Blue Waterholes the backway

Keep your cool and go underground


Who doesn’t like a quick dip on a hot summer’s day? And it will be quick, as the underground streams that feed Cave Creek remain very cold, even in mid-summer. And yes, there’s even a couple of caves to explore.

Blue Waterholes is an excellent spot that is overlooked by many as they spend time bagging the highest mountain in Australia or just chillin’ in Jindy. The northern part of Kosciuszko NP offers a lot of areas to explore without the crowds of the Thredbo/Jindabyne side of the Park.

Where is this?

Blue Waterholes is located 120km north of Cooma and only 110km south-west of Canberra. If you are heading down from Canberra it is best to be in a high-clearance 4WD as some of the track can be rutted and become very slippery in rain. Just make sure none of the Canberra pollies follow you – they’d be guaranteed to spoil your trip.

The route from Canberra is via Brindabella Road, Barnetts Road, Bramina Road and then on to Broken Cart Trail before getting on to Long Plain Road. Some of these roads are gated and locked between the June and the October long weekend. The road from Cooma is via Rules Point – also being suitable for horse floats if you want to saddle up and ride with the brumbies.

You’ll need to take the horses to Cooinbil Hut as they are not allowed at Blue Waterholes. Apart from the Christmas/New Year holidays and Easter, you are likely to have your pick of the campsites at either Cooleman Mountain or Blue Waterholes. Both have pit toilets, grassy sites and fireplaces; and some have tables. Excellent camping in a terrific location in the High Country, which is pretty easy to get to.

The caves

Cooleman Cave is the easiest to access and provides the opportunity for the family to take a torch and explore a limestone cave. Most people will only go about 20 metres but the more adventurous could go a lot further. Some of the caves are more serious in depth and distance; so they require experience, skills and specialised equipment to make it back out again.


The first Europeans to explore the caves were stockmen back in the 1830s, with the area being recognised and reserved for public recreation in 1882. Murrays Cave is further up Cave Creek and is least visited. A lot of the water in Cave Creek is actually running underground and doesn’t surface until the Blue Waterholes.

The huts

Grazing commenced in the 1830s with the establishment of some stockyards at the Cooleman run. The Cooleman Homestead and ancillary buildings are worth visiting and are just off the road leading in to the waterholes. The two-room slab hut was built in 1883 with additional buildings being built since. The last permanent resident of Cooleman Homestead left in 1958.

The buildings fell into disarray until the process of stabilisation and reconstruction occurred in the 1980s. In the days before pink batts and roof insulation, newspaper provided both insulation and a form of wallpaper in the huts. Some of this can still be seen and it gives an insight into life before TVs and smartphones.

The Gorge

The first creek crossing prior to Clarkes Gorge will probably have you taking your shoes off to keep them dry. By the third crossing, you’ll probably just be walking through – boots and all. There are quite a few creek crossings as you walk through Clarkes Gorge looking up at its grey, almost vertical walls of limestone. The track is narrow and rocky, and is not the easiest of tracks; but it has a fairly shallow gradient. Just take it slow; the Gorge is a great walk.

As you exit the eastern side of the Gorge, the rough track continues on towards a picturesque waterfall before plunging into Wilkinsons Gorge. We were warned by another walker to look out for black snakes on the track. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we saw one slithering off the track as our leader stepped over it. A good track not to let the kids run out in front! If you get all the way down to the falls and back, expect to take a couple of hours to cover the 5km return trip.

Apparently there are trout in Cave Creek and fishing is allowed. This would be a great place to throw a line in – even if you didn’t catch anything. The fire trails would be a good mountain bike ride as they would take you further afield. You may even spot some of the activity of a new Snowy Mountains Scheme near Tantangara Reservoir to the south.


Blue Waterholes is an excellent camping spot with plenty of activities – including putting your feet up and watching time pass. Off the beaten track, yet not far from the big smoke of Canberra… it’s surprising how few people visit.

Destination details

  • Nearest town: Talbingo is around 40km away via the Snowy Mountains Highway.
  • When to go: The access tracks are closed between the June and October long weekends (and longer if the weather requires). Spring and autumn are the most pleasant, but expect cold temperatures any time.
  • Accommodation: Camping at Cooleman Mountain and Blue Waterholes campgrounds.
  • Difficulty: High clearance 4WD via Broken Cart Trail or 2WD from Rules Point.
  • Further info:

Words and Images by Gary Tischer