A piece of travel writing about my adventures at Mount Buller
We arrived at Avalon Airport, which was actually the wrong airport. To shorten our journey to Mount Buller we needed to have flown to Tullamarine. Oh well. We picked up our previously booked Holden Tarago, then the five of us, plus luggage, piled in. There was my partner, Chris, my daughter, Kya, plus our friend, Sally, her daughter, Courtney, and me. The car was completely full – suitcases were stacked all the way to the roof and open maps filled up any other spare inch of space. We had no idea where we were going. We were travelling in true road trip style. We even managed to argue over what we thought would be the best route, get ourselves lost, detouring through Melbourne, and pass our exit four or five times before we finally resorted to the GPS.
It was 11:30pm, dark and as still as a ghost town by the time we finally reached the small town of Mansfield, situated at the bottom of Mount Buller. After a phone call, we found out there was no way to get up the mountain to our hotel at such a late hour. We sat and stared into the darkness outside, becoming ever more concerned with our current situation. These are the woes of the unskilled traveller. We drove slowly around the quiet and deserted streets. The endless unlit street lamps and signs gave us the impression that we were breaking the law by being there. At that moment, all we had to be thankful for was the fact that it was almost zero degrees outside and the heater in the car was doing its job well. We found a hotel. There was not a sound to be heard or a person to be seen. Having no other option though, we pulled into the carpark.
The lady owner, in her dressing gown and slippers, saved our life. Although there were no rooms available at the hotel, she rang every place of stay within a one-hundred-kilometre radius. Many calls later, she managed to find us a hotel at Bonnie Doon, about fifty kilometres back the way we had come. The previous excitement which filled the car at the beginning of the journey seemed to have seeped its way out through the heating vents as we soundlessly drove towards a bed.
The next day proved our tragic night had been worth it. The scene as I opened the door of our tiny little room was a beautiful misty sight. I stood on the deck, huddled in every piece of clothing I could find, steamy vapour coming with every breath. The fog settled heavily on the icy ground and gave the feeling we were the only people for miles. Behind me was a row of the same tiny rooms I had just stepped out of, and before me, through the mist, was a farmyard. There was frosty green grass, tall trees and many varieties of animals: horses, lambs, ducks, dogs, peacocks and many beautifully coloured native birds. The freezing cold air hitting my face gave me a feeling of exhilaration and freshness. This was in stark contrast to the depressing emotions brought on by Adelaide’s dreary winter weather, where the cold months are commonly spent shivering in inadequate heating, dreaming of summer, and the whole city going into a miserable sort of hibernation. Here, I felt I was in the kind of cold I wanted to experience, to be part of.
The lovely owners took an excited Kya around to feed some of the animals while the rest of us packed up our belongings, ready to leave. Then we were on the road again. As we drove along the same road, which last night was nothing but blackness, I could not keep my eyes from staring out of the window. I kept saying, “it was meant to be that we didn’t drive up the mountain. Look what we would have missed!” The fog was so thick, we could probably see only one hundred metres in any direction, but it made the bright green of the fields and the shadows of the trees all the more beautiful.
We returned to Mansfield for breakfast and it was now a busy hub of activity. It was nothing like the deserted town of the night before. We returned to the hotel with a bottle of wine for the lady who had so kindly helped us, hired some snow chains, then drove towards Mount Buller. The sun was now out, and it lit up the way. As we rounded a bend, we suddenly spotted the snow-topped mountain in the distance. We all screamed in excitement, Chris pulling the car to a stop at the side of the road, where we jumped out excitedly and madly took photos of our first glimpse of Australian snow.
People say that snow has a magical feel about it and I agree with them. The sight of it instantly melted away any previous woes. We started the ascent, and as we drove higher and higher, the scene around us was ever more mesmorising. The sun added a bright golden glow to everything we saw, and it made the snow glimmer and melt, uncovering tiny sections of vegetation underneath and creating magnificent waterfalls. We got about half way up and stopped to fit our snow chains. I got out and looked at the gums that went for as far as the eye could see. The sun peaked through tiny cracks in the over storey and there was a constant gentle pitter-patter sound of the snow melting.
