Let it snow!

“Fiiiieeeeett Tjoink!” the distinctly loud call of Eastern Whipbirds echoed between the tall eucalypt and fern trees, welcoming us to the fairytale-like forest of Kinglake National Park. We arrived at this magic location late in the afternoon after spending the morning exploring the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, with a cable cart ride up to Eagle’s Seat providing sweeping views of the ocean. To our surprise we were the only visitors of the Gums campground that night, which probably had a lot to do with the recent flooding and reopening of this area. Once we installed ourselves we could properly appreciate the beauty of this place and just how strongly affected it had been by the weather extremes of this country. The area we were camping at had also been ground zero for the devastating Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, claiming the lives of 38 people and destroying over 500 homes in Kinglake alone. It was hard to imagine this scenario, with the cold rain steadily streaming down and the overnight temperature dropping to a chilly 4 degrees Celsius. Curious to see what had become of the town of Kinglake, which had all but been wiped off the map after this terrible natural disaster, we drove up the road to have a look and were stumped to find a thriving little country town. Apart from the newly built houses and the charring on the trees there was little evidence of the horror that took place here almost 14 years ago. 

With mixed feelings we continued our way north towards Bright when Ireen suddenly shouted out: “$1.99!!” What?! …”DIESEL IS $1.99!!” Are you sure it wasn’t unleaded? “NO, DIESEL!”. This was by far the cheapest fuel we had found on our trip and it prompted me to perform the camper trailer equivalent of a handbrake turn to drive back to the bowser. We filled Henk up to the brim (to the point it says “clunk” and then add a bit more) and then whipped out our 20 l jerry can and filled that up too. We were going to need every drop of it traversing the steep roads of the Victorian Alps. The pine plantations and the shallow rocky mountain river meandering through the heart of the town gave Bright an instant familiar feel to us. We had spent the past couple of days in the rain and the cold and we’re desperately craving some sunshine. Our friendly neighbours told us that the past week had been dreadful in Bright, to the point that places higher up the mountains had received a healthy layer of snow (almost unheard of in summer!). The weather gods must have listened to our complaints, as the clouds broke and made way for blue skies and warm summery weather. We spent the next couple of days living exceptionally well, as we went for hikes along the picturesque river and Piet ran amok on the playground and water park, which lied adjacent to the local brewery, conveniently located directly across from the campgrounds. We had fallen in love with this place and flirted with the idea …”How much do houses go for here? Yeah right… I guess we’re not the only ones picking up on the good vibes here…” 

Campsites are funny places, you voluntarily hand over a good chunk of cash to share toilets, showers and to live on each others lip, being kept awake by the loudest drunks at night and woken up by the brattiest of kids in the wee hours of the morning. It is thus an exception, rather than a rule that you get on with your neighbours, but in Bright we got on with ours like a house on fire, so much so that we were invited to stay at their place in Sydney. We had such a blast we would’ve loved to stay longer in Bright, but it was leading up to the busiest time of the year and our site had apparently been reserved months prior. The only place we had booked a few weeks in advance was our Christmas destination on Tathra Beach, but for the rest we had adopted quite an ad-hoc style of traveling, we just drove to wherever the sun shone and we felt like going. Not anymore it seemed, so we sat down and did some forward planning, with Ireen having her sights firmly set on Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak of Australia. We drove across the New South Wales state border (our fourth state of this trip), into the region called the Snowy Mountains, and true to it’s name the snow capped mountains started to appear in the distance. We drove into the tiny town of Khancoban (pronounced Can-co-bun), situated directly on one of the artificial lakes of the Snowy Hydro Scheme and were surprised to find the idyllically located caravan park almost empty. It took Ireen only a few minutes to find out why, when she tried to open the door to the family bathroom. 

“Why are you trying to get into the family bathroom?!” a lady snarled behind Ireen’s back. Ireen turned around surprised and replied; “Because we have a two year old?!… I’m sorry, but who are you?”. “I’m the manager here!” she barked back and then stated; “…As long as you don’t flush baby wipes down the toilet!”. Ireen replied: “And why would I do that, exactly?”. “Because it happens every bloody Christmas!”, the grumpy manager reasoned. Ireen paused and then said; “so, …do I need to get the code from reception, or are you gonna give it to me?”. After receiving the prescious door code Ireen returned to a non suspecting husband, stood firm and said to me with a cheeky smile “Jasper, stop flushing baby wipes down the toilet!! It happens every bloody Christmas! Alright?!”, which consequently became the running joke of our trip. We drove into town to purchase our entry pass to the Mount Kosciuszko National Park and set out for the ski resort of Thredbo, via the impressive Alpine Way. An open set of boom gates provided access, accompanied by a big sign confirming this road was in fact open and to watch out for the snow plows operating in this area. The white lines marking the road were replaced by bright yellow ones and the knee height white reflector poles turned into towering bright orange ones, indicating this was a seriously adventurous stretch of asphalt. Henk used every bit of his equine power dragging Prinney up the steep slopes, slowly navigating hairpin turn after hairpin turn until the landscape suddenly changed. Surrounded by huge grey and charred tree skeletons as far as the eye could see, we were confronted with the aftermath of the apocalyptic bushfires that had raged through here three years ago. 

