the federal government and looking out for their own interests. New South Wales wanted water for irrigation of their western arid reaches; however, the New South Wales power board had plans for expanding their coal-fired power generation empire, and really didn't want competition. Victoria and South Australia wanted cheap power as well as water for irrigation. Interestingly, in the end, one of the major proponents who managed to pull the disparate interests together was a wheat farmer / representative from Western Australia (which stood to gain nothing directly from the Snowy project - other than increased national prosperity and security) named Nelson Lemmon.
In 1949, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Act was finally passed, establishing the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority to build and operate the resultant system. The final agreed plan had two major components; the first was to redirect the Eucumbene, upper Murrumbidgee, and upper Tooma rivers into the Tumut River. This water would generate electricity, then reenter the lower Murrumbidgee River and be used for irrigation. The primary storage for this system would be Lake Eucumbene which would result from damming the Eucumbene river. The other half of the scheme would dam the Snowy River, creating Lake Jindabyne, and divert the water to the Murray, first for power generation, then for irrigation. In total, the water of 12 rivers and 71 creeks is captured and diverted. However, both halves of the scheme are connected together by 19 trans-mountain tunnels totaling more than 145 kilometers in length, along with 18 aqueducts totaling 80 kilometers in length. There are 16 dams, 7 power stations (2 of which are underground) - and 2 pumping stations. The pumping stations are used to move water around between reservoirs as needed - however, 98% of the water is transferred via gravity; only 2% requires active pumping. The total rated power output capacity is more than 3.5 gigawatts. However, the finite supply of water limits the amount of power that can actually be generated. A good overview of the scheme and it's history, including some of the special civil engineering challenges and features, as well as maps of portions of the scheme, can be found here.
We only stopped briefly at the Murray 1 Power Station overlook this time, as we were anxious to make it to our chalet, and we knew we had a very twisty, mountainous road ahead of us for the last stretch. The Alpine Way was only "sealed" (paved) in the last couple years (several of the standard guide books and websites still list it as unsealed). So, we headed off into the Snowys, at last. The first thing we noticed (besides the twisty roads, which caught Sandy's attention right away!) were the birds - in particular, the Crimson Rosellas. These are beautiful bright crimson and royal blue parrots, which flock along the road in groups ranging from single birds to 6-8. They are very skittish, and we never did get a good picture of them. We also saw a number of white cockatoos, ravens, magpies, and what we think were a few kestrels.
Once we reached the snow line, we noticed a second very unusual thing - the snow gums (at the time we thought they were snow gums - we weren't sure until we'd had it confirmed by others later). All the pictures we had ever seen of snow gums were of old, gnarled, thick and wildly colored gums - these are the standard "calendar gums." However, the majority of the gums were tall, skinny, very "weedy" looking, with many trunks (or near-vertical branches), more like tall bushes than trees - and they only had vegetation on the very tops of these branches. (See also here.) This made a rather striking view looking across a hillside of these trees, with thousands of skinny white trunks showing in ranks, with patches of thin vegetation across the top. We hypothesized that this growth pattern was due to the fact that the gums are NOT deciduous, and that the vegetation needs to be above snow level in winter. We later found that was correct. This, to us, truly defined the Snowys as a very different eco-system from any we've seen before, and is what we think of now as the "look" of the Snowys.
We crossed Dead Horse Pass, (so named because occasionally the "brumbies" (wild horses) that live in the area get trapped by an early snowfall and die), came down out of the higher, twistier portions of the Alpine Way, and passed out of Kosciuszko National Park. We continued on down the Thredbo Valley, past Thredbo Village Ski Area (a typical high country residential ski resort). Eventually, we came to the Penderlea sign, and turned in. We spent quite some time going up and down dirt roads before realizing there must be another part to Penderlea - we got back on the main road, and a few hundred meters down the road, came to the second Penderlea entrance, and found our chalet quickly. It was large and nicely appointed. Since the chalet was designed to handle 10 skiers in winter, there was plenty of room for us! The girls quickly zeroed in on the loft (with three single beds), and then the spa / sauna / laundry room - which, in addition to a sauna, shower, laundry area (with washer, dryer, sink and hanging area designed to handle lots of wet winter clothes) had a bright red spa!
The nearby town of Jindabyne was somewhat different than we expected. The original town of Jindabyne had to be relocated to higher ground once the Jindabyne dam on the Snowy was completed. However, the town, which has a few thousand residents year round, is supposed to swell to 20-30,000 in winter. Considering how busy it seemed with relatively few people in town (and the relatively few amenities it provided other than seemingly endless winter clothing and sports stores) - we find it hard picture just what a madhouse it must be in winter! However, we found a small grocery store still open relatively late on Boxing Day, got some groceries and takeaway pizza, and went back to the chalet to settle in for the night.
Friday was a leisurely day, dedicated to unpacking and recovery from the trip (for Tim and Sandy), and exploration of the immediate outdoors by Clara and Lucy. They soon had a huge collection of raw materials to make broomsticks and wands and were collecting pretty rocks and flowers with a passion. Tim went into Jindabyne for a few more essentials, including a stop by the fly fishing shop to verify his guided trip for the next day and to browse. In the afternoon, we all piled into the Tribute, and headed back up the Alpine Way to reconnoiter a bit. We drove through the Lake Thredbo Resort, the Thredbo Diggings (a former gold mining site on the Thredbo, now a campground and picnic area), and finally stopped at the Ngarigo Campground.
The Ngarigo are one of the four Aboriginal tribes which share the general Snowy Mountains area, and are the local tribe for the Thredbo area. In summertime, they would move up the valley, and up into the highlands, eventually arriving in the areas where the Bogong moths ended up after their summer migration from the warmer areas to the north. Bogong moths are relatively large (bodies approx 2 inches long) and are an excellent source of protein and fats / oils. The moths tend to gather in crevasses or cracks in rocks in large numbers. The Ngarigo people built smoky fires which suffocated the moths for easy collection. They were then either cooked to remove wings and legs, ground into a paste or cakes, or smoked for preservation.
