On our way to Jindabyne in southern New South Wales on a sunny and warm summer’s morning, we travelled along the Monaro Highway from Victoria into New South Wales. We crossed over the Cann River on the way and if ever we needed proof of this devastating drought, it was here. This once mighty torrent is, for the most part, dry. Where there is water, it’s barely a trickle. We live in a country where drought is normal and not an exception. It’s a sad fact of life in Australia.
Traffic wasn’t heavy on the Monaro Highway and we made good time. Pretty soon we’d reached the New South Wales/Victorian border. It wasn’t too far now to the Snowy Mountains but we were in no great hurry. Just north of Rockton we came across, what to us was a quite unusual sight. A cattle muster.
Cattle Muster on the Monaro Highway
Now you’re probably wondering what was so unusual about this, we were in cattle country after all. Well, the mustering was being done on horseback. These days it’s more likely to be trail bikes or even helicopters so this was quite a treat for us. And we weren’t the only ones who appreciated the show; several other cars stopped as well.
I thought it was great and quite happily stood on the side of the road with my camera, snapping picture after picture. What traffic there was had slowed considerably; it wouldn’t do to spook the herd but one cow, in particular, had had enough of all the attention and decided to go home, down the middle of the highway! Another cow stopped in the middle of the road and the cars came to a standstill. She knows how to stop traffic! Eventually, all the cows were off the road and we started to move again, albeit slowly. 100 kilograms (221 pounds) of cow colliding with your car could really spoil your day for you!
Corrugated Iron Cows in Bombala!
We continued on our way and soon were in Bombala. It was lunchtime and after a visit to the local bakery we set off for the Bicentennial Park, on the outskirts of town. It’s a lovely park that stretches under the road bridge for quite a distance. We sat in a sort of rotunda that was fitted with tables and seats and has some barbecues. It was hot there and as it was so open I was a little concerned that we might have some guests of the unwelcome slithery-type but thankfully we didn’t see any. Back on the road and we were heading for Cooma. Just outside of Bombala we found a faithful replica of an historic hut near the Information Centre. It looked terribly flimsy and, in spite of the chimney that was evidence of an open fireplace, I think conditions in a house like that, in winter, would be extremely harsh.
It gave us a whole new appreciation of the pioneers who opened up this country. A little further on, we discovered a field with corrugated iron cows! I kid you not! There were no real cows and, for whatever reason, these sculptures had been created. At least they’re cheap to feed! Continuing on we soon came to Nimmitabel, the Monaro Region’s highest town. With a history dating back to the 1830’s, it’s a popular stop-off point for travellers. There are extensive views across the plains to the volcanic hills known as “The Brothers” and beyond that to the Australian Alps.
Tourist Park in Jindabyne
We arrived in Cooma just on 2:00 but didn’t stop. Anxious to get to Jindabyne we headed up the Kosciuszko Road with dark skies looming and a few spots of rain hitting the windshield. We crossed over the Lake Jindabyne Dam wall just before3:00 and drove through town to the Snowline Holiday Park ([star][star][star]). What an absolutely huge park this is! Catering more for cabins than caravans and campers, there is still quite a large area for vans and tents although I don’t think I’d like to be in a tent in the winter! On arrival we were given a welcome pack that included maps and a fuel voucher as well as tea bags and some coffee. Quite a nice idea and the first time in our travels thatwe’d experienced this. With our camp set up it was time to go exploring.
The park is full, not a spare site anywhere and the amenities centre (yes, centre) has bathrooms, games rooms, TV rooms, sauna & spa rooms, kitchen and laundry. It’s like walking into an office building! There are two camp kitchens and a children’s playground, all the roads are sealed, and the campsites are level. We’re reasonably close to the lake and there were a few people fishing but John decided not to join them, the threatened thunderstorm had gone past just threatening and amid claps of thunder, lightning, and a particularly cold wind, a few heavy drops of rain started to fall. We hurried back to our van and just made it to the shelter when the heavens opened up.
