From beaches aplenty to the top of the world – and beyond… the Snowy Mountains to the Mighty Murray!

In our previous blog, we set off from Narrabeen on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and headed south, retracing steps that I had written about in my previous blog, and exploring new ones.

Following the Pacific Highway, we travelled through quaint seaside villages and squeezed between the mountains and forests of the Great Dividing Range while following the beautiful beaches of the Pacific Ocean.

Divided into 3 major regions the south coast of NSW includes the ‘City of Shoalhaven’ which incorporates the towns of Berry, Nowra, Ulladulla, and Culburra Beach. The ‘Eurobodalla Shire’ encompasses Batemans Bay, Moruya, and Narooma, and the ‘Bega Valley Shire’ the villages of Merimbula, Eden, and Bega.

‘Jervis Bay Territory’ stands alone on the coast of the ‘City of Shoalhaven’ and was surrendered by the state of New South Wales to the Commonwealth Government in 1915 so that the landlocked Australian Capital Territory (ATC) would have access to the sea.

This coastline is full of beauty and has always been a favourite trip for us… and after reading my Heading south of Sydney blog you’ll see why!

Beaches are aplenty along this stretch of scenic coastline, as are the rivers that flow through the surrounding mountains and out to the ever-changing sea. It’s a popular trek for beach-loving travellers and it was not uncommon to see many cars with surfboards strapped to their roof racks or a kayak poking out the back window!

After enjoying kilometres of walking and mountain bike trails and secluded camping spots over the last week, our final destination was a small town called Tathra where we bid the brilliant blue ocean goodbye and headed inland to the Bega Valley – lush dairy country of rolling hills, and beautiful forested mountains!

From here, our route would continue through the scenic valley that connected Bega and Cooma to the Snowy Mountain Alps and the NSW, Victorian border to the Mighty Murray River!

At Bega, we refuelled and refilled our water containers then continued along the Snowy Mountain Highway for around 30 or 40 kilometres towards the small village of Bemboka where just short of reaching the town we pulled into the recreation ground to rent ourselves a spot for the night.

At $10/night with fees collected by a local lady this popular little spot had barbecues, power to plug into on some sites, undercover seating areas, toilets, and hot showers… and was close to a walking trail in the Bemboka River Reserve.

This reserve, set on 18 hectares between Colombo Creek, the Bemboka River, and the cemetery is a significant example of lowland grassy woodland in this southeast region and is listed as in danger of becoming extinct. It is also home to platypus and if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time they can sometimes be seen frolicking in their natural habitat. Not for us though, we had no luck sighting this elusive creature, but it was an enjoyable walk and allowed us to stretch our legs after a long day of driving!

The Blue Trail is a circuit that takes about an hour to complete. The Orange trail is a more direct route through the centre of the reserve but both trails are easy, however, caution should be taken as Red-Bellied Black Snakes and Brown Snakes are also native to this reserve.

The wind had picked up throughout the afternoon and by the time we made it back to camp it was quite breezy, so finally finding a protected spot tucked into an undercover area, we relaxed and read our books before scratching together an easy meal.

It was still very warm as the sun set on the horizon and a heat haze (or fog) seemed to settle around us. The wind had not abated or managed to deter the multitude of insects that had come with the heat of the day, so it didn’t take long for us to decide that retiring to our rooftop tent was our best option!

The next morning, we woke to a clear morning only to discover what we thought to be a heat haze or fog in the fading light of the night before, was in fact, a dust storm leaving a heavy blanket of red-tinged dust all over our rooftop and car.

Luckily the wind had subsided overnight as had the dust storm and according to the weather report on the radio, the state had had warm, windy conditions of late resulting in the strong winds picking up dust and dirt from further inland and carrying it across an extensive area.

Bemboka, known as the ‘Village in a Valley’, is a picturesque rural village surrounded by a backdrop of the Southeast Forests National Park, which towers over the township and reaches all the way to the foot of the Snowy Mountains.

It was originally settled as a halfway point between Bega and Cooma and began its life as a dairying community with the first settlers arriving in the area around 1871.

