Cooleman Plain is high up in the NSW Alps, in the northern part of Kosciuszko National Park. It’s a wide area of forest and grassland broken up by limestone cliffs and gorges, crystal clear creeks, the occasional hut, and the gem that is Blue Waterholes.
It’s reasonably easy to find as long as you’ve got a fairly rugged vehicle. The turnoff comes straight off the Snowy Mountains Highway. Drive down Long Plain Road and watch out for potholes, sharp corners, the occasional brumby- there are plenty of them on the grasslands. If you come in winter it’s also worth checking with the local parks service office (Tumut- you can get them on 6947 7025) before setting off, because the road does get closed off in poor weather.
Blue Waterholes is more than worth an hour or so on a bumpy road. The water really is blue, because of its chemical composition. The water rises from an underground source not too far from the campground, which explains why it’s icy cold even on a 40C summer day. Near the campsite swimming is strictly for the very hot and sweaty or the very, very brave, but the water warms up as it travels overland so walking downstream for a couple of kilometres brings you to warmer swimming holes that are just as pretty.
The walk down Cave Creek is worth it even if you don’t fancy a dip. The path snakes along the waterside and then hugs the inside of Clarke Gorge. Look straight down and you’ll probably see trout in the pools below. If you’ve brought a torch, a sense of adventure, and preferably an experienced caver with you, the entrance to Barbers Cave is close the track. Stick by it and before long you’ll find a beautiful waterfall with a nice pool at the bottom, ideal for a quiet swim.
There are more easily accessible caves on the Nichols Gorge track, which also starts from Blue Waterholes campground. Murray Cave was once decorated with white crystal stalactites and stalagmites, but sadly many of them have been broken off and ‘souvenired’ by the visitors of the past. It’s still worth a visit though – there are hanging shawls and other spectacular cave decorations in hard-to-reach places and as far as caves go, the floor is fairly even and the terrain friendly enough for kids and those who don’t enjoy small, enclosed spaces. Cooleman Cave involves a bit of a squeeze, though.
If you arrive early it’s possible to do both the Clarke and Nichols gorge tracks in a single day, but if you want the time to enjoy the scenery, explore the caves, and have a swim it’s better to stay overnight. The campground is pretty basic, just flat space, a bit of information, and a toilet, but it does the job and it’s usually nice and quiet. Just don’t forget the insect repellent- the march flies want to keep Blue Waterholes for themselves and they make a spirited attempt to drive off human visitors!
Jess Spate was born in Tumut, not far from Cooleman Plain. She now lives and works overseas, for an outdoor gear shop, but every time she comes home Blue Waterholes is on the must-visit list.