As someone who prefers mountains and forest over beaches and palm trees, leaving the coastline of New South Wales and heading inland to Kosciuszko National Park was a dream for me. I was skeptical about seeing actual mountains in Australia but this place did not disappoint and it’s well worth the drive.
As we left Bateman’s Bay we drove north to the pretty lake town of Jindabyne, through the hilariously named Crackenback and into the ski resort of Thredbo. Ok, so it’s not as picture perfect as Whistler or Verbier, but it’s gorgeous by Australian standards, even without the snow. You’ll need strong legs and lungs if you want to walk anywhere in this town built on the side of a mountain.
Because it was late when we arrived into the park, we carried on down the winding mountain road to Leatherbarrel Camping Area and we couldn’t have been happier with this free spot. Plenty of space for tents with fire pits, picnic benches and the sound of running water from the river. We met some great people here, drank far too much rum and it was perfect.
Climbing Mount Kosciuszko
The next day was a struggle thanks to the copious amounts of rum and the fact that we decided to hike up Australia’s highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko. We paid a visit to the Thredbo Information Center and decided on starting the hike at Dead Horse Gap, a carpark just a few kilometers west of the town. It’s a great place to start the hike if your short on time but don’t want to cheat yourself by taking the chairlift up.
The hike up was easy enough, and rather beautiful, except for the flies. Not just the normal annoying-as-hell but harmless flies that Australia is usually plagued with, but the massive, relentless and painfully bloodthirsty march flies. They follow your every step and if you stop for even a moment they will latch onto your skin and bite a chunk out of it. Once you reach the top of the chairlift I guess they give up because of the altitude, so bear that in mind when choosing your ascent.
The walk from the chairlift is glorious and very easy. A metal walkway takes you 90% of the way, wide enough to accommodate every hiker and chairlift rider that wants to tick this off their bucket list. The views are spectacular, wide open valleys backed by actual mountain ranges as far as the eye can see, and even a few patches of crusty snow left to roll around in.
When you reach the end of the walkway, you’ll see the path winding around what I can only describe as a gentle hill, known as Mount Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia. I laughed a lot because it was hill-arious… Before you start the final ascent you’ll find toilets here but don’t stop for lunch yet, you want to wait until you reach the top.
It’s a very short and easy walk around the hill, and when you reach the summit you’re rewarded with 360-degree views and it is spectacular. Something I would never expect to find in Australia, but there it was, actual mountains. There’s a tower with a plaque that you can climb to make it officially the highest point, and now you can reward yourself with lunch while you take in the views.
The walk back down follows the same winding path and metal walkway, but if you’re anything like us (with bad knees, bad hips, and bad backs) then get yourself on that chairlift down before it closes at 5pm. If you’re lucky they won’t ask for your ticket (which you won’t have if you walked up) and you get a free ride down!
Reward yourself with a beer and a burger in one of the pubs in Thredbo, but it’s not over yet. You’ll need to either walk the 2km back to the car or hitchhike, either way, you to have to climb half a mountain to get back to the main road. Don’t forget to stock up on groceries and gas before you leave, as you’re about to head deeper into the park.
We spent that night back at Leatherbarrel Camping Area but you can choose to drive an hour further to the very large (and also free) Geehi Flats Campground which stretches out along a wide, peaceful river. The next day we took the epic mountain road north to Yarrangobilly, arriving at Yarrangobilly Village Campground, another wonderful free site with room to spare along a rushing river.
We had just enough time before the sunset to pay a visit to the Yarrangobilly Hot Pools. Don’t get your hopes up, these are not some picturesque natural hot springs running from a river to ease your aches and pains, this is basically an algae-filled swimming pool with almost warm water and a ton of flies. If you’re driving by then stop and chill for a while, but don’t go out of your way to visit.
The highlight of the trip north was to visit the Yarrangobilly Caves. There are six caves to choose from each with their own unique features. The folk in the gift shop will help you find the best combination, and we chose to do the Two-Cave Pass ($30, $23 concession) – the self-guided Glory Cave for its size, and the fully guided Jillabenan Cave for its decoration. Both were spectacular to explore, well lit and with a lot of information throughout. Well worth the extra drive, especially if you love caves as much as I do.
We did the earliest tours available, and we were out of there by midday, making our way southwest along the highway towards Melbourne. It was sad to leave the mountains behind but we were all looking forward to a hot shower and the next part of our road trip: the Great Ocean Road.
A few things to remember:
- Wear sunscreen. Lots of it.
- You’ll need a separate National Parks Pass for Kosciuszko National Park.
- Use WikiCamps Australia to find the best free campsites.
- Don’t forget your swimming costume for the hot pools and extra layers for the caves.
Highlights of the trip:
- Summiting Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia.
- The beautiful free campsites of Leatherbarrel, Geehi, and Yarrangobilly.
- Exploring the Yarrangobilly Caves.
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