New South Wales (Southern NSW)
The Snowy Mountains
Halfway between Sydney and Melbourne and just west of Canberra lies the Snowy Mountains. The Snowy Mountains are just one section of the alpine highlands that spread across the southeast corner of the Australian continent. The Australian Alps sprawl from Mount Buller, Mount Bogong and Mount Beauty in northeast Victoria via the Crackenback Range in New South Wales to the township of Cooma; though it’s a continuous massif, only the New South Wales section is strictly known as the Snowy Mountains.

In the eastern NSW part you find skiresorts as Thredbo and Perisher Blue. Compared to the high mountain ranges of other continents, the “roof of Australia” is relatively low and, despite the name, the flattened mountaintops lie below the line of permanent snow. After heavy snowfalls in winter, however (roughly from the end of June to the beginning of October), winter-sports fans from all over southeast Australia congregate at the ski resorts in the Mount Kosciuszko area – Perisher Blue Resort, Thredbo, Mount Selwyn and Charlotte Pass.

It’s not the most exciting skiing in the world – there are few challenging runs – and prices are hiked up to ridiculous levels as the resorts attempt to make their living during a very short season. 

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Selwyn, a family resort, which is generally half the price of other resorts in the region, is one cheap alternative. Only the most fanatical European winter-sports enthusiast would come here especially to ski, but if you’re passing it can be an enjoyable diversion. This is also an ideal area for cross-country skiing, an increasingly popular pursuit. 

Mount Kosciuisko National Park

Mount Kosciuszko, at 2228m the highest mountain in mainland Australia, is located close to the Victorian border in the far southeast. It is dominating the area, most of this Alpine region is protected area.The mountain was named in 1840 by the Polish-born explorer Paul Strzelecki after the Polish freedom fighter General Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and, although Strzelecki stressed he was “in a foreign country and on a foreign ground”, he couldn’t resist giving it its name “amongst a free people who appreciate freedom”. 

The Kosciuszko National Park which surrounds the peak includes most of the Snowy Mountains region, and almost everything of interest. To the north and east of Cooma – the main approach to the range – the treeless, brownish-yellow Monaro High Plain is sheep country famous for the quality of its Merino wool. 

The region can be visited yeararound, although winter is mainly for the skiers. In Autumn and Summer time you may like to make long mountain walks, enjoying the splendid views and serene remoteness of the area. The limited quantity of hotel accommodation makes bookings for skiseason and weekends essential.

In summer prices and availability are a different story: price levels return much lower, the towns and resorts are not quite so crowded, even sleepy, and there are fabulous walks and mountain scenery to be enjoyed. Perisher Blue and Selwyn almost completely close down, but Thredbo operates ski-lifts throughout the year, transporting hikers and sightseers to mountaintops from where they can embark on short or extended bushwalks across the wildflower-covered high country. There are plenty of opportunities for horse-riding, too, mountain-biking and trout-fishing or white-water rafting in the crystal-clear mountain streams.

Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme

The system of roads which made possible the existence of the townships and ski resorts was established by the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. This gigantic engineering project to harness the waters of the Snowy Mountains for hydroelectric power and irrigation was begun in the 1950s. Tunnels were dug under the mountains, rivers redirected and dams built. Many postwar immigrants from middle and southern Europe found their first jobs on the “Snowy”; some lost their lives here. 

Twenty-five years and about $800 million later, in 1974 the project was completed: seven power stations now utilize the waters of the Upper Murrumbidgee, Tumut and Snowy rivers to generate electricity and provide New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria with power. The scheme’s generating capacity is about eighteen percent of the total for southeast Australia, while the water of the redirected rivers is used for irrigation right across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Climate

The temperature in winter range from a low of -18C in the higher altitudes to a high of 10C lower down. Snowfalls are common above 1000m with snow falling down to 700m. The conditions can be very harsh in the alpine areas with strong winds and blizzard conditions and care must be taken if venturing away from the resorts.

The summer months enjoy a mild temperature in the alpine regions with highs of around 22C although the weather can still be unpredictable and snow sometimes falls in summer so take some warm clothing, especially when hiking. In the lower altitudes the temperatures may climb into the 30s.

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Maps

wpe14E.jpg (280549 bytes) New South Wales

wpe8C.jpg (333714 bytes) Canberra, incl. Snowy Mountains (till Thredbo)