Mountain Ramble

07 April 2022 / Story: Chris Fondum & Dace Abolins, John Cassidy, Brian Clayton; Photos: Anda Clayton, Rose Smith, John Cassidy, Mike Lawless

Mountain Ramble – 31 March to 3 April, 2022

Day 1 From Everywhere to Tumut

Much anticipated, our run through the mountains was finally under way. Persistent rain in the lead up, and the promise of more to come did not deter our band of adventurers. Late withdrawals due to an unexpected renovation, one broken arm and a case of Covid had reduced our numbers but not the complexity of gathering the group. The local south coasters met at Bewong for the trip over the Nerriga to Tarago Road, heading for our morning tea stop in Bungendore where we were to meet our far south coast members from Narooma. Then it was on to Yass where we were to meet our additional group members from Illawarra, Canberra and Sydney chapters. At Roses Café our first organisational challenge was achieved. This part of the trip involved an unplanned scenic detour to view the rare sight of Lake George full of water.

So far, we had been blessed with lovely weather as we left the coast. With our tops down we set off for a short run down the highway before branching off at Coolac for a run along the Tumut River to Tumut. What a pleasure to leave the trucks and traffic behind and enjoy the fresh air and magnificent scenery of the river valley. Even the road works delay saw us parked by the babbling waters of the river where, momentarily, we thought further delay would be welcome.

But dodging the grader as we went, we made our way to the overnight stop in Tumut. After “fivesies” in the small garden of the motel, it was on to dinner at a local hotel before retiring for the night.

A great start for our mountain ramble.

-          Brian Clayton

Day 2 Tumut to Omeo

Bacon and eggs is always a good way to start the day, and Amaroo Motel didn’t disappoint, with full fuel and full bellies, we headed south in a rainbow convoy of eclectic MX5’s headed by a scarlet ND, piloted by Brian, and accompanied by a very able Anda as co-pilot.  A crisp but dry morning greeted us as we snaked our way along the Snowy Mountain Highway, criss-crossing and following the Tumut River along the way, with its iconic Red Gums-Eucalyptus Camaldelensis emerging from the water like a ghostly apparition.  Andrea Bocelli on the Bose sound system, the roof down and the sun streaming in, (could life get any better)?

We arrive at the delightful town of Tallangatta, and feel we just stumbled onto the set of “A Man From Snowy River” as riders on horseback park there steeds between the NC’s and the ND’s. While riders of another sort, tell stories of the amazing winding alpine roads.

 The Bakery was all it professed to be, delightful pastries and desserts that were more suited to a younger generation.

 Refuelled and refuelled, we continued our southern journey into the highlands, the countryside is glorious, revealing an escarpment or valley at every turn, and the river never far from the road.

Lunch was at the super-efficient Seasons Café.  It gave us enough time to stretch our legs and explore the quaint alpine village of Mount Beauty.

 Back in convoy, we headed up to Tawonga Gap Scenic Reserve for one last look at the spectacular valley below, and Mount Beauty living up to its name, Jeff and Rose posed for photos on the very precarious deck that appeared to hang over the valley.

 The weather and the landscape seemed to change as we headed higher, the roads got more twisty and the clouds got thicker, concentration levels increased, as the convoy spread out a little more, the mist rolled in and temperature’s plummeted and I regretted not putting my roof up when I had a chance.  We were deep in snow country now, as we pass “Chain Bays” and the bright orange poles indicating snow depth, through the sleet and the mist and the wind we carefully power on, a cliff face on the right side, and a sheer drop into the abyss on the left, I didn’t have a great deal of faith in the plastic orange snow indicators saving me in event I slid left.

Mount Hotham felt like you were on top of the world as we pulled up in a safe spot and waited for the Mango “Tail end Charlie” of Bill and Janice to appear through the fog.   The wind was howling as the temperature gauge read minus 1.  Roof up, heater on, and Andrea Bocelli off, as we carefully descended the mountain into the tiny hamlet of Omeo. What a contrast in ever changing landscape, weather and temperature.  What a fantastic drive.

-          John Cassidy

Day 3 Omeo to Cooma

Heavy overnight rain had eased as we gathered under the motel awning for the pre-drive briefing from our illustrious leader.

