The Snowy Mountains aren’t just about snowboarding and skiing. As Tracey Spicer and her family discovered, they are an adventure playground in the warmer months as well.
I’m clinging to a rock face above a deep chasm in the Snowy Mountains.
The view is breathtaking. But I am breathless, trying to wedge my toes into a fissure before the final thrust. The children mock me from below: “I can see your bum Mum! It looks huge from down here!”
I sincerely hope these are not the last words I ever hear. One last burst of energy and I’m on the rock shelf, exhilarated. Our guide, Acacia, reckons I’m a natural. It’s amazing what the fear of death can bring out in you. Seriously – if you’ve never tried rock climbing, it’s great fun. And there’s no better place to do it than the spectacular Snowy Mountains, six hours’ drive west of Sydney.
Don’t eat the brown snow
The best thing about visiting the Snowies in spring is the range of activities. There’s a sprinkling of snow, but it’s mild enough to go horse riding, abseiling, mountain bike riding and fishing. We start with snowshoeing, the fastest-growing winter sport in North America. I had visions of tennis racquets strapped to our feet, but the modern snowshoes are made of lightweight aluminium or plastic, with crampons on the bottom so you don’t slip.
It’s perfect for small children, older people, pregnant women, or anyone who’s apprehensive about skiing.
Six-year-old Taj is so excited he immediately starts shovelling snow down his throat. It seems the world is his Slurpee. Too late he hears my cry: “Taj, don’t eat the brown snow. There’s poo in there!”
We walk to the top of the hill at Smiggin Holes for a snowball fight and hot chocolate, which our guide Bruce has kindly brought along. You can hire or buy snowshoes from his Wilderness Sports Shop in Jindabyne.
The boy from Snowy River
Horse riding in the Snowies isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. Nev from Thredbo Valley Horse Riding catches wild brumbies in the mountains and trains them until they’re as gentle as lambs. When four-year-old Grace discovers that one of the horses is called Strawberry, she hops straight on. Nev leads the kids around the paddock before teaching some ‘ground work’, commonly known as horse whispering.
Soon the kids are in the middle of the ring controlling the horse through simple movements: running alongside to encourage speed then walking backwards to make it stop. It’s thirsty work. So we head to the nearby Thredbo Valley Distillery for some schnapps.
Australia or Austria?
The distillery is a little slice of Europe. Modern sculptures line the driveway to the corrugated iron-clad café, where you can taste the Wildbrumby schnapps or enjoy warming fare like veal schnitzel or beef gulasch. The Devil’s Tongue schnapps lives up to its name, the heavenly liqueur finishing with a chilli kick. For the most popular flavours – peach nectar, pink lady apple and raspberry – the fruit is sourced from adjacent orchards. The building is glass-fronted, so you can relax with a glass of wine while the kids play in the landscaped gardens.
LCR – luxury, comfort and relaxation
That afternoon, we head to our accommodation at Lake Crackenback Resort, in Thredbo Valley on the border of Kosciuszko National Park. Alpine-style chalets encircle the stunning lake. The luxurious, self-contained apartments are large enough for a family of seven. But the best thing about LCR is the variety of family activities. We begin with a Segway tour. To drive this eco-vehicle you lean forwards on the foot sensors to go, back to stop, and relax into the handlebars to go faster. Soon I’m giggling like a child riding this mechanical beast up hill and down dale, exploring the creeks and rivers of this gorgeous property. The following day we try out the double mountain bikes: Mum on the front doing all the work, Taj rancho-relaxo on the back pretending to pedal. The kids love the archery course. There are also trampolines, a heated swimming pool, day spa and kayaks. The restaurant serves superb local produce including slow-cooked goat and smoked trout.
Trout is an introduced species, brought in by the Brits in the late 1800s. At the Gaden Trout Hatchery, the kids can feed the fish and learn about how the eggs are extracted from the females as part of the breeding program.
For another educational experience, check out the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre. The construction of this massive project – between 1949 and 1974 – was a defining point in Australia’s history: 16 dams, seven power stations and 225 kilometres of tunnels, constructed by a vast multicultural workforce. The Centre is filled with interactive displays, including a bike the kids can ride to work out the amount of energy it takes to power a toaster, a hairdryer or a television. This is a must-see. (I know – it sounds nerdy – but it’s really fun!)
Our last night is spent dining at Crackenback Cottage, an historic house with a roaring fireplace. The kids’ meals are huge and great value, but the pèce de résistance is the maze outside. You can spend hours (and we did) trying to find your way out of this wooden wonder. Once back in the room we scoff Snowy Mountain Cookies, made locally using free-range eggs and butter, without preservatives, artificial colours or flavours. I figure they’re good for us.
After three days in the Snowies, I feel happier, healthier and braver. Who would have thought a 43-year-old woman could cling to the side of a mountain, with a silly grin on her face? We leave the Snowy Mountains with a definite spring in our steps.