Craig often makes the pilgrimage to the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park. The wide open country, intriguing rock formations in Clarke and Nichols Gorge and wild swimming at Blue Waterhole inspires a literary mindset that he uses to outline just why the region is so special.

Quick Overview

The northern end of Kosciuszko National Park is filled with adventures waiting to happen. From wild swimming in the crisp blue waterholes, to basking in stunning cave formations at Yarrangobilly Caves, wallowing in thermally heated open pools, and admiring karst formations and alpine gorges, you’re spoilt for choice.

There are plenty of opportunities for photography and if you pop into the Yarrangobilly Caves Visitor Centre you can grab some snacks to go. Stay for a day trip or camp overnight at the Blue Waterholes Campground – there’s so much to see and do that your first visit is unlikely to be your last.

About the Northern End of Kosciuszko National Park

Long Plain and Cooleman Plain

Let’s call it the rustic end of the Kosciuszko National Park, shall we? Up the northern end, I’m talking about, where accommodation is predominantly tent, tarp and truck, rather than the hard-roofed variety extensively available in the southern coupling of Thredbo and Perisher and its non-park neighbour of Jindabyne.

Long Plain –an extended length of grassland, kept treeless by frost on the plain and skirted by thickly forested shoulders of hills – runs about 30km northwards from the Snowy Mountains Highway near the remnants of the old gold mining town Kiandra.

 

Yarrangobilly Caves And Blue Waterholes // Karst In The Kosciuszko (NSW), Photo by Craig Pearce, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, Alpine, High Country,

 

It’s a magical place with many of the grazier’s huts kept alive by NSW’s National Parks and Wildlife Service, making them a haven for those caught short up this way in snowy winters (though the road down Long Plain is kept shut in the winter months,).

Two of the highlights of camping on Long Plain, that my son and I have consistently visited every time we’ve camped there, are the northern Kosciusko karst pairing of:

  1. The Blue Waterholes and its two fascinating walks: Clarke Gorge and Nichols Gorge
  2. Yarrangobilly Caves

History of Long and Cooleman’s Plains

Both Long and Cooleman Plains have a long grazing history, and before that Aboriginal peoples were regular residents. There are camping areas custom-designed with yards for those who bring up their horses for riding in the warmer months. They keep the commonly sighted brumbies – or feral horses – distant company.

Like many outdoors locations in Australia, Blue Waterholes and the Cooleman karst area are in danger of being loved, if not to death, then to a point of where the environment could be significantly damaged. Four-wheel drives going off track; feral horse damage; pollutants and toilet waste getting into overground and underground water systems; vegetation being knocked around by human visitors; even the gathering of firewood which is habitat for native wildlife, has a detrimental effect.

The closing of the track to Blue Waterholes to vehicles has been discussed as an option (meaning walk or ride-in access only to the vicinity, including its great camping areas). Ultimately, those who visit the area are accountable for what happens next. For the moment, paradise remains. Let’s hope it lasts.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

How To Get There

By Car

Cooinbil Hut Campground

To get to Cooinbil Hut Campground drive south down the Snowy Mountains Highway from Tumut and take a left onto Long Plain Road after 72.8km. If you’re coming from Adaminaby you’ll be driving north and taking a right after 56.2km.The campground is 14km down Long Plain Road.

Blue Waterholes Campground

To get to Blue Waterholes Campground, Clarke Gorge and Nichols Gorge walking tracks, turn off the Snowy Mountains Highway onto Long Plains Road. Turn onto the Blue Waterholes Trail and drive to the end. It’s 2WD accessible most of the time, but in wet weather, you’ll need a 4WD.

Yarrangobilly Caves 

To get to Yarrangobilly Caves, turn off the Snowy Mountains Highway onto Yarrangobilly Caves Entrance Road.

All roads are unsealed once you turn off the main highway.

Where to Stay Near the Northern End of Kosciuszko National Park

The campgrounds you don’t want to miss are Blue Waterholes Campground and Cooinbil Hut Campground.

