The south eastern corner of Australia is a walkers’ paradise. National parks and forests cover much of the continent; however the south east provides a variety of landscapes and walking opportunities within a relatively compact area. By the south east, I mean the states of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and Tasmania. Walking is possible year round except on the hottest days in the summer.
Many readers will have heard of the icon trails in Australia – the Overland Track in Tasmania, the Larapinta Trail in central Australia and the Australian Alps Walking Track; the latter extends over a grueling 655km from Walhalla in Victoria to Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory. These long distance trails are for the seasoned and very well equipped walker. However there are other gems. I am going to write about my five favourites from my years of working in the national parks and from my own discoveries.
The Balconies, Grampians, Halls Gap, Victoria
A visit to southern Australia would not be complete without a visit to the Grampians National Park. Situated in western Victoria, about 300 kilometres from Melbourne, the small town of Halls Gap lies within the national park and provides a range of accommodation and other amenities. It is a popular base for walkers and many short and longer walks start from the town. A mountain range with unusual rock outcrops and vistas into the wilderness, this is a must do for the serious and not so serious walker.
The Balconies Walk is an easy walk of 2 kilometres return to views from the cliffs overlooking the Victoria Valley. It is a gentle climb from the carpark and provides great photo opportunities. The walk can be combined with another walk to Reeds Lookout.
Hikers wishing to undertake something longer and more challenging are also well catered for. Day walks and overnight hikes include The Grampians Peaks Trail – a new circuit trail of 36 kilometres that starts and finishes in Halls Gap. Major Mitchell Plateau Walk and The Fortress also provide for more challenging overnight treks. For more information see www.grampiansvictoria.com.au.
The Great Ocean Walk, Apollo Bay, Victoria
This is a long distance walk that can also be done in sections. Beginning in Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, the walk goes for 100 kilometres to the Twelve Apostles in Princetown, taking in some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Australia. It is a requirement that the trail is walked from east to west. Campsites are available at regular intervals and it is also possible to step on and off the trail, stay overnight in bed and breakfast accommodation and be delivered back to the trailhead in the morning by your accommodation operator.
Some of the most scenic sections of the walk are from Apollo Bay to Elliot River where the track hugs the coastline and provides spectacular views – note that this is the most popular section for day hikers. As you leave the towns behind, you will experience eucalypt forests, open heathlands, rugged cliffs and traverse some secluded beaches. If doing the walk in the summer, it is tempting to cool off in the water – just be aware that these southern beaches are dangerous for swimming due to rips and the likelihood of encountering the ‘Great White’, a large predatory shark. Cooling off the feet and up to the knees is fine.
For more information, see www.greatoceanwalk.com.au.
The Ada Tree Nature Reserve, Warburton,Victoria
Visit one of the biggest and tallest flowering trees in Victoria on a short but remote trail near Warburton, Victoria. Warburton is a small and pretty town, about an hour’s drive from Melbourne in the Yarra Ranges. It is best to pick up local maps and directions from the Warburton Visitor Information Centre. The parking area is on Big Creek Road in the Yarra State Forest.
The Ada Tree is reached by driving along a series of unsealed forest roads and is about 20 kilometres from Warburton. Usually, the roads are in good condition but best in dry weather and some log trucks may be encountered. The Ada Tree Nature Reserve is an oasis that has been protected from logging and contains many significant Mountain Ash trees, of which the Ada Tree is thought to be the oldest and biggest. The trail to the tree is easy and 3.2 kilometres return, taking about 1.5 hours.
The trail winds through myrtle beech rainforest. Care should be taken in wet or slippery conditions but the trail is suitable for all levels of walkers except those with mobility issues. The Ada Tree is thought to be about 300 years old, is 76 metres tall with a circumference of 15 metres. The tree is thought to have been named by the original surveyor in the 1800s who was in love with a woman called Ada. It is not known whether he eventually married her.
Several years ago, the reserve was somewhat degraded and lost within the bush. I worked on a major upgrade project that saw a new carpark, toilets and picnic facilities built; as well as track upgrades and new interpretative signage. Although still a hidden gem, the Ada Tree is now a very interesting day trip from Melbourne, or as part of a trip to the Yarra Ranges. For more information see www.visitwarburton.com.au.
The Grand Canyon, Blackheath, NSW
The iconic Blue Mountains in NSW draw millions of visitors every year. About an hour’s drive from Sydney, sights such as the Three Sisters are crowded with tourists and buses. However it is very easy to get away from the bustle and experience what the Blue Mountains is famous for – deep canyons, waterfalls, cliffs and temperate rainforest.
The Grand Canyon walk starts and finishes in the mountain town of Blackheath. The starting and finishing point is the Evans Lookout on the edge of the town. At 6.3 kilometres, the walk is not long in length but is challenging due to the steepness of the terrain and many steps. Allow 3-4 hours. Walk through dense rainforest, through tunnels behind waterfalls and enjoy scenic canyon and cliff top views.
Longer versions of this track can be undertaken by combining this walk with the Bridal Veil Falls, Rodriguez Pass and Govetts Leap Lookout. For more information see www.bluemtns.com.au.
Macedon Ranges Walking Track, Mount Macedon, Victoria
About 70 kilometres north west of Melbourne lies the Macedon Ranges. Apart from being a wine region and our home in Australia, Mount Macedon stands at 1000 metres and provides a variety of both short and longer walks. The Macedon Ranges Walking Trail (MRWT) is a circuit of 18.3 kilometres and can be done in a day of dedicated walking. However shorter walks of varying duration are possible as there are several carparks that provide access to the trail along the Mount Macedon Road.
Spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and of Melbourne (on a clear day) can be seen from various lookouts along the trail. The area tends to be popular with day trippers from Melbourne on weekends, but most people park at the Memorial Cross carpark and only do a short paved walk to the Cross and tea rooms. The Memorial Cross is a towering yellow cross that commemorates those who died in World War 1.
Several sections of this track are steep and walking poles come in handy. But there are also many undulating sections with temperate rainforest, fern gullies and rock outcrops. For more information see www.visitmacedonranges.com.
Rosalie Bent has worked for many years in the tourism industry in Australia in alpine resorts, national parks and State Forests. Her business, More than Kangaroos, provides a research and itinerary design service for independent travellers to Australia.