Challenge yourself in the mountainous outdoors of the Australian Alps, from its tallest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, to the tracks of Namadgi National Park and gold rush towns of the Great Alpine Road.
By Stephanie Williams
The Australian Alps are filled with outdoor pursuits, character-filled country pubs and snow-covered gum trees. The mountain range spans the states of New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria and embraces 16 national parks and reserves. In summer (December to February) climb to the top of Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, or hit the slopes during winter (June to August) at one of the many ski resorts dotted across its peaks. Ride a mountain bike along contour-hugging trails, bushwalk to a heritage hut or horse ride along alpine tracks. Hike part of the 650 kilometre (403 mile) Australian Alps Walking Track or take in range-upon-range mountain views while driving the Great Alpine Road. The Australian Alps have long been associated with outdoor pursuits but they also have a rich pioneering story to tell.
How to get there
The best way to explore the Australian Alps is by car. From Sydney it's a 5 1/2 hour drive to Jindabyne, the gateway to Thredbo, Perisher and Charlotte Pass. From Melbourne it's about three hours to Wangaratta and the Victorian High Country. Snowy Mountains Airport is a 45 minute drive from Jindabyne and provides direct services to Sydney. There are also bus services from Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.
- Bushwalk and mountain bike in Namadgi National Park
- Go on a gourmet drive along the Great Alpine Road
- Ski or snowboard on Australia’s highest slopes
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Top things to do in the Australian Alps
Experience skiing through gum trees
There aren’t many places in the world where you’ll find snow covered gum trees on a downhill ski run, but in the Australian Alps there are plenty. In New South Wales, ski the longest run in Australia at Thredbo and enjoy quality restaurants and bars after dark. Nearby, Perisher offers a huge range of runs, as well as access to the Guthega and Blue Cow snowfields. In Victoria, ski or snowboard Australia’s powder capital, Mount Hotham or enjoy the family friendly winter playground and cross country skiing of Falls Creek. The resorts operate in summer when you can enjoy purpose-built mountain bike tracks and excellent hiking.
Explore the Snowy Mountains region
The Snowy Mountains stretch from outside Canberra in the north nearly to the Victorian border in the south. The region has a fascinating history. For tens of thousands of years, it has been an area for summer feasting and ceremonies of deep spiritual significance for Aborigines. In the early 1800s European stockmen, graziers and landholders called the area home and its rugged beauty was immortalised in Banjo Paterson’s famous poem The Man from Snowy River. Walkers of almost all abilities can reach the summit of Australia’s highest peak Mount Kosciuszko in a day hike. At the top there is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with 20 species of plants found nowhere else in the world. Summer hikers will pass through fields of snow daisies, alpine buttercups, billy buttons and other wildflowers. In winter, hit Australia’s highest ski slopes at Charlotte Pass or carve up the snow at Thredbo and Perisher. Don’t miss the show of autumnal leaves around Tumut and join the town in celebrating fall with April's Festival of the Falling Leaf. In Mount Kosciuszko National Park, near Tumut, you can marvel at the huge stalactites and melt away stress in the thermal pool of the Yarrangobilly Caves. Fish for trout from the clear streams around Tumbarumba and historic Cooma, or throw your line in Lake Jindabyne. Jindabyne is a great base for adventure with cycling, caving, rafting, kayaking, four wheel driving and horse riding on offer all year round. Sailing and water skiing are particularly enjoyable in the summer months and you can book a day out with Absolute Alpine.
Food and adventure in the Victorian Alps
Outdoor adventure and gourmet food come together in the Victorian Alps, an extensive mountain range spanning across a number of peaks. You can tackle winter sports, mountain biking or four wheel driving at Mount Buller. Mount Buffalo’s sheer cliffs and unique granite formations are a majestic site, especially from the summit of the Horn. Take a drive up to Mount McKay for some of the region’s best mountain views or cycle, horse ride and cross-country ski on Mount Stirling. If you enjoy fishing, head to Lake Eildon near the small town of Mansfield to fish from a houseboat or waterski. There are a number of food and wine trails that you can enjoy from the saddle of your bike. Try the 10 kilometre (6.2 mile) Pedal to Produce Trail from Milawa to Oxley. You can borrow a free bike from Brown Brothers winery, a fantastic spot to try some of the best wine in the High Country. The local produce here is outstanding. Feast on fresh berries, cheeses, chestnuts, chutneys and trout in the spectacular alpine valleys.
