The pleasures of a gentle driving holiday from Sydney to Lake Crackenback
VENTURE into the alpine foothills of NSW at any time and you’ll find history, good food and stunning landscapes. But summer offers visitors particular delights.
I am driving with a friend south from Sydney, through the southern highlands, Goulburn and Canberra, on to Cooma and then Jindabyne, on the eastern edge of Kosciuszko National Park. Weare planning to spend a couple of days in comfort at Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa, framed by bush and mountain peaks.
We have chosen Murrumbateman for an overnight stay at Country Guesthouse Schonegg, operated with wonderfully Swiss attention to detail by Evelyn and Richard Everson (their gourmet platters include the results of Evelyn’s impressive baking). It’s 30km from Canberra, which is buzzing with centenary events this year.
After a deep sleep and excellent breakfast, it’s an easy drive to Cooma, the historical hub for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, on which construction started in 1949. Minutes from town on the Monaro Highway, the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre features interactive exhibits, theatre screenings, vintage photographs, models and live coverage of the operations of this 5000sq kmintegrated system. Incorporating 16 dams and seven power stations, the scheme is widely considered the country’s greatest engineering project and an important milestone in our immigration history.
Our next pit stop is The Lott Food Store on Cooma’s main street, a humming cafe and kitchen supplies shop in a century-old wool store. The building’s historical bones remain, especially the beautiful timber floors, but blond wood now lines the walls and gleaming stainless-steel colanders transformed into light shades dangle above refectory tables.
Lott Group director Matt Dowdney has seen Cooma
JOHN FOTIADIS evolve from its 50-year reliance on Snowy Mountains history into a destination in its own right. Fishers, hikers, walkers and cyclists come in droves.
The Lott is the region’s largest employer of apprentices, Dowdney says, which ‘‘keeps the boys in town’’, supports the local TAFEand stimulates appreciation for local produce, such as organic lamb and pork, mountain trout (smoked in Cooma or Tumut) and goat’s cheese. The Lott has a kitchen garden which the apprentices use when making the cafe’s stocks, sauces, jams and preserves.
On Cooma’s original main street, the 158-year-old Lord Raglan Inn (9 Lambie St), later the town’s first bank, houses a charming not-for-profit gallery devoted to Snowy Mountains and Monaro artists. The full-width front veranda overlooks a heritage garden with 100-yearold bay and Irish strawberry trees, as well as heritage plants from the 1930s and 40s, wisteria, Persian lilac, hedges of lavender and Scotch rose, and a Spanish chestnut with big round green pods.
An hour’s drive from Cooma, j ust minutes past Jindabyne in the Thredbo Valley, the chalets and apartments of Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa form a loose village around the lake and Little Thredbo River. Bush-clad slopes and mountain peaks range around the horizon and there is the tranquil, high-country feel of grey-green bush, alpine rock, reflective water and pristine air. Creations from Jindabyne’s Lake Light Sculpture festival, held each Easter (until tomorrow), punctuate a trail around the lake. A low, grey stone viaduct spans one reach of the water. Speckled and downy-grey ducks forage in the grass. For the past six years, Crackenback has been fostering a year-round activities program. General manager Scott O’Neile and sales manager Jane O’Neile are on a mission to make summer as alluring as the snow season.
The resort has a heated indoor pool and fitness centre, as well as sauna, tennis, badminton and volleyball courts. Outdoors, there’s golf ( on the nine- hole, par- three course), a new mountain bike park (no charge for resort guests; includes skills-practice trails with ramps, bridges and seesaws, and a downhill flow track) and archery. The local waterways offer trout fishing (rod and fly; lessons available and rods for hire) and, in summer, canoeing, kayaking and river sledding.
Just walking in this lovely part of the world could fill my stay; 14km of signposted tracks are laid around the resort. An extensive program, operated from November to April, includes a hike to ‘‘the top of Australia’’ and night walks, as well as guided and self-guided strolls with maps, notes and equipment.
My hands-down favourite activity is the eco tour on all-terrain Segways. We stand to attention and trundle around bush tracks and over creek crossings, spotting flowers and wildlife. The fauna is probably what kids love the most — wombats, big grey kangaroos, emus and, up in the mountains, deer.
With all this activity, good food is vital. Executive chef Greg Pieper developed his passion for produce while working under Ralph Potter (formerly at Pegrum’s and Darley’s). Pieper says more people interested in quality food are moving into the region, including operators of goat dairies, a Bredbo apiarist and truffle growers.
There is rainbow trout from Tumut and, in summer, cherries, pears, peaches and summer vegetables. Pieper maintains a summer kitchen garden, supplying rocket, spinach and herbs for the resort’s cafe-style Alpine Larder’s salads, lunches and pizza sauces.
The Larder is a sunny, glass-framed, eucalypt-wrapped space with an open kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven, great for breakfasts, lunches and easy dinners.
At the more formal Cuisine on Lake Crackenback, a very sophisticated dinner focuses on exquisite local produce and Tumbarumba (Snowy Mountains) wines. Judith Elen was a guest of Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa.
top Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa sits amid natural splendour above Alpine hikes are a favourite summer activity below A picking plate from The Lott Food Store in Cooma