Hike

Mt Feathertop & The Razorback

Summiting Mount Feathertop, Victoria’s second highest peak, via the Razorback Trail is not without its challenges, but the unique terrain and 360-degree views across the Alps have made it one of the most beloved tracks in Victoria.

Both Mount Feathertop and the Razorback can be done as part of several longer trails within the region, but the simplest and most popular route is the return trail across the Razorback from Mount Hotham to Mount Feathertop. The trailhead is around a 4-hour drive from Melbourne, whilst the hike itself is 22 kilometres return, which can be completed over one or two days using available camping sites.

Photo: Evatt Chirgwin

Photo: Evatt Chirgwin

The majority of the Razorback rises to an altitude above the tree line, with only the most resilient snowgums able to endure the harsh winter conditions that occur at such a height. These exposed conditions not only provide unobstructed views of the surrounding Alps, but also allow endemic communities of alpine shrub and wildflowers to flourish.

The final ascent up Mount Feathertop can seem a little daunting; though not technically difficult, the path up is constantly steep. Fortunately, the spectacular views from the summit, including those of the Bogong High plains, Mount Hotham, and Kiewa Valley, quickly sooth the aches and pains accumulated from the assent.

Photo: Evatt Chirgwin

Photo: Evatt Chirgwin

While the altitude and exposed terrain are largely what make the trail so spectacular, these factors can also make it somewhat treacherous. Checking the weather forecast before embarking is essential, as a combination of rapid changes in weather and the lack of tree cover can leave hikers exposed to harsh wind, rain, and snow. Although it is possible to access the trail all year round, in the winter months it should only be attempted by those with a high level of experience with heavy snowfall; low visibility and below-zero temperatures make the trail extremely dangerous. However, with a little thought and planning the trail can offer an amazing day or weekend of adventure!

Photo: Evatt Chirgwin

Photo: Evatt Chirgwin

Summary

  •  Spectacular views over the Victorian alps
  • Endemic alpine flora
  • Second highest peak in Victoria
  • 4-hour drive from Melbourne
  • Be wary of weather conditions

 

 

 

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Werribee Gorge

A challenging track hidden in a gorge just an hour from the centre of Melbourne.

On first arriving, Werribee Gorge doesn’t seem like it will be all that peaceful – just off the Western Freeway, only an hour out of the city – but sound evaporates in the gorge. By the time you’ve parked in the Quarry Picnic Area the traffic noise has been muffled, but the voices of hikers up on the ridge can be heard clearly.

The Circuit Track is roughly 10km long, first tracing the edge of the gorge, then winding down through it. The route is clearly signposted with red triangles (mostly faded to burnt orange) and a map in the Quarry Picnic Area. The initial climb is steep but fairly short. Despite it being 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning, we crossed paths with a bold swamp wallaby within two minutes of setting off.

Photo: Alex Mullarky

Photo: Alex Mullarky

Walkers are quickly rewarded for their climb with two viewpoints overlooking the interior of the gorge and a valley beyond. From the second viewpoint, the path winds steeply down until it reaches the river. This flat section of the walk is fairly easy-going, aside from the need to bash through some overgrown bushes and navigate some ledges, though the drop is very small.

Beyond this section is a rocky stretch that rounds a bend, with a slight overhang above the water. Parks Victoria have attached a cable along the rocks so that walkers can have a mini climbing adventure, but again, there isn’t much of a drop so there’s no real risk. It’s a fun and unexpected part of the track but it can get a bit congested on weekend afternoons, as families and hikers attempt to traverse it in different directions!

Photo: Alex Mullarky

Photo: Alex Mullarky

A gradual incline follows, at the end of which is a fork. At this point, we took a wrong turn, following the sign for the Short Circuit Track (another option from the Quarry) instead of continuing down towards Meikles Point. This doesn’t seem to cut any distance off the walk but it does add a steep incline as the track goes sharply back up to the initial ridgeline and viewpoint, before we retraced our steps down to the Quarry Picnic Area.

This is another great afternoon walk, taking only about three hours but giving your forgotten hiking muscles a good workout. The varying terrain keeps the walk interesting and the park’s proximity to the highway isn’t a problem – from the highest point you can see cars passing in the distance, but the gorge is peaceful and almost silent. A great afternoon escape.

