Following the Snowy from the Mountains to the Sea
The Snowy River has been immortalised in Australian folklore ever since Banjo Paterson penned his famous poem way back in 1890. It’s not Australia’s largest or longest river by any stretch even though it runs for some 352kms but the very name is known by most folk and if you are looking for a little adventure and a road trip with a difference then tracking this famous river is well worth considering.
The river is followed along a large part of its journey from the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko to the ocean at Marlo in East Gippsland by two great touring roads in the Barry Way and the Snowy River Road. Our simple plan was to follow that route as best we could and as winter was only just coming to an end we thought the journey would be largely an uncrowded trip apart from Jindabyne at journeys end given it was still the ski season.
The Snowy apart from its fame in poems, TV and film has been a river of change in more recent times with the construction work of dams and diversion tunnels for the Snowy Mountains Scheme in the mid 20th century. The river’s flow once Lake Jindabyne was completed, was drastically reduced and this once wild river was a shadow of its former self. In more recent years after plenty of public pressure the water outflow from Lake Jindabyne was increased and things have improved along its course but more water flow is still needed.
We started our trip at Marlo, however the river Marlo is journey’s end when all that melting snow from the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko finally arrives back in the ocean to start the whole cycle again. Marlo is top destination in its own right with plenty on offer to the RV traveller. With first class fishing both in the river and nearby beaches as well as off-shore, throw in paddling, bush walking, swimming and surfing all in a beautiful natural environment and you start to understand why it’s a popular holiday location. A number of caravan parks is on offer as well as the beaut Parks Victoria camping area at Cape Conran call Banksia Bluff Campground. The camping ground is only a short drive from Marlo and is situated within the Cape Conran Coastal Park; our first night was spent in a beaut camping site there with the sound of waves crashing on the beach a stone’s throw away.
Marlo has a small general store, café, fishing tackle shop and a top pub with great views over the Snowy River and its flood plains , a couple of days spent there would be time well spent and maybe even get lucky with a feed of fish. From Marlo it’s an easy drive to Orbost on the Princes Highway and then for us the route we took was a left turn heading towards Lakes Entrance/Bairnsdale. After some 40 kms you leave the highway at Nowa Nowa and take the Bruthen–Nowa Nowa Road for another seven kms until you reach the turn off to your right and onto the Buchan Road which is very well sign-posted to Buchan.
The country you pass through on the next 30kms drive to Buchan is a mix of forest and farming land and rather pleasant. The Snowy River which you last saw at Orbost is now well off to your right and not sighted. You can take a more direct route via the Buchan/Orbost Road to Buchan and you will then track much closer to the river however we had a side stop in Lakes Entrance to complete so took the main highway.
Buchan is a rather pretty village with the Buchan River running through it as its heads off to join the mighty Snowy, from Buchan you can take a short drive down to the Balley Hooley camping and picnic area where the two rivers meet. Buchan’s claim to fame is not poems or film but rather its stunning complex of underground caves. The caves are well worth a visit and guided tours are on offer, there is also a great caravan and camping park at Buchan Caves Reserve so a day spent here is good value. Like most small villages the local pub is ground central and Buchan’s Pub rebuilt in recent years after a fire destroyed the old one is a great place for a quiet one or two along with top meals.
Leaving Buchan you are still on the tar and the road goes by the name of Gelantipy Road although some folk call the whole road/track between Buchan and the VIC/NSW border the Snowy River Road. The river valleys are very attractive, most is farming land with forest on the higher slopes. The road at this stage is pretty much running parallel with the Snowy River off to your right out of sight but only a few kms away. There are some 4wd tracks that run down to the river along this section however many are through private land and access is difficult. Gelantipy is the next tiny settlement and this is then followed by Seldon Seen (love the name), just after passing Seldon Seen the road comes to a junction with the now officially named Snowy River Road to the left and the McKillops Bridge Road to the right.
McKillops Bridge is also very well-known and is a stunning wooden structure spanning the Snowy, its height above the river gives some idea of how high the water could flow in flood conditions back before the dam was completed. There are great camping options on both sides of the river down at the bridge and it’s a ‘bucket list’ sight for many travellers, however be warned the road down to the bridge is not for the faint of heart, the road surface is gravel and is graded 2wd however it’s narrow with substantial drops which many folk find a little challenging to say the least. For your passengers on the way down, may find themselves often looking out into SPACE…. coming back up is better. (Not suitable for caravans). Having done the bridge on a previous trip we took the left hand road (Snowy River Road) and headed down into the Snowy valley looking for our night’s camping site.
This part of the journey is now all dirt and although a little rough and narrow in places it’s OK, we even passed two B-Double trucks coming up the road; they had been carrying out road maintenance. We were towing our off-road Jurgens caravan the Tuff Trax with our new project vehicle the Holden Trailblazer and had no problems. The road to the state border is OK for vans as long as they are well set up and not over size. Next at a very pretty little spot called Suggan Buggan you will find your first camping option on the Suggan Buggan creek, however we continued for few more kms to another great free camping option called Willis just inside the Victorian state line. Willis sits beside the Snowy River and there a many great sites to choose from. On our stay we had the whole camping area to ourselves apart from one other couple. The river valley is still recovering from the major bush fires of 2002-03 but is very relaxing camping site with plenty of space to set up, all close to the river.
The next day it was across the state line into NSW as we followed the river past a number of free camping options all on the water or one of the creek tributaries of the Snowy. This section of track/road into Jindabyne is now called the Barry Way and is named after Leo Barry a Snowy River Shire president in the 1950s who pushed for the road to be created. Of the many campsites along the Barry Way the best we thought was at Pinch River on a lovely clean fast flowing creek with plenty of room. I am sure it gets busy in summer and holiday times but in our whole trip we only saw one other camper.
The Barry Way is dirt and when we passed through, not in great condition with plenty of rough sections. They have signs that advise not suitable for caravans, our small off-road unit was fine but be aware and check the road conditions. The road tracks the river for a few more kms before you turn away to the left and start your climb up and out of the valley, the river heads off the other way with a sharp right as it makes its way towards Dalgety and then onto Jindabyne and the dam wall and lake. The climb out offers some great views and once you reach the top there is a great lookout/picnic area called Wallace Craigie Lookout which is worth a stop. You are now leaving the National Park and farming land starts to dominate again, the road surface now returns to hard top and it’s a very lovely drive into Jindabyne which is situated on the large lake of that name. Jindabyne is a true holiday and getaway destination town with plenty on offer year round. We were there in very late September of this year and the Main Snowy Mountain Range was still under a thick snow cover and the ski season although coming to an end was still attracting plenty of visitors.
If you are keen to complete the Snowy journey to its source then you can drive from Jindabyne to Charlottes Pass (not in winter) and from there it’s a short walk to a fiord over the Snowy which now is just a small alpine stream only a short distance from its birth place on the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko; journey complete.
The Snowy River’s fame is widespread, however to journey along its route to the sea is that something a little bit different but enjoyable. A little bit of adventure, bush camping, great scenery, a few good pubs and it can be all done in a few days….maybe worth a go.