Lake Crackenback: beautiful one day magnificent the next

Sunrise on Lake Crackenback.  Photograph: Candida Baker
Sunrise on Lake Crackenback. Photograph: Candida Baker

 A holiday at Lake Crackenback can be as fast or as slow as you like, Candida Baker discovered when she fulfilled a long-held dream to visit the Snowy Mountains in summer.

So there we are, my daughter and I, riding down what I personally would call a steep hill, in the company of Nev Barrass and his partner Linda who run Thredbo Valley Horse Riding. Nev’s in front on a small, somewhat nervy chestnut, who is prancing and dancing his way along the track, and I’m next on William, a taller, and I’m pleased to say, much more sedate mount.

I’m talking ‘horse’ with Barrass, as we horse owners do, and I’m saying to him, how, in all my years of riding I’ve never actually cantered or galloped down a really steep slope.

“I’m guessing,” I say, “that this would be too steep?”

Well, of course, a Mountain Man needs no further encouragement, and before you can say the Man from Snowy River, Nev is off in a sliding avalanche of gravel, mud and stones at a breakneck speed.

Just for a second William thinks his luck’s changed and perhaps we’ll be following. I point his head firmly into a tree and tell him to stand.

“Nev,” I shout, somewhat plaintively. “Come back!” So he does, equally fast. His little horse is in a hoof-stomping state of delight, and I would swear minus, the hooves, so is Nev. Because even though, at the time of riding, he is full of creaks and aches due to what he calls an “early dismount” a few weeks ago, it’s obvious that he loves what he does.

For my daughter and I, the decision to ride was a last minute one.   We were staying just up the road at the Lake Crackenback Resort and spa on a few days rest and recreation and the cool fine weather, and a window of opportunity was just too tempting.

Nev Barrass and his partner in business and life Linda Falconer giving the horses a run.

Nev Barrass from Thredvo Valley Horse Riding and his partner in business and life Linda Falconer, giving the horses a run.

Two mornings before, our first morning at Lake Crackenback, I’d tried a different kind of riding – a mountain bike ride, under the tutelage of the Cycling Coordinator, Craig Trevallion. Unfortunately I’d arrived with a pinched calf muscle (at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), so we had to take a very sedate tour of the resort and its surrounding grounds, but for me it was a stunning introduction into the beautiful landscape of the Snowy Mountains in summer, (which has been on my bucket list for years) and I was happy to potter, with the occasional dismount for hills, while more serious bike aficionados sped past us. Craig took us down to the beautiful Thredbo River, relatively calm at this time of year, and pointed out the numerous wombat holes along the way. On the way back we saw a couple of Gang Gang cockatoos, and as we went around the back of one of the clusters of chalets, a herd of happy kangaroos, sleeping in the summer sun by the lake.

The lake is the main feature of the resort, which is on 150 acres, and surrounded by the Kosciuszko national park. The only visible accommodation when you drive in are the low-rise apartments, in their muted bush-friendly colours jutting out into the lake, with a stunning background of mountains behind them.   Behind the various hills are clusters of houses, all built of stone, wood and tin, nestling into their bush environment, hidden from view until you get out and about on a bike, or on Shank’s pony.

Craig Trevallion, the Cycling Coordinator on the cycling track next to the Thredbo River.

Craig Trevallion, the Cycling Coordinator on the cycling track next to the Thredbo River.

The apartment we were staying in was substantial – two large bedrooms, a spacious living and dining area, two bathrooms, a balcony and a sizeable laundry. The main bedroom opened onto the verandah, and in the living room two large windows, nestled between the fireplace, looked straight out over the water. At the edge of the lake there are free canoes, kayaks, and a paddleboard for guests to use, and there were kids of all (water-safe) ages out enjoying their water sports. And, the absolute best bit of all, once we’d got freezing cold in the lake it was only a hundred metres straight across the road to the heated swimming pool.

Heated swimming pools, fireplaces – in an Australian summer, I hear you ask – really?! Well, here’s the thing about mountain weather, it’s as changeable as a teenager’s moods, sunny one moment, glowering the next. In three days we experienced the full gamut – brilliant hot sunshine, pouring rain and one surprisingly cold night where we snuggled around the fire and drank hot chocolate. An occupation you’d normally associate with winter.

In the winter of course, Lake Crackenback is a snow resort, and although it doesn’t have skiing itself, it’s easy to get on to the ski-tube to Perisher. Even in summer there are winter reminders – signs saying ‘Please don’t walk on lake ice’, and large woodpiles outside each house or unit.

Cusine restaurant, complete with woodpile and resident wombat, is right on the lake.

The Cusine restaurant, complete with woodpile and resident wombat, is right on the lake.