Summary:

  • An hour’s drive from the city
  • Slightly challenging terrain
  • Can be walked in an afternoon
  • Varying landscapes of ridgeline and gorge basin

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Alex Mullarky

Alex Mullarky is a freelance journalist and works part-time in threatened species conservation. Her other passion is ex-racehorse rehabilitation and she is currently completing her Masters.

Lake Tali Karng

This is a guest post by Fam Charko.

In the southern region of the Great Alpine National Park lies Lake Tali Karng, Victoria’s only deep mountain lake reaching depths of 51 metres. It’s a fairly young lake, having formed a mere 1500 years ago by a landslide that dammed the Wellington River. The lake is sacred to the traditional owners of the area; the Gunai Kurnai people and Aboriginal peoples are not allowed to visit according to lore. However, the Gunai Kurnai do allow non-indigenous Australians to enjoy one of Victoria’s most acclaimed bush walks.

It’s quite a drive to get there from the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne, so we decided to take the extended Australia Day four-day weekend to hike to both the lake and the Sentinels: the nearly 1500-metre high peak overlooking the lake. From Licola, which is about three hours, it’s another 60 kilometres uphill to the start of the track. A through-walk is also possible but requires a car shuffle from the carpark on the Wellington River outside of Licola.

As the Gunai Kurnai elders ask that visitors respect the lake by not camping on its banks, Parks Victoria maintain a basic campground on the Wellington Plain. From the carpark at McFarlane’s Saddle to Nyimba campground it is a good two-hour pack hike. Once there, it is easiest to use Nyimba as a base and do several day hikes from there.

Nyimba Campground. Photo: Fam Charko

Nyimba Campground. Photo: Fam Charko

The Wellington Plain track leading to Nyimba is fantastic in a Lord of the Rings kind of way: softly rolling hills form a wide plain interspersed with pockets of snow gums. In summer, white, yellow and purple alpine wildflowers like everlastings (from the genus Xerochrysum), snow gentians (Gentianella diemensis) and grass trigger plants (Stylidium graminifolium) form a stark contrast with the deep, earthy tones of the tough heathland shrubs. I would not be surprised to see a group of Riders of Rohan gallop their horses over the hill at any moment. Good thing they only live in Middle Earth, because about 1.5 kilometres in we pass an information sign by Parks Victoria, describing the small pocket of endangered peat land we are traversing. Feral deer are the largest threat to this alpine sphagnum bog, with bushfires and humans close on their heels. We make sure we stick to the well-worn narrow track after this.

At this subalpine altitude, giant clouds of mist roll in as fast as they make way for blue skies. I can’t decide which version of the plains I like best. It is all so wide and spacious here, the elements unforgiving in their extremes. I wonder to myself what the place looks like in winter, covered in snow.

Nyimba campground has many scattered camping spots, sheltered between stands of snow gums and low bush. There is one pit toilet (bring paper) that catches rainwater from its roof into a 600-litre water tank with a tap. The water tastes beautiful. I swirl it around in my mouth before I swallow, enjoying the softness of it and the lack of added chlorine. When we get back to our spot, two ravens have already been in our food. Several bags lay scattered around the meadow, blatantly ripped from our packs. When the birds see us, they quickly fly up into a dead tree, looking down on us with their dark, beady eyes and calling a disinterested ‘waa’. I realise that they are only babies. Tsk, so young and already thieving.  

A leek orchid. Photo: Fam Charko

A leek orchid. Photo: Fam Charko

After setting up camp, we relax and I go exploring. Right next to one of the tracks I find a small stand of mauve leek orchids (Prasophyllum suttonii). They are only one of many species of colourful flowering plants. I love how plants of the High Country bloom so late in the year. While Melbourne is sweltering, we are experiencing a second spring up here, flowers and all. For about an hour, I share a sit spot with a fat water skink. Gang-gang cockatoos and rosellas fly around, calling loudly to each other and finding roosting trees for the night.

After a spectacular sunset, all goes quiet - dead quiet. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere not subterranean where it was this quiet. In the night, I briefly hear the heavy footfall of two wombats gallivanting through the campground, but that’s it. No crickets, no bats, no wind, no humans. I sleep better than I have in a long time.

The morning is stunning with bright sunshine, blue skies and the temperature rising quickly. We can see the mists swirling in the valley beyond Nyimba, but they don’t ever reach the camp. We pack a lunch, bathers and water and start the hike down to Lake Tali Karng.

