I’ve been camping at Mt. Arapiles since 1989 with school groups, corporate groups, on my own and with my family. In this post, I’ll share my experience and recommendations as a regular camper. Note: there may be changes from the time this post has been published, so please do your own research to ensure you’re appropriately informed. I will often refer to Mt Arapiles throughout this post as the mount.
The photo below was taken at Mitre Lake salt pans looking back to the mount in 2015. Not sure why my daughter needed to lay down on the salt pans but it certainly was a fascinating place to visit. Views back to the mount are stunning. Please stay on the tracks if you’re heading out for a visit.
Mt. Arapiles is approximately 350kms west of Melbourne and 115 kms to Naracoorte (and their famous caves) just over the South Australian border. You can drive or catch public transport to Horsham (train or bus) then bus to Natimuk then another bus to the edge of the park on the road to Edenhope. Of course, if coming from Melbourne, a stop at Dadswell Bridge to visit the Giant Koala is a must.
When leaving Natimuk by car, the road forks, you can take either route as they will both go to Centenary Drive taking you to the campground. I like taking the right fork to get the full view of the mountain. You’ll also see Mitre Rock which is a little further on from here on your right.
If you take the left fork, you’ll take a right hand turn several kms down the road that splits in two. One road leads you up to The Summit, however, if you stay on Centenary Drive you’ll pass Declaration Crag, a popular climbing venue. For further information on climbing at Mt. Arapiles, I’ll write a post in the near future.
CAMPING: There are three campgrounds to choose from at the mount. The Pines, Lower Gums (schools campsite), Upper Gums (known a ‘Three Gums’). All of them are unpowered.
The Pines Camping Area: By far the most popular campground set amongst old pine trees. Since the late 1980’s they’ve thinned out considerably, cut down by Parks Victoria for safety reasons. However, the sound of the wind through The Pines is still a memory I can recall from my first climbing experience. The beauty of both The Pines and The Upper Gums is that you are only 500m from some brilliant climbing sites which are unheard of at many great camping venues around the world. The Pines campground is often the more lively of all three due to the number of backpackers, climbing groups and eclectic people who want to camp there. I have been hummed to sleep with the sounds of a saxophone playing at the top of The Pines, kept awake by overactive Year 10 students or entertained by people playing the guitar, singing, hacky-sackers, jugglers and tightrope walkers.
My last trip at Easter was full of families, couples, a few outdoor education university groups and international climbers. And you’ll spot the permanent who usually camp at the top of The Pines. By 8.30pm the campsite was generally quiet with just the mutterings of group conversations. In the morning, you could hear some early risers setting out for a big day on say, The Bard but it’s most active around 7.30am. If you don’t like to be disturbed, bring earplugs.
The Pines is protected by 600mm high pine bollards to stop people driving into the campground and damage the tree roots as well as stopping people camping next to their car. Please ensure you lock your vehicle. Don’t leave valuables in your tent either.
Many climbers set up a slackline (tightrope) between trees to practice their balancing techniques. If you’d like to try, just ask. People are very friendly and helpful.
Lower Gums Camping Area: This area was originally a paddock but in the late 1980’s it was planted with yellow gums and other indigenous species so it could support the groups that were visiting the mount more frequently.
Like The Pines, there are pine bollards located at the north end (next to the road) that means you need to back your car in and unpack your camping gear and find a place to camp. There are no taps here and the long drop toilets are 50m towards the mount, below the Upper Gums campground.
Upper Gums Camping Area: This is the smallest of the campgrounds and is known by long-term climbers as Three Gums due to the remnant of three Yellow gums next to the track. This is the smallest of the campsites but has its own dedicated campers. It’s also the campsite closest to toilets (long drop).
CAMPING FEES: Camping fees at the time of posting were $5.10 per person per night. There is a robot style machine (below). Take an envelope from the machine, fill in the form, tear off your copy, put the envelope with $ into the robot and attach your receipt onto your tent. Please bring adequate change.
ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION: There is a caravan park in Natimuk near the Lake which has powered and unpowered sites. If you would just like a shower, there is a small fee. The Natimuk Hotel has some small cabins at the rear that you can stay in as well.
PARKING: Campsite parking is fairly obvious. Please do not drive anywhere that may damage trees. If climbing at Declaration Crag, Bushrangers Bluff, Mitre Rock and a few other places, there are specific parking areas. For some of the more remote areas such as The Pharos and Watchtower Faces, there are now places to park as well, rather than walk from the camping areas. If you wish to access the top of the mount, drive east along Centenary Drive and take a hard right up Summit Road to the viewing area at the top. You can also use this for safer access to some climbs that you need to abseil into.
