Living in a Marsupial World
 
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The Snowy Mountains
On New Years Day we sadly parted ways with Charlie, who had to cut his vacation a bit short for work. After saying our goodbyes at Melbourne International, the three of us headed northeast for a week of adventuring in the Snowy River mountain area of the Victorian Alps (yes, Australia also has Alps!). After watching the epic Australian movie classic The Man from Snowy River for many years, and being seasoned cowgirls, us women folk were quite excited to enter the brumby high country. 
An accidental cow video: for my Uncle Bob, and anyone else who enjoys accidental cows. 
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Nancy with Wilbur (Chris in Background)
We drove northeast from Melbourne for hours and hours, up into green rolling hills and valleys, and finally arrived in the little town of Mitta Mitta. We made base camp at Bharatralia Jungle Camp, an Indian-style bush and wildlife camp run by a lovely Aussie couple, Chris and Nancy Otto. Chris had spent some of his early life in India, so he had modeled this camp to resemble the jungle camps he remembered from his childhood. The ambiance of the whole place certainly felt a bit exotic, particularly with the menagerie of Australian and Indian animals roaming around. Their extended family included herds of blackbuck antelope, spotted deer, cheetle deer, ostriches, emus, a kangaroo, peacocks (all of which were named Raj), an incredibly talkative white cockatoo named Bill, two dogs, and the ever adorable pet wombat, Wilbur. Wilbur ended up being one of the major highlights of the trip and aside from petting him, which was super cool, we mainly enjoyed watching him run – a wombat run/trot is one of the funniest and unexpected sights in the animal world. 


Here you have it, one whole adorable minute of wombat:
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Bill and Chris
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Tame spotted deer
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Our tent, named Sambar
Chris welcomed us upon our arrival and showed us to our accommodation: an enormous safari-style tent, complete with carpeting, double and single beds, end tables, and reading lamps. It felt very Lawrence of Arabia. The tent and our dining space, an open-air, garden patio area, really sealed in the “we're far from home” feeling. Throughout the week, whenever we had down time, the camp worked its magic and lulled us into a deep state of relaxation. Shockingly enough, and much to everyone's delight, it even had an affect on my mother! Often it would take effect as we watched the sun set behind the hills, sipping tea and observing the brightly colored parrots feeding nearby. It was a pretty euphoric experience, and it often felt like time just seemed to pause during those moments. 


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Our dining area
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NEWSFLASH: Nancy Cowdin is actually relaxing. And amazingly no sedatives were necessary.
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Woman in the bush - climbing the Mt. Welcome track with spider stick in hand.
During our active and energized daytime mode, however, our time was mostly spent apart pursuing very different ends. Ben made a serious personal resolution to conquer the trout of the local rivers, while my mom and I explored the walking and hiking tracks in the surrounding area. One such track was up Mt. Welcome, the large hill right behind the camp. The beginning of the trail was clear enough to follow, but as we climbed higher up the ridge, the path began to disappear into the bracken. It quickly became evident that no one had hiked this particular trail in at least a few years, and our casual hike up the mountain soon turned into a serious bushwhack through thick brush, fallen trees, and thousands of spider webs. 


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Awesome and bizarre flower along the trail.
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The ridge also never seemed to end – false top after false top straight up the spine of the ridge, with no summit (or trail signs) in sight. After hours of trudging, wondering whether it would be best to carry on or return the way we came, we found the top, but there was no indication that we had made it other than an old 4WD road. Nonetheless we were overjoyed to have reached a turning point, and we traveled the long way back down the steep and aptly named Mt. Disappointment track until we arrived exhausted and a bit bloodied back at Jungle Camp. Fortunately, the rest of our excursions were much less scratchy.  


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Meanwhile down on the river, Ben was experiencing some serious fishing frustrations. Try as he might, the plentiful trout of the famous Mitta Mitta River wanted nothing to do with him. Apparently they were literally leaping out of the water all around him as he feverishly tried fly after fly and all manner of tricks and techniques. It was easy to see that the fish were getting to Ben; each fishing trip he returned grumpier than before. In the end he did manage to catch a fish – not a trout, but still a fish! We never found out what kind due to his incoherent grumbling.


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One particularly lovely day, the three of us joined forces to climb Australia's highest peak: Mt. Kosciuszko. As the kookaburra flies, Mt. Kosciuszko was fairly close to Mitta Mitta, but driving there was another matter. A long but beautiful winding drive took us across the New South Wales border and high into the Snowy Mountains. At the base of Kosciuszko was a well-established ski resort, and in the summertime the ski lift was used to shuttle hikers up to the alpine plateau where many of the bushwalking trails begin. We couldn't help but feel like we were cheating, but due to time constraints we hopped on nonetheless and casually ascended the ridge, getting spectacular views of the mountain range and the valley below. 


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Once at the top of the plateau, the summit was only about 3.5 km and the chairlift had gained much of the vertical distance for us. Considering this peak was the highest point on the continent, the hike up was surprisingly mellow and really ended up being more of a pleasant stroll. The alpine landscape surrounding us was uncannily similar to parts of the Colorado Rocky alpine areas, so we felt both nostalgic and immediately at home. It was exceptionally picturesque and we could feel the exhilarating and quite literally breathtaking effects of the high altitude on the inclines.  A large snowfield near the mountaintop brought more familiarity, and we stopped for a nice, long and happy frolic in the cold, slushy, summer-in-January snow. 


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Ben rejoices in the summer snow.
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Woman from Snowy River. Worth many sheep.
We reached the summit fairly quickly and the views were stunning; we truly felt on top of the world. It was already late afternoon, but we took our sweet time, soaking in the mountain glory and fresh air. We eventually started to wander back down the trail, pausing to examine the wildflowers, lichen, and rocks along the way, while the sunlight became increasingly more rich and golden. By this time the casual day visitors had gone, so it felt like we had the mountaintop all to ourselves. We intentionally missed the last chairlift down, wanting to hike the full trail to the base – a steep, steep nature trail – to get in some major distance and a little more mountain time. It was punishment for our knees but worth it for the thrill of the hike. We made it back to the car just before sunset, having hiked a good 16+ km that day. Back at camp, we were exhausted, but completely satisfied.   


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The altitude has cost her her legs, but given her the power of levitation...
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YUM
On our final night at Bharatralia Jungle Camp, we opted in for a spectacular three-course Indian dinner, homemade by Nancy and Chris. We did pretty well for ourselves when self-catering most nights, but this meal was truly a treat - samosas, crunchy pekoras, spicy chutney, shrimp curry, all made from scratch! Our taste buds finally accomplished what our eyes had started: we were transported to India for an evening. 


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The morning of our departure, Ben got an early start to take one last crack at the Mitta Mitta River, while my mom and I took a full-on animal tour. When we walked up to their house to begin, Bill and Wilbur waddled around the corner to say hello. After the four of us exchanged pleasantries and a certain wombat nibbled a few feet affectionately, Nancy appeared and took over the walkabout. My mom and I would've been thrilled to just play with Wilbur all day (it was delightfully hilarious to watch him tag along and snuggle with Nancy's feet), so we were even more excited when we were able to feed and pet many of the other beautiful animals. A few of the blackbuck antelope followed us around closely and ate right out of our hands, and my mom had an intimate one-on-one feeding with the old gray kangaroo. The ostriches were another fascination, though we only came close to the female. At 6'5” with velociraptor talons like you wouldn't believe and gleaming red shins for the mating season, the male ostrich was intimidating to say the least, and we gladly steered clear of his reach. 


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What a bizarre assortment of animals.
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Here's a short clip of Bill the cockatoo performing one of his tricks - and screaming in the wraith-like way that the white cockatoos here do:
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Ben returned from the river fishless, and grumpy as ever, but overall he appreciated the many hours spent fishing in the gorgeous Mitta Mitta River valley. We packed up the car, said our goodbyes to Chris and Nancy (and Wilbur) and began the long drive back to the real world.


mum
4/4/2011

Ah, I am transported back and am enjoying the escape. Magical!

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Liv
4/12/2011

You guys have to top corrupting me!
I read this thing too you know! ( Well, I mostly look at the pictures).

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