We finally made it to the top car park where a snow taxi took us, our luggage and our excitement up to Mount Buller. From where we were, it looked like a little cartoon town covered in white that was higher than the clouds. When we arrived, our apartment had everything: beds, microwave, fridge, cooking essentials, dining table, flat screen TV, a bathroom with heated tiles, and a snow-covered balcony. After a quick run around in every room, we dumped our suitcases, went downstairs, hired some gear and ventured into the snow.
As soon as we walked out the door, I was astounded by the great expanse of white that touched everything and went for as far as the eye could see. We ran, jumped, rolled and built snowmen. We climbed the beautiful gums, each branch weighed down by a layer of white that stood out against the grey and olive-green foliage. We jumped into the white soft padding below and then watched people skiing, snowboarding and simply enjoying themselves. We took a walk through the whole town and Kya climbed every tree and slid down every slope we came across. She found a long icicle that was at least 30cm long and carried it around for days. And that night, it snowed. We went outside feeling the tiny specs fall on us, something I had never before had the chance to experience.
The next few days were spent back and forth between the apartment and the toboggan fields. On one of the days, specs of yellow snow could be seen around every lamp post and tree where a dog had made its mark. On the third day we ventured to the ski fields. Chris, Kya and I had all skied once before on a holiday in New Zealand. After a re-cap lesson, Kya was once again zooming down the slope like a little pro; children seem to be naturals. Chris and I needed a bit more experience so we went to a lesson in the afternoon while the others stayed back at the room.
We were instructed to head over to the six-seater lift which took us to the very top of the slope. We both did so, but with slight hesitation, and it was when we reached the very top that we realised we were in the wrong lesson. We both just stood there for a small while looking at the long steep slope and realising the only way down was to ski. In times like this I cannot hesitate for long, so I just went for it. Chris didn’t have much option but to follow and I could hear him screaming behind me, and I’m sure I was doing the same. I heard the instructor yell something about turning and stopping as the skis took me down the mountain at an unstoppable speed. The other skiers I passed made it look so easy, moving in perfect sync with their skis; mine did not cooperate in the same way. It was one of the scariest times of my life. But, we both managed to make it down safely, breathing an enormous sigh of relief at the end. We then went and joined our correct lesson, where we learned all the manoeuvres which would have been greatly beneficial half an hour previously. Back at the room I drank a much-needed port and laughed at our thrilling adventure.
An agonising pain in my knee woke me in the middle of the night. I couldn’t move and when I tried I wanted to scream out. I found out the next day, as the hospital staff tightly bandaged my knee, that I had torn a ligament, probably on one of the many occasions I fell over during my inexperienced escapade the day before. There was no more skiing for me. It had also been stated that I was not to drink any alcohol, which dampened my spirits even more. By the next day though, I was at least able to hobble around and enjoyed watching Kya ski and looking at the densely covered green and white mountains in the distance and the clouds below.
It was now our final day, and after continuous cloud, it was bright, sunny and warm enough to get around in just pants and a jumper. We could see the snow melting from the sun. The trees previously covered in white stood high and green, and mini creeks formed, gently trickling below us, as we took it all in from the scenic chair lift. We then went and slid in rubber tubes on the ice, and before making our way back to our hotel, the kids and I built one last snowman out the front. We took a small handful of snow and rolled it around on the ground until it became the size of a beach ball. We then piled three of the enormous heavy balls on top of each other, stole a carrot from someone else’s snowman, and admired ours that stood as high as us, before going back inside. It was time to go. We heaved our luggage, along with ourselves, into the snow taxi and drove down the mountain toward our car. I was sad to leave and took one last look back at Mount Buller, covered in the magic stuff they call snow.