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 the 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 4th edition is 659.6 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 60 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 50 and 60 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 trips I know of so
been 19 days by Li Brannfors as an unsupported walker and 14 days by
Beau Miles as a supported runner.
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 - you simply follow the
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 and around Mt McDonald. 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 doing 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 Trac. 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 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, 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 the 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 did 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. The marked route follows major roads for a long distance and no campsites are provided - indeed camping is 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. Almost all walkers ignore the official track along the ski village roads and instead follow walking tracks across the top of the Main Range. Even the guide book to the track ignores the road and recommends the track across the tops. I have suggested an alternative mid-level route using some of the aqueduct maintainence tracks plus 1km of new track around Guthega that would be more attractive to walkers than the road and still satisfy most park management problems. This avoids most of the road bashing, and after many years, some of this re-route has become a reality (it will be inthe new edition in late 2021). With no practical, attractive alternative most walkers will continue to cross the top of the Main Range regardless of the 'official' location. There is also another controversy in Kosciuszko National Park - in the 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 them to roads - hardly what walkers would call 'wilderness'. So this writer questions why are these areas are designated as wilderness when they are clearly not being managed as such.
The latest change to the track are three new water tanks in the Barry Mountains. One is west of The Twins , another on Mt Selwyn South and another near East Riley Road. Refer to our update notes for the guide book for grid coordinates of the water tanks. The water tanks were installed by the ranger with the assistance of some four wheel drive volunteers - all of them deserve a big thanks for doing this in light snowfall in early winter 2010.
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 it follows 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 July 2009 and online updates 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 new 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.
Note that as of October 2020, we have sold out of the guide and are currently rewalking most of the track before doing the next edition. Hence, the earliest for a new edition will be late 2021 and could be even later if parks do not reopen the track.
A small booklet 'Australian Alps Walking Track - Map Guide', is also available which shows the track location but it cannot be used for navigation as the scale is too small. 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 supplemented by the Bush Map series and the 1:25,000 to the sections that both these series miss gives an adequate map set. Some lists ignore the Bush Map series - while they do duplicate the other maps they are also the only ones that show water points and other useful walking information. After a fruitless 3 hour plus search for water (several groups have not found water at all on some days) carrying a map showing local water sources starts to look attractive.
Our map set from our spring 2006 walk. In order from Walhalla to Canberra.
1:50,000 Baw Baw National Park - (Bushmaps), 1:50,000 Walhalla
(Vicmap), 1:50,000 Aberfeldy (Vicmap), 1:50,000 Skene
(Vicmap), 1:50,000 Moroka (Vicmap), 1:50,000 Selwyn
(Vicmap), 1:50,000 Watersheds of King Howqua and Jamieson Rivers
(Bush Maps - mainly used for water sources), 1:50,000 Cobungra
Alpine Area (Vicmap - Outdoor Leisure Area), 1:50,000 Gibbo (Vicmap),
(Vicmap), 1:50,000 Suggan Buggan (CMA), 1:50,000 Thredbo (CMA),
1:50,000 Mt Kosciuszko (CMA), 1:50,000 Khancoban (CMA), 1:50,000
Eucumbene (CMA), 1:25,000 Denison (CMA),
1:25,000 Cabramurra (CMA),
1:25,000 Ravine (CMA), 1:25,000 Tantangara (CMA), 1:25,000 Rules
Point (CMA), 1:25,000 Rendezvous Creek
(CMA), 1:25,000 Corin Dam (CMA), 1:25,000 Williamsdale (CMA).
Total - 25 maps, cost around A$230.
sidetrip to Blue Waterholes the CMA 1:25,000 Peppercorn is an extra map.
NOTE - due to maps being occasionally out-of-print, you may
have to substitute others. Example take a 1:100,000 instead of two
1:50,000. It is also possible to use the 1:100,000 for
some areas but the smaller scale has less information. They are
also usually older maps and have many tracks either missing or
incorrectly located. Some dont like my list and just use mainly the
1:100,000 and then comment that they are hard to use where the track is
poorly marked. Personally I prefer to have the more detailed maps - if
the detail they show is not needed - fine, they dont weigh that much -
if the detail is required then its nice to have them as that can save
hours of unnecessary walking. The weight of our map set for the entire
track is 640g - a number of our maps have been cut down to include just
required sections and of course you only need to carry maps for each
section. The guide book weighs 385g and is also needed but you can cut
that up to save weight as well.
In NSW, the 1:50,000 maps are no longer printed and have been
replaced with 1:25,000. For
Thredbo (CMA) - get Davies Plain, Tom Groggin, Chimneys Ridge; for
Kosciuszko (CMA) - get Perisher Valley, Geehi Dam; for Khancoban (CMA)
- get Jagungal, Toolong Range; for Eucumbene (CMA) - get Old Adaminaby.
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 12 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 our 2006 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 on our last trip 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