An interesting attraction in Jindabyne
We had a late start the next morning and it was almost 10:30 before we set off up the Alpine Way to do a little exploring. The skies were overcast and it was quite cool. We didn’t plan on going too far today, mostly we just wanted to get our bearings, visit the local information centre, and do a little shopping. Along the Alpine Way we discovered the Thredbo Valley Distillery, the home of Wild Brumbies Schnapps. Now, neither of us had ever tasted schnapps so this was going to be a whole new experience for us. Well, to say we were impressed would truly be complete understatement. The distillery is owned and operated by Brad Spalding and his wife. They also have onsite a studio gallery to display Brad’s art and they run a small continental café alongside the cellar door. We tasted schnapps of several different fruit varieties, including peach, pear, pink lady apple, and mango as well as a butterscotch schnapps.
Smooth and sweet; you could definitely lose yourself here! All the taste and sweetness comes from the fruit, there are no flavours added, except for the butterscotch, and absolutely no sugar. Wild Brumbies Schnapps is available with 18% alcohol and, for the adventurous, 40% alcohol; we stayed with the low one! The distillery is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. We went back to camp for lunch and after that John wanted to throw in a line so we drove out to the little village of Kalkite but the wind was strong and bitingly cold. He threw in his line and after about 10 minutes lost his lure. When it happened a second time he gave up, much to my relief.
Kosciuszko National Park
We decided to follow the Kosciuszko Road out towards Charlotte Pass, another area we planned to visit, and along the way stopped at the Thredbo River Picnic Ground on the edge of the Kosciuszko National Park. What a charming little place!
There are some sheltered picnic tables and barbeques and quite a large parking area with an information bay. The Thredbo River winds its way through the Thredbo Valley past Dead Horse Gap and Thredbo Village, Ngarigo Rest Area and Bullocks Hut, and into Lake Jindabyne. There are a number of walking trails that start here at the picnic area and judging by the cars in the parking area I’d say that there were quite a few walkers out there. The Dead Horse Gap and Thredbo River Track is a 10-kilometre (6-mile) round trip and includes Mt Kosciuszko. Would I like to try it? Perhaps another time! There were no other people around and, in fact, we were alone except for a few ducks on the river.
First night bubbly!
The skies had cleared and the wind dropped later in the afternoon and it was time to head back to camp for our “first night” ritual. With the storm last night we’d thought it best not to tempt fate, there was just too much lightning and the rain was heavy at times.
And as it turned out, leaving it until tonight was a good idea because we found just the place to celebrate our arrival in the Snowy Mountains. Near the children’s play area is a gazebo-like structure that was perfect for us. And so, armed with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine and two glasses we headed up to the playground. We drank our toast to The Snowy Mountains and just relaxed in the cool, crisp mountain air but the clouds were starting to build again and it wasn’t long before we retired to the shelter of our annex.
I was looking forward to the next day for my first visit to Mt Kosciuszko so it wasn’t only the fact that we had a lot to see that was the reason we had such an early start. After a quick breakfast we set off for Thredbo in the Kosciuszko National Park. The sky was overcast and the breeze was quite cool when we left the campsite but by the time we arrived in Thredbo the skies were clear and the breeze was negligible. How were we to know that very soon we’d be praying for a little breeze? How amazing Thredbo Village is! There is hardly a spare piece of ground in the whole place with the chalets and lodges built virtually one on top of the other! Even so, it doesn’t look cramped. It was just after 9:00 when we arrived and very little was open this early so we wandered around the village for a short while, visited the information centre for a few brochures, and photographed everything in sight, whether it was moving or not! Near the Alpine Hotel we discovered a “sculpture garden” that had some really interesting and intricate pieces on display.
There were many different sculptures and each one more than worthy of a photograph but there were the two that I particularly liked. It’s not hard to imagine that in a few months this whole garden will be covered in a blanket of white and these sculptures will hardly be visible. Just up the stairs from the garden we found a coffee shop called Altitude 1380 and, as you have probably guessed, it’s exactly 1380 metres (4528 feet) above sea level. We had coffee while we had a look at the brochures from the information centre but I’d already made up my mind that a walk to the top of Mt Kosciuszko was going to be the major part of my day.
