The Werribee Gorge Circuit was one of those walks I had been hearing about for ages, but for one reason or another just never got out there. It’s crazy now that I know what’s waiting for me, because the Werribee Gorge State Park, where the circuit is located, is such a short distance from Melbourne compared to some of my other favourite walks in the region (like the George Bass Coastal Trail).
In many ways, the Werribee Gorge Circuit is a hidden gem. Not because it isn’t frequented, as its a popular hiking spot for many escaping Melbourne for a half day of fun, but because there are still parts you can discover alone. The key, as is often the case, is to arrive early… Really early.
Dean and I pull up to the Werribee Gorge State Park carpark at the Quarry as the sun has just started to glow on the horizon. It’s cold and quiet. Ours is the only car in the carpark. We rug up, knowing that warmth will come when the sun crests the gorge rim, and head out. The walk is, by our standards anyway, fairly easy. The trail goes first up and down through the bushland, into a little picnic area, and then down along the river where it meanders for a sandy stretch as Werribee Gorge rises on either side. I love walks like this, they remind me just how small I am. Werribee Gorge in particular gives me real memories of Katherine Gorge, where Dean and I hiked a few years ago. Of course, that hike was done in scorching Northern Territory conditions, and comparatively the hike at Werribee Gorge is a breeze.
As the trail continues along the river it comes ever closer to the cliff face. The sun is just starting to peak over the top of the gorge now, and the light filtering down is giving the photographer in me all the warm fuzzies. Ahead a new challenge awaits. A wire bolted into the very wall of the cliff, the only way to continue along the circuit. It is a fantastic way to change up what would have otherwise been a beautiful, but standard hike. The wire brings an ‘Indiana Jones’ kind of feeling to the whole situation, stretching along the sheer rock wall around the corner and into the unknown. I imagine when there are other people traversing the trail from the other direction (it’s a circuit so you can do it either way) this gets rather complicated. For now however, it’s just Dean and I, and a totally still and tranquil little lake where water from Werribee Gorge collects after the rain. Positively stunning.
I could have stayed by that little lake forever, listening to the gentle gurgle to the river further down, the call of animals welcoming the morning, and the sweet echoing of nothing but nature. Too bad I was conscious of the rising sun, and the promise it brought of more people to interrupt this little slice of paradise, so we continued. The next part of the circuit took us up in a steeper trail to the very top of Werribee Gorge, for a lookout over the surrounding area that, bathed in the first light of morning, was enough to catch the breath on my throat. It doesn’t seem like such a long way up, but looking down you realise everything below is in miniature, and you realise how high you have climbed. I love hikes like that. They’re the ones that make you feel big and small almost in the same breath, telling you always that no matter what you do or say or think or feel, the earth rolls on around you just the same.
Standing at the top of Werribee Gorge, we could see another plateau in the distance, like a mountain island with a perfectly flat top rising above the gorge. We hadn’t done much research on the walks surrounding this one so we didn’t realise at the time that this was the Centenary Walk, an extension you can tack onto the circuit. Believe me when I tel you it is earmarked for our next trip to the area.
The ‘official’ time to complete the Werribee Gorge Circuit is listed as 4-5 hours, but if you walk at a pace that is above a stroll I can tell you it will take you much less than that. Even accounting for stops for photos and taking time to soak up the view from the top, we did the entire loop in 3 hours max. You’ll need to think about your own hiking ability and set aside the time accordingly, particularly if you start later or like to take more breaks.
We started to encounter our first batch of people on our way back to the car. It seemed that most people walked the loop in the opposite direction, doing the top of the gorge first, then heading down into the river walk. I can see the logic in this, particularly as it doesn’t require such a steep hike at the end of the circuit, and it we came back for another sunrise wander I’d probably do the same. I think that sunrise would be even more stunning from the top of the peak instead of the bottom, so I suppose I shall have to come back after all.
Werribee Gorge Circuit Walk Rating
A stunning wander close to Melbourne that gives hikers views of the valley and river below, and the stunning horizon above, with a little taste of adventure as well.