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On Walkabout In: Cooma, New South Wales

After one of my frequent visits to Canberra, my wife and I decided to take the Alpine Way back to Victoria via the scenic Snowy Mountains resort of Thredbo.  We have traveled on this road before, but it is such a spectacular ride we just had to do it again:

So from Canberra we planned to once again take Highway 23 also known as the Monaro Highway south towards the city of Cooma.  At Cooma we then planned to transfer on to Highway 18, also known as the Snowy Mountains highway to get to Thredbo.  At Thredbo we planned to stay a couple of nights and enjoy the high country of the Snowy Mountains. 

The Monaro Highway passes through a relatively treeless and rock scattered area just south of the Australian Capitol Territory.  This is actually how the Monaro gots its name because Monaro in the local Aboriginal dialect means “treeless plain”.  The last town we drove into on the Monaro before transfering on to the Snowy Mountain Highway was the small town of Cooma.  Cooma sits in a valley surrounded by rolling hills that extend from the nearby Snowy Mountains which is the highest mountain range in all of Australia.  The proximity of Cooma to the Snowy Mountains means it sits at a relatively high altitude of 800 meters (2,620 ft).  Much like the Monaro, Cooma also gets its name from the local Aboriginal dialect which means, “open country”. 

The Cooma area was first explored by Captain J.M. Currie and Major John Ovens in 1823 as part of an expedition to find good grazing land.  They found it in the Cooma area.  In the years following this exploration settlers moved in and farmed & ranched the land.  The population steadily grew until Cooma was proclaimed an official Australian city in 1879.  In 1889 Cooma was connected with a railroad which brought the first snowfield tourists to the area.  The train no longer runs to Cooma but the winter tourists keeping coming to Cooma which comprises one of the city’s largest economic activities. 

However, what really caused Cooma to grow was when the Snowy Mountains Scheme was established in 1949.  Cooma was the headquarters for this project to dam a number of rivers in the Snowy Mountains to generate electricity.  Workers from 27 nations lived in 120 camps spread out through the area to work on this massive project. 

The growth from the Snowy Mountains Scheme has seen Cooma today support a total population of over 6,500 people. 

The perfect place to get some great views of Cooma is by driving to the top of Mt. Gladstone just a few miles south of town along Highway 18:

Typically from here you can get some great views of the Snowy Mountains, however the weather was quite cloudy and overcast the day we drove to the top of Mt. Gladstone thus obscuring our view of the beautiful Snowies.  However, this is how the Snowies typically look on a clear day:

Just absolutely gorgeous mountains that I never get tired of seeing. 

If anyone is planning on going to Cooma, the Sydney Morning Herald has a really great fact sheet on Cooma that lays out things to do, places to stay, and where to eat.  Definitely check it out if you plan to stay in Cooma.  For my wife and I it was on to Jindabyne for us.

Next Posting: On to Jindabyne