250 km northwest of Melbourne lies the outdoorsy, nature-loving town of Halls Gap. As the name suggests, the 500 or so folk who call this town home, snuggle down between two shoulders of Gariwerd (Grampians) National Park.
How to get to the Grampians Peaks Trail
It’s mid-March as I walk into Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, to start the public transport links that will deliver me seamlessly between those shoulders. Two trains and a bus later, (that are timed to connect… and do), the driver does what country drivers often do, and drops me right at my accommodation. I like this town.
In many ways, the Grampians feel to Melbourne, what the Blue Mountains is to Sydney. A few hours by car and a weekend (or more) away.
Information about Halls Gap is plentiful, as is the reason for my visit: The mighty Grampians Peaks Trail (GPT). This 164 km track, traverses a roughly north-south ridgeline, bursting forth from the agricultural flatlands of northwestern Victoria.
Where to get info on the GPT
The Parks Victoria website and GPT Plan and Prepare document is one of those ‘devil in the detail’ type documents; it will reward you with answers to many of the questions that get asked on the local Grampians Peaks Trail Facebook group, and I recommend them… along with checking out the FB group!
And when it comes to questions, that’s one of the reasons that I’m here: I’m here to answer my own questions and assist others with theirs, by creating a series of videos and informative how-to’s (supported by Parks Vic) to help folk have the best Grampians Peaks Trail experience possible.
What’s the GPT like?
Apart from reading the official info, one of the first things I did was study the topographic maps. The landforms looked incredible: classic, ridgey-didge, flowing lines and spurs, connected by rocky high plateaux and saddles. The location of the 12 hike-in campsites appear to make sense in terms of vegetation, views and (mostly) distances.
What was clear upon starting to walk the track, was that there had been a lot of thought put into this project. Splitting the trail into 3 roughly equidistant sections (with the home base of Halls Gap between the North and Central sections) helps with planning. It also provides great hopping on/off points throughout; this track can be done as day walks, overnighters, sections or the whole shebang. It’s a choose your own adventure type of track.
How hard is the Grampians Peaks Trail?
The absolute standout message, and one that I’ve tried hard to convey in the videos, is the track classification and difficulty of each section. The feedback from rangers, experienced locals and guides, is the number of people who attempt the full track and underestimate some of the physical challenges it presents, along with overestimating their own capabilities and competence.
As boring as the detail can sometimes appear, having a solid understanding of what grade 4 and grade 5 in the Australian Walking Track Grading System really means is a great way of setting yourself up for success. Oh, and my favourite hint? Look carefully at the name, Grampians PeakS (plural) Trail. Although there are a few sections that relent from the incessant trend up or down, these are the exception, rather than the norm.
How to prepare for the GPT?
The best way to have the most amazing GPT experience is to prepare well across the areas of fitness, gear and logistics, along with managing your expectations of what each section entails.
If you’re beginning your overnight bushwalking journey, then take it easy and maybe start with just a couple of days in the Southern Section where you can find your feet and get used to the steep ups and downs, along with the hard, uneven, rocky terrain. Truth be told, it’s probably not a track for newbies; but with good prep, planning and/or going with one of the licenced tour operators, there’s a bunch of different GPT experiences that could suit many people.
Campsites, conditions and communications
Many (not all) of the campsites have award-winning designed timber shelters, that are both beautiful and simple. These are purely for cooking and sheltering in, as one of the stand out features of this walk (apart from the incredible views!) is the wild exposure to the fast-changing elements, especially along the tops. From freezing rain, wind and snow (when the rocky terrain becomes slippery and trail markers difficult to see) to melting hot days, when the rocks reflect the heat.
This route is designed for self-sufficient tent camping and given the timber platforms (or densely compacted sand), you’ll find a free-standing tent an easier option. Having said that, I used my Sololight to good effect with the chain system provided on the platforms tensioning well. For the nights without platforms, I used rocks to secure the tent.
Although mobile communications are patchy at best along the full track, if you have a SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification Device) eg: Zoleo, InReach or SPOT, you could call for a pickup from one of the tour operators (or a friend) in town (heads up: there’s no Uber).
I reckon the GPT is best summed up with a musical analogy:
[AKA Grammy Award-winning platinum album, loaded with hits]
Grade 4 // GPT North Video
The popular Northern Section (grade 4), is where you’ll find the two simple accommodation huts at two hike-in campgrounds - Gar and Werdug. These are owned by Parks Victoria and bookable only as part of a guided tour, such as via Grampians Peaks Walking Company (or other licensed tour operators), who can also do transfers and food drops.
The northern section is a good introduction to some of the challenges that are to come in the Central and Southern sections. Steep, rocky ascents, spectacular views, great campsites, mischievously tricky-to-see trailmarkers and a massive sense of wonder.
The genius of the route design is that if you find yourself out of your depth in the North, you can easily pull out at Halls Gap and not continue on.
[AKA The Difficult Second album]
Grade 5 // GPT Central Video
The Central Section is a doozy and if you are an experienced bushwalker and navigator, who loves grade 5, you’ll really find your feet (and happy place) here. Gnarly, jagged, rock scrambles and route finding are typical, with the 7 Dials section being one of my favourites. There’s a real sense of remoteness and isolation here and significantly less people than the Northern section. The sense of awe grows here, along with the difficulty and challenges.
[AKA The Greatest Hits album]
Grade 4 (with some grade 2 & 3) // GPT South Video
Just like the classics every wedding DJ plays or your sunny day road trip playlist, the Southern Section of the Grampians Peaks Trail just feels good. In fact, it feels great. Well bedded and benched-in tracks signal these routes as being long-held favourites of bushwalkers and locals. With more canopy and earthen (over rocky) terrain than North and Central, the rolling ascents and descents (yes, you’ve still got ups and downs here) feel like an old friend.
The views open up and rather then seeing what feels like relentless barriers between you and an invisible end, the iconic shape of Mount Abrupt, towering above Dunkeld, comes into view and becomes enticingly closer with every step.
After 13 days of exceptional weather (I was very lucky) and an incredible solo walking experience, I know that I will find myself back in Gariwerd again. It is a challenging, beautiful and well laid out adventure, and one that I want to revisit with friends.
Macpac and Caro acknowledge that for thousands of years, the Djab Wurrung and Jadawadjali have been caring with Country's lands, skies, waters and community for Gariwerd's unceded lands that the Grampians Peaks Trail traverses. We pay our respects and honour their Elders past and present.