To the Top of Mt. Kosciuszko
The Thredbo River flows right through the village and after coffee we crossed the bridge and headed for the Kosciuszko Express, the chair lift that would take us most of the way up the mountain. The ticket office was busy and the walk to the top of the mountain is very popular. Only one chairlift operates in the summer months and this one goes up to Eagle’s Nest Mountain Hut, a restaurant that is 1930metres (6332 feet) above sea level. There are quite a number of walking trails up to the restaurant but the chairlift is, by far, the fastest way. This was quite an experience for both of us – the first time for me (yes, a chairlift virgin!), and John had been on one years ago and couldn’t remember what it was like.
At first we both hung on for dear life but soon relaxed and enjoyed the ride. And what a ride! Higher and higher we climbed as if we were on a chairlift to heaven! Arriving at Eagle’s Nest we exited the chairlift on knees almost turned to jelly. What a blast! Everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime! For folks who do this regularly, it’s old hat, but for us it was an adventure! From here it was a 2-kilometre (1.2-mile) walk to the Mt Kosciuszko Lookout and a 6½-kilometre (4-mile) walk to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, the very ceiling of Australia. Were we prepared for a high-altitude walk of 13 kilometres (8 miles)? Well, we thought we were and off we went.
On top of the world!
The path goes all the way to the top with little bridges over some mountain streams. I was surprised by some of the big rocks we saw. Now I know there are huge rocks all over the mountain but when you see photos of it covered in snow you don’t think about what’s underneath! And those big rocks came in handy when we needed to stop and catch our breath.
The higher up we went, the thinner the air became and those rest stops started to come more frequently. After a while the paved path became a metal one and in places it was elevated to protect the tundra. The scenery was spectacular; the views on the way to the top, amazing, and the clumps of wildflowers growing along both sides of the path were really beautiful. Of course, being so high up the sun was fierce and it was quite hot. Where was that breeze!! We’d heeded the advice about hats and sunscreen but I could still feel my arms and the back of my neck burning.
But, oh it was worth it! I had talked about this for so long and was so very excited, you can imagine my disappointment when, after a 2-kilometre incline to the lookout at 2080 metres (6824 feet), I could go no further. The thinner air and subsequent lack of oxygen had taken its toll. It was so close but I just couldn’t do it! We made our way back down to Eagle’s Nest and then the chairlift down. Strangely enough, I wasn’t concerned but John was a little nervous at first especially at the start where it seemed we were being launched off the edge of the world. But after that we were fine; other people do this all the time, don’t they?
Ski Resorts in the Snowy Mountains
Back down in Thredbo we collected our picnic basket and sat by the river to eat lunch. It was really peaceful there and with the sun warm on our backs we were both in danger of dozing off! After lunch we set off back down the Alpine Way toward Kosciuszko Road. We passed over several small bridges that crossed mountain streams. Usually frozen in the winter months, these small streams even had a little green grass around them. Along the way we stopped briefly at the Ski Tube, which is like a train that runs between the various resorts in the winter. It doesn’t run at all in the summer months but one of the “trains” was sitting at the platform just waiting for passengers to climb aboard! At the end of the Alpine Way there is a slight hill with a place where we could park.
It was here we had the most amazing view of Lake Jindabyne! The sky was, for the most part, clear and the sun was shining; it was an outstanding view. We continued on our way and soon were on the other side of the National Park and heading for Charlotte Pass, a terrific little ski resort at the end of the road. It doesn’t look much in the summer months but in winter it must be something else. Charlotte Pass is 1835 metres (6020 feet) above sea level and is at the end of the Kosciuszko Road. It is home to Seamans Hut, the heritage listed highest habitable structure in Australia, a memorial to a skiing accident in Kosciuszko National Park.
Charlotte Pass was named after Charlotte Adams, reputed to be the first European woman to reach Mt Kosciuszko. The chalet in the village dates back to 1939; the original one, built in 1931, was destroyed by fire in 1938. We left the car and went on foot along Snow Gums Board Walk to the Charlotte Pass Lookout from where we had a terrific view of Mt Kosciuszko and Mt Lee and many other mountains in the range. It was getting late but there were still some places I wanted to see. It is quite possible that we may never come back here and I, for one, didn’t want to miss anything.
