Travelling Australia - Journal 2014b
|14 November 2014
Cooma to Orbost vicinity (Murrumgower Rest Area)
We were away from Cooma before 8.30 after a fairly straightforward task connecting caravan and Pathfinder when the van site was not big enough. Cooma shopping centre was still fairly quiet as we made our way to the Monaro Highway and headed south for Nimmitabel. The weather was heavily overcast and rain possibly imminent although a very hot day before a possible change was forecast; at 8.30 the outside temperature was only 16°.
Cooma is at an elevation of about 800 metres and the Monaro Highway soon climbs to about 1000 metres. We fairly soon came to a roadside sign proclaiming the Great Dividing Range at 1110 metres then the road began gradually descending to Nimmitabel. The land is typical open Monaro grassland with some scattered trees and is fairly hilly. Sheep and cattle were grazing along the road. The road is reasonable with two lanes of bitumen and many long straight, but not necessarily flat, stretches. Quite a few vehicles were going in the same direction as us; they were all going faster and soon passed us.
Nimmitabel appeared to be one of those country towns which are slowly fading away with a general store and one or two specialised business, such as leatherwork, remaining. Heading south from Nimmitabel we soon came to the turn-off where the Monaro Highway continued south to Bombala then to Cann River. The Snowy Mountains Highway turned left to Browns Mountain, Bemboka and Bega. We chose to go down Browns Mountain to Bega so turned left.
The descent down Browns Mountain used to be regarded with great concern because of the steepness of the road and still requires some concentration; in winter the possibility of frost, snow and ice really would make it a hazard but at this time of year the main difficulty was the possibility of brakes overheating. The descent begins at Pipers Lookout (elevation 878 metres) where a parking area, lookouts and information displays have been established. Walkways and steps lead off to other lookout and vantage points. We stopped in the car park but haze obscured details in the valleys below.
14 November 2014 - page 2
Leaving Pipers Lookout we remained in second gear as the road descended without pause. About two-thirds of the way down we caught up with a semi-trailer carrying logs and joined the queue of vehicles following the truck. There are no overtaking lanes in either direction; there are quite a few places where a vehicle (even towing a caravan) could pull off if necessary. After eight kilometres of steady descent we were down to 240 metres elevation (that's roughly 80 metres descent per kilometre of road). We assessed this was the bottom of the descent because there were signs saying it was the end of compulsory low gear for trucks and buses.
The Snowy Mountain Highway continued through Bemboka to join the Princes Highway five kilometres north of Bega. In the valley of the Bemboka River many properties had signs proclaiming they supplied milk to the Bega cheese factory; although we didn't see many cows from the road we did pass extensive spray irrigated pasture presumably grown to feed cows.
The Bega Cheese factory is one kilometre north of Bega township on the left side of the highway. We turned into the visitor centre for a cup of coffee before continuing. The Princes Highway bypasses Bega township so we were soon on our way south towards Eden; the highway also bypasses Merimbula but goes through the middle of Pambula. A large cloud of flying insects along the road between Bega and Eden kept on making small impact smears on the windscreen but they were too small to be a problem. We stopped for lunch at a rest area between Kiah and the Victorian border before continuing along the Princes Highway into Victoria. By the middle of the day the forecast hot weather had arrived and the Pathfinder outside air temperature was showing 39°.
Between the Vic/NSW border and Cann River (where we refuelled) the weather changed significantly with several belts of very strong and gusty wind moving gum tree tops violently and accompanied by a sharp temperature reduction. By the time we stopped for the night at Murrumgower Rest Area, east of Orbost, the air temperature was down to 19°. After we had stopped we were pleased to be in the still-warm caravan. The Princes Highway from Bega in New South Wales into Victoria was a mostly reasonable road with many hills and bends but enough straight stretches to give sufficient overtaking opportunities for faster traffic. Traffic was mostly sedans, station waggons and 4WDs with a few heavy transports and a surprisingly large number of motor bikes travelling in groups of six to eleven individuals.