With a week or so up our sleeves from our various commitments we decided to point the bonnet of the cruiser south and head for one of our all-time favourite touring, camping and four wheel driving destinations, the mighty Snowy Mountains of New South Wales.
From our home base in the Central Tablelands it is a bit of a scenic run through hills and farming country interspersed with forests as we make our way via Oberon to Goulburn then out onto the Hume Highway before picking up the Federal Highway, skirting around Canberra and finally arriving in Cooma to stock up on supplies. From Cooma we take the Snowy Mountains Highway west, past the Big Trout at Adaminaby to the tiny hamlet of Kiandra. A few historic buildings and interesting cemetery are all that remain here today of a once bustling and thriving gold mining town. You see, gold was discovered here in the 1850s and like so many gold mining towns of the time the population swelled, however also like so many it was only short lived. We stop briefly here and take a wander along the Kiandra Heritage Trail self-guided walk and try to imagine what it must have been like standing here in 1860 with a population of around 15000, a far cry from today.
Just around the corner and opposite the turn off to the Selwyn Ski Fields is Three Mile Dam and our first night’s camp. This picturesque high altitude dam was constructed by Chinese workers for the goldfields, and is now used by Selwyn Snow Fields for its snow making requirements. Camping is permitted around the dam’s shores and it is one of those magical, quintessential spots you have to camp in at least once, we have on numerous occasions and manage to find something unique and special each and every time. Setting up camp here this time we had some wild brumbies wander into camp and frolic just metres from us in the fading afternoon light, just magical.
After a crisp morning and bacon and eggs done on the biji of course we were on the road with the plan being a circuitous trip around Kosciuszko eventually ending back up at Jindabyne in about a week’s time. We pick up Tooma Road heading for the village of Khancoban and soon arrive at our first of many huts for this trip, Bradleys and O’Briens. This is one of the more easily located huts in Kosciuszko sitting right beside the road but is a gem none the less. After a quick cuppa we venture a little further south along Tooma Road stopping at Happy Jacks Road. Although gated this road is a popular mountain bike trail that goes all the way across the wilderness to Lake Eucumbene. We are however not here for the mountain biking but it is time to stretch the legs and go in search of another hut a little further off the beaten track. Not far along Happy Jacks Road and a little way off the road up on a high meadow are 15 Mile Spur Huts. We are told that there is a plan to move one of these huts closer to Lake Eucumbene in the future. Standing up here you feel like you are on the roof of the world and it just reminds us of why we love this area so much, just breathtaking.
Back at the car and a little further along Tooma Road we come to Round Mountain Trailhead car park. This is the starting point for numerous walks into the stunningly beautiful Jagungal Wilderness. It is time to don the hiking boots and head on a not too long hike to Round Mountain Hut. Even though it is a steep descent to the hut we take our time along the well traversed trail and manage to soak up the majestic views before the steep climb back out. We decide it is definitely well worth the effort.
Back out and we have another hut to explore yet before finding camp for the night. This time we pull over just before crossing Tooma Reservoir and take another well traversed trail to another stunning corrugated iron hut so synonymous with the area, Paton’s. Another hilly walk that is energetic but breathing in that ultra-fresh mountain air it is again well worth those burning calves.
Departing Paton’s Hut with the sun beginning its westward descent it is time to find our camp for the night. We head further south passing the village of Khancoban, the tavern here does a mean meal if you are down this way, eventually motoring into Geehi Flats Rest Area. Setting up camp with the crystal clear bubbling Swampy Plain River on your doorstep and the New South Wales Main Range as a backdrop, camping doesn’t get much better than this. The best part is it is so easy to get to with sealed roads all the way here. It is so relaxing we decide to spend a couple nights in heaven. Our day of R and R turned out to be more searching for huts finding Dr Forbes Hut not far from the camping area on the opposite side of the river, a stunning spot. We also decided it would be a good idea to walk across the river to photograph the beautiful stone built Keebles Hut as well as Old Geehi Hut. With camera in hand we ditched our shoes and socks to brave the freezing water having to cross the river twice to get to Old Geehi Hut.
