Experience the power of the mighty Snowy River, from the heart of Victoria’s rugged High Country all the way to the coast.
WORDS Claudia Bouma
The magnificent Snowy River is an Aussie icon for many good reasons. The crystal clear mountain stream starts its journey on the steep slopes of Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko. Flowing through breathtaking alpine country, the Snowy carves its way through majestic gorges, past rainforest-clad ranges and rugged wilderness areas to finally empty into Bass Strait at the picturesque town of Marlo.
The Snowy is synonymous with adventure and inspired Banjo Paterson’s famous poem, The Man from Snowy River, which he penned in the late 1800s. More than a century later, Aussies continue to flock to the high country to experience its dramatic landscapes and traditional bush culture.
It was a hot summer’s day when we made our way to Corringle Foreshore Reserve to pitch our tent only metres away from the Snowy River Estuary, a stone’s throw from the coastal town of Marlo, Vic. The tranquil waters glimmered in the sun, enticing us to a refreshing swim, and the small beach is the perfect play area for kids, where they can spend hours building sand castles and digging trenches.
From here, the historic town of Orbost is a picturesque 20-minute drive and the perfect place to stock up on groceries or find any other items you might need. The visitor information centre is located inside a beautifully restored slab hut, dating back to 1872 when it was built as a family home. The small cottage contains a wealth of information about the region and has multiple displays detailing the lives of the early pioneers, earning it the name ‘living museum’.
A heritage walk takes you through the beautiful country town, with a series of 15 storyboards recounting Orbost’s colourful past. The flood marker at Forest Park, along with the beautiful mosaic path, is worth a look. The devastating flood of 1971 reached almost 10 metres, three years before the completion of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, an ambitious masterpiece that took 25 years to build. The scheme is recognised as ‘a civil engineering wonder of the modern world’ with its seven major power stations, 16 major dams, 80km of aqueducts, 145km of tunnels, a large pumping station and the capacity to generate 3800mW. Today, it is also a popular tourist destination.
For an adventure of a different kind, exploring the Snowy River Country Trail is an absolute must. The entire trail will see you clock up about 285km, but the breathtaking mountain vistas are definitely worth it. One of the major features of the trip is the historic McKillops Bridge. An alternative route to the bridge is the shorter, but far more challenging, 4WD Deddick Trail, which will take around three hours one way. It is not advisable to attempt this track in wet conditions.
We set out from our foreshore campsite early in the morning and drove out to the Princes Highway, headed for Orbost. Just before town, we took a left onto Buchan-Orbost Road. The ensuing 55km stretch of winding road meanders through dense forest until the township of Buchan, famous for its limestone caves. Tours of the caves are conducted every day of the year, except for Christmas Day.
From Buchan, we continued along the Buchan-Jindabyne Road for another 55km. The scenery changes dramatically and the road gradually starts to climb. Along the way is the turn-off to Tullach Ard Gorge, where Parks Victoria’s relatively new lookout walk provides access to this awe-inspiring location with breathtaking mountain views.
At Wulgulmerang, we turned right onto McKillops Road. This section of the Snowy River Country Trail is 80km long and traverses one of Victoria’s most spectacular mountain valleys. The kids cheered as we passed the sign informing us of the start of the Snowy River National Park – this is where the real adventure begins. If you have the time, it is worth checking out Little River Falls, a 600m-high waterfall. We hesitated at the turn-off to Little River Gorge but decided to continue, as time was getting on. The gorge is Victoria’s deepest and can be accessed via a 400m walking track which rewards with panoramic vistas.
When the sun comes out, the alpine landscape is transformed into a magical wonderland and, as you push on, the road narrows and the views across the mountains are breathtaking.
We pulled over and from the road’s edge the near-vertical hills drop away hundreds of metres to the valley below. Seven-year-old Shannon breathed a sigh of relief when Chris backed out, placing some distance between him and the abyss. A sign warns that the road ahead is steep, narrow and winding – what follows is a riveting descent into the magnificent Snowy River Valley.
Finally, the impressive 255m-long McKillops Bridge stretched out before us and we paused to marvel at this magnificent piece of engineering history. The vision for this ambitious project dates back to 1930 when it was deemed necessary to construct an all-weather crossing over one of the country’s most powerful rivers. Named after pioneer George McKillop, who first crossed here in 1835, this particular location was used as a livestock crossing for nearly a century.
The massive timber structure was finished in 1934 but a record flood washed the bridge away only days before the official opening. Rebuilding efforts commenced soon after and the result was a 20m-high bridge with a timber deck supported by metal trusses, which still stands to this day. The views from the deck across the picturesque valley are worth the long drive and a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Snowy is irresistible.
The sound of running water drew us to the river’s edge where the kids picked up rocks to throw into the rapids. McKillops Bridge is an impressive sight as it spans the legendary stream, standing as a silent witness to the many adventurers who have passed before us into this dramatic wilderness.
Reluctantly, we pulled ourselves away from this breathtaking scenery to have lunch and check out the information boards. The nearby camping area is the perfect location for a weekend of solitude – facilities include picnic tables and a non-flushing toilet, and no charges apply. The 15.5km Silver Mine loop walk provides insight into the silver mining activities that took place here in the early 1900s. Diggers flocked to the area to grab riches from the dirt but by 1905 most prospecting activities had ceased, due to the area’s remote location and the miners’ lack of skill.
Before we jumped back in the car, we took a final look at the river which has been the centrepiece of countless Australian writings, paintings and other works of art. This is, undoubtedly, a place to experience nature up close and to be reminded of the timelessness of these precious wilderness areas.
Heading east, we left the park to make our way back to Orbost via Bonang Road. If you fancy a more scenic drive, Yalmy Road will take you past the Big Tree, an 80m forest giant known as the Errinundra shining gum, which is a native to the forests of East Gippsland.
On our last day we drove to Marlo to check out French’s Narrows, the spot where the mighty Snowy flows into Bass Strait. This pretty coastal town is a popular summer holiday spot and a favourite destination for fishing enthusiasts. The jetty is a great spot to throw in a line or watch the boats go in and out.
The next day, we packed up at the crack of dawn and – to the kids’ disappointment – left the legendary Snowy River behind us. Our trip took us from the quiet Snowy River estuary to the heart of the wild and rugged national park where the spectacular river still embodies the spirit of the high country – a landscape of breathtaking beauty attracting thousands of visitors, all looking for a true wilderness experience.
Corringle Foreshore Reserve is situated at the mouth of the Snowy River Estuary, 20km south of Orbost in East Gippsland and 375km east of Melbourne.
For accommodation options in and around Snowy River country, click here.