It’s an interesting little place and if you have time while passing through, wander through the pioneer Bemboka Park honouring the pioneers of the district then browse the cafes and eclectic local shops in the main street. The Bemboka Bakery is a must-stop – their pies and cakes, baked fresh on the premises each day are to die for!

Leaving Bemboka, we twisted and climbed along the Snowy Mountain Highway towards Brown Mountain where we enjoyed stunning scenic views of the far south coast from the Fred Piper Memorial Lookout (named after a Cooma to Bega bus driver who died of a heart attack while digging a path for his bus through a snowdrift on this very highway).

Once at the lookout a visitor information sign gave an introduction to the wonders of this magnificent Southeast Forest National Park where lyrebirds line the forest trails and wombats and kangaroos wander the lush rolling countryside.

A short distance from the lookout, the road divided with one road heading south towards Bombala and the other to Cooma.

As we headed northwest the highway continued to wind its way through the countryside passing through the charming historic village of Nimmitabel.

A must-stop, this sleepy town has a small number of historic buildings worth checking out – so grab a guide from the local information centre that lists the places of interest around town.

The local bakery is worth stopping at here too – and also sells great pies. You can’t miss it as you drive through – there’s a very quirky life-size Indian Elephant Sculpture right outside – an attraction obviously designed to catch the attention of passing travellers … and it worked on us!

Situated on the southern end of the Great Dividing Range, Nimmitabel is steeped in farming history, is known for its very rich, fertile, and dark coloured soil which is the only true chernozem soil in Australia, and was once an important stopover for miners and prospectors making their way from the coast to the goldfields at Kiandra.

Its name comes from an Aboriginal word meaning the ‘dividing of the waters’ as it marks the place where southern waters flow into the Snowy River and the northern waters flow into the Murrumbidgee River – and not surprisingly, there is some confusion about the spelling of its name having over time, been spelled Nimity Bell, Nimmithyball, Nimoitebool, Nimmitybelle, and Nibbitibel. 

Our next stop was Cooma, also known as the ‘Capital City of the Snowy Mountains.’

This is another town where I could have spent hours immersed in its very interesting history. In brief, the town was first surveyed in 1849 then with the discovery of gold in the 1860s at Kiandra, the introduction of snow sports in 1861, and the railway opening in 1889, the population increased significantly and by 1900 the town was booming and prosperous. In 1949 the beginning of the mighty Snowy Mountains Scheme construction saw the character of this town change dramatically bringing with it an influx of many thousands of workers from post-war Europe. Consequently today, Cooma is a town rich in culture. 

A visit to the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre is a must as it showcases the scheme from the early days of construction to the present day. Construction was completed in 1974 and today, the scheme provides much of the electricity used in Victoria, as well as being a water source for irrigation from the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.

After stopping for a break to wander the streets in town and take a look back on the history of crime at the Cooma Gaol Museum we headed to the outskirts where Scammell’s Lookout provided great views over the Murray 1 Power Station.

At the Discovery Centre displays and a movie explain how they built 7 power stations, 16 major dams, 80-kilometres of aqueducts, 145-kilometres of tunnels, and a large pumping station… and also explains the hardships faced by the workers and the many immigrants who battled the harsh snow conditions and isolation all those years ago.

We had visited Cooma on a previous trip from Sydney as we travelled with our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren back home to Tassie.

This road trip took us through the beautiful historic Southern Highland towns of Bowral and Berrima and the Australian Capital, Canberra.

Bowral is the most prosperous town in the Southern Highlands and since the arrival of the railway in 1867 is seen as a place where wealthy city people retreat.

It prides itself in its style and sophistication with its up-market boutiques, gift shops, antique dealers, restaurants and cafes, bookshops, and art galleries with its economy relying mainly on tourism, and its cattle breeding industry.

There are lots to see and do in this town and if cricket is your thing, then the ‘International Cricket Hall of Fame’ at the Bradman Museum, one of the town’s major tourist attractions, is a must!

Bearing the name of the famous cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman who is widely acknowledged as our greatest cricketer and probably the finest batsman, this state-of-the-art museum showcases cricket through the eras.  

