Around the world in 188 days travel blog

March 11-14

Marianne: After Eden, we only had 4 days left before we had to travel to Canberra. Having seen the coast, we decided to head to the Snowy Mountains, home to the Australian continent's highest peak, Mt. Kosciuszko (called "Kozzie" for short). We wanted to see it in warm weather, before it actually was snowy there.

It was hard to get info on this region, as all the guidebooks only mentioned the wonderful winter sports opportunities there. This being summer, there were very few places to stay that were open. We finally found a campground/caravan park inside of the Kozzie National Park, so that we could stay warm in a cabin, and still be in the middle of nature. Driving up into the park, we were amazed by the highway with special lanes and signals to direct heavy traffic, in the winter. Now the road was deserted.

Steve: We were also baffled by the entrance-fee system. At some points (like, unfortunately, the one we used on the east side to get to our caravan park!) they charged a $16 per day entrance fee by shunting you through "toll booth" lanes (and it's even more expensive in the winter). At other park entrances (on the west side of the park) there were no payment booths at all, and only vague threats of a fine should your car be found in the park without an entrance sticker. They appear to be targeting those entrances by which the ski crowd normally arrives in the winter . . . and judging by the special lanes and booths, that crowd must be considerable!

Marianne: This park was very heavily burned 7 years ago. All the trees had blackened trunks, and there was little underbrush. Along some of the park's highways, as far as we could see the trees were bare and gray. It looked like a winter forest in the US, but here it was summer, and these trees were snowy gums, which do not shed their leaves seasonally. They were dead. At least "sort of," for around the trunks of most of them, there was a bushy skirt of green, where new growth was coming out of the protected buried roots.

Steve: The boundary between burned forest and spared forest could be very sharp: a line running up a hillside separating green trees from gray trees. Eucalypts are very flammable, and adapted to regenerate after fires, but apparently these fires were so intense that some of the higher-elevation trees might not come back.

Marianne: The higher elevations were full of ski resorts. Within a few miles, I counted 14 lifts that I could see. Steve: And many ugly modern ski resort hotels and condos in town of Thredbo, with that "pseudo-chalet" look (but almost all deserted). Marianne: Only the one chair lift running to the top of Mt. Kosciuszko was operating. They had developed a summer attraction, in the form of mountain biking. People, clad in leg guards, arm guards, helmets, and padded gloves and jackets were riding up the lift, clutching their small dirt bikes, so that they could zoom down steep twisting trails. It looked like fun, but dangerous fun.

We used the chairlift so that we did not have to climb so high to reach the highest point in Australia. From the top of the lift, a 3-ft wide path consisting of an elevated iron grid, a foot off the ground, led off across boggy mountain meadows. It was like the Yellow Brick Road, but made of rusty metal, instead, running over 4 miles to the summit, built 20 years ago to replace the badly eroded foot path. I was really impressed with the Park Service for taking this effort, as a lot of people use this track. Steve: Although we were climbing to the highest point in Australia, it hardly seemed like a "mountain climb" – more like a ramble across a rolling, treeless plain. But there was water gurgling everywhere, from surface springs augmented by recent rains. We even walked by the source of the Snowy River (famous to Aussies, and starring in the film "The Man from Snowy River").

Marianne: Near the summit (if you could call that low bulge a summit) were the Australian continent's highest dunnies (outhouses). I stopped to make a contribution (at just under 7,000 ft!). There was a sign posted in the stall saying "please do not put anything you have not eaten down this tube!" From the summit at 7,000 ft., other rounded peaks stretched as far as the eye could see. A young German couple nearby was having a loud and heated relationship argument, assuming they were the only German speakers there. An odd thing to do at the highest point in Australia! It was the first and probably the last time we will reach the highest point on a continent (or even a country, unless we do it somewhere like Holland). I wanted to call someone on my cell phone, but most of the people we knew were already asleep. Back at the lift, we tried to have the highest cup of coffee in Australia, but the café was closing, so that the workers would catch the last chair down.

For photos related to this entry, click here.

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