Getting to Tasmania

In Australian Spring 2020 it was clear that Covid-19 will stay for longer, and that border measures won’t go away quickly. The NSW and South Australian border from Victoria was closed, as was the Tasmanian border. The only way to get into Tasmania was to drive (in your own car) straight from the NSW/Vic border onto the ferry in Melbourne. You could always get into Victoria, but you weren’t allowed to get out. And as I didn’t want to get stuck there, I bought another car, just as a temporal solution to go to Tasmania for a few weeks. I didn’t setup the car properly, just put a few plastic containers for storage from BigW into the boot, as well as a mattress. I also ordered a JetBoil MiniMo, as a multi-purpose cooking stove. I can use it for hiking, but also for normal cooking on the road, as it can simmer. Contrary to other stoves from MSR, which are just good for boiling water or melting snow. In order to save some additional money, I even got an adapter to use the cheap gas canisters from Bunnings with the RVR safety vent and bayonet connection. It’s such a waste, as they’re not refillable, but still cheaper as the camping gas cans, which are also not refillable, but lack the RVR. Anyway, I thought for a few weeks that should do.

The ordered JetBoil was never delivered. So in the end I went to Anaconda and bought one in store. Thus, finally at the 1st December 2020 I said goodbye to Michelle and left Sydney to drive off towards Melbourne. I wasn’t in a particular hurry, and planned maybe 5-6 days until I’m in Melbourne and could hop onto the ferry. So I went out of Syndey directly into the Blue Mountains into the West across the main dividing range. My first stop was at the Blue Mountains Botanical Garden at Bells Line of Road. I had a stroll through the Garden and watched some nice flowers. There was no view, as I was directly in the clouds. Afterwards I went down to Hartley Vale on a winding road, where I basically left Greater Sydney. In Oberon I had a quick stop at the former railway station before heading to the Oberon Dam. The Dam was initially built to supply water to Glen Davis Shale Oil Works, but then later that shifted to water supply for coal fired power stations in Wallerawang and later Mount Piper.

Blue Mountains Botanical Garden
Look Back to Hartley Vale, behind are the Blue Mountains
Oberon railway station is still maintained by volunteers
Sunset at the Oberon Dam

After Oberon I headed further westwards. I crossed farmland on sometimes gravel road. The small village of Rockley had a nice appearance, but there was not really anybody around. I made a brief stop at the camping area at Carcoar Dam (to take advantage of the free warm showers), before arriving in Cowra. Cowra has a well maintained Japanese Garden. The garden was designed after Japan decided to rebury all their Australian war dead of WWII in Cowra. I continued to drive westwards via West Wyalong to Hay. This landscape is agriculturally shaped, and for kilometres you either see grain fields or sheep meadows. Well, meadow is an overstatement, as the sheep eat the last blade of grass. In Hay there is Shear Outback, a museum dedicated to the sheep industry. This gives information about the past (less than 200 years), how shearing technology developed, which influence unions had in the past, and how many sheep could ben shorn per day per shearer (the record is at 346 per day).

Farm land west of Oberon
Downtown Rockley
Carcoar Dam with wind farm
Japanese Garden in Cowra…
…also has a decent collection of bonsai trees.
The Catcher in the Rye? I doubt it, I think it’s Wheat
Former railway station in Weethalle…
…and the celebration of hard working white men on the grain silos.
The further west you go, the drier it becomes. Typical Australian cattle country.
Hay railway station served as destination for POW, and Australians with German heritage, as they were incarcerated as precaution.
Development of shearing technology over time, but unions pushed back on wider combs from NZ, as then less shearer would be needed
The principle setup of a shearing shed is still the same as a century ago
This friendly bloke gave a shearing demonstration just for my own
Vegetation becomes even thinner
Booroorban Royal Mail Hotel

In Deniliquin the old school is the local museum, which was free to visit. I spent an hour or so there, where all the white settlement (and hardship which comes with it) is explained in great detail. Not that white fellas, would have been the first people to have lived there. Deniliquin is famous for their annual Ute muster. Yes, they’re not only muster cattle and sheep, but also Ute’s. Technically, the original Australian Ute’s are a dying species, since the GM withdrew manufacturing of Holdens in Australia and eventually also dropped the brand itself. Now US style pick-up trucks are also classified as Utes, which is not correct, as Ute’s consist of a single chassis, whereas pick-ups aren’t. Anyway, Australians are shorten anything, and they would never speak of pick-ups. They stick with their utes mate.

