Monday, 29 December 2014

The Roof Of Australia

Lake Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains.
Canberra was a good stop, and there was more that I could've done there to be honest. Although I wouldn't want to live there, it is a pleasant city. Moving on from my half-day stop in the Capital, I still had another 2 hours driving to my next destination - the ski town of Jindabyne.

The rolling hills and mountains of The Snowy Mountains.
Ya Flamin' Galah!
The Australian Alps.
Down in the Snowy Mountains, the area on the New South Wale's border with Victoria, is a beautiful area, filled with rolling hills, farms and of the course the mountains. Although not the huge and impressive mountain ranges you get in other parts of the world, like France and Nepal for example, Australia' mountains are something special (and are still called the Australian Apls!). Worn down by millennia, they have a soft, warm feel to them, compared to the harsh and jagged look of the bigger peaks. Covered in eucalypt, they always have a blue-green hue to them, and just mean home to me. This range is also home to the mountain pine-plum, a small scrub that is thought to be the world's oldest living plant.

Entrance to the National Park.
Lake Jindabyne.
Exploration of the area began in the mid 19th century, and the area was mainly used as grazing land in the summer. There was also a gold rush in the area, brining in thousands of people, many of whom stayed on after, and formed communities all around the area. The Snowies were also made famous by Banjo Patterson and his poem "The Man From Snowy River." He is the same man that wrote "Waltzing Matilda." Jindabyne was founded by these cattle graziers, and become quite a bustling town, until in the 1960s it was blown up by the army, and relocated to higher ground due to the damming of the Snowy River during the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Over 100,000 people worked on the the building of dams and pipes that was needed to meet the State's water demand. It took 25 years to complete (1949 - 1974) and cost today's equivalent of $6b. Most of these workers were immigrants, coming from over 30 countries to help boost Australia's post-war economy - sadly 121 people died in the construction of this huge water collection and electricity generating project, but it was these people that made Australia such a multicultural and interesting places.

Jindabyne is a ski town, and has many resorts nearby - Perisher and Thredbo to name a few. Thredbo is probably the biggest and businest towns, with the longest ski runs in Australia, and boasts just over 4000 beds for winter accommodation. Being summer, and not yet school holidays, this place was dead. I sorted out breakfast, visited the National Parks and Wildlife information centre, checked out a map and weather conditions, then back in the car to get to the first hike of the holiday. The weather was fine, not a cloud in sight, but the wind was up around 70kph. Today's route would be a 20km return trip, with the summit of the highest mountain in Australia about two thirds of the way in. It wasn't going to be hard, as my starting point was at 1835m and I only had to get to 2280. There would be a path all the way, so it was more the distance and the wind I was worried about.

Mt Kosciuszko on the left.
It started off well - going straight down from Charlotte Pass - but of course you must come up again, so the hard slog was on within 30 minutes. There were only 3 other guys along this part of the track, and as the day went on, I only came across just over a dozen people on the whole 20km loop. On the way to the top, there is the Blue Lake and 3 other lakes, which were nearly at the top, so a good stopping point for a rest and a nice view. No one else was there, so it was just me - it gave me a nice break, and a wonderful view. The lake was formed by glaciers cutting through the granite rock, and the water comes mainly from snowmelt, so the water is cold and blue, and is frozen four months of the year. Although I had forgotten my lunch, it was a welcome stop, spent only with about a thousand of my new 6 legged winged friends.

The Blue Lake at 1890m.

The Snowy River.
Me at the top of Kosciuszko.
Reaching the top of Australia's highest peak wasn't that difficult in reality, but the winds played a part in wearing me out. The weather report predicted 50 - 70kph winds, but I'm sure it was more like 100kph! At certain parts of the hike, a had to walk at a 45 degree angle to stop from falling off the path and right over the edge. Some parts were so windy that I could barely move forward into the wind. Although there weren't many people up there, I was able to get a guy to take my picture up here as evidence - I have hiked mountains myself before (Ben Nevis in Scotland being one), and you need a picture at the summit. When I climbed Ben Nevis the first time in 2005, my camera was stolen 1 week later, and I lost the photo - forcing me to climb the bastard again in 2010 (and a wee drop of whiskey to celebrate at the top went down a treat!). A selfie will just not do either! Once at the top, it was too windy to wit around and enjoy the view, so I headed back down to the path and headed home.

An actual dead horse on Dead Horse Gap trail.
Free ride down!
I'm watching you!
Slighly sore and sunburnt, the second day I headed out on a smaller, but easier walk, a round trip of about 12kms. Starting from the (ghost) town of Thredbo this time, I walked all along the river, past a golf course, before heading up Dead Horse Gap. There were 2 ways of doing this hike - catch the chairlift up and walk all the way downhill. I chose the other way of course - hike all uphill and get the lift down... much more fun! Offering great views of the surrounding mountains, the walk up wasn't too difficult, and with nobody else on the track, it was quiet and really quite pleasant. While walking up the hill, I came across a real dead horse just off the track - which one came first, the horse or the name? Reaching the top, you get a wonderful view of Thredbo and the Snowy Mountains. Taking the ski lift down was a godsend - it's like when you have walked all day, and finally reach your car or hotel - it's a hallelujah moment!

