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From the highest peak in Australia to the fertile, basalt plains of Monaro, the area we call the Snowy Mountains in NSW and the ACT has some of the country’s most striking natural wonders. It is sacred to the Ngarigo people, whose connection to this ancient land runs deep.
The alpine resort of Thredbo attracts 750,000 visitors a year for skiing, mountain biking and hiking, but the surrounding smaller towns offer a mix of luxury and boutique accommodation.
In recent years, the mountain lifestyle has also lured a new generation of hospitality operators to the area. Have a home-cooked meal delivered to the door of your restored post-office accommodation at Tinkersfield; drink Negronis by the fireplace at Thredbo’s Lounge Bar; or grab a classic pie at the Bredbo Pie Shop.
Craft breweries, distilleries and wineries have flourished here too, including Jindabyne Brewing Company (craft beer); Wild Brumby Distillery (gin, vodka and schnapps); and the bucolic Snowy Vineyard and Microbrewery.
Here are our favourite spots to eat, drink, play and stay in the region.
Causal and grungy, CBD (which stands for Coffee, Beats and Drinks) is the go-to cafe for locals seeking quality coffee and tasty breakfast bagels. (Melburnian Kris McKenna launched the business in 2012 with the motto “Life’s too short for bad coffee”.) Once the lunch menu (led by bagels, salads and BLTs) is done for the day, the joint morphs into a pumping bar as the sun goes down. You’ll find the laid-back crew slinging cocktails from 6pm till late, and you can choose from over 100 single-malt whiskies. Roasted beans are also available for purchase.
Cuisine at Lake Crackenback
Come for the view, stay for the food. Locally sourced produce is the remit at this fine diner at Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa, just west of Jindabyne. The restaurant overlooks a mountain lake – we recommend booking a window seat and getting in early (before sunset) to watch the birdlife settle down for the night among the reeds. Try the roast-duck ravioli or the lamb cutlet, or go with the chef’s choice – mussels with creamy garlic and chive sauce served with crusty sourdough.
Alpine Larder at Lake Crackenback
A more casual option at Lake Crackenback is Alpine Larder. You won’t find a better spot on a sunny afternoon to enjoy lunch and a beer outside, looking across the tranquil, bush-fringed lake. Indoors the scene is rustic and light-filled, cosy from the warmth of the woodfired pizza oven. The vegan nachos and fish’n’chips are great, but the pizza menu – which has a local mountain cattleman theme going on – is a particular highlight. The Stockwhip (chicken, bacon, salami, onion, mushroom and smoky barbecue sauce) and the Wollondibby (roast pumpkin, spinach, onion, feta and salsa verde) are our picks.
The Bredbo Pie Shop
No, that’s not a typo of the famous alpine resort. Bredbo is a humble settlement on the Monaro Highway between Canberra and Cooma, about an hour and a half from Thredbo. It seems to be strategically located at that precise point on a road trip where you could do with a coffee and some pastry. Hamburgers, quiches and bacon-and-egg rolls are the go-to orders of the day here. If you’re after a proper lunch, we recommend the homemade lasagne, the country soup or the popular steak pie.
Overlooking Lake Jindabyne, this brewery takes the no-frills shed concept and runs to the snowy hills with it. Silver fermenters line the walls and the smell of hops and yeast waft round the room. Drink at a wine barrel inside or chat with other punters at the communal tables outside. All beer is brewed on-site – mainstays are the pilsner, the Red X American pale ale, the fruity golden ale and the weissbier. The atmosphere is great after a day’s skiing or mountain biking – you can even bring your dog.
The Denman’s Aprés Bar
Aprés ski is an institution for those looking to unwind and socialise slope-side. This Thredbo bar stalwart in the basement of the Denman Hotel has a classic hole-in-the-wall feel – the walls are adorned with memorabilia from Thredbo’s skiing history, and in true après-ski style you can walk in in your ski boots.
The bar specialises in cocktails, and there’s a big selection of schnapps and local beers. Chances are you’ll catch a live band on the weekend. The bar menu has starters and burgers, including a vegetarian mushroom burger with haloumi, red peppers and pesto.
Lounge Bar, Thredbo Alpine Hotel
If you’re after something spacious and refined with an open fireplace, the Lounge Bar is for you. Its signature cocktail is the Negroni, made from local Wild Brumby gin, baked-apple schnapps and Campari – perfect for warming up next to the fire. The space has split-level seating for different moods, alpine accents, a grand piano and a sunken bar. There’s also some local artwork on the walls, including a famous painting of Thredbo local Frank Prihoda, Australia’s oldest Olympian, who this year turns 99.
