We’re on the road – Day 8: Tranquillity & Terror

The thunder and heavy down fall of rain woke me up. I should have realised it was a sign of things to come.

Bright poster

Beautiful Bright lived up to its name. Nestled in the Ovens Valley, it is the starting point for the Murray to Mountains Rail trail for bikers and hikers. We certainly saw plenty of those in the last few days! 319 metres above sea level with roads twisting, turning, curving, winding and hugging the mountain sides it would certainly give any cycling fanatic one hell of a workout. The photos in the above poster were taken from our motel car park. In fact, the bottom left is the view we had when opening our unit door. Magnolia trees are everywhere here. Growing wild, in parks and peoples’ gardens. It was a bit like being immersed in a living Monet painting. Exquisitely beautiful.

Bright and surrounds poster

Today has been a day of rain – soft, heavy and every shade in between.

The Bright Autumn Festival is a major cultural event. Because of its proximity to sites for para and hang gliding it also hosts festivals and competitions for them.  So Bright is full of sporting fanatics and walking enthusiasts.  We bumped into a group of golfers over breakfast who were attending some championship event. Bright is also a major gateway to the Victorian alps so snow and ski enthusiasts swell the numbers in winter. Everything was virtually booked out including eateries. We were lucky to get a motel room and find venues for meals. The streets in Bright are lined with trees planted in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Top right photo is TRH’s (The Retired Husband) motorbike camera which he is using this trip to record our travels.  The photo below is of Bright’s main road. After breakfast we did a bit of local sightseeing visiting the Bright Chocolate Bean Bar where they hand make chocolate. Next we visited a local berry farm and had a tub of blackberry icecream. The left photo is from there. Note the cyclists – there are hordes of them everywhere.

Trout farm poster

Our next port of call after leaving Beautiful Bright Behind was the Mountain Fresh Trout and Salmon Farm. Lots of enthusiastic fishers were catching lots of fish – in the rain. The staff cleaned and filleted them as you waited. Given we were traveling sans car fridge fishing was not an option. However, it was a delightful spot.  The local wildlife kept me entertained and mostly out of the rain while TRH wandered amongst the fishing enthusiasts. These chooks were having a wonderful time eating dropped seeds from a wild bird feeder hanging in the tree above them. Unfortunately the colourful parrots did not stay still long enough for me to photograph. However, the little four legged fur babies were quite happily perched on their bench in the shop.

Barry farm and on the road poster

The photo on the bottom left is from the Bright Berry Farm. Gardens everywhere are picture perfect. It’s hard to stop taking photos! Having left there with our munch pack and mini tubs of berry jams, it was time to head to our next destination – Omeo.

Note top left – cyclists going uphill on narrow, treachorous, slippery, WET mountain roads. There are signs everywhere warning motorists to share the road with cyclists. Then there are the bikers… My first twinge of doubt hit when we came across the red stop light. The death drop side of the road was eroded leaving only one lane available for use. We were driving up the Great Alpine Road on the way to Mt Hotham. I am told views are spectacular. I will look at internet photos later from the safety of my motel room.

Conditions got rapidly worse the higher we climbed. Mt Hotham is the site for a popular ski resort. Part of the Victorian Alps and the Great Dividing Range, it’s elevation is 1,861m.  Big Red climbed up and up and up for a very long time. Forever in fact.

(Allow me to digress for a moment at this point in the tale. I may have mentioned in the past that I suffer from travel sickness. Windy roads are the worst of the worst.)

TRH aka Lead Foot Tanska had assured me yesterday that today would be a cinch. Less than 100k to where we were heading. Yes, it would be windy, but not bad. He could not have been MORE WRONG! Not only were the roads treacherously curvaceous and wet, there were very few fenced sections. Can you believe that?! Everywhere there were signs warning of treacherous road conditions. What there were instead was loads of ten foot tall red posts with signs advising to stay on the road side of them. Really ?! Next to them was – the death drop. I could not bring myself to look down to the cause of my imminent and impending doom. Trust me, this was the worst of the worst. I kept my head turned looking at the mountain wall. Having tried to keep my eyes closed did nothing to calm my nerves or my stomach. I sat with my hand shielding me from the view. As we continued, I decided I would rather risk barfing so I closed my eyes. We were driving ABOVE cloud height and it was getting foggier. Then ….

