THE VAN FROM SNOWY RIVER
Exploring the scenic Snowy River Way in the NSW Snowy Mountains
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRINA AND RAY MORRIS ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY BY DESTINATION NSW
A majestic ribbon of sealed road winds itself across the Monaro Plains in southern NSW, through classic Man from Snowy River Country between Bombala and Jindabyne. Despite providing a beautiful, heritage-filled passage into the spectacular Snowy Mountains, this great Australian road trip waits patiently to be discovered by the masses.
The Snowy River Way suffers from a misunderstood status as a ‘no-go’ zone. The reason so few travellers choose to explore this awesome route is because the completion of the road sealing and bridge upgrade works was relatively recent, and too many road maps still incorrectly depict it with long sections of those dreaded dashed lines. But the Snowy River Way is an absolutely fabulous touring journey, ideal for RVs and caravans – even the largest of rigs.
Ray and I lived in the hills above Jindabyne for 26 years, so we know this region well. We visit the family farm annually on our way north from Tassie, but had not travelled this road since its upgrade to official ‘tourist drive’ status. We were very excited to be doing it in our brand new rig, playing at being tourists!
Bombala, the town at the southern end of the Snowy River Way, lies perfectly placed at the crossroads of four routes coming from distinctly different regions: Victoria’s rugged Snowy River National Park to the south west; beautiful Cann River Valley to the south; the Sapphire Coast’s golden beaches to the east; and the national capital, two hours to due north.
Proudly promoting itself as the platypus capital of Australia, it nestles on the banks of the Bombala River, where you might spot one of those captivating monotremes at dusk.
Historically, Bombala was the service centre for the region’s timber cutters and graziers, but new enterprises have gradually blossomed amongst these traditional industries.
Tourism is booming – visitors are encouraged to relax in the tranquil country air on river walks, enjoy superlative fly fishing, and indulge in the healing aromas of local lavender farm produce. Those feeling more adventurous can escape the drudgery of daily life on mountain bike and bushwalking trails through nearby old growth forest national parks.
Bombala’s visitor centre is the perfect location to begin an exploration of the area, since it accommodates Lavender House and the Folk Museum. Over the festive season, the fascinating process of distilling divine lavender oils from freshly harvested plants comes alive inside one of the centre’s historic slab timber buildings. The local Historic Engine and Machinery Society holds a rally biannually to bring their magnificently restored exhibits to life.
Bombala’s neighbouring villages of Cathcart and Delegate are also worthy destinations, with remarkable Indigenous and 1830s pioneer history, art galleries and unique collectible displays to enthral travellers.
Despite living within the sound of a stock whip crack of Bombala for most of our lives, it was only this year, as tourists, that we really delved into this fascinating area. What a pleasant experience! Nevertheless, we were keen to get going on our Snowy River Way crossing.
The turnoff to Jindabyne – the Snowy River Way – is 20km out of Bombala, heading north on the Monaro Highway. The junction sits atop a rise with typically splendid high country vistas. The Monaro Plains extend in all directions, and the expanse of gently swaying golden grasses of this rich grazing plateau is quite awe-inspiring. In the far western distance, snow-capped peaks of the main range can be seen.
The Snowy River Way initially saunters lazily through rolling hills – the vast isolation here may disturb some agoraphobic city dwellers. Laden with a special beauty, these vast treeless plains are interrupted only rarely by fence lines. The pastures are home to Australia’s premium merinos, producing the finest of wools which are exported, woven and worn by handsome Italian gentlemen!
Attention all train spotters! Within the first fifteen kilometres of your journey lies the absolutely irresistible ‘metropolis’ of Jincumbilly, consisting of an adorably miniscule railway station building – all of two metres square. The station signage proudly decrees the presence of this once bustling siding, where sacrificial fat lambs were shipped off for slaughter from a railway platform that was an impressive 120 metres long.
Opened in 1921 and closed in 1975, this long-forgotten example of significant railroad infrastructure – once critical to local agricultural production – is a sad testament to the demise of our railway system, upon the rise of the nomad’s nemesis: the semitrailer. Remnants of the old ‘passenger terminal’ – rambling acres of sheep yards – can still be seen, along with decrepit railway wagon relics. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it!
The Snowy River Way boasts an excellent road surface which is reliable and suitably wide for a nomad’s rig. Its wisely engineered corners and cambers are easy to negotiate, and there are plenty of long open straights to allow the driver to appreciate the scenery. There are dips and rises, and the odd hill to test the tug’s torque, but each climb invariably presents yet another fabulous photographic opportunity.
