DM and MM's Thredbo 2007 Diary

Day 3 - The Alpine Way

Tuesday, 18 December, 2007

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We're sitting on the deck of the Bistro, trying to get wireless Internet connection on Michelle's laptop.


Now we're on a table outside the Christmas shop and successfully connected to AirLan wireless with a prepaid access card (printed with a user name and password for connecting to their system). The story of how we got here is a long and involved saga...

It began this morning with Michelle turning on her phone and finding no message from the Christmas shop lady about selling us an access card. We ate breakfast, including icy cold milk from our fridge. Michelle showered and I got some more bread rolls from the same bakery as yesterday since they were so good. After making cheese rolls and applying sunscreen to our faces and necks, we went out via the Christmas shop to see if it was open.

When it turned out to be closed, thus denying us the chance to get a net access card, Michelle insisted we go to Jindabyne to try to get some sort of access there. Her anxiety was caused by a promise to her work that she would log in during this week to check on important work that couldn't get done without her.

So, rather than set out on our intended scenic drive through the alpine country south of Thredbo, we drove back north to Jindabyne. Stopping in at the visitor information centre there, I asked if there was somewhere we could get access on Michelle's laptop. The woman had obviously never fielded such a request before because she had to think before naming a trio of likely places that she suggested we try.

The first was a tiny computer shop called Koscom. They had a wireless network broadcast from their shop, so we paid the exorbitant fee of $20 for two hours of access. Michelle set up on a table in the shade of a tree in the courtyard outside the shop and began work.

I browsed around th small selection of shops in the immediate vicinity, which included a gallery of work by a local nature photographer, with lots of framed panoramic prints to buy. There was also a good looking bakery, from which I got a mushroom pie and ginger beer for myself and a coffee for Michelle as she worked.

I went back to the car to plan out the rest of our day using the maps we'd bought before we left home. I had a notion that by coming back to Jindabyne it might actually make more sense to turn the day into a trip to Yarrangobilly Caves instead of along the Alpine Way to Khancoban, but a glance as the road distances disavowed me of that misconception. So with Michelle declaring she'd be finished with her work by 11:30, I figured we still had time enough to return past Thredbo and do the day's drive as planned. Thankfully it wasn't intended to be a lot of hours out and the same back.

While Michelle finished up, I went back to Koscom and asked if they knew where we could buy an AirLan card for use on their wireless net in Thredbo. The guy suggested I try the lolly and gift shop two doors down - something I never would have expected as they showed a distinct lack of any advertising for net access on either the outside or the inside when I'd poked my nose in earlier to peruse their collection of old-time sweet shop lollies.

Undaunted, I walked in again and, after allowing them to finish serving a coffee to the lady in front of me, I asked the extremely non-net-savvy looking girl behind the counter if they sold wireless net access cards. An old woman (even less net-savvy looking) popped up behind her and said in a cheery voice, "Yes, we do!" She took me over to another counter to show me the selection. I bought a 5-hour card for $15.95 - almost $7 an hour cheaper than Koscom, and with the advantage that we could use it on the AirLan network back in Thredbo. When I went out and showed the card to Michelle she almost leapt for joy. It meant she could do her work in the evening in Thredbo as we'd planned, while I wrote up each days events in the diary.

Done for the time being, Michelle packed her computer up and we departed Jindabyne for the drive back to Thredbo and beyond. The first part of the trip went uneventfully, as we passed Thredbo and continued up the valley along the Alpine Way to Dead Horse Gap - the highest public road point in Australia. Several cars were parked just below the pass, at the head of a walking track, where the occupants had presumably departed from on foot.

It takes time...
Burnt gum trees, Dead Horse Gap

I took some photos of the picturesque Thredbo River here, the last point in the range where the waters ran north into the Snowy River system. Over Dead Horse Gap, we moved into the catchment of the mighty Murray River. Despite the pleasantness of the views, the stay here was short because of a preponderance of large and aggressively persistent flies that zeroed in on us as soon as we opened the car doors. It took us some time to get back into the car without also including several flies with us.

Dead Horse Gap
Thredbo River, Dead Horse Gap

The drive down the valley south of Dead Horse Gap was slow going, with countless hairpin bends, switchbacks, and blind corners hugging against the mountain on one side and dropping away in a steep wooded slope on the other. The forest here was not burnt, but full grown and green, leading into magnificent stands of tall alpine ash trees.

Winding road ahead
Bend in road, Alpine Way

The slow going led us eventually to the sharp bend in the road as it turned from south to northwest at the knee point of Tom Groggin, where the valley finally opened out into the narrow plain of the infant Murray River. We stopped at the rest and picnic area there, to stretch our legs and to walk down to the waters of this, the most majestic and mighty of Australian rivers. Here it was a fast running stream, about 6 or 7 metres across, and shallow enough to wade through on its bed of small rounded boulders. It was fascinating to think that just over a year ago we stood at the far end of this same waterway, when we crossed the wide and languid flow at Wellington in South Australia on a car ferry.

One Night in Bangkok
Murray River headwaters, Tom Groggin

As we got out of the car to have a look at the river, we spotted a pair of kangaroos in the picnic area, just a few metres from us. It appeared to be a mother and joey, the young one about half grown. I approached slowly behind an intervening picnic table for a photo, but they spooked suddenly before I could get a shot and only managed to fire off one hastily panned shot as they bounded away through the trees.

Kangaroos weren't the only wildlife we'd seen so far. On the road we had driven past many parrots of assorted species, scaring them into graceful flight as we drove past them grazing in the grass on the side of the road. We'd seen crimson rosellas, rainbow lorikeets, sulphur-crested cockatoos, and a mated pair of gang-gang cockatoos, the male resplendent with a bright red head topping the dusky grey feathers of the body.

Gang-gang cockatoos
Gang-gang cockatoos

From Tom Groggin the road became less torturous as it wound its way north again, through a lot of rock cuttings through a crumbly looking red rock which I couldn't identify and which were the justification for warning signs on the road about rock falls. Indeed some of the cuttings looked primed for disaster as huge trees loomed directly over the road with their roots partially exposed overhanging the edges of the vertical cuttings above us.

A bit further on we reached the turnoff for Olsen's Lookout. This was a 10 km gravel side road that took us out along a ridge to a lookout point suspended high above the valley floor and facing the west side of the Main Range, which looked like a solid wall of rock marching off into the distance before us. I'm glad we'd made the bone-jarring trip out here along the dirt road, but the view wasn't quite as awesome as I'd hoped, being a bit misty and partially obscured by trees.

Twenty minutes later wer were back on the sealed road and heading on to Scammel's Spur Lookout, which was a mere 200 metres from the road along a sealed drive and gave a somewhat better view south across an expansive valley to mountains in the distance. An informational sign had a photo of the Queen in her youth, apparently visiting this area. We ate some more of our lunch here, then continued on.

A bit further up the road we passed the Murray 1 power station - a modern looking hydroelectric station at the bottom of a steep valley below the road, fed by three fatround pipes which crossed over the ridge above and slashed whitely through the trees down the precipitous slope to deliver their bounty of gravitationally charged water into the waiting station below. Stopping to take a photo of this force of man in the middle of the wilderness, I could hear loud electric "zapping" noises emanating disconcertingly from the station.

Murray 1 Power Station
Murray 1 power station

A short way further down the road we finally emerged from Kosciuszko National Park into the tiny town of Khancoban. The town centre was off the main road so we turned into the scattering of houses and followed the most obvious street. We passed the school, which had just been let out, as a group of half a dozen or so children assembled at a crossing in front of us. I stopped to let them cross the street and they ran off home. The street led after another block of houses out to the Khancoban Country Club, where its carpark signalled a dead end. I checked our map of the town and noticed that we'd somehow missed the main shopping area, so we turned around and headed back. We pulled into a sad and dilapidated complex consisting of a small library, a hairdresser, a doctor's office, a general store, and a set of toilets. Michelle said she'd seen these shops as we drive into town, but had thought there must be more further along somewhere, since these ones looked so decrepit and small. Not so.

