Laurel Hooper on the track to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko / Picture Brian Hooper

Arriving in Cooma late last month, we visited the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre, a massive civil engineering feat started in 1949.

Workers battled freezing conditions to shape masses of rock and dirt into tunnels, aqueducts, dams and power stations to generate hydro- electric power and a reliable water supply to south-east Australia.

From Cooma, we towed our caravan along the Kosciuszko Alpine Way, travelling to the relocated town of Jindabyne which was moved for the 1960 damming of the Snowy River.

The town is now a base for the ski resorts of Perisher Valley, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass. We left our caravan at the local caravan park and continued along the Kosciuszko Alpine Way.

Making our way on the sealed and winding road to Charlotte Pass, Australia's highest ski resort, we passed many roadside signs reminding us that within a few months this road would be covered in snow.

In midwinter the road is only accessible by snow-cat buses fitted with extra wide tracks, rather than wheels, which take skiers to the snowfields. From the top carpark, the timber Snow Gums boardwalk snakes through sub-alpine woodlands where gnarled trees grow at odd angles.

Pockets of snow scattered in shady areas are a sure sign that winter is coming. From the lookout, views of the rolling hills stretch to the misty horizon.

The next day we continued along the Way to Thredbo where the beanie-clad dashed from their cars to warm shops in the Alpine Village.

The displays of skis, snowboards, poles and the latest in colourful mountain wear added to the air of excitement. A cold icy southerly and the report of snowfalls at over 1600m would have cheered skiers and snowboarders.

Under rainy skies we queued at the Kosciuszko Express Gondola which climbs year round 2000m to the top station.

Soon we were being pelted with sago-like pellets, some of which stuck to our clothes. Halfway up, the sago storm stopped and was replaced with steady flaky snow.

The 15-minute ride was soon over and we were guided by an attendant over the slippery ice pathway leading to Eagles Nest, at 1937m the highest restaurant in Australia, which greets you with a warm fire after the bum-freezing ride.

We enjoyed toasted raisin bread and hot chocolate with our backs to the fire while we watched others dismount the chairlift and traverse the path "penguin style".

Our planned 13km return walk to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko was dashed when rangers advised the trail was closed due to poor visibility, ice and strong winds.

In Thredbo, there are many activities such as abseiling, climbing, bobsledding, quadbiking, horseriding and walks.

Pick up a map from the visitor centre and try the two-hour self-guided eco walk, discovering many of the alpine plants growing around the snow line, such as silver snow daisy, alpine myrtle, trigger plants, mountain ash, and snow gum.

You might even spot a wombat or pygmy possum.

Returning to Jindabyne, we called into the award-winning Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery where free schnapps tasting is available.

After sampling the peach, apple, butterscotch and pear flavours of the belly-warming "drink of the mountains" we chatted with other travellers around the fire.

Dead Horse Gap, at 1580m on the Great Dividing Range, is a good place to stop to try cross-country skiing, tobogganing, building a snowman, having a snow fight or just enjoying the many species of plants that survive above the snow line.

Heavy snow continued to fall and with visibility down to 20m, we were forced to stop at the next layby as we watched the snow pile on the branches.

The woodlands came to life when a flame robin landed on a snow gum branch. Flicking its tail and wing and sounding off a cheeky "tick- tick", it was the only colour and sound in the stark black and white landscape.

The steep and winding road leads to Tom Groggin campground, the highest elevation accessible by car of the Murray River which flows another 2575km through New Souty Wales and Victoria, finishing near Goolwa in South Australia.

We continued on The Alpine Way through tall stands of mountain ash which thrive on sheltered slopes next to the road into Geehi and Khancoban.

Driving into Australia's highest town, Cabramurra (1488m), we slowed due to poor visibility from snow, low cloud and mist. Gutterless houses had long steep roofs to allow the heavy snow to easily slide off, piling up against the sides of buildings.

Crossing to the Snowy Mountains Highway, we headed to the abandoned gold mining town of Kiandra where, in 1859, more than 10,000 miners tried their luck in freezing conditions. We headed off the highway into the relocated town of Adaminaby, a place where fly fishermen are lured by rainbow and brown trout.

The original town of Adaminaby lies under the waters of Lake Eucumbene, a man-made lake which is part of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and is said to have a volume nine times that of Sydney Harbour.

Adaminaby's claim to fame is that the film, The Sundowners, was shot there in 1959 as were some scenes of Phar Lap in 1984.

We continued over the plains through Cooma before returning to Jindabyne to hitch up our caravan.

fact file

Consider driving the Kosciuszko Alpine Way at different times of the year for a rewarding scenic experience.

Use Jindabyne as a start/finishing point, leaving your caravan there as the road is unsuitable. In winter, snow chains are compulsory for two-wheel-drive vehicles. At high altitudes use and reapply sunscreen frequently and wear layers of clothing.

Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre is on Monaro Highway, Cooma, phone 1800 623 776.

Jindabyne Discovery Caravan Park - 1800 248 148 or email jindabyne@discoveryparks.com.au

Jindabyne Snowy Mountains Visitor Centre is on (02) 6450 5600.

The West Australian

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