Saturday, January 17, 2009

High Country Shenanigans

While I could probably have started each blog entry with this statement, I have to say that this last week has been THE highlight of my trip so far. After a hot date at the Ocean Palace chinese in Narooma and a bit too much to drink I managed to miss the glorious sunrise the following morning, but luckily Ness was up and at ‘em and grabbed some great photos.
We cleared out of the campsite before most of the other people were up and moving and hit the road turning inland just short of Bega for the long climb up to the high country. We pulled into South East Forest National Park for some gentle four-wheel drive practice (before the real stuff) and found a lovely shady spot beside a sandy creek at Postman Camp.

Spot the spider. Harmless I think but we’ve definitely been in bug country on this leg of the trip. Without doubt having the tent off the ground makes a big difference to how many of them make it into our sleeping quarters, but I did have to give a huntsman the size of my hand its marching orders before we went to sleep one night. He was on the inside roof of the tent and again while not deadly it did bring back horrible memories of a nasty bite I got a couple of years ago from one who’d taken up residence in my boxer shorts while they’d been drying on the line. (I also had a close encounter with a brown snake yesterday but I won’t go into that right now.)

After Postman’s Camp we made our way up to Jindabyne. While we didn’t see any bodies floating in the lake, we did manage to secure a good spot at the caravan park and make it to the pub in good time to catch the Twenty 20 cricket against South Africa. A relatively big night on the grog for both of us was probably not the best preparation for the walk up to the top of Kosciuszko first thing the next morning. We cheated a bit and got the chair lift up from Thredbo but it was still a 13km return walk from where we got dropped off. The wild flowers were sensational and again we were very lucky with having a clear day that wasn’t too hot and we had fabulous visibility.

This is the head waters of the Snowy River, which flows into Lake Jindabyne, and then onwards to the south coast at Marlo. Being in Snowy River territory allowed me to finally dislodge the Martin Martini ‘Clowns are going to eat me’ song I’d had buzzing around my head since Christmas, only to be replaced by a bizarre techno version of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ song.

Made it to the top of Australia! Kossie is 2,228m above sea level and the tallest peak on the flattest continent in the world.

After we’d made it back to Thredbo and stocked up on beer and diesel we carried on along the Alpine Way and made the descent to Tom Groggin where we would make our crossing in to Victoria.

The Murray River crossing was our biggest so far and Ness kindly waded across to test the depth and to be on hand with the camera in case anything went awry.

I was pretty happy with the smooth outcome and fairly steep exit and it was only afterwards I realised that in all the excitement I’d forgotten to put the Troopie into four-wheel drive.

We were now firmly in four-wheel drive territory and we’d be getting plenty of opportunities to practice the skills we’d picked up in Broken Hill a few months back. A few kilometres onto the Davies Plain track we pulled into Buckwong Creek camping area and stopped for an early mark after what had been a fairly energetic day.

Another perfect campsite, beside the creek, place to ourselves, plenty of wildlife. I even got to see my first live Kanga porn action and have photos if anyone is interested.

This is how Ness spends most of her afternoons, up in the tent away from me (and the other annoying bugs) with a good book. We stocked up on reads at the book exchange in Narooma and even I have honoured my new years resolution to podcast less and read more.

The tracks we’ve been on since crossing into the Alpine National Park have been rated ‘difficult’ in our guidebook and most are very rough tracks or fire trails which are not maintained and closed for around six months each year. You have no idea what is around each corner, fallen trees, big holes, washouts etc. This means slow progress and on our first day we made just 55km in around five hours of driving. We spent a lot of the time in low range to either make it up the steep hills, or control the descents, and for much of the time certain death was only a few feet on one side of the car or the other.

Davies Plain hut, set up high among the snow gums, is one of a number of huts dotted around the Alpine region. They are generally well stocked with emergency supplies of matches, baked beans and firewood for people caught in a tight spot.

This happy chap is a Gang Gang parrot, one of a few we saw during a coffee break at Davies Plain hut. Another great opportunity to use the new lens purchased with the Christmas money from my folks and nan (thanks guys – we’ve taken so many top shots with it already!).

This particular ascent was SHIT YOUR PANTS steep and we both didn’t want to go back and look at what we’d just come up. From the contours on the map it looks like we went up around five hundred meters in the space of a couple of kilometres with some sharp switchbacks and again certain death just off to the side. Ness was even contemplating religion half way up this one. While Troopie has plenty of grunt in low range you do get the real sense on the steepest bits that we might just topple backwards. Plenty of time dilation moments to be had.
There is also always the threat of stalling the Troopie and had we not learned the trick of the ‘key start’ I might not be here to be writing this. I always get confused which way to turn the wheel when reversing, particularly it seems when I’m a bit stressed out and the handbrake doesn’t really hold us so a normal hill start just doesn’t work. The ‘key start’ works in low range and all you need to do is leave her in reverse (if you’re pointing up hill), take the handbrake off, take your foot of the brake and let the compression braking hold you, and then turn the key – voila, engine starts and you jump backwards and need to find something half level before you can go forwards again.

After a hard day’s driving we pulled in to Limestone Creek campsite and had just the perfect night. We can now add Brumbies (wild horses) to our wildlife encounters. I managed to tune the radio into an ABC station and we picked up the whole of the second twenty-20 match – another emphatic win for us. I was in absolute heaven and didn’t know what to focus on. I had the campfire going, the cricket was on the radio, we could hear the Brumbies pretty close by, the stars were amazing, including mild aurora in the southern sky, the beer was cold, and then the moon started to rise over the mountains. What a night!

It’s easier than you might think to turn a Troopie over, and the weight of the tent on top doesn’t help. I hope that our instructor doesn’t see this shot and even more happy that Ness didn’t have the camera out five minutes earlier when I was negotiating another fallen tree and managed to lift the back left wheel off the ground.

We are now about a third of the way through our high country adventure and are topping up with beer and other essentials having exhausted our larder with a two day unscheduled side trip along the Mitta Mitta river. Top camping once again.

You have to credit the Victorians for their commitment to encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors. We've not had to pay camping or park use fees since crossing the border.

Hope everyone is well. We should have better coverage in a week or so (I keep saying that) so we'll blog again then.

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