Brian had not driven the road before but outlined the basic task that lay ahead. First, we had to find the right road out of town – in this case the grandly named, Omeo Highway that would extend to a junction with the Murray River Highway, just east of Tallangatta, some 160 kilometres away.

The road was much more than a by-way but it was certainly not a highway - at least in any modern sense of the word. Sparingly used by general tourist traffic, but well-regarded by motor cyclists and car club enthusiasts, it was a challenging and enjoyably long stretch of winding Victorian high-country road.

Brian explained that he had allowed two hours for our journey to the small township of Mitta Mitta, a distance of about 100 kilometres. With the prevailing wet conditions, it was a case of driving to conditions and keeping a watchful eye out for motor cyclists coming from the opposite direction.

For this part of the trip the road follows the crystal clear and bubbling waters of Mitta Mitta River which rises in the Bogong High Plains and is a significant tributary to the Upper Murray.

Along the greater part of its journey to Mitta Mitta the road is flanked by tall stands of mountain ash. They are spectacular trees which would cast a deep shadow across the road at the best of times. But in overcast conditions they caused the light at times to take on quite an eerie glow.

And they also added to our driving challenge in quite an unexpected way. The heavy rains and extreme winds of recent days had contributed to the trees shedding large curling sheets and chunks of sodden bark which absolutely littered the road. But of more concern were occasional parts of small branches hidden among the debris which a few of us either collected or got stuck temporarily under our cars.

Nevertheless, I think everyone enjoyed this sector of the trip immensely. However, it was reasonably demanding and even at our reduced speeds required fairly constant attention. I might say that in our car at least there had been little opportunity for friendly banter during that part of the trip.

However. we eventually arrived in Mitta Mitta without serious drama.

The Mitta Mitta Valley was settled by early pastoralists in 1835 and Mitta Mitta became a proper settlement after gold was discovered in 1852. The name derives from the language of the original Aboriginal inhabitants of the area.

A general store/service station and the simple but quite well restored Laurel Hotel still operate today, but it was much more populous during the gold rush years.

The break from driving was very welcome after our opening sector and we queued for our coffees at the general store with seasoned bikers on a similar mission - albeit in the opposite direction - and a group of young people who told us they were gathering for a country wedding at the nearby Witches Garden, with the reception at the hotel.

The next 50 kilometres or so of the Omeo Road gradually resolved itself into gently undulating hills and before long we were turning onto the Murray Valley Highway. From there to our lunch stop at Corryong the road wove through gentle hills but was largely straight and clear and the earlier dense bush was replaced by grazing properties.

After lunch and a stroll around Corryong we were back in our cars and commencing our steady climb along the beginnings of the Alpine Way but crossing into NSW at a small bridge over the upper Murray River and heading towards Khancoban and steeper terrain.

Beautiful tall straight mountain ash surrounded us in greenery as we climbed. And at higher altitudes these were replaced by mile after mile of the sad charred trunks of snow gums and other trees which had been decimated in the bushfires of two years ago. While most of the snow gums seemed to be regenerating from their root system, it looked like being a very slow process.  

The roads, built largely to enable access to the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme were excellent, and the climb not very onerous. We crossed over a couple of spectacular hydro dams, through the outskirts of Cabramurra and, after making a brief unexpected detour, got back onto the proper route. This linked up with the Snowy Mountain Highway and we were soon rolling into Kiandra in the rain.

Kiandra, derived from the Aboriginal word for ‘sharp stones for knives’ has a grand history of gold mining, and later, as the birthplace of skiing in Australia.

If it hadn’t been so cold and wet, we may have been tempted to stroll along some of the trails to abandoned ruins that are all that is left of this grand history, but we chose instead to head for Cooma, and the anticipated warmth of our motel rooms.

Hardly any other cars were on the road for this final leg of our trip, so we travelled easily in convoy.

The evening’s activities awaited: drinks at a pub, a Lebanese banquet at Rose’s Family Restaurant, and a birthday cake for Joanne who had shared her special day with our motley group of MX5 enthusiasts.

-          Chris Fondum and Dace Abolins

Day 4 Rambling Home

Waking to the sound of rain on the roof we all prepared for our various journeys home. For some it was an early start with brunch along the way, for others a hearty breakfast before hitting the road.

Some lessons learned for future rambles might be to allow shorter times behind the wheel, longer lunches and time for browsing in second hand bookshops.

All in all, a wonderful four days rambling.

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