Explore the bush in the capital
The Australian Capital Territory is found in the northernmost part of the Australian Alps and is home to Australia's capital of Canberra. It is surrounded by bushland and national parks and full of fascinating flora, fauna and indigenous history. Climb or abseil the granite rock outcrops of Booroomba Rocks in Namadgi National Park, about 35 minutes outside Canberra. Then mountain bike along the fire trails or bushwalk in the Bimberi wilderness. You’ll see kangaroos, wallabies and northern corroboree frogs among the snow gum woodlands, wetlands and wildflower-cloaked plains. Explore the campsites, ceremonial stone arrangements and rock art left by the Ngunnawal people thousands of years ago. In nearby Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, you can visit the 21,000-year-old Birrigai Rock Shelter and a cave where Aborigines once gathered to harvest bogong moths.
Tackle the Australian Alps Walking Track
If you like bushwalking, the challenging 650 kilometre (403 mile) Australian Alps Walking Track should be top of the list. You can attempt the whole thing or walk sections depending on your timeframe and the type of environment you're interested in. Winding through the High Country of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, the track starts in the old gold mining town of Walhalla in Victoria and climbs up past the cattlemen’s huts of the Bogong Plains, the snowfields of Mount Wills and Falls Creek and the rugged Viking-Razor-Howitt peaks. The path takes you to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak, before entering Namadgi National Park and finishing at Tharwa near Canberra. On the way you can fish in Kosciuszko National Park and canoe the Snowy River and upper reaches of the Murray River. Enjoy a horse ride in the Snowy River National Park and go caving at Yarrangobilly Caves near Tumut. If you bravely walk during winter, hit the ski slopes from Mount Hotham to Mount Selwyn. You can walk the track in 10 weeks or tackle shorter sections such as the Baw Baw plateau, Bogong High Plains and the Jagungal wilderness.
Enjoy an alpine road trip
Get in the car and enjoy the view from winding country roads to well-perched lookouts along the Great Alpine Road, a 340 kilometre (211 mile) drive from Wangaratta in Victoria’s northeast to Bairnsdale in the heart of Gippsland. Get your trip off to a gourmet start with a cheese-tasting at Milawa Cheese Company and a glass of wine at Sam Miranda Wines at Oxley. You'll wind past the historic tobacco kilns of Myrtleford and can take a break in Bright at the Bright Brewery or, if it's late, dinner at Simones. Wind past the alpine resort of Mount Hotham and stop in for a relaxing onsen bath and spa treatment at The Onsen Spa and Retreat, or take in the spectacular views from Danny's Lookout to the summit of Mount Feathertop. Australia’s highest sealed road then continues through the mountains to the vast Gippsland Lakes and Metung. It should take about five hours but plan to stop for the views, food and wine of the region.
In the northern Australian Alps, travel the Alpine Road from Jindabyne to Khancoban on a scenic 350 kilometre (218 mile) round trip through New South Wales and Victoria. Here you'll see towering Alpine Ash trees at Clews Ridge and be treated to an unforgettable view of Mount Kosciuszko at Scammell’s Spur lookout. Break up the trip with a night in the small town of Khancoban at Queen's Cottage, simple and comfortable apartments with splendid mountain vistas. Spot wild horses at Dead Horse Gap and pass through the pretty alpine ski resort of Thredbo (in summer, mountain bike enthusiasts flock here). Some cafés and restaurants at Thredbo are closed in summer but Alfresco Pizzeria serves delicious pizza and is open all year round. Outside Thredbo, stop at Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery for lunch or a taste of their unique drop. Finish on the shores of Lake Jindabyne, where you can go yachting, boating and trout fishing.