Totally loving the site in Benalla, I was beginning to wish we'd booked in for an extra night, unfortunately I'd lready booked our next stop off in a place called Nicholson, near the entrance of the Lakes. Today was overcast and dull, not so cold that we couldn't wear shorts, just a definate chill in the air. We set off early with a lot of miles ahead of us and lots of hours on the road. Before driving out of the site, we were both really impressed at how neat and tidy it was, there wasn't a single blade of grass out of place!
A few KM on from Benalla was a little place called Glenrowan, which was named after the Rowan brothers who ran farms there between 1846 and 1858. Its claim to fame is that the Bush Ranger Ned Kelly made his last stand and was captured there in 1880 after a seige and shoot out with the Police. The town has a statue off Ned Kelly in the main street, there is also a bootmakers where Ned hid after being charged with being drunk and riding his horse on the footpath. When he gave himself up after a bit of a scrap, he was taken over the road in handcuffs to the courthouse and then thrown in a cell which you can still visit. There is also a museum that has exhibits relating to Ned Kelly, one of which is a bloodstained cummberbund he was wearing when he was captured in Glenrowan.
Our chosen route initially took us to Albany which is above Wangaratta, in the end we decided to cut that out, and passed below both places. Not feeling too peopely, we opted for cattle grazing in the grassy fields with the mountains in the background. We stopped in Bright for lunch. A really busy place, in the foothills of the Australian Alps by the side of a river, it's chocolate box picture perfect, tree lined streets, and packed! We did some food shopping before getting lunch, and used the car park of the supermarket to park up whilst we ate. The cafe was really quirky, with old wooden skis propped up in the corners of the room, and lots of ski related posters. The one by our table had all of the runs on the mountains and their difficulty levels. It was mightily impressive and hard to take in. Although we could see the mountains, it was hard to imagine them snow covered and people whizzing down them with a death wish. Bright is another gold mining town, and in the mid 1800's the rivers and creeks were lined with shanties, occupied by thousands of people seeking their fortune. Some of the relics from those days can still be seen along marked trails if you wanted to walk them. The weather hadn't improved at all, and infact it got worse, torrential rain was bouncing up from the roads, so there was nothing for it, but to try and wait it out with coffee and food. Si indulged in a 'BELTCH' a bacon egg lettuce tomato cheese and something beginning with H that I can't remember! I had granola of the homemade variety which was pretty good. Once the rain eased off we got back underway and heading out of town, we discussed fuelling up. I'm all for too much fuel over not enough, and that's partly because I know that there are extremely long stretches of road without a fuel station for miles at a time. Si decided we had enough to get us to the next place so we drove on. Then we saw the sign saying do you have enough fuel, next fuel station 180km away or something like that. It was a long way anyway. We promptly turned around and went to fill up. Part of our reluctance was that the fuel was more expensive there, as you'd expect. Unwilling to get caught out we filled the van to the brim, and we were very glad we did.
Driving out of Bright with the Alps in the distance looming ever closer, the rain returned with a vengance and the temperature dropped, so much so, I had to put the window up! That's cold right? Brrrrrrr.
The mountains were decorated with low lying clouds, whisps of them highlighting the peaks and emphasising them. It was so much like being in mid Wales, it was uncanny. The road started to climb upwards, and was pretty steep. Either side of the road were forests of towering trees and ferns , the scenery dramatic and magical. The roads up Mt Hotham were something else though. The curves in the road were what can only be described as squeaky bum sharp. and the road had a delightful camber too, so it wasn't the most pleasant of drives from my perspective. If we'd been on a motorbike though, it would have been a very different story, they were the perfect biking roads. In the summer, the area is a magnet for mountain bikers, quite why I cannot even begin to imagine, theres no engine on push bikes and I suspect I'd have spent more time pushing my bike than actuallly riding it. Thankfully though we were in the van and enjoying the scenery in comfort with the van doing all the work for us instead of our little legs. The forests had that Jurassic Park feel to them again, massive trees towering over the roads, and giant ferns around their bases. spetacular to look at and such amazing colours. The incline increased further and we passed signs advising us there were chain bays comingup. Obviously we didn't need them, because despite it pouring down, we are visiting in summer. Climbing ever higher, and up into the fog we'd seen brushing the mountains earlier, things suddenly seem quite so enjoyable. There were no crash barriers at all along the mountain road, so if you went over the edge, you weren't going to be coming back breathing or in one piece. The fog got thicker and we had to slow right down, to a snails pace of 25kmph not only to take the hairpin bends, but also because we couldn't see any further than 10 metres in front of us. Cue the anxiety levels rocketing.... We passed a bright orange sign on the side of the road telling us to keep right of the snow poles. Um, Yep, will do, because on the left of said snow poles was a drop off to certain death. All we could see, were the blackened trunks of dead trees rising up eerily out of the fog. I'm pretty certain the view is spectacular on a clear sunny day, unfortunately we weren't in luck. I can safely say Si enjoyed every minute of that drive. It seemed to take hours to get to the top, and when we did, it was quite a surprise to see ski lifts, resorts and chalets everywhere. The fog lifted as we descended, and we could see where some of the ski runs went through the trees as we looked across. We rounded a corner and came upon Big D resort, especially named for our very own Dylan of course.