We stopped briefly at Perisher Valley, the home of Perisher Blue Resort. Again, it’s not much in the summer and I would love to see it covered in snow. All the chairlifts standing still and silent gave the whole place an air of sadness, kind of “ghost-townish”. Continuing on our way, we crossed over Spenser’s Creek, perhaps the highest creek in the mountains at 1730 metres (5676 feet) above sea level, and stopped right in the middle of the bridge for a photograph. Luckily, we were the only car on the road.
Not long after we came to the turn-off to Smiggin Holes and decided to have a quick look around and maybe stop for a coffee. We didn’t stay long, there was a stiff breeze blowing and it had turned quite cool. I’ve often wondered what that name meant, did somebody named Smiggin fall down a hole here? Actually, as we learned today, it is a Scottish name for shallow depressions caused by cattle around a salt lick. However, why it was chosen as the name for this area is still a mystery to us! By now it was really getting cold and windy and my desire to see it all was blown away on the breeze. We decided not to stop at Guthega although I would have liked to see Illawong Lodge. Originally built in 1925-26, it is one of the oldest remaining ski huts in the main range.
Back on Kosciuszko Road and heading back toward Jindabyne we stopped at the Snowy Hydro Scheme Memorial. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme is one of the most complex integrated water and hydroelectric power schemes in the world. It took 25 years and more than 100,000 people from over 30 countries to build it.
With 16 major dams, 7 power stations, a pumping station, 145 kilometres (90 miles) of interconnected trans-mountains tunnels, and 80 kilometres (50 miles) of aqueducts, it is one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world. Today it provides over 70% of all renewable energy available to the east coast of mainland Australia. It was truly a monumental undertaking and, as with all such projects, there were bound to be accidents. The Memorial was erected, not just to those who lost their lives in the creation of the scheme but also to all who were involved in its construction. After such a long day of tramping through the National Park, and that climb to the lookout, I had discovered muscles I never knew I had and every one of them was letting me know it! The spa at the holiday park beckoned and John and I relaxed, immersed in the bubbling hot water, for a whole 20 minutes. I could feel those aching muscles and joints breathing a huge sigh! A perfect end to a totally perfect day.
Old Adaminaby, a town submerged
The following morning John decided that he’d like to see Old Adaminaby and Yarrangobilly Caves. So after breakfast we set off for what promised to be a very interesting day. Little did we know that Mother Nature had other plans for us that day. We drove to Berridale, then along the Midlingbank Road and finally onto the Snowy Mountains Highway, arriving in Adaminaby, about 84 kilometres (52 miles) away, just after 9:30. The sky was clear and it was getting quite warm and we stopped at the local garage to ask directions to the old town. In the early 1950’s the valley where the town was located was to be flooded as part of The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. It was decided to move the entire town to higher ground, 9 kilometres (5½ miles) away. A total of 101 buildings were moved, commencing in July 1957 and being completed in October of that year. The flooding of the valley actually commenced in 1956. This created Lake Eucumbene and facilitated the building of the Eucumbene Dam.
Over recent years, due to the drought, the water level of the dam has dropped and the ruins of some of the buildings that weren’t moved are now visible on the shores of the lake. Even though it all happened 50 years ago, I still found it terribly sad; these were people’ homes. There is a church on the hill overlooking the lake and this is one of the few original buildings not moved. Like the original town of Jindabyne that was flooded by the damming of the Snowy River and the creation of Lake Jindabyne, Adaminaby was completely submerged but with the water level so low even the tops of the trees were well above the surface.
Bushfires at Yarrangobilly
We left the old town and headed back into Adaminaby for a cup of coffee and stopped at the Lions Club Picnic Park where there is a sculpture of a rainbow trout, 10 metres (33 feet) high and weighing 2½ tonnes (2.75 tons). Designed by Hungarian-born Andrew Lomnici, it was erected in 1974. Lake Eucumbene has possibly the most ideal fishing conditions in the entire Snowy Region and trout is the most sought after fish. After coffee we set off for Yarrangobilly Caves, 88 kilometres (55 miles) from Adaminaby, along the Snowy Mountains Highway. The caves are formed in a belt of limestone and are around 440 million years old. They are some of the most beautiful caves found in Australia. There are several different caves with both guided and self-guided tours available. There is also a thermal pool with a constant temperature of 27°C (81°F). We’d gone about 40 kilometres (25 miles) through some spectacular mountain scenery, and passed through the little town of Kiandra, when we came to a roadblock at the intersection of the Snowy Mountains Highway and the Cabramurra Road. The road to Yarrangobilly was closed due to bushfires and, indeed, it was very smoky.
