Alpine grassland with summer snowdrifts may not spring to mind when thinking of Australia, but that's what you'll find in the Ramshead Range near Thredbo. This undulating upland with distinctive rocky tors is great for casual wandering, and for camping with a view.
I first came across the Ramshead Range back in the early eighties and have been back many times since. The area isn't hard to find. If you visit Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales in summer, as thousands do, one of the most popular activities is to hike to the top of Mt Kosciuszko. Australia's highest peak is a 13km return walk from the top of the chairlift at Thredbo, along a raised metal walkway (to protect the fragile vegetation). As you head towards Kosciuszko, the Ramshead Range is the area of rocky peaks to the left.
Being so accessible doesn't always mean the Ramshead Range is well visited. Sure, on a busy summer day when the track to Kosciuszko is crowded, many will be drawn away from the busy route to explore the craggy but easy to climb peaks. But on a day when the weather is less than ideal, or outside the holiday season, you might share the area with just a handful of people ... or nobody at all.
So why would anyone leave a well graded easy walkway to explore rocky and uneven ground with no tracks? Getting away from the crowds is enough reason for some. Then there are the modest rocky peaks - attractive and alluring, but able to be climbed by any moderately fit person who doesn't mind a bit of scrambling.
The views from the Ramshead Range are also an attraction, in places being as extensive as from Kosciuszko. The highest peaks of the Ramsheads are some of the highest in Australia. Alpine wildflowers can be spectacular around late spring and early summer (November to January), adding carpets of colour to any walk.
For me, the appeal of the Ramsheads is the sense of being in another world, a unique and special one. Away from the Kosciuszko walkway, it feels remote and isolated (even though it's not), far removed from the busier and hotter world down below. The interesting shapes of the granite tors give the whole area character, which changes with the light. Walking here is a pleasure. Despite the lack of tracks the walking is straightforward as long as you look where you put your feet. It's a landscape almost begging to be explored, something not difficult to do.
Camping out is a good way to experience the moods of the Ramsheads, not to mention the potentially memorable sunrises and sunsets. There are no facilities for this so you have to be self sufficient, but the accessibility of the area comes in handy here. It's not very far to hike with camping gear, and it's not very far back to civilisation (the top of the Thredbo chairlift) should the weather turn nasty. Some of my favourite camping spots are in the Ramsheads, on gently sloping grassy patches near peaks with fantastic views to wake up to.
In spring and early summer there are normally a few snow drifts scattered around, leftover from the winter snow season. Apart from being scenic, these ensure a steady supply of chilled drinking water.
A few words of caution - the Ramshead Range is high and exposed, and can experience snow and cold at any time of year. Problems can easily be avoided by staying alert to weather forecasts and taking warm and waterproof gear.
Water from streams should be treated before drinking. I've drunk straight from snowmelt and usually it was okay, but once I did get gastro badly ... so now I always use purification tablets. Watch out for snakes too. They are easily avoided, but if you don't watch where you put your feet and tread on a venomous one, as I almost did once, it could spoil your day! March flies can be a nuisance in summer, especially January, but their numbers vary from year to year. Walking on a windy day reduces their annoyance levels.
Even if you don't camp out or venture far, anyone going for a wander onto the Ramshead Range will be rewarded with a taste of alpine landscape not quite like anywhere else in Australia.