Next morning after all our effort the day before in our wisdom we decided to take the four wheel drive track across the river from Geehi Rest Area again visiting Keebles and Old Geehi Huts, this time without freezing numb feet. We ventured further into the unknown making our way to the quirky Major Clews Hut deep within the enchanting forest. This easy grade four wheel drive track makes a loop back onto the Alpine Way mid-way between Khancoban and Geehi Rest Area. We turn right back onto the main road here and stopped briefly at Scammell’s Lookout to take in the full majesty of the Main Range. Prior to Geehi Rest Area we decide to take a detour out to Geehi Dam and what a brilliant idea that was. The gravel road to the dam gently winds its way through tall alpine forest and it was along here we spotted a deer casually enjoying the mountain scenery as much as we were. Along the way we also took a slight diversion to Olsen’s Lookout and were greeted with an amazing view of the Main Range shrouded in mist with a rainbow for the taking.
From the dam we retrace our steps back to the Alpine Way and head further south before starting the climb out of the valley and up onto the high plains at the ski resort village of Thredbo. The road is quite tight in spots with many switchbacks to negotiate but all sealed and an enjoyable exhilarating drive. Once at the top of the range and after passing the entrance to Thredbo village we still had one more hut to check out before making our way to camp for the night. Tucked in behind the Ski Tube Terminal at Bullocks Flat is Bullocks Hut nestled beside the Thredbo River. A total contrast in construction to the other huts we had visited on this trip, it is only a short stroll from the Ski Tube car park to the hut, which is a popular wedding photo location we are told.
After our final hut for the day we made our way via Kosciuszko Road, the road to Charlotte Pass, to the well spread out Island Bend Camping Area along the road to Guthega village. There are plenty of spots to get away from the crowd here if it were busy, however we find it almost deserted, just the way we like our campgrounds.
Following a peaceful night in the crisp mountain air we were once again on the hut search. This time making our way to Guthega village and with hiking boots on and camera in hand we head off on the 6.4km return walk to Illawong Lodge located in an isolated valley overlooking the beautiful Snowy River. The suspension bridge spanning the river just past the hut is a real highlight. It of course leads onto further walks into this outstanding, pristine place.
Our time in this stunning and one of our most favoured places was coming all too soon to an end, however we still had a couple places left with another night planned at Island Bend. On our last day we ventured further up Kosciuszko Road to Charlotte Pass, a must visit when in this area. We even found the rusting remains of The Hoist, Australia’s second oldest mechanical ski lift. We also took in the amazing views of the Main Range from the Snow Gums Boardwalk Lookout. On the way back to camp reminiscing about yet another awe inspiring trip to this magical part of the country we take a late afternoon stroll to the stunning blue waters of Rainbow Lake just a short stroll off Kosciuszko Road and a very befitting way to end our trip. Snowy Mountains we will definitely return, soon.
Some of the roads we travelled on this trip are and can be closed during the winter months due to snowfall. The huts can still be visited but by cross country skiing only.
Camping is free at all of the campsites mentioned however you will require a National Park Pass for access between Khancoban and Bullocks Flat near Thredbo Village. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the campgrounds including caravan parks in this wonderful region. There are almost too many to choose from.
All main roads are sealed roads. Our hut trek from Geehi Rest Area is four wheel drive only and we would recommend it during dry weather only. The road to Geehi Dam is also unsealed. It is possible for caravans to access Geehi Rest Area from Khancoban. All campsites mentioned are also caravan friendly.
Snowy Region Visitor Centre, Jindabyne
Ph: 02 6450 5600 or visit www.snowymountains.com.au
Khancoban Visitor Centre
Ph: 02 6076 9373
National Parks and Wildlife Service
Ph: 02 6457 4444 or visit www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au