Rockwire at Mt Buller is the first of a new kind of outdoor adventure activity that combines heights, hiking, and climbing. As a hiker who’s never climbed, I had no idea what I was in for.


We Are Explorers acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Taungurung people who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

What is a via ferrata?

The phrase ‘via ferrata’ means ‘iron path’ in Italian and describes a trail of metal rungs and cables permanently fixed into cliffs and mountainsides. The practice began in Italy in the 1880s and was used in WW1 in the Dolomite mountain range of the Italian Alps to help soldiers travel through otherwise impassable areas safely.

After the war, the routes were left in place and have since been adopted by recreational climbers and hikers, with more via ferrata routes popping up across Europe and North America all the time. Explorer Wendy has checked out a few via ferrata’s in the Dolomites, but now Australia has one of its own!


Stemple handholds and wire leading you up, up, up!

It’s All Thanks to This Guy

James Webb is the experienced mountaineer (and deadset legend) who’s spent the last four years doggedly pursuing permits, liaising with engineers, arranging routes to prevent any impact to nearby Pygmy possum habitats, and physically drilling holes and pulling wire to bring us Australia’s first via ferrata, Rockwire.

Legitimately, James doesn’t stop. The night before I was due to climb the route for the first time, he was out at 9.30pm collecting ropes and doing final checks. He’s walked the route so many times that the hiking trail to the start of the via ferrata climbing section was mostly established from his countless comings and goings. The amount of obstacles he’s had to overcome to get this route from an idea to established are more than enough to have stopped most people from pursuing it at all.

Thankfully, James is not like most people. Rockwire has been a passion project and when you meet James you can’t help but get excited about it too.


James Webb | Photo by Rockwire

So, what’s it like?

Despite having read about what a via ferrata was, and how long I was due to be out on the mountain, I didn’t really know what to expect and was nursing some lazy butterflies in my stomach. I met James inside the Altitude store in Mt Buller’s Town Square, where I was kitted out with a harness and helmet before being driven up to the summit walk car park.

From there it was a 400m hike including 65m of incline to the Mt Buller Summit (you’ll have a hard time focussing on your feet with the epic views in every direction – consider yourself warned!) and the butterflies in my stomach were replaced by real ones on the blanket of flowers stretching in every direction.


Festival of flowers | Photo by James Webb


As we traipsed along the west ridge James pointed out the mountains that surrounded us – Stirling, Buffalo, and Cobbler – just three of many. We stopped to let tiny lizards pass across the trail and spoke about the endangered Pygmy possum and the importance of sticking to the trail to reduce environmental impact. We even walked single file, which is an easy way to leave no trace, but not one you often see enforced.

‘Choosing Mt Buller as the location of RockWire was a no-brainer for its stunning vistas. The wildflowers and native animals in the alpine environment on Taungurung Country takes everyones breath away’ – James Webb.

After a total of 1.2km of view-heavy hiking involving 65m straight up, then 75m straight down the steep western face of the mountain, we arrived at the start of the 400m long via ferrata course.

James showed me how to clip my carabiners on one at a time so that I was always connected to the wire cable should I fall. All the stemples (the metal rungs) and anchors have been load tested to be able to hold literal tonnes of weight, so despite feeling like a fish out of water, I trusted the equipment and knew I was safe.


MVP’s of Rockwire


As an avid hiker who’s never climbed before, it felt like a trial by fire as I stepped backwards over a 1000m drop searching for the tiny piece of metal to support myself. But suddenly it was there, the vertigo disappeared and I was steady again.

Then all I had to do was repeat that action I-didn’t-want-to-think-how-many-times!

The steep learning curve certainly matched the steep mountain, but it was only a couple of minutes before I was confidently transitioning the carabiners and stretching around rocks to reach the perfectly placed metal handholds. We took on ladders that swayed slightly in the wind, and I fancied myself a circus-troupe tight walker as I wobbled inexpertly across one of two single-wire cable bridges.

The bridges are the perfect spot to pause and enjoy your surroundings | Photo by James Webb


‘Embrace the cable,’ was the catchphrase of the day. James was keen to impress upon me how secure it all was and eventually got me to trust the cable as a means of support, though it did take most of the trip.

‘The Rockwire system ensures your safety at all times. Well, unless there’s lightning – in that case you’d probably be better off playing on powerlines! But we never go out in storms so you’re all good.’ –James Webb.

All too soon we hit the halfway point – a tiny ledge on the mountain with just enough room to drop your backpack and grab a snack. This was a great spot to admire the views and look back at the course we’d climbed so far. People who oppose the installation of via ferrata routes often cite the unsightly visual impact, but even standing just metres from the route, it was nearly impossible to make out against the rocks. It’s hard to see how those arguments have any legs.

After the snack break and a quick drink, we continued. The second half of the route was more challenging. James was ahead of me and was almost constantly calling back tips about which foot to place on which hold, and what rocks to watch out for. In certain places it’s better to rely on holding rocks, and in others, holding onto the flexible wire that your carabiners are hooked onto.


Make sure you bring sunscreen or wear long sleeves as you’re very exposed on the climb | Photo by James Webb


More than once I stalled, unsure where to step next and was all too aware of the growing fatigue in my muscles. But, with a bit of guidance from James I was soon on my way again, having been reminded for the umpteenth time why having a guide for this climb is absolutely essential.

James told me that across the 400m of climbing I’d done the equivalent of at least 600 squats, so the shaking I experienced by the time we reached the final chimney-like vertical ascent was somewhat justified! By then I was racing confidently along the stemples and had figured out how to both watch my feet and the views without feeling like I was compromising on either.

I didn’t want the experience to end, but all too soon I was pulling myself up and over the lip of the final cliff, and we were back where we started.


It’s easy to forget how high you are when you’re focussing on the climb | Photo by James Webb


After coming to rely on the safety of being clipped to the wire, it was legitimately unsettling to unclip and start walking ‘solo’ back up the mountain. It’s a steep climb and we zigzagged back and forth among the wildflowers until we were back on the western ridge.

All up the Rockwire experience took about three and a half hours. It had a bit of everything – a decent hike, epic views, wildflowers galore, and plenty of adrenaline. It certainly didn’t just feel like 400m. It felt like I’d really achieved something and worked hard for it.

‘RockWire is more than a climb; it’s an invitation to go beyond the edge and touch the sky, to stretch your limits and discover the exhilaration of the ascent’ – James Webb.

If you’re a hiker, you’ll love it. Climbers who are used to hitting big cliffs might find it a bit tame, but it’s also the only way to experience the western face of Mt Buller, so if you climb to enjoy the views you won’t be disappointed.

The experience is rated for beginners, and honestly, the hardest part was the hike. If you’ve got average fitness you’ll definitely be able to do it.


How do I do it too?

Rockwire at Mt Buller is open whenever there’s no snow (or thunderstorms!) and costs $199 per person on weekdays, or $229 on weekends. Participants must be over 120cm tall and weigh at least 40kg.

If you decide to make the trip out to Mt Buller, consider making a weekend of it. Stay overnight, hire a bike from All Terrain Cycles, go horse riding or 4WDing, or do one of the many hikes in the region.

Mt Buller is an Explorer’s playground and with the addition of Rockwire, there’s never been a better time to check it out.

Read more: Where To Ride and Hike at Mt Buller This Summer!


Just hangin’ off a mountain | Photo by James Webb

The author was a guest for this article so that they could try all of the experiences for themself. Check out our Editorial Standards for more info on how we approach these partnerships.