Google maps indicated our trip to our new house would last in the range of 7 to 8 hours each way, depending on which route we took, so we figured with an early start we could turn it around in 16 to 18 hours – a long day, for sure, but possible (we have two cats and didn’t want to leave them alone for 2 days) – but it turns out Google doesn’t take into account road conditions or restrictions to speed limits, such as tight curvy dirt roads up and down mountains and the round trip took a whopping 25 hours.
It has all come together beautifully – and we’ve landed something special, a house at the Southern tip of the mountain range that runs down through New South Wales and into Victoria, incorporating the Snowy Mountains, Kosciuszko National Park (Mount Kosciuszko is Australia’s tallest mountain) and Alpine National Park and others, with many mountains along the way.
On the NSW side, Mount Perisher’s Ski Resort reports that the 2014 snow season has seen some of the biggest snowfalls in decades with over two metres of snow falling in a two week period and has extended it’s skiing season all the way to Oct 10 (Australia is officially in Spring now). We’re moving beyond Perisher, further south (away from the sun) and into the next state, Victoria, so let’s hope it’s not snowing during any part of our move!
The house itself is three bedrooms in glorious isolation, with a romantic open fireplace and a combustion stove in another room which will probably be my choice of office. I’m not sure, as yet. Why am I not sure? Because, although we intended to, we haven’t actually seen the house. It was a snap decision and a leap, and that makes it even more exciting. 😀
Out there in the wilderness on my very first day alone, I had envisioned a day of writing, only there was a backhoe to master, a hill to work out and a road to put in – I thought I had better start early.
With the driveway Greg had already put in at my back, I had three options off the hill. Right, left or straight ahead. On closer inspection, it became clear that I only really had one option. The right side of the hill dipped away far too steeply to consider, dropping into a gully that a person might climb but not walk. To the left was a little better, except for when the rocks formed a cliff drop closer to the bottom. So, straight ahead it was, steep as it was, or give up entirely and find another way into the block.
I wanted to keep the trees, also, so needed to find a suitable way through them that wouldn’t take me over the edge of something and leave in a crumpled wreckage at the bottom of the hill. It was morning still and the sun was barely up. Greg wouldn’t be home again until after dark, and I didn’t want to spend the day trapped in wreckage.
First off, though, I had to learn those controls. What did what? For starters, the pedal was a three-pronged monstrosity – each prong doing something different as it titled the main pedal in a different direction, and of course it had different levers, which raised and extended the arm into different configurations, raised and tilted the bucket at the front or the scoop at the back, and lowered or raised the feet that helped steady the machine through certain operations. All of these jolted the machine alarmingly if employed too roughly. It needed a gentle touch.
With that sorted and a plan of action in mind, I lowered the bucket, aimed between two trees and started off over the brow of the hill.
Back into the subject of our Wilderness Adventures (with no house and no amenities) in the Top End of Australia – Just getting onto the 250 acre block was proved interesting – the flat bit was too muddy and the steep bit was too steep, and it didn’t help that there was no driveway or any access tracks at all.
Greg had decided that we needed a backhoe. He thought it would be really useful. Personally, I thought it would be a waste of money and basically a toy he would play with, but he was right and I was wrong. The backhoe turned out to be the most important piece of equipment we could get. We used it for everything, lifting and carrying, digging holes (which saved me a heap of time in bodily waste disposal). It proved its worth on our very first morning, towing the caravan up the steep embankment that would become our driveway.
The backhoe was delivered to our wilderness block. It arrived on the back of a truck, which tilted down to allow the large vehicle off, then the guy and the truck left. It never occurred to us to ask for any instruction. Greg had a truck license and I had a semi-trailer (articulated heavy vehicle) license, and we both rode motorbikes. On the flimsy assumption that we “knew vehicles” we thought we had it figured.
On close inspection, we realized that it wasn’t as clear cut as we had supposed it would be. Never mind all the levers, even the pedal was weird – a three-pronged contraption that we’d never seen before.
There it sat on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, a beautiful backhoe, and neither of us knew how to drive it.
Okay, maybe not so stealthy, but he sounded like he was trying to be – With a hole in the tent wall caused by the fire, a hole big enough for a human to enter, I was very aware of our vulnerability to animal intrusion – We were new to the acreage of wilderness in the Top End of Australia, and innocent as yet to the ways of Nature.
I’m an incredibly light sleeper. Tents are noisy, they billow and flap, they also leak rain when a sagging roof allows for a hefty collection of water – and you don’t want to touch it because that lets the water through. Anyhow, the winds had died down and we were both sleeping well. It was the middle of the night and I awoke for some other reason.
Listening in the dark, I soon discovered what had disturbed me and set my inner alarm off. It was a footfall. Someone was being very careful to keep quiet and was very close to the tent. Out here? The nearest neighbor was literally miles away. But it was a footfall. A careful tread in leaves and grass. Right. By. The. Window.
Before continuing on our wilderness adventures, I should point out that merely moving to Darwin was an education. If you arrive from anywhere south (i.e. most of Australia), the first thing that strikes you is the heat and the upside down jumbled up seasons – Being subtropical, you don’t get ‘normal’ Summer and Winter, in fact there are only three seasons (although the indigenous population counts seven, tying in with flowers in bloom and other natural signs of change).
Basically, you have the Wet, which is hot, humid and rains pretty well non-stop. The temperature sits on 33 C (roughly 91.5 F) and it does not cool down at night. Elsewhere in Australia, it’s Summer. For Winter, the Top End has the Dry – cool at 27 C (80.5 F), clear skies, low humidity (relatively speaking) and no rain whatsoever. The Build-up is the transition, and the least-liked, as it becomes sticky with humidity yet without the relief of the tropical rains.
We arrived from Perth (Western Australia) in November – right at the height of the Wet. Through a hotel balcony door, I saw how black the skies were and how cold it looked. That was inviting because everywhere in November in the Top End is hot, including the hotel room (despite the air conditioner) so I opened the door to step outside for a bit of relief, only to be hit by a solid blast of heat! It seemed so weird.
The Wet is the cyclone season, and watching storms became a favorite pastime. Even lightning behaves differently up there. You can watch a flash of lightning across the sky that then retraces it’s own path in jittery small steps, as though it’s hesitating. I’ve never seen that anywhere else.
Weather is just part of it, though. There are noises to get used to. Simple things like ceiling fans at night, but it’s the natural sounds that are really astounding. From geckos at night that are inside the house and twitter like budgerigars, to hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling along the beachside footpaths of an evening, the top End is a noisy place! There are fruit bats, too, harmless but massive, that invade the mango trees at night with much noise and enjoyment.