Deniliquin School is now the local museum
They’re very proud of the biggest Ute muster on planet
One of the major irrigation channels south of Deniliquin, and the water comes from the Murray river

I was approaching the Victorian border quickly, and in Mathoura I thought it’s a good idea to book my ferry ticket. Well, in the mean time things have changed. The border from Victoria to its neighbour states reopened incl. NSW and Tassie. Summer holidays have been approaching quickly, and international travel were still off-limits. As such, a lot of people had the idea to go to Tasmania. The next free ferry I could book was mid of January 2021. I thought fuck, now I’ve a bit too much time. On the small campground in Mathoura there was a retired couple. They invited me over for a coffee, and we had a nice chat. They just came over from Victoria if I remember correctly. And as we were talking I mentioned that I like rock climbing. So it turned out their daughter Jackie is also into rock climbing. She’s living in Natimuk with her partner, which is close by to Mount Arapiles. I’ve never heard of it before, but thought well, now that I’ve enough time, why not check it out. As such, I again changed my direction and headed further West. I crossed the Murray river in Koondrook. It was still a bit of a bad feeling, as you never know, if they would suddenly close the state borders again.

At the Victorian border in Koondrook at the Murray river

After Kerang (nice library btw) and via Quambatook I entered the Victorian wheat belt and headed to Hopetoun. In each small village along the railway lines you’ve this tall grain silos. The newest hype is now that there’s some artwork on those to attract visitors, which ultimately spend their money there (well the last part doesn’t work for me, as I’m such a bad capitalist and don’t spend my money). So on the way to Horsham I stopped at several silos for the artwork. Most of it depicted hard working white people. Only one made a reference to the indigenous people, who lived here a bit longer than just short of 250 years. But this is when history starts, deep in Nationals territory. At one of the silos I met Cheryl. We started chatting and it turned out that she’s an avid cyclist from Melbourne, and is just on a short roadtrip before Christmas to escape the city after their lockdown was finished. I made a quick stop in Warracknabeal before heading to Minyip. Minyip was the filmset for “The Flying Doctors” TV series from the 1980’s. I just stopped by and had an ice cream, but most of the town is definitely in decline since then. I continued via Rupanyup and Horsham to finally arrive at “The Pines” in Arapiles.

Gannawarra Solar Farm west of Kerang
Enjoying the sunset out in the back
The best times of Quambatook seem to have long gone
Agriculture is the only industry in those regions
Lake Lascelles in Hopetoun
From an artistic point of view one can appreciate the murals
But the focus on white men can’t be ignored
Lively Warracknabeal on a Sunday afternoon
That’s the only silo I can recall with an indigenous motif
“The Flying Doctors” TV series was shot in Minyip.
Grampians are insight on the way to Horsham

I stayed in Arapiles for about 10 days before heading to the Grampians. Over Christmas 2020 I went for a 3-day hike to “The Fortress”. After the Grampians I went to Port Fairy and then followed the coast line all the way to Adelaide. This closed the gap of the coast line I haven’t seen before, as in 2008 we went from Port Fairy inland to the Grampians and then along the main highway to Adelaide. We must have crossed Horsham back in the days, but I can’t recall it anymore. The towns along the coast are packed with people from the city. In Victoria from Melbourne and in South Australia from Adelaide. After Portland I went to Cape Bridgewater and had a short walk to watch its petrified forest (which are now rock formations). Crossing the SA border still required a permit. That still didn’t feel good to cross, but surprisingly there were no coppers at the border who would check anything. They are more concerned of introducing fruit flies which would threaten their agriculture business. In Mount Gambier I walked up the volcanic cones and had a look at both lakes in the caldera. Via Tantoola I headed to Beachport and did the scenic drive. I’ve heard Beachport has nowadays a decent butcher 😉. The next day I went to Robe. It was packed with yuppies from the city. I went to a craft beer brewery, but I didn’t like the vibe in town. So instead of staying there for New Years Eve I rather decided to head further north via Kingston SE. There is enough lonely beaches, stretching for several kilometres. The weather was fine but quite a bit windy. Nevertheless, at midnight I could even see the fireworks in the distance.

