The Snowy Mountains — not just a winter playground
by David Bigwood
It’s not just the winter snows and the chance of a schuss down the hills of Perisher or Thredbo that is attracting visitors to the New South Wales Snowy Mountains now. They are coming in increasing numbers all year round.
Tourists are finding there is a multitude of activities to suit the tastes of those who appreciate the great Australian outdoors. Just as the Snowy Mountains Scheme opened up vast areas of previously inaccessible country for skiers and walkers, so the dams that it built have provided playgrounds for the boating and fishing fraternities.
Thredbo has been a year round resort for a long time with a comprehensive program of events tailored to both young and old ranging from guided walks to tennis and golf, bobsledding to white water rafting, horse riding to mountain bike riding, fishing to swimming and entertainment that includes a jazz festival and Shakespeare on the Green.
While not having the atmosphere of the alpine village like Thredbo, Jindabyne is a handy central location for most parts of the Snowy Mountains and the Kosciuszko National Park and it does have the lake. The sight of the sun sparkling off the placid waters as a boat or two slowly troll for trout early on a summer’s morning is a calming antidote to the hectic life of city dwellers.
From Jindabyne, it is about 35kms to either Thredbo or Charlotte Pass which is as far as the road through Perisher Valley goes nowadays — until the 1970s it was possible to drive almost to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, at 2228 metres Australia’s highest mountain. Both Thredbo and Charlotte Pass are in the Kosciuszko National Park which requires a park entry fee — the annual fee is more economical if you plan to visit any National Park in New South Wales for more than a day or two a year.
One of the most popular walks in the mountains is that to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. It can be reached from Thredbo by taking the chairlift to Eagle’s Nest Restaurant, and then following the mostly raised metal walkway, placed there to protect the fragile vegetation, to the summit about six and a half kilometres away. Alternatively, you can drive to Charlotte Pass and walk the old road to the summit, a distance of about nine kilometres. Either route gives impressive views of the main range and both cross the Snowy River near its source. In spring and high summer the wildflowers carpeting the alpine meadows are spectacular.
If these walks are beyond your capability, there is a short boardwalk (about 500 metres) at Charlotte Pass which passes through sub-alpine vegetation to a lookout that provides views of the main peaks around Mount Kosciuszko. There are also fine examples of the twisted and tortured trunks of the snow gums that survive at this altitude in less than ideal conditions.
The summit walks are not possible in winter as the area is deep in snow, however, winter is not a pre-requisite for snow in the mountains. Cold weather can happen suddenly in any month and blizzards are not unknown in January. So, make sure that you carry a jumper and a windproof and waterproof jacket along with water and a nutritious snack, just in case, whatever the time of year.
These summit walks are only two of many signposted walks in the park which provide opportunities for safe exploration of this wild area. A certain amount of fitness is needed as most walks are uphill for half their distance and the hills can be steep in places. However, there are some less rigorous walks which are all set out in publications available at the National Parks and Wildlife Centre in Jindabyne.
Mountains and rivers go together and there are many creeks in the SnowyMountains that eventually combine to form fine flowing rivers that are home to the wily trout that torment the less than expert angler with their cunning. If you decide to test your skill against them, you will need a fishing licence and there are regulations to be observed.
There are a number of interesting drives from Jindabyne. You can head to LakeEucumbene and beyond to the old gold mining area of Kiandra. Its barren setting even in summer is daunting; in winter it must have been almost unbearable. The piles of stones taken from creek beds speak of the effort put in by the miners while the lonely graves on a bleak hillside are a poignant memorial to the hardships suffered in this place.
Many artefacts collected from various spots in the wide-ranging goldfields have been gathered together to give easy viewing by New Chum Hill, an unlikely spot to find gold to where the new arrivals were directed by the old hands. The laugh was on them, however, as this area developed into a prime producer.
Another route worth following goes through Thredbo, past Dead Horse Gap where it is sometimes possible to see brumbies, over Leatherbarrel Creek, to Tom Groggin on the banks of the young Murray River, past Geehi and the Swampy Plain River with its many kangaroos and on to Khancoban, a town built during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Along the way you will see breathtaking views of the main range, especially from Scammel’s Spur Lookout some 90 kms from Jindabyne.
Winter is no longer the only season to visit the Snowy Mountains for whether you choose to walk or ride a horse or a bike, or drive a car or a boat, or fish, or sail, or climb; whether your interest is in fauna or flora, or painting or photography, or history or technology; whether you want activity or repose, all can be found in this atypical part of Australia.
So, just because spring advances, the snow melts and the ski lifts come to a stop, and the thoughts of the hordes who have raced down the hills through the winter turn to summer sun, surf and sand there is no need for you to wait for next winter before heading into the mountains.
The Snowy Mountains are about a 5 hour drive from Sydney, about 2 hours from Canberra and about 7 hours from Melbourne when the Alpine Way is open (it is closed in parts in winter).
Jindabyne and Thredbo have year round accommodation of varying standards. Jindabyne also has two caravan parks with powered sites, on-site vans, camping sites and cabins.
At Sawpit Creek, about 14 kms below Perisher Valley, there are cabins, caravan and camping sites at the Kosciuszko Tourist Resort, among the bush of the National Park.
I found a trek pole a handy accessory especially on steep climbs. An outdoor sports shop will be able to advise you.
Fishing licences can be bought in several shops in Jindabyne.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service has an information centre in Jindabyne with a comprehensive range of material for visitors, much of it free. Park entrance fees can also be paid here. Phone (02) 6450 5600.