At Ngarigo, we parked in the campground, then "bushwalked" (largely following wombat trails - which are ok for the girls, but a bit small for Tim and Sandy!) upstream along the Thredbo, til we found a promising spot. Then Tim began fishing, while the girls began climbing rocks and enjoying the flowers, and Sandy found a large boulder and settled in with a good book. Tim had a few strikes, and a couple fish on the line briefly. Many fly fishers, especially those fishing for trout in America, primarily practice catch and release - catch the fish, then let it go so that you (or someone else) can catch it again another day. This tends to result in "more educated" fish, which are harder to catch (although it is always a puzzle as to just how smart a creature with a brain the size of a pea can be!) There is a related euphemism used to describe the type of luck Tim had - his brief encounters are described as "long distance releases"!
Then it was back to the chalet. We noticed a lot of smoke haze in the air - reminding us of our Uluru trip - and were wondering what was up - but the skies were clear by morning. Friday evening, we watched the blue fairy wrens flitting about, and then the bats coming out of the under-roof area to work over the sizeable population of bush flies and March flies (see here and here). Australia is surely the land of the fly - although, by our experiences to date, they are not as bad as the combination of large mosquitoes and aggressive horse flies one gets in some areas of the States. Bush flies are small, annoying, and everywhere. They do not bite, but always seem to hover around your face. March flies are like oversized horse flies, and supposedly have a bite to match - but we have yet to be bitten, in spite of being covered with flies at times.
Still, wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts is preferable - and not just to deal with the annoyances of flies. There are far more important reasons. One is UV protection - in Adelaide, we had gotten used to UV forecasts of 11 (or "Extreme") - whereas Seattle might be listed as 1 or 2 (aka "Minimal"). We couldn't believe our eyes when we first looked at the UV forecast for Thredbo - it was listed as 16 for most of our stay! By the way, 16 is also listed as "extreme" - perhaps when it is that bad, it really doesn't matter! The second reason is the nature of Australian critters. While there aren't any animals that will eat you (other than the odd croc, and some of the bigger fish or sharks) - there is an incredible profusion of critters that will bite, sting, or poison you. For some interesting details on this, see the PBS page on "Australia's Little Assassins". Shows in the series include "A Lethal Land", "Venom Rx", "Deadly Creatures", and "Danger Down Under." Makes you want to rush right down and visit us, eh? Oz has several hundred different venomous snakes (including the world-wide top 10). Want to know more? Check the University of Adelaide Toxinology Center for what is claimed to be the world's most extensive source of toxinology information. The good news is that because of the extremely toxic nature of many Aussie critters - antivenoms and other treatment methodologies are available and effective - and very few people die each year.
Saturday, Tim went fly fishing on the Thredbo and the Munyang Rivers with Andrew Matenson, an excellent guide who works through High Country Outfitters in Jindabyne. Clara and Lucy stayed home with Sandy, making (and "flying") more broomsticks and wands, and drawing with their new colored pencil sets which Santa had brought them. Penderlea extends over about 2800 acres, including the only private section of the Thredbo River. Tim and Andrew first headed to the private Penderlea section of the Thredbo, which involved going up and over the ridge of the Crackenback Mountains (note that the Thredbo is also sometimes referred to as the Crackenback River) in Andrew's Landcruiser - Tim had hoped that he would be able to make the trip in his Tribute, but after actually traveling the road in a "real" 4WD vehicle, he decided not to risk it in the Tribute, which just doesn't have the necessary ground clearance. This section of the Thredbo is very rocky, traveling through gorges much of the way. Occasionally, brave kayakers attempt to make it through the area during runoff, but, according to Andrew, they usually end up in the trees.
Tim and Andrew arrived at the end of the track overlooking the river, to find (unusually) another vehicle already there. The first order was to determine which way the other flyfishers had gone - upstream or down. Andrew's sharp eye caught the flash of a fly line downstream, in the area of large pools, so he and Tim headed upstream, to the area of what is called "pocket water." Tim didn't take the camera, so we don't have any pictures of this part of the river - however, to give an idea of what it was like, here and here are a couple pictures from the river they fished after lunch, the Munyang. While smaller (perhaps 15-20 feet wide at most in those pictures, versus the 30-40 feet [or more] of the Thredbo), the Munyang gives an idea of what is meant by the description. In general, pocket water means a lot of scrambling over rocks, casting a short line to small pools and runs - and generally also means smaller fish. Tim caught a small brown trout right off the bat, which both he and Andrew took to be a good sign. Unfortunately, the rest of the morning, while enjoyable - was more frustrating on the fishing front. Tim's rustiness showed in a lot of missed strikes, and errant first casts (he could usually get the fly where it needed to go on the 2nd or 3rd cast - but these fish largely require the first cast to be on the money, or they go into hiding). However, the scenery was gorgeous, and it was a sunny day of blue skies - and enjoying the environment is half the fun of fly fishing - in general, the sorts of places you find trout are likely to be the sorts of places you'd go to by preference even if the trout weren't there!