Some indigenous rock carvings, as proof that this area was already settled for thousand of years, needs to be protected by a cage from bogans
Coastal wild flowers in early summer
Coast Line after Port Fairy
Codrington Wind Farm (east of Portland)
Portland, Victoria…not Oregon
Cape Bridgewater with its petrified forest…
…and its adjacent wind farm.
Mount Gambier…
…and its two crater lakes.
Tantoola Railway station at the former Limestone Coast railway to Beachport
The hinterland has no natural drainage towards the sea. To make it accessible for agriculture, channels were dug through the sand dunes
…scenic drive
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…or where irrigation happens
It’s an idyllic meadow for the cattle
Robe Lighthouse
Big lobster…major tourist attraction in Kingston SE, then you can imagine what else the town has on offer
My lonely beach for NYE

At New Year’s Day I continued my drive towards Adelaide. I crossed the Murray river at its mouth on a ferry on my way to Langhorn Creek. That’s a small village in the middle of all the vineyards. In Victor Habor I walked over the bridge to Granite Island (no, I didn’t need the horse drawn tram to get over) and had a stroll there, before heading over the hills towards Adelaide in order to enjoy the sunset at John Yeates Memorial lookout. In Adelaide I met with Tracey and her partner. I met them before Christmas in Arapiles, as they were on a road trip from Melbourne to visit family in Adelaide. Afterwards again I went bouldering in Adelaide.

I passed some pink salt lakes
Crossing the Murray river close to its mouth
Railway station in Strathalbyn is only served by museum trains
This is a sacred aboriginal, but threatened by bogans on the road
Horse drawn tram…
…is one means of transport to get onto Granite Island.
That’s an interesting piece of stone art, in particular given the gap in between
Enjoying the sunset towards Adelaide

In Adelaide turned eastwards, as my actual destination is Tasmania, and not Western Australia, which was off limits anyway back in the days. So over the Adelaide hills into the (almost) outback. I drove via Sedan to Swan Reach for another ferry over the Murray river. Then I loosely followed the Murray river in the following days. There are huge areas of irrigated land, and an ongoing big discussion about water rights all along the way. Because of the drought in recent years, and an increased salinity of the Murray downstream in SA the Victorian farmers can’t use so much water as several decades ago. From a global perspective that makes sense, but for each farmer in Victoria who doesn’t want to change, that’s a big outcry (no it doesn’t make sense to produce rice in Australia). If the irrigation canal is dry, you can be most certain that the Eureka flags are raised on each farm along the way. But in the end, if you don’t let the river enough water to survive, all your fish can only die once. Most of the farmers have their self-centric view, and all of them are only after their own profit, not taking into account their impact on the greater environment and society. And it’s fair to say, there is no monetary incentive to do so.

It’s immediately dry country (no not alcohol, come on it’s Australia mate) over the Adelaide hills
Lutheran Church in Sedan
High Cliffs along the Murray River in Swan Reach
On the road at nice summer weather
The Paringa railway bridge (red in the middle) in Renmark was part of the former Alawoona-Barmera railway line
Murray river in Mildura, with NSW on the other side…hard to believe that this border could be effectively policed during lockdown 🤔
Mildura is a major grape area…
…but only if you have enough water for irrigation, otherwise it turns into a desert quickly
A truck and I make a quick stop at Manangatang railway station
Enjoying the sunset on my last day near the Murray river

In Echuca I left the Murray river and headed towards the Victorian Alps. I stopped in Bonnie Doon and had a walk across Lake Eildon using former railway bridge to Mansfield. Mansfield is the base for Mt Buller ski resort. Now with the closed railway, we can be sure that everyone has to drive in his own car (presumably at least a 4WD, maybe even high-clearance for the potholes in the bitumen) to Mansfield to approach the ski fields. Don’t let people any choice, just drive your own car. And as such, I also have to drive through the Alps. I popped out in Moe in the Latrobe valley. The capital of brown coal mining. The dirtiest (but hey cheapest way) to produce electricity. And most importantly it safes jobs (a handful, but it doesn’t matter they’re potential voters). Further south on top of Mount Hoddle I had a nice sunset with views stretching all the way to Wilsons Promontory National Park.

