Winter provided a perfect ski season in the Australian Alps but the fun doesn't have to stop now spring is here, writes Dani Wright.
As the snow thaws at Thredbo alpine village, a new season of fun begins. There may no longer be a need for skis, but the melting snow turns into fast-flowing water, creating opportunities for other adrenalin sports, like white-water rafting and kayaking.
"Spring time is my favourite time of year when the mountains are blanketed in wildflowers on back-country walks and everywhere the rivers are pumping," says Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa manager Jay Williams. "It's so good here year-round — from skiing in winter to kayaking, mountain biking or hiking in spring and summer. Everyone always has a smile on their faces — we have such an active community."
I've enlisted Jay to take me up the mountain with my son Henry (12) and daughter Georgina (9) as part of a guided mountain-biking experience. He kindly gives me an e-bike so it's easier to keep up with the kids and chooses a trail from the more than 25km of scenic trails beside Lake Crackenback, Thredbo River and in among natural bushland with views of the Kosciuszko National Park.
It doesn't take long to appreciate the e-bike as Henry races ahead across the bumpy stones, skidding across bridges and jumping over tree roots (when we do catch a glimpse of him far ahead), but Georgina is surprisingly terrified of the terrain, even though she loves bike riding.
Jay coaxes her on with much patience and by the end of the ride she has a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of exhilaration at conquering her fears . . . and, importantly for the first day of the holiday, no broken bones after the beautiful, but bumpy trails.
She's far less nervous on the chairlift up the mountain afterwards, despite 120km/h winds making it rock and roll a bit more than I'd like. We get to the top to enjoy hot chocolates and spectacular views from Eagle's Nest, the highest restaurant in Australia, but soon have to make a quick retreat down the mountain, just before the chairlift is closed for the day due to the high winds.
A short drive to the country-cottage-cosy Crackenback Farm Restaurant and we're warming up by the fire as heavy rain streams down large windows, lightning intermittently brightening the garden courtyard and thunder shaking the shutters as we feast on delicious local salmon and handmade gnocchi in this mountain hideaway.
Proving that every day's different on the mountain, we wake to the sun shining and calm conditions so head over to Jindabyne Dam to abseil down and rock climb up huge boulders with Acacia Rose, owner of K7 Adventures.
Henry is first over the top and I see fear in his eyes as he takes his first step backwards down the steep rockface, as well as excitement as he runs back up from the bottom to try it again (and again, and again). We each take turns on the different-sized slopes.
At each step, Acacia urges us on in a firm, but friendly, tone. At the halfway mark up the largest stack of boulders, when I've well and truly had enough and pushed myself further than I wanted to, she somehow manages to talk me up even higher, to the very top. It's a great feeling (once it's over) and the memory, and lesson, is long lasting.
Shaky legs deserve a seat, however, so we calm our nerves at Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery & Cafe. The kids run around the sculpture garden outside the window as I sip Schnappy Cap — a cappuccino with a heavy dose of Wild Brumby's butterscotch Schnapps.
Taste it and you'll never want a cappuccino any other way.
Apart from the schnapps, which I'm told by the distiller should be drunk "before, during and after dinner, lunch and breakfast to keep yourself warm and happy in winter", there's also a range of gin, dear to the heart of the Snowy Mountain pioneers — Europeans who brought a good supply of Dutch gin with them as they built up the region.
As the kids explore the raspberry patch and sculpture garden, I chat to the locals in the cafe. It seems the fresh air and outdoorsy lifestyle puts a spring in the townspeople's step — there's a noticeably different demeanour at Thredbo than at many tourist towns, where people tend to be openly weary of visitors.
After a weekend facing our fears on the windy chairlift, down the steepest trails, up tall boulders and high in the air, Cascades French Bistro in the alpine village is the perfect place to chatter about the experiences. We eat rainbow trout caught that morning, oysters and drink wine, with zesty-fresh rhubarb crumble to finish, as relaxing jazz plays on the stereo.
Lining the walls are large black and white photographs of people long ago enjoying the fresh air, adventure sports, fantastic food and friendly atmosphere at Thredbo, just as we have on our family-friendly holiday.
For us, the Snowy Mountains has it all — even out of season. It's a holiday destination in driving distance from Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne, and worth a visit no matter what the weather.
Air NZ, Qantas, Jetstar and LATAM fly direct from Auckland to Sydney. Connect to Cooma, the airport of the Snowy Mountains, with
Thredbo Alpine Apartments are right in the heart of the village,astone's throw from the base of the chairlift with mountain views from the balcony.
Take a day trip to Yarrangobilly Caves in the Kosciuszko National Park for a dip in a thermal hot pool and a walk through impressive caves, with sculptures of stalactites and cave coral.