After having worked well upstream, they decided to head back down to the pools and see if the other fly fisher had departed. It turned out he or she had, so Tim and Andrew walked down to the bottom of the lower pool, and started fishing back up. On the way, the stopped at an overlook to watch an "unfishable" pool (there is no access unless you have a float tube of some other sort of watercraft) and watched some big (2 foot plus) trout eating beetles off the surface. However - the trout in the pools were not cooperative either (although Tim managed a few perfect first casts this time, to no avail). Then it was time to climb back up the hill and enjoy tea, while deciding where to go next. One of the down sides of going to the Snowys during summer school holidays is the number of people who choose to do the same thing (especially since the area is only a couple hours from Canberra, and an easy day trip from Melbourne or Sydney). Andrew felt that most of the usual places would be well-attended; however, the week before he had successfully fished a small tributary of the Snowy River, which entered at the Guthega Power Station, and which was likely to have been overlooked by other anglers. So, after tea, Andrew and Tim packed up, and headed into Kosciuszko National Park to the Munyang River. (On the way back to the chalet, Andrew and Tim saw a tiger snake and a blue tongued lizard - these were to be the only snakes or larger lizards to be seen during the trip, although lots of skinks, interesting insects - and a few flying mammals - did show up later on.)
The Munyang was much like the section of the Thredbo they had fished in the am, only smaller. One of it's unique characteristics is that the trout are solely rainbows - most of the other small streams in the area contain brown trout. They started working their way up, and after a bit Tim caught a little rainbow - even smaller than the brown he had caught in the morning! During the course of the afternoon, they saw, and had brief encounters with additional, somewhat larger rainbows, but none were actually caught. In one case, Tim had laid down a good cast, saw a fish take the fly, and struck at the same instant Andrew said "Lift!" However, it was not fast enough. Tim immediately cast back to the same area, while Andrew started to say something. The same thing happened. This time, Andrew managed to get out what he'd been trying to say "I don't think you'll get a second chance at that one!" However, Tim was in an optimistic mood and tried a third time - and came up with a third missed strike. Both he and Andrew were amazed that what was apparently the same trout gave them three tries - but to no avail in the end. Eventually, Tim and Andrew came to a gorge with deep, clear water, which Andrew said was very much like New Zealand (it reminded Tim a lot of parts of the Snoqualmie he likes to fish back in the Washington Cascades.) Then, it was time to bushwhack back up the hillside to an access track that followed the river (only at much higher elevation), then walk back to the truck for some water and fruitcake. All in all, an enjoyable day, even if the trout didn't cooperate!
While Tim had been fishing, the girls had been busy playing Harry Potter-esque games. At one point, Lucy came into the chalet crying "Mom, I was flying and fell off my broomstick!" A hug and bandage took care of the problem.
Sunday, we decided to go up into the national park to Charlotte Pass (the highest road-accessible area in the park; the road used to continue all the way to the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko, but the last few kilometers were closed off back in the 70s for safety and environmental reasons.) Tim would have liked to walk to the summit, especially since Kosciuszko is the highest mountain on the continent (he figured it was the only "highest" mountain he'd ever get to climb!) but was worried the girls would insist on going as well - and he was afraid of having to carry Lucy much of the way. So, we stopped at the Charlotte's Pass lookout, and contented ourselves with some picture, such as this one, this one, and this one of the Main Range (Mt. Kosciuszko is in the distance on the left side of the picture) - note that the mountains don't appear that tall from this viewpoint (and, truth be told, they aren't - Kosciuszko is only 2228 meters - about 7400 feet) because Charlotte's Pass is in the high plains area. Viewing the same mountains from the other side gives a better idea of their true height. Here, here and here are some pictures we took a couple days later from Olsen's lookout on the other side of the Main Range; unfortunately the weather was pretty cloudy; Mt. Kosciuszko is on the other side of the mountain in the center of the pictures. And of course the girls, when deprived of a river to play in, are quite happy climbing on dry rocks. See also here. The girls also both got cameras for Christmas, so they wanted to take pictures as well - and when Tim was squatting down to help them, he realized just how much rock climbing he'd done the previous day while fishing!
From Charlotte's Pass, we headed back towards the Perisher and Smiggin Holes ski areas we had passed on the way. When we got there, Tim took a dirt road just because it looked interesting, and might provide a higher viewpoint (the girls didn't notice, as they had gone back to playing amongst themselves; they are well aware of Tim's propensity for "exploring" just to see what is there - something they like to do themselves when they are on foot.) It turned out that this was the "right" road, and the one Tim had originally intended to take when he was first planning this expedition, but had forgotten about. We ended up at the Guthega Dam and Pondage (Australian for reservoir). A while later, we came to the Guthega Power Station, where Tim had been fishing the Munyang River the day before. We got out, and explored a bit; the girls enjoyed (as usual) a climb-and-crawl-about on the river rocks (but didn't like to stop long enough for pictures!), and gathered a few more flowers and rocks. Here and here are a couple pictures of the river.
Leaving the power station, we followed the Snowy River (which, at the moment, was flowing with about the same amount of water as the Munyang - a pitiful fragment of it's natural flow.) One aspect of the Snowy Mountains Scheme which would not fly today is that the damming of the rivers was total - there was no plan to keep a continuous amount of water flowing - instead, water flowed only when power was being generated; at other times, the water was used to fill the pondage. (For one perspective on this, see the paper The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme: How did it Manage Without an EIA? by Michael Bergmann. And the normal mode of operation is still to "ping-pong" the Guthega Dam and the Island Bend Dam (further down the Snowy) - let water go from one to generate electricity while the other is filling. This makes the Snowy River between the dams a very dangerous place, as the times of release are not announced in advance, and the water level can rise sharply; every year some people get trapped on the wrong side of the river, and occasionally there are associated deaths.
Recently, however, an agreement has been reached to increase the flow of the Snowy River from the current level (which is 1% of the original flow; in contrast, both the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers now flow at 110 to 120% of their original annual flows) to a guaranteed level of 15%, with a goal of 28%. Most of these gains have to come through increased efficiencies in irrigation and transport of water; among other things, covered irrigation ditches / canals are planned to reduce the loss from evaporation, which is large, given the hot and dry climate. In fact, when the scheme was proposed, there was some concern that the two main reservoirs, Eucumbene and Jindabyne, would never fill, since the annual rate of evaporation from an average large lake is 1 1/2 to 2 meters per year - and half of Eucumbene's storage is in the final 2 meters of water. The reality is that the losses were not as great as expected - although neither lake ever completely fills up - recently both lakes seem to be maxing out at about 75% of theoretical capacity; in the recent past (approx 1997) Eucumbene has made it up as high as 85%.
