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Today was simply a travel day, as we made our way from Sydney to Thredbo.
We got up at 07:00 and finished our departure preparations. Breakfast consisted of finishing off some perishable items: a banana an egg, and a pack of muffins. We had a lot to pack into the car, since we're taking camera gear, a laptop, an iPod for travel music, all the associated cables and power cords to go with them, plus hiking boots, rain gear, extra maps, a bag of food (breakfast cereal, fresh apples, and some muesli bars for the walks we plan to do), and then all the normal clothing stuff. It took us three trips down to the car to get organised.
We eventually got underway just before 08:30. The first 45 minutes of the trip consisted of navigating our way across Sydney: Harbour Tunnel, Eastern Distributor, Southern Cross Drive, and the Princes Highway south through Sutherland. We elected to take the coastal highway route, rather than the faster Hume Highway and Federal Highway to Cooma, since the Hume is such a boring drive.
As we left Sydney, the ominous grey clouds began sprinkling us with raindrops. It began slowly, but the intensity built up over the next hour or so. We passed through Wollongong and then on to Kiama without stopping. We'd planned to take a rest break at Kiama, but we've been to Kiama on day trips a few times so decided to press on the extra 20km to Berry and stop there. On this short leg, the rain became really heavy, and the driving was slow and tough going.
Thankfully, the rain eased as we approached the little town of Berry, where we'd spent the weekend after we got married 11 years ago. We pulled over into a parking spot on a side street and stretched our legs strolling around the trendy shops fitted out for Sydney day-trippers. We spotted some familiar sights from our honeymoon, but unfortunately the infamous red phone booth was no longer present. We used the public toilets in the park and then Michelle got a take-away coffee from a shop. As we walked back to the car, I decided I could use a small snack, so we poked our nose into a bakery. The sweet treats were all a bit large, but they had delicious-looking pumpkin scones in half-dozen bags. I asked if we could possibly have just a couple of them, but the lady apologetically said they only sold them in half-dozens. We dithered a bit but Michelle eventually said we should just get six of them.
Thus equipped, we headed back to the car, where we ate one of the scones each. They were as tasty as they looked - slightly sweet with the pumpkin flavour. Then we continued our drive south along the coast.
The rain continued more lightly, echoing the past three weeks of almost non-stop rain we've been having in Sydney. It was good to see it in the countryside too. The field we drove past were looking greener than we've seen anything outside Sydney for several years. Cows of various shades and sheep grazed contentedly, enduring the rain stoically. The crests of the hills around us were rimmed with low-lying cloud that extended foggy tendrils into the valleys.
We drove as far as Bateman's Bay before stopping for lunch, at about 13:00. By then the rain had petered out, gradually reducing in intensity and finally stopping completely just before we crossed the old iron opening bridge across the Shoalhaven River that leads into town. We pulled into the carpark just off the highway, next to the shopping strip along the main street. Wanting to take advantage of the break in the weather and the picturesque seaside port nature of the town, I grabbed my camera and took some shots of fishing boats, cormorants sitting on wharf piles stretching out their wings to dry, and the old bridge.
Then we set off to find a place to get some lunch. After doing a full circuit of the shopping area, we settled on the Bateman's Bay Bakehouse, where Michelle got a salad roll and I got a couple of pies: chili and satay chicken. The pies were pretty good - the crust slightly ordinary but the fillings very nice and flavoursome. As we sat we watched the rain pick up again. When it was time to head back to the car I had to dash ahead as I'd left my umbrella there.
We pressed on southwards, stopping a short way out of Bateman's Bay at Moruya to fill up with petrol. From there we drove non-stop to the intersection of the Princes Highway with the Snowy Mountain Highway, just outside Bega. We took the right turn to head inland and into the heart of the Great Dividing Range. Not long afterwards we hit the long slow winding climb up Mt (Tom?) - 10km of S-bends and hairpin curves as the road tackled the slopes of the range. Near the top, we pulled over for a brief stop at Piper's Lookout. It had promised much on our map, but turned out to be a rather disappointing view through restricting trees over the farming plain below. We'd seen much better views from various points along the road where we'd been unable to stop.