View from the top.
Although there is so much walking to be done in the area, hiking and camping by yourself isn't a great idea. 1 slip or fall, and you could be injured or killed miles and miles from any help. I spent a little time walking around Jindabyne and the towns around the area. I stayed in Jindabyne backpackers, and it wasn't your normal hostel experience - I basically had the whole place to myself! But all good things must come to an end, and Christmas Day was looming, so home-bound it was. 'The Snowies' will be there waiting for me to come back and spend a week or more hiking and camping it.

One of the locals saying hi.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Capital Town

It has been a while since the last post, as it has been a while since much has happened in the way of trips. In the time leading up to Christmas, I thought it would be a great chance to get out of the city, and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet away from the Rat Race that is Sydney. Don't get me wrong - I love this city! It is, however, a complete and utter jungle sometimes. And it seems to be getting worse.

This trip, some mountains were in order. The Blue Mountains, just over an hour from the city, weren't far enough away, and probably filled with tourists. It has been hot here already, so no need to head North. So, South it was, and off to The Snowy Mountains. Of course, in mid-Summer, they aren't snowy, but that's just how they're called - could be worse, could be 'The GREAT Snowy Mountains,' as we in Australia love to name everything (The GREAT Barrier Reef, The GREAT Dividing Range, The GREAT Australian Bite... I could go on...). My first stop on the 6 hour drive would be Canberra.

The forecourt of Parliament House.
The flagpole on Parliament House.
Old and New Parliaments.
Now, before you ask why, let me just say that I am kind of with you on that one - it's the kind of place that you were either born in, or have just escaped - there is no other excuse really. It is, however, a good stopping point before the mountains - also a great chance for some sunny photos of the Capital. It's twinned with Nara in Japan, and I can't make a real connection - Canberra has no shops or pubs, and is full of politicians, and Nara on the other hand has a multitude of craft stores and sushi shops and is full of biscuit worshipping deer. Canberra is however clean, warm in the summer, minimal traffic, full of wildlife and smells as fresh as the countryside. The (brief) history behind the city is this - in the 19th Century is was just farmland belonging to New South Wales. But before the beginning of the 20th, there was talk of Federation and which city would become the Capital of Australia - Sydney or Melbourne. Australia became a Federation of States in 1901, and a new spot was decided on in 1908 for the construction of the city. An international competition was held for Australia's only fully designed city (including a man-made lake), and was won by Walter Burley Griffith (who the lake was named after) in 1911, and construction started in 1913.

The monkey enclosure at Parliament House.
Parliament House.
The bridge over Lake Burley Griffith.
The two main attractions (there aren't many...) in Canberra are Parliment House and the War Memorial. Canberra's first Parliament building was opened in 1927 (Melbourne housing the 'Polies' until it was built), and was replaced in 1988 by the new Parliament House. The new building is quite an impressive sight, perched up on it's hill with it's big lawn and flag pole. Although you can't see it, it is shaped like two boomerangs. Inside, there is the House of Representitives, where all the 'suits' sit around and crack jokes at each other, dozer off in the back benches, and basically make up new ways of taxing people. The other chamber is the Senate, where they argue for days and weeks on end, deciding whether to say 'Ya' or 'Nay' for the new laws the other Polies have come up with. You can come in the see them in action too... when I say action, it is like watching a school playground with the big kids picking on the little ones, stealing lunch money and calling each other names. It's also much like the monkey enclosure at any zoo.

The Seante Chamber.
Poppies on the wall.
Old Parliament House.

The War Memorial is a great place to visit. Not for making a lot of noise, and maybe the kids won't like it, but it is chock-full of history and memories for the Nation - A must see if you come to Canberra. The building itself is not much, a symmetrical, solid stone structure with a small courtyard in the middle, and a dome at the far end. This is how it should be though - it is not here to attract a million tourists and be gawked at or in selfies, but to be peaceful, respectful and of course a true memorial to the soldiers, nurses and all the men and women who died serving our country. In the middle of a still pond in the courtyard the eternal flame burns, and on either side of the courtyard are roles of names of the people who served, as well as listing all of the theatres of war Australia has fought in since Gallipoli. The roles show the names only, not rank or other awards, as "all men are equal in death." Under the dome, by the light of stained-glass windows, is the grave of the 'Unknown Soldier.' Brought over from France, the name and rank of the soldier is a mystery, but he dies fighting in The Great War, and "He is all of them and He is one of Us." It also houses one of my favourite paintings of all time - "Menin Gate At Midnight" by Australia painter Will Longstaff. This work of art is a whopping 170 x 137cms, and depicts many ghostly figures walking through the  walking through the Menin Gate in Belgium. When the memorial closes each day, there is a ceremony where anyone can attend, and "The Last Post" is played - a truly emotional tune that always brings a tear to my eyes.

"All men are equal in death." No ranks or medals, just the names of those who served.
Although it was only half a day in Canberra, it was productive. Although I wouldn't want to live here, I can appreciate it for what it is - quiet, suburban, clean, safe and a nice little place for a weekend getaway. Broad yet quiet avenues run through the small city, with only squat office buildings compared to Canberra's bigger siblings Sydney and Melbourne, it is unpretentious and quiet peaceful. and without the problems of larger cities. Maybe it is a good place to live... nice place, shame about the politicians.

The National Museum of Australia.

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...