The length of the Snowy below the Guthega Power Station (which is several kilometers downriver from the Guthega Dam - the water from the dam mostly travels through pipes from the dam, rather than down the original stream bed. The pipes which are used to transport water above ground (when underground tunnels are not used) are bitumen-lined to reduce corrosion. Therefore they are painted white (as can be seen here), to help reduce heat retention, which could conceivably melt the lining. The coating of paint on the pipes is still the original coating, which has lasted 30 years in some cases. Andrew remarked when he and Tim were near the Guthega Power Station that each winter, some daredevil skiers try to sky down the fairly steep hill beside the Guthega water feed pipes, usually coming to grief before they reach the bottom!
We explored some dirt roads between Guthega Power Station and Island Bend, including the former site of the construction village where the teams building the dams and power station lived. You can still go up and down the streets, but there are no structures left. Eventually, we made our way down to the river - although, since it was the height of holiday season, there were a lot of campers about, so we were by no means alone. Still, the girls had their usual good time exploring the river, and Clara managed to stop someone's inflatable kayak from blowing into the river when the winds whipped up (although their life preserver did get by her, and went sailing down the river.) See also here and here. We had a picnic in the shade of some larger gum trees, with beautiful flowers all about (see here, here and here - unfortunately, many of the imported wildflowers such as these Lupin displace the native species) - and, of course, lots of bush flies and March flies.
After lunch, we followed the Snowy River back down to Lake Jindabyne. We stopped at the Lake Jindabyne Surge Tank (for an idea of scale, note the size of Clara and Lucy standing at the bottom of the tank - and consider also that most of the surge tank is below ground and out of sight). The tank also has plaques commemorating those who died in the building of the Snowy Scheme (121 are known dead; however, the true toll is estimated to be much greater than the official records indicate.) The surge tanks serve to reduce oscillations in the system when demand for water changes suddenly, or when a part of the system fails (e.g., a power generator has to shut off flow immediately). Any such change can create very high pressures (both positive and negative) in the system. These oscillations are dampened out by the surge tanks; sudden increases in demand (flow) are supplied by the tank until the flow of water through the tunnels / aqueducts reaches the required levels; similarly, decreases in required flow are handled by the surge tank storing the excess flow until system flow can be reduced.
Just down the road, we again stopped at the picnic ground along the Thredbo River, just before it enters Lake Jindabyne. Tim and the girls went exploring downstream, under the highway bridge towards the lake. Along the way, they found another dead wombat (the 3rd we'd seen), recently deceased and covered with flies. Further downstream, some river rocks beckoned, and the girls played awhile before we headed back into Jindabyne for postcards, then out to the chalet. Along the way, we stopped at Crackenback Lodge to see about a dinner "booking" (as the Australians refer to reservations). No problem, so we went back to the chalet to get sorted out from the day's activities. One of the things we'd been noticing was the proliferation of non-native flowers. Instead of native wildflowers, one tends to see huge amounts of "Patterson's Curse" (or maybe it was Viper's Bugloss - we can't really tell the difference), Yarrow, Clover, Twiggy Mullein, Dandelions, Bidgee-Widgee, and so on. Patterson's Curse is supposed to make good honey, but we never found any to try on our trip.
Sunday evening we headed down to the Crackenback Lodge for dinner. One of the features of the place is what is claimed to be the largest maze in the Southern hemisphere. After dinner, the girls decided to try it, and dove into it with a passion. They kept hitting dead ends, but refused to either give up or to "cheat" like some teenage girls who started after them, and crawled under the fences to get out. Eventually, with only minimal suggestions from Tim and Sandy, they made it successfully all the way through. The girls also had to try out an old original chairlift from Thredbo Ski Area which had been made into a swing. Then, since it was actually approaching twilight, we decided to cruise around looking for wildlife (the problem of taking holidays during Christmas Down Under is that it stays light relatively late - usually past the girls bedtime - resulting in very tired wildlife watchers!) We drove back up the Alpine Way, and saw a few kangaroos in the fields. We turned into the Lake Crackenback Lodge grounds, and saw more and more kangaroos in the fields - including one which Tim got pretty close to with a camera (unfortunately the combination of fading light and fast kangaroo resulted in a blurred picture) - as well as a variety of birds - but Clara was probably equally or more excited by a trio of butterscotch-colored horses in one paddock.
Monday, we slept in and relaxed around the chalet. We continued to notice all the kookaburras in the area - back in Adelaide, we were used to one, or at most two birds making their call. Here, we could tell there were a lot of different kookaburras around, each calling out to mark it's territory. The girls continued their "Harry Potter" play - all the while insisting they were playing a game involving a TOTALLY different wizard's school, not the Hogwart's School of Wizardry. Tim got out his knife, and helped them find and shape a few sticks into better-looking wands - then they went looking for bird feathers (and found them) to put in the wands in lieu of the "tail feather of a phoenix" required for Harry Potter's wand. Later in the morning, Tim went into town for groceries.