Interestingly enough though, Sir Donald Bradman was not born in Bowral, in fact, he only lived at Bowral for 3-years and the town’s only claim to fame is a century he scored for the local school at the age of 12!

The Corbett Gardens in the centre of town is one of the oldest parks in the region that comes alive each September with a beautiful display of tulips and the annual Tulip Festival. The scenic lookout offers great views over the town, peaceful picnic spots, and walking trails, and a visit to Lake Alexandra Reserve is only 10 minutes from town.

Further on the lovely village of Berrima was established in the 1830s during a time of great exploration and expansion in NSW. From 1831 to the 1860s it was a time of promise and growth, but this ended abruptly when the railway bypassed the village in 1867 and it saw little or no development for the following 100+ years. Today it is widely recognised as one of the best-preserved examples of a Georgian village in Australia.

It is also an area for wine lovers where you’ll find the highly acclaimed Artemis Vineyard and in June don’t miss Pie Time’ when pie lovers can follow a ‘Pie Trail’… then stretch their legs and work off the kilos at Weereewa Lookout at Lake George.

Next along the highway, is Australia’s Capital City – Canberra.  Here the national attractions include the Australian War Memorial, the New Parliament House, the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, the National Gallery of Australia, Questacon, The National Science and Technology Centre, the National Bonsai and Penjing Collection of Australia, and the National Portrait Gallery of Australia… then hop on your bike and ride around Lake Burley Griffin before driving to Mount Ainslie Lookout for picture-perfect views over the capital city.

Canberra is known by many in mountain biking circles to be the mecca with some great trails at Stromlo Forest Park and Majura Pines but it’s not just mountain biking trails that have made this city a great outdoor playground. The cycleways and footpaths of the ATC, particularly around Lake Burley Griffin have made cycling lots of fun for many a family including us!

From the Australian capital, it was just a matter of us following the Monaro Highway through the tiny village of Bredbo to Cooma -the gateway to the Snowy Mountains, then crossing Kosciuszko Road to Jindabyne before following the Alpine Way over the Snowy Mountains into Victoria and along the Hume Highway to the Spirit of Tasmania.

Leaving Cooma this trip we took a slight detour off the main road to admire the views of the Monaro plains from Mount Gladstone Lookout before continuing our journey through Berridale.

45 minutes on as we crested the last hill we were greeted with a spectacular view of Lake Jindabyne in the distance. This large expanse of water forms part of a major dam created in the mid-1960s as part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, drowning old Jindabyne in the process.

Today, the town sits around the lake’s foreshore and serves visitors and the community with outdoor adventure requirements and hire accommodation, and cafe indulgence.

During our stay in Jindabyne, we stayed at the lovely Jindabyne Holiday Park where we swam in the lake, rode our bikes along the walking/cycle path, and enjoyed a lovely evening at Carol’s by Candlelight with the locals, all keen to welcome in the festive season. 

Leaving Jindabyne the Kosciuszko Road twisted and turned its way up and over the magnificent Snowy Mountains, the highest section of the Great Dividing Range. Snow-capped peaks could be seen, the only reminders of the winter just passed. This is by no means the most remote road in the Australian Alps but it can be described as one incredible wilderness adventure as the road wound its way from Jindabyne to the gateway of Kosciuszko National Park, the ski resorts and mountain bike trails of Thredbo and the summit of the mountain itself.  

We were driving a path well-travelled and rich with historic significance. Aboriginal people once crossed tribal boundaries to travel this route to meet for corroborees, trading, marriages, and feast on Bogong Moths. In later years it was also as a drovers’ stock route and the groundbreaking Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Mt Kosciuszko is Australia’s tallest mountain and although it looked big from the road it isn’t really that big compared to those in Europe and Asia. Its peak is only 2,228-metres high, but it is covered in snow during the winter months and does allow for a superb ski season… and offers some of Australia’s best mountain biking terrain for the remainder of the year!

If you’re visiting Kosciuszko National Park a walk to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko is a must-do… but keep in mind you do need to buy a National Parks Pass to enter this National Park. For more information about the park’s pass, visit their website at  http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/passes-and-fees.