We choose Gillios Walking Track to go down to the lake, with the intention of looping back up via Echo Point Track. Gillios Track is very steep, but with hiking poles and only daypacks, we manage to get to the lake in about two hours. The track runs through beautiful forests with tall eucalypts and bushy undergrowth, under fallen logs and through thick, prickly shrubs at times. The calls of eastern whipbirds accompany us on the way down. At one stage I climb over a dead tree, trip and nearly land face-first in a patch of Dianella. At least I think it is. This plant resembles a flax lily, with its long green leaves sprouting from the ground. It has long since flowered and is now sporting huge purple berries, whose weight bends the stalks downward. They are bigger than I’ve ever seen on any flax lily and their purple colour is so intense that it almost appears fake. I wonder if they are usable as a fabric dye and squash one between my fingers. A jet of sap squirts onto my shirt, staining it purple. I guess that means yes.

Native rasberries. Photo: Fam Charko.

Native rasberries. Photo: Fam Charko.

We can see the effects of recent bushfires clearly as we descend, particularly by the new stands of young wattles that surround the lake. As the water of Tali Karng emerges between the trees, we walk a little faster. It looks so good; we can’t wait to cool off with a swim. Down at the lake the area is quiet. I see a few cormorants chase each other over the water on the other side as I strip down and plunge into the cool water. As the waters are slightly acidic, there are no plants or even algae growing in the lake. It looks clear as glass, just as you would expect a mountain lake to look. One of the other hikers we encounter says that he came here 20 years ago and pulled a few big trout out of the water. We keep half an eye out while we circumvent the lake, but no sign of any fish. What we do find however, as we hike to the waterfalls, are many stands of native raspberries (Rubus parvifolius). I can’t believe my luck! Within minutes I have fallen behind, as I’m too busy stuffing my face with shiny red berries to keep up. They taste so refreshingly tart and sweet at the same time that I pity the hikers who have gone before us today, passing the thickets obliviously. Feeling slightly disappointed that I can’t eat them all, I catch up with my partner at the start of Nigothoruk Creek.

Litoria nudidifgita.  Photo: Fam Charko

Litoria nudidifgita. Photo: Fam Charko

In summer, with the water levels fallen to a minimum, it’s an easy hike to the first set of falls through the creek without getting wet feet. The waterfalls are larger than I expected and surprisingly pretty. We climb up to the first platform and I find my highlight of the trip: a leaf green river tree frog (Litoria nudidigita), trying to camouflage its bright green body by sitting on a brown gum leaf. One can only hope it won’t make that mistake when predators are around. On the bright side, had it not been colourblind, I would probably never have seen it.

After lunch we hike back up the mountain via Echo Point Track. The track climbs so steeply that in the hot weather I have to stop frequently to drink and catch my breath so I can complain about my lack of fitness. I check my GPS and we are moving at the staggering rate of 0.5 kilometres per hour, climbing all of 600 metres. It seems to take forever.

Fortunately, our animal friends are never far away and we see lots of wildlife on this stretch. Tiny, dark brown skinks scatter the leaves in front of our feet as they run to safety and we see several mountain dragons (Rankinia diemensis) camouflaged on the brown leaf litter. My favorite by a mile has to be the mountain bush-cricket (Acripeza reticulata), or, as my friend so eloquently puts it: ‘camo on the outside, disco on the inside’. The females are a mottled brown, but when disturbed they lift their wing covers and flash you with incredibly colourful black, red and blue bands.

A camouflaged mountain dragon. Photo: Fam Charko 

A camouflaged mountain dragon. Photo: Fam Charko 

As we are nearing the top, the mists roll up the hill behind us, enveloping the campground throughout the night. That night we sleep like we are comatose.

The next morning, we wake up in a cloud. Everything is grey and damp as we eat our breakfast, but the scenery remains beautiful. All is perfectly still when we hoist our daypacks on and set off to the Sentinels. My calves are screaming from yesterday’s exploits as I walk down the hill on Miller’s Hut Track. It sure takes a while to warm up the legs. The Suffering of aches and pains is made up for by the beauty of the trail: massive eucalyptus trees loom up out of the mists, gnarled branches outstretched like those of angry Ents. Some have hollows that look like eyes, following us as we make our way through the forest.

