I thank God for being born in Australia’s sunniest capital city. I’m not the biggest fan of cold weather or cloudy skies.. it all seems to bring you down a bit.
I seem to dislike winter so much that I often fled Perth’s mild and very short winter to holiday in the northern hemisphere and make the most of sunny Europe or some tropical Island. I certainly don’t regret doing so and spent many months enjoying bathing under the summer sun of the Mediterranean or cruising to exotic corners of Thailand.
Unfortunately as a result of this, I’ve never seen snow (witnessing dirty ice on a New Zealand mountain-top at the height of summer doesn’t quite count). As Alex lived most of his life in tropical Rio de Janeiro, he also had only ever seen snow once, back when he travelled USA at the tender age of 6.
When we realised this we both agreed that we had to do something about it. And what better way to burst our adult snow cherries than driving our very own car up an Australian mountain to have a snow fight?
As Alex was still recovering from his burst appendix surgery, we knew we wouldn’t be able to ski, snowboard or even toboggan – we preferred the staples in his stomach to not burst thank you very much. However the novelty of just playing in the white powder and driving Vanda on the ice was incentive and temptation enough for us to make the drive. And what a perfect way to prepare us for our passage through Canada in the coming months?!
We were a bit unsure how much snow we would actually get to see – I mean, this is a country famous for sun, sand and the sea, right? So we researched all our options hoping to increase our chances of seeing as much snow as possible.
In the end we decided to visit Mount Hotham where entry is free after 3pm in the afternoon. We reached the snow-chain hire shop at the bottom of the mountain on a very wet and rainy day. Rivers were flooding and the rain wasn’t stopping. Our hopes of seeing snow dropped and we prepared ourselves to play in icy sludge instead.
With heavy hearts we entered the shop and asked whether four wheel drives needed snow chains to climb the mountain roads. The lady behind the counter ensured us that all cars are required to carry them by law. She then proceeded to worsen our spirits by stating it cost $35 for just one day’s hire.
Was it really that worth it just to see some sludge? Our resolve to visit the mountains was quickly fading.
Just before giving up on the whole endeavour I decided to ask the obvious – “Is it actually snowing up there?”
“Sure is,” she replied, “Imagine the rain being snow and thats what its like right now at the top.”
We couldn’t resist – $35 later (and some tips from the fitter on where to sleep the night in the snow) and we were on our way.
We slowly climbed the steep roads with the GPS announcing our height as 700m above sea level, then 900m and 1,200m when, out of nowhere, little piles of white ice started lining one side of the road and then the other. Our hearts started racing!
As the ice and snow started getting thicker and thicker I kid you not that tears came to my eyes. I’d seen so many fairytale pictures of snow in my storybooks growing up that I couldn’t help feeling like I was actually in one of the stories!
The snow covered the ground, black trees protruded from the clouds of white draped in more white and puddles of water were frozen over everywhere. I was not expecting it to be so breathtaking.
When we reached the ski station at around 1,800m the snow was a good 40 cms thick! We parked the car, donned on all the layers of clothes we own and jumped out into the whiteness.
Childish shenanigans ensued with lots of snow balls, jumping up and down, exclaiming about the ‘stickiness’ of the snow and sticking our tongues out to catch falling flakes.
When it started to get dark we decided to check out the mountain shack we were told about by the chain fitter. The idea was to use the public shack as emergency accommodation if it got too cold sleeping in the van. We were told the shacks were dotted all the way through the mountains so that if there was a storm or some sort of emergency, anyone could take shelter there to sleep, cook food or get warm. Exactly what we needed as a back up plan for our first negative degree night in the van!
Feeling comfortable with the situation we parked close to the shack and popped the back door open to cook a simple dinner. With hot water bottle topped up, the heater blowing, 2 pairs of socks each, double pants, 5 layers on top and 3 blankets we settled down for the night.
Although it got down to -5 degrees celsius during the night and a thin layer of frozen condensation lined the inside of the van when we awoke, we were cosy and comfortable (apart from our bursting bladders). We had both slept very well considering we’d never experienced negative temperatures before and had no idea how to prepare ourselves.
And what came next made it all the more worthwhile.
After forcing the van’s door open (it had frozen shut), we were greeted by the most peaceful and awe-inspiring view. It had snowed a good 20 centimetres while we slept and the ground and van were covered with a layer of the most fluffy, white snow you can imagine.
It felt like a dream and a fairytale combined. I could almost imagine Hansel and Gretel skipping through the snow beside us on their way to the gingerbread house. The so called house (or wooden shack) was prettier than ever with what looked like a dusting of icing sugar on all its walls. And what a peaceful silence!
Our only problem appeared when we tried to start the van’s engine. The motor whined, puffed a billow of black smoke, complained a little more and then died. This happened quite a few times before she finally clicked and started idling extremely roughly.
We guessed the non-alpine diesel in the tank was partly to blame for this small hiccup (we had been expecting this sort of trouble). Our faith, or pure ignorance, paid off though and Vanda slowly heated up and started to run like normal. No burst pipes or frozen radiator. Score :)!
In all my first sight of snow and our very first night sleeping in negative temperatures was a massive success! We were so filled with joy and wonder at the sight (and taste, touch and sound) of snow and felt completely comfortable sleeping and even driving on the snow.
Up until that morning we hadn’t needed to use the snow chains or even four wheel drive. On our way down the mountain however we engaged four wheel drive to deal with a few slippery corners and the bad visibility. Driving calmly and steadily we felt secure enough to continue without chains, yet respected the unpredictability of driving in a new environment.
Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we both felt like going straight back up again. But we knew we had to hit the road to reach our next destination – Australia’s capital city, Canberra.
We handed the chains back at the shop we’d hired them from thinking to ourselves that even though we hadn’t used them, those $35 were some of the best we’ve spent!