Sydney – Kosciuszko National Park
5 – 11 December
We left our campsite next to the Shoalhaven Zoo and headed down along the NSW south coast till we hit Jervis Bay. It was a hot day, and our AC fan still being broken meant that we were quite ready for a mid morning swim from Hyams Beach. It was very calm and quiet there, and it would have been easy to set up for the day and read a book, but decided to continue on as we had somewhere to be that night. At Bateman’s Bay we turned inland and cruised through fields and forestry till we popped out at the nation’s capital, Canberra. The city sits on the fence between Melbourne and Sydney, with its manmade lake and perfectly hill shaped Parliament house.
We were staying with another good friend in Canberra, which meant another soft comfortable bed for a couple of nights, a nice dinner out at the brewery, a wander through the pre-Christmas heart of town, and a cocktail at a trendy bar. We had seen the sights of Canberra a few years earlier, so went to find something new away from the government precinct and war memorial.
The two highlights this time were the national museum and the national Arboretum. The Arboretum in particular was quite an interesting place. During the 2003 bush fires, large areas of forest were destroyed on the border of the city, this, along with other factors contributed to the implementation of the National Arboretum. Instead of single trees of each species being planted, small forest blocks of each tree variety were planted around the hillside leading down to Lake Burley Griffin. The hillside had been extensively landscaped to include an amphitheatre, with a large café/events centre at the top and another smaller venue out to the side. It also housed the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection where donations of Bonsai and Penjing trees are lovingly cared for. It was pretty cool to see all of these bonsai trees in one place and to lean the nuances of the art form. One of the volunteers there was good enough to put aside his watering duties for five minutes and explain to us how the Bonsai-ing of trees worked. It was really quite fascinating. They take a grown normal size tree and cut it down to essentially it’s trunk at the base and slowly grow that up again. It takes a long time, but after letting it grow, and cutting it back over and over again they can create what looks like a full grown tree, only miniature. They can even get the sizes of the leaves to shrink so they don’t look too out of proportion of the trunk and branches.
We were lucky enough to be in town for an ODI between the Black Caps and Australia at Manuka Oval. The weather was threatening to rain, but we took a punt and set ourselves up on the embankment. Even though the game went terribly for the New Zealanders, we had a lot of fun, particularly watching the players on the boundary being mobbed by young kids on the fence trying to get anything signed. Our favourite was the little girl trying to get large blow up cactus signed. The sunset that evening was particularly brilliant.
Boosting out of Canberra we stopped in Cooma which has the information centre for the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. We nerded it up there for a good few hours, exhausting their stock of videos and information boards. I particularly liked the TV screens showing graphically the whole scheme and which turbines were running, flows and power output.
The Snowy Hydro Scheme was the largest engineering project in Australian history. It was built between 1949 and 1972 to divert the large rainfall and snow melt from the Snowy Mountains into the Murry and Murrumbidgee Rivers for irrigation instead of flowing down the short way to the coast. In collecting the water and delivering it to these rivers, the water falls over 800m through the penstocks of seven power stations which are able to produce around 3.6 GW of electricity. This is generated only at peak demand times to maximise revenue, and pays for the maintenance of the irrigation scheme, essentially the generation of electricity is a by-product. The water is diverted using a network of 16 major dams, two pumping stations and 225km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts, collecting about 90% of all of the water which falls on this section of the great dividing range.
We pushed to get to Jindabyne from Cooma before the Kosciuszko National Park Info Centre closed as we were keen to climb Mt Kosciuszko (Australia’s Highest Point) in the next few days and wanted to check conditions with them. The news wasn’t good, meaning that we’d have to kill a couple of days to wait out a nasty front and heavy cloud cover on the summit. No worries, we’ll just go the other way around.
Over the next couple of days we headed up to the northern end of the park experiencing some absolutely beautiful alpine countryside, climbing slowly up the sides of the mountains and descending just as slowly down the other side. We crossed the Great Dividing Range a number of times, stopping to take a photo of the sign each time, and even made it to Australia’s highest town, Cabramurra, at 1488m. It was 2 degrees. Brrrr!!
We stopped off at a town before entering the mountains called Adaminaby, the only town which needed to be moved as it was flooded by Lake Eucumbene. It is now home to the large trout sculpture and a museum on the snowy scheme. Being a weekday the museum was listed as being closed, but when we got to the door we found a tour group inside, score. It was filled with artefacts and copious amounts of information on the scheme. During our touring we crossed some of the dams and checked out a few of the above ground power stations. We had the opportunity to go into the Murray 2 power house which was pretty neat. When we were in there, there was an irregular loud banging which could be felt in the ground. Apparently this was something to do with the air injection into the Francis turbine to reduce cavitation, and a pressure relief valve which starts to bang when the seal starts to fail. It was quite a scary sound.
Camping in the mountains was pretty cool, literally. Luckily they allowed camp fires which was good for a change, especially as we were running out of LPG so needed the fires to cook on. We camped on the headwaters of the Murray one night, and Island Bend another which was our highest elevation camp site at 1209m.
Eventually the weather cleared and we were able to climb to Australia’s highest point. Climb is probably a bit misleading. We took the Thredbo Ski lift half way up, and the rest of the way was a gentle-ish walk along a raised steel boardwalk designed to protect the fragile alpine flora and fauna. It was a beautiful walk though, and there were even some snow drifts across the track for a bit of fun. The weather was relatively still and clear giving us amazing views to the surrounding ranges. This made up for the rather unremarkable sight of the mountain itself which isn’t that much higher than the surrounding peaks, and very rounded on top.
While we were up there, groups of runners were coming and going, taking a quick photo at the top and then running back down. Turns out that these people had left the coast at 5am the previous morning and run ~230km to get there climbing to 2228m above sea level. Crazy.
Having ‘conquered’ the highest peak, the next day we toured around the area going to look at Charlotte Pass, and climbing up to Mt Porcupine behind the Perisher ski field. Interestingly Charlotte pass is where the road up to the top of Mt Kosciuszko started. Trust Australia to build a road up there! Apparently up until sometime in the late 70’s you were still allowed to drive to the top.
We then pushed the Troopy to climb through the windy mountain roads one last time to get ourselves to the Victorian border.