The earth is colored ochre, sienna, umber and coffee. It’s an artists pallette. Sandy limestone and blue granite launch themselves in geometric protrusions out of the hillsides like medieval ruins.
Every now and then, we pass swathes of buttercups, and I am reminded of the velvet green pasture of western Europe – where we probably would be right now, if my Mother had not been so inconsiderate in her timing of illness, bringing us back to Australia for the Southern hemisphere winter. But The fields here are distant cousins of the English countryside. Wild buff colored tufts of native grasses sprout between the green, so the paddocks appear to be jurassic proportioned mohair blankets fringed by leggy roadside eucalypts.
As with all car journeys, this one drags too long for the children. And so my winsome reverie is broken constantly by staccato yelps, whining requests, slaps and cries, and my own vehement threats to jump in the back with them and smack everyone, “NO MATTER WHO STARTED IT!”
Our car finally reaches Bright. The place we have decided to hire our wheel chains. Now, even the kids feel the snow is close. Fuel by the way of home-made sausage rolls from the local bakery fills our excited bellies, and we stock up on provisions, knowing the snow grocers will be sparse. At last, we begin our climb, and with it, the competition to see who might spot snow first.
But a mini blizzard has beaten us to the summit, and so visibility is reduced to 15 meters. Our tiny Hyundai bravely forces it’s way around slippery hairpin bends, ignoring the lengthening tail of SUVs impatiently trailing. Finally we give in, and pull into a chain bay in the darkness and Hambone enters the wild to attach the icy little buggers. He swears like a sailor, then I come out to supervise impotently and converse in “French”, while the leprichauns jeer on the sidelines unsympathetically. Finally it is done, and we b-b-b-b-bump our way up the last half-hour of hill.
Our timing is impeccably bad, and our realisation that the travel booker’s assurance that our accommodation was “drive-in” was completely incorrect, coincides with over-snow transport knock-off, meaning we have to walk through the blizzard with a suitcase, an esky, four shopping bags, a rucksack, a lap top, a fake louis vuitton handbag and two incredibly painful and unhelpful children. Thank god we didn’t decide to hire our skis and boots off-mountain. And thank god it is a wife’s job to manage children, and figure out what’s for dinner, and a husband’s to do labour-intensive secondary car trips in a blizzard and invent new combinations of swear-words.
Finally, after an 11-hour day, we are warm, dry, and fed. Hambone and I drink all our red wine at once, and the kids fall asleep on the couch.
Morning it snows. Afternoon, it snows. Evening, for twenty minutes before it is dark, it stops snowing, and I take snapshots while the family build “Simon”, the fat lazy snowman, under the rosy setting sun. We walk in moonboots over crunchy and impossibly white snow to “the General”, to fill ourselves with tasty combinations of carbohydrates, saturated fat, alcohol and Johnny Cash.
Us from Dubai are only occasional snow dwellers, and so I enter the fields in pink borrowed gear that causes the nickname “marshmallowzilla”. Unfortunately my skiing is as elegant as both my nickname and ensemble, and I spend most of the day either snow-ploughing or flailing on my back like a gargantuan fuscia-hued cockroach with arms, stocks and skis writhing skyward.
But who can complain when the day is as unique as this? The next day supersedes the last, and after a last hurrah on the tows and reacquainting my butt with the slope, we dig Harry Hyundai out from under his soft igloo and drive back down the mountain. The views are more than a little distracting – it is so incredibly rare to get days like this AND a good cover of snow in Victoria.
In these surreal times, when I have doctors telling me I have a son who is possibly autistic, and a mother whose cancer cannot be cured, I am like the knave of swords. A tarot card crossed and confused. On one hand I have a day where extremes meet in beauty and splendour, and up here on Mt Hotham, I can’t get enough of it. On the other, I just wish everything could be 100% normal, boring, average. A world simply with mild weather, sunshine and rain, meat and three veg, picket fences, C grades and death in our sleep at the median age of 80. Ahhh…If only I could have my cake and eat it too…
Mt Hotham is in Central Victoria, about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Melbourne (without children). Accommodation is both on mountain (ski-in available, drive-in is rare, but possible) and down at ‘base camp’ in Harrietville – a township as cute as it’s name, about a 50 minute bus trip, but half the price of the on-mountain chalets. Hotels and self catering apartments, and communal ski lodges are available. Skiing at most levels is very well catered for – Big D, where we centered ourselves, is the children’s hub, with ski school, day care, and a great beginner’s slope, aptly named Easy Street. More experienced skiers head for Orchard and Mary’s Slide, and cross country buffs adore the spectacular ‘Dinner Plain’. It is also possible to trek to Mt Feathertop, but in snowy weather, it’s not easy work.
We stayed at Shamrock apartments – about $380/night for a family of 4, and we could have fitted another child at least. The lodgings were pretty dated, but comfortable enough, toasty warm, and as you can see, perfectly sited for the sunset shots. It is well positioned for both Ski Hire and Supermarket, and of course the Pub – all within easy ski-boot trudges. Next time however, I think we’d take one of the apartments behind Big D – they’re just that little bit closer.
The road up to Hotham from Melbourne is a beauty – it takes you past the Milawa Wine region, the gourmet trail, close to Beechworth (more great food, pretty township and wine wine wine), and through some gorgeous countryside – those with the time should break up the journey and stay at country gastro-pubs (don’t know if this expression translates – it means a hotel with great food) on the way. There is another road that one could take through Omeo, which is the Alpine Way. Stunning, (but not for the easily car-sick) and takes only about an hour longer than gong straight through the middle. It’s also possible to fly direct from Melbourne – it only takes about an hour, but remember, you may get bad weather, and the plane is a wee speck – not my favourite kind of Jumbo.
PS. All photos of Marshmallowzilla have been accidentally destroyed. Forever.