The Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme has been described as the smartest thing Australia ever built, but the integrated water and hydro-electric power utility is much more than just a marvel of engineering. While there are plenty of places you can view the magnificent sights of the Scheme – like dams, power stations, and pumping stations – there’s no better place to begin than the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre in Cooma. From there, it’s a short drive to the townships of Adaminaby and Talbingo, where there are further opportunities to discover more about the Scheme and appreciate its size and significance.
The Snowy Hydro Scheme is an impressive construction that can generate large amounts of peak-load electricity. It took 25 years to build, which reflects its size and complexity, and it played a significant role in Australia’s history. Around 100,000 people worked on the Scheme between 1949 and 1974, with two thirds of them immigrants, mostly from war-devastated Europe, which brought enormous cultural diversity to the young nation.
Snowy Hydro is now the largest hydro-electric scheme in the country, harnessing the waters of the Snowy River to provide electricity and diverting water through power stations into the catchments of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. There are many places in the region from which to see the various components of the scheme.
A visit to the Snowy Hydro Scheme lends itself perfectly to a day trip. From Canberra, it’s an easy hour’s drive down the Snowy Mountains Highway to Cooma, where you’ll find the Discovery Centre. It’s the kind of place that has something for people of all ages. There are hands-on interpretive exhibits, interactive displays, short films and plenty of activities like riding a power bike to see how much electricity you can generate.
From Cooma, it’s a quick hop to Adaminaby, where you’ll find the Snowy Scheme Museum. It holds materials relating to the design, construction and operation of the Scheme. Visitors can check out machinery, historic vehicles, laboratory equipment, surveying and drafting equipment, artworks, photographs, maps, plans, paper records, books, pamphlets, newsletters, small tools and equipment, precision instruments, medical equipment and domestic items of the Scheme’s era. Just check opening times before you go because these may vary.
If you’re keen to keep driving for another hour, head to Talbingo, home to the largest power station in the Scheme, Tumut 3. There is a Visitor Centre that has plenty of information and displays. Head up the road to Talbingo Reservoir and check out the imposing dam wall. A few minutes away are the Jounama release gates, where water is released into Blowering Reservoir.
The roads and drives around the Scheme are some of the most scenic in Australia, with many, like Snowy Mountains Highway and Alpine Way built specifically for the Scheme, so if it’s incredible mountain peaks, breathtaking views and winding roads you’re after, take a drive further afield and explore the region. There are display centres and visitor centres dotted around the Snowy Mountains, so you can choose your own adventure – you just need a decent guide book to help you plan your journey.
Why you’ll love it
- There is no shortage of imposing sights to see. With the Snowy Hydro Scheme boasting sixteen major dams, seven power stations and two pumping stations, you can take your pick of places to visit, and watch how the Scheme harnesses the power of nature to provide us with electricity.
- The Discovery Centre in Cooma is fascinating! The staff are friendly, you’ll find all the information you need, you can take a guided tour, take some photos or buy some memorabilia. Have fun with display screens that work in real time so you can see which generators are operating and how much electricity they’re producing.
- Pack yourself a picnic lunch and enjoy a picnic in Cooma next to a couple of impressive turbine runners, or further along the road to Adaminaby and Talbingo, where you can find spectacular views and gorgeous alpine vistas.
- The Snowy Hydro Scheme has been added to the National Heritage List in recent years, formalising its importance in Australia’s story and its well-deserved place in our nation’s history. The day trip is a great way to connect with that history and get up close to impressive structures and hear some moving stories.
Head to Cooma from Canberra on the Monaro Highway, then turn onto the Snowy Mountains Highway to reach Adaminaby and Talbingo.
If you decide to venture further into the Snowy Mountains, planning is essential. Self-driving can take you into some remote areas, and while there is a network of sealed roads, some may be closed in cooler weather. It is recommended that you carry chains during snow season if you’re going past Cooma.
There’s a handy driving guide for suggested itineraries and more information about the Scheme.
When to go
Spring, summer and autumn mean less crowds, fewer vehicles on the roads and less likelihood of road closures because of snow.
The snow season runs from June to October, peaking between July and August, so there is usually more traffic at that time as well.
- Duration: The Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre is only a couple of minutes from downtown Cooma and for those travelling south from Canberra, a little over one hour away. If you’re travelling on to Adaminaby, allow an extra 45 minutes, and another hour from there to Talbingo
- Distance from Canberra: Travel 95 km along the Monaro Highway to Cooma and then another 50 km to Adaminaby and just under another 100 km to Talbingo.
- Recommended for: Anyone interested in Australia’s history, construction, engineering, technology, science, how things work, and the wonders of nature.
- More information: Snowy Hydro Scheme
Have you visited the Snowy Hydro Scheme? What are your favourite parts?