The Mt Hotham resort has 13 ski lifts, 35 km of cross country skiing in 320 hectares of ski terrain and it's own airport. Its considered the powder capital of Australia and is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere with a village located at the top of the mountain. The resort is suitable for skiiers of all abilities and has been a tourist resort for 125 years. It also has sledging, husky dog sled tours and snowmobile rides. I would also imagine it has places serving hot chocolate and if they did, that's where I would be, watching marshmallows melt into all the chocolately goodness. Whats not to love when the snow is down. Everything except the bloody roads. We did stop at a picninc sight, expecting to have some sort of spectacular view, but it was literally just a picnic site, surrounded by thick bushland. A stupid place to put a picnic spot in my humble opinion. The fact that we couldn't see a hand in front of us is totally irrelevant at this point.
The road got a bit wider and the keep right of the poles signs disappeared, as we coasted down the other side. The loss of those keep right signs was no great disappointment, the sight of them looming out of the mist was distinctly unnerving.The rain eased off and a few km later it stopped, and more road signs kept us amused. They were all signs advising against driving tired, but it was the way they were worded that tickled us. We passed through a small town called Smoko. It got it's name in 1865 because gold seekers stopped there for a smoke and a rest on their way to and from the gold fields. Smoko is also a word used for tea break. Australian shearers smoko is the mid morning break between breakfast and lunch where they have a small meal, to keep them going. Interestingly, the term is thought to come from the British Merchant Navy, being used since 1857 and still used now apparently.
From Smoko, we carried on the Alpine Highway and through Harrietville which got its name from the first white woman who lived there. It started as a goldmining settlement during the victoria Gold rush. The majority of the early miners were of chinese origin, which for some reason surprised me. After Harrietville we came to Omeo, a town that didn't fare well in two earthquakes that hit the area i can't remember when, but definately in the 1800's and the Black Friday Bushfires in 1939. Many of the buildings were destroyed, the Omeo Bank house remains and the coffee house that was built in 1879. In 1990 the building was condemed , the restoration of it was done by 1995 and it held its first guests aftr 25 years. Its now called Snug as a bug motel. Oh how i wished we could have stayed there. It also had a cuckoo clock shop, try saying that when inebriated!! It was so Alpine I almost expected someone to be yodelling in the main square. I have discovered that although the town has an oceanic climate that edges on the cool side, it has four definate seasons, and chilly nights alll year round, it even experiences frost in the middle of summer. I shit you not!! The lowest temperature for Victoria was recorded in Omeo a positively baltic, -11 degrees in june 1965. To think I was moaning about temperatures in the low teens. Anyhow, as we weren't staying there that is just yet another useless bit of information for you.
Little towns of Swift Creek, Doctors Flat were passed through, I'm sure there were more to them than the handful of buildings we could see on the roadside, but there didn't seem to be a great deal going on there. Also we still had a lot of miles to cover and we had lost a lot of time driving through the heavy fog. and the squeaky bum bends We turned off into a town called Ensay, we needed a rest break and were highly amused at the flock of extremely long legged sheep that inhabited the bowling green ( bowls is huge here, every town has a bowls club!) tennis courts and I'm pretty certain that the sheep have learned to used the toilets ... The biggest surprise was the Aussie Rules pitch, that the sheep were happily grazing on, I guess it's one way to save on club costs. Who needs a mower when you have sheeps. Ingenious really . The town must have had a sizable poulation but hidden away from the main road and those goddamn tourists!!
Once suitably refreshed, we got back on the road, we were still quite high up, and I kept expecting a long old mountain track to loom around every corner, but to my intense relief it didn't come. As we drove we couldn't help but notice the fire blackened tree trunks thst must serve as a daily reminder to the Australians, particularily during the summer months that the risk of it all going up upis very high. With the strong winds we've expreienced its easy to see how the fires in 2019 were able to jump 30km as the embers floated on the breeze. Everywhere we've been is prepared as they can be. Risk levels are on huge signs eerywhere you go. Every site we've been on has evacuation points and instructions on what to do in event of a fire. The larger places have signs directing refugees and those affected by a fire to safe places. Well as safe as possible I guess. What amazes me the most is how everything regenerates after a large fire. The trees with their fire scarred trunks soon sprout new green shoots, and carry on doing so, it's just mind blowing how clever nature is and how determined she is to survive. The Indigenous people used to carry out regular bush burning, to regenrate and protect, and whilst regular burning is carried out in the winter months, I don't know the scale it's done on. For now though, we are travelling under a total fire ban, so n o open BBq, or open fires, not that we'd have one anyway, and all the signs are on green, which is be prepared. So, we are prepared!
we finally arrived at our destination, and it had been the longest day of travel in view of time on the road. Although we did a few hundred KMs it took us twice as long as it should have done due to the roads and the fog. However, I have to say that it was a pretty epic experience, despite my anxiety levels going off the rictor scale. The Alpine Highway is an exquisite experience and one we are pleased to have done together. I know I would have enjoyed it more on the bike, so its soething to think about for next time...
Nicholson is right at the start of The Lakes, and almost every vehicle we passed or overtook us had a boat being towed along behind it. with a truck and big caravan following closely behind. Our little campsite The Lakes Bushland Park, was quite a way off the beaten track and as the name suggests in the Lakes Area but in the bush. The rain had returned and being almost 1800hrs we were tired, hangry and just wanyed to sleep. The facilities were clean and basic. It's very much a back to nature site, which we have no issue with. W were quite a way from the facilities and that was a tiny problem but not an insurmountable one. It had washing machines, but despite needing to do a load of washing we weren't going to be able to dry it as it was still very damp. It was a massive site and the spots alocated were generous. Lots of activites going on for kids and play areas for them. As it was we washed, ate cleaned our teeth and went to bed. It had been a rather long hard day, and I was cold.