All rolling hills, pristine streams, alpine air and farm-fresh produce, you’ll find the Snowy Valleys in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. And now is the time to breathe it all in and discover this enchanting NSW region for yourself.
For a few blissful moments, I have Yarrangobilly Thermal Pool all to myself. I float on my back and can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this relaxed, breathing in fresh alpine air and the landscape itself: a sailor’s blue sky and white fluffy clouds above and the eucalypt green of Kosciuszko all around.
This hidden gem of a pool, an unreal shade of turquoise, is embedded in one of the national park’s deep vees. Its mineral waters fed by a natural spring are warmed to a balmy 27°C year-round thanks to the same porous limestone that formed the nearby Yarrangobilly Caves over millennia. Later, I find myself seeing shapes not in clouds but in the ornate decoration of Jillabenan Cave, the oldest in the area at around 2 million years: palm trees and coral, fine silk shawls and melted candlesticks, all wrought in white calcite crystal.
Adelong: History, heritage and secret swimming
“This whole area is all about stone,” says Louise Halsey, conservation coordinator at Adelong Falls Gold Mill Ruins, an hour or so north-west of the caves. NSW’s Snowy Valleys lies in a liminal space between the mountain and the plains – a region that can be defined, as Louise suggests, by its mineral matter. From the limestone of Yarrangobilly in northern Kosciuszko to the Snowy Mountains Scheme (and the drilling under of stone) to the extracting of gold from stone right here by the tumbling waters of Adelong Creek.
We’re looking down at what remains of the heritage-listed Reefer Battery that once crushed 24 to 30 tonnes of gold-bearing ore each day. From the viewing platform, walking trails lead to where the old watermill once turned. Visitors today come to trace vestiges of 19th-century industry and ingenuity but also to absorb the site’s natural beauty and bask in its creek come warmer months. Long an important lifeforce for the Wiradjuri people of the region, Adelong Falls is also a wild swimming spot best known to the locals who traipse down the steps, towels over shoulders, on sunny days like today.
Tumut: Kicking off a food and drink trail
Stone sows its influence in other ways, too: the basalt soil of the region’s most fertile pockets reaps rich agricultural land. Like the pristine creeks, streams and rivers that carve through the Snowy Valleys, my partner and I chart a course through the region to sample its bounties. We start in Tumut – a regional hub and tranquil old timber town whose Wiradjuri name means, ‘A quiet resting place by the river’. Across the road from its vast wetlands of reed-fringed lagoons, river red gums and bird species, we find Tumut River Brewing Co.
This craft brewery and restaurant opened by Tim Martin in 2018 has fast become a destination in its own right; having outgrown its current home in a converted tyre shop, it’s moving to a larger property later this year.
Its small-batch beer brewed on the premises uses fresh local ingredients including Riverina-grown barley and Batlow apples for its famous ginger beer. We choose from one of 24 taps, order a pizza and settle in for lunch on the comfy leather couches. With a lived-in eclectic vibe that suits its industrial surrounds, Tumut River Brewing Co. is a welcoming and unaffected spot that sets the tone for everywhere we’ll visit over the next few days.
Just out of town beyond the wetlands and the river walk and the contemplative Labyrinth for Peace (itself purposefully composed of local stone), lies the region’s newest dining hot spot. We plug it into the GPS.
Nimbo Fork Lodge: Farm-to-table dining
The Snowy Valleys landscape is apple green and undulating: tree-topped hills dimple and fold softly into themselves while cows and sheep graze contentedly. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Tumut, but Nimbo Fork Lodge is so tucked away in this countryside that Apple Maps doesn’t recognise the final stretch of dirt road and suggests we get out of the car at the old timber bridge and walk it instead.
No need, thankfully, and we pull up to the historical fly-fishing site at the fork of the Tumut River and Nimbo Creek and check in for the evening. Reopened in 2018 under new ownership and following a slick refurbishment, the handsome main lodge and its six waterside cottages are clad in powder-blue weatherboard with country-chic interiors in a suite of neutral shades.
But there’s another reason everyone’s talking about Nimbo Fork right now. In November last year, Three Blue Ducks opened a fifth outpost here and the lodge joins the ranks of its farm-to-table eateries from Sydney and Byron Bay to Brisbane and Melbourne that interpret and reflect the environment around them. Here in this elegant dining room with its verandah casting out towards the river, this means a menu featuring trout farmed 30 kilometres downstream and a dish of Murray cod garnished with stinging nettles that are foraged each day, we’re told by our waiter, from the property’s own riverbank.
Batlow: rustic cider cellar doors
Heading south, we drive through the famous apple-growing region of Batlow, a rural idyll of orchards and roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and sourdough, and letterboxes fashioned into novelty shapes like bumblebees. In plum position next to the ‘big apple’ is the cellar door and farm gate of Wilgro Orchards.
For years Ralph and Judy Wilson have been making cider vinegar from their apples, but four years ago turned to making wild fermented traditional cider, too. We gladly sample some before browsing all manner of farm-fresh produce: from golden apple pie to homemade ice-cream to jams and chutneys and peaches, berries and hazelnuts. Like many businesses around here, Wilgro was impacted by last year’s bushfires that tore through the region and, as we hear from small businesses all over, saw a groundswell of support from empty eskiers in their wake.
