Snowy mountains / Kosciuszko - Canberra - Sydney
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From Toora we travel to the North East to the big National Parks of The Snowy Mountains and Kosciuszko. The last part of the journey is very beautiful. We drive through endless fields, the mountains far away. I feel like I’m flying, totally free.
We camp in Old Adaminaby next to Lake Eucumbene on an isolated camping. The lake is situated beautifully in between the woods and has a very light blue color in the evening light, but is ice cold. Our neighbor on the camping explains to us – this takes some time since Jac can’t understand him at all and I have to decode each sentence, could he mean this, no, that maybe, etcetera – the water comes direct from a lake high between the mountains. Yesterday it snowed in the mountains – a bit unusual with Christmas he says. We remember our cold night yesterday in Toora. As soon as the sun goes under the temperature here drops even more, the wind blows directly from the mountains. Tomorrow the air will be beautifully clear and the sun will shine. Very handy to have your own local weatherman. Our neighbor worries if we are well enough equipped to withstand the cold tonight in our little tent and obviously thinks we are inexperienced tourist and have no idea what we are dealing with. Our sleeping bags are more suitable for the summer but I explain the man that Jac will certainly keep me warm. The man smiles.
Our neighbor visits this camping already 30 years and lives here permanently since his wife died, that is the last 12 years. I ask him if he isn’t very lonely out here in the winter but he explains he can’t stand cities, finds the nature here enchantingly beautiful and he fishes every day when it is not to cold in the strong currents of the rivers in the park. He is not the only one who lives here permanently and anyway during the whole year there are tourist, in the summer fishermen, in the winter skier. This confirms the suspicions Jac already had of this camping: it is a fishermen camping! What are we doing in a fishermen camping? Nobody in his right mind who doesn’t fish (and I suspect Jac thinks being in your right mind and liking fishing is an unusual combination) visits this camping! It certainly looks like every camping guest has his own boat, I never saw so many boats on one small camping. To make things worse our camping has no camper kitchen and to eat something we have to drive to the nearby Adaminaby, a very small place with no activity at all. But appearances are deceptive: Adaminaby is the ‘Trout Capital Of The World’, as an immense sign announces. On the back side of the board pictures of proud men in high black boots carrying enormous trouts are shown. Jac is not properly impressed. Luckily the local restaurant does serve large amounts of French fries, but the improvement in Jacs’ mood is quickly lost when he orders a black thee for me – “Standard or Large?” “Large” - and the waitress returns with half a liter of black beer. She looks so disappointed that Jac says that he wants to try it anyway, but it tastes like licorice and doesn’t even faintly resemble Belgium Trappist.
In the morning we breakfast next to the lake. It was indeed very cold tonight, I put every part of clothing I had in the tent on my part of the sleeping bag. Jac kept his feet in the sleeping bag again but had no problems with the cold. The sun is warm and the air is extremely clear, like our neighbor predicted yesterday. We want to tour around in the park but find that the only round tour is of the kind ‘all or nothing’, very long, a trip of more than 300 kilometer. As I said before, everything in Australia tends to the extreme! The park is very big and has not so many roads. A large part of the park is totally uncultivated, full of high mountains. The road goes around this part. Kosciuszko NP has the only high (more than 3000 meter) mountains of the whole of Australia. In the winter it is a popular ski spot. There are a lot of lakes in the area, which are connected by underground streams. Because of the height differences between the lakes the force of the water current is used in different places of the park to generate electricity. Big underground centrals are built for this reason. The enormous space in the park is imposing, large woods, high mountains. From a mountain we look down at one of the stowage lakes, sinister black water surrounded by dead trees.
Since both Jac and me are more the ‘all’ than the ‘nothing’ type, we go for the long drive. This takes a lot of time and it is dark when we drive back to our camping. The area is desolated and we drive with full headlights in order to see anything at all. Now and then a small animal crosses the road directly in front of our car. Till now - with the exception of yesterday - we never drove at night here in Australia because of the danger of hitting an animal. We feel ill at ease and are happy that we are almost back at the camping. Then suddenly I see a big kangaroo sitting next to the road. This is not unusual, during the day we saw a lot of animals. Parts of a second later the kangaroo jumps right in front of our car. Jac steers sharp to the right but can’t avoid colliding with the kangaroo. We hear a loud bang and hit the kangaroo with the left front of the car. A moment later the kangaroo disappears in the dark. We don’t know if it survived, at least it was still able to jump away. We are shocked by the behavior of this Kamikaze Kangaroo. If only it just stayed where it was, like they do during daytime, nothing would have happened. We inspect our car. The left flashing light is broken, some kangaroo hairs are stuck in the radiator, luckily no blood to be seen. It doesn’t look to bad, but we know the repair will surely cost more than 1000 Australian Dollar, 600 euro and now we really lose our own risk. We calculate how much money we could have spared by insuring properly for this 17 day rental but this doesn’t help much to improve our mood. I feel bad for the kangaroo and hope it will survive. Later, in Sydney when we return the car and indeed lose our 1000 Australian Dollars, the man we deal with tells us they used to have many accidents, but now equip the campers with ultrasonic devices. Humans don’t hear the high tone but the kangaroos can and don’t like the noise, so they keep away. A pity they didn’t install the device on our car. This is pretty bad for our budget, with is 110 Australian Dollars a day…
The next day we drive to Canberra, the Australian Capital, which looks more like a town with its easy traffic, low buildings and many trees. From Canberra we drive in the direction of Sydney. It has been unusual cold in the South of Australia, but in New South Wales – only 500 kilometers away - it has to the contrary been very hot. It is more than a month ago that Sydney had any rain and big areas around Sydney are on fire. It is a major disaster. Big areas of Blue Mountains National Park to the east of Sydney and Royal National Park to the south are on fire. Firemen from all over Australia haven’t been able to stop the fires and a lot of houses are destroyed. Luckily no people have been killed but many animals aren’t so lucky. In the outer skirts of Sydney kangaroos are seen, walking on the streets, flying for the fire. The high road we take has been closed for days but is open again, we have to be careful however because of the smoke. The fire in the Blue Mountains is burning over a front of 25 kilometers. It is disturbing to drive for 150 kilometers in the smoke. We can smell the fire, difficult to believe it is still 50 kilometer to the fire front. Smoke is everywhere, where the sky should be we see an eerie red and green shine.
