Kosciuszko National Park contains mainland Australia’s highest ground. The area looms large in the Australian imagination, an exotic landscape tied to the frontier spirit through epic poems like The Man From Snow River.
The highest ground of the Main Range contains all of the nation’s ten highest peaks, and lies in the southern section of the park. It’s a unique alpine landscape of grasslands, herb fields, and delicate sections of bogs, fens, and stony fjeldmark vegetation. The peaks are generally not very prominent, that is, unless you venture over to the Western Ranges, and my first pick of the walks takes in those vistas. There are glacial lakes, and Blue Lake is a real highlight visited on three of my top ten walks. At lower elevations there are iconic snow gums, one of Australia’s most distinctive and hardy eucalyptus trees.
The northern section of Kosciuszko National Park is not so elevated, and perhaps lacks the glamour of the alpine region. Nevertheless, we discovered some excellent short walks taking in spectacular and atmospheric gorges and waterfalls, so it’s definitely worth a visit.
Kosciuszko Southern Section
Starting at Charlotte Pass
Some of the best walks start from Australia’s highest road, Kosciuszko Road, which ends at Charlotte Pass at about 1830m of elevation. A number of the walks below are accessed as side trips off the classic Main Range Walk, which is a good one to start with if you are a fit hiker. I’ve included some worthy off-track options that are not difficult to navigate in good weather.
The landscapes of Kosciuszko National Park are uniquely attractive, if not always particularly dramatic. But that impression changed rather after climbing the isolated peak of Mount Sentinel (1917m), which provides excellent views of the so called Western Ranges. Mostly out of reach for the casual day hiker, I hadn’t seen these rugged and sometimes near vertical drop offs before. But the Sentinel happens to stick out in the middle of it all, and hence provides some of the best views on all of the mainland.
It can be visited on a moderate day walk as a side trip off the Main Range track starting at Charlotte Pass. However we decided to do a loop including Blue Lake, Little Twynam (2131m), and Mt Twynam (2196m). A full day’s walk including some off-track sections, but definitely one of the best walks we’ve done. Blue Lake is mainland Australia’s best example of a cirque lake, and visiting it alone would make for an excellent day-walk of moderate difficulty.
On this walk high up on the Main Range I visited Australia’s third highest peak for the first time, Mt Twynam at 2196m of elevation, it’s sibling Little Twynam (2130m), the spectacular Blue Lake, and nearby Hedley Tarn. There’s excellent alpine scenery the whole way. And with the exception of the justifiably popular Blue Lake, you’ll avoid the worst of the crowds that frequent the southern area of the range near Mt Kosciuszko.
Visiting only Blue Lake and Hedley Tarn would be a good moderate and also fully tracked option. And see my walk to Mount Sentinel for pictures of these areas in clearer weather.
The Main Range Walk in Kosciuszko National Park is one of Australia’s classic day-walks. It’s a well graded 22km loop through alpine vegetation, taking in glacial lakes and Australia’s most extensive views along the way. It’s fairly popular, but the middle section between Blue Lake and Mt Kosciuszko will be quiet enough.
A side trip to Australia’s second highest peak, Mt Townsend (2210m), is well worth it. And a shorter side trip to our highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko (2228m), is also possible. (Mt Townsend is the more interesting peak however, but why not squeeze in both). Another very worthy side trip is to Blue Lake, the mainland’s best example of a cirque lake. (You can see better photos of this in two other posts: Mount Sentinel and Blue Lake-Mt Twynam).
The Mt Stilwell Walk was quite a find for us, as we’d walked other routes from Charlotte Pass before without giving it much attention. It turned out to be a great short walk with views of the Main Range, and over the boulder strewn alpine plateau to the south of the summit. There were numerous wildflowers in summer which added to the appeal. You also get to bag a 2040m peak while you’re at it.
At just 3.8km return and 200m change in elevation, this walk has one of the best scenery-to-effort ratios in this selection.
Difficulty: Long but mostly flat
Mt Kosciuszko is Australia’s highest mountain, and as such all Australians should climb it once (I suppose). The Mt Kosciuszko Summit Walk is not the best walk in the alpine region of Kosciuszko National Park, but it is nevertheless a uniquely beautiful area, so any walk here is nice.
We first walked it in spring when there was still quite a bit of snow left, which made nice patterns over the landscape. If you walk it in summer there will be lots of wildflowers out. And I’ve quite liked the autumn colours in this area (see the Mt Tate Circuit).
Alternatives starting at Thredbo
You can also walk to Mt Koscisuzko from the Thredbo top station chairlift (which operates in the summer). And you could also walk from down in Thredbo Valley starting on the Dead Horse Gap Track. Alas, on the day I planned to do this walk the NPWS closed the park due to the 2019/2020 bushfires.
Starting at Guthega
This mostly off-track circuit walk to Mt Tate is one of the better hikes I’ve done on mainland Australia. The route passes through colourful and varied alpine scenery, and you’ll probably have the place to yourself. There are also great views from the summit over a rocky plateau towards some of Australia’s other highest peaks. The main downside is a challenging route back to the start through sometimes thick scrub. (See my original post for some guidance on this).
The walk starts at Guthega, a small ski resort away from the larger centres of Perisher and Thredbo. Another day-walk option is to walk from Guthega to Mt Twynam and back. And there’s a very long circuit taking in both Mt Tate and Mt Twynam.
Starting at Perisher
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The Porcupine Rocks Track is a popular walk to big boulders high up in the Ramshead Range near Perisher Village. There are views over the Thredbo Valley, about 700 to 800m below. A good walk for children or those looking for a less strenuous walk through attractive alpine meadows, heath and snow gums .
If visiting Porcupine Rocks is not enough for you then you can also walk off-track to nearby Mt Duncan (1926m), and along an impact track and poled route to Mt Wheatley (1877m).
Kosciuszko Northern Section
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (with shallow river crossings)
I’d seen pictures of Clarke Gorge on the internet, and this alone convinced me I should visit the less trendy northern end of Kosciuszko National Park. The walk through this narrow gorge lined by sheer sided cliffs is one of the best in the park. And at the end there is a short and steep scramble to view the attractive Cave Creek Falls.
There were brumbies (wild horses) galore in the area, which are probably Australia’s most charming feral animals. And the nearby Nichols Gorge Walk is also very good. You can easily fit them both into the same day.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The attractive Nichols Gorge Track branches off from the common start with the Clarke Gorge Track, near the camping area at Blue Waterholes. Not quite as spectacular as the narrow and shear sided Clarke Gorge, Nichols Gorge is nevertheless very atmospheric, and has the added advantage of being a circuit walk. It feels quite remote, which I like, and opens out onto a wide treeless plain in the latter half.
Difficulty: Short but steep
This short but steepish walk to Buddong Falls exceeded expectations, mainly because the falls were more spectacular than I’d expected. It’s a longish drive on an unsealed road to get there, but there are quite nice views along the route which add to the experience. The upper falls are good but it’s the lower falls which make the big impression. They are 60m high but only the top half can be easily photographed.
There are a couple of useful NPWS brochures detailing walks in both the southern section and northern section of the park. They don’t contain the more ambitious walks requiring off-track navigation however. The Geehi Bushwalking Club book is good for the harder day walks and multi day walks in the park.