Tom Groggin Horse Camp

Keen to escape the crowds we ventured further into the Snowy mountains. Right to the border of Victoria to set up camp on the Murray River at Tom Groggin Horse Camp (and yes there were horses, but not the wild kind).

DSC_7484

A local from Jindabyne, what better way to wash off after a hard days ride?

There were some more steep hills on the way, meaning second gear for me going up and down, with rest periods on the descents to let our stinky brakes cool. However, we made it without a hitch, pulling in to our camp and setting up with a nice view over the mountains and river. Our camp was idyllic, we were perched just metres from the river and had the place pretty much to ourselves.

P1080571

Alex and I had made the effort to ask at the park gatehouse if Tom Groggin camp was full. The uninformed reply was ‘Oh yes, this time of year I expect it will be very full’. The horse camp was nearly empty. Alex and I rode up to Tom Groggin proper, about 3 kilometres up the road, which was just enormous. Probably six foot ball fields worth of flat, empty space not including the extensive river frontage. I guess the gatehouse attendants don’t talk to the rangers or get out much.  We whiled away our two days here chatting, swimming in the 22 degree river, sitting around the fire and relaxing. This would definitely be a spot to come back to.

DSC_7515DSC_7531DSC_7468DSC_7534

James, Ella and Sam deciding between NSW and Victoria in the Murray.

This was also where we would see 2015 finally disappear. New years eve was sombre, with some tears from James and Kris as the enormity of the trip that we have been planning on and off for almost a decade and then living for the last 12 months inexorably drawing to an end. None of us really wants to go back. There is a visceral freedom about what we have done and a closeness in our family from this experience and I don’t think any of us wants it to slip away. The good news is that we are still away, yay! And that we got to share NYE with great friends. We even made it to midnight – just…

P1080572

DSC_7537DSC_7550DSC_7508_fixed

NYE 2015 – what a perfect end to an extraordinary year for us.

Thredbo Diggings

Still being nervous about the car engine issue, we took inspiration from Cook and dumped as much weight from the van and 4WD as we could to help our ‘Endeavour’ get off the reef. Therefore all non essential books, bikes, stone guards etc. were left at the farm at Tarcutta. As the crow flies it wasn’t very far but the roads were windy and the hills steep and seemingly interminable. On the way to Jindabyne to rendezvous with our friends the Blanches, we visited Australia’s highest town at Cabramurra, 1488 m ASL. This was a very pretty little place with great coffee and a well presented live feed overview of the whole snowy hydro network on several big screens.

DSC_7401P1080557

Not knowing how busy any of the camp sites would be, we all opted for the closest camp at ‘Thredbo Diggings’ first. To say it was busy was an understatement. This free camp was jammed solid with vans, tents, camper trailers and motor homes. Apparently all here for one thing, mountain biking. After finally finding a spot for both our vans jammed in next to the drop loo, Alex and I did a quick 11 km loop up to the next camp at Ngarigo. It too was full. Even though my beloved dual suspension bike is safely locked away in storage and I only have my trusty 19 year old hard tail ‘banger’, the single track here was brilliant fun. It confirmed our mutual yearning that we would definitely squeeze in a days downhill biking at Thredbo.

DSC_7403P1080563

Thredbo Diggings camp.

It was decided that the next morning, Monday 28th December, would be our best shot at the summit of Kosciuszko. You can access the summit either from Thredbo or from Charlotte Pass. We opted for Thredbo, cheating with a lift pass to save us 4 km of walking and 500 m of climbing! With lots of encouragement, all of us, four adults and four kids aged from 4 to 11, made it to the summit, which was packed with dozens of like-minded walkers.

DSC_7460

Thredbo village.

DSC_7407

DSC_7409

The 7 km trek to the summit of Kosciuszko.

DSC_7431IMG_3559

I remember coming here in the seventies. The car park then was about 1.5 km from the summit, not the 16 km return walk it is today. Kris’s uncle Robert later told me the summit car park used to be even closer, just a few hundred metres from the summit! With clear skies, wild flowers abounding and temps hovering just below 20, the day was spectacular. I was even able to hold to my promise of snow in the Snowy Mountains! We found a patch from last season and chucked a few obligatory snow balls at each other.

On top of Australia!

DSC_7434DSC_7430

DSC_7441

After conquering the summit of Australia’s highest mountain at 2228 m (it is one of the 7 peaks on 7 continents you know), Alex and I abandoned our families the next day and headed to Thredbo for some down hill madness. I was understandably nervous. Two years ago I had very nasty crash coming off a jump here. Thankfully we both had a brilliant injury free day, even giving the black diamond run a cautious nudge. To remove the 40 odd kilometers of downhill dust, we both braved the 16 degree Thredbo River back at the camp for a scrub before dinner and some well earned medicinal beverages.

vlcsnap-2015-12-31-09h31m24s236 vlcsnap-2015-12-31-09h32m00s69

IMG_3565

Down hill mountain bike mayhem at Thredbo…

Green-Acres Tarcutta

After two days with Kris’s aunt and uncle in Wagga, we again imposed on family. This time with Kris’s uncle Robert at ‘Green-Acres’ at Tarcutta. Because I was expecting the car to splutter to a halt at any moment, the 72 km trip from Wagga was agonizing. Thankfully we arrived without a glitch late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. The boys were overjoyed to be at “the farm” again, and we were welcomed with open arms by Robert and his wife Jenny.

DSC_7372

Looking the part with our new mascot.

DSC_7392

Having the stress of potential mechanical failures at literally every turn for the last few days, Christmas simply had not been the priority. However, it was wonderful to be with family in a place we always find very restful. Robert and Jenny also thoughtfully added some gifts to our Chrissy stockings.

DSC_7293

Christmas day 2015 with our wonderful hosts, Robert and Jenny.

