SSeveral years ago, a friend packed a batch of premixed cosmopolitans on his first multi-day hike. It took until the first night to realize that the hot, syrupy liquid wasn’t as refreshing as he’d hoped in the tropical heat of North Queensland, but had he been on the Grampians Peaks Trail (GPT) in Western Victoria, that might have been a different story.
The second night of the all-new 13-day trail is spent at a campsite named Gar, which hugs the lip of an escarpment above a densely forested bowl, surrounded by bleachers by jagged mountains rising like the walls of a colosseum. The tent platforms are democratically arranged along the edge of the cliff so that everyone has a view to the west, while the vegetation between the tents and the rock face at the rear provides a welcome sense of privacy.
Nearby is a sleek, blackened wood-clad steel shelter with west-facing bay windows and a solar-powered USB charging station, while wooden deckchairs bolted into the rock are a nice added touch (even without cocktail in hand). Sitting in one as the sun turns into a giant ball of fire and a golden mist hangs over the valley below, it’s impossible to deny that Gar is one of the most scenic campsites in Australia, although over the next week and a half I’ll find a few other contenders further down the track.
Opened in November 2021 after several years of construction, the 160km GPT traverses open forest and flowering meadows, climbs quartz-capped mountain peaks and skirts glistening lakes as it traverses the Grampians National Park (Gariwerd) from north to south . The trail is divided into three sections of four to five days each, and because it connects existing tracks with 100 km of newly constructed trail, it opens up parts of the park that were previously virtually inaccessible to walkers.
A few feet after taking my first step on the first day, I sweated as I scaled the steep, exposed slope of the sorely named Flat Rock. It’s hard work, especially in direct sunlight, but the payoff comes quickly. From the open space at the top of this initial ascent, I can see the pancake plains of the Wimmera stretching into oblivion – neatly arranged olive groves and viciously straight fence lines contrasting sharply with the gnarled formations towering above me. again in the other direction. No one could accuse this hike of hiding its true nature; whether you tackle a few hours or the full 100 miles, you’ll encounter plenty of steep climbs and spectacular lookouts.
Steep peaks of cracked rubble rise above a wall of bright orange sandstone and all along the northern part of the walk there are unexpected echoes of Purnululu hive domes. As I progress, views to the south reveal a sharp spine of peaks rising from the surrounding plains, each one resembling a stopped wave about to break.
Days between eight and 10 miles might seem like a breeze for seasoned multi-day hikers, but the ungroomed trails and significant elevation changes conspire to make hike times much longer than expected. By the time I enter Halls Gap at the end of day four (the only night not spent at a campsite), I feel like I’ve well-deserved a hot shower and a cold drink.
In the days on either side of town I encounter several walkers tackling short sections of the GPT, but they thin out considerably as I continue south. This means I have the whole landscape to myself for days on end as I scale rocky ridges, climb countless stone steps, and cross wide slabs that absorb and radiate the sun’s heat.
The exposed nature of the hike means the GPT is definitely not a summer walk – fall and spring are the best times to tackle it, the latter bringing an abundance of wildflowers. A third of Victoria’s plant species – nearly 1,000 in total – are found in the area, and when I reach Duwul Campsite at the end of day seven, my tent platform is surrounded by native yellow and brown peas. , shy curls of flame grevillea and delicate lilac orchids blooming beneath rough-barked gummies, crowned with a halo of crimson flowers.
For days the way ahead is lined with splashes of red, white and pink as the trail hugs the easternmost edge of the Grampians, through sections of grade 5 track suitable only for walkers experienced and well equipped. That means hiking the entire trail is serious business and of the first 2,000 camping reservations only eight hikers planned to tackle the full 13 days.
On some of the tougher sections, I wonder if I’m reckless in joining their ranks, but the joys of hiking in this quintessentially Australian landscape regularly come to the fore. On the last night of the hike, I can see the southernmost slopes of the Grampians and the small town of Dunkeld reflected in the window of Mud-Dadjug Hut. Over an impromptu dinner of leftovers, I enjoy a front row seat as the setting sun adds a honeyed glow to everything it touches, while the city lights twinkle under a lilac and apricot sky. . Above them looms the dark blue mass of Mount Sturgeon, a reminder that even on the last stretch I can expect tough climbs and spectacular lookouts.
If a 13-day hike is a step too far, there are plenty of more accessible alternatives, especially in the northern part of the park.
Day hike: From Halls Gap, climb past bubbling cascades and waterfalls, through wildlife-rich bushland to a deep cleft in the rock before emerging at The Pinnacle for stunning views of the city and surrounding landscape.
Overnight: The first day of the GPT follows the rich orange rock of the Taipan Wall past creeks and seasonal waterfalls to Barigar Campsite, which sits in a sheltered valley and looks east towards a striking escarpment. In the morning, it’s a 4 km walk to the Gar trailhead.
Several days: Check out some of the highlights of the trail at the four-day northern section, which includes two of the most notable campsites in Gar and Werdug, before heading to Halls Gap. Guided walks also approach this stage.
The writer was a guest of Visit Victoria and the Grampians Peaks Walking Company