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Travelling at Home – Motorbikes on the Monaro

    I’ve spent the last couple of weeks chilling out at home, at my parent’s house in rural NSW. I’m finally home from Fiji (don’t worry though, there’s still plenty more stunning-tropical-paradise posts in the works, with accompanying beautiful pictures) and I wanted to take some time out and just be at home for a bit. (Well, aside from multiple trips to Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra… Ok, so I’m not really any good at that whole staying in one place thing. Whatever.)

    I think most people view coming home as the end to their travels, with a sharp dichotomy between travelling and not-travelling, black and white. But sometimes I think travel can be more about a mind-set than an action. Sure, the meaning of the verb travel sort of requires that you go somewhere, but I think that it’s the mindset of discovery and of seeing a place through fresh eyes that makes travel so enjoyable, and so worthwhile. And if you can bring that mindset of discovery and exploration home with you, or even just bring it out every other weekend, there’s no real reason to stop being a traveller right away.

    I love travelling to beautiful parts of the world, seeing amazing landscapes unfurling before me. So it’s wonderful to be reminded that the part of the world I call home is actually also very beautiful. I’m from the Snowy Mountains in NSW, Australia, and it’s an area that attracts thousands of tourists and travellers every year. (This is the part where some of my non-Australian readers will stop and say, “Hang on a minute Martina. Snowy Mountains? In Australia?” Yep – it’s a big continent, and the Snowy Mountains happen to be named that because they get snow on them. There’s no permafrost anymore, but we get an annual dump that keeps several ski resorts in business. Here is a picture of me skiing, just to prove it.)

    The Snowy Mountains is a pretty diverse landscape, toward the southern end of the Great Dividing Range which stretches the length of the Australian continent down the eastern side. The Snowies boast Australia’s highest mountains, a unique alpine ecosystem, which stretches down into the rolling grasslands of the Monaro*, and dry temperate bushland that becomes almost rainforest as it moves towards the coast. It’s home to the engineering wonder of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, a ton of national parks covering unique ecosystems, and acres and acres of rolling farmland, known for being some of the world’s best sheep country.

    It’s the place I call home, but that doesn’t mean I’ve explored all of it. And it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it, in the same way I enjoy finding new landscapes in far off countries.

    Here’s another thing you might not know about me: I’m a motorcycle rider. People are often surprised by that because I’m pretty girly and I guess I just don’t give off the motorbike vibe, but I’ve actually been riding on-and-off since my mum and dad bought me my first bike when I was five. Motorbikes are a great way to experience a landscape. Unlike a car where you travel inside in a metal bubble, there’s nothing between you and the land around you but your visor and your jacket. It’s a more intimate way to explore. Also it’s really fun.

    I suggested a Sunday ride to Mum and Dad last weekend, and they were both keen to take me out. I haven’t been on the bike for a year (not many motorbikes in Fiji for some reason), so we weren’t after anything too challenging, just nice easy riding. My Dad has a lot of bikes and is a local expert when it comes to exploring this part of the world, so I left the details up to him. Mum decided she’d prefer to ride pillion, so she and Dad took Dad’s Yamaha Tenere. That left me with Mum’s Kawasaki which I was really happy about. It’s light and easy to ride, with a bit more power than my own ancient Yamaha XT (which isn’t actually registered at the moment either, because Fiji).

    We headed out at an easy pace, quickly leaving behind the sealed roads in favour of dirt and gravel roads passing farms and stands of gum trees. It was a perfect day for a ride. We’re in the middle of a cool, wet summer at the moment, which makes a weird change from the baking 40C days and endless dry weather we usually get at the end of January. The day was cool to warm, not raining, not too dusty, not too bright (the sun in your eyes on a bike sucks), with big high clouds that scuttered across the sky endlessly. Our route took us through bushland and grassland, skirting potholes and ridges in the dirt roads, crossing low bridges over little creeks and gullies.

    The landscape is painted in those shades that only come out in the Australian bush. The rolling grasslands of the Monaro reach back towards the hills, rippling with an impossible to name colour that sits somewhere between green and brown and grey and silver and gold. The distant hills and mountains are a deep grey-green-blue, a hazy shade I’ve always found calming and peaceful. The sky glows blue in between white and deep grey clouds, gilded by the sunlight. And we race through it all on our bikes, the sound of the air rushing through our helmets, the feel of the throttle secure under our right hands, the roar of the engines beneath us. With only a few layers of clothing between me and the land, I’m convinced this is one of the best ways to explore the bush.


    Our route returns to sealed roads a few kilometres outside of Nimmitabel, where we pull up at the pie shop, the classic lunch stop for any sort of Aussie road trip. Munching our pies at tables on the street outside the bakery, we’re watched over by Nimmitabel’s gigantic terracotta elephant. Yes, you read that right – gigantic terracotta elephant. The story goes that the owner of the Nimmitabel bakery went to India a few years ago. He had a great time, and while he was there, he saw this huge, life-size elephant statue for sale, trunk raised and gilded with decorations. He liked it so much, he decided to bring it home and put it up in the bakery courtyard, making Nimmitabel the only Australian town I know of with an elephant on it’s main street.

    Back on the bikes, we headed down the highway, quickly turning off and finding the dirt backroads once more. These roads took us straight through the middle of people’s farms, roads that are technically public roads through the middle of private property, without fences to keep the animals away from the passing vehicles. We passed sedate cows who gazed at us with solemn eyes, totally unfazed by our noisy green and blue machines. Dad and Mum had one close encounter with a calf who was unconcerned enough not to get out of the way until they were very close – I saw it race into the grass from my positionĀ a few hundred metres back. We passed farmsteads that looked like they hadn’t changed in a hundred years, and others that looked much newer, before finally pulling into Cooma, self-proclaimed capital of the Snowy Mountains.

    After a quick stop to chat to my aunt and uncle, we mounted up once more and headed home, taking more back roads that led us into our valley further up than the main road, following the river past paddocks of new crops. I couldn’t get over just how green everything was. I grew up during a decade-long drought, and I’m still used to seeing the land looking crisp and lightly browned, not this riot of electric green, almost foreign in it’s vividness.

    I have to admit, I cheated on the photos for this blog post. Not wanting to stop the ride and take pictures, I came back to one of the roads nearest to home in my car two days later and snapped a few pictures to give you an idea of the landscape. It was a clear blue day rather than the cloudy, changing day I’ve been describing, but I think you get the idea. The landscape is really pretty, no matter what the sky is doing.

    Travel is a wonderful way to spend any day, and a little bit of local travel makes a great Sunday afternoon. You really don’t have to go to the other side of the world to experience the discovery of travel – it’s how you look at the world, and the way you let it make you feel, that makes travel really worthwhile. Just because you’re between trips is no reason to stop travelling, stop seeking new experiences, and stop enjoying the moment. Exploring near home can be pretty wonderful too.


    (*Btw – Monaro is pronounced mo-NAIR-oh, not mon-AHH-roh. Yes, it doesn’t look like that, and the Holden car is pronounced differently than the place. Just go with it, and say mo-NAIR-oh, ok? šŸ˜‰ )