Formerly called 'The Alpine Walking Track', the 'Australian
Alps Walking Track' is a long route that passes through the mountains
of Victoria and New South Wales. It is primarily a wilderness
style walk as it passes through natural landscapes and there are
no major facilities.
The track essentially follows the crest of the alpine range (the alps) from southern Victoria through to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). On the way it crosses all the highest mountain regions from the Baw Baw Plateau, the Mt Howitt area, the Bogong High Plains, the Cobberras then the Kosciuszko National Park and finally into Namadgi National Park near Canberra.
In many ways, it is the grandest and most difficult of all the long distance tracks in Australia. It is not the longest but with over 27,000 metres of climbing and descending it is indeed a tough walk (equivalent to more than 3 ascents and descents of Mt Everest!). This equates to between 550m and 800m of climbing and descending each day - definitely not a flat walk! It also crosses a lot of Australia's best alpine scenery making it a very scenic varied walk.
The official length is 650 km but most follow the route described in the guide book which in the current 5th edition is 661 km. A fair bit of planning is needed, as while there are plenty of minor roads crossing the alps, there are no towns or re-supply points along the track (see itineraries below). There are several ski resorts close to the track, which can provide a rest with a bed and a hot shower, but there are few other facilities. Most end-to-enders spend about 3 days driving and pre-placing food caches before starting the walk.
Food dumps are usually arranged for every 5 to 8 days, some choose longer sections of 12 to 14 days, it all depends on what weight you find acceptable.
The entire route takes about 30 to 55 days to complete
on walking speed and the number of rest days. Fast walkers and individuals often complete the track
in around 30 to
40 days but most groups seem to take between 45 and 55 days. As this is an alpine area with variable
weather, it is suggested to build in some extra days to wait out poor
weather. Some very experienced ultra-fast walkers have attempted the
track, some succeed and some fail. The fastest known trip I know of so
far is just over 11 days.
There are not just many tough climbs, the track crosses a
of rivers which have to waded or crossed by rough log bridges.
Long sections of the track also have none or minimal markers as it
wilderness areas. The lack of markers in these regions is deliberate,
as management of these zones dictate no formal marked tracks.
The track has been planned for experienced bushwalkers to follow
and is not suitable for the inexperienced. There are even some
short sections without any track at all - simply follow the
untracked ridges, at times pushing through scrub and occasionally may find
markers confirming you are on the
route. Tents are essential - there are only a couple of huts
along the track. Detailed maps are also essential as this is not a walk
where you can just follow markers - it does require navigation.
The track was designed by bushwalkers for bushwalkers and does require adequate walking skills. It is not suitable for travellers as a first time long walk - for such an experience, the Overland Track in Tasmania, the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia or the Great South West Walk in Victoria are suggested. There are no official camp sites along the track - in fact there are many places suitable for camping depending on water supplies. The main needs for campsites are flat dry ground (usually easy enough to find) and water. In late summer water can be very hard to find on some sections. Late spring is the most common period chosen for end-to-end walks but even then water is hard to find particularly in the Barry Mountains (there are now three water tanks) and around Mt McDonald (its a long walk to water). Park managers are aware of these water short sections and water tanks have been installed at some locations but at others it can take 2 hours plus to collect water.
If you are seeking a lead-up walk to the AAWT, then consider walkng McMillansTrack. It follows the southern side of the alps and has many similarities with the AAWT but at 210km is shorter and has many road access points making it easier to plan a supported trip. We have produced a guide book to McMillans Track. For a recent personal account of his journey along some of the AAWT then it is suggested to read 'From Snow to Ashes' by Anthiony Sharwood.
This was the first of the extremely long distance tracks in Australia marked specifically for bushwalkers. It combined the first long walking track in Australia - part of the Yarra Track which crossed the Baw Baws - with other existing pads and tracks to form the first recognised walking track longer than a week in length.
The Bibbulmun Track has acknowledged that the idea for their track came from a former Victorian who was inspired by The Alpine Walking Track (incorrectly referred to on the Friends of the Bibbulmun site as 'The Alpine Way'). Most of the other very long tracks built in Australia in the 1980's used the Alpine Walking Track as a model or inspiration.
The first suggestion of a long distance walking track in Victoria, was made in 1948, by the Field Naturalist Club of Victoria. This was accepted and proposals of routes were put forward by the Parliamentary State Development Committee in 1952. In 1954 Alam Strom walked from Mt Erica in Victoria to Tindinbilla near Canberra and proposed the route to extend all the way through to Canberra. This was published by the National Parks Association of NSW. However there was little support at the time by bushwalkers and the idea languished. Many walkers felt that the wild areas should be left the way they were and a formal track was not needed. At that stage bushwalkers felt that the wilderness would last forever and that a track would destroy wilderness values. Of course the wilderness did not stay that way, and in hindsight, a track made in the 1950's might have assisted in protecting what there was.
