Greg and I took advantage of a perfect mid-winter Saturday and descended into Werribee Gorge via Western Bluff and Needles Ridge, one of my favourite daywalks close to Melbourne. This excellent walking trail into the gorge is arguably the most spectacular in the park. I use the word ‘arguably’ since this ridge is in fact on private property, outside of the official Werribee Gorge State Park boundary. In fact most of this side of the gorge is privately owned. At the bottom of Needles Ridge, Greg and I waded across the Werribee River, which was fairly deep due to the recent rains. We then walked 250m along the river bank (now within the Werribee Gorge State Park), before recrossing the river and entering back onto private land. We then followed Falcons Ridge, a narrow spur leading directly up to Falcons Lookout. Like Needles Ridge, Falcons Ridge has been used as an access route into the gorge for generations. Once again this entire ridge is situated on privately owned land. At Falcons Lookout we re-entered the park and continued on to Ironbark carpark and back up to Western Bluff carpark at where we had left our car.
Unless you pay close attention to the map, I would say that the vast majority of visitors to the park have no idea that a large and significant section of the Werribee Gorge region is privately owned. The current landowner appears to allow walkers access to the park (unofficially) and for this we have to be very thankful. But it does raise an interesting question, which is what happens if a less understanding owner decides that walkers and sightseers should no longer have access? There are also other issues. In effect Werribee Gorge State Park only covers half of the gorge and Parks Victoria must be severely compromised when attempting to plan and effect its conservation management policies (the intrusion of weeds and feral animals immediately spring to mind). Walking trails, even on private land, also need to be maintained and marked, something land managers such as Parks Victoria are best able to do. Werribee Gorge State Park is one of Melbourne’s most valuable and spectacular wild locations and the fact that half of it is without any form of conservation protection is disappointing to say the least. Surely it is time that the state government and Parks Victoria take steps to purchase this land and create a Werribee Gorge State Park that is worthy of the title.