Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yarrangobilly Caves

Another beautiful day with clear blue skies and the tribe is looking forward to visiting the Yarrangobilly Caves. The caves are situated off the Snowy Mountains Hwy between Talbingo and Kiandra, down a gravel road. The folks at the information centre are extremely helpful and offer great advice on what is good for families with young kids.

Of the many caves open to the public, we venture to the South Glory Caves, which is self-guided unlike others which require booking a tour with a guide. The cave entrance is a 400m walk from the car park near the information centre, along a bush track that overlooks the gully that heads towards the thermal pools.

As we enter the cave, the tribe need reassuring due to the impending darkness that it will be totally fine and fun. The strategically placed soft spot lights that line the concrete path through the caves offer just enough lighting – we call these ‘candles’ which makes it special for the tribe, as candles are magical!. The further we walk into the caves, tribe’s confidence grows with Kaydin marvelling the experience – to the extent that he said to Zak, who showed signs of discomfort, “it’s okay, I’m here”.

We enjoy the many features typical of caves – stalagmites, stalactites, shawls and pools – which the tribe marvel. This is an adventure for them as well as an opportunity for them to exclaim “Whoooooo!” hoping for an echo. After about twenty minutes we climb the stairs towards the exit – we know it’s the exit as it is marked so on the exit door (who’d had thought there be a door to the cave?).

Feeling hungry, we find a park bench next to the carpark where we feed ourselves – and what a wonderful place to snack as we are joined by a male lyrebird foraging in the grass just 20 metres from where we are seated. The tribe watches, intrigued by its long, decorative tail as it fossicks through the tufts of grass and dirt for food.

After it nourishes itself, the lyrebird, upon yours truly trying to get closer for ‘that great photo’ hurries back into the undergrowth, only to start making a variety of other bird calls, mimicking a handful of other local native birds – to the extent, I have no idea what the lyrebird call is.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The tribe's first time in the snow

Our drive to Mt Selwyn is in stark contrast to the one the previous evening in which we strained our eyes in the darkness to avoid potential roadkill; this time we enjoy the landscape of rolling hills, the snow gums, the alpine shrubs with leaves of purple and red. No animal danger this time – just a couple of foxes scampering into a depression about 50m to the left side of the road.

The features of the day we sold to the tribe were snow, toboggans and snowman building. As this is the first time the tribe would be experiencing snow, there was excitement laced with a hint of trepidation when they initially saw snow in patches by the roadside.

When we reach Mt Selwyn, we get dressed into our snow gear in the car. Saffiya and Soraya are first dressed and I take them to play in the snow beside the carpark. Once Zak was in his gear, I take the girls and Zak to the snow field area while M gets herself and Kaydin ready. We play a bit with the snow and snack on muesli bars as we wait for M and Kaydin to join us. However, Soraya needs the toilet, so we tramp to the Selwyn Centre.

Manic inside as it is the lunch hour – the buses in the carpark indicated masses of people and here they were, queues of hungry school kids filling the place, snaking from the cafeteria counter in the dim dark distance. I shepherd my three through the crowd to the toilets and find the largest cubicle.

No sooner than we enter than they all start to complain loudly about the smell:

“papa, it smells” . . . “it’s smelly papa”

Yes, it’s the men’s toilets, but that is not the actual reason for the pungency – the basis for the smell is that it's septic.

Undressing Soraya who was wearing a parka over her one-piece snow suit ensemble without completely undressing her and letting any part of the clothing touch the damp (wet from piss?) floor was a challenge. It required tucking the arms of the snow suit inside themselves, then rolling the upper body section neatly out of harm’s way (ie not in the path of pee) – and this all took time, so it’s lucky that she has some bladder control otherwise she could have added her souvenir to the floor, as well as her clothing.

Obviously, this being a fairly busy time, there are many using the toilets and so it goes that some of the many will be washing their hands and using the hand dryer – the electric one that sounds like a vacuum cleaner. And no sooner than this starts, Zak begins to cry because he vehemently dislikes the noise and is kind of scared of the hand dryer.

So, there I am dealing with Zak crying because of the hand dryer, the others complaining about the smell and trying the get Soraya on the toilet without soiling any of her clothes – oh, I’m just beginning to enjoy my holiday.

We escape the building after negotiating the same crowd of hollering schoolkids queuing for the cafeteria – it seems that the queue had moved very little in all that time. We go to meet M and Kaydin and find Kaydin having a freak out. M hadn’t been able to work out what was upsetting him, so I talk to him, but with his screams and tears, there’s not much conversation let alone any opportunity for Kaydin the express anything but the continuing distress.

I pick up Kaydin and carry him to the hire-centre so he can choose a toboggan and he starts to calm down between whimpers, tears still streaming. Inside the hire-centre, he begins to quieten and between my questions and his responses, we work out that he didn’t like the scarf wrapped around his neck, covering his mouth.

We hire two toboggans (green and red) with M and I taking turns riding with one of the tribe to give them a feel for the fun. They all really start to enjoy themselves; even Kaydin breaks a smile now.

Following each downhill ride we’d trundle up the slope – Saffiya and Soraya were in their element, both proving to be snow naturals. Zak would invariably trip himself in his usual clumsy way as he stumbled his way uphill whereas Kaydin would claim “I can’t”. [Gotta toughen these boys somehow!] After several rides down the toboggan run, Saffiya is bold enough to do a couple of solo rides – you go girl!

We take a break from the toboggans to make a snowman. What would considered to be a fun activity became a little dramatic as gloves fell off when trying to pick up snow, so the snow was too cold or too difficult to pick up – the major frustration being blamed on the gloves. Realistically, gloves are cumbersome for little hands, especially snow gloves with the extra layers of warmth and ‘water-proofing’ so frustrations should not have been such a surprise. We do manage to make the snowman, with a carrot for his nose, stones for eyes, mouth and buttons, sticks for arms and my beanie for a hat.

After the snowman building, we have a few more rides on the toboggan and then decide it is time to head home. As we head back to the car, toilet breaks are needed. Kaydin being the last to be toilet trained, the novelty of peeing in the snow entranced him – and allowed us the opportunity to teach: “don’t eat yellow snow!”. We change into dry clothes and pack away the wet gear – the tribes’ clothes under the snow gear were soaking, yet they never complained.

The drive home to the holiday cottage was fairly uneventful until the steep decline 10km from Talbingo when we hit a sudden and heavy hail shower, causing the car to skid on the ice covered road as we slow down to less than 20km/h. The roads were white, the hail noisy, waking the tribe and frightening them a bit. And just as suddenly it began, it abruptly ceased.