I've been lurking on this wonderful forum for a few years now, gaining valuable information on the different trails out there. I figured maybe it's time I put something back in. We have a close group of 3 families with kids in the 7 to 11 year range. I'll start posting bits on our walks, hopefully other parents with kids in the similar age bracket, who are wondering what's out there, can get something useful out of these posts.
We picked the Mt Howitt overnight walk to do over the Labor Day weekend. This is walk #37 in the Chapman/Siseman Day Walks Victoria guidebook.
We left the Melbourne area early on Saturday before Labor Day and drove up to the Howitt Plains Parking Area. To those who are wondering (ourselves included), a 2WD vehicle will make it up there. We had a Corolla in the mix and it made it up without any issues. There were a few sections on the unpaved road where the Corolla had to really slow down but other than that, just make sure your fuel tank is full. If you're still uncertain, there was even a Toyota 86 at the parking area! This was in March though, and I gather the road can be a lot rougher after the snow melts. And as mentioned in the forums somewhere, watch out for those 4WDs, they really fly up/down Howitt Road at speed.
After signing in the intentions register at the trailhead, we headed off for the Vallejo Gantner Hut area. There is a water source there, but we carried enough water for a full two days of walking. The kids carried 2L of water; some carried their sleeping bags; the oldest kid also carried his sleeping mat and snacks. The parents had a lot of knee buckling water to haul. We're not ultralighters per se, but from experience, we had carried pretty much only what was needed, including food and snacks. The only non essential item we were carrying was our frisbee.
The walk to the hut past Clover Plain was an easy stroll. We lucked out on the weather, and bar the gazillion flies, it was enjoyable and we were soon at the hut. Unlike most of the other dilapidated high country huts, the Vallejo Gantner hut is quite striking. The kids gave the hut a look over whilst the parents debated on a campsite. The loo with a view was also pretty cool. Though they could have easily put two loos in that big building. And yes, it is truly a loo with a view.
Did I mention how much we loved
We were lucky we started off early, as this being the Labor Day weekend, it became tent city within an hour or so after we arrived. However, if you look around, there are campsites here and there. There are a number of sites within 10 minutes walk from the hut. Although it was tent city, it was very quiet all day and night. As we were one of the first, we plunked down near the springs. After a quick coffee, we walked to the Devil's Staircase and around the hut area to explore.
Although we had carried in sufficient water, we did boil some of the spring water up for a cuppa. As we were camped right there, we got a good chance to chat with many of the other campers and walkers who headed to the spring to fill up. Some of them were filling up quite a number of litres! At the rate it was trickling out of the pipe, I'm hesitant to guess how long they were sitting there filling up!
One wonderful thing about hiking with other kids is that they will easily amuse each other and while the time away. The adults were able to just relax with a coffee and chat. Before long, it was time to turn in. Other than flashes of lightning (from far away) and a little rain, it was a quiet night.
At 0630 the next morning, we packed some breakfast into day packs and headed up the trail to Mt Howitt. We had planned on having breakfast there while enjoying the sunrise. Before we reached the actual summit of Mt Howitt, the sun rose and we were getting hungry. So we looked for a flat area off the trail and boiled some water for coffee, hot chocolate, and noodles. After a nice warm breakfast amidst stunning scenery, we headed up the last couple of hundred yards to the summit of Mt Howitt. Right below the summit, we came across a tent someone had set up - what an amazing spot to camp! Here we met and had a wonderful few minutes chatting with Wildlight (a fellow forum member). He gave us some great beta on the rest of the Spec/Viking circuit, which we're keen to attempt, maybe in a years time.
After signing the summit register and taking the obligatory summit shots, we wondered on to Big Hill on the AAWT. From there, we decided to return to the campsite as we had to drive home. After packing our tents, sleeping bags, and other stuff up, we marched back to our cars at the Howitt Plains parking area. The march back was uneventful and our hands were put to good use waving those flies away.
The drive, at least in March, is easy. You don't need a 4WD or a soft-roader. There was a consistent trickle (it was trickling a lot quicker on Sunday morning after that brief rain on Saturday night) at the water source, so you could go in light on water if you wanted to. For an overnight walk, we found it just as easy to carry in water for everyone. There were quite a number of open spaces for campsites, and enough space to throw a frisbee around, which we did. If you're so inclined, there are two geocaches in the hut area. Although the one at the Devil's Staircase is a 5/5 rated cache, so perhaps not kid friendly! Like cartoons these days which have jokes to draw in both adults and kids, the overnight walk to Mt Howitt was definitely enjoyed by all in our group. Stunning scenery, relatively easy walk, great campsites; and the length was perfect for the kids' overnight walk - we'll be back.