What’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the High Country? Is it Craig’s Hut, immortalised in the film The Man From Snowy River? Or perhaps the Billy Goat’s Bluff Track, known for its 4WD challenges and views? Either way, you’d be thinking about the Victorian High Country.
But what about the rest of it? The Australian Alps extend over 1.6 million hectares of public land, and include eleven national parks and nature reserves across a tract of land stretching nearly 400km from the nation's capital, Canberra, in the Australian Capital territory, through southern New South Wales, and along the Great Divide into eastern Victoria.
North of the Victorian border, Australia’s high country has a significant and untameable quality, where a unique set of Australian legends and traditions were born. With so much to see, we reckoned it was time to put the spotlight on this great part of the country.
Getting from the Victorian border to the ACT is easy. Fuel-up, then thread your rig in-between the lines of semi-trailers on the Hume Highway for 3.5 hours. Done. But where’s the fun in that?
A better option takes you and the kids through the iconic Australian High Country and gets in touch with some of the places and characters that have helped shape the nation. To get there, take the Murray Valley Highway to Corryong, before picking up the Alpine Way through Kosciuszko National Park past Thredbo and on to Jindabyne.
Interestingly, places along this route, like Corryong and Tom Groggin, are where the ‘real’ Man from Snowy River worked rested and played. Along this drive you’ll also delve into the Snowy Hydro scheme — its past, present and future.
Push on and take the Snowy Mountains Highway, which heads through the High Plains area. This is true high-country cattleman’s area, with Coolamine Homesteads, Long Plain and Cooinbil Huts along Long Plain road. Long Plain is also where the Mighty Murrumbidgee River starts as a mere trickle.
Travel this route and you’ll see just how hard the recent bushfires hit. During the 2019–20 bushfires, over two-thirds of the park was badly affected. While the native bush has a great capacity to regenerate, for some people around these parts, life will never be the same. So spend some time, and coin to help local communities in their ongoing recovery efforts.
Be mindful too of wild horses straying onto the roads. There’s been a steady increase in feral horse numbers in the park, directly attributable to the NSW Government’s 2018 decision to protect this introduced species. Five years ago, there were approximately 6000 feral horses in the National Park area. Since then, the feral horse population has increased to an estimated staggering 20,000.
Originally built to provide accommodation for stockmen, prospectors, fishermen and skiers, there are around 200 pioneer-style huts still standing across Australia’s alpine country, with 70 huts in Kosciuszko National Park alone. Each one is different, because they’re built from the materials available in their individual locations, brought together by necessity in ingenious combinations. Whether it’s logs, corrugated iron, split slabs, river stones, pisé or rammed earth, the huts reflect their unique environments.
Several Kosciuszko huts were damaged and rebuilt after the 2003 bushfires, and after the 2019–20 bushfires, others have been lost. At least 13 of the historic buildings dotted around the national parks were destroyed, including Delany's Hut, Sawyers Rest House, Mathew's Cottage, Brooks Hut, Pattinson's Cottage, Round Mountain Hut, O'Briens Hut, Linesman 3 & 4, Kiandra Courthouse, Vickeries, Wolgals and Four Mile Hut.
But all is not lost. Many historic buildings are still standing. Huts such as Old Geehi, Keebles and Doctors Huts were made as retreats for engineers and surveyors working on the foundations of the Snowy Hydro scheme. These huts are distinguished by their attractive pebble-creek construction and riverside locations and you can freecamp next to them if you have a Parks Pass. So, once we emerge from the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 lockdown, you might like to consider a bit of voluntary self-isolation at one of these historic locations. Some are accessible to blacktop tourers, some are only accessible by 4WD, while others are only reached on foot.
Do your research first as the recent bushfires closed some access routes until they can be cleared and made safe for public use. Remember, too, that the Kosciuszko huts are maintained by volunteers from the Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA). So if you’re looking for an excuse to spend some quality time with these heritage buildings, consider becoming a member of the KHA and play your part in preserving the huts for current and future generations.
HERE FISHY FISHY
Europeans were scared of Australia when they first settled here because nothing was familiar. In response, Acclimatisation Societies were established in many parts of the country to import familiar plants and animals so that everyone could feel a little more at home. It was these societies that brought us ‘useful’ things such as blackberry plants, rabbits, lantana, foxes and suchlike. Finding the native fish in the alpine areas uninspiring (small and ‘insignificant’), trout were introduced into the cooler streams as a source of sport and food.
Today, trout are still among this country’s favourite game species. While some stocks are self-sustaining, in other places populations of trout are maintained by the release of juvenile fish from State government hatcheries. The alpine region of NSW offers some great fishing so remember to pack your rod when you head up this way. In fact, if you travel in November, you can participate in the week-long Snowy Mountains Trout Festival.
There are some great angling shops in the local area where you’ll get the good oil on bait choices, whether for trawling, spinning or fly fishing. We like Steve Williamson’s Trout Fishing shop in Jindabyne and the Adaminaby Angler in Adaminaby. These blokes are always happy to help make your day by the water one to remember.
