Peter de Graaf takes a hike in the Victorian highlands.
All I wanted was a kangaroo. Well, okay, I wanted several kangaroos, and close enough to say g’day to, thank you very much. I didn’t want to have to squint to see them bound across a distant paddock.
I also wanted an emu. And one of those strange, spiky, ant-eating echidnas. And, because you’re not in Australia every day, I wanted a snake. Preferably venomous.
Happily, the Grampians granted all my wildlife-spotting wishes, then threw in something called a bearded dragon and several thousand raucous birds for good measure.
Grampians National Park rises from pancake-flat Victorian farmland about three hours’ drive northwest of Melbourne. It covers 1670sq km, making it twice the size of Tongariro National Park and one of the biggest national parks in Victoria.
It consists of upthrust sandstone ridges with gentle, forested western slopes dropping off sharply in the east in a series of escarpments and serrated peaks.
When I asked Marie what kind of snake it was she answered, “It’s deadly, whatever it is.”
I inquired how she knew and she replied, matter of factly, “they all are”.
However, just as Marie predicted, it sensed our approach and slithered into the undergrowth with only the briefest of backward glances at the humans who had ruined its siesta.
The appeal of Grampians, Marie said, was the park’s sheer concentration of walks and wildlife.
“It has a character of its own, it’s quite different to most places in Australia. It’s the way it has evolved, it’s right there in your face.”
And the Grampians are about to get a whole lot more accessible, especially to serious hikers, with the Victorian and Federal governments throwing huge amounts of money at a multi-day trail from one end of the ranges to the other.
The planned Grampians Peaks Trail is one of four walks around the state singled out by the Victorian Government for development and marketing, similar to New Zealand’s Great Walks.
The eight-day, 100km-long Great Ocean Walk, along the scenic Southern Ocean coast, has been open since 2006 and is the best known of Victoria’s long-distance trails.
However, Alysia Brandenburg, of Parks Victoria, told me the Grampians Peaks Trail was currently “the lead horse” with the state investing A$22 million and central government another $10m.
The 144km, 12-day Grampians Peaks Trail will be built in stages and eventually stretch from Mt Abrupt in the south to Mt Zero in the north.
The aim is to bring nature-based tourism and jobs to rural Victoria where traditional industries were in decline, Alysia said.
Hikers will be able to camp along the way but the trail will be designed so users can spend the nights in comfort at hotels or B&Bs, creating extra employment through demand for accommodation, transport and even packed lunches.
I enjoyed my three-day taster of the Grampians so much I promised to come back some day when the peaks trail is finished.
First though I’ll have to make a new wildlife wishlist. There are still plenty of uniquely Australian critters I need to meet.
A four-day ‘Victoria’s Great Southern Touring Route’ holiday is available for $699pp, twin-share from
, while the seven-day Sydney-to-Melbourne Heritage Drive’ starts from 1629pp.
Go to auswalk.com.au to find out about guided walks in the Grampians and other destinations around the Lucky Country. If you’re organising your own walk, call in to the information centre near Halls Gap first, and take lots of water. The terrain isn’t especially difficult but the heat and bush fires can be dangerous. Go to parks.vic.gov.au for more information. Unlike many parts of Australia there is no charge to enter Victoria’s national parks. Fees were abolished some years ago as part of the state’s drive to improve mental health by encouraging people into the outdoors.
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