After purchasing our tickets for the ‘Kosciuszko Express Chairlift’ at the office at Thredbo (chairlift prices are available on the Thredbo website) the ride took about 15 minutes to the top before we started the track.

Alternatively, if you are feeling energetic you can walk up Merritts Nature Track from Thredbo Village to the top of the chairlift, but this is a difficult 4-kilometre track… and be warned it is uphill all the way!

Continuing from the chairlift the iconic trek took us past the rocky granite outcrops of Ramshead Range, over snow and ice ladened landscapes, and plains covered in beautiful alpine wildflowers.

Lookouts along the way provided majestic views of the country’s highest mountain and the surrounding vista of rugged landscapes left us breathless.

The Kosciuszko National Park straddles the Great Dividing Range and covers an amazing 690,000 hectares. The great thing about this area is it has so many distinctive features aside from Australia’s highest peak including glacial lakes, fields of wildflowers, granite tors, grasslands, and the headwaters of the famous Snowy River.

The Snowy River catchment covers an area of 15,869 square kilometres of which 6,500 are situated within Victoria. Starting here on the slopes of Mt Kosciuszko it flows below to the Jindabyne Dam where it descends through Beloka Gorge and the Monaro Tableland, enters a mountainous region that includes the Snowy River Gorge then extends over 200-kilometres onto the floodplain at Jarrahmond north of Orbost before flowing into the Bass Strait at Marlo.

Finally, we conquered the summit of Mount Kosciuszko!

We were quite literally on the biggest high here on Australia’s highest point as we soaked in the epic sweeping 360-degree views across the Snowy Mountains and the Victorian High Country… then after savouring the moment in this beautiful part of the world and soaking in the fresh alpine air we returned along the track to Thredbo Village – 18.6-kilometres in total! 

Our journey did not end here though. On the other side of Thredbo where the road becomes the Alpine Way, the scenery became more remote, mountainous, and wooded as we headed towards the Victorian Border.

The Alpine Way was constructed to give access to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme engineering structures but was not completely sealed until the 1990s. This then gave Khancoban quicker access to Thredbo, Jindabyne, Cooma and Canberra and has since provided travellers with a scenic connection from NSW to Victoria and vice-versa!

It was wet, foggy and slippery as we passed a couple of campgrounds and rest areas including Dead Horse Creek where a walking track is a favourite for hikers visiting the Aussie Alps. This signposted track can be walked in both directions either starting from this point or beyond at the top of Thredbo’s Express Chairlift. It winds beneath the craggy peaks of the Ramshead Range and through the stunning scenery of forests of snow gums and alpine heath.

Next was Tom Groggin Campground.

Tom Groggin straddles the southern border of NSW and the upper Victorian High Country – country very popular with 4WD enthusiasts who like to tackle the steep rough tracks. The steep Mt Pinnibar summit track being one, at 1727-metres above sea level.

This picturesque campground is the closest point by sealed road to the source of the Murray and is situated right on the banks of its upper reaches.

The actual source of the Murray River are springs bubbling from Forest Hill, 1430-metres above sea level and 40-kilometres from Mount Kosciuszko. This rugged mountainous region is not accessible by car only adventurous hikers!

For those not familiar with the Mighty Murray River, it is the longest river in Australia at 2,508-kilometres and meanders all the way from the Snowy Mountains, along the New South Wales/Victoria border flowing out to the sea at Goolwa in South Australia.

There are many reminders of the colonial past to discover in this part of the world and it was here where Jack Riley, head stockman at Tom Groggin Station was visited by AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson who was then inspired to write the famous poem ‘The Man from Snowy River’… and so a legend was born!

Having pulled in for lunch any thoughts of setting up camp were soon dashed when many resident kangaroos, obviously used to campers sharing their space, decided to graze on the grass flats right next to where we were preparing our food – looking far more interested in what we had to offer than the grass that surrounded them. After once encountering the strength and determination of the roos in WA who were hell-bent on raiding our food stores, we were not keen on another altercation, so we decided it was safer to move on. 