The horror of Mt Hotham poster I hear TRH quietly whisper “Oh shit…” My eyes flew open of their own accord to the view top left. The photo on the right is taken from a lookout when the fog was still quite light. Remember those roads with no fences? That didn’t change except for the most dangerous curves. Visibility got rapidly worse. Is there a longer than forever? If there is, I was immersed in it. My whole body was clenched in terror. My mouth was dry. Just then my sister decided to call. Her first cheery question  “Are you enjoying your day?” My answer “No! I’m terrified!!” She kept me pre-occupied for some minutes. But the inevitable came when I had to once again look at the windscreen. On a positive note I could no longer see the death drop. On a worse note, I knew it was still there more treacherous than ever. However, visibility at its worst was restricted to about a metre. {{{Gulp}}} That is not exaggerating. I checked with TRH. He knows measurements. The only saving grace was those blasted red poles and the yellow road lines. Without them – death drop here we come! Lead Foot Tanska was crawling along as slowly as he could. There were many cars pulled in and stopped along the sides of the road. You have no idea how tempting and comforting the thought of that was. But I knew better than to mention it. Oh, wait ! I did. And was told that would be even more dangerous. Really ?! It didn’t help either that every turn of the road had more ominous warning signs – drive slowly, icy roads, strong winds, slippery when wet….by now the rain was steady. The wind was getting stronger. Big Red did us proud. She was not even rocked a little bit. Neither did her grip on the road falter.

I prayed harder than ever. I deep breathed. I did everything I could think of to stop myself from panicking. I even forgot all about travel sickness.

Then we came across a car and a motor bike blocking the way. It turned out the bikie had slipped and fallen over. Wet roads are even worse for bikies. Fortunately no-one had been hurt. While we waited for the road to be cleared TRH was looking at the rear view mirror “Stop, you fool! Don’t drive into me!!” at the car behind us. He stopped.

When we arrived at the summit, Mt Hotham, I told TRH we were stopping there overnight. The road sides and hill slopes were covered in snow. I looked – so what? When safe on ground level we found out it was a cool 10 degrees at the top. My command to stop was not negotiable as far as I was concerned. Unfortunately I was not behind the wheel. (Thank God! We’d still be parked somewhere hugging a mountain.) We didn’t stop. He insisted on driving on. “It will get better as we start descending. And it will clear quickly.”

Mt Kosciusko panorama

This is a panorama view of Mt Kosciusko taken from a lookout before the Drive of Terror. At a height of 2,228 metres (7,310 ft) above sea level  it is the highest  mountain on mainland Australia. In this photo she is cloud covered.

Sigh of relief poster

TRH was right of course. The fog cleared very quickly. The road widened. As we descended I could once again appreciate the beauty of the scenery. It was calming. Soothing to the soul. Tranquil. Serene. SAFE.  My camera was in danger of going into meltdown as I enthusiastically snapped away. Above – cows grazing in velvety green meadows. A majestic ghost gum. Mt Kosciusko in the background with our destination, Omea, nestled in the valley below. TRH had stayed cool throughout. Calm. Focused. Not once did his attention waiver. Every cyclist and car we saw ascending towards Mt Hotham was hailed by me with a “You fool! Turn back before it’s too late!”

Never, ever, ever, ever again will anyone convince me to drive The Great Alpine Road to Mt Hotham regardless of the weather conditions. I have seen it. I have ticked it off my list. Not that it ever was on my bucket list to start with.

Omeo poster

The place names we have come across in our travels have been fascinating. Just the last few days  – Tumbarumba, Gumly Gumly, Yackandandah, Dinner Plain, Porepunkah…. and now we are safely ensconced in the Snug as a Bug motel at Omeo. It consists of two buildings. Built in 1879, the Guest House, a Temperance Boarding House, was  condemned in 1989. In March 1990 the de Vries family bought it. They renovated it.  The Motel, in which we are staying, was built in 1906 in Hinnomunjie as one of the original homesteads in the area. In 2001 the same family bought it, transported it to its current position and converted it into a 4 room motel. That is it in the photos above. We are indeed snugs as bugs in a rug after our my day of terror with the soothing sight and scent of a wisteria decorated veranda.  And the day ended with a beautiful rainbow. We ate the berries and toasted our my survival with champagne.

© Raili Tanska

11 thoughts on “We’re on the road – Day 8: Tranquillity & Terror

  1. Raili, an amazingly beautiful drive. I give you a lot of credit. I hate driving up the side of mountains let alone in the rain. I had one of those experiences recently when the bus took us up to our cliff side hotel in Taormina, Sicily. I must have thanked the driver 10 timesfor getting us there in one piece.

  2. Wow! That was quite a day! Hopefully, no more fog covered, under construction mountains for you to go over. I love all the photos. It’s fall here, so seeing the spring plants in bloom down under is great!

  3. OML! Nope! I would have gotten right out of the truck, dug a hole and crawled in it, and waited out the storm. Like you, I’m TERRIFIED OF HIGH ROADS!!! My dad used to do that to us all the time. I have been known to crouch on the floor in the back seat of the car when we were traveling with him after Drollery and I got married! You poor, poor girl! Oh! o_O

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