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Published May 7th 2019
Enjoy a stunning landscape, adventure, animals & a waterfall
If you are looking for a spectacular, adventurous and challenging hike in the Long Plain area of Kosciuszko National Park I can definitely recommend hiking through Clarke Gorge. You will enjoy a number of outstanding natural features on this hike including the towering limestone cliffs of the gorge, access to caves, animal spotting, blue swimming holes, a stunning waterfall and perhaps even a swim if you are brave enough.
The trail starts from the Blue Waterholes Camping Ground and is signposted as a 5km return loop. While this may sound like an easy walk, it is actually classified by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service as Grade 5 and is moderate to hard. It is also important to note the suggested time frame for this walk is between 3.5 and 4.5 hours, so be sure to allow enough time before sunset.
The walk commences at the Blue Waterholes Cave, a striking feature which instantly grabs your attention, quickly followed by the exotic looking Blue Waterholes spring which is fed by Cave Creek.
The aptly named Blue Waterholes sits in the Cooleman Plain karst landscape which is formed of limestone and dates from around 400 million years ago. This karst environment features more than 100 caves, underground rivers, springs and sinkholes. The greenish-blue tinted colour of the spring and creek is due to the high calcium carbonate content in the water, dissolved from the surrounding limestone. While it may be difficult to resist the inviting appearance of the water, before you plunge right in you should know that this water is freezing cold pretty much all year round.
After checking out the cave follow the signs to the Clarke Gorge trail. The gorge was named after a geologist, the Rev W.B. Clarke, who studied the area in the 1850s.
One of many river crossings to navigate on this hike
To gain access to the gorge there are two river crossings, both relatively easy with good sized rocks to walk across. However, if you plan to go all the way through the gorge and then on to the waterfall, you can expect many more river crossings (there are 10 each way) and they do become more difficult and require scrambling over rough and slippery surfaces.
For this hike, it's a good idea to prepare for having wet feet, legs and possibly a wet backside if you do take a tumble on a slippery rock. If you're not keen on the idea of wet hiking boots I would recommend wearing reef shoes on this hike. They will protect your feet from the rocky bed of the creek and you won't have the hassle of taking your shoes off and then putting them back on the whole way. While your feet will still be cold and wet in reef shoes, they will hopefully be protected from getting cuts and bruises on the unstable bed of the rocky creek.
The walk through the narrow gorge is magnificent with the dramatic and sheer limestone cliffs towering above you. The walking track crisscrosses the creek many times as it hugs each side of the gorge. You will notice the water in Cave Creek is crystal clear and there are some stunning deeper pools amongst the rocks. If you are really lucky and very quiet, you may see some platypus in the cold clear water of the creek.
You may see some platypus in the clear water of the creek
Near the end of the gorge, the route becomes even more challenging as the walking track is difficult to find in some places. However if you keep walking downstream for another 30 minutes you will be rewarded with the dramatic sight of Cave Creek Falls (also known as Cooleman Falls), dropping 15 metres over a steep cliff and then continuing on its way until eventually meeting up with the Goodradigbee River and the Bimberi Wilderness.
The view from the top of Cave Creek Falls looking out to the Bimberi Wilderness
It is a challenging scramble down a steep hill to the base of the waterfall but if you can manage it, it is a lovely place to rest, admire the beautiful waterfall and stunning scenery and reflect on the adventurous hike so far. For those hoping for a swim, there is a pool to plunge in to at the bottom of the waterfall, but I wouldn't expect to stay in for too long in the chilly water.
It took us around 1.5 hours to hike to the waterfall. However, we did take it quite slowly as we had a large group with us and took our time getting across the river crossings. However, on our return hike, we were much faster and it only took us around 50 minutes to get back to the Blue Waterholes Camping Ground.
Clarke Gorge is located on the Blue Waterholes Trail in Kosciuszko National Park. From the Snowy Mountains Highway, turn off on the Long Plain Road, travel around 17km and turn right on to the Blue Waterholes Trail. Travel around 8.5 km to the Blue Waterholes Camping Ground. The Blue Waterholes trail is accessible via 2WD in dry weather only. It's a good idea to check conditions before you set out, as Long Plain Road and Blue Waterholes Trail can become boggy when it rains.
It is important to note that the Long Plain Road gates are locked from the end of the long weekend in June to the beginning of the long weekend in October each year. Gates may also be locked at other times due to inclement conditions such as snow or bushfires.
For information about visiting this region please contact the Tumut Region Visitor Information Centre or click here.