Page 113: Snow at last!
  A quick note: See the words "Adventure Before Dementia" above? After Page 100 those words perform as 'links'. If you click on "Adventure" it will take you back one page. "Dementia" will take you forward to the next page (provided there is one) and "Before" will take you to the Index page.  
     
  Snow above 3,500 feet on Mount Buffalo  
     
   
  Billy, our faithful Pajero, has known heat, he's known wet, but snow is a first for him. And very well he handled it, too.  
     
   
  There isn't a lot of snow yet (June 10) but enough to make the hairpin bends interesting.  
     
   
  There were even some Buffalo icicles.  
     
   
  The Buffalo Chalet gardens looked enchanting in sunshine, shadow and snow.  
     
       The following day we took the advice of the amateur weather forecasters again (will we never learn?) and drove up to Mount Hotham to see the snow. Before we'd gone far, large signs warned us that we were required to carry wheel chains if we were driving into any of the mountains. I was inclined to ignore it until Pam pointed out that it was a public holiday weekend and 'demerit' points were doubled if I was caught, so we did a neat U-turn (which I'd learned from studying Kevin Rudd) and backtracked a mile to the nearest hire agent. Having parted with $30 and been shown how to fit the chains if required, we set off again.

      I have to admit that this "nanny" nonsense really irritated me; I spent years of my working life driving in the U.K. where you learn to handle ice and snow early. I'd never seen wheel chains before today.

      On Mount Hotham we weren't required to fit them on a 4-wheel drive, only to carry them. Two wheel drives had to pull over and fit them at the snowline. One wheel drives - motor cycles - the most dangerous of all on a slippery surface had no restrictions at all!

      As we climbed through 3,500 feet we saw the first pockets of snow and it increased as we rose higher. As on Buffalo yesterday, most of the road was clear, some was covered in wet slush and occasionally we drove on hard packed snow. Approaching the summit the temperature dropped to zero and we entered thick cloud which engulfed the whole of the ski resort. As it was nearly time for lunch we continued on through Hotham towards Dinner Plain where we knew of a nice café with a log fire.

      The moment we left Hotham the cloud cleared and we were in bright sunshine until we returned through Hotham later.
 
     
   
  Left: The strange resort of Dinner Plain where all the homes seem to be holiday homes and only construction workers are found.
Right: The café didn't disappoint; a blazing log fire welcomed us and the food was excellent.
 
     
       Since the subject of wheel chains had been much in our conversation with my whingeing and whining about being compelled to carry them, I was surprised when, during our lunch, Pam remarked that a woman standing at the counter was wearing chains on her shoes! And sure enough she was. See the picture below.  
     
   
  Left: There was no shortage of cars wearing chains on their wheels, but . . .    Right: Chains on your shoes, that's innovative!  
     
       On driving back through Hotham, the cloud was denser than ever. None of the ski lifts were operating, nor were the snow-making machines which I'd hoped to photograph. In fact, the whole place was cold, wet and miserable so we photographed a snow plough and left. All the way down the mountain it rained and when we reached the valley floor, the cloud was almost down to ground level. We returned the unused wheel chains and went home.  
     
   
  A lone snow plough was working in the fog. A building behind the plough is barely discernible.  
     
  A Compassionate Crow?  
 

     One day, driving the four or five kilometres to Bright, we spied some commotion on the road ahead. As we drew closer it became clear that there were three birds on the road. One, a pink and grey galah (a common Australian cockatoo), appeared to have been hit by a car. The other two birds were crows and one was dragging the galah off the road while the second crow stood by. I slowed and the crows flew off. The galah appeared to be dead so we carried on.

      While at our destination - the Tourist Information Centre - somebody brought in an injured galah in a cardboard box. In fact, it had not been dead when we passed and a good samaritan had picked it up and was asking directions to an animal rescue hospital.

      So . . . did the crows save the galah's life? Or were they dragging it off the road so they could tear it apart and feed in safety? Either way, the rest of the galah flock was feeding along the verge, showing no interest whatsoever in their erstwhile companion.

     Update. We later learned that the galah had been stunned by the impact but came round and created quite an uproar on its way to the animal hospital where it was found to have a broken wing.

 
     
  Can you keep a secret?  
       Occasionally Pam and I come across people on our travels who actually like us. No, it's true! Some of them asked us to call and see them in Melbourne and even in South Australia when we leave Porepunkah. And we really intended to because we like them too but we will now have to delay that for a little while.

      The reason? Lake Eyre is filling for the second consecutive year and if we don't see it now, we may never see it.

      Why the hurry? In early July there are camel races in Marree (pop. 150), the nearest 'town' to Lake Eyre, and a few days later the Lake Eyre Yacht Club is holding a regatta.

