Head to the hills as the weather heats up and you’ll find a playground of activities from the mountains to the lakes, writes Rose Jacobs.
Many Australians think the quintessential summer holiday should be spent frolicking in the water and along our sandy beaches. But the natural beauty of the Snowy Mountains makes for an unconventional, perhaps even secret, destination where the majestic peaks and cooling lakes offer a summer holiday of a different kind.
When you think of lakes and mountains, don’t for a moment be fooled into thinking this is a holiday with nothing but serene vistas of hills (alive with the sound of music) and quiet flat bodies of water where you can hear a pin drop.
Think again – the Snowy Mountains is the home of high-octane sports and activities like mountain biking, hiking and jetskiing across massive lakes and reservoirs.
With this in mind, it’s an easy destination that is perfect for holidaymakers from New South Wales, Victoria or the ACT. And there are so many resting points to set up your campsite or caravan.
The humble little town of Jindabyne at the base of the Snowies is the gateway to the mountain region, and there’s an abundance of variety in its accommodation options, adventure activities and dining.
Jindabyne booms when the weather turns cold, but the ski season is short compared to what’s on offer for the rest of the year.
Mountain climbers couldn’t dream of a better destination in Australia than our highest mountain peak, Mt Kosciuszko. The official hiking season at Thredbo runs from spring to late April. There is easy access now from either Charlotte Pass or Thredbo, including a chairlift to take you halfway up.
If you want to give hiking a crack, then K7 Kosciuszko Adventures runs guided hikes for all levels of fitness, whether you want a stroll through wildflowers or a multi-day, multi-peak challenge.
I meet my guide, back-country skier Acacia Rose, at Thredbo village for the half-day Alpine Wildflower Hike. The weather is mild and it is a lovely day. After a short ride up the quad chairlift, we arrive at Eagles Nest – Australia’s highest restaurant and the starting point for our walk.
October is the prime time to see the spring wildflowers in bloom but they stay vibrant in colour throughout summer. During our hike, Acacia is full of wisdom and points out patches of alpine buttercups and clusters of pineapple grass.
Aside from the wildflower hike, there’s Main Range Track which takes in glacial lakes and historic huts on the hike to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko. In March next year, stage two of a $17-million extension of the Snowies Iconic Walk will be completed, creating a 5.6-kilometre long track between Charlotte Pass and Illawong, near Guthega.
Summer is also mountain-biking season. But fear not, you don’t have to be a pro to have a go at the hills. In fact, tourism has recently exploded with family groups keen to take cruisy rides around the hillsides or between the towns of Cooma and Jindabyne or around the foothills of the Snowies.
The Thredbo Valley Track remains the most iconic trail, ideal for all levels and it even boasts a midway lunch stop for woodfired pizza at Lake Crackenback Resort. The resort itself has relaxing trails for beginners, all with stunning scenery.
The Snowies is also renowned for its lush horse-riding trails. Thredbo Valley Horse Riding offer treks for experienced and beginner riders, priced from $85 for a one-hour trail ride.
On the water, there are plenty of opportunities for water sports. Lake Jindabyne is great for canoeing, kayaking, waterskiing or stand-up paddleboarding, so you can cool off after your hike or bike adventures. There are also a number of operators that will take you out on the lake and teach you how to sail.
Or for a true high-country experience, join the die-hard Snowy Trout Challenge. There are huge prizes for anyone who can catch one of 430 tagged-and-released giant rainbow trout. It runs October 31 to April 30 and all the gear is available for hire in the region. Try Lakeside Lures & Tackle for some top advice and fishing rod hire from $15 per day.
To reach peak holiday-relaxed mode quicker, book in to a yoga and wellness retreat at Thredbo, run by Jindabyne Yoga Shala. Director Jane Corben is passionate about ancient healing techniques and creates a beautiful atmosphere in the mountains for anyone seeking relaxation and a reconnection with nature. If you are looking for local souvenirs, visit the adorable little town centre of Nuggets Crossing for a dose of retail therapy.
Don’t miss a quick peek at Design & Detail, a gorgeous homewares and fashion store with a surprising selection of hand-picked beautiful little pieces. Don’t miss the gorgeous Phylli felt hats from up-and-coming milliner Laura Hall.
While you’re there, pop into the community-run Jindabyne Art Gallery to show your support for the local artists and artisans who have fitted out this wonderful show space for their creative outlets.
For the foodies, grab a latte from CoffeeBeatsDrinks in Jindabyne and start planning your options for dinner.
If you’re after a cheap and cheerful, crowd-pleasing evening, then you’ll enjoy the family-run Jindabyne Brewing, which fittingly has a huge range of local craft beers. The ambience is warm and rustic – the brewery is in a converted old shed that once repaired ski lifts. It’s now filled with giant steel vats for beer fermentation, and is open for kids, and doggies, to roam and enjoy. The dinner menu is small but delicious, and it’s great for filling the table with dishes to share.
Clancy’s Brasserie at the Banjo Paterson Inn is also a fantastic option for the entire family. It’s often filled with friendly staff and a lively crowd of locals and visitors. The meals are affordable and there’s free iceblocks afterwards for the kids.
For a romantic afternoon lunch, the sprawling lawn of the Wildbrumby Distillery is a lovely place for a meal. The property displays rotating installations of art and organic vegetable gardens supply the kitchens.
For fine-dining, head to Cuisine Restaurant & Bar at Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa. The chefs and sommeliers source fresh produce and wines from the local region and the restaurant sits in a gorgeous spot over the lake.
Discovery Parks in Jindabyne has several accommodation options. Take your pick between a campsite for the adventurous or a powered caravan spot, or even go up-market and choose the comfort of a modern family-sized cabin, complete with bunk beds for the kids and a brilliantly set out kitchen plus a press-button fireplace to set the rustic mountain scene for the evenings.
The top-of-the-line deluxe two-bedroom fireplace cabin cost $295 per night for a family of four during the summer peak of December and January, while a standard cabin is $200 per night. A powered tent or campervan site for two will set you back about $40, and unpowered sites about $30.
The park is in a fantastic spot on the edge of Lake Jindabyne, alongside the sailing club. There’s watersports equipment available for hire, as well as a boat ramp if you’re bringing your own boat, a kiosk for the obligatory summer’s day ice creams and a playground and jumping pillow.
The holiday park has barbecue areas for kicking back and meeting like-minded adventurers or if you’re just keen to have a true-blue self-catering Aussie holiday. The park is also pet-friendly, so this is a win-win for all the family.
There’s a huge amount of variety to be found in the region’s lakes and mountains, compared to the same spot of sand and sea every year. It might be time to give summer holidays a serious rethink – the Snowies could prove to be a real game changer.
Drive: From Sydney, it’s roughly five hours via Canberra on the M31, plus a couple of rest stops for a selfie with the giant ram and a Trappers Bakery tart in Goulburn. It’s a no-brainer from Canberra, at just two hours in total. From Melbourne, it’s a seven-hour drive.
Fly: Rex Airlines flies Sydney to Cooma from $192 one way. From Melbourne it’s from $551, via Albury and Sydney. The airport is near Cooma, 35 minutes’ drive from Jindabyne. Car hire is available from Cooma Airport.