When you think of summer holidays, Kosciuszko National Park is unlikely to be the first place that springs to mind. After all, it’s a skiing destination, right? That’s certainly how we thought of it. But after a recommendation from a friend, we decided to give it a go in January a couple of years back and promptly fell in love with the place.
We were looking to have an active family holiday and experience a different part of the country – somewhere we could do things together that were different to our normal routine.
Living in Manly, the ocean is a big part of our day-to-day lives – we’re all keen on surfing and SUP and we often go on beach holidays. But every now and again you feel like trying something completely different, and that’s what first led us into the mountains.
The alpine regions of our country have an altogether different appeal to the other landscapes and experiences on offer in Australia. Not only do they provide you with a multitude of adventures to go on (in the cool mountain air), but there’s a pervasive sense of space that just lifts the whole experience – you really feel like you’re in a pristine wilderness.
I guess we’re quite an adventurous family; we like to try new things. And there is plenty to do in the Snowy Mountains. There’s fishing, canoeing, mountain biking, walks to go on and so much more. Granted, you may get a bruise or two in the process (my wife Helen and son Charlie had a competition going by the end of our trip) but for those who are game, some truly top-notch adventure awaits.
Of course, you can do as much or as little of this as you’d like. But, being a person prone to bouts of inexhaustible enthusiasm, I was coaxing Helen and Charlie out the door first thing every morning (deep down they enjoyed our adventures as much as I did, even if they did have the occasional whinge in the pre-dawn light).
Looking back, our most recent trip was defined by four major adventures.
First up was kayaking, 20k down the Snowy River with an indigenous guide. Kayaking a river as beautiful as the Snowy is always going to be a great day out – paddling along with the current, negotiating small rapids and just taking it all in – but it was our guide who really brought the landscape alive.
He didn’t just tell us about the flora and fauna we were passing, but gave us a complete overlay of the indigenous experience. He explained how the aboriginal people of that area saw the landscape, their uses of it, the importance of it and the Dreamtime spirits that are connected with it. That really gave us a completely new feeling and understanding of the landscape we were travelling through, and the experience was far more treasured because of that.
The second adventure was sledding the river. This involves taking an inflatable sled (if you imagine a Lilo made of very tough material you won’t be too far off), donning a wetsuit and a crash helmet and navigating down the river.
It’s in the upper reaches of the river so you’re in cold water running off the mountains – hence the wetsuits – but you actually warm up pretty fast in the sun. You have to bounce off rocks, push yourself through gullies and negotiate rapids so it’s pretty physical – kind of like whitewater rafting on a giant boogie board (some of the aforementioned bruises may have been garnered here).
Number three for us was climbing Mt Kosciuszko. This is a 14km round trip through kaleidoscopic fields of alpine flowers, crisscrossed by small, pristine streams. The gridded walkway has been built very carefully to make sure it has minimal impact on the surrounding environment which adds to the sense of being at one with nature.
Many of the people who do the walk don’t go all the way – after all, it’s just nice to walk around and experience the beauty of the alpine meadows up there – but those who do walk the entire track find themselves on top of the highest mountain on the continent, and that's a pretty neat place to be!
On our hike, we stopped at the top and ate some sandwiches we’d packed for the trip. The view is absolutely stunning. There's a sense of being on top of everything; you're above the treeline and it's just a wonderful perspective on nature.
It’s a decent walk and kids any younger than nine would probably struggle – even then they'd have to be fit. My son Charlie is 11 and he managed it without a problem though, and we went at quite a pace.
Even the ride back down in the chairlift was magic; we could have quite happily sat there and looked out over the valley all afternoon. We enjoyed it so much we actually stayed on for a couple of loops. Admittedly, this may have been partly because we were finally sitting down after the hike but the views over the valley really are something else.
If you head up the mountain, you need to try the mountain bike trails. We rode the Thredbo Mountain Trail from Thredbo to Crackenback on rented bikes. We picked up the bikes on Crackenback and the hire company then took us and the bikes up to Thredbo, dropped us off and we cycled back down.
It's about 20km downhill on single track and has some fairly technical switchback sections. It does also have uphill sections but if you're reasonably fit you can do this easily. You're riding alongside rivers and campgrounds – it's lovely.
The Thredbo Mountain Trail is just one of many you can do in the area. Riders can put their bikes on the back of the ski lifts and choose from a heap of different courses on the way down. There’s one called the flow which is a big loop and is pretty much downhill all the way. Just bear in mind, these tracks are to be taken a bit more seriously than Thredbo to Crackenback and it’s recommended you wear full body armour.
Where to stay
Thredbo and the surrounding Kosciuszko National Park has the complete spectrum of holiday accommodation: there are heaps of campsites in the national park as well as on the banks of Lake Jindabyne and there are also houses to rent in Thredbo itself.
No matter where you choose to stay, it’s really the connection with the outdoors and the Australian landscape – with the gum trees and the mountains – that makes this area so appealing.
You're experiencing the Australian bush in the mountains. It’s a beautiful place with very clean air and you do feel at one with nature. Whether you identify as a ‘tree hugger’ or not, you can't fail to be moved by the landscapes up there. If you haven’t been up there in summer yet, do yourself a favour and give it a go – you won’t regret it.