Travel Journal: Chilling Out in the Mountains

Chilling Out in the Mountains.POST

Adaminaby, Snowy Mountains N.S.W.

Before we left The Treehouse in Sydney, we decided we would spend Easter in the Snowy Mountains. It was time for chill out time with the girl.

We knew that by then we would all want to reconnect.  Well, I knew I would be craving Nat time and since it would be 5 weeks since we’d seen her by then. I was hoping Nat would too.

When Rich and I arrived in Adaminaby, our Airbnb choice was a converted church. We’d all found this place months before online and booked it, knowing that Easter was prime time for travel in Australia. It’s the only time that the majority of Australia have off, as Good Friday and Monday are public holidays and add in that you have national school holidays during that time, it makes things very busy.

This place seemed like a good choice, since it wasn’t on the coast (the primary destination for Aussies) and it was to a place none of us had been before.

The church was built in the 1880s and over the last 6 years, it’s owner, Jan (pronounced Yan. He’s Polish), has been renovating it. He’s done a remarkable job. Gone are the pews. The stained glass windows remain as do the original floors. He’s installed a kitchen and bathroom as well as outfitted it with a bed, combustion stove, a single bed and futon for a couch. There’s a television and dining table as well. It’s all contained within this cavernous space, with the exception of the bathroom.

For a snowy retreat, it’s great.

But here’s what I didn’t like: While it was beautiful and historic and so well restored, you could not see out. The windows were stained glass so they let light in, but that was all. I kept on going outside, despite how chilly it was, just to see beyond the church walls.

I need to see outside. Even when I’m camping in a tent, I need to have the tent windows undone just a little so I can see out. I never realized that I felt that way until I stayed in the “Snowy Church”. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely and the place was amazingly quiet, but the church, for me, was claustrophobic.

One of the best things about our stay in Adaminaby, besides the quietness of our surroundings, was the Adaminaby Easter Fair.

It’s an event that the town holds every year and it was one of the best I’ve ever been to. It didn’t have all the fanfare of unusual festivals. This was a community coming together to celebrate with markets, pie eating competitions (and watermelon, despite it being autumn), even tug-o-war and trout tossing contests (the trout was plastic, much to Rich’s dismay).

Even the markets were unique. There was everything from homemade pies and jams, to hand milled and mastered ax handles. And the jewellery, which you expect at every market, was completely unique. At one stall there was an indigenous-inspired necklace that looked like a fish basket housing a gemstone. It was really something.

The competitions though, made the festival.

Where else can you see a trout throwing competition? I mean, come on! This is fishing country (fly fishing, trout fishing, boat fishing… you name it) but the trouts were fake for the trout through contest, although you have to wonder when they started this competition all those years ago, if they were back then. Can you imagine? Now that would add a slimy twist to the task! But the goal was to toss it into a bucket filled with water at the other end.

Of course, depending on your age, your starting line was closer and they had age categories for the competitions. Once everyone had a go, they had finals and the winners – first, second and third – won old fashioned badges along with some prize money. Yep, they were the old fashioned blue, red and yellow badges and people wore them proudly around the rest of the market.  It was fabulous!

There were other things for sale too, of course. Natalie bought a succulent from a woman who had planted the succulents in her mother’s pottery rejects. Granted the rejects were still better than I could ever throw and kiln. It was so unique. There were homemade soaps and clothes as well.

The true winner though was the pie maker, selling all kinds of sweet pies.

Cleaverly, the pies were small and put into small pizza boxes so everywhere you went, you saw people carrying pizza boxes. At $10 a pie they were making a killing. I’ve made handmade pies myself before. They are time consuming so the cost/profit ratio wouldn’t have been high and they weren’t award winning pies by any means (yes, we bought one) but it was still good. There was a vast variety of pies. Everything from straight up apple, to a mix of apple with blueberries, raspberries or blackberries. There were other types, but we had our eye on the plain apple.

There was a community feel that you miss at the big shows.  I actually said out loud at one stage:  “Eat your heart out Royal Easter Show!”, which is the big event in Sydney held each year.  Truly, this Fair won the Best in Show award, hands down.

In general, there wasn’t much to Adaminaby. A general store that sold the basics, (including fishing supples), a pub (which was bustling after the fair, long into the night), a bakery that sold amazing hot cross buns (and I’m sure a lot of other things) and who were the supplier of the meat pies for the pie-eating competition. There was also a museum of sorts that displayed the local history which was really informative. Interestingly though, it was all displayed on three panel boards that reminded Rich of the science fairs that were held at his high school.

And, of course the café:  The Big Fish Café that sold really good coffee and was obviously a local favourite given the traffic he was getting.

It had the basics of what was needed. Anything more, you had to drive 50 km into Cooma, the nearest large town which housed everything else of what you may need.

During our visit, we spent a day driving up to Yarrangobilly Caves. There’s a heritage house up there that you can stay in (and I still would like to at some point), some caves you can either explore on your own or get a guided tour, and some thermal pools.

We made the mistake of going on Easter Sunday when I thought everyone would be doing the ‘godly thing’ or the family thing, but apparently they all the had the same ideas as we did:  “It was a beautiful day. Let’s pack a lunch and go explore.”

