I love to hike in the shoulder season. The temperature is cooler, so you’re not dripping with sweat while you tote around your pack. There are fewer people, so it’s less likely that you’ll be stuck 10 feet behind some asshole who thinks everyone else on the trail wants to listen their shitty EDM playlist. And there’s just something about the misty, transitional weather that accompanies spring and autumn that makes hiking during that time feel like an otherworldly adventure.
Of course, sometimes that adventure is more like a walk through Mordor than a trip into fairyland. A few weeks ago Steve and I went hiking in the Grampians, a national park about three hours’ drive from Melbourne. The weather during the week was decent but as the weekend approached the forecast looked worse and worse. 80%+ chance of rain is never what you want to see when you’re preparing to spend a few days in the great outdoors. Moreover, this would be our first time tent camping during a hike, spoiled as we’ve been with New Zealand’s amazing hut system.
Still, we were determined to go despite the ominous skies. For one, we had already booked our campsites on the 36km Grampians Peaks Trail. For another, we’re planning to go to Tasmania to do the Overland Track before we leave Australia. While this 65km hike does have huts, you’re not guaranteed a place if there are more walkers than bunks on a given day so you must hike with a tent. Also, the weather is extremely unpredictable; some folks we know who did it in February (aka the middle of summer in Oz) spent a day tramping through snow. We figured we may as well be prepared to hike and camp in all conditions.
The weather during the first day of the Peaks trail wasn’t as bad as we expected. It rained on and off throughout, but it was mostly that misty, spritzing sort of rain rather than a full-on downpour. Certainly after the Milford Track it wasn’t anything we weren’t used to. And indeed, the mediocre weather meant we were just about the only ones on the track. We made it to the top of the Pinnacle just in time for a few minutes of spectacular views before the fog descended once more and turned the sky into a dense blanket of grey.
When we reached the campsite (where thankfully the rain let up long enough for us to put up our tent in relative dryness) we were one of only two couples there, despite seven or eight of the sites having been filled online when we had booked ours. Then the trouble started. The first campsite, Bugiga Hikers Camp, had wooden tent platforms which meant we had to tie our tent down rather than pitch it with pegs. While we had come prepared for this with bungee cords, the tension of the cords pulled the tent unnaturally and let water leak in through the bottom seams. Luckily, we realised this well before it was time to go to sleep, so we had time to revamp our tent/tarp setup. It still wasn’t the most comfortable night, with condensation in the tent meaning we woke up damp anyway, but we were pretty exhausted and fell asleep quickly nonetheless.
The next morning the rain had abated again and we had a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee before we packed up and headed off, although not before startling and being startled by a bunch of kangaroos that were hanging out near the toilet. Day 2’s walk was about 14km and by about five hours into the hike we were looking around for signs directing us to the next campsite. Then we found one, but to our shock it told us that Borough Huts, the next site, was still 9km away. That couldn’t be right, could it? A quick conference with some friendly Germans coming off a nearby trail confirmed it: we had taken a wrong turn at a fork in the road with no signage and had ended up nearly back where we’d started the morning.
Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but turn around and head back in the correct direction. We decided to walk along the road rather than the trail because it was a little more direct, and that turned out to be a good choice because a few kms down the road a van stopped and the riders, a middle-aged couple on holiday from Sydney, offered us a lift. We gratefully accepted and they dropped us off at the correct campsite just fifteen minutes later. Once again, we got lucky and the rain had paused for a short while, giving us time to set up our tent and get our camp stove going so we could have some warm food for dinner. My camping go-to is Uncle Bens-style quick rice with a flavoured tuna sachet like these, while Steve prefers jerky mixed into pasta packets.
The coolest thing about this campsite was the nature. We had seen a heap of kangaroos already on the hike, but there were even more hanging around the field, seemingly unperturbed by our presence. We also saw a number of kookaburra, the fluffy bird known for its laughter-like call. I hadn’t seen any of this native Australian species in the wild yet, so it was definitely exciting to see a few of them perched on tree branches and fence posts.
Again, the night was dark and full of wind, howling around our tent and ripping off the tarp that covered the entrance. Still, we managed to get some sleep and were up and ready to go early the next morning. Finally, the rain had cleared and there were patches of blue sky overhead as we walked around Lake Bellfield to return to Halls Gap. We got back in our rental car and took a quick trip to a few other scenic locations (still mostly covered with fog, unfortunately) before we began our journey back to Melbourne.
While conditions certainly weren’t ideal, it was a good experience and I’m glad we didn’t let the weather derail our plans. However, it definitely made me thankful for waterproof pants… and waterproof jackets… and pack covers… and shoes…