After lunch, it was time for horseback riding. Sandy got to ride "Mr. Black", while Clara was ecstatic to find they had a butterscotch horse named "Teach" for her. She popped up and settled into the saddle while giving Sandy a couple of amused looks as she in turn settled in. Then they took off into the hills above Penderlea with another 7-8 people and a couple trail leaders. Meanwhile, Tim led Lucy around the paddock on a pony named Linc. After her ride, Lucy and Tim sat in the car listening to "Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery", since they realized that Sandy had ridden off with the only chalet key! Eventually, they spotted the riders coming back through the lower forest, with Clara trotting in second place and clearly enjoying it, and Sandy coming along nearly in the rear. However, both of them enjoyed the ride, and even though one of the horses kicked Clara's horse, bruising Clara's leg a bit, she still wanted to go out again immediately. She has really missed horseback riding since we've been in Australia. Then it was back to the chalet for dinner, and a game of Uno which Lucy cleaned up on - she won 4 of 6 rounds, with Sandy and Clara each winning one of the remaining rounds.
Tuesday dawned sunny, and we spent the morning around the chalet, writing postcards, etc. Then after lunch we headed for the SkiTube. The SkiTube is an electric cog railway system running through tunnels under the mountain which takes passengers (primarily skiers) from the Thredbo Valley up to the ski resorts of Perisher and Blue Cow. Perisher and Blue Cow are near Charlotte's pass, with a single road to serve them. During peak season, especially when the weather is bad, the road used to resemble a traffic jam in downtown Sydney. The SkiTube now provides relief by transporting up to 4500 passengers - with ski gear - per hour, and provides a lower-elevation entry from the Alpine Way to the ski areas. During the ski season, normally three trains are running at a time; when two trains are going down, they can generate enough electricity from their regenerative braking to effectively power the train going uphill. The trains go uphill at 40 km/hr, but only 21 km/hr for most of the downhill run (and there are highway-style speed limit signs along the railway - it's pretty strange to see one with a "21" in the middle.) The trains run on a three-rail system, with the center rail cogged to help with traction - for both uphill and downhill reasons.
The trains go through two tunnels on the way up. From Bullock's Flat (the lowest point in the Thredbo Valley) to Perisher ski area, the tunnel was bored by a machine, and did not need a lining due to the quality of the granite it went through. At it's deepest point, it is 550 meters under the surface. Construction of the underground station at Perisher started when the tunnel started from the valley; the survey crew at Perisher drew a circle on the wall where they expected the tunnel to emerge - when it broke through, it was within one centimeter. The top tunnel, from Perisher to Mount Blue Cow, was dug by hand (i.e., drilled and blasted); it is only 4 meters under the surface at it's closest approach, which is under a creek. Prior to completion, buses were used in the top tunnel - that was apparently quite a ride, since the diesel fumes affected everyone - including the drivers, resulting in a couple of wrecked buses. By the way, Mount Blue Cow was named for a cow from a neighboring farm which was the offspring of black and white shorthair cattle, which was a blue roan in color. Every spring, this cow disappeared from the lower pastures, and was reliably found during the fall roundup high on this mountain. And yet another tidbit - the railway station at Blue Cow is the highest in Australia - so, we didn't make it up the highest mountain, but we did make it to the highest railway station (as well as one other "highest" to be mentioned later.)
Unfortunately, even though it had been sunny in the morning, clouds moved in over lunch, and by the time we reached the top, it was gray and rainy (our guide said it had been clear blue sky and sun the previous hour when he had come up with the previous load.) Lucy and Clara enjoyed it in spite of the weather. (See also here.) We were also warned on our sodden tour to keep our fingers out of the holes with white furry stuff in them (due to their resident spiders) and to keep an eye out for the black snake that had been seen the previous hour. The snow groomer they used in winter was on display at the top. This is used to push snow back uphill where needed, to break up (effectively roto-tilling) the clumped snow, and then to smooth it out, all in one pass. This usually happens each night, after skiing is finished. The groomer runs about with it's lights on - which has the effect of mesmerizing the rabbits which invariably hop into it's path to feed. This means that the rabbit is soon "groomed" as well - which explains why there are usually several foxes loping along after the groomer each night as it goes about it's rounds!
The snow gums show the height of the snow (as we had previously suspected); on top of the mountains, they sometimes receive 15-20 meters of snow each year. There were a lot of the thicker, older, and more twisted snow gums on the summit, such as this one and this one. There was also an art show going on in the lodge at Blue Cow, so we checked that out while waiting for the next train going downhill. Tim also found a sign he thought was amusing. We headed back down on the next train, and then explored the vast parking lots, looking for a way to get close to the Thredbo River (which the SkiTube crosses before disappearing into the tunnel), and eventually found a promising spot. We marked it down to visit later in the week for a little fishing (for Tim) and some water and rock play for the girls.
Then it was back to Jindabyne, with a stop at the National Parks Visitors Center, then on to East Jindabyne (which meant driving across the Lake Jindabyne Dam on the Snowy River) to visit the gallery of a couple of local painters. Afterwards, we returned to the cabin for a bit, before heading back to Jindabyne for dinner at the only Thai restaurant in town, called Chit Thai (quite good) and then home to the cabin to celebrate New Year's Eve with Christmas Crackers (wrapped packages with a small cap inside; you pull a cord at either end to set off the cap, then open the package to read a joke and find a small prize), a fire in the fireplace (another treat, since we don't have a fireplace in our Adelaide house), and fizzy drinks all around (champagne for Sandy and Tim, fizzy fruit juice for the girls).
Wednesday was another cloudy day. Tim and the girls spent the morning drawing (and trying out the new watercolor pencils Lucy had given him for Christmas.) Clara bounced back and forth between drawing / painting and making a times table for Lucy (Clara had gotten a neat multiplication / division card game for Christmas called QuickPix, while Lucy received the addition / subtraction version, so they both were interested in honing their arithmetic skills and speed.) In the afternoon, we headed off to the Thredbo River near the SkiTube (where we had scouted on Tuesday). The girls found that the only thing better than rocks OR water was rocks AND water! Clara also made herself a fishing pole so she could practice while Tim was out on the river. (See also here.) Tim hooked a couple brown trout, and missed more, but enjoyed himself nonetheless. The only other fisherman we saw had caught a fingerling, and that was it. Then it was home for dinner, more drawing / coloring, and a game of Uno - which Clara won this time.