After harvest in early summer the hay bales are still on the fields
Lake Eildon with the former railway bridge which is now used by pedestrians and bicycles
Driving up the Goulburn river and passing some old Victorian gold mines (the A1 is still in operation)
Lookout from Johnston Hill with an abandoned repeater station for Woods Point (the batteries are still rotting away in the shed)
Lake Thomson is a main water supply for Melbourne
Yallourn W brown coal fired power station in the Latrobe valley

After a few days hiking in Wilsons Prom I finally headed to Melbourne mid of January 2021. On my way I stopped at Phillip Island to watch the Penguins. They built a whole stadium for the observation, and you’ve to pay for it. In the end it’s such a bloody tourist trap. You’ve only a few minutes once they made it ashore, and then you get pushed out. Back in 2008, someone told us to stay until dusk at one of the beaches along the Great Ocean Road to view the penguins (it’s not Teddy’s lookout in Lorne, but I can’t remember the exact beach). And yes, after all the tourist vanished the penguins came ashore. It was such a wonderful experience to see them in their natural environment. Nobody pushed you away, and it was even the same kind of penguins.

Wilsons Prom in the distance…
…and the green hills to the north…
…at a stunning sunset from Mount Hoddle.

In Melbourne Cheryl, who I met earlier at the silos, hosted me for a few days. We had some nice conversations in her apartment at the 20th something floor. In the night the police helicopter was soaring above the city and landed on top of the Victoria Police Headquarter in the night several times. It felt quite surreal and a bit like Gotham city. I was also able to catch-up with Cynthia who I met before in Alice Springs. We met at Flinders Station in the CBD and had a few beer at the Yarra river close by the MCG.

Penguin arena on Phillip Island, where everyone pushes to get the best photo
GPX track

I know I can fly

That’s what I typically said, when someone was asking me, why I’m taking the railway. Typically, I didn’t elaborate, that I meant that literally. So, after 2 years of travelling, my class ratings from my PPL-A were going to expire. I need 12 block hours and 12 starts to extend them. At the same time, also my medical was due to expire. So I tried to figure out, how and if I can extend my CRs in Australia, because in the end I need a flight instructor to sign my check flight. I was already running late in time due to my medical. Then I couldn’t apply for a safety clearance, because the Australian CASA has stubborn rules. They insisted that I need to have a valid medical from the same country as my license. Why? It doesn’t make any sense. Even in Europe your medical can be from a different country than your license. Why can’t I get a medical from a CASA approved physician? Don’t you trust your own physicians to check me? So you think German bureaucracy is bad and doesn’t make sense…you haven’t heard of the Australian ones. Their rules are so stupid and lack any rational basis. It’s beyond comprehension.

Thus, I couldn’t rent any SEP, I reached out to Sydney Glider Flights. They have a Dimona TMG, and I used to fly them when I was in Austria. They’re basically two old blokes Laurie and Colin, both FI’s (for Sailing Pilots). But as I have my TMG class rating also in my PPL-A I could put the hours in my PPL logbook rather than my SPL logbook.

They operate from Camden Airport in South-West Sydney. So, it was quite a distance to get to them, but luckily the train still drives until Campbelltown, and thanks to Colin, he always picked me up from the railway station. He had one of those old green MG sport cars (and an ugly dog). But I was positively surprised how much leg space is there for the passenger. I’ve never had so much room in modern cars like in this one. I could even stay at his place once, so I didn’t need to commute all the way. He’s a funny pommy guy. Is flying his whole life and was even maintenance engineer at JetStar. Laurie is an retired teacher of German heritage.

I flew once with Laurie across the Blue Mountains to Rylstone near Mudgee. Had a short break, a bit of hangar talk to the locals. One of them was building his own plane, and then via Katoomba back to Camden. With Colin we did mainly local flights in the south west towards Mittagong and the Nattai National Park. It was quite fun to fly with both of them. But as they were only FI’s for SPL’s I needed to find a FI to sign me off for my PPL.

Lucky me because of Covid-19 the German authorities extended the deadline by 4 months to extend your CRs. So, in the end I did a check flight with a FI. It was my first flight in a Cessna C-172. I only used to fly the smaller C-150 two seater before. Well, at least I thought I did my check flight. Then the trouble started. He didn’t want to sign the papers (it’s only two pages), because there is no English translation. As such, I explained the situation to the German authorities. Then surprisingly, they came back to me, and said I can’t extend my CRs outside Europe, but due to Covid-19 they made an exemption. They even provided a translation of the 2-page document for the FI. Nevertheless, the discussion was ongoing. I tried to resolve all his questions. But in the end we went into circles. Once one issue was resolved, he found another excuse not to sign the check flight. Yes, in Australia it’s different. No in EASA a check flight is not the same as a proficiency check. That whole discussion was ongoing for over 1 year until August 2021. Then I gave up, because I would have needed another check flight in 2022. And it was then conceivable that I won’t be back in Germany. I thought to transfer my licence to Australia, but then I would have the troubles all the way around, once I’m back in the EU. So I didn’t follow up on that either. Now my CRs are expired in my PPL-A, but I still could fly TMGs with my SPL.

