Pathways through the wilderness – VIC and NSW

If you want ‘a drive through the wilderness’, then you will do no better than this tour, which will take you to the Cobberas-Tingaringy area of the Alpine National Park, and Kosciuszko National Park. The tour skirts and provides fine views into five wilderness areas – the Cobberas, Buchan headwaters, Tingaringy, the Pilot and Byadbo wildernesses. However as the trip is remote from any settlements, you must have a full tank of fuel and ample food, especially if camping or doing side trips. From Benambra it is also possible to travel north to
via Sassafras Gap. The section through the Alpine National Park along the Gibbo River is particularly scenic. Although suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles this dirt road is slow and winding, and it is used by many logging trucks.

Distances are measured from the outskirts of Omeo and to the Snowy Region visitor centre in Jindabyne.

Distance: 205km, Omeo to Jindabyne
Travel time: 8 hours
Driving conditions: This is a good gravel road suitable for two-wheel drive vehicles, although it is narrow and potentially slippery in sections around Limestone Creek, Cobberas/Pilot lookout and Suggan Buggan. From Benambra it is also possible to travel north Corryong via Sassafras Gap.
Season: Year-round, although snow can close the Limestone-Black Mountain Road around the Cobberas for periods of time during winter. Check with Parks Victoria, telephone 131 963.
Food: Benambra, Jindabyne
Accommodation: Omeo, Benambra, Wombargo, Jindabyne. Contact visitor centres for more information.
Fuel: Benambra, Jindabyne
National Park Camping Areas: Limestone Creek, Scotchies Yards, Running Waters, Pinch River, Jacobs River, Native Dog Flat
Starting point: Omeo

Drive north from Omeo for 4km on the Omeo Highway and take the right-hand turnoff to Benambra. Benambra (23km) is nestled in a wide valley below the rocky forms of the Brothers to the north, which are named after the Pendergast family, who first settled the area in 1837 and whose descendants still farm here today. Turn right and take the Limestone-Black Mountain Road northeast.

The first 20km of the Limestone Black Mountain Road (Benambra-Black Mountain Road) travels through open farmland, with views behind to the northwest to Mt Wills and the Bogong High Plains, and north to the impressive rocky outcrops of McFarlanes and Pendergast lookouts. James McFarlane first travelled down from the Monaro region of New South Wales in 1835 with George MacKillop, returning a few years later to found Omeo station, many years before the European settlement of Gippsland. Development though was slow, largely because of the district’s isolation and mountainous terrain. In the early 1840s the track to Bairnsdale was so rough that it took five days on horseback.

At around 38.5km, at the point where the Beloka Road turns off to the north (Beloka Gap), the bitumen ends and the unsealed Limestone-Black Mountain Road continues east. A well-surfaced gravel road heads south at 48.5km to the Benambra gold and copper mine. Continue east along the narrower dirt road until you enter the Alpine National Park (56.5km). Here you leave the cleared farmlands set among the mountains to enter tall mountain forest of Alpine ash, Candlebarks and Mountain gums. Look for glimpses of the exposed volcanic rocks of the Cobberas through the trees as you approach Limestone Creek (61 km). Turn off approximately 2km past the Limestone Creek bridge and drop down a rough two-wheel drive track for several kilometres to a pleasant camping and picnic area along the banks of the creek (pit toilet provided). There are several small limestone caves in this area.

Cowombat Flat track (67.5km), branches off from Limestone-Black Mountain Road and enters the Cobberas Wilderness area, which is closed to vehicles. Walkers can continue on to Cowombat Flat, the source of the Murray River, which defines the New South Wales-Victoria border. At Cowombat Flat you can see parts of the wreck of a Royal Australian Air Force DC-3 which crashed there in 1954. One crew member was killed, but three survivors, one seriously injured, were met by rescuers and assisted, by foot and vehicle, back to Benambra.

Continuing east on Limestone-Black Mountain Road, you’ll shortly come to Native Dog Flat (69.5km), named after the dingoes common locally. Native Dog Flat is a picturesque snow plain at the headwaters of the Buchan River. If you want to camp here, please do so only in the area set aside for camping (near the information board), as there are several rare plant species growing here that could be harmed by the impact of camping. The Cobberas track (72km) is a four-wheel drive track that leads into the extensive snowgrass plains of the Playgrounds, below the Cobberas. Many people camp in this area and walk (experienced walkers only) up on to the rugged Cobberas (around 1800m) in the north.

The Rogers stockyards (81 .5km) on the left are named after a member of the Rogers family, which has been grazing stock in this area for nearly 100 years. Stop at the Cobberas/Pilot lookout (84.5km), a small rocky outcrop and clearing which provides extensive views north through the trees, past the Cobberas to the Pilot Wilderness in New South Wales.

Mt Wombargo (1665m high and 85km), which lies south of the Limestone-Black Mountain Road, is the remnant of an ancient volcano, one of many (especially to the west of the Snowy River) that blasted out the volcanic rocks of the Snowy River volcanics (400-350 million years ago).

Soon after you leave the Alpine National Park (93km) you start to drop down to the cleared land of the isolated farming communities of Wombargo (wherethere is a small bed and breakfast establishment) and Wulgulmerang. At the Limestone-Black Mountain Road-Snowy River Road intersection (100km, 10km north of Wulgulmerang), you may turn south to Buchan (66km) or north to Jindabyne (105km).

