Blue lake dreaming

Published in Luxury Travel, Issue 42, Autumn 2010

Looking out from Charlotte’s Pass, the Snowy Mountains look chiselled from pink marble. The dust storm that swept through New South Wales just weeks before has left ripples of dusky pink and orange across the snowdrifts on the peaks.

Hidden behind one of these marbled ridges is Blue Lake, an under appreciated marvel of Kozscuisko National Park and our destination on this trek. The walk is graded easy and can be taken as a day-trip or extended into an overnight trek. Equipped with walking poles and daypacks – containing windcheaters, water booties and snow gaiters – we feel ready for anything. From Charlotte’s Pass the trail descends sharply into the valley, where we quickly discover the reason for the water booties. It’s late spring and the stepping-stones that lead across the Snowy River are smothered in a rush of icy meltwater. Feeling brave, we plunge in and survive about five paces before we’re all cursing like pirates. We survive without any major frostbite though, and with our feet back in warm socks we start the gentle climb up the mountain. I’d had high hopes of seeing native wildlife on our walk, but as we pass above the tree line it becomes obvious that any animal able to survive here must be either very small or very hard to find. (The rare pygmy possum, almost a mascot for the region, ticks both of these boxes.)

Yet despite first appearances, this is no barren wasteland. Very soon, we spot wildflowers starting to bloom alongside the track. At first we only find cheerful alpine buttercups but as we move higher up we start to see the spiky white petals of marsh marigolds shimmering in the meltwater streams. Marsh marigolds love cold water and are only ever found beneath snowdrifts, where the melting snow keeps them cool and wet. They are often completely submerged beneath the meltwater, surviving only because of the waxiness of their petals.

The park’s wildflowers are one of the biggest summer drawcards for the region. From the first bloom, the mountains become a shifting palette of white, yellow, purple and orange as the various species come into season, flower and then finally fade away. Experiencing it all would take a whole season.As we gain in altitude, we strap on our snow gaiters and cross the first of many snowdrifts. Hiking across snow in shorts and a t-shirt is a little unusual perhaps, but none of us is complaining. Finally we mount a crest and gain our first glimpse of Blue Lake. Nestled in the cup of a deep glacial valley, the intensity of the lake’s colour is startling. And with blue sky overhead, we’re seeing it at its bluest and best. As if to top off the scene, the lake is fringed by spectacular rocky cliffs and a waterfall of meltwater that tumbles over and under the snow.

Our guide points to a better vantage point across a steep snowdrift and we stride off into one of the most adventurous moments of the trek. Looking down, I’m suddenly extremely glad to be carrying a walking stick. What happens if we fall? Our guide laughs and assures us he’ll come and collect us when we reach the bottom. Avoiding an impromptu toboggan ride becomes the next order of business for the day. On the return journey, the river is even higher. We all feel like veteran alpine explorers by this time though, and make the crossing in record time. Back at Lake Crackenback Resort, we cap the day off, like all civilised alpine explorers, with a visit to the day spa. Massages are available for those wanting to soothe complaining muscles, and a full range or facials and treatments are also available including a luxurious, if therapeutically dubious, 24-carat gold facial.

Accommodation options at Lake Crackenback Resort include four-anda- half star units and the five-star gold and platinum mountain view chalets. The chalets come as either studios or two- or three-bedroom units and many have wide verandahs to soak up the afternoon sun as well winter features like spacious drying rooms and cosy fireplaces. The chalets are privately owned and are available under the Lake Crackenback banner via a leasing arrangement, so furnishings and appointments can vary. It’s worth taking a virtual tour of the chalets on offer (through the Lake Crackenback Resort website) before making your booking.

Only a short hop from the ski tube, the resort was clearly positioned to make the most of the ski season, yet even in summer it has much to offer. It’s surrounded by day walks and mountain bike trails and it’s easy to step out the front door and straight into Australia’s wild high country. At dusk I stumble into joey and its mother. And take a walk at the right time of day and you might just bump into a wombat.