And if you want to get up-close-and-personal with some of the slippery critters, The Gaden Trout Hatchery on the Thredbo River near Jindabyne is a great stop for young and old alike. There are viewing platforms where you can see Atlantic salmon, brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout. Take the guided tour or simply spend some time in the site’s park-like grounds with BBQs, shelters and great swimming. Watch out, too, for special days when the hatchery runs kids’ fishing workshops to help teach our youngsters about the practical and environmental aspects of fishing.
Just because it’s snowing doesn’t mean you can’t camp in the high country. You just need to be properly prepared.
A handy stop is the Kosciuszko Tourist Park which is just inside the Park on the way to Perisher on Kosciuszko Rd. This site sits just below the snow line, but there are often small temporary snow drifts for the kids to play in. There are hot water showers and short, medium and long bushwalks to take straight from the campsite. One of these heads straight to the Thredbo River Picnic area where you can wet a line. Keep quiet and you might get lucky and see a platypus.
To get back to basics, remote camping is available in winter, with some restrictions. You’ll find details of where you’re allowed to camp in the NSW National Parks website. Wherever you choose, remember that blizzards can occur at any time. So make camp early before you get cold, wet and tired. If you camp near a Hut, don’t think you can simply roll-out your swag indoors and make yourself comfortable. These facilities are emergency shelters only, otherwise they’re restricted to day-use. Always remember to tread lightly and leave no trace.
Also remember you won’t be able to collect firewood inside the National Park, so pick up a bag or two of hardwood from a reputable source before you enter the park. Leave a little behind at one of the historic huts and you may make the world of difference to someone who finds themselves huddled around the fireplace in an emergency situation.
While Kosciuszko National Park is the beating heart of the NSW high country, it’s not the whole story. The Park covers a stretch of around 400km of the Great Dividing Range which extends for 3500km in total, and Mount Kozzy isn’t the only place along the Range that you’ll find snow. Snow falls regularly in places like Oberon, 440km north of Thredbo, as well as at Jenolan Caves nearby. And let’s not forget Barrington Tops National Park, 250km north of Sydney. Its unique characteristics include both rainforest and sub-alpine woodland where snow can settle in light dustings or heavy falls, depending on the conditions.
The vast expanse of high country generated by the Great Dividing Range generates endless opportunities for travel itineraries. If you’re interested in bushrangers, consider Captain Thunderbolt, the longest roaming bushranger in Australian history, who ranged throughout the New England district from the mid-1860s until his death near Uralla in 1870. For the adventurous, you’ll find ‘Thunderbolts Trail’ in Barrington Tops National Park, which is a 4WD fire trail that follows part of his original route. Otherwise, Thunderbolts Way provides easy access to a range of culturally, socially and environmentally significant sites. Indeed there’s a handy Cartoscope Map that focusses solely on this area of country’s association with its namesake.
Go a little further north and you’ll find Guy Fawkes River National Park and Nymboida. Now you can’t tell us that it ain’t high-up around here, and it sure gets cold — we’ve been gold prospecting at Dalmorton in a snowfall.
As for steep, wait until you get to the switchbacks on the old Grafton Road. It’s easier driven up than down — select the right gear and watch your brakes. A striking feature of this route is the historic hand-carved tunnel constructed by civilian labour during the 1800s. There’s free camping at Dalmorton and more down the road at the Nymboida River. Just check for temporary road and camp closures before heading-off.
SEE AND DO
Still not sure what to do on your immersion into the ‘Other High Country’, try these on for size:
- Visit the Man from Snowy River Museum and Jack Riley’s grave at Corryong. Stay at the Colac Colac ‘Clack Clack’ Caravan Park 6km from Corryong on the banks of Corryong Creek. There’s swimming and trout fishing on site, and also platypus in the river.
- Free camp at Jingellic next to the family-friendly Bridge Hotel. Swim or fish in the river then head inside for schnitzels, chips and a refreshing beverage.
- At Thredbo it’s not all about the snow. During other times of the year, you can dangle above the trees on the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift then walk to the crest of Australia’s highest mountain. Or get out the mountain bikes and test yourself on the many purpose-built trails. For something a little easier, there’s the 700m Alpine Bobsled that will guarantee squeals of enjoyment from your littlest crew members.
- When they re-open, don’t miss the Yarrangobilly thermal pool, a 20m long, 2.5m deep pool that’s 27 degrees all year round — perfect for the weary traveller to unwind. While you’re there, make time for a tour of the caves.
- If the adults need something ‘just for them’ drop into Wild Brumby Schnapps distillery and cafe located between Thredbo and Jindabyne. And if you’re still looking for a Man from Snowy River fix, see if you can find the autographed photo of Sigrid Thornton on the wall.
- If you’re headed towards Canberra, the kids will love the Bredbo Christmas Barn (open 1 June–23 December). Whether you’re buying or just browsing, it’s a Christmas wonderland. There’s also free camping behind the Bredbo Pub and great pub meals. Before you leave town, don’t miss the rabbit and field mushroom pie at Snowy Mountains Gourmet Food on the main street (or any of their pies for that matter).