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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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The Fortress

Climbers on Passport to Insanity on the Fortress.

We took advantage of the very last day of daylight saving and got up early and drove over to the Victoria Range in the Grampians National Park. Even though it was Easter I was surprised that at least a dozen cars were parked at Deep Creek, the start of the trail. The walk is one of the more remote in the Grampians even though it isn’t particularly long. The Victoria Range is very different to the much busier Central Grampians. There is a lot of sand about, the vegetation is shrubbier and there is a drier, almost semi-arid feel to the place. Like many Grampians trails the walk isn’t particularly well signposted nor is it well maintained. There is an old sign, however, warning that ‘strenuous walking is involved’.

Continue reading The Fortress

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Stapylton Circuit Walk

If push came to shove and I was forced to decide which was the most exciting short daywalk in Victoria, I’d have to award that crown to the Hollow Mountain / Mount Stapylton Circuit in the Grampians National Park. Not only does the walk cross one of the most spectacular exposed rock ridges in the park but it is also one of the most challenging (both mentally and physically). The walk links Hollow Mountain Carpark to Hollow Mountain, descends back down to the wind-scoured caves of the Hollow Mountain Block before climbing back up and across the rock ridges leading to the summit of Mount Stapylton. The walk continues on down the official trail through the wooded Stapylton Amphitheatre and back to Mount Zero Picnic Area. A short road bash brings you back to the Hollow Mountain Carpark. All up the circuit is 6.6km, which doesn’t sound very far but most walkers should allow at least 5 hours to complete it.

The Hollow Mountain / Mount Stapylton Circuit certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted as there is quite a bit of exposed scrambling, some tricky route-finding and some fairly scary jumps over dizzying voids. Luckily, for most experienced walkers these obstacles are well within their capabilities. Such is its popularity that on any fine Saturday or Sunday there may be multiple parties making their way slowly across the tops.

Which brings me to my point. A few years ago I was commissioned to write about this walk for inclusion in a scrumptious coffee-table tome on the best walks in Australia. Although the book never saw the light of day it was interesting that Parks Victoria looked seriously at the legal implications should I and the publishers publish details of the walk to an Australia-wide audience. Parks Victoria saw this walk as a legal minefield and obviously felt that they could not be seen in any way to be officially promoting it. Obviously there are genuine issues about inexperienced hikers attempting walks such as this and Parks Victoria have every right to be concerned. However, Parks Victoria need to understand that walking trails are not just for casual family strolls. Many of the world’s great walks follow outstanding natural features and some of these are very challenging indeed. In Europe or North America land managers have a far greater understanding of the needs of more experienced walkers. The amazing four-day Via Delle Bocchette in the Brenta Dolomites (Italy) would be an alien concept here in Australia.

As it is, Karen and I completed the Hollow Mountain / Mount Stapylton Circuit last Saturday and loved every minute of it. Most definitely one of the great Victorian walks. I will be writing it up for our forthcoming Daywalks Around Victoria book which will be available in the shops and through our web site early this spring. The GPS will be available as a free download.