Winter wonderland, summer spectacular… the Alpine peaks and 16 national parks and reserves across three of the country’s states offer year-round outdoor adventure – and they are on of Australia’s 16 Ultimate Escapes
Romantic, wild, and ruggedly beautiful, the Australian Alps will invigorate your senses in a way quite unlike anywhere else in the country. The alpine region spans 16 national parks and reserves, stretching across eastern Victoria, southeastern New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
It’s a different world – where a man from Snowy River galloped into our national psyche on horseback; where whimsically-named wildflowers like the billy button, alpine buttercup and white snow daisy carpet the landscape; where endangered species like the tiny mountain pygmy possum – Australia’s only hibernating marsupial – make their home; and gold rush ghost towns provide a glimpse into colonial history.
Winter’s the time to strap on your skis, with resorts like Thredbo, Mt Hotham, Perisher, Mt Baw Baw, Mt Buller and Falls Creek catering for everyone from hard-partying snowboarders to families and cross-country skiers. When the snow melts, verdant expanses of alpine heaths emerge, and the peak of the Snowy Mountains’ majestic Mt Kosciuszko beckons adventurers to the highest point in Australia.
Go for wintry, white adventures and warm, crackling fires. Go to splash icy-cold pure stream water on your face after an energetic hike in the summer sun. Go for horse rides amongst the marbled pink, mauve and teal-green snow gums that evoke that delicious, only-in-Australia feeling. Just make sure you go.
Adventure: try snowshoeing
Think you’ve been there, done that when it comes to extracting maximum fun from the snow? How about trying some snow shoes on for size? Snowshoeing takes you beyond the hustle and bustle of the ski fields into the silence and beauty of the back country. Operating out of Perisher and Kosciuszko, K7 Adventures (0421 862 354) offer guided half-day or full-day treks through places hard to reach on skis, to reveal stunning new vistas. And pack your camera – whether you’ve climbed to the top of Kosciuszko or you’re looking towards it from the Ramshead Peaks, the views (OK, and perhaps the climb) will leave you breathless.
Food: pedal to produce ride
We’ve found it – the perfect getaway for foodies who want to offset the belly-stretching with a bit of leg-stretching. Based in Milawa, in the gourmand’s paradise of the King Valley, the Pedal to Produce self-guided bike tour includes a night at a lovely country house and bikes to wobble your way around no less than nine gourmet food and wine stop-offs, stocking up on cheeses, mustards, olives, berries, chocolate and the famous Italian varietals of the region. Cycle from cute country village to farm gate to winery – Brown Brothers is across the road from the hotel – before retiring for a well-earned snooze. More: Adventure Victoria; 0407 841 736.
Family: gallop through the mountains
Reynella Rides (1800 029 909) has been around for over 40 years, so they know this high country like it’s their backyard. For a family adventure you’ll never forget, join one of their five-day horse-riding safaris through Kosciuszko National Park, camping along the way and keeping an eye out for the wild brumbies that roam the alps. You’ll spend the first and last nights at Reynella Homestead, and everything except sleeping bags and oilskin coats (available at extra cost) is included. Depending on experience, treks are best suited to children aged 10-plus. There’s also the option to stay at the homestead during school holidays.
Walk: walk the roof of Australia
Auswalk’s (03 5356 4971) six-night Roof of Australia walk takes you from one alpine inn to the next and includes accommodation, meals, expert guides, park fees and handy extras like lunch bags and info packs. The breathtaking journey takes in the Snowy Mountains Scheme, traversing Crackenback and Charlotte Pass, across the Snowy River and all the way to the highest point in Australia at the top of Mt Kosciuszko. Oh, and they’ll move your luggage for you each day, too (even on the optional self-guided walk), so all you need to worry about is soaking up those incredible views.
Indigenous: caves and culture
Led by local Aboriginal discovery rangers, the one-hour Yarrangobilly Caves tour reveals fascinating insights into how the Wolgalu people lived in this mountain environment in the northern precinct of Koscuiszko National Park, using plants, rocks and animals to make tools and weapons, and living by the seasons. You’ll also learn about neighbouring tribes and their history in the region. Kids, in particular, will love the hands-on nature of this tour, with the opportunity to have a go at boomerang throwing, weaving or other traditional techniques. The guides are happy to tailor the tours to your interests – just let them know when booking.
Wildlife: nocturnal adventure
Get up close and personal with the koalas, platypus, emus and other locals in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve (a 40-minute drive south of Canberra’s city centre) via their overnight stays. Your fee contributes to endangered species programs for the northern corroboree frog and southern brush-tailed rock wallaby, and with 25,000 years of Aboriginal history and more recent colonial heritage, there’s some fascinating tales to be told around the campfire. There’s also a Tid By Torchlight five-hour spotlight tour, unveiling the animals that emerge at night – see Conservation Volunteers (03 5330 2600).
Luxury: chic alpine sanctuary
Tucked away in the highlands of northeast Victoria lie five cabins of deliciously alpine, country-style luxury. The Buckland, in Bright, is a decidedly grown-up affair, although you may be tempted to dance a little jig upon opening the door to your private retreat. Featuring goosedown bed linen, freestanding baths with forest views and other discreetly decadent touches, the studios provide the opportunity to relax and recharge in the stunning surrounds. Country-style breakfasts (with unlimited barista-style coffees) and L’Occitane toiletries are included, and with in-room massages and picnic hampers on offer, you’ve got your perfect alpine weekend away sorted. Phone: 0419 133 318.
Getting there: The Snowy Mountains (NSW) is six hours’ drive from Sydney and Melbourne, or two hours from Canberra; Falls Creek (Vic) is four-and-a-half hours from Melbourne, or three to Mt Buller. Coach services run from each city. Fly into Albury (or Hotham Airport by charter) to reach Victoria’s snowfields or Snowy Mountains Airport to connect to Thredbo, Jindabyne and Perisher.
Eating there: From fine dining to hearty country meals, you’ll easily satiate that hard-earned mountain appetite. The pristine waters and crisp alpine air yield amazing produce – think beautiful rainbow trout from the rivers of the Snowy Mountains, crunchy Batlow apples, sweet berries – not to mention the sparkling proseccos and pinot grigios of the King Valley.
Staying there: The ski fields boast luxe resorts complete with spas and destination dining (don’t miss super-cool QT Falls Creek), cosy ski lodges or convenient self-contained apartments. The sub-alpine region is dotted with villages offering historic cottages, farm stays and hotels.