Somewhat relieved we had made it to Thredbo without any trouble we turned of the Alpine Way and instantly became aware that this ski resort was a Mecca for mountain bikers in summer. We had literally never seen so many in our entire lives, let alone in one spot, giving the area around the ski lifts the feeling of an ants nest. We soon found our feet dangling down below us, cruising towards an altitude of 2000 meters and as the trees gave way to a spectacular grassland landscape, dotted with impressive granite outcrops, the serenity returned and temperature dropped instantly. We walked past pristine little waterways cascading through the grass from the remaining patches of snow scattered along the mountain side. We admired the sights of Mount Kosciuszko’s peak from the official lookout point, which in very ‘un-australian’ fashion didn’t have any information boards. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that for years the wrong mountain peak had been assigned as the highest of Australia, legend has it that Mt. Townsend was surveyed to be 18 metres higher than Mt. Kosciuszko. In true Australian style the issue was solved as straight forward as possible by simply swapping the names of the two peaks. Before we took the lifts back down the mountain we immortalized the moment by taking a shameless selfie with a handful of snow. Here we were, almost 2200 metres above sea level, on the roof of Australia, wearing shorts and sunnies, making snowballs in summer, in between the snow capped peaks. Our European pre-Christmas confusion was complete!

The last couple of kilometers of the Alpine Way towards Jindabyne were really easy to navigate and we felt proud of our driving achievements, blissfully unaware we were still very inexperienced in the art of mountain driving and were about to get a lesson in Murphy’s Law. The alarm bells that been coming on in Henk since we had left Barwon Heads were still coming on every time we were towing Prinney, which kinda made us conclude that the faults were not stemming from Henk, but from Prinney’s wiring. But then again, we were certainly no mechanics and this could also be a case of us trying to rationalize these alarms away in our heads. Going up the mountains had so far gone well, but what goes up must come down and as we navigated the long and steep descent towards Tathra Beach I was about to star in the leading role in the musical: ‘How not to drive down the mountain, whilst towing a camper trailer, in an automatic car’. With Piet due for his afternoon nap we decided to stop for a quick pee break about halfway down the mountain, so we didn’t have to stop for a while. I parked the car on the shoulder of the road and turned the engine off and as I looked outside the window I noticed a thick plume of smoke billowing up from the front of the car and cried out: “Sh*#”#@tttt!!!!! Where is that coming from?!!” I got out and saw our breaks literally cooking, so I took a bowl and tapped some water out of Prinney’s water tank and started to extinguish the worst of it. After that we couldn’t do anything else but entertain Piet whilst we waited for the brakes to cool down enough to be able to drive on. 

As we drove off Piet finally fell asleep and I started manually shifting through the gears of our automatic in order to make Henk break on the engine instead of the breaks on the steep declines. Almost without touching the breaks we arrived in Tathra Beach in one piece and relieved but exhausted we set Prinney up. It had felt like we were never gonna arrive, but here we stood, right on a stunning beach only days away from Christmas, what else could possibly go wrong? Before we could say “Ho Ho Ho” the handpump squirted out a big gush of water onto the kitchen bench, followed by the sound of water splashing down inside the cupboard below the sink. “……….F#&$#@!%CK………!” The valve inside our handpump had busted a hole and now we had to organize a new one two days out from Christmas. By now I had a bone to pick with Mr. Murphy, like seriously, but Ireen stayed cool as a cucumber (as always) and sat me down to fetch a plan. The next morning we drove to Eden, about an hour south from us, to a caravan dealer to get us a spare valve then combined the visit with a healthy bout of Christmas shopping. Back in Tathra we tried to install our replacement valve, only to realize that the housing of the valve was faulty too. I let out a long and irritated sigh, then went down to the local hardware store and got us a 20 l water container as an early Christmas present. Merry bloody Christmas mate…seriously, stop flushing those ($#@&!) baby wipes down the toilet!!

For this episode you’ll need to play yourself a bitta “Mountain at my Gates – Foals” 

Summer snow on top of the roof of Australia ©️ Jasper Kruse

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