Snowy Vineyard and Microbrewery
“Jesus turned water into wine, but we turn snow into beer,” says a T-shirt at this secluded, renovated farmhouse at the end of a country road, a 20-minute drive from the town of Berridale. The Snowy River pumps straight into the sheds of the Dalgety Brewing Company here, where the motto is “Good things brew in small batches” – they include a Sessions Red IPA, the Smoked Porter, the Crafty Cider and a terrific alcoholic ginger beer.
The Snowy Vineyard Estate – on the same property – is the coldest-climate vineyard in Australia, too cold to ripen red grapes. So the winery specialises in German whites such as sylvaner, müller-thurgau and siegerrebe. At the cellar door, pair your beers with some tacos (chicken or fish), or grab a cheese platter to go with your wine tasting.
A group of modern, standalone, luxurious farm-style homes (one located in a restored post office) just off the main road to Thredbo, Tinkersfield pays homage to alpine cattlemen’s huts, but with the luxury ratcheted up a few notches. Expect feather-topped king beds with down doonas, wool blankets and feathered pillows. The property is situated on a grassy slope – from your verandah, you can see the morning mist pooling in the valley, and an ornamental lake that leads to a curling stream.
Our tip is to take advantage of the private chef, Warren Hickey, who’ll deliver home-cooked meals to your door (and even lead a cooking class). There’s also a private wellness room with a clawfoot bath and a folding door that opens to nature. In the evening, kangaroos graze metres away as you watch the sun sink over granite outcrops. A wood-burning stove is stacked ready to light when you arrive.
Bring your dog and have them looked after at Tinkersfield Doggy Daycare while you ski or explore Kosciuszko National Park (right on your doorstep).
Fawn and Fallow Lodge, Jindabyne
This elegant modern home overlooks Lake Jindabyne. Individual pieces of the modular building were shipped from Latvia and assembled on-site by Latvian builders in just two weeks, like a giant Lego set.
Owner Lisa Gaupset says she built the house with a European aesthetic in mind, inspired by her travels with her family. “We collected so many great ideas for building a home,” she says. “We wanted it to include features of homes in places like Cornwall, Umbria and Chamonix.”
There are three double-bedrooms, and the master bedroom and lounge windows open out onto a spacious deck, with stunning views over a green-roof garden to the highest mountains of Kosciuszko National Park. (Expect to see kangaroos and wombats around the property too.) The open-plan lounge area and dining room are light-filled and decorated with leather lounges and a velvet armchair – perfect for entertaining.
Skiing and Snowboarding
It’s what the Snowy Mountains is most famous for: the white stuff. Thredbo and Perisher are two of Australia’s best ski resorts for serious skiers, and Charlotte Pass is perfect for families and people after a more relaxed experience. There are lots of restrictions on this year’s ski season due to Covid-19, but the resorts have still opened, albeit at a reduced capacity. There’s a new feature, too – Thredbo has just unveiled the new European-style eight-seater Merritts Gondola (Australia’s only alpine gondola).
Thredbo’s also home to Australia’s highest lifted point (at an elevation of 2037 metres), from which you can either scream down the Funnel Web black run or take the easy village trail, meandering through the snow gums. It’s also got Australia’s five longest ski runs, and a pumping aprés scene in the village. Perisher is Australia’s largest ski resort in terms of skiable terrain (1250 hectares) and has incredible views across the Main Range.
If you’re the intrepid type you might want to try your hand at backcountry skiing. Dead Horse Gap, just past Thredbo, is a popular spot, but a safer option is to get a guided tour or do a course. Snowy Mountains Backcountry operates out of Guthega Village and knows the game backwards.
Mountain Biking at Thredbo
All hail the genius who realised a ski field could become a giant mountain-bike track come summer, complete with ready-built chairlifts to whisk you and your bike to the top of the mountain.
From November to May, Thredbo is a haven for mountain bikers. New trails open up every year and include a mix of downhill, flow and all-mountain, with a linked network of cross-country and various skills parks. All levels are catered for here, and the huge terrain means it never feels crowded. Bring your own bike or pick up a hire bike in the village, including the latest enduro and downhill bikes from Norco (bike buffs know). Thredbo Valley Trail is perfect for newbies and kids, while adrenaline junkies will love the Cannonball Downhill, with a 600-metre vertical descent. For the foolhardy, there’s even an annual race to the bottom.
The Rudd family has been taking visitors horseback riding in Kosciuszko National Park for 50 years. Prior to the national park being gazetted in 1967, cattlemen would graze cattle in summer in the high country and build huts in the mountains. This horseback tour takes you back to that time – but in a sustainable and low-impact way.
Reynella Rides is a certified eco-tourism operator, leading horseback safaris in the national park that cover up to 160 kilometres over three to five days. You’ll hear tales of the cattle-wrangling days, cross mountain streams and visit old gold-mining sites. At night a three-course meal is cooked, and, yes, there’s fresh damper in spades. No prior horseriding experience is needed.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, a lazy holiday or an epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better or more important time to get out and explore. Take a holiday here this year.