Exploring for yourself: A trip to the Snowy Mountains

Setting out to explore the unknown, an area you are not familiar with, discover it for your self and on your own terms, one needs to keep in mind the possibility of being dissapointed. A very different concept to a long weekend in Rome or Paris, or a trip to a beach-pinned town on the east coast of Australia. These are obviously enjoyable outings, there is plenty to explore, to eat, to wonder or simply relax in a piazza or at the beach. The exploring I am thinking about is setting out to see an area which is totally unknown or less travelled by, or perhaps outside the usual ‘season’. I for one have plenty such trips in my mind, and in longing for the open road and the excitement of getting out of the city, we set out on such a trip to Australia’s Snowy Mountains.

In Mid-October the skiing season here is finished, and as we later found out the summer hiking and mountain biking season has not yet begun. I was not interested so much in the mountains, as in the area surrounding the mountains. This is Australian country, not the outback, not the beachy coast and not the steamy tropics – but something in between, something which I had to see for myself.

As someone who enjoys the travelling itself, no matter the destination, setting out on the road is probably the greatest pleasure around. The idea is to take your mind off the everydayness, and wonder, reminisce of past travels and adventures, listen to that road trip mix, stare at the open road and count those kilometers clocking up. Australia is the perfect place to indulge in your love of the road. And one should be prepared to take advantage of the open spaces, the emptiness and the nothingness. One must be prepared that perhaps apart from that open road feeling, and the emptiness, there may really be .. nothing else. I mean if you just want to keep going, chase the horizon, follow the sun; you might just have to do that, as there may be very little to stop for. And if you plan to stop, if you give your self a day to ‘explore’ a certain town, or an area you may be just a touch dissapointed. At the same time if you come back home with at least a few highlights, and perhaps a few reasons to go back, then you are bound to reminisce about the trip on your future adventures. So, did I note any highlights, and will I be going back to the Snowies? Of course!

Jindabyne

What high hopes I had for this little town! In my mind I saw a country town, at the foot of the mountains, accustomed to the tourists and thrill seekers, but at the same time full of local charm and character. Like Beechworth, or Yackandandah; towns we visited at the beginning of the year. Jindabyne in reality is just a nice view, perhaps a good place for a stroll along the shores of Lake Jindabyne, and a chance to replanish food supplies at a proper supermarket. The town is geared for the snow season, with shops selling ski gear and some clothing, a few overpriced restaurants and various forms of accomodation. Very little in terms of local character it seems. In October it felt deserted and sad.

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Lake Jindabyne

Thredbo and the Snowies

Thredbo is an alpine village and a ski resort at the foot of  Australia’s highest peaks. It is here that you can hop onto the Kosciuszko Express chairlift, and travel it’s 1860 metre distance, putting your foot down at 1925 metres above sea level at the end of the ride. Here you can start your walk to Australia’s highest point – Mt Kosciuszko.

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The Alpine Way 

Strong winds made any hiking in the mountains very difficult and unpleasant, and if you are not going to walk through the mountains, you may as well drive. The Alpine Way is road which starts in Jindabyne, takes motorists to Thredbo, then winds its way down south, almost touching the Victorian state border, and continues in the north westernly direction onto a town of Khancoban, eventually joining up witht the Murray Valley Highway. The road was originally built in the 1950s, but its surfacing was only finished in the 1990s, and looking at its twists and turns in this rough wilderness it is obvious that building it was a gruelling endeavour. The 78 kilometre stretch to Khancoban takes around an hour and forty minutes. While the does go through the mountains, and possibly pleases the adrenaline seekers with its serpentine path, there is little attractions along the way with dense vegetation covering up any views of the peaks and valleys. The Snowy Mountains HydroElectric Scheme is one point of interest, and just outside Khancoban there is a great view of one of the power stations. Recognised as one of the seven civil engineering wonders of the modern world, the Scheme is a complex system of tunnels, dams and aqueducts which connects to use water in the Snowy Mountains to produce 70% of the renewable energy available on Australia’s east coast. The Scheme took 25 years to build with a huge number of workers invloved, two thirds of whom were migrants originating from 30 different countries. Standing at the side of the road, looking at the huge white pipes barreling down the mountains one can really appreciate the back-breaking, almost tortorous  work that went into the building of this engineering wonder.

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Berridale Boulders and Adaminaby

On the road between Cooma and Jindabyne is a town of Berridale. The town itself is unremarkable, and passing through it on a Sunday we were dissapointed to find that even the local bakery was shut and our plan to get a morning coffee went unfulfilled. Coffee or no coffee, the Berridale Boulders were in their righful place, studding the paddocks and hills of the surrounding area. These granite formations are especially visible when driving along the road from Cooma to Berridale.

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Berridale Boulders

The boulders offer the only respite from the empty spaces of the Australian country. There is nothing here apart from open spaces, and arriving in Adaminaby early in the afternoon, we are hopefull that this will be a high point of our trip. Adaminaby is a town of 230 inhabitants, it’s claim to fame is the ‘world’s largest trout’, a ‘monument’ adorning the town square. The trout is obviously a celebration of the favourite pastime of the local area – trout fishing, and it has stood tall in this spot since Hungarian-born artist Andy Lomnici completed this 10-metre structure in 1973. Adaminaby is a nice little town, a good place to stop for a coffee and a wander around the few streets, or perhaps if you are here at lunch or dinner time, stop at the Snowy Goose Hotel and order the trout at it’s bistro. Having trout for dinner in Adaminaby was definitely a highlight of the trip for me!

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The Big Trout, Adaminaby, NSW

Adaminaby to Tumut

If you want to take a drive through the Snowy Mountains, the drive between Adaminaby and Tumut is the more interesting option. The road is perhaps less winding, no jaw-dropping serpentines along this stretch, but it seemed like there is more to look at, with less vegetation blocking the view from the road, and more points of interest along the way. One of the highlights along the way is the abandond goldmining town of Kiandra. It is just a couple of old buildings, but it’s one of those places that evokes images of a different time; place of discovery, high-hopes and drama. In November 1859 gold was discovered here by local cattlemen, and by early 1860, a settlement of some 10,000 souls grew here on the windy ridges of the Snowies. Kiandra is also said to be the birthplace of Australian skiing. The last resident left Kiandra in 1974, and much of the towns remaining bulidings were demolished, with the last four building being later renovated and preserved for historic value.

Kiandra is the first place worth coming back for, but there is more along this route. The BIG attraction are the Yarrangobilly Caves. This limestone cave system is one of the best in Australia, and definitely worth a look. There are also numerous walking tracks, and the scenery, even seen from the road, promises a very rewarding experience.

Approaching the end of the drive through the ridges and valleys of the Snowies, we descend steeply into the town of Thalbingo. Attractively located on the banks of the Tumut River and the Thalbingo Lake, the town is inhabited by around 240 residents, and it is the birthplace of Australian writer and feminist Miles Franklin.

Our trip ends in Tumut. We are instantly convinced that this town could be the base for a our next venture into the Snowy Mountains. It is beautifully located on rolling, lush green hills of the Tumut valley. The area is a rich agricultural hub and a triving commercial community. Leaving Tumut after a Australian road trip pie lunch at the local bakery, I already have the route for the next trip in mind. And that is the wonderful thing about such trips, you discover your own spots to which, if you are lucky, you come back over and over again.

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