Werribee Gorge Circuit
Start - Quarry Rd Picnic Area, Myers Rd
Length - 7.6km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Rocky, River Flats, 4x4 Track
Vertical Climb - 293m
Time - 2-3 Hours
Signed - Yes, Orange Markers Plus Boards
Date Hiked - 17th October 2018
Best Time - Autumn Through Late Spring
Traditional Custodians - Wathaurong People
Directions - Located an hour from Melbourne, take the Western Fwy (M8) west until you reach the Mortons Rd exit. Turn right and then left onto Pentlands Hill Rd. Follow this until you see the Werribee Gorge signs on Myers Rd and continue on to the picnic area.
The Hike - With a three week holiday booked to spend some time in Tasmania and Victoria, I of course saw an opportunity to get a cheeky hike in. Returning to lovely Daylesford for a few days before heading to Tasmania to do the Three Capes with Caris' aunt and uncle, I started researching nearby hikes that looked interesting. Having already completed the Tipperary Track on a previous visit in 2015 I cast my net a little wider and set my sights on one of Victoria's best day hikes in Werribee Gorge. With a good mix of great views, river walking and a fun ledge scramble, I settled on this hike so just had to set a date to get out there.
In the end I visited on my own as Caris wasn't sure a day hike so close to the Three Capes would be a good idea and Candy and Hal had other commitments on the only morning it made sense to go out. With some lovely gloomy weather hanging around Daylesford during our stay, I woke up to more of the same and figured I would be capturing some moody scenes at Werribee Gorge. Borrowing the Holden ute that Candy and Hal had kindly lent me I drove out of town and towards the Western Freeway. Once I was south of the Wombat State Forest the weather cleared and it was mostly sunny for the rest of the day. Google directed me there perfectly and I decided to start at the Quarry Rd site because it was the first one I found and it seemed like a good idea. Having read a few blog posts and guide books before my visit, I decided that tackling the "least interesting" bits first would make for a better hike overall. Although this would be better achieved by starting further down at the Meikles Point Car Park, I feel the way I took balances out the climb you would have to undertake starting lower down at Meikles.
Immediately getting into the climb, you walk up the hill from the car park and are popped out onto Myers Rd. I was hoping that road walking didn't play a big part of the day and thankfully there are a set of markers on a post not too far along pointing you back onto a trail. Having not hiked since finishing a seven day stretch on the Bibbulmun Track just under a month ago, the first hill had the blood pumping and was a good way to get the legs working again. There are a few information boards along the trail telling you about the flora and fauna or the local history and I had a chuckle at the first one as it pointed out that echidnas can be found in the area. Long time TLoP readers will understand why I had a chuckle as the echidna has been my white whale over the past few years, having never spotted one in the wild.
My bad luck continued with no spiky bush fluffs showing their faces as I hiked on to the first highlight of the day, the eastern lookout. A rocky section on the edge of the forest, marvel at the views provided of the surrounding farmland. With a few clouds hanging around this made for an idyllic picture although this was just a taster of what was to come. Spotting some pig face that was just coming into flower, the trail follows a rocky 4x4 track up to the highest point on the hike. With not a lot of ground cover you can appreciate the quirky angles and umbrella shapes of the eucalypts. Coming up over the hill and onto a more defined ridge you get views of the river valley and the hills on the western side. You get a real close up opportunity to view the steep cliffs as you approach them from a little side path. The extent of the drop isn't apparent straight away as the cliff edge is covered in plants and bushes but then you peer over the edge and the trees at the bottom of the valley look like seedlings and Needles Beach looks like a small puddle.
It's no real surprise to find out that several people have died here over the years as there isn't much stopping you from falling off the edge if you slip. Keen to explore the ridge I continued on and wound around the rocky path towards the western lookout. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the walk with a sense that the great views were close but not wanting to rush and miss something. Reaching the western lookout you spot a large cairn that is a nice feature to have in the foreground of your photos. The views here looking north and west are the best of the hike with rolling hills of forest and farmland contrasting nicely against the blue skies. Almost pyramid in shape, you can see that these ancient hills have been carved out over the eons by the river below.
As you continue on from the lookout, the ridge becomes narrower and rockier, providing even better views and some excellent vantage points to admire the course of the Werribee River. I had great fun here trying to capture the right photo of the area and it was really cool seeing the river valley from this high up. The greens, the shimmer from the river and the rising hills make this a really special spot and one I could have stayed at for a lot longer. The final downhill section towards the valley brings an end to the ridge walking and the stunning viewpoints but you enter the second stage of the hike that offers up a different perspective. Being down low you appreciate how steep the edges of the valley are and the break from the sun was very welcome. The vegetation down here was a lot thicker with a heavy covering of grass and reeds closer to the river. With a gentle walk along the flats for a while I slowed up and enjoyed the walking. Straight up I was treated to a cool pink and white wildflower and then I was joined by some rosellas that flashed around everywhere.
One of them was still enough for me to catch a photo so that was nice of it. More wildlife appeared in the form of a kangaroo and her joey on the sandy tracks next to the river. I managed to get a couple of shots while mama roo watched me cautiously before they bounded away, never to be seen again. Continuing on I followed the banks of the river as it reached a rockier section and the start of several interesting rock formations that make the gorge walking special. Clambering up onto a ledge, you are positioned right next to a set of small rapids where you get a good view of the vertical slabs of rock that form part of the cliff. There is enough of a platform along the cliff to form a path so it should be fairly easy for regular hikers.
Getting back onto a single track path, it is not long until you reach one of the best spots along the trail, Needles Beach. So named because of the needle like rock structure caused by extremes of pressure and time, this is also a popular swimming spot if the weather is getting on the warm side. It's a pretty cool looking place with a sandy beach and shallow swimming spot under the gaze of the tall cliffs. With the bend in the valley and tall hills everywhere it certainly feels like you're completely isolated from the world. With no one else on the trail I was isolated in a literal sense so used the peace and quiet to have a morning tea rest with the muffin I purchased from the muffin store in Daylesford. With so much great scenery I was keen to explore further so it was a short morning tea before I headed off (it was cold so didn't go for a swim). The trail snakes around as it reaches another bend in the river and more spectacular views are found. Another striking pyramid shaped hill is perfectly framed by two other hills, the river and the sky. I spent quite a bit of time photographing this scene from different angles as the track hugged up against another steep cliff.
More rocky platform walking is required but it doesn't last long and soon you are back on a wider section leading down to Lionshead Beach. I think you can guess why it is named this but it took a bit of staring at the rock face on the opposite side of the river to make out the shape of a lion. I was getting more Easter Island vibes but I can see where they are coming from once you look at the information board interpretation. Coming up next was one of the things that people most look forward to and one I was excited to experience, the scrambling along the river using the metal guides. Some may call it overkill and certainly when I was there the rocks weren't very slippery but I can see why they added them in. A section of the trail hugs the rock face very closely with the river down below and a length of thick metal rope has been bolted to the rock along the trickier sections (see photo slider). Carrying a camera in one hand meant it was easier to use the rope but if I'd put that away then it would have been manageable just doing a regular rock scramble.
It's a cool feature of the trail and adds a little excitement to the mix. This area is also another popular swimming spot so if it's a hot day there is the potential for two swims. Once you're past the rock wall then it is easy sailing as you make your way along the water channel that was previously used to irrigate farmland. Heavy use of dynamite and concrete was used in the early 1900s to blast away the cliff and create what is there now. It seems like a lot of effort but I'm sure they had a plan. The result is a winding path for you to follow along the river and a couple of interesting points to photograph when you reach the water sluice. One of the information boards along this stretch displayed a section about koalas so from then on I was searching the trees for a grey fluffy lump but it was not meant to be. Reaching the Meikles Point Picnic Area I had a bit of a look around before making my way down to the river for a closer look.
Another information board mentioned that there might be platypus living in the river so I was excited to search for one. Standing on the edge of the river being super still and looking for bubbles in the quiet pools, I was not very lucky despite checking several spots. Deciding I wasn't going to see one I went and found the signs pointing me back towards my start point. The final stretch was a climb up the hill on 4x4 tracks but the gnarly eucalypts made for an interesting walk. With grey clouds coming over it was a moody finish but luckily I would end my hike in the dry. The forest around here felt very dry, a point that hit home when I crossed a small crevice carved by a creek only to find there was no water flowing. Arriving at the car park I found a few more cars there including a very trusting biker who had left his jacket, boots and helmet just sitting on his bike. Hike over I drove back to Daylesford for another drizzly afternoon exploring town.