A journey through the Snowy Mountains region in summer brings renewal, a sense of awe and a great excuse to support local communities on the rebound after COVID and bushfires.
In the land of Australia’s highest things
There’s something so renewing about cold air and biting winds when the sun’s out. When you breathe it all in, every inch of your lungs expand beneath layers of clothing. No, I’m not in Antarctica – Canberra can get bitterly cold too you know, even in spring and summer.
After landing at the Cooma airport, I take the Snow Link Shuttle to Jindabyne, and smile to myself as I hear that the radio station is tuned into Snow FM. It’s an apt soundtrack as we head towards the Snowy Mountains – the land of Australia’s highest things.
As we cruise along, the endless stands of trees seem to grow taller when laid up against a backdrop of mountain peaks that you can only take in by slightly tilting your head upwards.
It’s immediately obvious as to why this region is an adventurer’s paradise. The Snowy Mountains is one of the best places in New South Wales to ski, snowboard, mountain bike, hike and simply experience iconic Australian high country. It’s also home to a majestic mountain that needs no introduction if you grew up in Australia – our country’s tallest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko.
High on taste
My afternoon kicks off well with a visit to family-run Wild Brumby Distillery. It proudly lays claim to being the highest distillery in Australia, offering a delicious line-up of schnapps, vodka and gin.
The business provides huge hearty meals and to get guests into the highland spirit, dishing out plates of veal schnitzel, kipfler potatoes, gulasch, dumplings, sausages and sauerkraut. Ironclad walls supported by strong wooden beams prop up ski-inspired décor. It’s a homely kind of place and the happy chatter and friendly banter from all corners of the space suggests it’s also a local’s hangout. A colourful tasting board of schnapps – cherry, pear, peach and the more classic butterscotch – warms my spirit.
As day turns into night, the roads and wilderness converge in the quiet darkness. The golden headlights on Snow Link guide the way – a well-experienced driver behind the wheel who quite obviously knows the region like the back of her hand. After a while we reach the mountain top through a glittering haze of a million sleeting snowflakes, to see deer munching delicately on tufts of grass. It might be cold, but it’s a winter wonderland in the land of Australia’s highest things.
A mountaintop sanctuary
I check into my suite that’s perched perfectly above the water at Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa. Below in the darkness, frogs ribbit in calming synchronisation, wind whistles through the trees, and even though I can’t see them, I know the deer, kangaroo and brumbies are bound to be close by. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep in the mountains, snuggled up in luxury linen.
By day, Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa transforms to a hub of activity. Guests can kayak over the crystal alpine waters, hike amongst the many animals that frequent the region and mountain bike within the resort. There’s trout fishing on the lake where you may be lucky enough to catch a tagged fish and win one of the Snowy Trout Challenge prizes. The competition runs until the end of May 2022. Also on site is an indoor heated pool, restaurant, and a spa where a relaxing facial will have you feeling you’re on cloud nine.
Hike Caramba Trail
Scoring fresh snow beneath my hiking boots at the beginning of an Australian summer is unusual. Australia has a striking Alpine environment and it’s even better explored on foot, and at night. With backcountry head guide from Thredbo – Alex Parsons, full moon hikes up to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko is something that should be ticked off your bucket list.
Considering I’m no expert on surviving in the wilderness, hiking past rivers and alpine lakes after sundown is not something I’d brave alone. I’m also not keen on launching my own version of Into the wild.
However as we gently trundle on, step by step it becomes easier and before we know it, conversation has taken over. Alex is an eco-warrior who speaks gently yet firmly on the fragility of the Australian environment.
She explains that the Mountain Pygmy-possum is barely bigger than the palm of a human hand, and its life in an Alpine climate means constantly battling the elements of the natural world. Hibernating throughout the winter, this little critter spends its summers building up reserves to survive during the cold months.
“The Mountain Pygmy-possum is endemic to the region and relies on eating Bogong moths among other things to build fat reserves for winter. Both are suffering severely due to climate change,” says Alex.
We learn about other native species as we hike, and how rare some of them are. I’m shocked to learn that there are only 50 yellow and black striped Southern Corroboree Frogs left in the wild.
“For our Alpine superstars, life in such harsh conditions isn’t easy as it is,” Alex explains. “And then add climate change, and introduced species such as feral cats, foxes and brumbies to the list, and you have a concoction for disaster.”
The next day I take the scenic chairlift up to Australia’s highest restaurant – Eagle’s Nest. My ski pass that I’ve pocketed near my chest scans automatically at the ski lift gates. In peak season, efficiency is key.
On reaching the restaurant – awe-inspiring views of sweeping valleys and mountains can be paired with a tipple of schnapps to warm things up a notch.
Jacinta Counihan – an avid skier and new-found restaurateur from Thredbo – explains that although the views are great, it’s fairly difficult running a mountaintop restaurant.
“It’s a strange operation working at Australia’s highest café – getting your snow gear on in the morning with the logistics of carrying food and drink up here doesn’t always work,” she explains. “But the staff do a fantastic job considering the elements they deal with,” she said.
Thredbo is a self-contained village with a supermarket, post office, bottle-o and garbage service, so you don’t have to leave for anything once you’re settled in.
The local community have lived here for a long time – including Stuart Diver who was the sole survivor of the tragic 1997 Thredbo landslide. The locals run events all year round such as mountain bike clinics, live music shows, hiking tours and yoga retreats.
This brings me to, Australia’s highest things – the yoga sessions.
Jane Corben from the Jindabyne Yoga Shala operates a three-day all-inclusive wellness retreat in Thredbo. An early morning wake-up call is well worth it when you’re jumping into a cosy four-wheel drive while it’s still dark, and ascending a mountain.
As I relax into the Yin yoga experience, the sun rises over the snow-laden landscape, creating a uniquely grounding experience on the tallest summit in Australia. The vista is as captivating as Jane’s lesson.
If you’re brave enough – a cold-water immersion in the alpine rock pools is an optional extra. I wore swimmers beneath my clothes and I was pumped up with high hopes until I felt the water. Walking away, I figured that being a newly converted yogi was enough of an achievement during my time in the Snowies. Next time, maybe.
If you’re on a search for Australia’s best, you might like to visit the Bungle Bungles.
Visit the land of Australia’s highest things with Rex Airlines
In order to get to the Snowy Mountains or as I like to call it, the land of Australia’s highest things, you need to travel to Cooma. Cooma to Thredbo is an hour and 17-minute drive. Snow Link Shuttle can pick you up once you land.