Past Miller’s Hut the track starts to climb slightly. We follow Mount Wellington Track, which is also meant for 4WDs, south to the Sentinels. The whole walk is about six kilometres over a gentle gradient - at no point as taxing as Echo Point Track. Gradually, the tall trees make way for stunted snow gums and the sun breaks through the clouds, dissolving the last of the mists and drying our packs and jackets. Bird life here is abundant, with rosellas, gang-gang cockatoos, grey fantails and pairs of flame robins all around.

The Sentinals. Photo: Fam Charko

The Sentinals. Photo: Fam Charko

Then it is time for a rock scrambling session up to the top of the Sentinels at 1500 metres. The effort is rewarded with a stunning view of the mountains, looking down on the clouds as if we were flying in an airplane. The winds blow the cloud cover in and out of the valleys below at great speed. The only thing we have to do is sit on a rock overhang, relax and eat our lunch while we watch the scenery change every two minutes. We can see Tali Karng far beneath us, and notice a faraway waterfall cascading down the mountains, feeding the Nigothoruk Creek. It is a beautiful place to rest for a while. We spot many different species of butterfly and even an unidentified, small bird of prey flying below us.

I find there is a great sense of satisfaction in reaching the top of a mountain and seeing the world from above. Looking down on the tops of the clouds and the backs of flying raptors instead of gazing up at them from below shows us that everything is relative. We sit there for quite a while in the bright sun, a cool breeze coming up from the valley below, ruffling our shirts.

Everlasting flower. Photo: Fam Charko

Everlasting flower. Photo: Fam Charko

On the way back it’s mostly an easy downhill stroll. The mists have disappeared completely, giving us a better view of the stunning old eucalyptus forest surrounding Miller’s Hut. That part of today’s hike is definitely my favourite.

Back at camp, the sun is shining and we find everything has dried out. Still energised from the walk, we decide not to stay another night, but to pack up camp and hike the two hours back to the car. It proves to be a questionable move. You don’t realise how tired you are until you’re battling through the shrub in the heat with a full pack on and the beginnings of a blister on each sweaty little toe - thank goodness the Wellington Plains are flat.

Two and a half hours later we arrive at the car park, drenched in sweat and a little crispy from the sun, but feeling intensely satisfied. We realise that we walked about 24 kilometres that day. Not a bad effort, but in hindsight it would have been better to stay another night and go back the next day.

Summary:

- Camp at Nyimba and do day trips from there.
- Bring a daypack
- Some sections are very steep
- Take at least three, but better four days. 

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All images, including cover photo, taken by Fam Charko.

Tidal River to Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Promontory

An energetic climb that links two iconic beaches, offers breathtaking ocean views and will most definitely include a wombat sighting!

A beautiful section of the walking track. Photo: Cathy Cavallo

A beautiful section of the walking track. Photo: Cathy Cavallo

This walk begins at the western end of the Tidal River campsite at Wilson’s Promontory, where the new footbridge crosses Tidal River.

A camera is essential, as this track offers spectacular views of Tidal River and Mount Oberon on one side of Pillar Point and Squeaky Beach, as well as several islands on the other.

As the track climbs out of Tidal River, it progresses through multiple vegetation types, from wetland, through banksia-dominated open coastal forest, shady melaleuca stands and finally to an exposed coastal hilltop. The descent to Squeaky Beach traverses rocky scree consisting of gnarled coastal bushes, and tenacious succulents and lichens.

When walked in the morning or late afternoon, visitors can be assured of encountering a wide variety of bird life, as well as the local (and very charismatic) wombats. On our walk, we were lucky enough to discover a beautiful white-lipped snake, resting by the path.

One of the most exciting features of this environment is the colossal granite boulders seemingly littered throughout the forest and bursting from the side of Pillar Point. The origins of these boulders date back to the Devonian Period, which stretched from around 419.2 to 358.9 million years ago. Boulders the size of houses give the forest an otherworldly air of enchantment, while great sheets of granite dip into the surrounding waters, joining a granite bedrock which reaches all the way to northern Tasmania.

This walk is 2.1 kilometres in each direction, and is essentially one long incline followed by a long decline. There are therefore steep sections. Due to this, it is an inadvisable choice for the mobility-limited. That said, less energetic walkers and families will definitely enjoy this walk, provided time is allowed for rest-breaks at the many stunning viewpoints.

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Summary:
1. Spectacular views
2. Multiple vegetation classes

3. Wombats!
4. Striking geology