Spending a full day doing a tough hike is undoubtedly rewarding but sometimes there are weekends when you want to get out into the wild without having to traverse steep, exposed trails, navigate water crossings or scramble along rocky outcrops. Luckily, Melbourne has some great short hikes that even people who don’t like hiking will enjoy. Below are a few of my favourites that can be completed in less than half a day and still offer big rewards.
Organ Pipes National Park
Organ Pipes National Park is only 20km from Melbourne and so close to both a freeway and Melbourne Airport that I was sure all serenity would be lost. Yet even though there is the sound of planes occasionally flying overhead, this 3km trail is surprising peaceful.
Starting at the visitor’s centre, the track heads down a fairly steep path that provides amazing views of the Keilor Plains. It’s hard to imagine, but the whole area is the result of one of the world’s largest lava flows from volcanoes near Sunbury around one million years ago. The only evidence left of this lava now are the basalt columns around the park, including the ‘organ pipes’. These are vertical, hexagonal basalt columns that formed as the lava slowly cooled beneath a surface crust, causing cracks that lengthened into columns.
You can see the basalt columns up close by walking along the ‘Tessellated Pavement’, which are the tops of basalt columns that have been ‘filed down’ and eroded by Jacksons Creek. There is also a circular array of basalt columns at ‘Rosette Rock’ that are thought to have formed when a pocket of lava in a spherical cave formed during an earlier lava flow.
If you want to extend your time at Organ Pipes there are picnic areas at the visitor’s centre and at the bottom of the track, as well as places to swim at the Jackson Creek and Tessellated Pavement stops.
The only thing I knew about Hanging Rock before I went there was that it provided the setting for the book Picnic at Hanging Rock, which didn’t exactly have me itching to visit. So I was pretty surprised to find that the area is not only home to the famous 6.25 million-year old extinct volcano but also a racetrack and surrounding parklands – not very sinister.
The Hanging Rock Summit Walk is fairly steep but only a 1.8km return trip and very popular on weekends. Once you’re at the top though there is plenty of room to explore and it’s easy to find your own place among the numerous rock formations.
Shortly after you start, the path splits, offering two ways to get to the top. I’d recommend going up via the stairs to the right and then coming back down via the ramp, which is a more gradual decline. There are plenty of stops along the trail and many have eerie names – probably hoping to play into the myth of the Picnic at Hanging Rock novel and film. These include Morgan’s Blood Waterfall, Lover’s Leap, Vampire Cliff and Black Hole of Culcutta.
The path ends about three quarters of the way up but there are blue arrows that lead the way over and through rocks to get to the summit. Once at the top you get views of the low-lying Macedon area, framed by rock formations that have formed over years of exposure to weather and erosion.
There is a $10 parking fee and plenty of places to enjoy a picnic at hanging rock.
Werribee Gorge is the longest hike on this list at 10km, but if need be it can be shortened by diverging to the 4km-return Centenary Walk.
I would recommend the Werribee Gorge circuit though. The views are great and it’s a fun hike – you even get to use a wire rope to traverse some rocks along the river!
The circuit can be walked in either direction starting at Meikles Point picnic area or Quarry picnic area. We started from Quarry picnic area and walked clockwise (apparently a less popular option), heading into the gorge via an old aqueduct and towards the Werribee River.
According to Parks Victoria, the gorge has 500 million years of geological history on display, including glacial materials, ancient folded sea-bed sentiments and lava flows. I can’t say that I discerned any of these as I walked but I did take notice of the Lion Head Beach and Needles Beach stops, where you can stop for lunch or have a swim on a hot day.
After reaching these, you have to make your way around a tight rocky ledge with the help of a wire rope – don’t worry it looks and sounds tougher than it is and we saw plenty of kids scramble around with no issues (for those with young kids however, it might be too difficult).
This is when the uphill section begins, along a rocky ridge, and I’ll be honest, it was tougher than I expected. However, there are plenty of fantastic eastern and western lookouts along the way so you can take a breather while taking in the scenery.
Because the gorge has been reserved as a public park since 1907, the area is still in a relatively natural state and once you’re at the top of the rugged slopes looking over the river, you can imagine that it remains untouched.
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