Thursday we decided to make the big loop around the southern two thirds of Kosciuszko National Park. We knew that the day we left for home we would want to just drive straight through and not take any time to explore the byways of the Alpine Way (just as we had not wanted to take the time on the way in) - so this was our chance to explore leisurely. We headed back west along the Alpine Way towards Khancoban. We stopped just below and east of Dead Horse Gap for pictures of the Thredbo River where it is small enough to jump across, then continued over the pass. We passed Tom Groggin and Tom Groggin Station, supposed birthplace of the original "Man From Snowy River." Tom Groggin is thought to be a corruption of the Aboriginal words for "Water Spider." The station is on the banks of the Murray (New South Wales on the near side, and Victoria on far side of the Murray).
As an aside, Banjo Paterson, along with Henry Lawson, were the two great (and competing) balladeers of the late 19th and early 20th century. Paterson is the more well-known today, responsible for "Waltzing Matilda" (which, when set to music, is essentially the unofficial Australian National Anthem - probably more people know the words to it than to the actual anthem!) He also wrote "Clancy of the Overflow", "Mulga Bill" - and "The Man From Snowy River." The latter was also adapted as a children's novel and made into both a movie and a popular TV series. As the Lonely Planet guidebooks say, Paterson was to some extent "hijacked by the nostalgia industry" - but he is still very popular, and his poems give a view of the bush similar to the view of the American (primarily Alaskan) frontier provided by Jack London. Like London, Paterson was mostly city-bound, with only occasional excursions into the bush.
From there, we continued downhill, seeing lots of Crimson Rosellas once again, along with a few kangaroos. We stopped for a quick break and exploration of the Swampy Plains River and the old bridge at the Geehi campground / picnic area. The Swampy Plains River drains out of the mountains into the Khancoban Reservoir. A short while later, we drove out to Olsen's Lookout, along the road to Geehi Dam and Reservoir (another part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme; unfortunately the road was closed when we were there.) The view from Olsen's Lookout was quite different than the view from Charlotte's Pass, as we were on the other (northwest) side of Mt. Kosciuszko and the Main Range. Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy, as can be seen here, here and here. Along the unsealed road from Olsen's Lookout back to the Alpine Way, there were more ferns than we had seen since Tasmania - in fact, portions of the forest were very reminiscent of Tassie. A little further along we stopped again at Bogong Creek, where the girls tried out their new cameras.
The Scammell's Ridge Lookout was a little further along; we stopped for another quick look (and more picture taking by the girls. See here also.) The signs claimed you could see "from the bottom of Oz to the top", but the weather wasn't really cooperating. From here it was a short run down to the Murray 1 Power Station. This station has 10 generators, and generates (at max throughput) 900 megawatts. We were lucky enough to get there just in time for a special tour of the power station, where we got a detailed explanation of the Snowy Scheme. We learned that the longest tunnel in the system was dug by hand (drilling, blasting, and pick-and-shovel), and the two ends came out within 1 1/2 inches of each other. The area was very rough, and considerable surveying had to be done to allow the project to begin, and then access roads had to be built. To run cables over the mountains, rockets were used to carry messenger lines (rather than helicopters which would be used today); then the actual cables were pulled over. We saw a number of very large trout feeding near where the water came out of the generators into the holding pond and generated a fair amount of turbulence; there were a number of fishermen lined up on the other side, but they didn't seem to be having much luck. Inside the visitor's center were a lot of interesting displays, including one where you could turn a wheel on a generator and light up some light bulbs; Clara and Lucy managed 4 bulbs, Sandy hit 5, and Tim 6. What stuck in the girls mind most was when our tour guide mentioned that if they had to shut down the inflow to the generators suddenly, and the surge suppression system at the top of the hill behind the station failed, they'd have about seven seconds before the water wiped out the building.
From Khancoban, we headed north along the western edge of the park. We drove through some beautiful territory, including several areas with lots of dead trees. We hypothesized that these were Alpine Ash, which are very sensitive to fire. We drove over the Tooma Reservoir Dam, and then the Tumut Pond Reservoir before climbing up to Cabramurra, the highest town in Australia. We drove up to the Lookout above the town, the former spot of the original school, and asked Clara if she'd like this (essentially the western Snowys) for her school's playground. "Great!" she replied and was off at full speed exploring. Cabramurra started out as a Snowy Scheme town, and the current town was completely planned - the uniformity of construction and layout reflects that. The town has a helipad as well - no doubt necessary in winter when there is only one road out of town, which could easily be snowed in (the road we drove in on from the south is usually closed in the winter) - or, as happened after we returned home - closed in by bush fires. Heading east out of Cabramurra, we came to Kiandra, the birthplace of skiing in Australia in 1861. Skiing was introduced by Scandinavian gold-seekers who came to get rich in the Kiandra gold rush of 1859-60. These days, Kiandra is just a wide spot in the road, with a single barn, as far as we could tell. Then we turned onto the Snowy Mountains Highway and headed southeast, out of the National Park, and on to Adaminaby.
Along the way, we passed a section of recently-burned bush. You can see from this picture how the fire has cleaned up all the debris without damaging the trees, and has in fact apparently burned off the loose / dried bark from the large gums, exposing the color; after a few months, the bright reddish-brown will fade to the same greyish-white as the upper parts of the trees. We've mentioned before that Australia is the land of the giant roadside attractions. Here's one we found in Adaminaby (self-proclaimed "Trout Capital of Australia"). Note Lucy touching the tail for scale (pun intended...) Then it was on to Berridale, Jindabyne, and home. Back at the chalet, Tim noticed a small scorpion on the wall, so he tossed it outside just in case.
