Although not quite living up to their name, the Snowy Mountains provide a scenic and accessible touring destination in the warmer months.
Being mid-March, we knew that with our trip to the Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountain Range we weren’t in for any of the white stuff that gives these mountains their name. Nonetheless, we’d heard this high country was a stunning place to visit in the warmer months and couldn’t wait to ditch the blacktop and check it out.
Perched on the edge of the Tumut River — now the Jounama Pondage — the quaint little town of Talbingo is framed majestically by mountains in all directions. The town was moved in the late 60s as part of the Snowy Mountains scheme, with the original location flooded to form the Jounama Pondage. The original town consisted of a pub, a station and its homestead, and was the birthplace of author Miles Franklin. The name ‘Talbingo’ is a combination of the English ‘tall’ and the local Aboriginal ‘bingo’, meaning belly. This is in honour of Mount Talbingo, which (apparently) looks like the big belly of a man lying down.
Half-an-hour south of Talbingo on the Snowy Mountains Highway we turned off onto Long Plain Road — our first taste of the gravel. Aptly named, this road follows an extensive high plain populated by herds of the region’s iconic brumbies, which are a divisive issue around these parts. They are culled by National Parks due to their rampant numbers and feral status, yet are majestic creatures that hold a special place in Australian literary history thanks to Banjo Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River.
I rose early the next morning, and saw the brumbies in all their controversial glory. We were up before the sun and ventured out on to Long Plain, which was freezing cold (quite literally) despite being March and was blanketed in thick fog that rose gently with the sun. Herd after herd of wild horses danced into our view before galloping off among the snow gums until obscured by the fog, which glowed purple and gold as the sun lifted. That Monet-esque landscape combined with the Paterson-esque poetry of the horses rendered that chilly morning one of the prettiest I’ve experienced. Definitely worth getting up before the birds for.
After crossing the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee River on Long Plain Road — here little more than a stream — and descending through forests of silvery snow gums, we arrived at our first destination: Blue Waterholes.
Part of a karst landscape in which limestone has dissolved over millions of years to form caves, sinkholes and underground rivers, the waterholes get their name from the blue water that has passed through the calcium and magnesium salts within the limestone. While it may conjure images of an idyllic place for a swim, don’t be fooled; the water here is icy cold, even in summer.
Still, we braved it up to shin depth in order to walk part of the Clarke Gorge Walking Track, which commences at the same site as the Blue Waterholes.
Meandering alongside Cave Creek (with more than one shallow water, shoes-off crossing required) the track is spectacularly wedged in a narrow limestone gorge whose sheer cliffs rise imposingly on either side, inspiring vertigo even from ground level. These steely grey walls are perforated with caves and holes, and the grassy, monotone, undulating terrain with only the occasional snow gum or black sallee tree lend an almost Tasmanian feel to the landscape. It’s quite something.
There are several cave systems waiting to be explored here, with five open to the public in this particular area. They are Blue Waterholes, Barbers, Murray and Cooleman One and Two caves. Entry to the other caves requires permission from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
It was a short but sweet trip to the Snowies, but it wasn’t hard to see why Kosciuszko is not only one of Australia’s largest national parks, but also one of her most pristine and cherished. With easy accessibility from Sydney and Melbourne, this is a very doable short trip that comes highly recommended.
While we had planned to camp at the Blue Waterholes campground, a lovely grassy spot overlooking Caves Creek, some backpackers had already set-up camp there so we thought better of it: didn’t want to disturb them when we cranked up The Eagles a little later.
Instead, we headed back up the Blue Waterholes Track from which we came and camped at the top of the hill at Cooleman Mountain campground, a magnificent campground perched high and dry with lovely views. There was plenty of space for all our campers and more, with a huge expanse of flat-enough grass, picnic tables, firepits, untreated water and a drop toilet. Located around 2.6km from Long Plain Road and framed by towering gum trees, I cannot recommend this campsite highly enough. Plus, it’s just a 2km round trip walk to the Coolamine Homestead at the bottom of the valley, which is one of the largest, best restored and most interesting historical huts in the region.
Kosciuszko NP is 480km south of Sydney and 190km from Canberra.
Park entry fees per vehicle, per day vary according to the season but at most campsites no further camping fees apply. Phone 13 000 PARKS for more information.
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