Before we leave, Judy points us in the direction of the area’s other resident cidermaker (such is the community spirit in these parts). Off the beaten track just south of Batlow in the Kunama Valley we meet Tony Cross of Crafty Cider. He and his wife Lorene first fell in love with this part of the world as fruit pickers in the 1980s and, having moved here to raise a family and manage an orchard in the interim, now run a cidery and animal sanctuary on their own farm.
After planting an orchard of more than 1000 cider apple trees and studying cidermaking in its spiritual home, England’s West Country, Tony opened his rustic cellar door in 2019. Camels, horses, donkeys and goats mooch around the property’s paddocks and friendly dogs scrap about at our feet as we taste Tony’s six distinct styles. He’s in the process of adding an outdoor seating area when we visit and it’s clear that however Crafty Cider matures as the years wear on, this heartfelt outfit will stay resolutely boutique and handcrafted.
Cycling the idyllic countryside on Australia’s newest rail trail
On to Tumbarumba and more of those pop-up-book hills that delight at every bend in the road. So imagine the feeling of freewheeling among them one fine sunny morning. Australia’s newest rail trail, the Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail was opened in April 2020.
It follows 21 kilometres through groves of ghost gums, farmland and vineyards along the region’s original railway line; interpretative plaques at old stations en route clue us onto its history. We coast along its gentle gradients taking in wide open vistas at a speedy 25 kilometres per hour thanks to e-bikes hired from Tumba Bikes + Blooms. Cows laze under dappled shade on the trail’s grassy flanks and galahs play overhead.
Tumburumba: Full of alpine charms
With its crisp climate and mountain-peak backdrop, the small town of Tumbarumba lies at the heart of this landscape. And at the heart of this lies Nest: a space created from an old masonic hall that operates as a boutique cinema, bookstore and gig space, plus a cafe serving all things local and seasonal that also does a delicious line in Friday night pizzas.
When owner Laura Fraumeni opened Nest in 2009, new to town and with a book full of ideas, she envisaged it as somewhere very much of its place that would be for the community and visitors alike. “I just really liked the connection with the outdoors, I wanted it to be a place within the mountains and I wanted to have film festivals and book launches and music,” she says. “And because I loved coming here I wanted to share it and bring people here.”
Just up the road from Nest is a new boutique, Forage, opened in a converted weatherboard church. There’s a gin distillery in the works, too, which will complement Pretty Parrot Distilling’s small-batch offering in Tumut. All this, combined with the arrival of Three Blue Ducks, indicates that this really quite enchanting region won’t stay under the radar for much longer. But the friendly and down-to-earth people we meet throughout the journey indicate, too, that it won’t lose that authenticity and lack of pretension that adds to the magic.
Sipping and savouring the Snowy Valleys landscape
For Courabyra Wines owner Cathy Gairn, a tree-changer before it was trendy who has been making wine here for almost 30 years, it doesn’t feel like an emerging region: “I don’t see it that way, but I can see how people do because we’re getting discovered now.”
Courabyra Wines is one of the original vineyards in Tumbarumba, the coldest climate wine region in mainland Australia that produces whites, reds and sparklings as crisp and clean as the landscape around us. Apart from last year, when the hills turned ashen, the landscape is always green, Cathy says. “All through summer we’re always green so people feel that freshness and clean air.” We look out over the vines and rippling hills beyond from the restaurant’s balcony over lunch. “Most of our clients are Sydney-based and coming here,” she says, “they just feel like they can breathe.”
Perhaps it’s all that verdant landscape that’s gone to our heads, or maybe the wine, when we think we see a green cloud. But no. Blue emerges too and then more colours one by one until the sight can only be described as a rainbow cloud. It’s called cloud iridescence, I will find out later, a rare phenomenon and something I’ve never seen before. There must be something in the air here. Too bad we can’t bottle it, but at least we can take a bottle of something home with us. And an alpine-fresh sauvignon blanc or rustic, hand-crafted cider or two will do nicely, thank you.
The Snowy Valleys region is around five hours’ drive south-west of Sydney and three hours west of Canberra.
Nimbo Fork Lodge near Tumut offers a range of 10 gorgeous suites and cottages to put you in pole position for dining at Three Blue Ducks.
Kip in a comfortable cabin at Tumbarumba Caravan Park, set in a peaceful spot a quick walk from the centre of town.
To appreciate the stunning landscape of the Snowy Mountains foothills in one fell sweep, take a scenic ride out of Tumut. Truenorth Helicopters offers a range of adventures in the Snowy Valleys including the unique vine-to-wine tour.
Don’t miss a visit to this 18-metre waterfall south of Tumbarumba, one of the most spectacular natural attractions in the region. View it from above, taking in views of the whole landscape, and follow the path down below to feel its power up close.
The Snowy Valleys is also a top mountain biking destination, with hundreds of kilometres of trails winding through the region.
Fish for Murray cod, golden perch, rainbow trout and more in the Snowy Valleys’ pristine waterways; fly-fishing is particularly popular and local operators including Tumut Fly Fishing are on hand to give lessons to beginners.
Choose your road
In a rare moment of interstate cooperation, the Snowy Valleys Way is a scenic detour on the drive between Melbourne and Sydney. From Gundagai in NSW to Beechworth in Victoria, the drive takes in the key Snowy Valley towns via the glades of alpine forests and valleys and bucolic countryside and the many mountain towns that make this region so delightful.
NSW’s famous Alpine Way runs from Khancoban in the region’s south on the western fringes of Kosciuszko National Park. Stop off at Scammell’s lookout for stunning views of the Main Range’s western fall and Geehi Flats for peaceful bushwalks and historic alpine huts.