Friday, we headed off to Cooma, east of Jindabyne, promising the girls a much shorter day in the car than Thursday's nine hour loop through the park. En route, we passed many fields which contained piles of large boulders with gum trees scattered amongst the rocks. We couldn't figure out where the boulders came from, since many appeared too large to be easily moved even by machinery. We stopped at the Raglan Gallery which we thought was going to have a quilt exhibition, but we were one day early. They did have a fair amount of art work, and one of the ladies was using a rather modern spinning wheel to spin some wool into yarn. We did find (Clara's sharp eyes!) some more the of the little tree ornament rings that Sandy uses (and has had great trouble finding) to make cross-stitch Christmas tree ornaments. Tim also stopped in at Alpine Angler, a fly fishing shop he has ordered from in the past. The girls acquired some large pine cones in the field beside the shop. On the way back to the chalet, we were pulled over in a mandatory breathalyzer road-block. That is one way in which Australia is different from the US. Roadblocks for breath testing, license examination, registration checking, etc., are very common. Perhaps it relates the lack of a Bill of Rights in Australia, and the concomitant lack of a legal basis for protection of individual privacy. This lack has been coming to the fore post-September 11 (and especially post-Bali here), as more and more legislation is proposed (and passed) which gives increasing power to the Australian government to search, detain, etc.
On the way back, we stopped for some pictures of Lake Jindabyne from the east side. We also stopped to play by Lake Jindabyne for a bit. There is a big park in town which abuts the lake, and which has a statue of Sir Paul Edward Strzelecki, the Polish explorer who (along with James MacArthur, a local sheep grazier) first explored parts of the Snowy Mountains. He also bestowed some of the more famous names, such as Mt. Kosciuszko, which he named for the Polish hero. Here is a website which provides a short history of Strzelecki's climb and naming of Kosciuszko. There is some belief that the peak he climbed when he was exploring with MacArthur was actually Mt. Townsend, rather than Kosciuszko; at any rate, he supposedly climbed the other peak later, so he could at least claim to have climbed the highest peak. Note also that there is some variability in the spelling of Kosciuszko; Strzelecki himself spelled it "Kosciusko", which stood for many years, until political correctness struck, and the "official" spelling was changed to "Kosciuszko". However, older sources and organizations still use Kosciusko.
Friday night, we had more visitors to the chalet - BATS! The girls were in bed, while Tim and Sandy were sitting and reading in front of the fireplace. Tim thought he noticed something black crossing his peripheral vision, headed towards the fireplace. He looked around, didn't see anything, so got up to walk over to the fireplace to check - and saw a bat hanging onto the side of the fireplace. Hmmm. The bat took off and started flying, and then we noticed there were two bats. We decided to call our "landlord", to see if she had any suggestions - "Turn out the inside lights, turn on the outdoor lights, open the doors and windows, and see if they go out." So we tried that for a while, and tried directing the bats towards the windows / doors - but they didn't want to leave. Tim tried catching them in his insect collection net - and got one in, but it squeezed out past the book he had covering the opening (these bats are tiny and can get through very small spaces!) He later got another in, but had to stretch so far to reach that he couldn't get it covered before it got away as well. Eventually we had to resort to swatting them down with a window screen (which was big enough they couldn't dodge it). We got one that way, and took it outside. Then Clara woke up, to find the remaining bat swooping around over her bed in the loft - which she didn't mind at all. The second one Tim swatted ended up on the floor beside her, but he got it outside before it recovered enough to fly away. We carefully checked around, and didn't see any more bats in the living room area, and started to open up the doors to the hallway, Lucy's room, etc. Just as Tim was about to open the dining room door, he noticed something swooping about inside - yes, bat # 3 had somehow gotten into the dining room before we closed the doors. This time, however, was a little easier, as the ceiling in the dining room was low, the room was smaller, and the window bigger - so, Tim went outside, popped the screen out - and eventually that bat flew out. One more check of the house revealed no bats - so off to bed we went, after a couple of hours of battling bats.
The next morning Tim and the girls went for a last walk up the track past our chalet up towards Crackenback Ridge. Recall what we said about March flies? Here are a few on Lucy's leg. They run about an inch long. We still didn't get bitten at all, and 2 of these five flies appear to be females, which are the biters (the male flies live on nectar). We saw a lot of Crimson Rosellas (no really good pictures, though - here's a website with a better picture), blue Fairy Wrens, skinks, spiders, wombat holes, lots of butterflies and wildflowers - and armloads of rocks for the girls. The skinks were quite a bit smaller than the Perentie Lizard we saw on our trip to the Red Centre (only 4-5 inches long); however, there are a lot more of them. One guidebook said that it is common to find up to 8 per square meter in higher woodlands such as where we were.
Wandering through the forests of the Snowys (and elsewhere we've been in Oz for that matter), one has this feeling of strangeness - at least for those of us more familiar with northern American forests. Some of the sources of strangeness are easier to identify, such as the gum trees, and the very different bird calls which form the aural background. Other things take a while to penetrate - such as the difference in the forest floor. Since the native trees are almost entirely non-deciduous, there is far less leaf matter on the ground - instead there is a lot of bark debris - the stringy strips of bard which peel off the gums (or, in come cases, are peeled by birds) and build up on the ground, in the branches, etc. This bark is one of the big contributors to the ferocity of bush fires in Australia, as it tends to be oil-filled, and, in many places results in what is effectively a forest of trees whose branches are covered with oil-filled rags. And then there are the colors of the trees - all the shades of white, gray, red / orange / brown - and even pink.