Sadly, the local councils have not provided laybys to enable rigs to pull off and enjoy the views. A word of caution: as always when driving in Australia at dawn or dusk, be wary of the many kangaroos which inhabit the Monaro.
The approach to Dalgety, some fifty kilometres along this fantastic drive, presents a startling natural spectacle: massive boulders – solemn and silent – sit beside the road, dwarfing even our big rig. They are part of the local phenomenon known as the ‘Berridale Boulders,’ remnants of a mountain range eroded over countless millions of preceding years.
Dalgety is a charming little village with a significant historical past. It was originally called ‘Buckleys Crossing,’ after the town’s pioneering squatter, Edmund Buckley, who first settled there in 1831.
The locals are warm and friendly, proud of their famous bridge, and completely in love with their geographical choice of abode. Dalgety was very nearly selected for the location of the nation’s new capital, but thankfully, the powers-that-be left sweet Dalgety to get on with its own identity.
As one does, in a small country town close to where one lived for a quarter of a century, we bumped into a treasured friend. The afternoon was lost in reminiscences and gossip, in front of the roaring open fire of the Iona Gardens Cafe.
The sweet little Snowy River Holiday Park in Dalgety has recently changed ownership and is undergoing a dramatic transformation under fresh hands. It nestles beside the Snowy River and provides an absolutely fantastic base from which to visit Kosciuszko National Park – summer or winter. It is pet friendly, affordable and offers an amiable atmosphere. We met some fantastic travellers there.
Dalgety’s weir has long provided trout fishers and local children good sport in warmer seasons, but the cold waters of the Snowy River were winter-quiet as we wandered along the town’s River Walk.
The historic Dalgety Bridge (circa 1888) is one of only four structures spanning the Snowy River along its entire length. It arches domineeringly across the river, its height a frustrating reminder of the loss of a once-great waterway which used to rage with unleashed power during spring snow melts. Sadly, today it is little more than a trickle, since ninety eight percent of its original flow has been diverted to service the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. Nevertheless, it is still very beautiful.
Over the far side of the clickety-clackety bridge, the Snowy River Way continues for another thirty kilometres to Jindabyne, and provides more rich offerings for travellers. The first ten kilometres meander across relative flat country, through productive, albeit drier, farmland. As the dramatic escarpment of the Beloka Range draws near, the little locality of Beloka reveals more fascinating history.
The Beloka Church is a local icon: historically as a place of worship and rest for devout local farmers, and increasingly, as a very photogenic chapel in which to exchange vows of eternal love. It is well worth a visit: wander through the chapel, sit awhile and reflect on life, or enjoy the intricate stained glass windows and beautiful views.
The climb to the top of the Beloka Range is best done in an unladen 4WD, and certainly without the van in tow. There’s no official viewpoint, but the views are stunning.
The last ten kilometres of the Snowy River Way sweeps through the open country of the Jindabyne hinterland. Traditional farmland has made way for hobby farms and smallholdings with tourist accommodation, ranging from rustic cabins to classy five-star resorts, which service the massive seasonal influx of visitors to the Snowy Mountains ski fields and trout-filled rivers.
The Snowy River Way officially ends at the junction of the Barry Way, 5km south of Jindabyne. This town has a lovely lakeside location, on the doorstep to one of Australia’s truly great National Parks – Kosciuszko.
Plan your trip well, because there is no available no-fee free camping anywhere in the entire region, and, depending on the time of year, Dalgety’s little caravan park, and Jindabyne’s two massive resort parks can be booked out seasons ahead. Even the campgrounds inside Koscuiszko National Park are booked out well in advance.
Even so, we recommend you stay for a very long time to fully appreciate this awesome holiday region.
When the time comes to leave, consider your outward journey carefully. The Barry Way is a wildly snaking, extremely narrow unsealed road south, through Suggan Buggan, and is unsuitable for caravans or motorhomes. The Alpine Way, through Thredbo to the west, is also similarly signposted, although these roads provide spectacular day trips during summer, once you are unhitched.
For grey nomads, the opening of The Snowy River Way as a tourist drive unlocks the one-way passage into one of Australia’s most iconic tourist destinations, creating a magnificent journey, worthy in its own right of high acclaim. It surprises me that so few tourists have discovered this gem.
Ssshhhhh! Don’t tell! Let’s keep it between ourselves for just a little longer, shall we?