April 12, 2002

Victorian High Country - A Parent's Perspective

I like the challenge of 4WDing. The thrill of trying to do something difficult. The adrenalin rush from overcoming the insurmountable. That wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you do something that other say can't be done. Am I talking about fording a river up to the windscreen? No. Climbing a seemingly never-ending set of rock ledges? No. Driving for hours across desolate and forbidding desert terrain? No.

No, our latest challenge was much bigger than these. It required skills and expertise, daring and resourcefulness. The challenge I'm referring to was fitting two adults and two kids into a Suzuki for a week of camping in the Victorian High Country.

Last time I did this I was in a SWB Sierra. It was just Donna and I and we seemed to have room for everything we needed. This time we were in a Vitara V6 Estate wagon so you'd assume it would be somewhat roomier, but with our two kids, Alex and Kate, we were a little short on space. The leadup to this trip had us a more than a little worried about just how on earth we would fit in everything we needed to take. Despite the fact that the V6 Vit is a much bigger car than the Sierra, once you realise that the kids actually need the whole back seat, there isn't a lot of room left. The luggage area behind the rear seat is pretty small - much smaller than in the Sierra - and we had to carry a much bigger tent, 4 sleeping bags, 4 sleeping mats, enough food for 4, … basically 4 of everything. On top of that, Donna was packing clothes to suit every eventuality of weather, so it was starting to look like being a bit of a squash.

Now I've always been a pretty good car-packer. Most times, my pack is like a jigsaw puzzle and it's always pretty amazing just how much can fit in, but there was no way this was going to work out! To make matters worse, the planning meeting at Det and Hemmi's place highlighted a bunch of other stuff that I had not even thought about taking…

But we did it. We added a cargo barrier behind the kids - partly to keep them safe, but mostly so we could pack the car to the top - and a roof basket with a Rack Sack on the roof racks. Our thanks to Tim Steele for his great suggestions and advice on these things.

Anyway, we somehow managed to make most of the stuff fit in, and after a couple of practise packs we were looking forward to Friday night when we could pack it all for real in anticipation of Saturday morning. It was great… I can't remember the last time I looked forward to something as much as this trip. I was counting the sleeps till Saturday!

When Saturday finally arrived we threw the last few items in the car, squeezed ourselves in and cruised on down to Goulburn to meet the rest of the crew. It's a pretty quick trip to Goulburn these days and we arrived at South Goulburn Maccas in plenty of time to meet Det and Hemmi, Tim Hill and (when they finally arrived) Tim and Leah. :-)

A quick refuel and we were back on the road to Jindabyne, where we stopped again for food and fuel. The fuel issue was also concerning me a bit too, as the V6 can be a bit heavy on petrol and I really hadn't had it offroad for an extended period like this so I had no idea what the offroad consumption would be like. Because our cars are basically twins, Tim and I were constantly comparing things like fuel consumption, gearing, tyres, etc. For some unknown reason Tim and Leah's car was sucking slightly more fuel than ours, so I figured that at least he'd run out first. For some odd reason this made me feel better about the possibility of running out myself. And since Det was driving a mobile petrol station in the Prado, I wasn't too worried.

The run through Thredbo was easy, and we then wound down through some very pretty countryside towards Tom Groggin, where we stopped to air down and let the brakes cool before we crossed the Murray River into Victoria. The crossing was straightforward as the water was quite low, but the sky looked like it could rain and the river can rise quite fast so rather than camp at Tom Groggin as planned, we were eager to get across it. Camp was struck at the edge of the Indi Wilderness where, despite the soft rain, we had a pleasant first night's camp.

Off the next morning, the second challenge struck me. Man! I have to put up the tent and set up the sleeping mats and roll out the sleeping bags and sort out the food boxes and remove the racksack… and then reverse the process the next morning! Hey, this is supposed to be a holiday! I'll be exhausted by the end of the week!

Well, it turned out to not be too bad, and like anything else, once you've done it a few times, you develop a system for it. I think we need to refine a few things, and there are a few changes I'd make to what we take and how we take it, but on the whole it worked out pretty well. We traversed up to Davies Plains, checked out the hut and had a nice morning tea. Moving along McCarthy's Track took us down to where the Murray River rises… and interesting spot, where we stood in Victoria and threw rocks into NSW.

But I won't go on telling you where we went, because you can read that in the other reports. I just read the excellent report by UPP-11T, and combined with Det's summaries, I'm sure you can find out where we went if that's what you want to know. The things I took away from this trip are more mental snapshots. Experiences and moments that are hard to describe on paper, and fall into the "you just had to be there" category.

Like the indoor camp oven cooking session inside King Spur Hut, followed by my kids doing Monty Python renditions. (yes, my kids! Jeez, you know you're kids are growing up when they can recite Monty Python sketches!) Like the climb up Blue Rag Spur track, where we finally got mobile phone and radio reception, listening to Lawsy on the radio and trying to ring him to tell him that Suzukis are much better than Toyotas. ;-) Like the look on Donna's face as we got to the last final ascent to the summit of Blue Rag… bugger me, it was steep too! We've driven steeper, but the sheer drops on the edges of the tracks added a certain something to the adventure.

How can a trip report convey the colours of the mountains down there, where each layer of hills gets fainter and bluer than the one before it? Or describe the intensity of the colours showing on the trunks of the wet snowgums. Or the silence one experiences when you get to the top of a mountain like Hotham, or Bald Top, and then just shut up and listen. To the sound of nothing.

We saw some incredible scenery. It's really difficult to describe the feeling of being on a huge mountain overlooking a stunning cloud filled valley, or in the middle of a forest full of enormous, towering stringybarks, without realised what a tiny speck we are. The feeling of insignificance in the midst of all the natural majesty is quite overwhelming. But it's a good feeling.

I loved the experiences of staying in the mountain huts like King's Spur and Lovick's. It added a marvellous dimension of history and heritage to the trip. Visiting Wonnangatta Valley and checking out the ruins of the homestead and the old cemetery was a really educational experience, and made even moreso by Leah's running historical commentary as we headed out to Zeka spur track.

Part of the joy of seeing and doing and experiencing all this was to see it through your kids' eyes. Indulge me for a sec, but as parents and teachers, Donna and I both know how tedious and irrelevant school can sometimes be, and how it can bore some kids to tears. Quite apart from anything else, I can tell you that the educational value of being able to get out into the bush for a week like this, meeting real people and seeing real places, is beyond measure. It's a great experience for adults, but I just loved seeing the way it affected our kids.

No matter how challenging it might be to fit it all in, I'm so glad we found ways to do it, to fit the four of us into our little zook along with all our gear, and get out there and see this stuff. It was the sort of challenge worth overcoming.

Chris Betcher
April 2002

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