Over the next 14 years, forestry kept building many new roads into the forests - something they had been doing since the massive 1939 bushfire. With bulldozers and chainsaws, even the wildest areas were being tamed and bushwalkers soon began to realise there would soon be no wild natural areas left in the Alps. If they waited and did nothing, all would soon be lost. An icon style track was one way to gain attention for protecting the dwindling wild areas.
The catalyst happened in 1968 when Maurice Harkins from the Tourist Development Authority suggested a track from Mt Wellington to Mt Kosciuszko. The Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs (now called Bushwalking Victoria) responded one year later with a detailed proposal for a track from Mt Erica through to the Victorian/New South Wales border. A common myth has been that the Federation initiated the track but this was not the case. Once suggested, the Federation adopted the track and provided the impetus and support to make it happen.
Acceptance by other government departments followed and grants were obtained to finance track marking. Work on the track started in 1970 and by 1976, marking of the Alpine Walking Track was completed. The route was marked with distinctive yellow diamond markers, some of which still exist today. Much of the track linked together existing tracks thus reducing costs.
For 20 years, the Alpine Walking Track ended at the New South Wales border. The managers of the Kosciuszko National Park were not interested. In the early 1990's, a major change occurred when the governments of Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT recognised the Australian Alps as a single entity. The resulting cooperation has seen the track extended through to Canberra as originally proposed - it has thus become a symbol of the common link between all the parks. The eastern end of the track in Victoria was re-aligned to cross the state border in a more suitable location for continuing onto Canberra.
Of course, politics intervened and the track was re-named to
the current title of 'Australian Alps Walking Track'. The track
markers were also changed from distinctive yellow diamonds
to a rectangular blue/grey badge. There was a lot of disagreement
over the new markers as they are hard to see in scrub and poor
weather. They do not satisfy the Australian Standard for track
markers and the practice of placing them near ground level made
them hard to find in scrub or almost impossible to find after
snowfall. After much discussion
the markers are being replaced with more visible yellow
triangles but the
problem of some marker posts being close to the ground and hidden in
scrub still remains.
Another controversy also exists over the official route through the Kosciuszko National Park as most of the time it does not follow the crest of the range. The original marked route followed major roads for a long distance and no campsites are provided - indeed camping was banned beside the road! Most walkers would never be interested in dodging cars while they could be walking across some of Australia's best alpine scenery and almost all walkers ignored the official track along ski village roads. With the creation of a new walking track along the Snowy River, the official track has been moved, it still has a section of road walking but is much improved from the original route. There is also another controversy in Kosciuszko National Park - in wilderness areas, official policy is that there are to be no track markers and thats fine. However, in these wilderness areas park management has signposted every fire trail with a huge timber sign showing its name and often upgraded the fire trails to roads - hardly what most people would call 'wilderness' yet will not allow an AAWT marker to be put onto these huge signposts. So this writer questions why are these areas designated as wilderness when they are not being managed as such.
The southern end is at Walhalla, a small town in Victoria about 130 km east of Melbourne. The northern end of the track is at Tharwa near the outskirts of Canberra, which is Australia's capital city.
There are many access points to the track. The southern end is at Walhalla, a small town near the eastern side of the Baw Baw Plateau. There is no public transport to the town and some walkers use a combination of bus then taxi to get to the start. Another novel method to start the track is to follow the Upper Yarra Track from the outskirts of Melbourne to the Baw Baw Plateau. Currently there are no published notes for the Upper Yarra Track, it is not marked on most maps and there is no maintenance on that route. As most of the Upper Yarra TTTrack has been replaced by roads, it is not a very interesting walk.
The northern end is at Tharwa near Canberra and this is
close enough to the city for a taxi to be used (about 30km). To
private transport is needed (hire a car for three to five days)
as there is no public transport along the many roads that cross
the track. Most of these roads are surfaced with gravel so if
hiring a car make sure you are allowed to drive along unsealed
roads. Suggested drop sites are Mt Victor, Rumpff Saddle near Mt Skene (Jamieson -
Licola Road), Mt
Hotham, Omeo Highway (Sunnyside) or Benamrbra-Corryong Road, Buenba Hut, Thredbo and Kiandra.
