Little Desert National Park is a beautiful anomaly in the middle of the Grampians and a heartening example of the power of activism to preserve natural spaces. Visit between late winter and early summer to enjoy a desert wildflower display that rivals a rainbow.
- Trillions of wildflowers in spring
- Emus poking around the campsite
- Loads of sandy trails to suit everyone from the casual stroller to the distance junkie
Little Desert National Park
In my mind deserts and wildflowers don’t go hand in hand. Not even remotely. But hearing that Little Desert National Park turns into an oasis of desert blooms in spring, I had to check it out. With my housemate convinced that a 4.5-hour drive in search of sand and flowers was definitely worthwhile, we were on our way.
The Little Desert National Park is on the traditional lands of the Wotjobaluk people. It was formed in the late 1960s when the government wanted to subdivide and sell off the land, which contained a high density of wildflowers and endangered fauna.
Our nature-loving forefathers and mothers successfully got the area protected as a national park and the protests also resulted in the Conservation Council of Victoria (now Environment Victoria) being formed. It also meant the government had to adopt environmental policies, such as establishing the Land Conservation Council to check the future use of public land.
Life’s tough in the desert and the species that survive here need all the help they can get. 4WD tracks in western parts of the park are closed during wet season and after rain and it’s important to stick to the trails to avoid disturbing this beautifully delicate ecosystem.
Set amongst gum trees, with emus roaming between tents and plenty of fire pits to keep you toasty warm, the huge (and free) Kiata Campground is the best drive-in option in the park.
Leaving from the campsite there are a bunch of trails ranging in length, from quick 30 minute loops to the 4-day, 75km Little Desert Discovery Walk. Not wanting this to be my housemate’s first and last hike with me, we opted for a shorter 12 km loop via the trig point. Navigation-wise Google Maps has all the trails and 4WD drive tracks marked, or you can pick up a leaflet and a basic map from the information booth at the campground.
Trekking along the sandy trails with low scrub, wastelands ravaged by bushfires, and squiggly snake tracks, felt like a completely different world. Even the trig point wasn’t your usual. Unlike the standard steep climb, topped off with stunning views, at Little Desert a gradual incline takes you to the fairly lacklustre trig point “peak”. I guess “no pain, no gain” rings true!
Luckily some clever soul has installed a platform to create a viewpoint (your steepest climb of the day), allowing a vista out over scrubland to Mt Arapiles sitting in the distance.
Little Desert National Park certainly did not disappoint on the wildflower front, with blossoms scattered at every turn. Knowing absolutely nothing about native wildflowers, we just appreciated the stunning colours, with vibrant reds, yellows, pinks, blues and whites all along the trail.
A botanist would be in absolute heaven with hundreds of different species, ranging from orchids to guinea flowers to blue stars. I wish I’d known more when I was there, as the diversity is incredible. If you do want to figure out what you are seeing, NatureShare has a massive list of photos and names (it certainly helped me!)
Here’s an interesting fact: each flower of a blue star only lasts for a single day, so you’re probably the only person that little bloom will ever see!
With a fix of wildflowers, sand, and my first snake sighting, there was no better way to wrap up a day in the sun than at the campsite with a slackline, a picnic, and a warming campfire.
If you’re anything like me and are in awe of delicate blooms emerging in the desert, Little Desert National Park in spring should be on your list.
- Plenty of water (no sources in the park)
- Matches to light a fire
- Basic first aid kit (including a snake bandage)
How To Get There
Head out of Melbourne on the M8 towards Ballarat and continue on the A8 through Dimboola. About 25km out of Dimboola, turn left onto Kiata South Rd, and then left into Kiata Campground. The trip takes just under 4.5 hours from Melbourne.
If you have the time, a 30 minute detour via Mt Arapiles will get you a lunch spot with spectacular views and the chance to check out some highlining and rock climbing (or maybe partake in a little yourself!)
Head out of Adelaide on the M1, which becomes the A8. Just after Nhill take Winiam East Rd and continue onto Kiata South Rd, then turn right into Kiata Campground. The trip takes just over 4 hours from Adelaide.
The hike from Kiata Campground to the trig point:
- Wildlife watching
Beginner. When the trig point is at 218m, and you start at 150m, you know there is not going to be a lot of hill climbing. The tracks are fairly easy and flat with only gradual inclines. However, in places there is deep sand to content with.
Distance Covered/Elevation Gain/Hours Required
The circuit route we walked via the trig point was 12 km return with an elevation change of 75m. It took us about 4 hours with a decent lunch break and lots of photography stops. However, there are a bunch of trails in the park that range in length.
Hurrah for national parks!