Not far down the road, Geehi camping ground provided an outstanding and cheap (free) option for setting up camp with toilets, picnic tables, wood fireplaces, and bins, but being quite shaded we decided to grab a bite to eat and head-on.

Situated on the Swampy Plains River this site is surrounded by the beautiful alpine ranges providing fantastic photography opportunities. The river begins its run when it leaves the Khancoban Pondage Dam Wall before eventually running into the Upper Murray River at Corryong and was a popular fishing spot for some serious fishermen.

From there we continued down the mountain through Khancoban crossing from NSW into Victoria and heading to Corryong the next ‘civilized’ place on our route.

Khancoban is a sleepy hamlet built by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme in 1949 as a town to house workers and their families. During this time, the population reached its peak of around 2,000 people. Today, the town only has a population of around 280 and is the headquarters of the Murray region of the scheme overseeing the nearby Murray 1 and 2 power stations and Khancoban Pondage.

Stopping in at Corryong our first port of call was the Visitor Information Centre before stocking up with fresh veggies and groceries and filling up the water containers.

It is here at Corryong that the legendary tale of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ is told with a life-size statue honouring the courageous mountain horseman in the main street, a horseman who led his horse down a seemingly impassable descent to recapture the colt of a prizewinning racehorse and a mob of brumbies. Several sculptures outside the centre highlight the importance of the pioneering legends of the region.

Leaving Corryong there are a couple of routes to get to Albury-Wodonga before turning south to Mansfield where we planned to meet with friends and finish our Victorian High Country off-road adventure we started at the beginning of the year.

The main route is via the Murray Valley Highway and the other is traversing a Murray River backroad that will take us through the scenic Upper Murray region.

Heading north and just a few minutes drive from Corryong, is Towong. This tiny town is also home to the Towong Turf Club, which has been hosting thoroughbred horse racing since 1871 and is the very place where gangster Squizzy Taylor stole the takings in 1927.

Scenes from ‘Phar Lap’ were also filmed at the main attraction of this racecourse and town – its gracious historic grandstand which dominates the course and is the oldest free-standing grandstand in Victoria.

The Upper Murray is full of history and along with the legend of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and its connection to Phar Lap, it was also the home of author Elyne Mitchell who wrote many fiction books including the famous ‘Silver Brumby’ series that followed the lives of a family of brumbies in the Snowy Mountains. The books were later transformed into a movie starring Russell Crowe and Caroline Goodall which premiered in the Memorial Hall in Corryong in 1993.

Elyne resided for many years in the district at nearby Towong Hill Station where she was inspired to write her books.

This station is one of the largest cattle stations in the Upper Murray with the old homestead situated on a hilltop offering spectacular views of the Murray River and the Snowy Mountains.

Continuing, the road turned sharp left to begin its journey along the edge of the Victorian border but being late in the day we headed across the bridge into NSW.

Just over the border, the Towong Reserve free camp area is a stunning spot right on the banks of the Upper Murray River.  It’s level, grassy, has heaps of shady and sunny spots to choose from… and great views! 

The only facility at this camp spot was a rusty old long drop toilet – or should I say air-raid shelter construction made of double-sided steel plate. The story goes, it was continually being shot up so the council decided to make it stronger, and that they certainly did that… it would withstand any blast!

The door was that heavy I needed to call reinforcements to open it and once inside although it wasn’t the cleanest of toilets I had seen… but it was a loo – our only need and we weren’t complaining… and someone had gone to a lot of trouble to deck it out with festive decorations!

Situated between 2 of Australia’s most iconic landscapes – the Murray River and the Snowy Mountains, the Great River Road showcases 155-kilometres of magnificent scenery… so come with us on a route that meanders beside the upper arm of the Mighty Murray River where we’ll visit tranquil villages nestled along its banks, grab a glimpse into the rich heritage of the area, and breath in the spectacular views of the river valleys.

Hi, I’m Denise, and welcome to my Aussie travel blog! I’ve been a travel blogger for 5 years and I love sharing my travel experiences… to help you plan your next adventure!

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