Then it was time to start packing. Later in the day we played new word-making card game called Quiddler, which everyone took to immediately. Sandy won, followed by Clara, then Lucy and Tim tied for third. Lucy did very well considering this game was for children 8 and up. Finally, we got everything packed, and Tim loaded the carrier on top of the car. The girls went to bed, Tim went out and snapped some sunset pictures (we never did get a good one; here and here are the best of what we managed) and then Sandy and Tim settled down to read again. And what should appear again but a bat. This time, we didn't want to spend the night chasing about, so we immediately went for the screen, got the bat within a couple minutes, and took it outside, hoping that was the end of it.
We went to bed, hoping for the best. About 3 am Tim was awakened by a shriek, followed by Lucy saying "There are bats in here!" It turned out Sandy had woken up quite a while earlier, and heard what sounded like bats out in the main living area. She decided everyone needed their sleep, since we had a long drive the next day, so she didn't wake Tim up. Then a bat came into the bedroom, and started swooping. Sandy continued to lie still, trying not to wake Tim. Then, the bat swooped low over her, nearly brushing her hair, and she made an involuntary shriek - that was when Tim woke up. He shooed Lucy back to her room, checked it for bats and closed her door, then shooed the bat out of the master bedroom and closed that door. Then he went and woke Clara (who was already partially awake), brought her and her bedclothes down to Lucy's room and settled her on the second bed there, and went back to bed, conceding the rest of the house to the bat(s) for the night. However, it was hard to get back to sleep after this much excitement, so Tim and Sandy dozed a little, but eventually got up, made coffee, and packed up the car. The good news is that we were on the road by 7 am, ahead of schedule. The only worry was whether Tim would be able to stay awake all the way home, or whether we'd need to spend the night in a motel on the way.
We headed back up Alpine Way. Tim stopped for a last couple pictures near Dead Horse Pass by early morning light. Then it was off through the twisty, turny, mountain road as fast as we could safely go, hoping not to come up behind any buses or caravans, as passing opportunities are pretty scarce. We had very good luck, only meeting a couple of cars coming the other way. The Crimson Rosellas were out in great numbers - and this time, they were socializing with groups of Gang-gangs - another type of cockatoo-parrot with orangey-red heads and grey bodies, which are much less skittish than the Rosies. The girls immediately began calling them Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bangs, and dissolving into laughing fits. We also saw rabbits and kangaroos, including one right beside the road which leaped up the embankment as we drove past. We reached Khancoban about 8:30, which was very good time. In Khancoban, we noticed the "Pickled Parrot Restaurant" - not quite what we wanted for brekkie (breakfast)!
Continuing on, we passed large flocks of cockatoos and Galahs. Once again, we passed the Hume Dam, with lots of dead trees in the water. Near Corryong, we passed another type of plantation we hadn't noticed on the way out - this was Radiata Pine. It turns out these pine plantations are very common in the area, and near Canberra - a fact which in the coming weeks would cause much grief to people in the area, as they are very prone to fast-spreading wildfires. Past Yarrawonga we saw a Koala sign that someone had modified. At 100 km/hr, Tim thought it was a Koala on a potty; Sandy thought it was a koala on the railroad tracks; we were too concerned about making time to go back and see who (if either) were correct! This reminded us that on the way out, we had seen a different Koala crossing sign that someone had modified by attaching a bottle on the sign such that it looked like the Koala was raising a toast to passers-by. In Kerang, we were stopped for another breath test. And in Swan Hill - we found another giant fish we had somehow missed the first time - although Sandy was not keen about taking the time for photos, Tim couldn't resist - so here's the Giant Murray Cod of Swan Hill. The adjacent sign says:
The Giant Murray Cod: Maccullochella Peeti
"The wise old man of the river continues to be endeared in the hearts of every Australian. Fully enshrined by Aboriginal folklore, he is truly an Australian enigma of our ancient river system. Whilst not as plentiful as in the early days of European settlement, he is still caught in good numbers by those who can match his cunning and knowledge of the river. Catches of 180 lb (81 kg) were not uncommon and today an occasional large example is landed in the Swan Hill area. Conscious of a threat to his existence, conservation bodies are today breeding Murray Cod and introducing them into Victorian and New South Wales waters."
Once again we passed the racks of what were apparently bags of potatoes near Swan Hill. Then we passed the aforementioned plantation raising willows for cricket bats. You'll note that while the Mallee Plain is interesting for a lot of reasons, there isn't a whole lot to see for extended periods other than grain elevators. The next excitement came at the Victoria-South Australia border, where we got to set our watches back half an hour and gain some time (!) - but that wasn't the real excitement. The real excitement was that we were stopped for a fruit fly inspection. And, unfortunately, we had a lot of fruit, which we had been saving for snacks. Plums, cherries, grapes - it all had to go. At least the inspector let us pull off the road and eat what we wanted before dumping the rest in their destroy bin. After this, it was pretty much downhill to Adelaide, where we arrived at 7:45 pm - a little over 13 hours for the trip - much better than it might have been if there had been more traffic (as we feared might be the case on a Sunday during school holidays) - but we were very lucky and saw very little traffic. The only downside to coming back on Sunday was that Tim had to go back to work the next day, and the girls were signed up for art and swimming classes, so it has taken us a fair while to unpack, recover, and get this travelogue written and online.
We mentioned that we only saw smoke from bushfires on a couple days - turns out we were very lucky with our timing. Shortly after we returned to Adelaide, we heard on the news that there were numerous wildfires burning in and around Kosciuszko, and that many of the roads in the park were closed. We have since heard that Thredbo Village (the ski area) was evacuated, and the big annual Blues Festival there cancelled on it's first day. In addition, ash is apparently blanketing Jindabyne; Kosciuszko National Park is closed; fires are threatening Cabramurra and Adaminaby (among other places); and outlying suburbs of Canberra are being prepared for a possible evacuation as well. Shades of our Montana trip in 2000...
Pictures from our December 2002 - January 2003 Snowy Mountains Trip
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