Laurie and I on the way to Rylstone
Warragamba Dam (main water supply for Sydney)
From the air you see how many ridge lines the Blue Mountains have (not a good place for emergency landings, but the Dimo is still a glider 😉)
Condensation of the Mount Piper coal fired power station (behind Lithgow) is a good indication we’re on the right way
On the way back near Katoomba we could spot the Three Sisters
Dimona safely back at Camden Airport
Me in the Cessna C-172 (I still don’t like them to fly)

Sydney Cycling

During Spring 2020, while I stayed in Sydney, my aunty and I did several bicycle tours in and around Greater Sydney.

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

In end of September 2020 we cycled into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. We started along Pittwater Road and then went on to West Head Road all the way to West Head. From here we had a look to Lion island and Barrenjoey Head. We tracked a bit back and then down to the The Basin campground, passing some Aboriginal rock carvings on the way. We took the small ferry over to Palm Beach and cycled along coastal roads back to Mona Vale. In particular the last few kilometres had quite some steep climbs.

Barrenjoey Head, all fans from “Home and Away” know where that is
Lion Island
Aboriginal rock carvings
On the ferry to Palm Beach
GPX track

Around Windsor

In mid October 2020 we drove to Windsor and started from the railway station our loop around Windsor. We could have taken the railway halfway, but in the end decided for convenience reasons put a few more CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. We crossed the Hawkesbury River in Windsor. At the Ebenezer Church we had a coffee and some scones with jams. There’s a small wine area on the way to the Sackville ferry, and one of the wineries was open (on request) for some wine tasting. Heidelies enjoyed it, and thought that’s the best cycling ever (sure we only did 25% and it was already noon). After the ferry we headed up towards South Maroota, when I got a flat tyre. After 15min I changed it completely and we could continue towards Cattai. We did a short detour into Cattai National Park to visit an old farm house and have a look onto the Hawkesbury river. Back in Windsor we had a beer at the local pub, before driving to Riverstone and meeting with Dave, a friend of Bruce, for dinner and another beer. As I only had my sunglasses with me, I even couldn’t drive home, and Heidelies needed to drive back (You know it’s Un-Australian not to wear sunnies the whole day 😉).

Ebenezer Church
Rustic Vineyard from the inside…
…and the outside. But as we were the only guests the publican wanted to get rid of us as soon as possible
Crossing the Hawkesbury river on the Sackville ferry
Old Cottage in Cattai NP, the inside looks quite dire
Already training for the Bridge-to-Bridge race?
Last lookout to the Hawkesbury River
GPX track

Northern Beaches Loop

In end of October 2020 we cycled around the Northern Beaches. From Mona Vale along Narrabeen to Long Reef. The through Dee Why to Curl Curl and up to Seaforth to cross the Spit Bridge. Along middle harbour, we could catch a view to Long Gully Bridge we arrived in Chatswood for lunch. Where we went to a Vietnamese restaurant (at least it was called like this). When I asked for real Vietnamese coffee, they didn’t know what I was talking about. Back on the road we got onto the Roseville bridge and via some suburban streets through Frenchs Forest to Cromer. Then from the back to Narrabeen Lagoon, and along Pittwater Road back to Mona Vale.

