From platypus-filled lowland rivers to ancient glacial lakes, Kosciuszko National Park has it all, writes Barry Stone.
I’d always assumed Tom Groggin to be a pioneer, a squatter perhaps, but history gives few clues as to where the name came from, much less who the man was.
Well, whoever he was if he were here now, a century on, I suspect he’d recognize this place.
The gentle bends in the Upper Murray here in the lowlands of Kosciuszko National Park are still languid and steely-grey, the pastures that were cleared generations ago he likely rode as a stockman.
Still the timeless High Country rising up all around, encircling you like the rim of some primordial crater.
Still the gnawing feeling that time here somehow runs slower than most other places.
Kosciuszko National Park: Land of the Stockmen
Tom Groggin campground lies on the banks of the Upper Murray River, 30 minutes drive from Thredbo just off the Alpine Way. One hundred and fifty years ago Tom Groggin was also a cattle station that took in land on both sides of the river.
Two stockmen, known only as ‘Wright and Tandy’, lived hereabouts in the 1850’s before a succession of owners took it over until, in 1884, a hermit stockman named Jack Riley was appointed the station’s manager.
Many believe Riley to be “The Man from Snowy River”. It’s plausible. The poem’s author, Banjo Patterson, visited the Snowy Mountains in 1890, the year his famous poem was published.
Stockmen used to chase wild horses through these clearings, herding them into pens to be broken in for riding or used as packhorses.
You can’t come here and be oblivious to the myths, folktales and gritty history of the Snowies. They hang in the air like mountain mist.
From the UK to Australia: The K7 story
I’d come to Kosciuszko National Park not just to be seduced by the low country, but to do some abseiling up in Thredbo with the boutique adventure-tour company K7 Adventures.
K7 founder, Peter Cocker, mountaineer and storyteller, grew up in England and discovered his passion for rock climbing as a teenager. Every day he’d go climbing on his own in the Lakes District rain or shine, often coming home soaked but happy as only those who have found their purpose in life can be.
His friends at school all said: “you’ve changed”, to which he gleefully acknowledged he had. Peter is 80-something years old now, still the inspiration behind K7 though now he employs others to do the hard work of securing its carabiners and harnesses.
Back down on the banks of the Upper Murray at Tom Groggin you can walk sections of the Bicentennial Horse Trail, Australia’s premier National Trail 5,330 kms long that stretches from Cooktown in Far North Queensland to Healesville on the outskirts of Melbourne.
You can go hiking, mountain biking, trout fishing, or get your Crocs on and do a little river walking along the knee-deep Swampy Plain River; a fun challenge when its running hard.
It was at Tom Groggin that I spent 30 minutes watching a platypus feed on insect larvae, positioning itself in the river facing upstream so its dinner came to it on the current, passing through its bill to be stored in cheek pouches, and later swallowed.
The Historic Geehi Huts
Not far from Tom Groggin are the must-see Geehi huts on the other side of the Swampy Plain River that runs by Geehi Flats Campground. Located next to the Geehi Plains, the Western Fall of the Snowy Mountains’ Main Range rises to 1,600 metres, providing a spectacular backdrop to this fabulous RV-accessible campground.
Constructed by hand in the 1940’s and 50’s the huts are intriguing examples of vernacular architecture, with their external walls made entirely from large river stones, built on land that was first used for grazing in the early 1900’s.
Not much remains of the first hut, a timber dwelling built by a rancher named Harry Tyrell, but Geehi Hut, built in 1952 by Ken and Jim Nankervis, has aged well, every one of its hundreds of stones all “laid down by eye”.
Keeble Hut was named after Arthur Keeble, an engineer on the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme and avid trout fisherman. It began life as a fishing hut, mostly, only to eventually morph into a summer house for the influential Nankervis family, for whom it was built.
Everything in it – its beds, heavy iron stove, its windows and roof of corrugated iron – were all brought in by pack horse, the iron sheets cut short to avoid hitting trees. The river stones were dragged up from the riverbank on forked tree branches that doubled as sleds.
Both Tom Groggin and Geehi have plenty of large sites that provide privacy and close-up views over the rivers that run by them, and there are barbeque and toilet facilities too.
I arrived in an Apollo Euro Camper, not as big as a motorhome but still with plenty of space for two people and without the sense that you’re driving a bus. Negotiating campgrounds and the roads along the Alpine Way in it was a joy, and when you turn off the engine you’re all set for the night. Just put on the kettle, put out the chairs, and start exploring.
Abseiling with K7 and the lure of Blue Lake
The next morning we woke early, made a breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns before driving the thirty minutes to Thredbo where we’d begin our K7 adventure with Peter and a small group of Sydney urbanites, descending down several faces of a granite outcrop near Eagles Nest Restaurant, at 1,937 metres Australia’s highest restaurant.
The first eight metres looked a bridge too far for me, but the fear soon gave way to exhilaration and by the time my feet touched the ground I was already an abseiling convert, already wanting more. More incline, more elevation, more rope.
A second, slightly longer descent followed. The ultimate K7-led challenge, I was told, but only when I’m ready for it, and that would be a long, long way off – is Blue Lake.
Cirque lakes, buttresses and crags: a climbers’ smorgasbord
Cirque lakes – amphitheatre-like depressions gnawed and shaped out of the landscape by ancient retreating glaciers – are a rarity in Australia.
There are just four of them on the mainland, and Blue Lake is one of them.
Located on the Main Range between Mt. Kosciuszko and Mt. Twynam a 90 minute hike from Charlotte’s Pass, the lake is dominated by a series of beautiful granite buttresses, the highest climbing crags in Australia and a favourite haunt of ice climbers in winter.
The ice and rock climbing here is as good as it gets, the lake a year-round magnet for climbers and hikers.
From the red stringybarks and white gums of the Snowy Mountain lowlands to the felted buttercups and sod tussock grasslands of its Alpine passes and all the myriad trails that connect them, there’s something in Kosciuszko National Park to cater for every taste, every physique, every pursuit.
It really is a park for all seasons.
For a memorable campervan adventure go to apollocamper.com
K7 Adventures can take you abseiling, mountain bike riding and bushwalking in summer, and snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing and overnight backcountry camping in winter. Go to k7adventures.com
All Kosciuszko National Park campgrounds currently need to be booked in advance. Go to nationalparks.nsw.gov.au and follow the links.
Need more adventure travel inspiration? Try these stories: