Waterfall walks and scenic hikes around Melbourne, with map


CURRAWONG FALLS

Start/end: Distillery Creek picnic area, near Aireys Inlet. Distance, time: 10.3 kilometre circuit, 3.5 hours. Grade: Easy-medium. From CBD: 127 kilometres

Waterfalls are “an unusual feature in our landscape because it’s fairly dry,” says Chapman, but “the exception is in the Otways.” Indeed he observes that more than half of Victoria’s waterfalls are in these densely forested ranges west of Melbourne. Although Chapman rates Currawong Falls as the smallest in the region, he considers the absence of any nearby road a plus because only those willing to put in the hard yards can see it. Get in quick though: this delicate waterfall tends to dry up in summer.

Great Otway National Park’s Currawong Falls Track first passes dramatic Ironbark Gorge, “winds its way up over a ridge, then drops down to a valley and goes downstream to the waterfall,” says Chapman. “You can sit right on top of [it], then walk 50 metres downstream and get a good view of the waterfall.”

This walk also reveals glimpses of the coast and “a wide variety of flowers,” including “a large number of orchids in spring,” says Chapman. More than a quarter of Victoria’s native plant species are found in Great Otway National Park, including 80 kinds of orchid. Many continue flowering into early summer. You will likely see and hear plenty of birds too – perhaps even currawongs.

Steavenson Falls.

Steavenson Falls.Credit:Mark Chew

STEAVENSON FALLS

Start/end: Steavenson River bridge, Marysville. Distance, time: 11.8 kilometre circuit, 4-5 hours. Grade: Medium. From CBD: 98 kilometres

At 84 metres, Steavenson Falls is among Victoria’s highest. Since a track was cut through the bush in 1866, this tiered cascade tumbling into a rockpool has also been one of the state’s most popular. These days there’s an easy 350-metre path from the car park to a large viewing platform at the waterfall’s base, as well as atmospheric nighttime lighting.

For a little more adventure, make the falls your midway reward by following Tree Fern Gully Track. It leads to Steavenson Falls Reserve’s main attraction, and up, up, up to another viewing platform perched just where the waterfall takes its initial plunge. Then loop back along Keppell Lookout Track. The lookout itself “has a nice view over Marysville and the entire valley,” says Chapman. On clear days you can also see the Cathedral Ranges from this and other lookouts along the track.

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This route offers plenty of variety, from the cool, verdant tree-fern gully that follows the Steavenson River, to stringybark and mountain ash forest further on and up. The landscape is regenerating rapidly after 2009’s Black Saturday bushfires.

MASONS FALLS

Start/end: Kinglake National Park entrance closest to the falls. Distance, time: 13.5 kilometre circuit, 4.5 hours. Grade: Medium. From CBD: 77 kilometres

This walk follows the Mount Sugarloaf Ridge and Running Creek tracks. Time it right and you can enjoy lunch at the Masons Falls picnic area, or on the mini grandstand-style viewing platform opposite this 45-metre-high tiered waterfall. The easiest alternative route is the 700-metre path through a fern gully that links the waterfall and its picnic area.

Most of Kinglake National Park was burnt during the 2009 bushfires. “It’s now recovering,” reports Chapman, so “while you don’t get tall forest … what you do get are wildflowers” that he considers especially beautiful at this time of year. Low vegetation also means views of distant Melbourne along the mountain ridge; the panoramic vista from Mount Sugarloaf lookout is particularly striking.

Keep your eyes – and ears – open for fauna too, including the park’s 90 native bird species. On this walk recently, I was twice serenaded by lyrebirds firing off rapid, perfectly mimicked medleys of numerous other birds’ song and chatter.

SAILORS FALLS

Start/end: Lake Daylesford. Distance, time: 16.8 kilometre circuit, 5.5 hours. Grade: Medium. From CBD: 108 kilometres

John Chapman and his wife and co-author Monica Chapman at Erskine Falls.

John Chapman and his wife and co-author Monica Chapman at Erskine Falls.Credit:Jim Grelis

Plunging 20 metres straight down, past basalt columns and into a semi-circular gorge, Sailors Falls is a dual waterfall when the flow is high. It’s in a former gold-mining area, says Chapman, “so all the surrounding forest was cleared … in the 1860s to 1880s.” Eucalypt trees are often coppiced, “which means they were cut at ground-level, and three or four trunks have grown up.” Flowering from June to December, wild orchids thrive in this ground disturbed by mining activity – including through the creation of water races that have since become walking tracks.

This walk follows the Sailors Creek gully along the Dry Diggings, Wallaby and Sailors Falls tracks in Hepburn Regional Park. Stop at the waterfall for lunch, including mineral water straight from the source about 400 metres downstream (or from a bore at Sailors Falls picnic area above). Loop back to Lake Daylesford, first through farmland along Shanahans Lane, then along the Star and Lerderderg tracks via Jubilee Lake. Or keep it simple: from the Sailors Falls car park and picnic area, where there are interpretive signs about the area’s history, walk down 130 stairs to the waterfall’s base.

ERSKINE FALLS

Start/end: Erskine River bridge, Lorne. Distance, time: 14.6 kilometres return, 5.5 hours. Grade: Medium-hard. From CBD: 142 kilometres

Great Otway National Park has so many waterfalls that Chapman had to include a second in his fab five. A 30-metre-high cascade spreading out into a veil during high flow, and surrounded by lush vegetation even at the height of summer, Erskine Falls is probably the park’s most popular and impressive.

On this walk along Erskine Falls Track, “you also pass Straw Falls on the way, which is a bit smaller but very nice,” says Chapman. Indeed he considers much of this route up through a valley “very pretty,” because “you’re walking through what I call unchanged forest – which is unusual because most of our forest has been burnt or humans have done something to it.” According to Chapman, this landscape of tall eucalypts and ferns is so moist it’s untouched by fire.

Mackenzie Falls in the Grampians.

Mackenzie Falls in the Grampians.Credit:Joe Castro

The much easier alternative is a 10-minute walk from the Erskine Falls access road car park. However, whether taking the short or long route it’s worth going beyond the upper lookout where views of the falls are limited. Tackle the 240 steep steps down to the base – and back up again! – to experience this waterfall in all its negative-ion glory.

WALK TO WATERFALLS FURTHER AFIELD

  • Paradise Falls: The easy stepped track to this High Country highlight in Alpine National Park is only 30 minutes return.
  • MacKenzie Falls: In Grampians National Park, one of Victoria’s largest falls can be enjoyed on two two-kilometre-return walks: the wheelchair-friendly lookout route, or to the base and back up 260 steep stairs.
  • Triplet Falls: In Great Otway National Park’s western hinterland, a two-kilometre circuit reveals this waterfall’s three distinct tiers.
  • Eurobin and Ladies Bath falls: Two Mount Buffalo National Park waterfalls in less than two kilometres there and back. It’s an easy walk perfect for picnics.
  • Woolshed Falls: A six-kilometre trail links this Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park highlight with The Cascades, a series of waterfalls in Beechworth Historic Park.

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