Parcels can be
posted to the post offices at Mt Hotham and Thredbo.
The guide book for the track is 'Australian Alps Walking Track'. If walking the track you will find this book essential. The current edition was published in December 2021 and online updates will keep it up-to-date. It describes the entire track in detail and also includes 1:50,000 colour topographic maps of the entire track. Sidetrips are also included as well as some alternatives to the 'official' track in the Kosciuszko National Park. The 'official' track often follows roads and the guide provides some pleasant alternatives. The guide book shows locations of all known water sources along the track and the track notes include comments about how reliable these sources are. While some will find the new edition will reduce the need to carry any other maps, we still recommend that some maps are also carried as if you have to abandon your trip then the extra area covered by the larger maps is invaluable in finding your way out of the alps to the nearest town.
A small booklet 'Australian Alps Walking Track - Map Guide', is also available which shows the track location and is useful when driving the roads to place food drops but it cannot be used for navigation as the scale is too small.This can be downloaded from the web. Topographic maps are also needed as the track is not always clearly marked or defined. There is no special map set for this track. A set of 1:100,000 maps exist for the entire route but these are not ideal walking maps and leave off many details.
The best scale for bushwalking are the 1:50,000 maps which are available for most of the track. For some small sections the only detailed maps are the 1:25,000 series. The Victorian maps are published by Vicmap, the New South Wales and ACT areas are published by CMA/LPI (they have had a name change to LPI). In all, about 17 maps cover the entire track. For some areas, there are also some special maps produced by bushwalkers (particularly Bush Maps) which provide useful details like campsites and water points. These maps are not essential but are well worth having.
NATMAP 1:100,000 Matlock, Howitt, Mansfield, Dargo, Bogong, Benambra, Jacobs River, Kosciuszko, Tantangara, Berridale, Michelago
VICMAP 1:50,000 - Walhalla, Aberfeldy, Skene, Moroka, Selwyn, Cobungra, Falls Creek, Leinster, Gibbo
CMA 1:50,000 - Suggan Buggan, Thredbo, Mt Kosciuszko,
Berridale - these are no longer printed and have been replaced with
1:25,000 and they are Davies Plain, Tom Groggin, Chimneys Ridge,
Perisher Valley, Geehi Dam, Jagungal,
Toolong Range, Old Adaminaby. Most walkers dont find the new maps any
better than the
old 1:50,000 sheets and the larger scale means you have to carry more
CMA 1:25,000 - Cabramurra, Denison, Ravine, Tantangara, Peppercorn, Rules Point, Rendezvous Creek, Corin Dam, WilliamsdaleROOFTOP MAPS: An alternative for the southern half of the track is to carry some of these maps. They are designed for 4 wheel drives and do nto show contours but are very useful as exit maps as they do cover a large area and show all the roads. Very useful if you have to leave the area quickly.
Not every map listed above is essential. To carry the least
number of maps, use the NATMAP 1:100,000 but these do have many errors
in regard to the tracks location and also lack information like
water points. The 1:50,000 are generally excellent and the 1:25,000 to the sections that both
these series miss gives an adequate map set.
While the track has been walked in 20 to 24 days several
requires walking up to 15 hours on some days (about 12 hours average
per day) and is not recommended.
Runners have reduced this to 11 days. For the sections below, rest days
are not included - the most common is
to spend one non-walking day at each food drop and 3 to 4 rest days is
common. Average daily walk for
35 days -
18.9km, 790m ascent and descent, 7.5 hours walking per day.
Rest days are not included, we suggest planning for 50 days overall. The most common rest days are to spend one non-walking day at some of the food drops. The rest days we had on north to south trip was one at Thredbo, two at Mt Hotham and one at Mt Wills (due to heavy snowfall - on that day some ski resorts were reopened!). Average daily walk for 46 days - 14.3km, 600m ascent and descent, 6 hours walking per day.Walhalla to Rumpff Saddle - 8 days, 108km, gravel road, food drop hidden in bush near Rumpff Saddle just off Jamieson-Licola Road
None are needed for walking the track. A permit is needed to
camp in the Cotter River Valley in the Namadgi National Park in
the ACT. Most walkers avoid the need for a permit by crossing
the valley in one day - basically walk from Murray Gap to beyond
Cottter Gap in one day - in reverse we walked from
Sawpit Creek to Oldfields Hut in one day. Some camping restrictions and
fire bans apply
in a few areas but no permits are required, such restrictions
are described in the guidebook.
stove is recommended for
use in all the alpine areas - in most alpine areas fires are banned