Blue Waterholes Campground

This campground has excellent facilities with non-flushing toilets, picnic tables, BBQ’s, and a decent sized car park. The road to the Blue Waterholes Campground is unsealed. While it’s suitable for 2WD most of the time, a 4WD is required after wet weather.

Cooinbil Hut Campground

This campground is also pretty good when it comes to facilities, although there are no picnic tables. Access roads to this campground are closed in winter and bookings are required. Make sure to check conditions at the campground before you head out, especially to confirm that it is accessible before you leave home.

Skill Level

Beginner

Essential Gear for Kosciuszko National Park

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag and mat
  • Hiking shoes
  • Bathers
  • Towel
  • Hat and sunscreen
  • First aid kit
  • Maps
  • Food and water
  • PLB (reception is hella patchy in places, even if you’re only out on a day trip, a PLB is a good idea)

Planning on staying overnight? Check this out: Packing List For An Overnight Hike. If a day hike is more your jam, use our day hike packing list to ensure you’ve got everything you need.

What It’s Like Exploring the Northern End of Kosciuszko National Park

About Blue Waterholes

A short way off Long Plain down a rugged and just about two-wheel drive tolerant track are an idyllic, archetypal piece of Australian paradise. Bookended by the Clarke and Nichols gorges and fed by Caves Creek, they seemingly radiate with their startling, iridescent blue, made so by the water’s high calcium carbonate content, dissolved from the area’s geological trademark, limestone.

 

 

It features the fascination of a limestone cliff face where never-ending water materialises from its base, sprung up from an underground creek.

Most summers, Caves Creek itself runs underground up to the waterholes where it too magically appears. One result of this, other than the water’s pristine nature, is its bone-rattling frigidity. Not many people relax in the water here; more often than not a sudden enter and exit strategy is applied! Nonetheless, it’s provided many a summer bath.

Read more: 10 Secret Swimming Holes in NSW

 

Yarrangobilly Caves And Blue Waterholes // Karst In The Kosciuszko (NSW), Photo by Craig Pearce, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, Alpine, High Country, blue waterholes

 

Between Long Plain and Blue Waterholes there’s the amazingly preserved Coolamine Homestead, set in a serene, open-grassed clearing with a view of the surrounding hills which must have provided a fair bit of compensation to those situated here for long, snow-trapped months in years gone past. It’s much grander than your typical high-country hut.

The homestead’s original building was built in the early 1880s, then two more were added on. The walls are papered with newspapers from the late 1800s and early 1900s, so you can spend some relaxing time reading.

Here you get an insight into the area’s grazing heritage. Occupants were often some of the few who resided here year-long, not just for the warmer months. Self-sufficiency was the order of the day.

 

Yarrangobilly Caves And Blue Waterholes // Karst In The Kosciuszko (NSW), Photo by Craig Pearce, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, Alpine, High Country,

Coolamine Homestead

 

The waterholes are on the edge of the Cooleman Plain’s karst environment (a separate but similar environment to the karst of Yarrangobilly Caves), formed from limestone. This is a sedimentary rock, comprised of the cemented remains of marine organisms and/or fine-grained calcite. (Karst is of German origin and refers to a limestone landscape.)

Cooleman Plain contains a variety of signature karst features, including dry valleys, springs, stream sinks and caves. It’s unique because it’s surrounded by igneous rock, such as granite. The limestone erodes more easily than granite, hence the plain’s lower altitude than the surrounding hills.

The recreational and scientific significance of the area was recognised as early as 1882 (which seems quite something), when parts of the area were reserved. Here’s their reasoning:

  • Complex ecosystems support highly specialised plants, animals and microorganisms
  • The local caves contain fossils such as Brachiopod, crinoids and corals
  • A modern contingent also call the caves home: amphipods, crickets, spiders, millipedes and the eastern bent-wing bat

Flora in the area is dominated by snow gums and black sallee on the hills. The leafy anchor plant, one of Australia’s only deciduous plants and a botanical rarity, inhabits the Caves Creek neighbourhood. Communities of platypus, brushtail and ringtail possums, along with eastern grey kangaroos and red necked wallabies, also call the area home.

