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AdventureClimbingTrip Journal

Australian Vacation: Feels Good, Man

By September 18, 2023No Comments

The wife and I have been bummin’ around Down Under since mid-August, and it’s been a hoot, a ball, a real blast with some elements from the past.

Vikki had never been to Australia before August 17th of this year. I have spent, in total, the better part of a year here, over the course of three visits. I spent 6 months in Townsville, QLD as an exchange student in 2006, came back for a couple of weeks in 2007, and for a few more weeks in 2011. The 12 year lapse was too long, but there was pressing business to take care of, you see. Life can be like that.

So it was with great excitement, anticipation, and jetlag that we arrived in Sydney, the premiere city of this sparsely populated island off the coast of Antarctica.

Sydney, a City Like Many Others

We had a pleasant 4 nights in Marrickville, a hip little neighborhood a few train stops from the famous Opera House. We were 10 minutes’ walk from a very lovely climbing gym called the Boulder Haus, and within the same 10 minute radius were more cafes than I have ever seen (and not a single Starbucks). We ate rather well, and discovered some utterly incredible coffees at a place called Roastville.

Speaking of coffee, Australia still insists that the term refers to the range of beverages based around espresso shots, and has yet to embrace the drip method of brewing. The downside is that free refills don’t exist. We’ve learned that the best way for us to get our fix when out for breakfast is to order a “long black” (which is essentially an Americano) with enough shots to displace most of the hot water.

The main goal of this stop was to spend time catching up with the two dear family friends. As a bonus, we got to watch the Lady Matildas play for 3rd place in the Women’s World Cup. Though they lost the match to Sweden, it was a much better tournament performance than anyone could’ve foreseen. It echoed the Aussie men’s side in 2006, when the Socceroos pulled a few upsets and made it to the Round of 16. I was in Sydney with my mom, dad, and brother, and the excitement was similarly palpable. (Referees robbed the ‘Roos in their match against Italy, awarding a highly dubious penalty kick at the end of regulation, but that’s ancient history now)

Right to left: Mathieu, Aria, Vikki, and Emilie

Sydney is a lovely city, as cities go, but as the commune hippie in Easy Rider says, “cities are all the same.” What’s remarkable about Australia, aside from all the marsupials, is where the people aren’t. And so we picked up a rental car and headed west.

The Snowy “Mountains,” and Riding Bikes

Did you know that the highest point on the Australian mainland is Mt. Kosciuszko, a whopping 7,310 feet above sea level? This diminutive bump is in the Snowy Mountains region, the highlight of the scenic route we decided to take from Sydney to our next major destination. We spent a few nights in the very Bishop-like town of Cooma, a town with rich mining history sitting in a rain shadow and serving as a jumping-off point for people headed to the ski resort at Thredbo.

You know those big bolts with square plates that you’ll see in a grid on the sides of roads where they’ve cut into the bedrock? They’re used the world over, and we learned that they were invented in Cooma! They’re long rods inserted into deep holes (heh), then grouted and sealed, and they work to prevent layers of rock from shifting against each other. The result is a much more stable rock wall. The technique is used to stabilize mine shafts as well, which would otherwise require much costlier methods of preventing collapse. Cool shit.

Trail map for Mt. Gladstone

There was some bouldering around, but what pleasantly surprised us was the quality of bike trails at Mt. Gladstone and around the lake at Jindabyne. These networks were all free to use and maintained by volunteers, and we had an awesome day of riding rental bikes. It was impressive to see such well-built trails, and they provided stark contrast to America’s conflicted approach to public recreation. Apparently, it is fairly easy to get permission to build trails on “Crown land,” which is essentially public land that doesn’t fall under a specific management scheme such as a National Park. Crown land accounts for almost a 1/4 of Australian land. In contrast, it seems that in America, the best and often only way to create a trail network on public land is to just do it, and perhaps later the BLM or Forest Service might come in and “sanction” the existing trails. This is probably due to liability concerns and a lack of agency resources, and the end result is that trail building is often an “outlaw” sort of thing, rather than an organized, volunteer activity. Which is why, for example, our local trail network in Bishop is legally specious, unsigned, and dangerous to ride after storms.

Donations have funded some impressive features, for a free bike park.
40 minutes from Mt Gladstone, another free trail network around Lake Jindabyne

Also, Vikki got to see her first kangaroos that weren’t lying dead on the side of the highway! We’ve also seen many roadkill wombats, but have yet to see a live one.

From Cooma, we drove over what I imagine has to be the curving-est road in all the land, continuing westward towards our next big stop, the fabled Grampians and Arapiles, which I’ll get to in a separate post since this one is so long.

The nearly-bare ski resort at Thredbo. In all fairness, the snow’s usually a little better.
The author does a neat little V5 at Bronte Beach. Great landing.

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