Tucked away in the southern corner of New South Wales, a couple of hours south of Canberra and straddling the border with Victoria, lies Kosciuszko National Park, home to Australia’s highest peak, Mt. Kosciuszko. Rising 2,228 meters (7,310 feet) within the Snowy Mountains (part of the Great Dividing Range), it’s significantly shorter than the highest sister summits of the other six continents, which are all veritable behemoths by comparison. Regardless, the trip up sounded like a pleasant day hike and, being only a short drive from the national park, we just had to check out the roof of Australia.

As it’s a bit of a stunted little mountain surrounded by a starker landscape, we weren’t sure what to expect; we even wondered if we’d be underwhelmed with the hike, especially after some of the epic tracks we did in New Zealand. As soon as we drove into the national park, though, any doubts we had were immediately put to rest. The intense sun was just beginning to rise over the dark slopes of the Great Dividing Range, painting the rolling landscape with warm, pastel hues. Tangled trees were aglow in the first light of day, and dozens of wallabies and kangaroos hopped and peeked through the tall grass.

We headed to Kosciuszko’s summit via the Main Track and Charlotte Pass, a 20-km circuit with a short 1.9 km return trail to the summit. It was a gorgeous day – full sunshine and a cool but comfortable 60°F (16°C). The only downside was the howling, 35-mph wind. With regular gusts topping out at 58 mph, our voices were completely overpowered and, consequently, neither of us spoke more than a dozen words the entire trip. The hike can be best described in only three words – barren but beautiful! The vegetation was sparse, except for some arid grasses and alpine daisies, trembling in the unrelenting wind, but the expansive, sun-drenched landscape was just stunning. We followed the track counter-clockwise, beginning with a creek crossing at the rippling Snowy River. Overall, we both found the first 12 km to the summit extension to be the most scenic; the trail dipped into and out of large valleys, weaving around hillsides, and climbing ridges with dramatic views to the distant ranges. While still surprisingly beautiful, the last 8 km overlooked a single, boulder-strewn valley – a fairly static vista compared to the earlier landscape. We speculated that if we ever repeated the hike, we’d probably just return the way we came, but we so rarely find a circuit track that we had to check out the entire loop. Regardless, we were both taken aback with Kosciuszko’s beauty, and were incredibly happy we squeezed it in as our final Aussie adventure.

Total Distance: 13.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,305 feet