The Clarke Gorge Trail: A Walk For Wet Feet

After many years of our own adventures, recently my son and I were able to introduce the wife (the non-camping, non-bushwalking member of the family) to the waterholes’ dramatic, romantic multiple creek-crossing, Clarke Gorge Trail.

On the momentous day in question, the high-arching blue sky was flecked with a scant wisp of cloud. It was about 20 degrees – so, perfect.

It took about four creek crossings for my wife to take my advice that she would tire of removing then replacing shoes; and she should just paddle on through, but other than that it was clear she was enjoying herself.

The final reward of this 5km return walk through the sheer-sided limestone-cliffed gorge is Coolaman Falls. In front of its high-walled cliff backdrop, Cave Creek surges over the precipice, blasting off protruding rock at crazy angles for about 30m before showering into a generously proportioned pool where a hard-core, skin-zinging baptismal shower is on offer at no cost.

 

Yarrangobilly Caves And Blue Waterholes // Karst In The Kosciuszko (NSW), Photo by Craig Pearce, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, Alpine, High Country, waterfall

 

As we explored the pools and adjacent cliffs, I noticed rumbles in the distance, and the speedy loss of blue sky. A festival of clouds were coming to party, soft grey at first, but darkening quickly. Of course, it had to be one of those very rare walks where I didn’t stow the waterproofs, didn’t it?

As soon as we started back the rain began but, unbelievably, it started hailing, too… and hailing… and hailing. This was the first bushwalk I’d been hailed upon (at least the brim of my Akubra proved handy). And it had to be with the non-outdoors member of the family, on a walk where there is nowhere to take cover; not that you’d want to hang about under trees when thunder’s booming and its electrical partner in crime is in close quarters.

In hindsight, when asked what was the highlight of her introduction to the beauty of the Long Plain area, my wife said it was this walk. Go figure. But she isn’t the only person who’s taken to Clarke Gorge and its powerfully compelling beauty.

The Nicholas Gorge Loop Walk: Little Boy Lost

Heading the other way from the waterholes is Clarke Gorge’s sibling, Nichols Gorge, and its 7km loop walk.

One year, with our kids-led gang of friends, Caves Creek was actually flowing above ground the whole way. This was the only time I’d seen it like this (normally it runs underground), which made the creek crossings much more of an adventure and enriched the whole experience. The walk also boasts the Cooleman and Murrays Caves and many dolines (basins, often about 30m wide, which can sometimes collapse into caves underneath).

 

Yarrangobilly Caves And Blue Waterholes // Karst In The Kosciuszko (NSW), Photo by Craig Pearce, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, Alpine, High Country,

 

And then there was the time my son and I did the walk, on our first camping in Kosciuszko experience, the year I look back on as that of ‘little boy lost’…

More accurately, it’s ‘father lost’ who just happens to have a four-year-old with him. Knowing there were track markers at frequent intervals, I didn’t bother with a map. I wouldn’t need it, would I?

About half-way around the walk, after climbing out of the creek bed up to the Cooleman Plain, the track markers suddenly became scarce (i.e. I couldn’t see any), so I relied on my memory of the map and a sense of direction. Both, as it turned out, are fundamentally flawed.

On realising something wasn’t right, and being too stubborn to simply backtrack, I did a massive loop to get us back on track, much of which took place with a tired four-year-old on my shoulders as I struggled through scrub.

Finding the bed of the creek that forms the spine of the walk, then going downstream until we recovered the track (and its markers!) ended up bearing fruit. But it was an instructive lesson in common sense – take the damn map! Especially if this is the first time you’re doing the walk, no matter how ‘easy’ or ‘well marked’ you think it is.

