Situated five hours south of Sydney and nestled against the Victorian border, the NSW Snowy Mountains area is better known by tourists for its beauty in winter. However, in warmer months the 'Snowies' is renowned for spectacular scenery and colourful history. Stories of discovery and adventure, of engineering feats that are marvelled around the world, all pale against the natural beauty that the Kosciuszko National Park provides.
The Alpine Way was constructed by the Snowy Mountains Scheme in 1950 to assist the scheme's construction. Prior to the road being built, the only way into the Geehi Valley for graziers and fishermen from Khancoban was by horse or foot along a rough track which is now known as the Geehi Walls Fire Trail. Starting at Jindabyne and climbing to over 1500m past Thredbo and the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, the Alpine Way delivers the traveller to an intersection on the Murray Valley Highway. The Alpine Way was finally fully paved in 1990. Approximately 21km north of Tom Groggin or 30km south of Khancoban along the Alpine Way is the Geehi Rest Area, and the beginning of our adventure.
The Geehi Walls Fire Trail starts at the Geehi Rest Area. Originally the site for a worker's camp and an airstrip, it has to be one of the most picturesque camping areas in NSW. With a spectacular backdrop of a snow-capped Kosciuszko range to the east, and an abundance of wildlife, the camping area is divided by the Swampy Plains Creek. Originally, the Snowy Mountains Authority leased the area from the Nankervis family, until 1960 when the land was incorporated into the Kosciuszko State Park.
This well-maintained campsite has toilets provided, but campers will have to take out all rubbish, and there are no showers. The Geehi Hut lies toward the north side of the camp area. Also known as the Airstrip Hut, or the Nankervis Hut, it was built in 1952 by Jim Nankervis to support grazing and fishing. It was beautifully restored in 2004 and features a river stone construction with a concrete and dirt floor.
Swampy Plains Creek has its origin in the highest lake in Australia, Lake Cootapatamba, located on the southern flank of Mount Kosciuszko 2046m above sea level. Take the time to walk the banks, stopping at the hidden waterfall and skim the river pebbles to the other side.
Crossing Swampy Plains Creek at the Geehi Rest Area starts you on your trip. Check the depth of the creek before crossing; soft-roaders will struggle with the crossing because the creek gets quite deep after rain and flows quickly. There is a chicken track two kilometres to the north of the Geehi Rest Area if the creek is a little too deep for you. Across the creek you'll pass into Behrs Flat and travel across the fl at grassy plain to stop for a quick look at Keebles Hut.
The Keebles Hut was also built in river stones as a fishing lodge in 1942. The grounds around the hut would make a fantastic camping spot, particularly in summer with the creek providing an excellent swimming hole. On the door is a hand-painted picture of a large trout caught in the nearby creek.
After the second crossing of Swampy Plains Creek, you pass the Old Geehi Hut at Round Flat commissioned by the NSW Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission and built from river stones. Local builder Don Benson charged the princely sum of $920 in 1948 for its construction. In the early '50s, the hut was used by road contractors as part of their survey and construction camp. Another small camping area lies here beside the creek.
From here the track is easy 4WDing. Fast and fl at, take care not to miss the beauty of the countryside until you come to the deserted Camp Indi. Camp Indi was a tent city erected for the surveyors. There is nothing there today, but in the mid 1950s rows of tents marked this area. Continuing ahead will bring you to private property.
Turning right at the site of Camp Indi takes you past Major Clews Hut, a mud brick cottage in good condition placed in the shade of a liquid amber tree.
Lt. Col. Hugh Powell Gough Clews, otherwise known as 'Major' Clews, was an army surveyor who retired from the military in 1949. He was recruited to work for the Snowy Mountain Scheme in 1950 to map the area. Prior to the Snowy Mountain Scheme, no real accurate maps of the area existed. Even the border of NSW and Victoria was only marked with stone cairns and blazed trees.
The Major was one of Australia's colourful characters, who preferred to walk through the bush rather than ride. The Major travelled extensively throughout the Snowies, from the Murray River and Geehi Valley, north to the old goldfields of Kiandra and Yarrangobilly Valley wearing his scout-style hat and his pipe clenched between his loose fitting dentures.