We had already decided to continue our plan to meet with our friends Alex and Mel in Kosciuszko NP, but after checking weather reports, we opted to delay a day to avoid forecast overnight lows of zero with heavy rain. This allowed some more farm jobs to be done, such as removing pig traps and gassing rabbit warrens. This sure is the life!

DSC_7359DSC_7315

Lake Albert

Despite the multiple frenetic phone calls the previous day, including confirmation of van and car dimensions and weights, Kris and I were not 100% convinced that a truck would arrive capable of taking our mobile home and beleaguered Betsy to the mechanic recommended to us in Wagga. We were very relieved when at the allocated time of 7:30am a flat top duel cab indeed arrived. It took just 30 minutes to drive Betsy up on the back and hitch Alice to the tow ball behind. With friendly Rodney at the wheel of our NRMA salvation, we were off.

P1080548On the Snowy Mountains Highway.IMG_3544

The 420 odd kilometre trip was long, bumpy, steep and windy and included a very slow crossing of the Great Dividing Range. It was a relief to have the van and 4WD delivered safely to Wagga. First stop was to drop the van at Kris’s ever welcoming aunty Margaret’s place at Lake Albert, then it was off to the Mechanics with the 4WD to explain the problem and hint strongly that we needed the car back ASAP. It was two days before Santa was due, ‘so before Christmas would be fine’ I said hopefully.

As always, our hosts at Lake Albert took us in with open arms and without fuss. All this on a moments notice, bloody brilliant! As always there were toys and movies to amuse the boys and I was able to help Margaret’s very talented son Ben rewire his latest project, a complete car mechanical and electrical transplant while Margaret ran Kris around in the afternoon to do all the Christmas shopping we were meant to do in Canberra and Cooma.

Next day, I was dropped off to the mechanic in Ben’s mostly rebuilt project car to find that after 19 kilometres of obvious flogging, they were unable to duplicate the problem. So, with a cleaned out fuel filter and reset ECU (Engine Computer), I very tenderly pulled out into traffic. The mechanic at O’Briens would not accept payment, assuring me I would be back…

P1080552Margaret, Chris and the boys.

Not wanting to impose ourselves on the Tinnock’s already full house for Christmas we arranged to head out to Green-Acres to celebrate with Rob and Jenny. Before we left on Christmas Eve we treated ourselves with a trip to the cinema to catch the latest Star Wars instalment. What a cracker movie! After a quick lunch we rang the farm and asked Robert to come on a search and rescue mission if we hadn’t arrived by 4:30pm. Then with fingers and toes crossed off we went.

IMG_3551

Pambula

P1080521Disaster Bay Lookout on the way out of Ben Boyd NP.

Day 342. I think I can, I think I can. As a last hoorah to great beach holidays, Kris suggested we stay at the Big 4 at Pambula. This was ‘only’ $60 a night (this doubles after Boxing Day)! So we ambled up the coast calling into Eden on the way. Kris took the boys to the  Killer Whale Museum while I stayed in the  van and made lunch and did some consulting work. This four letter word has cropped up just a few times this year, and whilst it has never really been convenient, I remind myself that it is both an income stream and an attempt to retain some semblance of once precious work skills.

P1080532 - fixedEden Killer Whale Museum.

Whilst I toiled away, Kris and the boys spent an informative few hours learning how the Orcas had teamed up with the yesteryear whalers in a kind of weird grizzly symbiosis whereby the Orcas would help heard the whales to their deaths with their delicious tongues returned to them by the whalers as their only reward.

P1080537Monster truck cities taking shape at Pambula.

Pambula, just up the road from Eden, is a pretty coastal town that swells during school holidays to accommodate the thousands of flocking holiday makers. We spent our two days here playing on the beach, visiting nearby Merimbula for fish and chips, as well as ‘The Pinnacles’, an unusual feature of red and white cliffs at the North End of Ben Boyd National Park.  We also caught the movie ‘Paper Planes’ at a camp site movie night. A great Aussie feel good tear jerker.

IMG_3535

I suggested the boys get to the movie early to get a good seat. Lucky eh?

Pambula Beach.

DSC_7236Another resident at the BIG 4.

DSC_7242The Pinnacles (NSW style).

DSC_7262Pinnacles Beach. Our last feel of sand between our toes…

Then, with just four days to go until Christmas, and with plans to meet friends in Canberra, disaster struck! Whilst towing up the first main hill out of Pambula, the engine warning light came on and the car was very obviously losing power. I pulled over but could not get away without stalling. Stuck in the relatively hilly 8 kilometre strip between Pambula and Merimbula, we got the van off the road in low range and called NRMA. Long story short, our friendly local NRMA service technician had a look at the car, drove it, scratched his chin, said ‘too hard for me’ and got me to follow him into a mechanic in Pambula.IMG_3536

After being offered a long wait as part of their service, they finally interrogated the engine computer, said it was possibly one of three very expensive things and stated ‘too hard for us, you need to take it to Canberra Diesel’. These diesel specialists said ‘we can’t possibly look at it for you until the 4th of January next year’. This was not an option. After a flurry of calls, Kris to NRMA (our premium membership has paid for itself)  and me to Ben Tinnock, an excellent mechanic and the son of Kris’s aunty Margaret in Wagga, we decided instead to organise our tow to Wagga where the local diesel specialist said he could look at it before Christmas.  Not knowing when all this would actually occur, we were coaxed into a nearby caravan park (where our NRMA ‘tour guide’ just happened to be a resident), to await our fate.   Luckily, despite initially being told we wouldn’t be towed till Christmas Eve, NRMA “found” another local Tow driver who was happy to take on the job the very next morning – Hooray!

DSC_7280Rosellas at our “emergency” accommodation.