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Best Drives in Australia: The Alpine Way

There are many great drives in Australia but few are as good as New South Wales’ Alpine Way. The Alpine Way begins where the Monaro Highway ends at Jindabyne.  The Alpine Way than ends in the tiny hamlet of Khancoban on the far side of the Snowy Mountains:

The route that the Alpine Way is constructed on is actually the old cattle route that stockmen used for decades to drive cattle from Corryong in Victoria and Jindabyne in New South Wales to the lush grazing lands of the Snowy Mountains high country. In the 1950s with the establishment of the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme, a road was built over the old cattle trail in order to gain access to the Snowy Mountain high country in order to build the hydroelectric dams in the area.

Today the road remains and much money is devoted every year to maintaining the road from its harsh environment in order to allow Australian tourists a chance to access the spectacular Snowy Mountains high country. The beginning of the Alpine Way begins at Jindabyne where the highway makes a slow but steady ascent up the side of the Snowy Mountains to the west of town:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

At about 18 kilometers into the drive the Alpine Way passes through the Thredbo Ski Resort on the slopes of Australia’s highest peak, Mt. Kosciuszko:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

Just passed the Thredbo Ski Resort the highway reaches its highest point of 1,582 meters (5,100 ft) at the summit of Dead Horse Gap:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

Dead Horse Gap is the beginning of a number of hiking trails across the Snowy Mountain high country and supposedly many wild brumby horses can be found here outside of the winter months. From the gap you have a great view to the south and into the high country of the Victorian Alps:

Picture from the Alpine Way

From Dead Horse Gap the road begins to descend steeply. As the road switchbacks down the mountain a number of beautiful clear streams are crossed:

Picture from the Alpine Way

The best thing about these streams is that they are usually accompanied with a campground with the most perfect camping spots you can imagine:

Picture from the Alpine Way

What more could you ask for than a beautiful clear stream, scenic snow capped mountain views, a BBQ pit to grill some steaks, and a picnic table for a camp site? Camping doesn’t get much better than this, but the drive down the mountain does as the highway reaches the bottom of the valley and the shores of the mighty Murray River:

Picture from the Alpine Way

The Murray River is the largest river in Australia and travels 2,575 kilometers (1,600 miles) from the heights of the Snowy Mountains out to the shores of the Great Australian Bight near Adelaide. The river serves as an important economic life line for Australian farmers down stream who are depended on the Murray’s waters for irrigation.

Upstream the river is not as large as it is down stream but it is still quite large and much faster flowing because of the number of countless streams draining into it from the Snowy Mountains. The fishing here on the Murray is supposed to be unbelievable though I didn’t have a chance to try it out myself. The river also has it’s own gigantic camping area known as the Tom Groggin Camping Area that would make a great base for any high country adventure that anyone wants to plan. Like I said before, camping does not get much better than what the Snowy Mountains and the mighty Murray has to offer.

Just a few kilometers down the road from the camping area and about a total of 57 kilometers into the drive is the historic cattle station of Tom Groggin:

Picture from the Alpine Way

If you look closely in the picture above you can see the trees that line the Murray River that flows in front of the cattle station. The Murray River at this point serves as the border between New South Wales and Victoria thus putting the Tom Groggin cattle station just on the Victorian side of the border:

Picture from the Alpine Way

If you are wondering, “Tom Groggin” is actually not the name of the ranch owner or anyone else for that matter. It is actually an English butchering of the aboriginal word of “tomarogin” which means water spider. Why the original station owner chose that word to name his ranch after is anyone’s guess, but the aboriginal origins of this station is not what has made it so historic. This station is historic because it is the former real life home of the cowboy, Jack Riley who was made famous by the books and movies of “The Man from Snowy River“.

There is no cattle station in Australia as spectacular as the valley that the Tom Groggin cattle station sits in on the slopes of the Snowy Mountains and it is easy to imagine “A Man from Snowy River” galloping along the sides of the mountains chasing brumbies. Today the station doesn’t appear to have to many cattle there and in fact the only animals that could be seen grazing in the lush fields were herds of kangaroos:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Just passed the Tom Groggin cattle station the road passes through an area of scorched forest that remained parched from bush fires that occurred in 2005:

Picture from the Alpine Way

It was really amazing to see how close the historic ranch site came to being lost forever by a bush fire. Further down the highway the high peaks of the Snowy Mountains poke in and out of view as the highway crosses Bogong Creek:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Just passed Bogong Creek the brush clears enough to offer a spectacular view of Mt. Kosciuszko from Geehi Flats:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

The Alpine Way from the bottom of the valley eventually begins to climb again up another high ridgeline that offers an occasional scenic view of the Snowy Mountains:

Picture from the Alpine Way

With all the spectacular scenery surrounding you it is important to keep your eyes on the road because the Alpine Way is a highway in name only:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

Since it was once a cattle trail the road is very narrow in many areas and skirts many high cliffs that has probably done away with many an inattentive driver over the years. Luckily for drivers the road has a number of scenic lookouts to view the scenery from such as the Scammell’s Ridge Lookout:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

This lookout is located about 90 kilometers into the drive and offers a view that should not be missed for any reason. Passed the lookout the road then begins another steep descent into a river gorge that serves as a home to one of the power station involved with the Snowy Hydro Scheme:

Picture from the Alpine Way

Picture from the Alpine Way

Just passed this power station, the Alpine Way eventually ends at the small hamlet of Khancoban which serves as the gateway to the Murray Valley Highway which runs into Victoria. Khancoban lies only 108 kilometers from where the Alpine Way began in Jindabyne, but with all the spectacular scenery taken in along the way it feels about three times as far. However, every kilometer traveled is worth it as this drive is without a doubt one of the best drives in all of Australia.

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