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Grampians Peaks Trail

Walking on Flat Rock with the Stapylton Ampitheatre behind.

Parks Victoria has moved to start work on the much anticipated long-distance walking trail traversing the length of the Grampians National Park. This project has been a long time coming and one of which has been of particular interest to myself and to a number of other Victorian bushwalkers who have talked about just such a walk over the last 20 years or so.

The proposed Grampians Peaks Trail will link Mt Zero in the north to the town of Dunkeld in the south. The total distance will be approximately 148km and should take most walkers between 12 and 14 days to complete. The first stage of the Grampians Peak Trail will be to create a three-day walking loop from Halls Gap to a proposed new Rosea Hikers Campground then on to Borough Huts Campground to eventually finish back at Halls Gap. Funds of $1.6 million were approved by the Victorian Government and announced on 29 June 2010. Walkers will be able to complete sections of the trail, shorter loops or walk the entire distance (known as ‘through walkers’). The southern section of the walk will follow the Mt William Range all the way to its end (crossing Yarram Gap) to cross back over to the Serra Range and on to Signal Peak, Mt Abrupt and Mt sturgeon.

This afternoon I chatted with Graham Parks, District Chief Ranger of the Grampians National Park about the trail. He felt that this was a really exciting concept and that the first stage of the walk would be completed within 2 years or so. Funding after this period should see the entire trail completed within 5 years.

The construction of major new walking trails has largely been forgotten in Victoria, and (partly) due to funding cuts to Parks Victoria many of our best established walking trails are now in various stages of disrepair. This is especially evident in our alpine areas which has had no real trail development for as long as I can remember. Other states such as the Northern Territory (the Larapinta Trail), Queensland (The Fraser Island Great Walk) and Western Australia (the Bibbulmun Track) have recognised the importance that high-quality long-distance walks bring to their tourism industry. It’s also worth noting that each of these walks are carefully designed so that sections of the trail can be completed in shorter day stages to cater for the growing numbers of daywalkers.

Probably my greatest concern regarding the Grampians Peaks Trail was where it would be routed (especially in the Southern Grampians). I feared that Parks Victoria would take the soft option and use fire-breaks and 4WD tracks to save themselves money and time. I was pleasantly surprised when Graham said that about 60% of the walk would follow newly constructed dedicated walking trails and that the rest of the walk would follow established walking trails (many of which will be substantially upgraded). That means no walking along 4WD tracks. A big tick here. We only have to look at the Great Ocean Walk to see just how a walking trail should NOT be designed. The Great Ocean Walk follows too many shared-use 4WD tracks and has earned it the unfortunate nickname as the Not So Great Ocean Walk. Long-distance walks require a complete avoidance of all roads and 4WD tracks (except where it is necessary to cross them). It is easy to push walkers along an established 4WD track to save money (instead of constructing a dedicated walking trail) but this only serves to greatly reduce the natural experience that walkers rightly expect. Once the designers of these trails realise that walkers do not want to share their space with vehicles then maybe Victoria will see some better trails constructed. Having talked with Graham today I felt that maybe Parks Victoria have learned from their Not So Great Ocean Walk mistake and that the Grampians Peak Trail will eventually become one of the best long-distance walks in Australia. Keep your fingers crossed.

For those interested in the the strategic direction of our parks and the proposed four wild walks you may wish to download Victoria’s Nature Based Tourism Strategy brochure here.

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Kakadu NP (NT)

On our last day in Kakadu National Park Karen and I joined a cruise across Yellow Water, one of the parks most scenic locations. I shot this image of a flock of magpie geese as the sun was just rising. Despite my reservations this enjoyable few hours was one of the highlights of our visit. It’s common for many bushwalkers to disregard the more popular touristy undertaking within Kakadu and this is most definitely a mistake. Our early morning cruise really was the only way to best see what is one of true wonders of Australia. The bird-life is extraordinary and of course there are plenty of saltwater crocodiles to keep you amused if birds are not your thing. Just don’t be tempted into going for a swim.

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Cockburn Range (WA)

View of the Cockburn Range from the Gibb River Road. Click to see the full-sized image.

Few people have heard of the Cockburn Range but it is fast becoming one of the focus points of Western Australia’s Kimberley region. This incredible escarpment region stretches for about 50km and lies trapped between the Pentecost and King Rivers (both filled to the brim with saltwater crocodiles) only an hours drive from Kununurra. The range is actually a high plateau and is dissected with hundreds of gorges and cliffs. The massive El Questro (a private company) owns a substantial portion of this area and it is heavily marketed as a wilderness park. We had a look at these cliffs recently from a rockclimbing perspective and although some of the rock is fairly loose other sections reminded me of Moonarie in the Flinders Ranges. Here are a couple of images which show the cliffs facing the Gibb River Road. These escarpments average 70-80m high and would offer some pretty amazing climbing. The rock is generally good quartzite (the same rock as Mt Arapiles).