Heidelies already happy to arrive at Long Reef lookout
View down to the Spit Bridge…
…and Middle Harbour
Long Gully Bridge
GPX track

North Head to Bradleys Head

In beginning of November 2020 we cycled from Manly to the Taronga Zoo. We drove with the bikes to Manly. You can’t take your bikes onto the bus in Syndey, unfortunately. This is reactionary, as in other cities like e.g. Canberra, Melbourne, you can put your bike onto the front rack. Thus, there’s actually no alternative than to drive (in particular, as Sydney also doesn’t have a subway, and only sparse railway system). You might think, politicians have learnt something due to recent strong weather events in Sydney? Well think again. Instead to get cars of the road, they propose even the Western Harbour Tunnel with the Beaches link. So all the with plebs in the Northern Beaches can drive even more. So they’re happy and don’t need to change their habits. And the politicians are happy, because they get re-elected. Who pays for it? Tax payers from Western Sydney supposedly. Who cares? Nobody.
The road tunnel will have more than twice the diameter than the subway tunnels, which are currently under construction. That means more than 4 times the cross sectional area and more than 4 times the volume to be excavated. Or to put it in other words. Instead of building a 15km western harbour tunnel, you could easily build a 60km subway for the same costs, connecting North Sydney with Manly to Dee Why, and having a cross connection from Chatswood to Dee Why and then all the way up to Mona Vale via Narrabeen. Cutting commuting times by at least 50%. The B-Line express bus from Mona Vale takes at least 1 hour in rush hour into the CBD. With a subway those 30 km should not take more than 25 min. Who cares? Nobody. There are NSW elections this year, and Dom needs to pour more concrete to get re-elected. You really ask why this contract was signed, now 3 months before state elections? That’s transpicuous pork-barreling.

We parked our car next to the old hospital in Manly. The rode up to North Head, wish was still officially closed due to the 2019/2020 bush fires. Then took the shortcut via the Big Brother studio down towards the Corso and then along the beach North. More or less along Manly Creek, we reached Manly Dam. From there we halfway drove, halfway pushed (yes, that’s why it’s called push bike) to Balgowlah North public school. From there it rolled via Seaforth down to the Spit. We kept on the Ocean Side and via Rosherville Reserve went to Balmoral Bay, before again climbing up to Balmoral. The we crossed over and enjoyed the view from Bradleys Head to the CBD before cycling back to Taronga Zoo. From her we took the bus back, while Heidelies went straight back and I went back to Manly to get the car. Then I drove during rush hour to the Zoo in order to pickup the bikes.

View to South Head…
…and the rough coast line to the North.
The CBD can also be seen, as well as the top of the harbour bridge
St Patrick’s Seminary, how frugal the catholic church can be
the locals at Manly Dam
View from Parriwi lookout
Purple and lilac blossoms in the suburbs
On the way up to Balmoral
Taronga Zoo main entrance
Amphitheatre at Bradleys Head with the Harbour bridge in the background…
…and the Rose Bay to the other side
GPX track

Picton Loop

End of November 2020 we drove to Picton. Again there are a few trains per day, where you could take your bike with you. But it’s already a 25km drive to the railway station. Thus, in the end we decided for the convenient option and drove via the motorway to Picton. The additional e-tag didn’t work in my car, and as such I needed to call them up the next day. Once arrived in Picton we enjoyed a nice breakfast before starting the actual ride. From Picton we made a big loop westwards to Thirlmere. Next to the old railway station is the NSW railway museum with a big collection of locomotives in different shelters. It was closed due to Covid-19 anyway, but you would have needed a single day at least to have enough time to explore everything. Then we followed the old alignment of the Main South Line until Couridjah. This trunk is still in operation up to Buxton for museum steam railways. Just before the Remembrance Driveway we crossed the contemporary Main South Line and then headed on the Remembrance Driveway south to Wollandilly and then Bargo. In the Bargo hotel we made a break and enjoyed a cold beer. After lunch break we rode via county roads, and Tahmoor back to Thirlmere and then took the shortcut to Picton. Across the old wooden bridge on Prince Street we had a look at the big sandstone viaduct before finishing our ride in the local pub with another beer. On the way home we decided not to take the motorway, so we explored the road behind Camden and passed the huge construction site in Badgery Creek for the Western Sydney airport. Slightly lost in Western Sydney, we made our way through Blacktown and Epping back to Mona Vale. This wasn’t the quickest or shortest drive without tolls, so I think it took something like 3-4 hours, and we were really late back home.

Old railway station in Thirlmere…
…with the water crane.
One of several old steam locomotives
One of the Thirlmere lakes
Quick stop at Couridjah railway station
A freight train just passes by on the new Main South Line
Bargo River on the way to Tahmoor
At Picton Post Office we finished our bicycle tours (and I never really used my bike afterwards. Up until now it’s still stored in Sydney)
GPX track

Ski Mountaineering Thredbo

In late August 2020 I went for a 3 night winter camping and ski mountaineering to Thredbo. I met our guide Mike in Jindabyne, and his other two guests, Jon and Ian, in Thredbo. As it wasn’t clear how fit they were, it was in the end decided to take the cable car instead to walk uphill. Given the fact that we already lost some time, it was a wise decision in the end. On top of the cable car we put our skins on the ski and started out tour. The two nights we set up camp at Rams Head North. It is quite sheltered for normal wind conditions. As the wind became stronger the final night, we moved a bit down into the upper snow gums.