21:45 Alpine Apartments

We also noted that as we returned to the shops past the school, that the place and the street were completely deserted. Evidently we'd seen the entire student population - all six of them - leaving school for the day.

I've just showered and am finishing off today's diary with a nice hot cup of peppermint tea after Michelle has finished her work for the evening.

Back at Khancoban, we used the facilities and then bought a bottle of water before hitting the road again. Khancoban was a disappointingly dull town, being made of 1950s era functional buildings, and we hoped that the scattering of small towns along the Murray River further along the road would be more historical and picturesque. We drove across the Murray River into Victoria, then took a right turn at a dirt road leading to the township of Towong. Coming across an intersection as the road turned into bitumen again, we were confused as we thought we'd missed Towong. It turned out to be the dozen or so houses at the intersection, with not so much as a pub or general store to indicate that collectively they constituted a named settlement.

Another 100 metres or so down the road we came across the historic Towong racecourse, where scenes of the movie Phar Lap were filmed, using the picturesque old grandstand as an authentic period set. We turned into the racecourse parking area and hopped out to have a quick look at the grandstand, but the fence around it was locked and we couldn't get very close. A couple of old women were scanning the grassed car park area with metal detectors, and completely ignored our presence.

Towong Track
Towong racecourse

Heading back to the intersection, we took the turn that led to Tintaldra, another few kilometres down the road. This tiny town was characterised by an old historic general store, built in 1846, and not much else. I took some photos of the building and then we crossed the Murray back into New South Wales and an alternate loop road back to Khancoban, as it was 16:00 by now and time to make the long return trip to Thredbo.

Tintaldra Hotel
Tintaldra Hotel

We passed through golden coloured farm country in broad valleys ringed with tall forested hills. The land around here looked a lot drier than the country we'd passed through on the drive south from Sydney two days ago. We pulled into the Khancoban petrol station with an almost empty tank, to find one of the two unleaded fuel bowsers out of action, and the other being used by a guy filling his car and a metal can. When he'd done, I filled up, noting the printed paper note taped to the bowser which asked customers to note down the total price of their purchase before going to pay, as they had no electronic connection to monitor the price from inside at the cash register. With the petrol the most expensive we've ever bought, and our tank almost empty, it was the first time a fill-up ever cost us over $40. We also noticed that the diesel pump had a note attached to it saying that it was empty and that diesel fuel was expected to be delivered on Thursday. I was glad our car didn't take diesel!

Caltex, Tintaldra
Old Caltex sign, Tintaldra

Michelle grabbed a bottle of water and a giant snake for a quick sugar fix, which the guy added to the $40.95 for the fuel that I told him. After washing the splattered bugs off the windscreen, we set out for the drive back along the Alpine Way to Thredbo. We stopped only at a couple of places along the road for quick photos, making the trip back to Thredbo in about two hours and arriving about 18:15.

After unloading the car from the day's trip, we considered dinner. Michelle was in the mood for more of the potato and leek soup, and suggested getting it as a take-away so I could get a kebab from the kebab place near the Alpine Hotel. So we ordered the soup and while they prepared it went for the short walk over the kebab place. It turned out to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so I went into the Bistro and ordered a hamburger to take away. After waiting for it, I returned to the apartment where Michelle was already tucking into her soup and garlic bread.

Then we tried using the AirLan card we'd bought in Jindabyne to let Michelle check her work e-mail again. There were several wireless networks available from inside our room, but not the AirLan one. So we went for a walk, first to the deck of the Bistro, where we couldn't detect the network, then out to the courtyard in front of the Christmas Shop on the theory that if they sell the cards they might also house the transmitter. We managed to connect there and get things working, so Michelle worked at a table in the open night air of the courtyard for a while, while I wrote up this diary entry.

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