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Buccaneer Archipelago, the Kimberley (WA)

The day before we were to drive home to Melbourne, Karen and I took a seaplane flight across one of the most spectacular sections of the Kimberley coastline, the Buccaneer Archipelago. We took off from Broome and flew across King Sound. Suddenly we were flying over some of the most incredible coastline either of us had ever laid eyes on. Apparently there are over 1000 islands here and I could well believe it. Our seaplane landed in Talbot Bay where we paid a visit to the famous Horizontal Falls. The falls are a result of massive tidal movements trying to squeeze through a narrow gap in the red quartzite cliffs. After brunch we flew back over the archipelago. We are really keen to do a 20-22 day walk in the Kimberley (maybe next year), so this was a great opportunity to get a closer look at the country. We flew back over Cape Leveque which was really interesting as we had spent a couple of days exploring this wild coast just a few days ago. Seeing it from the air made us appreciate just how big this area really is.

Flying over the Buccaneer Archipelago, Kimberley Coast.
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Windjana Gorge NP (WA)

Last week Karen and I dropped into Windjana Gorge National Park. We put up our tent in the nearby campground and then set off on a 9km return walk through the gorge. I’ve got to say, I wasn’t prepared for what we found. The gorge is carved through a 100m-high limestone ridge which forms the bulk of the Napier Range. A sandy path hugs the banks of the Lennard River, which at this time of year is fairly slow moving and not very deep. Freshwater crocodiles can be seen all along the riverbank and in places were only a few metres from us. Pretty cool creatures. What really struck me about the walk was how spectacular it is.  The limestone walls tower above the walkers and the place is alive with birds and animals.

From a climbing point of view Windjana Gorge is something else. I’ve only ever seen a handful of similar high-quality compact climbing locations around the world. These would have to include Victoria’s Arapiles, Verdon Gorge (France) and the limestone cliffs of Phra Nang (Thailand). The walls inside the gorge (and outside it for that matter) stretch for many kilometres and as far as I could tell most of the rock is comprised of perfect limestone of up to three pitches. The rock architecture is also really impressive and there are possibilities for literally thousands of climbs. I’m not sure how Western Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation would view rockclimbing in the gorge (especially if it led to an influx of hundreds of climbers visiting from all over the world). Of course Windjana Gorge is a bloody long way away from anywhere. The small town of Derby is about 150km to the west and Broome is about double that. The gorge is easily accessible from the Leopold Downs Road in the Southern Kimberley. As a walker I really recommend that you check out this amazing place and definitely do the Gorge Walk. As a climber I was blown away at the potential for this to become a world-class climbing area. It’s unlikely that it will ever happen but at least I can dream.

Walking trail leading you into the gorge. Looks a bit like Mt Arapiles.
limestone cliffs inside Windjana Gorge.
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Walk 61, 62, 63, & 64 (Marysville)

Walk 61, 62, 63, & 64 (Marysville)

Walk 61 (Island Hop & Red Hill) is now open.

Walk 62 (Keppel Lookout & Stevenson Falls) is largely closed. Yellow Dog Picnic Area and Stevensons Falls are closed as is the walking trail linking them. The walking trail to Oxlee and De La Rue Lookouts from Keppel Lookout is open. Robertson Gully Track is open.

Walk 63 (The Beeches) Lady Talbot Drive is open as is the two short walks up to Phantom and Keppel Falls. The Beeches Picnic Area and the surrounding walking trails are still closed.

Walk 64 (Boundary Trail)  This walk is still closed. This walk is unusual as it follows a series of trails within both the Yarra Ranges National Park and in the adjoining State Forest. Sections of this walk followed non-maintained or officially not recognised trails. Therefore until a ground inspection of sections such as Goulds Track and Boundary Trail West are completed it would be best to avoid this walk. The main walking trail within the National Park (Boundary Trail East) is also closed.

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Walk 4 (Painkalac Dam)

According to Parks Victoria:

Closures due to upgrade of Painkalac Reservoir Spillway
No access to Painkalac Reservoir until late 2010.
Walking track from Distillery Creek Picnic Ground to Painkalac Reservoir closed until late 2010.
Walking track leading from Moggs Creek Picnic Ground to Gentle Annie Track remains open.
Walking track through reservoir from Distillery Creek to Moggs Creek picnic grounds closed.