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Australia travel: How to explore Victoria’s vast Grampians Peak Trail


The unique Grampians landscape is set to make it one of the world’s best long-distance trails. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart

Jessica Wynne Lockhart samples Australia’s newest multi-day hike, Victoria’s 160km Grampians Peak Trail.

As I walk across the sandstone ridgeline, blown-in sea caves rise above me. Below my feet are thick striations of rose, deep burgundy, orange and millennial pink, the layers of an ancient inland sea exposed.

It feels like an Australian environment that’s been all but untouched for thousands of years—which isn’t too far from the truth. Until recently, it was only accessible to the most skilled outdoors people. But soon, it may join the ranks of the Camino di Santiago and the Milford Track in becoming known as one of the world’s best long-distance hiking trails.

This is the Grampians Peaks Trail (GPT), Australia’s newest multi-day track. In Victoria’s Grampians mountain range (known to the indigenous Jardwadjali people as Gariwerd) about three hours northwest of Melbourne, the 160km trail took six years and AUD$33 million ($36.5m) to build. In addition to 97km of entirely new trail, 11 hike-in campgrounds were constructed, including two with huts.

Lounge chairs with a front row seat at Gar Campsite. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart
Lounge chairs with a front row seat at Gar Campsite. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart

Huts are a rarity in Australia and I keep my expectations low. I’m not disappointed. The GPT’s four-bunk huts have curtains, ultra-thick mattresses and epic views. At the Gar campsite, they hang over a valley, while at the Werdug campsite, they’re positioned to look out high above Lake Wartook.

Views from the hut at Werdug Campsite. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart
Views from the hut at Werdug Campsite. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart

But although the huts are plush, the hike itself puts me to the test. This section of the GPT is called the Mount Difficult Range for good reason. Most of the days aren’t particularly long (think less than 15km) and the elevation gain isn’t unmanageable (it never exceeds much more than 550m), but the terrain takes time and care. The sandstone is hard and uneven under my feet, like walking across the back of a dragon, and the sun is hot on my head.

“Mānuka is mean,” I murmur to myself, pushing past another scrubby bush.

“Everything in Australia is mean,” laughs one of my tour guides, overhearing my comment.

But there’s softness here, too, if you know where to look. In the morning, my hiking group gets up to watch pinks and purples of sunrise paint the sky from the top of Gar (Mount Difficult).

One afternoon, we spot the teddy bear-like face of a rock wallaby hidden among the eucalypts. Occasionally, sand replaces the hard stone underfoot. And just off the trail, pale yellow wattle, and white waxflowers bloom.

The Grampians Gateway. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart
The Grampians Gateway. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart

During the spring months, Gariwerd is awash with the colour of 1000 flowering species of plants, including 20 that are endemic to the region. It’s no wonder that of the six distinct seasons recognised by the indigenous Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung people, there’s one entirely dedicated to the blooms, called “petyan” (which translates to “season of the wildflowers”). This is also when the area’s seasonal waterfalls come alive, entirely transforming the landscape.

“The Grampians’ landscape is unique and incredible—and not just the geological landscape, but the cultural landscape,” says Adrian Manikas, owner of the Grampians Peaks Walking Company. He notes that the area is home to 80 per cent of Victoria’s Aboriginal rock art shelters, some dating back 20,000 years, including a handful that are open to the public. “It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world like it does here.”

The Grampians area is home to 80 percent of Victoria's Aboriginal rock art shelters, some dating back 20,000 years. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart
The Grampians area is home to 80 percent of Victoria’s Aboriginal rock art shelters, some dating back 20,000 years. Photo / Jessica Wynne Lockhart

And while the walk is testing my limits, that quality is exactly what will draw people here.

“The GPT is starting to get a name as a difficult walk,” says Tammy Schoo of Parks Victoria. “It’s a real challenge for those who want to do the full version. On the flip side, it’s also accessible, so you can come and do bite-sized pieces.”

Although I had originally intended to complete the full 13-day walk, for now, the bite-sized portion—a three-day walk—is just enough to show me why many predict the track will soon be on every outdoor adventurer’s bucket list.

“In five years people will forget about Tasmania’s Overland Track or the Larapinta Trail,” says Manikas. “This will be the next big thing. It’s going to be absolutely massive.”

CHECKLIST

How to get there: Halls Gap—where you’ll find most tour operators and outfitters for the Grampians Peaks Trail—is located a three-hour drive northwest of Melbourne.

Where to stay: Situated just outside Halls Gap, Grampians Getaway’s pyramid-shaped three-bedroom holiday homes are fully self-contained, making them the perfect spot for larger groups tackling the trail. For a post-hike reward, check in to Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel, which is home to Wickens, one of the most awarded restaurants in Australia.

Where to eat: In Halls Gap, you’ll find Flame Brothers on the main street with a smoker out the side. Make a reservation as people line up for the pulled pork and smoked corn. For post-walk celebratory beers, try craft brewery Paper Rock Scissors Brew Co.

Guided hikes: Occupying the space between a Great Walk and a thru-hike, the GPT is great for those who want the glory but can’t afford the months it takes to bag the Te Araroa. For guided multi-day treks, contact Grampians Peaks Walking Company. The locally owned business offers packages for all tastes and timelines, ranging from budget itineraries to most luxurious pack-free walks with private lodging.

For more, see visitmelbourne.com/regions/grampians



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