The fires had been burning throughout the area for several weeks, since early December. We’d been told that they were mostly under control but it certainly didn’t look that way to us. It was widely believed that they’d been started by dry lightning strikes and hundreds of thousands of acres of national parks and state forests, not to mention grazing land, had been destroyed. It was devastating to see, even from this distance. Drought may be a fact of life in Australia but so are bushfires. We were disappointed at not being able to see the caves but seeing the fires like this made us realise that nature can’t be taken for granted and Mother Nature can be a fickle bitch at times.
Storm clouds gathering over Jindabyne
We were to find out how fickle later on. Mt. Selwyn wasn’t far away so we decided to take the Cabramurra Road and have a look at Selwyn Snowfields but there wasn’t much happening there and, in any case, helicopters from the fire service were using the parking lots for re-fuelling. We thought it best to just get out of the way and so drove back to Berridale where we stopped in the park for lunch. All the way back we’d been keeping an eye on the build-up of heavy clouds and the occasional flash of lightning and we decided it might be a good idea to return to camp; this looked like it was going to be quite a storm and, as it turned out, we weren’t wrong. We’d not been back long when thunder started crashing and the rain started. A torrential deluge, including hail, pelted down on us. The drains in the park, unable to cope with the torrent, overflowed and a big wave of water and detritus flowed through our annex, drowning everything on the floor and flowing into the sites below us. It was the start of a wild couple of hours. There continued to be thunder, intermittent heavy showers, and wind gusts throughout the night. We weren’t happy with the attitude of the park staff and even had to ask them to clear the plant debris from the blocked drain.
Twice, John had to get up in the middle of the night to clear some more debris away before we got flooded again. Bad weather when you’re camping is a nuisance and just plain bad luck but we really didn’t expect nor were we impressed by the “I-don’t-care” attitude of some of the staff at the Snowline Holiday Park. Up to this point the park would have received a 4-star rating from us but not now; staff attitudes are one of the things we rate a park on. Rain continued off and on throughout the night and in the morning more than half the park guests left.
Whether it had anything to do with the previous night’s storms or not, I couldn’t say, but it seemed that we weren’t the only unhappy campers here. The rain eased later in the morning but you would have thought it was winter instead of summer it was so cold. We had a very quiet day and opted to remain at camp for the better part of it. With more storms and high winds forecast we preferred to stay right where we were. At least I caught up on the laundry and it was nice and warm in there with the clothes dryer on.
We bid farewell to the Snowy Mountains
The threatened storms didn’t eventuate and late in the afternoon the weather cleared a little bit. Cabin fever was taking hold and we drove over to the dam wall but it was too windy and cold to stay long. From there we drove into Jindabyne to the Nugget’s Crossing Shopping Centre and did some shopping, relaxed over a coffee at the local bakery/café and visited the local information centre to learn a little more about the town and lake. Lake Jindabyne is a man-made lake created during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. The original town was covered by the waters just as Old Adaminaby was.
The lake is half as big again as Sydney Harbour and is one of the states finest fishing lakes. Some of the roads in East Jindabyne actually disappear into the lake. The population is a mixture of new residents and pioneering families and, as the publicity blurbs say, Jindabyne is a small country town with a difference. There is so much on offer here that it’s easy to see why the new town is an excellent base for exploring the Snowy Mountains region. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Jindabyne, weather not withstanding, and have already decided on a return visit. Next time we’ll see this town as the winter wonderland it is but for now our short stay here is over. One thing is for sure, when we make our winter visit we won’t be camping! John wants to know where my sense of adventure is! I think I can be just as adventurous if I’m warm!
The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.