Amazed in the Australian Alps 2 April 2007

This last part of our trip (not including our last two days in Sydney), has been just amazing! We headed up into the Australian Alps, and found ourselves fascinated by the remnants of the big bush fires this past summer. There were three very big, bad fires, which combined and are now called the Great Alpine Fire of 2006. We drove through the mountains for hours, gawking and saddened, but also amazed at how it seems to be regenerating so very fast.

We stopped in the first alpine town we came to, called Omeo, and shopped for about an hour in a delightful yarn and knitted goods shop called ‘Wrapt in Omeo’, and talked with the owner at length while we found the rest of the gifts we wanted. Then we talked to a lady in the information center about which route to take north, and when we told her we were from the Rockies, she said ‘oh, then take this route – you’ll like it best!’ She then asked us if we would be having lunch at the ‘Blue Duck?’ We replied, ‘but of course!’, if we knew what it was! So we did – it was high up the mountain tucked into a hairpin turn below a ridge, a charming lush green oasis in the midst of burn-devastated forest. We met the owner, Graham Brown, who told us the amazing story of their survival during the most terrible fires of 2003, which burned 270,000 hectares (hectares are much larger than acres) and destroyed the town of Omeo and so many homes and lives. The fire that year was so hot and so fast that it hit them, according to the satellite photos, at 187kph (over 100mph), with flames over 1000 feet high. They were prepared, with sprinklers around the house, in the basement, and in the attic, and they knew the fire would take the roof off. They kept the sprinkers going until the last minute, then raced out into the yard where they curled up into balls and held the fire hoses over themselves (it was too hot inside the house, and they would have been like ‘dim sum’ had they covered themselves with wet blankets). Graham’s son was picked up by the fire and blown about 100 feet, but survived relatively unhurt. His brother’s house on the hill overhead was destroyed, as was the entire forest around them, but the Blue Duck and its owners did not burn. The eyeglasses in his pocket melted, as did the cars in front. The place is over 100 years old, but was closed for over 30 years, and only reopened in 1998. The food was great! I recommend the place highly.

We headed on up the mountain, planning to go over the top into Alpine National Park and down the other side to camp for two nights in the high country. The ‘bitumen’ (pavement) stopped, as we knew it would, and we found ourselves on what felt like a well-maintained fire road for about 30k. Driving higher and higher up this windey road with mountain and valley vistas around every corner, near the top we stopped for a rest in an exquisite camping area called Raspberry Hill surrounded by beautiful snowgum trees. There were big wooden tables and molded benches, cemented rock fire rings with iron cooking racks, a toilet, a lovely view, open skies for stargazing, and best of all – grassy tent sites. After 15 minutes, we decided that we couldn’t find a better place, so we set up camp. There were 3 distinct sites, but at 4pm, we were the only ones there.

About an hour later, a car and trailer drove in with a couple about our age, and set up camp. I was crossing the meadow on the driveway at the time, so we chatted for a few minutes, and I invited them to come over for tea after they set up camp. They did come over about an hour later, and as we began talking about what we were doing in Australia, and had done and with whom, we mentioned that our sister in law (outlaw, actually), who was from Mildura, took us into the Outback. The fellow mentioned that he is from Mildura, so we told him Karen’s name, and he says, ‘Karen Newkirk? I know Karen! I actually worked on a project with her!’ (His wife then said, joking, ‘Well, there are only 20,000 people in Australia!’ LOL) What an incredibly small world! So we had a lovely evening chatting with them, first over our tea, then their soup, and again in the morning before we left.

We saw them again several times on Sunday, as we worked our way north along the road – they suggested a short hike to one of the most famous of the high country cattle huts, Wallace Hut. It was a beautiful, about 2+ mile hike along part of the Australian Alps Walking Track, past two very old cattle station huts – really cool. We also noticed many cross-country ski trails in the area, which is *very* alpine, but so strange with the different trees! Nes, you would love it!!! We then stopped briefly to watch the Dragon Boat races in Falls Creek, a small ski town at the very top of the mountain, and then drove down a deliciously winding mountain road (the pavement was back) to Bogong and walked around their small lake. We sighted a lovely bird that looked like peacock crossing the road, with an intricately spiraling tail, and learned later that it was a lyrebird!

Pat has had problems with her toe (the one she hurt just before we started our GOR bike ride), so couldn’t really do any more long hikes like we had hoped, so our plan to park ourselves for two nights and hike around faded, and we headed down out of the mountains looking for another nice campground. But as we came down out of those spectacular mountains, we both began to lose interest – we ‘have lost the plot!’ as they say here, and are now **ready** to come home.

BTW, some of the place names we saw on this part of our trip were:
Poor Fellow Me Creek
Haunted Stream