New Year's day 2016
Happy New Year! Unlike everywhere else we had stayed so far, our rented room in an otherwise very nice unit building was on par with a cheap youth hostel on the dodgy side of the tracks. We were sharing with at least 5 other people, thankfully they had all passed out so Champ and I took the opportunity to shower and get out before anyone else would need the bathroom. We walked through the city like we were the only two people left on earth. Not a sound or a soul interrupted our walk to the carpark. Upon leaving we were charged a mere $14.00 for overnight parking and I decided 2016 is looking good already.
We had chocolate brioche for breakfast in the car on the way to Victoria’s best kept secret, and it has nothing to do with underwear. About three hours out of Melbourne we had to stop for petrol. The pit stop had a tiny park and was packed with every man, or woman and their dog. It made me miss my own Enzo so much I felt I could have dissipated into nothing. I don’t talk about missing Enzo when we’re away because it annoys Champ but i miss my dog all the time, even when i’m asleep.
Mount Feathertop had been recommended to us by a friend of Champ’s, a keen hiker. Alpine National Park is enchanting, instilling a sense of freedom in the vast and wild, challenging and changing environment. It’s an incredible place offering exhilarating, outdoor activities every day of the year. In winter Alpine National Park is a very popular holiday destination for skiing and snowboarding. Ski lifts run up the ridges and there are many lodges ready and waiting to accommodate thousands of visitors. If I enjoyed winter sports and snow, I would have arranged accommodation for next July right then and there.
In the summer months the park attracts walkers, hikers, trail runners, campers, road cyclists and mountain bikers.
We camped at JB Plain campground near the summit. The campground is huge with no designated or marked sites. It’s free to enter the national park and camping is free too. Despite this there were only two other tents in the area and both had packed up and moved on before Champ and I woke the next day. We set up the tent near the track displacing a million tiny black crickets, little grey moths and a handful of harmless spiders. Putting the mats and sleeping bags in was a two person operation with one opening the mesh layer while the other through them in as quickly as possible and then zipping closed the tent again to minimise the number of flies getting in. That done we walked a track from the campsite to the neighboring settlement at Dinner Plain. It wasn’t a long walk but we saw two trail runners, two hikers and a mountain bike riding family. At Dinner Plain several smaller children were playing on the jungle gym and I found lots of really helpful, detailed information about the National Park from a selection of maps and brochures freely available in the building housing the public toilets, which incidentally, were lovely as far as public loos go.
Champ spotted a 4WD track so we went straight back to the car for a drive. The views everywhere in the park are simply breathtaking. The 4WD track took us out to a remote lookout overseeing undulating mountain ranges rolling out to the horizon. A pair of eagles were flying in the distance and the colours were spectacular. Even more impressive were the threatening, thundering, angry storm clouds moving at breakneck speed in our direction. Loud spats hit the windscreen, the rain had set in by the time we reached our tent. This was the only time on our holiday that rained and we were camping. We decided to un-peg the tent and carry the whole thing inside an old hut on the edge of the campground.
The rustic, bush hut had been erected in a time before cars which meant all the materials & tools used to construct it had been carried up by horse and cart or made out of the available natural resources. The hut was used by heardsmen who mustered livestock (cows and sometimes sheep) up the mountain for grazing in the warmer months. It featured two ‘rooms’, a decent sized chimney & fireplace, a bench & sink, windows and seven bunks. The first room has the bench & sink, a window with shutters that open outwards and an area to store collected firewood to keep it dry. The second, main living area has the fireplace, two windows, a small bench and the bunks. Contrary to the window in the entrance, the remaining windows have clear plastic panes fitted allowing light in and a view of the main road without permitting the elements access to the inner room. It goes without saying that the plastic panes, deck chairs, guest sign-in book and graffiti are more recent additions for the modern camper caught in adverse conditions. A quick look at the guest book and indeed the walls, made obvious just how often and severely weather conditions can change on the mountain. I found myself thanking those pioneering heardsmen for their efforts, if only they could have known how important this place was going to be.
We left our tent in the entrance room to dry and placed our mats and sleeping bags on two of the lower bunks. Champ started a roaring fire that quickly warmed the room and gave us light to cook dinner. I had a long stick with a giant marshmallow melting over the fire and was feeling pretty content. This is about as close as I get to glamping*.
*Glamorous camping, commonly known as ‘glamping’ involves various degrees of comfort and pleasure. In my understanding, glamping usually takes place at sites with proper toilets where you can park your car next to or very near your tent. Glamping uses generators, air-inflated mattresses, large tents, delicious, pre-prepared meals, eskies full of chocolate, drinks, milk, cheese etc, covered socialising areas, picnic rugs and speakers blasting your favourite songs.
I was just beginning to relax for the first time today, breathing in the smell of the rain, feeling the warmth of the fire on my face, nibbling at a sweet, sticky, gooey marshmallow and sinking into the chair. I should have known better, even out here in the middle of nowhere in the pouring rain we had to share our accommodation, or more accurately, we had invaded someone else’s. I heard a faint rustling, thudding, scratching noise that quickly grew louder. It was the unmistakable sound of a possum running into the hut on the roof. He crawled onto the top-most bunk above my sleeping bag and peered over at us with curiosity. It was a large, male, Brushtail possum, I named him Bob. He peed in the corner of the bunk and I was up in a flash scrambling to move my sleeping things out of the way of the mini waterfall. Possum pee stinks! Champ thought the possum might be scared so he offered Bob an orange which he sniffed and ignored. Bob starting moving from bunk to bunk and eventually the fireplace, smelling the air and all the while keeping an eye on Champ. I recognised this territorial behaviour, Bob was accustomed to humans and not at all worried, he was far more threatened by Champ’s masculinity and asserted his own by marking his territory. I have never seen one possum pee so much. Streams of urine poured from the tops of all the bunks and dripped on the walls making puddles on the floor. Champ counteracted by spraying bug repellant around the cabin but this only made Bob pee more. *sigh* I should have slept in the car.
I convinced Champ to put the bug repellant away and help me pack up all the food so Bob didn’t rumage through it during the night. There was so much pee that all the bunks were damp, we had to pull the tent in the main room in front of the fire and sleep in it so Bob the possum would leave us alone. In spite of everything, I slept pretty well.