In this case, while scary for a while, there was a happy ending (though my son has never let me forget it…)

Read more: How to Stay Safe in the Bush (and Keep your Mum Happy): The Ultimate Hiking Safety Guide

Exploring Yarrangobilly Caves: Nature’s Theme Park

Yarrangobilly Caves, off the Snowy Mountains Highway near the Long Plain turn-off, is bush paradise, especially if you’ve been camping for a few days. Not only are there an array of fascinating caves to explore, mostly with a knowledgeable guide, but the location boasts:

  • A large thermal pool, permanently heated to 27 degrees, fed by an underground spring
  • Beautiful, shaded picnic areas, including by the swift-flowing Yarrangobilly River
  • Short walks with interesting farming and tourism heritage dimensions
  • Crucially, an opportunity to buy ice cream

The caves locale also boasts some of the few hard-roofed forms of accommodation in northern Kosciuszko, with its expansive Yarrangobilly House and an eco-cottage.

It’s quite astonishing just how much there is to do at this out-of-the-way location. Tumut is the nearest town of significance, about an hour away. It makes for a great stop on a road trip, but you’ll want to spend at least half a day here.

When we’ve been camping on Long Plain, it’s been a perfect ‘variation’ day: pack a picnic, take one of the top-drawer caves tours (both the caves and the guides are enthralling and the caves’ diversity is quite incredible), have a good swim in the thermal pool and, best of the lot, grab an ice cream.

 

Yarrangobilly Caves And Blue Waterholes // Karst In The Kosciuszko (NSW), Photo by Craig Pearce, Kosciuszko National Park, NSW, Alpine, High Country, thermal baths

 

Not many people seem to take up the option of swimming in the fast-flowing Yarrangobilly River, adjacent to the thermal pool, but most definitely do the relaxing walk by the river, down a relatively steep path from Glory Arch. There are other short-ish walks to do as well, up and down the river, one of them has a particular heritage focus on where a small farm used to exist. It produced meat and vegetables for miners at nearby Kiandra mines in the late 1800s.

The caves are set into the side of a gorge the Yarrangobilly River cuts through. The views into, across and up and down the gorge are mesmerising, though I’ve felt less than mesmerised on a scorching summer’s day walking up the murderous hill from the thermal pool back to the car pack. In more recent times a cold shower has been installed at the top of this walk, though, which was a simple work of genius.

Tips for the Northern End of Kosciuszko National Park

  • Make sure that you bring a map and PLB with you
  • Bring your camera to capture all the special views
  • No one ever regrets getting ice cream from Yarrangobilly Caves (doooo it)
  • The blue waterholes are amazing but don’t forget that the thermal pool and river are pretty great options too
  • Come for the blue waterholes campground but stay for the hikes – honestly, don’t visit without doing at least one!

FAQs Northern End of Kosciuszko National Park

How long does the Clark Gorge Trail Take?

The Clarke Gorge Trail is 5km long and takes approximately four hours to complete.

How long is the Nichols Gorge Loop Walk?

The Nichols Gorge Loop Walk in the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park is 7km in length.

Is there phone reception at Blue Waterholes Campground?

Maybe if you’re mates with Elon Musk? For the rest of us, it’s unlikely. Reception is pretty patchy down Long Plain Road on the way to the campground and throughout the entire blue waterholes area. Make sure to bring a PLB and let mates know your plans before you leave.

Is the Blue Waterholes Campground busy?

The Blue Waterholes Campground is definitely one of the most popular campgrounds in Kosciuszko National Park, but that’s for good reason – it’s beautiful. Even if there are slightly more people than you’d prefer to have around, you’ll still be able to find spaces by yourself to enjoy, particularly if you head off on a hike.

This piece was brought to you by a real living human who felt the wind in their hair and described their adventure in their own words. This is because we rate authenticity and the sharing of great experiences in the natural world – it’s all part of our ethos here at We Are Explorers. You can read more about it in our Editorial Standards.