It was seductively easy to stroll between the apartment and the two fabulous eateries, the Alpine Larder and Cuisine, (which between them were responsible for pounds going on rather than coming off, despite the various forms of exercise) and I loved the easy access to the pool and gym, and last but by no means least, there is the luxurious day spa where we sampled a Moroccan hand treatment and scalp massage. Immersed in the warm, welcoming room, filled with the scent of roses and oils, it was easy to forget that just outside was the ‘weather’ – that all important subject of mountain conversation, dictating, as it does, everybody’s movements.

We were lucky because apart from the odd squall and the one, almost refreshingly cold night, the weather was clement, so much so that the even the dreaded bush flies I’d been warned about weren’t too bad. But nevertheless taking aeroguard is a good idea, and if you forget, the Activate Centre where you hire bikes, or book river rapid rides (not for the faint-hearted, or so I was told), has plenty of sunscreen and fly repellent on hand.

The Activate centre is also where you go for your ‘Segway’ experience, and if you haven’t ridden a Segway yet, if you get a chance, give it a go. Our first Segway outing was around Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra but in Crackenback it was much more exciting – the all-terrain Segways loved the hills, and within ten minutes or so, our Segway group was ready for action. It’s truly a brilliant form of exercise – all pleasure and no exertion. According to Matt Tripet, the Activate Centre manager who takes out the Segway tours, it’s something just about everybody can do. “We had an 85-year-old here once, on his walking frame,” he told me, “and he loved it. We also had a young man with cerebral palsy, who had never been able to do anything active. He came here every day just to watch, and one day he persuaded his mother to let him have a go, and he was stoked. It was the first time that he’d ever been able to move independently outside of his wheelchair.”

Matt Tripet, the Activate Centre Manager, shows us how it's done while the kangaroos look on

Matt Tripet, the Activate Centre Manager, shows us how it’s done while the kangaroos look on.

Perhaps, more than anything, those stories sum up what Lake Crackenback is all about. Even in the summer, you can, if you so wish, push yourself to the physical limits of endurance – there’s Mt Kosciuszko to climb nearby, there’s riding the rapids in the freezing cold river, all-day mountain bike hike, extreme bush-walking and hiking; or at the other end of the scale, you could just sit comfortably on your balcony overlooking the lake and read a book, or even paint. You could quite easily pretend you were on a lake in the Swiss Alps, as part of a European Grand Tour in days gone by, and it is very much a place to indulge in painting or photography if those are your interests. The resort even run landscape photography workshops there with acclaimed landscape photographer Michael Scott Lees, which are booked out almost as soon as they are advertised.

As for wildlife spotting, we’d been told night-time was obviously the time to catch sight of a wombat (they’re nocturnal), so we headed off one night in the car up the road towards Thredbo. We didn’t spot a wombat but we did see several herds of deer, and numerous kangaroos. (According to a local, the deer herds have built up since the devastating Canberra bush fires swept through the mountains ten years ago, when some domesticated deer were let loose. It seems a little ironic given the implacable position of the National Parks towards brumbies that the area is being overrun by deer, but that’s another story.) We drove back to the resort disappointed by our lack of wombat sighting, only to find another herd of deer on the village green, near the archery targets and trampolines, and, yes – wait for it, down there, what’s that? A real-live massive wombat, lumbering about in his passive way, his burrow only metres from the Cuisine restaurant where breakfast is served each morning. We were delighted with our ‘sighting’, and went off to bed tired but happy, as they say.

This wombat hole houses Wally the Wombat who boasts his own mailbox

This wombat hole houses Wally the Wombat who boasts his own mailbox

And talking of brumbies – the next morning, back at the Thredbo Valley Horse Riding HQ, Nev is telling me their best stock are either pure brumby, or part brumby. “They’re just amazing horses,” he says. “They have quiet, brave temperaments, they make great kids ponies, and they’re easy-going, as well as being sure-footed and tough.” Brumbies, he says, are his passion. “We’re part of the brumby advocacy programme, and we’ve been liaising with the National Parks to have aerial culling taken off the agenda. What we would like to do is to manage the genetics so that we keep the best of their characteristics. It’s only 50 years ago that families were still pulling brumbies off the mountains for their kids to ride to school, and we believe they are an important part of the mountain heritage.”

For visitors these days the mountain heritage is a rich experience – from the beautiful town of Jindabyne, nestled by the side of its massive lake, to a ride in the remotest mountains, or the comforts of the Lake Crackenback resort, it reminds me a little of the hill towns in India. During the height of the summer in India people leave the hot plains in droves for the cool mountains, and I’m convinced a trip to the Snowy every summer is (at least for me) an even more compelling idea than a trip to the snow.

How to get there:

We flew from Ballina to Sydney, and hired a car. It takes around six hours to drive, taking it in easy stages and it is a beautiful drive. The other option is to fly to Canberra and hire a car, or the nearest airport to the Snowy Mountains is Cooma.


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Candida Baker was a guest of the Lake Crackenback Resort and of Thredbo Valley Horse Riding.




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