He spent many nights sleeping under the stars in a makeshift camp, and only retired to his Snowy Mountain hut, situated some 300m from Camp Indi in 1958. He lived here until ill health forced him to move to Melbourne in the late '70s. He passed away in 1980 at 90 years of age, with his ashes scattered around his beloved hut.
The last section of the Major Clews Fire Trail sees the track slightly deteriorate before it climbs the ranges to meet the Alpine Way some 21km north of the Geehi Rest Area. A small creek crosses the trail, which won't trouble most 4WDers, but the approach and departure angles are steep.
The short grasses of the plains turn to tall gums and large tree ferns as we travel the ridge. Glimpses of spectacular panoramas flash between the trees and steep gullies fall from the trail. At the completion of the track, we drive briefly along tar for our final stop at Scammells Ridge Lookout.
Scammells Lookout is well signposted approximately 2.7km south from the exit of Major Clews Fire Trail. It was visited by Queen Elizabeth in 1963 on her Snowy Mountains tour and gives views to the south over Scammells Ridge, named after a local grazing family who used the ridge for access to the summer grazing areas.
From here you could take the winding blacktop all the way back to the picture-perfect Geehi Rest Area, or take a right turn back on to Geehi Walls Trail, 1.8km before the rest area, and take the chicken track down to the Old Geehi Hut, back across Swampy Plains Creek and through Behrs Flat and marvel at the postcard views in front of you as you drive back to your campsite.
Five hours south of Sydney and five hours north of Melbourne, in the Kosciuszko National Park NSW. The Geehi Camping Area is accessed either from Jindabyne or from Khancoban. Adventurous southerners could cross the border from either Barry Way south of Jindabyne or across the Murray River at Tom Groggin
Geehi Rest Area Camping Area (camping fee included in National Park Pass). Tom Groggin Camping Area (camping fee included in National Park Pass). Jindabyne has various caravan parks and accommodation.
WHAT TO TAKE:
Take warm clothes even in summer months as this is the Alpine region. The mountains here are over 1500m above sea level and some of the places you'll visit are higher still. Also take plenty of drinking water, there are plenty of creeks, but NPWS recommends the boiling of creek water before using. Take your camera, spare charged batteries and memory cards, the area is extremely photogenic. The Geehi Rest Area is well suited for riding push bikes, so take your mountain bikes with you. There is also firewood available.
SUPPLIES AND FACILITIES:
Supplies are available at Jindabyne 60km to the south-east or at Khancoban 30km to the north.
Trips are rated A through to E, with A meaning only suited to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modification and E meaning perfectly suited for all types of 4WD vehicles. This trip is rated E with the only obstacles being two creek crossings that would not be suitable for soft-roaders.
MAPS AND GUIDES:
Rooftop's Kosciuszko National Park Forest Activities Map. Jindabyne - Khancoban - Edition One 2008, Rooftop Mapping Services. Hema Maps, Map 34. The High Country 4WD and Camping guide, Craig Lewis and Cathy Savage, Boiling Billy Publications. New South Wales 4WD Top 50 Atlas and Guide by Allan Whiting Kosciuszko Huts Association Website - www.khuts.org
CONTACTS AND INFORMATION:
Ph: 02 6450 5600
Ph: 02 6076 9373
Road Information www.enviroment.nsw.gov.au
The winding bitumen Alpine Way takes you across the mountains and past Thredbo and Tom Groggin Station. The Alpine Way is marked as not suitable for caravans, but you could travel with a camper trailer with caution. Major Clews Fire Trail and Geehi Walls Fire Trail are both an easy 4WD track, but are marked as dry weather only. There are some restrictions in winter. Check with NPWS for road closures. Swampy Plains Creek is a little too deep for soft-roaders - please check depth before attempting to cross.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
A Kosciuszko National Park permit will cost $16 per car per day ($27 in winter months), which is available at major centres and also at toll gates at the entry to the parks.
Use of the park's facilities are free to use after you pay the $16 vehicle pass. Well-defined walks across the park or to the top of Mount Kosciuszko for the adventurous. Trout fishing – don't forget your fishing licences. The Murray One Hydro Electric Power Station Visitor Centre. It is located south of Khancoban and is free.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY STUART MURRAY