TRANSPORT: Coming from Melbourne? Catch a V/Line train to Ararat, then Bus to Horsham with V-Line. Then catch a local bus to Natimuk. If you’d like more information call the V/Line Services at Horsham on (03) 5381 1871 or ( AH) 136 196
TOILETS: There is a traditional toilet block (below) as soon as you drive into the Park on the left. This has (at least in women’s toilet), 4 flushing toilets and a sink. Just outside there is the entrance to the disabled toilets. Not sure what’s in the men’s toilet block but probably equally the same.
There is also a long drop toilet (below) just near the Upper Gums campsite. There are two generously spacious cubicles with a sink. For long drops, they are rarely smelly and worth using. Please bring your own toilet paper. Chicks – don’t put sanitary items in the toilets.
There is a noticeboard outside the main toilet block that’s useful if you’ve found any gear, lost any gear, need a climbing partner, a lift to Horsham or Melbourne and just about everything else.
KITCHEN: At the base of The Pines is a small open kitchen area that has two sinks and cold water with a small shelter over the top. This is a great place to bring your dishes and wash them. Many people leave behind detergent and scourers for the next user – nice! Please keep it clean and tidy and dispose of rubbish appropriately. There is no hot water here so you’ll need to boil your own.
FIREPITS: At each camping area there are a number of fire pits (not at Lower Gums). Please use appropriately. They aren’t great for cooking a meal and I strongly suggest you bring a fuel stove for all food preparation. Never leave a fire unattended and ensure it is completely out before leaving your campsite. Bring your own wood too.
Wood fires are not permitted in the park during the fire danger period from 1 November to 30 April. For information on Total Fire Bans, you can call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 240 667. Total Fire Bans are common from December to March which means no open fires can be lit – at all! Mt Arapiles is located in the Wimmera area for Total Fire Ban days. Often a sign will be placed at the entrance to the campground on these days. Please make allowances for your meals not using a fire.
STOVES: Strongly suggest you bring trangia, MSR or other fuel stoves to cook on including an adequate amount of fuel. If you run out, the nearest supplier is Natimuk but it can’t be guaranteed they will have enough, therefore, the next drive would be Horsham.
RUBBISH: There are a number of bins (garbage and recycle) at Mt Arapiles which you can use, however, during peak season they fill quickly so please take your own rubbish with you if possible.
SHELTER: There is a log cabin style shelter as soon as you enter Centenary Park on the right-hand side. It’s closed on two sides and has fixed tables and bench seats. The floor is concrete. Some people use this to camp in on nights when the weather is dreadful but it’s a very hard surface to camp on. It’s designed for day visitors to use.
COMMUNICATION: Mobile phone coverage is very good due to the Telstra repeater tower at the top of the mount. In saying that though, it’s not uncommon for those on other networks to struggle with the reception and see people walking towards the road to find a connection.
At the entrance to the park on the left is a public phone. If you need to use this, please bring adequate change.
WATER: Mt Arapiles is in the Wimmera, a dry area where water can be hard to source. There is a tank at the mount just near the main toilet block but be mindful that this water may not always be the best. Any water from others taps will be bore water. This doesn’t always agree with everyone’s tummy so a strong recommendation is that you bring water from home in jerry cans or large containers of water from a supermarket.
PETS: No pets allowed under any circumstances.
FLORA & FAUNA: Mt Arapiles is home to approximately 14% of the State’s flora species, with wildflowers being particularly prominent in spring. The wattles trees, native orchids and Grevillea are stunning.
There is rarely a trip that you don’t come across a shingleback lizard, also known as a stumpy tail. They are harmless, move slowly and feed on flowers, fruit and insects. Along with shinglebacks, you’ll come across blue tongue lizards – so named because….they have a blue tongue. Again, they are harmless.
Brown snakes and other venomous snakes are often seen. Stay clear as the brown snake is extremely dangerous and lethal. Familiarise yourself with how to treat a snake bite and always carry a roller bandage with you.
Kangaroos are abundant living within the bush of Mt Arapiles and are shy creatures. They are more prevalent early in the morning and at dusk. Be careful driving at dusk as they have a tendency to hop out in front of your car. To help preserve their habitat, please stay on the tracks that are well worn.
The peregrine falcon can be found all around the world and nests prominently at Mt Arapiles but is considered threatened in Victoria. Like all other plants and animals in the park, it is fully protected. When a pair of falcons nest you can easily identify by the white streaks on the rock face below ledges. Stay clear of these areas – at least 50m. Good idea to notify the park ranger if you see a breeding site and often the ranger will post a warning on the noticeboard of their location for climbers to avoid their sites.
WALKS: There are some great short and long walks around the area. Many link from Centenary Park to climbing sites such as Mitre Rock, Declaration Crag, Bushrangers Bluff and the summit of Mount Arapiles. There is also a short but interesting nature walk from Lookout Road.
Bring along your bikes as well. There are some great rides, especially for kids. You can cycle or walk around the entire mountain. The walk takes around six hours. If riding, it can be sandy and you may need to push your bike for some sections.