In Sydney the smoke lays like thick smog over the city. We can see almost nothing. I’m very disappointed but luckily the next day the wind direction is changed, the wind comes now from the sea and the air is a bit clearer. We visit Circular Quay with the famous Opera House. It is the 31st of December and the place is crowded with people. The harbor is fenced in, tonight the big fireworks will take place and this part of the city will be an alcohol free zone. Our bags are inspected when we enter the area. I’m very impressed by the harbor with its many sailing boats, the large hanging bridge, the many skyscrapers. Jac however states that a real harbor has real boats, he means big, rusted cargo ships – and hoisting cranes and certainly no skyscrapers. Furthermore it is much to busy here. The only building he likes is the Opera House (lucky for the architect). I’m sorry to say but Circular Quay is not a Jac approved harbor.
We dine in a Spanish restaurant, small, white walls with dark wood and lots of old copper objects. The restaurant is totally full. This afternoon we had a beer over here and tried to reserve a table for tonight. The charming bar man smiled a lot and ensured me that we would get a table. When we enter the restaurant at 7 o’clock we worry a bit, it is crowded. But our bar man keeps his promise and when we don’t want to eat at the bar he organizea a table for us and the couple that entered the restaurant in front of us eats at the bar… At 9 o’clock the whole Spanish neighborhood enters the restaurant, grandmothers and babies included. They eat large paella’s, drink lots of Sangria and Rioja and shout at each other on the top of their lungs.
Outside we join the stream of people heading for the fireworks. It is warm outside, even the wind is hot. For the best places on the right side of Circular Bay, close to the Opera House, you had to reserve beforehand and pay a lot of money. We find a place on the left side, totally free, from where we have a spectacular view on the harbor, at the other side of the water the Opera House, complete with an enormous full moon right above it. The harbor is filled with boats decorated with colored lights. The light of the moon plays over the water, some special boats are decorated like dragons, changing color al the time: purple – blue – yellow – orange – red. They emit steam like a proper dragon. Everywhere are people, mostly young and wearing headsets with lighted horns or jumping ears. We have to wait one and a half hour but aren’t bored for a moment, what with the sight on the harbor, the dragon boats and the people around us. And then it is 12 o’clock and the fireworks start.
The sky seems to explode with colors. From four places around the bay the fireworks are lanceted, from the bridge, from behind the Opera House and half a mile to the left and to the right. The fireworks are synchronized, big flowers bowing their blooming faces to us from all around the city. The colors are spectacular and the crowd is thrilled and everybody oohs and aahs at the spectacular effects. When finally the fireworks stop, a massive applause grows up around us and is answered by the other side of the harbor and crowds standing further away. Masses of people fill up the broad streets and block up the traffic. Total strangers kiss me and wish me a happy new year. Everybody is relaxed and the atmosphere is very good. I can’t help thinking this is a much better way to start the new year than watching Youp van ‘t Hek (a Dutch cabaret artist) and afterwards light some fireworks in the street and discuss the not-so-shocking-as-he-used-to-be-Youp with the neighbors.
The next days we do the city. The temperature stays well above 30°C. We look down at Sydney from Sydney Tower, a spectacular view from where you can see how large the bay area around Sydney is really. We visit the botanic gardens from where we have a nice view on the Opera House with behind it Circular Quay and next to us Wooloomooloo Bay, at last a ‘real’ harbor according Jac. We drink a beer in the restaurant of the botanic gardens, which is not terrorized by black swans, like in Melbourne, but by elegant Ibises, eating chips from less well guarded saucers, delicately handling them with extremely long, rounded beaks. Later on I see an Ibis eating chips out of a paper bag, as easily as Chinese eating mie with eating sticks. We spend a day at a very crowded Bondi beach and visit Darling Harbour with the very interesting and entertaining Sydney aquarium. I like Sydney a lot, it is an enervating city with interesting buildings, both modern and old, lots of museum and lots of culture. We could easily spend more than 5 days over here. But when I would have to choose a city in Australia to live in, I would probably choose Perth: relaxed, low house prices, big gardens, moderate climate, lots of parks, the entertainment of a bigger city and when you want nature and solitude, they are easily to be found in the neighborhood.
When we fly away to New Zealand we see the smoke laying like a thick layer above the city. It will take two more weeks till the Australian firemen – helped by a change in the weather - finally control the fires. Australia: an extreme experience!
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