The organisation of the tour was quite chaotic. Our guide Mike had for sure several decades experience, but I’m not aware of any formal qualification. He was for sure not an IFMGA guide, but more a photographer without clear planning and leadership skills. So the few km to Rams Head turned out pretty long, as every 5min someone stopped for some reason. Either to fix some of it’s gear, take a photo, have a drink or a snack. In the end, we never came into a good walking rhythm. Once at the peak we needed to dig ourselves into the snow to provide a plane area for the tents and some wind protection. In the evening the guys were busy making plenty of photos.

The second day we eventually went to Simkin Peak (after having no plan, when setting off camp – well, it’s a bit of a problem if you start walking, but don’t where you actually want to go) with one ski run partly down the valley until the treeline starts. I did pretty good at the steep section, but then the snow conditions changed and I fell in the sluggish deep snow. I was quite fast, as I wanted to take the momentum to reach the other side of the hill. In the end I injured my right shoulder, which wasn’t fun in the evening when sleeping on the thin mattress. For the climb up our guide insisted to go straight instead of doing kick turns. I asked him, why he doesn’t do them? He said, he never learnt and is instead doing V-turns 🤨. WTF. I mean kick turns is the only thing you need to know, when doing ski mountaineering. All in all it took us over 8h for a few km forth and back. Luckily the weather was good, but could have turned bad otherwise.

The next day, all we did was changing camp. Starting to dick snow out again, and then they went off and did photos in the afternoon. In between, we had lots of wind. It wasn’t clear if we should keep on our skins or not. Mike wasn’t clear in his instructions, so in the end everyone did what he thought is best. Mike did one stop to get off his skins again, directly behind a boulder to seek shelter. Unfortunately, we were directly in a von Kármán vortex street (Surprise, Surprise…). I lost one glass of my sun glasses, and couldn’t see anything as the snow particles glued my eyes while I repaired it. That only took 5 minutes, but was quite frightening. A spare pair of goggles would have been handy. Eventually we got out of the wind and into the shelter snow gums. No doubt, Mike has a lot of self-taught experience and I learnt some tricks for camping in the winter. But he lacks clear planning and leadership skills, at least in my experience. After I complained that we’re just sitting around and doing nothing, Mike at least agreed to ski up to Rams Head in the late afternoon, which we reached after one hour or so. After the night in the snow gums, we just traversed to the ski resort and the top stations of the cable car, and then skied down the normal slope to Thredbo.

After the snow camping I booked another 2 days for skiing in Thredbo on the slopes. The first day was quite ok. On top you’ve icy snow, the middle part was ok, and in the bottom it’s all slushy from late morning. But as all borders were closed, even the ones to Victoria, that was the only option to do some skiing in 2020 (except for Perisher valley). And as such Thredbo resort takes it from the living. The day pass costed 150AUD, and needed to be booked in advance, as demand was high. All Sydneysiders seemed to went into the snow. Well ok I thought, then let’s do it. The second day on the slopes went worse. I was up on the lift early (so didn’t read any SMS). By accident it was the only lift which opened early that day. Then I had three runs on a T-bar lift to the top of the mountain. The wind was very heavy. For the last 20m on the lift, you got bombarded with frozen snow and ice balls. That wasn’t too much fun, and I already thought, I’m not going to do that much longer. Then all of a sudden they put all lifts “on hold”. I thought ok, just sit here and wait. I got my thermos bottle with me, and enjoyed a cup of tea. After less than 5min piste control came, and insisted we have to ski down. I said, ok, but I’m going do ski down the other slope, where you need to traverse a bit uphill before going down again. He said, no you can’t that section is already closed. I thought, I’ve my skins with me. If I would want, I could go all the way up the mountain. Anyway, he pulled us with his ski-doo to the other side. The slopes were super empty by that time, and we had a fun ride down.