Turn north here and re-enter the Alpine National Park at Hamilton Gap (102km from Omeo and 103km south of Jindabyne) with its unexpected and spectacular views (if the weather is clear and you are travelling from the south, prepare to be lost for words!). Find a place close to the gap to stop and gaze (as after crossing the gap, the road starts to fall quickly and the views are lost). Immediately ahead, a dissected plateau drops steeply into the Suggan Buggan valley with the Snowy River beyond. Further to the east Mt Tingaringy (and the Tingaringy Wilderness) can be seen on the horizon.

At the small settlement of Suggan Buggan (12km from the Limestone-Black Mountain Road-Snowy River Road intersection and 112km from Omeo), where a camping and picnic area beside the river, you may enjoy a visit to the reconstructed school house, parts of which are more than 100 years old. As the dirt road is narrow and winding, it is difficult to look at the spectacular scenery and watch the road at the same time, so take care! The ‘pine-clad ridges’ that surround you (they’re actually native Cypress pines) should make you feel as if you are really in’ Man from Snowy River’ country. The dry, stony mountain slopes and cliffs are the result of the weathering of volcanic rock high in iron content but producing rather infertile soils – as well as lack of
rain. These mountain slopes lie in the rain shadow of the higher mountains to the west.

Leaving Suggan Buggan, the Snowy River Road climbs over the high ridge dividing the Suggan Buggan and Snowy River valleys. Enjoy the views to the east of the Tingaringy Wilderness and northeast to the Byadbo Wilderness, and the vegetation dominated by Cypress pines and White box (the common eucalypt here).

As the Snowy River (125km) makes its arduous 500km journey from Mt Kosciuszko to the sea, it is generally fairly inaccessible. This short stretch, between Willis and the Jacobs River, is one of the few sections that are accessible by car. There are lovely picnic or camping sites above the river here (no camping facilities though). However, please don’t drive vehicles onto the sandy beaches or dunes beside the water, as the vegetation in these habitats is easily disturbed, leaving the area prone to severe erosion. Instead you can camp under the eucalypts on higher, more stable ground. The Snowy River provides many pools for swimming, and beautiful spots for birdwatching, photography and fishing. It is interesting to note the severely reduced level of the Snowy River compared to its upper reaches below Mt Kosciuszko, owing to the diversion of its waters into the hydro-electric scheme.

Camping sites with basic facilities along the Snowy River and Jacobs River include:

  • Willis camping area (131 km) (picnic tables, fireplaces, toilets and an information display
  • Scotchies Yards camping area (134km) (picnic tables and fireplaces),
  • Running Waters camping area (141.5km) (picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets),
  • Pinch River camping area (145km) (picnic tables, fireplaces, shelters and toilets) and
  • Jacobs River camping area (151 km) (picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets).

Past Pinch River, access to the Snowy River is restricted to only a couple of places, including Half-way Flat, which has a toilet, fireplaces and picnic tables. Willis (131 km) was the name given to the area that lies on the border between Victoria (Alpine National Park) and New South Wales (Kosciuszko National Park) on the Barry Way. Archaeological surveys of Willis have revealed
that the region is rich in sites of both Aboriginal and European cultural heritage, including scarred trees, stone scatters (flakes and tools of quartz, flint and chert), rock cairns (constructed by Alexander Black when surveying the eastern or ‘straight line section’ of the Victoria-New South Wales border in 1870), and old stockyards (associated with the droving of cattle between Gippsland and the Monaro). Before the Australian states were federated in 1901, a customs post operated in the Willis area!

Don’t drive past Jacks lookout (145km) without stopping! You will be rewarded with views to the north over the rocky gorges of the Snowy River valley, Pinch River and Jacobs River. Here you can see clearly how lush is the Snowy River corridor, as it runs through an otherwise dry and harsh landscape. The Snowy River provided a passage for Aboriginal people, and later for European settlers, miners and graziers, as they travelled through to Gippsland.

The road reaches Jacobs River camping area turnoff at around 151 km. At Jacobs River (152km) evidence of Aboriginal occupation has been found near the camping ground. Here the road leaves the Snowy River (which carves its way through the Byadbo Wilderness) and follows the Jacobs River and Wild Bull Creek up out of the valley and onto the edge of the Monaro Plains. The road climbs steeply through sparse, dry vegetation to the Wallace Craigie lookout (164km). Here you can enjoy extensive views south to the Snowy River valley and across four wilderness areas – southeast to Byadbo, ‘south to Tingaringy (with the Snowy Wilderness beyond) and southwest to Pilot. It is easy to understand why this area is so important for nature conservation, as it is relatively undisturbed, remote from any settlements and sustains a wide variety of vegetation, animal habitats and geological formations.

At 166km the road leaves Kosciuszko National and becomes bitumen-sealed at the quaint settlement of Ingebyra (171 km, 34km from Jindabyne). The remainder of this tour passes through undulating farmland dotted with Snow gums and Blakely’s red gums, with views west and northwest to the Main Range and Kosciuszko National Park. Continue north on the Barry Way to Jindabyne (205km).

Just as the Barry Way follows an historic stock route, Jindabyne has its origins in the nineteenth-century grazing era. The town developed at a crossing place of the Snowy River as a small local centre for surrounding pastoral properties. As tourism developed during the twentieth century, the town also catered to high country visitors. Jindabyne’s history changed dramatically with the advent of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, which dictated that the Snowy River be dammed and Jindabyne flooded. The new town of Jindabyne was declared open in 1964 and the site of the old town disappeared beneath the waters of Lake Jindabyne. The town has since become a busy tourist centre oriented particularly to skiers, but also to summer visitors.