Cooma is a New South Wales (Australia) country town of nearly 7,000 people and is generally regarded as the capital of the Snowy Mountains region. It is located about 110 kilometres south of Canberra (Australia’s Capital) and 90 kilometres from the ski resorts of the Snowy Mountains.
The town and region’s European history can be traced back to 1823 when European explorers Captain John Mark Currie, Major John Ovens and Joseph Wild meet with members of the Ngarigo Aboriginal people and saw the agricultural value of the Monaroo treeless downs just to the south of present day Cooma. Europeans brought cattle into the area in 1827 and by 1949 the village of Cooma had been established.
The town’s population significantly increased in the 1860s when gold was found in nearby Kiandra and again when the railway arrived in 1889. By 1900 the town was flourishing as a regional centre.
The next major event, and perhaps the one with the most lasting impact on Cooma, was the nearby Snowy Mountains Hydro-electricity and Irrigation Scheme which saw the construction of sixteen major dams; seven power stations; a pumping station; and 225 kilometres of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts between 1949 and 1974. This project saw the arrival of thousands of overseas workers into the town, mainly from post WWII Europe. Many of these immigrants (from some 28 countries) made Cooma home, accounting for the rich culture on display in Cooma today – not least in the range of ethnic cuisines on offer for such a relatively small town. This will strike you even if you just drive through the town. Now you know why it is so.
While snow sports in the Snowy’s (Aussie’s like to abbreviate everything) can be traced back to 1861 they have really taken off in recent years and tourism is now a major source of income for Cooma, as well as the alpine resort towns. While Cooma does not offer snow sports itself (due to lack of snow!), to get to the snowfields from Sydney or Canberra you have to pass through Cooma whether you chose to drive in or fly in. Cooma offers cheaper accommodation, dining and other facilities than can be found at the ski resorts and, as such, is an economically attractive option – with day trips to the snow being very feasible.
Though the majority of people visit in winter, a visit to the snowfields and the Snowy Mountains more generally (including Mt Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain with an easily accessible peak), is a great thing to do at any time of year. I actually prefer to go in the spring (after the snow has receded) or summer – absolutely beautiful.
I would be the first to admit that there are no absolute must sees in Cooma – by this I mean there is no Statue of Liberty, no Victoria Falls, and, recalling an episode of Fawlty Towers, you will not see herds of wildebeests from your hotel room in Cooma, as you wouldn’t from Fawlty Towers in Torquay. That said, Cooma will appeal to those who enjoy a pleasant stroll, those with an interest in local history or those simply in need of a break from driving. All in all, a very nice place to stop for 2-3 hours as you head too or from the Snowy Mountains.
The local council has mapped out a very worthwhile, easy going, five kilometres historic walk of the town, the ‘Lambie Town Walk’, which, at a relatively slow pace, takes about 2-3 hours though you could comfortably do it in 1.5 hours if you choose not to go into a couple sites along the way. If time was of the essence you can even “drive around the walk” and hop out for a closer look at the things that appeal to you. However you choose to do it, as the walk is not signposted, you will need to pick up a map at the tourist office, located in the town centre beside Centennial Park or download a copy from HERE – (http://visitcooma.com.au/attractions/lambie-town-walk/).
The walk covers almost everything you might want to see in the town – perhaps more than you might want to see (!) – though I also recommend you drive up to Nanny Goat Hill for a look over the town and take a short drive out of town to Mt Gladstone which has wonderfully scenic views across to the Snowy Mountains, from its peak. Additionally, for those interested in the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme, a stop at the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre on the Canberra side of the town is recommended.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that the snowman picture displayed at the top of this review portrays Cooma as the gateway to the Snowy Mountains and its ski resorts as opposed to it being a Christmas decoration.
In terms of the walk, in addition to some pleasant urban scenery (only a couple of hundred metres of the walk is along the main highway), I recommend a special look at the things listed below, in the order you will encounter them as you follow the walk. I have prepared a separate review on each which you can go directly to by clicking on the attraction name below though I recommend you follow the links at the end of each review, starting with this one. That way you will miss nothing!
The walk can be divided into four broad sections (the last three being National Trust Heritage Areas).
Here have a look at:
The Courthouse District – which developed in the 1860s and houses some very formal buildings for such a small town as Cooma.
Here you should have a look at:
Lambie Street District – Lambie Street is the original heart of the town and named after John Lambie – Commissioner for Crown Lands for the Monaroo region during the 1840s.
As you head towards the Church District you should stop for a look at:
Here you should have a look at:
Having completed the formal walk or indeed before you do the walk consider visiting a couple of lookouts for views across Cooma and the region.
Nanny Goat Hill
Nanny Goat Hill is in the centre of town and from the top you get a 360 degree view of Cooma and the surrounding country side. Atop the hill there is a car park and picnic area.
Also and very fittingly, at the lookout on top of the hill you will find a sculpture of a nanny goat. The sculpture was created by Chris Graham, a local artist who also was lead artist on the Mosaic Time Walk in Centennial Park and the diorama at the Cenotaph.
Access to Nanny Goat Hill is via a short road of Massie Street between Creek and Soho Street.
Mt Gladstone Lookout
Mt Gladstone Lookout and Nature Reserve comprises 125 hectares of native bushland about 4 kilometres from the Centre of Cooma as you head towards the Snowy Mountains. A lookout on the top of Mt Gladstone allows good views across the Monaro Plains and to the Snowy Mountains. In winter you will be able to see the snow covered peaks but they are some distance away.
Near the lookout there are covered picnic tables (with no views), barbecue facilities, toilets and ample parking.
Just below the summit there is Miss Heidi’s (Austrian/German ) Tea House – with views. While I have not frequented the tea house the menu which includes hot chocolate, mulled wine (during winter), tortes, pancakes and apple strudel does appeal and it is well reviewed on Trip Advisor.
Getting there: Head out of Cooma towards Jindabyne ( the mountains) and in about 4kms turn left onto Mount Gladstone Road and follow it to the lookout. Lookout for the old wagon (advertising the tea-house) – this is at the turnoff onto Gladstone Road.
My next Cooma Review – HERE