Lake Tali Karng is a natural stream-fed lake in the High Country, about 20 km (as the crow flies) north-east of the town of Licola. The lake was supposedly formed by a large landslide back in the day and when you’re down at the lake looking up at the towering escarpments around you and trails of destruction from fallen rocks leading down to the lake, it’s easy to visualise how this would happen.
It is only accessible by foot, with the closest vehicle access being a 4×4 track to Millers Hut, approximately 6km away from the lake. There are 3 main walking tracks into the area – Wellington Plains, Wellington River, and Mt Margaret. On this trip, my 8th into the lake, we came in via the Wellington Plains starting at McFarlane’s Saddle. This route is the easiest of the options and definitely recommended if you are hiking with children.
Starting at the Saddle car park, the trail begins as an old 4X4 track that winds through the snow gums for a kilometre before opening up onto the start of the Wellington Plains. The track across the plains is mostly well defined. There are a few places where the low heath is very thick, making it hard to see the path. Most sections are flat dirt track where others are rockier and care is needed when the track is hard to see under the heath so ankles aren’t rolled.
The most common feedback I get from readers of The Bushwalking Blog is that they “just want more hikes to do”. I get it – hiking is my passion too. I do more hikes than I’d ever have the time to write about, so that’s why I’ve decided Bare Bones Bushwalking is now a thing. Not every hike has a story I can attach to it and some I just don’t get around to writing up, so in an effort to share ALL of (or at least more of) the hikes with you I’m doing this. A more simplified blog post that gives you everything you need to go and do the hike yourself. Make your own stories.
From the beginning of the plains to the Nyimba or Riggall Spur camps is 7km. It consists of mainly very exposed, heath-covered landscapes, dotted with the skeletons of burnt out snow gums from the 2006 fire season that wiped out a lot of this area. Some pockets survived the fires and old growth snow gums add their beautiful character to these areas. Still standing is the dishevelled Dunsmuir Hut, not far along the trail. There’s not much left of it in the way of providing shelter, but there’s a Geocache located inside if that’s your thing.
There are a number of places where the track appears to split and these aren’t marked. All these detours meet up with each other again eventually, so (as far as I found) there is no right or wrong path to take at these forks, but keep an eye on the landscape and your map to make sure you’re headed in the right general direction. There is very little elevation gained across the plains, so the walk is suitable for people of all ages and most abilities.
If the hike is being done as an overnighter, between the Nyimba and Riggall Spur camping areas there are plenty of places to pitch a tent (or in my case, hang a hammock). There is a pit toilet located about 100 metres east of Nyimba, and fresh running water can usually be obtained from Nigothoruk Creek 650m east on the track to Millers Hut.
From the camps, there are two options to get down to the lake. Riggall Spur track is the longer of the two but somewhat easier. Hikers that passed through while we were there in February 2018 said the track was very overgrown with many fallen trees.
The other option is Gillios Track, a 4km long trudge that’s brutal on the knees. The first 2km is quite easy going; a tight, narrow trail winding through thick ferns and eucalypts. The forest type changes dramatically as you lose altitude, as does the trail. In the last km or so, you drop about 600m and the track is mostly rock with some extremely steep sections. Much of the rock provides stable footing, albeit there are some large steps involved, but other sections are covered in loose slippery rocks that easily disappear under your feet. On this visit, my knees didn’t cope on the descent and without walking poles, there’s no way I would have made it down (or back out). So take caution if you have weak knees or ankles as this last 2km is very, very hard on the muscles and joints.
The descent is well worth the effort for the solitude and beauty of the lake. The water is always icy cold – perfect for soaking legs that feel like jelly after the last track. There is a trail that circles the lake in its entirety and is an additional 1.8km loop. It’s worth the walk to visit the Snowden Falls at the far end of the lake where the creek flows in.
There is an abundance of very large trout in the lake that can often be seen looking down from the circuit trail. Back when camping was allowed at the lake you could watch them feeding in the evenings, launching out of the water to snap up mayflies. I have tried fly and lure here many times, never with any success. They’re either too well fed naturally, or I’m just a lousy fisherman. Both of which are likely. Fly fishing is especially difficult at the lake due to the steep angle of the banks leading to the water. It doesn’t allow for a long back-cast and leads to plenty of frustration hooking up the trees behind you.
From the camp back to the McFarlane’s Saddle, return via the same track you came in on. While the trek out of the lake is very hard work, I find it much easier on the joints than coming down. There are some sections closer to the lake where old parts of the trail veer off but quickly become invisible. Be mindful of this as it’s an easy place to get lost. I would allow a minimum of two hours to cover the 4km back to the camps at the top of the hill. There’s an alternate route over the Spion Kopje ridgeline, which adds significant elevation and maybe an hour or more to the trip, but you’d need to do some research as this detour was not well marked when we visited and we couldn’t find the trail at either end.
If hiking in summer, be cautious of snakes. We have seen plenty of tigers and browns at all points along the trail. Also be aware of rapid weather changes that can occur in the alpine regions. We have had ice and snow overnight after a 30-degree day. On this recent trip, a storm came through while we were down at the lake, in spite of the radar showing nothing. Visibility went from clear to 20m through fog in minutes. Pack and be prepared for any and all conditions.
Need to Know
Length: 26 km
Time: 2 days (minimum 9 hours if done as a day hike)
Grade: Moderate / Grade 4 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Region: Eastern Victoria
Park: Alpine National Park
Closest Town: Maffra (125 km)
Path Taken: McFarlane’s Saddle – Wellington Plains Walking Track – Nyimba Camp – Gillios Track – Lake Tali Karng – Gillios Track – Nyimba Camp – Wellington Plains Walking Track – McFarlane’s Saddle.
Car Access: McFarlane’s Saddle car park is approximately 300km from Melbourne CBD. Take M1 to Traralgon and turn north up C105 Traralgon-Maffra Rd and remain on this to Heyfield. Take C486 Licola Rd north from Heyfield and remain on this road until just before the bridge leading into the town of Licola. Turn right onto Tamboritha Rd and follow for 46km to Arbuckle Junction. Follow the road to the right at the junction and it becomes Moroka Rd. McFarlane’s Saddle is a further 12km down Moroka Rd.
Further Info: Camping at the lake itself is no longer permitted out of respect for the wishes of the traditional land owners. There is ample free camping available at the top of Gillios Track at either the Nyimba or Riggall Spur camps. Weather can change rapidly in the Alpine areas. Please pack appropriately for all conditions. Be sure to sign your groups intentions into the log book situated at the McFarlane’s gate.
Map: All tracks are covered in the Parks Victoria Lake Tali Karng Visitor’s Guide. However, you’ll need a topographic map so grab Spatial Vision 1:50,000 Tali Karng Moroka Outdoor Recreation Guide. If you’re happy to use your phone as your map you can download the free Avenza Maps app (on Android, iPhone, or Windows) and purchase this one for AUD$17.99.
Have you visited Lake Tali Karng? Got it on your bucket list? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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