      Are we into yachting? No, not at all. However, doesn't the idea of a yacht club on a lake that only fills with water a two to four times each century sound fun? So we made a late decision and will set off for Lake Eyre within a day or two. But don't say anything because we'd hate to upset anybody. Promise?
 
     
  A bit about lake eyre for those that are not familiar with it.  
        As you know, Australia is pretty big. All the way down its eastern seaboard is a mountain range called the Great Dividing Range. In the tropical north of Australia there are only two seasons, the 'dry' (winter) and the 'wet' (summer). In the 'dry' it is absolute heaven but in the 'wet' it is hot and humid with lots of afternoon thunderstorms. Every so often a cyclone forms which causes havoc with the weather patterns all over Australia, sometimes causing a rain bearing depression to form down the the eastern seaboard. Heavy rain which falls to the west of the Great Dividing Range is cut off from the Pacific. It has to drain down towards the centre of the continent where, in the arid desert, it finds a shallow hollow called Lake Eyre, part of which is actually fifteen metres below sea level (the lowest point in Australia). Over millions of years the water draining west carved wide river beds. Normally these channels are dry but once in a while water from storms over the higher ground turns them into raging torrents, overflowing their banks and inundating the landscape. Occasionally the water eventually finds its way to the dry salt bed that is Lake Eyre and the lake fills to become an inland sea.

      What results is the stuff of television documentaries by the likes of David Attenborough. As if by magic, birds flock to the lake in their thousands, fish materialise out of the dry salt bed, frogs appear, the desert turns green, flowers bloom and all is wonderful for a while. The salt content of the water is initially roughly equivalent to sea water, however the lake's salt bed is continuously dissolving into it until the lake water becomes too saline to support life. This process is accelerated by evaporation if the creeks feeding the lake are drying up. Eventually the water dries up and it could be twenty years before the process is repeated.

      Last year, 2009, Lake Eyre contained water. This year the rivers and creeks are running again. It takes many weeks for the water to reach the lake and sometimes it dries up on the way. So far this year is looking good and we are hoping for a once in a lifetime experience. Fingers crossed.

      Incidentally, the Lake Eyre salt bed was the location of Donald Campbell's successful World Land Speed Record attempt in his car, Bluebird, in 1964.
 
     
  What a difference!  
   
  On Sunday we were in freezing temperatures, by Thursday we were in desert.  
     
       At 10:30 on the morning we left Porepunkah, the temperature was still 0°C. The grass and roofs of the buildings were still white with frost in the places the sun hadn't yet reached. After bidding our hosts, Lynette and Theo (Tay Oh), a fond farewell we set off for our revised destination of Swan Hill, Victoria, some 393 kilometres distant. I'd originally planned on overnighting at Mildura but, heeding the Boss's advice, decided we'd shorten this leg a little and was glad I had.

      After a good night's rest we resumed our journey, Renmark being our next stop. We stayed overnight in the Riverfront Holiday Park on the banks of the Murray River where we were relieved of $38 for the privilege. The previous night in Swan Hill and the following night in Hawker cost us $24 per night for the same thing. On our previous visit to the Riverfront Holiday Park they had charged two of our visitors $8 each to enter the park to say hello to us. In 5½ years of travelling we have never even heard of another park being so audacious.

      We couldn't possibly spend a night in Renmark without seeing our very good friends Gavin and Jo who are fellow caravanners, so we enjoyed a wonderful evening with them in Ashley's Restaurant in the Citrus Valley Hotel. Highly recommended, folks, if you're ever in Renmark.

      Next morning we were on the road again, a fairly long leg this time, to Hawker in the Flinders Ranges. After covering 1,254 kilometres in three days we decided to take a day's break in Hawker; I'd programmed in a 'spare' day in case of contingencies and with only a shortish leg to our destination of Marree tomorrow, this seemed like a good time to take it.

We'd had a lot of difficulty finding information about the road condition between Hawker and Marree. We knew that part of it was unsealed dirt road but could we risk taking the caravan on it? As it turned out the road is being upgraded in sections so there are three separate dirt sections, perhaps twenty five kilometres in all. It was dry when we used it and the surface was mostly hard clay rather than gravel. Parts were very smooth, parts mildly corrugated and most of it hard but pitted. Driving fast seemed to even out the ride but if we hit a patch of potholes or a dry creek crossing we needed to slow down pretty damned fast.
 
     
   
  Before we hit the dirt we ran parallel to a line of hills for many miles.  
     
  Most vehicles flew past us but then they weren't dragging two and a half tonnes of caravan. In the end we slowed right down to about 40 km/hr for the worst parts but skimmed over the milder sections at around 80 km/hr. That seemed to work and we arrived intact at the Drovers' Rest Caravan Park in Marree.