Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia
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Australia: Rock climbing at Mt Arapiles

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

A white dirt road cuts through the oily green euycalyptus forest. Above it a great massif of orange rock stretches away, a series of faces and pinnacles in shattered quartzite that is a rock climber’s dream come true.

I have been to Mt Arapiles three times now and each time get closer to the (Australian) claim in the guidebook that this may well be the best rock climbing destination in the world. The sheer number and variety of routes to choose from is mind-boggling.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

It’s certainly a must visit for any rock climber travelling in Australia. The quality of the rock is impressive and I love the whole culture of the place with its ‘dirtbag’ climbers and relaxed vibe.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

We joined a village of shock-headed, brown-legged climbers in The Pines campground at the foot of Mt Arapiles, many with a penchant for howling at the big yellow moon, wobbling along slacklines set over death-defying drops, or doing yoga exercises atop bouldering rocks.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

That night it’s almost a painted moon – made of cardboard through a silhouetted gum tree. When a wisp of cloud obscures it the full glory of the Milky Way can be seen spread across the sky. Above the iconic Bard Buttress of Mt Arapiles, Orion waves his sword at the mountain.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

The dawn chorus of Kookaburras and parrots make an unusual alarm clock. Gallahs forage in the dust of the camp, heads bobbing forward and back. Once we’re out on the crags a Peregrine Falcon soars high on the thermals. Tiny colourful birds hop about on the rock and lizards circle for scraps of tomato at lunchtime. It’s not a great feeling when you put your hand in a crack in the rock while climbing and surprise one of these little guys.

There are rumours of an echidna and we sight a number of kangaroos grazing peacefully on the walk back to camp. Driving to Mitre Rock a metre-and-a-half-long Sand Monitor briefly plays chicken with us on the track before waddling to the nearest tree.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

From the crags the vast plains of the Wimmera stretch out endlessly flat. This is Victoria’s principal wheat growing area and vast fields stretch out below the crags. A series of salt lakes dot the landscape between Mt Arapiles and the Little Desert National Park. Their shores are white-encrusted with the salt that is airborne from the distant coast.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

Mt Arapiles is only 370m high but is definitely one of Australia’s premier climbing spots. Major Thomas Mitchell was the first European to climb it, back in 1836. He had been involved in the Battle of Salamanca in Spain and named this outcrop after the Arapiles hills near Salamanca.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

The aboriginal name for Mt Arapiles is Djurite and there is archaeological evidence of native people climbing high up the mountain to obtain rock for tool making. Rock climbers started to open up routes back in the 70s. Around the back at Bushranger Bluff an indentation high up on the cliff face is Captain Melville’s Cave, so-called for a notorious bushranger who supposedly used the cave as a hideout in the 1850s during the early days of the Victorian gold rush.

Rock climbing Mt Arapiles, Australia

There is a kind of hierarchy of climbers – from weekenders through to longtermers; and those like us who are now returning with children in tow. People sit around drinking cups of tea, enjoying a rest day. Lazy pfaffing is often an integral part of the climber’s psyche. Or maybe, if you stay here long enough, you get tired of climbing. I’d like to find out.

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you tried rock climbing? Where is your favourite place to climb?

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  1. What gorgeous scenery! I get vertigo so rock climbing probably isn’t for me but it certainly looks like Australia is a great place for it. I wouldn’t have thought that.

  2. Dang, look at those stars! I’ve only been rock climbing once, and it was a super easy location for beginners (in San Diego). It was fun, though, and I can see the allure of rock climbing in a place like this.

  3. Wow! Rock-climbing is really popular here in Nevada and the Southwest in general, but I’ve never been. I’d be too scared. That’s so cool that you do it!!

  4. This sounds like a fun and interesting Easter holiday outing. Don´t think I´d mind the lizards so much, but I might be a bit concerned with snakes or spiders in the cracks. Or do they stay mostly on the ground?

    • Natasha von Geldern

      We’ve seen a snake once on the ground so definitely something to keep in mind – especially with kids around! But I try not to think about it too much.

  5. I don’t think I visited here on my trip to Oz, but I’m not really a climber so I guess it wouldn’t have been on the radar. Pity, because it looks really awesome!

  6. I’ve only been rock climbing once and I loved it, although I think it was more along the lines of rappelling. So I’ve never done it like this but I would LOVE to while I am here in Australia. Maybe I can find some good places up near Cairns, which is where I am headed next.

    • Natasha von Geldern

      The Blue Mountains near Sydney have some outstanding climbing. Though not as good as Arapiles 😉

  7. Great climbing post and cool photos…I think I’d be distracted by the lizards, kookaburras and kangaroos!

  8. I love rock climbing at the Mojave desert in the SW USA near Los Angeles. They have some of the most colorful rock formations and the desert landscapes is just breath taking. Australia is looking like a great place to do this activity, too. I’ll have to look into this more – awesome experience!

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Mmm the US has SO much awesome rock climbing, from what I’ve heard, need to get myself over there!

  9. Beautiful photos. I especially like the way you were able to capture the stars at night. I’ve never tried mountain climbing, but it looks like a blast!

  10. How was it going w kids? Was it kid friendly? I’m an ex climber with a 4 yr old n 2 yr old. Not sure whether to make the trip… Too stressful or ok you think?

    • Hi Amy, apologies for the delay in responding but we were – at Mt Arapiles for the weekend! We’ve been 3 times with out 4 year old daughter and first went with her when she was 2.5. I think it’s great and she loves the campground, the bush and wildlife (wallabies, kangaroos, lizards, birds), she’s even starting to do some scrambling with a harness. It’s a basic campground with just a toilet block and no showers so you have to be prepared for some dirt. Personally I think it’s a wonderful experience for children. On busy weekends there are usually other youngsters about and they get together and play chase. It’s always quiet at night so no problem with sleep disturbances. The main other thing to consider is how and how much you’re going to climb. We go in a group with my brother and aunt and all take turns climbing and looking after my daughter. So everyone gets some climbing time. Options for those on babysitting duty apart from campground adventures include going into Natimuk village for icecream/babycino, or into Horsham for a swim in the public pool (solves the no showers problem). Oh and there are more options in Nati for accommodation these days – a b&b and a few houses for rent I think. We don’t have huge climbing weekends but we’re just glad not to be ex-climbers again and to be in such a beautiful place. Good luck and do email me if you have more questions.

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