Australia's newest walking trail - the epic Grampians Peaks Trail in Western Victoria - is proving to be a huge success, particularly with seniors.
Since opening in November, hikers have booked more than 7200 nights to stay at hike-in campgrounds along the length of the trail.
The long-distance hike runs down the spine of the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, from Mt Zero in the north, through Halls Gap, to Dunkeld in the south on the Traditional Lands of the Jadawadjali and Djab Wurrung peoples.
Travel writer Belinda Jackson walked part of the 160km trail and was bowled over, in more ways than one, by a group of senior hikers she met along the way.
"Make way!" calls a voice. "Hilda's on a roll!" was her introduction to Hilda McLeod, 69, who jogged past her down the hill with a heavy pack on her back.
With day hikes, multi-day trips and the full 13-day journey available, hikers get to experience the park's dramatic rocky peaks and outcrops, ravines, waterfalls, forests and lakes.
A number of tour operators deliver guided tour activities and services for those seeking a more relaxing way to enjoy the trail.
A word of advice from Hilda - estimated walking hours on the Trail are for fit young people walking with a day pack only.
"Realistically, carrying a full pack takes twice as long," she said.
You can now book to walk the trail from July 1 to June 30 next year.
The booking system was introduced to reduce congestion on the track and at campgrounds, so that hikers could enjoy a less crowded experience.
If you don't fancy stretching your legs in the Grampians there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this beautiful region.
Gariwerd/the Grampians National Park has some of Victoria's most significant Indigenous art sites, including the easy-to-reach Bunjil Shelter on the Stawell-Pomonal road while Grampians Helicopters offers joy flights from Stawell Airport.
For staying over, the renowned Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld has accommodation on site while nearby Mount Sturgeon Station has eight fully restored 1840s bluestone cottages.
For simple cabins in a bush setting, there are two Breeze Holiday Parks in Halls Gap.
Click here for more information.
By Belinda Jackson
THE new long-distance Grampians Peaks Trail runs 160 kilometres along the spine of Gariwerd/Grampians National Park.
It takes 13 days to complete but, handily, it's broken into not only three four-day sections but day walks, morning walks, and even one-hour ambles to a waterfall, an outlook or a wild picnic spot.
When I met Hilda McLeod and her long-term hiking buddy Hermann Ritzinger, they were walking the northern section, a four-day hike from Mount Zero to Halls Gap.
Hilda's advice for people interested in taking up long-distance walking is to choose a walk that you'd love to do and join a walking group. And practise every day. She started with two kilometres up a steep hill, then stretching out to five, 10 and then 15 kilometres.
The trail has 11 campsites. While there are communal shelters and some huts, most independent hikers carry a tent as well as all their own food and water.
Tent platforms enable you to camp while protecting the ground. In Halls Gap, fuel up at Livefast Lifestyle Cafe with its robust cafe menu and great coffee, while Raccolto Pizzeria cooks wood-fired pizzas and serves local wines and craft beers.
Further south, croissants and savoury pies emerge fresh from the 135-year-old, wood-fired oven at Dunkeld Old Bakery. Or order a beer, wine or cider tasting paddle to go with lunch at Pomonal Estate, which also has vineyard accommodation.
KEEN hiker Hilda McLeod has this advice for people interested in taking up long-distance walking. Choose a walk you'd love to do and join a walking group.
In Hilda's case, she practised walking every day, starting with two kilometres up a steep hill, then stretching out to five, 10 and then 15 kilometres.
"I have never done any training for a walk beforehand," she said. "But I'm an active person: I don't do anything slowly. I work in the garden, I ride my bike to the beach to go snorkelling, and I walk fast."
Hilda describes long-distance walking as "an endurance test".
"My sister is into ParkRun, but there's no way I'm going to sprint for 15 or 30 minutes one day a week. I want to go see different things in life, not the same things."
Life on the hiking trail is not without its disadvantages, however.
"Fresh fruit is what I miss the most. I remember coming off the Larapinta, and all I wanted was a kilo of mandarins. Hermann wanted beer," Hilda says with her big laugh.
If you go...
The trail has 11 campsites. While there are communal shelters and some huts, most independent hikers carry a tent as well as all their own food and water. Tent platforms enable you to camp while protecting the ground.
At Halls Gap, you can fuel up before or after a day's hiking at Livefast Lifestyle Cafe with its robust menu and great coffee, while Raccolto Pizzeria cooks wood-fired pizzas and serves local wines and craft beers.
In the southern Grampians, croissants and savoury pies emerge fresh from the 135-year-old wood-fired oven at Dunkeld Old Bakery. Or order a beer, wine or cider tasting paddle to go with lunch at friendly Pomonal Estate, which also has vineyard accommodation.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.