ALPENSCHLEIFE 2019

To paraphrase T.S.Eliot, “It’s the journey, not the destination that matters most.”

Had he not died in 1965 Thomas Stearns Eliot would have appreciated the efforts of Kevin Riley, Glenn Campbell and others to pack a 4-day road journey, stretching from the coast to Kosciuszko and beyond, with as many enjoyable driving roads as possible.

It began outside Frankies in Warragul on a Tuesday morning. Ian Holdsworth, who was part of the team that became snowbound at Falls Creek on the last road-trip, presented Kevin with a set of snow chains to help him through this coming adventure. Ian was unable to participate in this year’s event due to family commitments, but his place, in what was otherwise the same gang, was taken by Rob Coustley in his Mercedes E63 AMG. That meant we had four Mercedes (Kevin’s SL55 AMG, Rob Morley’s SL350, Ray Youlden’s E55 AMG and the E63) and two BMWs (Glenn’s M3 and Steve Schmidt’s Z4). A logo combining the three-pointed star with the spinning propeller of BMW over Alpine peaks and the word Alpenschleife (Alpine Loop) was turned into a bumper sticker and presented to each participant prior to the gleaming silver and black convoy easing their way out of town.

Major roads are avoided wherever possible, so the first day’s route headed out through Westbury, Yallourn Nth, Glengarry, Glenaladale and on to Bruthen for lunch. The afternoon began with a worthwhile diversion to Buchan and then south on the magnificent Buchan-Orbost Road before a run along the Princes Highway to Cann River where we turned north and headed for the NSW border. Unfortunately, along the route we encountered just about every form of roadworks possible. The once spotless paintwork and polished wheels were now covered with a layer of mud, spots of soft bitumen and road grime. Rob Morley’s recently replaced windscreen was also damaged by a stone thrown up by a passing truck, an unfortunate occurrence that was to be repeated a couple of days later. Just north of the NSW border we turned east onto the Imlay Road for the run to the coast at Eden. This road was constructed primarily to assist with the transportation of forest timbers to the mills at Eden, so it is a fast, flowing road with few surprises except for the odd massive pothole or area of subsidence which from low-slung sportscars are quite hard to pick amongst the shadows of the surrounding forests. From Eden we joined the coastal traffic flow north until reaching our overnight stop at Merimbula. After checking in, the first item on the agenda was a car wash. A couple of us had noticed a 5-bay commercial car wash on our way into town, so we headed back down the highway a couple of kilometres to remove evidence of the day’s turmoil.

Glenn is a regular visitor to Merimbula and knows the town and hinterland very well. On his recommendation, we all enjoyed a delicious dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, so he was the obvious one to lead us out of the traffic and back into hills on our second day. The morning weather was perfect for top-down driving and the three convertibles made the best of it. Glenn’s scenic route took us to Wyndham and on to Bombala past a massive stand of wind turbines and granite boulder strewn paddocks. The roads were almost deserted, but any traffic we came across was easily overtaken thanks to courteous drivers and good visibility of the road conditions ahead. From Bombala we traversed the high plains, stopping for morning tea at a café in Dalgety adjacent to a derelict service station which showed evidence of being a Shell, Mobil and Golden Fleece outlet at various times in the past.

From there we headed to a schnapps distillery at Jindabyne for lunch before climbing towards the Kosciuszko National Park, where we talked our way out of paying the $16 visitor fee by insisting that we were not stopping at Thredbo, just passing through on our way to Khancoban and our overnight destination, Corryong. The Alpine Way from Crackenback to Khancoban is a spectacular road in excellent condition with the road passing through some magnificent vertical rock cuttings that amplified the music from our exhausts. We encountered several motorbikes, campervans, utes and service vehicles along the route, but most moved over graciously and made overtaking easier.

Day three dawned fine and clear in the high country, but clouds soon began moving in and most of the morning was spent playing with the roof up and roof down buttons as we followed the sweeping bends along the Murray River flood plains through the small settlements of Tintaldra, Walwa and Thologolong on the way to Tallangatta. Now on the flat lands we took a secondary road up the Kiewa Valley before crossing over a ridge into the Ovens Valley near Murtleford, where lunch was enjoyed at a café out of the rain. The afternoon run began gently with straight and empty roads leading us southwards up the King Valley towards Whitfield. Anticipation was building for the steep, tight and twisty hillclimb out of Whitfield, but the damp conditions ensured a gentle, delicate approach up the hill, across the top and down the other side into Mansfield for our final overnight stay.

The highlight of the fourth and shortest day was the 50km run along the Jamieson-Eildon Road which has become a must-do for driving and riding enthusiasts since it was sealed in 2010. The road unravels along the southern boundary of the Lake Eildon National Park and delivers a never-ending series of tight bends and switchbacks as the road rises and falls through heavily forested gullies and rocky cuttings. Nothing is constant. Apart from a more open section of road at around the mid-way point there is little chance to rest as the road continues to uncoil over the mountains. Ray’s E55 AMG takes most things in its powerful stride, but this was the only road we’d driven which triggered a brake temperature warning on the heavy-hitting Panzerwagon. After regrouping and catching our breath, the convoy continued on to Eildon where we followed the scenic Skyline Road into Alexandra. The original plan was to head to Taggerty then Marysville and take the Reefton Spur Road to Warburton, but with this road closed due to the recent bushfires, an alternative route saw us driving over the Black Spur into Healesville for lunch and then home via Yarra Junction, Powelltown and the Neerims.

We had pushed the cars fairly hard at times, added around 1700 kilometres to the odometers, refuelled three times, washed them at least that many times, and enjoyed a fault-free run from each vehicle. The Z4 Bimmer was the least thirsty of the group averaging 10.1 L/100km for the entire trip; the V8 AMGs were at the other end of the spectrum recording up to around 14 L/100km on some days, but also dropping into the twelves on less demanding sections. Many thanks to Kevin for his planning and organisation, and to our fellow travellers for their companionship and good-humoured banter. We must do it again some time.

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