We stayed all of 10 minutes. The parking lots were full, people were everywhere and for being completely remote, it was worse than the city of Sydney during the after-Christmas sales.

We headed back toward Adaminaby to see what else we could find.

We stopped in Kiandra for a coffee at the café.

There, in the middle of what used to be gold fields (for 4 months), buildings were constructed and what remained was one building still in use for commercial purposes.

Now, when I say cafe, it was a coffee machine and they sold four things: Flat White, Cappuccino, Tea and Hot Chocolate. The basics really.  Sitting nearby was an elderly lady, who was probably 70 or 80 years old, who was selling homemade biscuits (cookies), such as ANZAC biscuits for a $1 a piece. You know, something to go with your coffee. If you wanted one, you’d pick out which biscuit you wanted, she’d put it in a bag and you’d pay at the counter with your coffee. Talk about a money maker, considering the amount of grey nomads and kids there were, going through that place!

We left with coffee in hand, but bellies were grumbling (we’d seen those biscuits and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted!) so lunch was in order. We drove a little down the road and picnicked out of the back of the car.

I’d packed the makings for peanut butter and jam sandwiches, with some chips for afterwards and with the back of the car open, made up the sandwiches. Despite it being a little chilly, we were outside, away from people and with vistas of alpine mountains to look at, it wasn’t half bad.

There were some heritage walks around, so we decided after lunch, to explore those a little. What we discovered, as we walked around the various trails, was Kiandra had an interesting history.

It had a gold rush – of the shortest amount of time in history – 4 months. But that meant a lot of people came to the area, set up their canvas tents and with picks in hand, went to town, searching their fortune.

The people who made money, it turns out, were those who set up businesses to support the town, as is the usual case. There were marriages amongst different nationalities, also the case in the late 1800’s in Australia, and with that, came families, which also meant schools.

Imagine going to school in the middle of winter, sitting in a wooden shack with no heating, no books to speak of and no qualified teachers to teach you. Would you even learn anything?

It was interesting how the weather affected everything. Winters meant no one could get anywhere because of the snow. Someone came up with the idea of creating snow shoes out of wooden planks. Eventually, the Nordic introduced skiing and thereby created Australia’s first ski club. It became so popular that competitions began and people ‘from as far as Sydney’ came to participate. And yet the wife of the local publican was the champion female skier in Australia at that time. Lots of practice, I daresay.

Further down the road, we stopped at a hut that had been rebuilt after a raging fire swept through the area in 2003. The original hut had been there since the 1800’s. The postman would ride a horse between Cooma and Kiandra. When blizzards and winds overtook his journey, he would leave his horse at this hut and then ski further on to Kiandra to deliver the mail.

More recently, the hut was the site of two mysterious deaths. In the 1950s, three men had stolen a truck loaded with farm supplies.. They decided to drink there way out of town, and by the time they got to the hut they were well and truly drunk, but weren’t done drinking. Two men found a bottle wrapped in paper in the cab of the truck. The third man left them to it, deciding to sleep in the cab, not the hut as he was done with the other two’s drunk antics. The two, thinking the wrapped bottle was wine, drank it’s contents. The following morning, the third man found them dead in the hut, so he fled, with the stolen truck. Eventually he turned himself in, but it was determined later that the wrapped bottle had arsenic in it and so the two men died from arsenic poisoning.

Yep, Kiandra was interesting. I was glad we made the stop.

We headed back to the Snowy Church in Adaminaby. By that point, I think we were all glad to be getting back to our own lives that following day.

We had spent 4 days essentially stuck together with no space for anyone. The church did not allow for any privacy and without constant wifi, we were all just staring at the walls by then.

For the last month, Rich and I have developed our own ways of doing things but here at the church, I found myself falling back into the more complicated way of things.  And honestly, probably getting on each other’s nerves.  I was falling back into my controlling ways and trying to do it all and it wasn’t helping anyone.

In hindsight I now know I was trying to make up for something.  I was apparently feeling guilty about leaving my daughter at Uni to travel. Not giving her a home base to go home to during the holidays. Granted, she was now working, so ‘going home’ would have been futile anyway. She may have been home for a weekend out of the three weeks she was on a Uni break, but that didn’t stop me from trying to make up for it.

The following morning, by 9.30am, we were all up, showered, packed and hitting the road. Somehow we managed to all of our stuff – and Natalie and her stuff –  into the car.  We were full to the brim.

Granted we had stuff under our feet, on our laps, under seats, but somehow we managed to get it all in. We only had 3 hour drive so it wasn’t too painful. We stopped in Cooma on the way, to stretch legs but after that, we soldiered on and made it to Canberra.

With little fanfare, Nat was left back at her dorm. Her friends were back, she had studying to do, and will a haphazard wave, she was off. Once more I felt let down. Both Rich and I felt like we were happy to be rid of.  I guess this is all part of the empty nest thing and we were both feeling rather empty as we headed off.

It was a night in Canberra for us, before we headed back to the Snowy for 5 days in a cabin in Kosciusko National Park.

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