There was silence at breakfast that morning. An unusual situation with four kids under eight. Looking around the table, I could see one-year-old Edmund interested only in his food. Four-year-old Lucy, six year-old Susan and seven-year-old Peter were still pale, and looked miserable. Disappointment from finding out yesterday that our ski passes weren’t valid at Perisher (full story here). The fear from the drive from there yesterday still hadn’t lifted, either.
After breakfast, Jarrad looked at me and said, “So which way do we go from here?”
“Well, we’ve got two choices…
“There’s this road here, and if we head down here we’ll then get to Omeo and head up to Hotham from the west.” I traced my finger on the map as I spoke,
“Or we can go down the Hume a bit further and then go along the Great Alpine Rd, up through Bright and Harrietville to Hotham that way. I’ve never been to Hotham, I don’t know what either way is like. Do you?”
“No, we’ll just have to ask at the bottom.”
“Yeah, cos if it’s like that road up to Falls Creek was … well, I don’t want to do it. I don’t care how much money we’ve wasted. I’m not doing that sort of drive.”
We took our first left to turn towards Omeo. We’d not gone far along the road when a large rectangular sign warned
Road Ahead Not Suitable For campervans.
We looked at each other. Jarrad asked me my opinion, “We can’t take any more risks. We stuffed up enough yesterday and put us all in danger. I can’t do it again. We’ll have to turn around.”
It was a lovely drive for about two hours to Bright. I started to relax and breathe normally again as we pulled into the service station at Bright to ask about the road up.
Jarrad went in alone while I stayed in the car with the kids. He took ages, and when he came back he told me, “Well, it’s a fine day, so let’s try it.”
Next 30 Kilometers – Steep Inclines, Windy Roads.
Warned the sign. I panicked. Jarrad stopped the car at the bottom, and I got out of the car and had a melt-down. I cried. And ranted. I was hysterical. The kids just watched, mildly amused.
I begged Jarrad to unhitch the car and drive up so we knew for ourselves. He repeated that it was a fine day and we’d be best off doing it now.
I finally got back in. We started up the mountain.
Lucy and Edmund slept. Peter sat silent, but relaxed. Susan and I panicked — silently. Her face looked more like a doll than a child. She had a far away look on her face, but terrified. No one uttered a word for a long time, so that Jarrad could concentrate.
The odometer seemed to click over really slowly. I counted down the kilometers. ’30 … 29 … 28 … ”
The road was just as windy, narrow and steep as the one to Falls Creek had been, and the sides of the road just fell away. If we slipped, or misjudged … that was it. With a 22′ campervan behind us to pull us down, it would probably be a rather quick drop down the side of the mountain. Small comforts.
We kept going … and going … and going … and I really wondered if it was ever going to finish. Trying my best to stay silent so Jarrad could concentrate, I also tried not to look down the side of the mountain to see if there were any car remains down there.
We reached a toll booth 10 kilometers from the Hotham resort. We planned on buying a season’s entry pass, but weren’t prepared for him to say, “I’ll have to call ahead for you to get permission to keep going. How big is the campervan?”
We looked at each other in dismay, and waited what seemed like an age for him to come back. “But it’s only 10 km further, or 20km back down …” we said to each other. I was just about in tears. Peter and Susan both wore looks of terror at the idea of going back down, and deep disappointment at the idea of being so close, yet so far.
“OK, snow patrol say you can keep going. You’ll get to the next bit where you pass Blowhard Hut. It’s named that for a reason. You’ll be on the crest of the mountain there, both sides will just drop away. Keep going a little bit, and you’ll get to a steep bit. That’s a bad bit, if there’s going to be black ice, it’ll be there. It’s in shadows all afternoon. Keep going up that, when you get up that, you should be fine after that.”
Well, the anticipation made it worse for me. I concentrated on breathing, wondering if each one would be my last. Jarrad broke the silence to tease me about my fears, which helped him and the kids relax a little, but brought me ever closer to hysterics.
Finally we passed under a bridge and reached Hotham village. We were all feeling giddy and giggly with relief. It felt like everyone stopped to stare at us. We giggled uncontrollably, relief flooding through us. We laughed so loudly that we woke up Lucy and Edmund.
Eight kilometers of wide open round brought us to the campground, JB Hut. It’s one of the many old huts from early settlers that was now in very average condition. A sign swung on a metal chain across the entry:
“Walk-In Camping Only”
Dusk was setting in. Jarrad swore, and cursed as we pulled in. I called an emergency number at Parks Victoria to get permission to stay there just that one night.
When morning came, we unhitched the campervan and drove down to Victoria Falls at Cobungra another 20km away from Hotham. It turned out to be a fairly straight, wide road down to it, and despite the sign saying “Dry Weather Access Only” the road turned out to be in great condition all winter.
In hindsight, we were glad to stay at Cobungra rather than JB Hut as JB Hut’s area was covered in snow most of winter. If snow had covered our solar panels, we would have had no power. The cold may have frozen our water pumps, too, so we couldn’t use the water we had.