Walking from the car to the lookout point, I stopped to remove some prickly seeds from roadside grass that had stuck to my sock. While doing so, I noticed a leech inching its way up the outside of my shoe, from the toe towards the area where it could gain access to the skin of my ankle. I scraped the vampiric invertebrate off on to a handy rock. I told Michelle to remind me about the leech tonight so I could record it in this diary. When we got back into the car, she cued up a song on the iPod and told me: "Tonight, remember this song, and you'll remember the leech." I tried to identify the song. Elvis Presley, Stuck on You.
We drove on, and the clouds lightened up enough to make sunglasses not entirely insane. A patch or two of blue sky even put in an appearance. We passed through Cooma without stopping and pressed on to Jindabyne. Lake Jindabyne told the story of the past several years of drought in New South Wales, with its water level down several metres, as evidenced by the bleached and bare rocks along the waterline and below the trees. We stopped for petrol again and I asked the woman at the cash register if it had been raining in Jindabyne today. She said it had been pouring all day and had only stopped a couple of hours ago.
Now only half an hour from Thredbo, we continued on. The drive along the Alpine Way was picturesque, in an eerie way. The cloud hung low over the mountains so we couldn't make out the tops, and the trees along the flanks were mostly blackened from some relatively recent fire, with little growing vegetation apparent. The clinging grey light gave the scene a ghostly feel.
We entered Thredbo village close to 19:00 and drove down to the visitor information centre. It was closed, so we went next door to the Alpine Hotel to check in for our accommodation at the adjacent Alpine Apartments. As we walked to the hotel we noticed a pizza place and another food place, currently closed. So after getting our room keys and directions for parking our car, I asked the woman at reception where we might get some dinner. She said the hotel restaurant was open, and although many places in town would be closed, there were a few she knew would be open, including the Ullr, where apparently you get to cook your own slabs of meat and which she recommended.
We made the short trip back to the car and then to our apartment. It has a balcony with a view overlooking the Thredbo River and up the skiing mountain on the other side of the river. Having only been here in winter before, it looks weird to see the ski slopes carpeted with green grass all the way up to the top of the mountain.
Seeking food, we left and wandered through the small village. It runs out our accommodation is right near the Ullr that the hotel receptionist mentioned. As we approached to scrutinise a menu posted outside the door, an old man sitting at a table outside engaged us in a semi-conversation, saying it was the best feed in Thredbo inside. Unfortunately the menu was highly carnivorous, with nothing to offer Michelle, so we had to turn away. As we left, the man yelled after us that the place next door was good too, which assuaged my fears that he was the owner and we'd mortally insulted him.
The place next door was also light on vegetarian fare, so we continued. A few doors further along we found the T-Bar, which offered pasta and pizzas along with other meals. Michelle liked the look of a pumpkin pizza, so we went in. A waitress placed us on an awkward table near a wooden support pole, promising to move us to another table if one became available. From there we had a view of a TV screen on the wall which was showing footage of mountain biking. The T-Bar was full of people who looked like and we presumed to be mountain bikers, since a large mountain biking competition over the last few days had just ended in Thredbo. The guys at the table adjacent to us kept making exclamations of wonder and awe at the stunts and accidents we saw on the screen.
Given menus and pointed at the specials blackboard, Michelle noticed the soup of the day was potato and leek, which immediately appealed to her. She ordered that and a garlic focaccia, while I ordered the rare kangaroo fillet, which came with half-squashed potatoes, feta, pine nuts, dried tomatoes, and some sort of greens in balsamic vinegar. The kangaroo itself had a red berry sauce on it. Michelle's soup was enormous, in a bowl large enough to serve a salad in. Altogether it was excellent. While eating, we noticed a woman at another table being served her dessert - an awesome looking apple pie with huge chunks of stewed apple spilling out of a pastry shell, covered with nuts and toffee, and accompanied by a scoop of ice cream. Of course I had to try it, and it was every bit as good as it looked. Michelle had some Baileys on ice as an after-dinner liqueur.
We retired back to our apartment after a brief look around the shops to see what was there. We spotted a bakery that would open at 06:00, so hopefully we can get some milk in the morning to have with our cereal. I typed this diary entry up while Michelle read the Sunday paper we'd bought at the petrol station in Jindabyne to get the TV guide for later in the week when we return to Sydney.
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