The Great Australian Road Trip

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Last summer Tristan Laker set off with a convoy of mates on an Australian road trip through the south-east part of the country. He’s travelled through the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, but this time he was drawn to explore his own backyard. The trip took them through southern NSW, over the high plains of the Alps and back down the east coast.

The Australian summer, no matter how it is celebrated, is a unique affair yielding good times and great memories for all those lucky enough to experience it.  Some choose to go camping in the bush, some round up the kids, pack up the cars and go to their favourite caravan park but undeniably the most popular summertime activity is enjoying time spent with family and friends at the beach.  It just wouldn’t be summer in Australia without a solid dose of sand in the jocks, stings from the ever present march flies, salt in the eyes and a well developed thong tan.

As the 2012/2013 festive season was approaching I found myself confronted with the burden of planning my summer.  Initial attempts proved to be fruitless but one Friday afternoon beers session the light bulb flicked on and I threw the feelers out, ROADTRIP!  After some negotiation regarding dates and route, it was locked in – Holbrook to Marlo, via Merimbula; from the mountains to the sea.  The journey was set to take us through Australia’s rugged high country, to the New South Wales south coast and south to Far East Gippsland, Victoria.

On the last Saturday of December we rendezvoused at ‘Narrabilla’ a friend’s family property, several clicks out of Holbrook in southern NSW. Holbrook proved to be the perfect starting point for our long trip, a couple of days spent resting in the sun by the pool before we began the long-haul drive to Merimbula.

As we set off in our five car convoy surrounded by the western foot hills of the Australian Alps I began to fully appreciate the dynamism of the Australian landscape for the first time.  Leaving the parched golden plains of southern New South Wales’s grazing country we slowly began to weave our way towards the town of Tumbarumba. Soon the monotonous grid of paddocks gave way to the open woodlands of the hills criss-crossed with dry creek beds. Huge River Red Gums stand out from the sparse forests certain to be home to countless creatures of the night but during the scorching mid-day sun the only wildlife seemingly present are sulfur crested cockatoos enjoying respite in the shade.

Passing through Tumbarumba the scenery takes a dramatic change, from rolling hills and sparse woodland to dense forest and sloping mountains. The convoy begins to do some serious climbing through the Alps. The condition of the roads deteriorate as we gain altitude; the road narrows and various blind corners and hair pin turns are encountered, as well as pot holes and scars born from the relentless moisture laying on the road during the snowy winters. The laborious drive is rewarded with magnificent views across vast valleys and distant mountain tops. During summer the forest glows with fresh green growth and native flowers attempting to set seed before the winter sets in.

The convoy continues on in this fashion eventually conquering a sharp ridge which plunges us into a long and unrelenting decent, dispatching us at the southern tip of the Talbingo Reservoir, one of the several man-made waterways in the region set up as part of the impressive Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric scheme.  Boasting a comprehensive picnic and camping area the decision was made to have a quick rest and allow the breaks of the cars to cool. After watching the campers wetting a line or putting up the lake in their boats, we set off again and began to tackle the heart of the Snowy Mountains, climbing further to the town of Adaminaby.

Adaminaby is a truly remarkable town not only boasting the attraction of the Big Brown Trout (a  testament to the fantastic fly fishing the area has to offer), but it is also purportedly the hometown of the stockman from Banjo Patterson’s Man From Snowy River.  Outshining these though, in the early 1950s the entire town was relocated to its current location due to rising water levels of the Eucumbene Dam, which consequently swallowed the original location. Ironically the dam is now the town’s major source of income through the tourism trade.

As the journey continues we are now out of the mountain forests and in the grazing land of the high plains on the eastern side of the Alps. The cattle, chewing their cud, are undisturbed as we pass by and the endless pastures are only broken by the occasional homestead or gully dam.  A quick stopover in Cooma for some lunch and then we set off on the final leg of the gruelling journey.

The Monaro highway continues through the high plains in uninspiring fashion and during this point of the journey I become thankful that I have my trusty digidoc in the car with me, a must have accessory on any road journey of this length. Thankfully the highway soon enters the Glenborg state forest and begins an abrupt descent from the hills down into the luscious Bega Valley. As we cruise onward through the green pastures of the extensive dairy farms that the valley is famous for I reflect on the stark contrast that this scene plays against that of earlier in the day – dry, parched golden grazing lands on the other side of the Alps seem light years away.

Continuing through the Bega Valley it’s hard to contain my excitement as I know soon I’ll capture my first glimpse of the ocean. When it finally does happen I am greeted with the gorgeous foreground of the Merimbula Lake flanked by holiday homes nestled on the hillside, and the ocean stretching to the horizon and meeting the sky in the backdrop.

Merimbula, the local aboriginal word for two lakes, is unsurprisingly situated on the Merimbula Lake and the Merimbula Back Lake and is the perfect destination for a relaxing beach holiday with plenty of safe swimming beaches and great weather throughout summer. Merimbula also offers holiday makers plenty of other entertainment with a comprehensive shopping and eatery strip and even a fun park with an 18 hole mini golf course in case you’re not having enough fun.

After several days enjoying all that Merimbula has to offer (including the mini golf) it was time to rouse the troops and continue on the trip southwards towards Marlo. The second and final leg of the journey was just a short hop around the corner compared to the first but the dynamic Australian landscape ensured it was every bit as inspiring. A two and a half hour jaunt down the Princess Highway took us through some old growth forests of the largely unspoilt south eastern corner of the country. Passing the beachside towns of Pambula, Eden, Wonboyn and Malacoota, the trip was typified by impenetrable scrub on both sides of the road and with a sharp eye you may even spot the local goannas sunning themselves. Our arrival in Marlo was a bitter sweet moment for myself, I was excited to enjoy the area with my friends but I knew the end of the trip was soon approaching.

The last few days of the holiday was spent enjoying the beaches of Cape Conran, a small coastal park 10 minutes east of Marlo, fishing for the prolific dusky flathead that inhabit the estuary of the Snowy River, the waterway that Marlo is situated upon, and having a few cold beers on the veranda of the Marlo Hotel watching the sun set across the river.

All too soon our trip came to a close, the obligatory farewells made and all members of the convoy made their way back to lives resembling some normality. For me it was a great summer that I will always look back on with a strong sense of nostalgia but also  gratification stemming from my new-found appreciation of the Australian landscape and summer culture.

In today’s era we are presented with such a diverse array of travel options and sometime it is easy to forget just how impressive our own country is. Next time you’re looking for a fun, cheap holiday I implore you to consider our own backyard, Australia.

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