Guess what, the children’s lift on the flat was still open (the whole day). As such the resort never closed, and as I had already exactly 4 runs on the lift, I wasn’t eligible for any refund. And even if I would have read the message before, you only get a 150$ credit for Thredbo resort. What should I do with that? I needed to return my ski hiring at that day, and my rental car the next morning. Even if I would have chosen to extend, there were no tickets available for the next week. And Perisher valley, which is just on the other side of the mountain is operated by another company, as such you need another pass, and your pass from Thredbo is not valid there. So I thought, Ok, then I train a bit my ski skills on the flat for that 150$…as a lot of other people also thought so. In the end, you queued for 20 min to have a less than 5 min run. And there was a lot of “active queuing”, which reminded me on skiing in Pec pod Sněžkou when I was younger. There also, you queued longer than you actually skied.

On the way to Rams Head North
Snowy lookout from Rams Head North
View from Rams Head North towards Mount Kosciuszko
Me on the true summit of Rams Head North (© by Jon Fitch)
Our first camp at Rams Head North (© by Jon Fitch)
The snow covered Victorian Alps from Simkin Peak
I enjoy the view at Simkin Peak (© by Jon Fitch)
Our uphill zig-zag snow tracks (with kick turns) and Rams Head on the other side of the valley
Not too bad, given that this is just a few minutes after my accident (© by Mike Edmondson)
Moon rise on the horizon after leaving Rams Head North
Finally arriving the sheltered snow gums
Our second campsite in the sheltered snow gums
My sheltered tent dug into the snow
Me at the summit of Rams Head in the clouds with no view on the 3rd day (© by Mike Edmondson)


End of August 2020 I needed a medical assessment for my visa application. In Sydney the waiting time would be at least 3 months, but in Albury at the border to Victoria I could have that assessment done the next day. The border from Victoria to NSW was still closed in that time, as this time Gladys needed to make sure to keep all Sydneysiders safe. I think you got the gist now. Thus, on a short notice I rented a car to leave drove off from Sydney at 6:00 o’clock. As you could imagine the Hume highway was pretty empty and without any traffic congestion I arrived in Albury in the early afternoon. The medical assessment went smooth and after a short coffee break I drove back to Canberra to visit a friend of my aunty, where I could stay for few nights.

My navigation opted for the shortest route which was via Tumut and Wee Jasper. Nice scenery, but as it was in mid winter, the sunset was already early and after Tumut the road turned into gravel. The wash outs are quite nice with a 2WD rental car in the darkness 😉. Nevertheless, what I could spot from the landscape, it looked quite nice. It would have been worthwhile to come back at one point, and we had actually some plans to go there in November 2022, but changed the plans last minute.

The next day I did a bit sightseeing in Canberra and stocked up on supplies for the following week. Canberra is definitely more progressive than Sydney. They’ve a quite good public transport (even built a new tram), and bicycles can be put onto their buses (same in Melbourne), but in Sydney you’re an enemy if you dare to use the street with a bicycle and take away all that space from the cars. Streets are for cars, don’t you get that!? Big, fat SUV’s and pick ups, because of all the potholes on the road, and for the boys to have some 4WD fun on the weekend.

I went to the Australian museum in . This was quite interesting as it highlighted also the other side of the story. In 1452 Pope Nicholas V sanctioned the conquest, colonisation and exploitation of all non-Christian people by signing a papal bull. This was the legal basis for the British empire to declare Terra nullius occupy Australia in 1788 (just 240 years). That ignores the settlement of Australia by Indigenous Australians in the past circa 60,000 years. Or to put it into reference, if you’re an 80 year old Australian, your lifetime already spans 1/3 of the British occupation. Terra nullius was finally overturned in 1992 by the Mabo vs. Queensland decision, which recognises for the first time pre-colonial land interests for Indigenous Australians.

On my way to Jindabyne I drove straight out of Canberra (no not on the Monaro highway) into the Namadgi National Park. The road turned gravel, but the weather was fine. You still could see all the impact from the 2019/2020 bushfires. After several km of gravel road, I popped out near Cooma and then went to straight to Jindabyne.

New Parliament house across the dammed Molonglo river
An interpretive painting of Gulaga as can be seen from Bermagui on the East coast (or Mount Dromedary as Cook named it)
The other side of the story
Burnt down Namadgi National Park

And for those who think Australian culture is only about Beer, Beach and Barbecue, you might be inclined to watch the following movie: