“Australia is a country of alcoholics, convicts and players who cheat at Cricket” is a bold statement I’ve heard many times before, that scared me off visiting this country sooner… And it could not have been more wrong! ❤
Although there may have been some cheeky sandpapering and an eternity-long grumble from the Kiwis about an under-arm throw, the rest is merely just dated rumours derived from old historical events.
I was met with the kindest, cutely-funny, most helpful and genuinely caring individuals. Living in a beautiful country full of exotic native wildlife, bright hot “british-summer” weather, speaking my mother-tongue, it’s hard not to be charming here!
I landed in Melbourne, but sneaking only a peek before re-packing bags into the car and setting off on the road. A crazy last minute decision! (We hadn’t even booked a place to stay at this point…)
The plan was to drive to Sydney along the coast, stopping at the Yarra State Forest, Metung, Lakes Entrance, Croajingolong National Park, Merimbula, Narooma, Batemans Bay, and Murramarang National Park. Pretty much all the places I had trouble pronouncing in my British accent…
This drive was going take us through eucalyptus forests, up huge sand dunes, along pristine beaches, past dairy farms and to cute little ports in just under 5 days. I was about to be immersed in the full Australian experience.
“Sausage In Bread”
Actually, the first thing I learned about local Australian culture was from a 5 year old ski school student of mine, as we tucked into our hot dogs one snowy afternoon in Niseko:
Me: “Enjoying your hot dog?”
Kid: “This is not a hot dog. This is sausage in bread.”
I looked down at my cheap frankfurter wrapped in a slice of white Japanese bread. At the time I thought this was just a pedantic child correcting me over something that is exactly the same thing in Britain… but nope there really is such a thing as “sausage in bread” in Australia.
I was explained afterwards that an Aussie tradition is to visit the sausage in bread stall outside of Bunnings, a homeware store similar to HomeBase or BnQ. Our first stop!
Yarra State Forest – Gippsland – The Ada Tree
Only an hours drive from Melbourne are mountains covered in thick forests of the evergreen gum trees. Otherwise known as the Yarra State Forest. Many locals come here to cycle the windy roads ascending these huge hills. After which stopping in for pizza from out of this world at Little Joe’s Cafe.
We ventured on to the Island Creek Walking Track, a 1.6km windy, hilly stroll through cool rainforest of ancient myrtle beech, sassafras and soft tree fern. This trail leads to the Ada Tree, Victoria’s largest living tree. Now at almost 400 years old, it has survived storms, fires and logging industries for all this time.
A similar nearby tree, was the world’s tallest tree, a Thorpedale’s mighty mountain ash that stood 114.3 metres tall. In a moment of madness it was cut down to a log in 1884 by a farmer named Bill Cornthwaite to be measured. Oops.
Fortunately the Ada Tree remains alive, and The Department of Sustainability and Environment that is now protecting this tree in it’s 600-hectare reserve, estimates a height of “around” 76 metres. Nobody knows exactly how tall it is, as the only accurate way to measure it would be to follow Mr Cornthwaite’s method… Timber!!
Timber millers have estimated that the Ada Tree could weigh 1130 tonnes, it’s root system extending over half a hectare, and its circumference at 15 metres. Enough timber (820 cubic metres) to build 66 average-sized homes!!! It’s the biggest hardwood tree in the world. At 83 metres, the General Sherman sequoia of California claims the title of world’s tallest tree at present however.
Although The Ada Tree used to be taller. The top of its trunk was blown away, either by high winds or a lightning strike. The Department of Sustainability and Environment thinks that the tree may have been 120 metres tall before the storm.
Loggers came across the tree, and there is evidence that many were felled around it, however they left the Ada Tree alone. It was thought that the tree appeared to be infected with white bugs so was useless for timber.
Either that, or its colossal size was just too large for the log to be transported down the old Federal Road; a logging track for a deserted timber mill, which is now an alternative hiking route back to the carpark.
Forest Fires in Victoria – Lake Mountain Alpine Resort
I’ve hiked though a fair few forests in Japan, England and New Zealand now, and they are all dense and dark, a quality I thought common with all forests. The shiny white bark of these gum trees reflects the light quite well, making the forest bright. The same effect you would get adding a large mirror to illuminate a room.
The climate was also extremely dry, which makes this part of the country prone to forest fires.
Forest fires can travel fast and devastate whole villages. It starts with a spark from lightning or someone carelessly dropping a cigarette or making a campfire. Sometimes the fires are deliberately started under control to clear a hazardous area of super dry kindling. However even these can get out of hand.
After a spark; combined with hot dry air, the fire is blown from tree to tree, travelling in one straight line, creating a wall of flaming branches. This can seem pretty self contained, but on occasion the wind direction will then change, and blow the line of fire into a huge area.
The fires get up to 1000 degrees, with the air temperature around the fire at 800 degrees, a heat that will vaporise anything and anyone in its path. Even metal objects like lawnmowers will be reduced to piles of molten metal. Its a natural disaster that humans cannot fight, they must run from it.
We saw evidence of a very significant forest fire at Lake Mountain Alpine Resort, a 2 hour drive from Melbourne in the Yarra State Forest. Exclusively a cross-country ski resort, much of it reduced to ash along with 2000 houses and 60 other businesses, in 2009.
The Black Saturday bushfires were the worst in Australian history, killing 173 people, injuring 414. Almost 430,000 hectares of land including 70 national parks, 80 communities and 3,550 agricultural facilities were burned to the ground.
On that day a fair few controlled fires were being carried out just outside of Melbourne, when the winds changed and picked up to 100 kmph and spread the fire at a ridiculous rate. Many people tried to protect their homes or wait out the fire, usually safe inside, but this day was different and it was too late. There was no escape.
Ollie recounted that day in Melbourne being as hot as the inside of an oven. He remembered the temperature rose to 46 degrees in the city. Jumping into the pool to escape the heat, fully clothed, only to have them dry in the air in 2 minutes.
After that, a new section appeared on the fire rating charts, situated all over Australia, “CODE RED” or “Catastrophic”. They predict the likelihood of a forest fire starting, spreading, and how intense it will be to warn people whether to evacuate from the vicinity or not.
These signs are an Aussie icon, originally created by Alan McArthur and has been operational since 1967. He came up with his system by setting experimental fires in the hills around Canberra in the 1950s and 1960s.
It was a different time. Legend has it he used the number of beers needed to mollify firefighters to gauge fire intensity. Aussies..!
Here’s a video on what I learned each fire rating means:
After some frantic googling in the car, we managed to bag this gorgeous lakeside AirBnB for the night. I highly recommend the place as the owners treated us like we were their grand-kids!
This gorgeous view from their window was of a huge lake being fed from Lakes Entrance…
…Our next adventure! (Stay tuned!)
The Ada Tree Walk:
Location: Yarra State Forest
Distance: 3.2km return, starting from the Ada Tree picnic area/car park.
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
Grade: Level 2 – No experience required. The track is easy to walk with a compacted surface and may have gentle hill sections and some steps.
Getting there: From Melbourne, head east along the Princes Freeway (M1), turn left at the Drouin exit (C426) and follow the signs to Noojee. From Noojee, follow Yarra Junction–Noojee Road (C425) and turn at Big Creek Road (unsealed).
Read more about The Ada Tree, in this Article “a very tall tale indeed”
Lake Mountain Alpine Resort:
2 hours drive out of Melbourne, approximately 120km (75 miles). Because of its close proximity to the city, its very popular with the family demographic.
Exclusively a cross-country ski resort, with a cumulative 37 kilometres trail network through the surrounding Yarra Ranges National Park. There are also up to seven toboggan runs.
Much of the resort was burned down in 2009, but extensive work was undertaken for it to reopen for the winter of 2009.
Read more about Victoria’s Forest Fires here.