MacKenzie Falls Gorge Trail Design

  • 2015

  • Architectural
    Place Design

Designed By:

Commissioned By:

Parks Victoria

Designed In:


The destruction of a footbridge during flooding delivered a unique opportunity to implement a new trail alignment re-connecting MacKenzie Falls & the Zumsteins Picnic Ground in the Grampians National Park. The site’s remoteness & lack of base data meant we had to rely on more basic, hands-on techniques which in turn contributed to a highly site-specific response, emphasising the natural features & creating a more inspired route. A newly aligned footbridge, expanded mesh steps & walkway contribute to the trail’s presence & identity. The sensitive design approach delivered a sound framework for ongoing management of the area, balancing increased visitor traffic with conservation & preservation requirements.

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  • Innovation was integral to the analysis & design process given the remote location & lack of conventional data. Accessibility was a major challenge. The site is 3.5 hours drive from Melbourne & a further half hour on foot across steep terrain. Quality aerial photography & survey information was unavailable; so gathering information on site was crucial. We used alternate techniques such as on-site visual mapping & photo assessment to deliver a site-specific report including new trail alignment options & a 'kit of parts' document detailing typical details construction. Every rock face, landscape element & natural feature were inspected & documented through sketch design & on-site mapping using pen & paper.

  • The gorge's pristine beauty inspired a natural emphasis in our design. Manmade infrastructure was only used to assist accessibility where natural elements would not suffice. While the infrastructure contrasts through shape & texture, it was designed to blend with the landscape in colour & form. The constructed elements purposefully mimic the immediate landscape. An example is the elevated walkway: jagged in form & positioned within arm's length of the adjacent escarpment wall to offer further connection with nature. The visually dominant manmade elements contrast yet compliment the setting whilst the elements built with natural materials recede with the landscape, allowing the continued dominance of nature.

  • The remoteness & irregularity of the site were key to informing our design process & final output. A desire to seek a more compelling alternative was thoroughly explored in the analysis process, taking into account the major considerations of: safety, accessibility, experience & proximity to nature. The new trail alignment provides visitors with a more intimate route, drawing them to previously undiscovered locations. This includes exposure to a tall rock escarpment, experiencing alternate sides of the river & new views to the lower falls. With the trail now in the base of the gorge, visitors can now enjoy a proximity to the MacKenzie River, rather than the previous route of being directed up the ridge line.

  • The bridge crossings were designed with climate resilience in mind. Careful consideration was given to material choice, location & form to ensure sustainability in a fire & flood prone environment. Mesh walkways provide a more modest river crossing than the former 80's blue powder-coated crossing, which was visually obtrusive in size & colour. Our design purposefully omitted handrails, reducing surface area which would gather debris during future floods & reduce structural integrity. The design has since withstood serious bushfire with little damage. By utilising standard Parks Victoria steel grates innovatively as steps, we were able to deliver a very high quality, durable solution well within budget.

    Careful work was undertaken to ensure safety, cross referencing the Australian Standards to ensure the proposed trail design would conform to AS2156.1-2001 & AS 2156.2-2001. This was particularly relevant in the omission of handrails in the walkway & bridge designs as it involved careful consideration for locating infrastructure and the final height above the finished material surface.

    The new trail significantly enhances the precinct's identify and brand within the Grampians region. Our sensitive design approach resulted in the delivery of a sound framework for the ongoing management of the area, balancing increased visitor traffic with conservation and preservation requirements, in line with the requirements of Parks Victoria. The project was delivered on time and on budget to high satisfaction from the client. The quality of the design has since seen the project honoured with the design award and the people's choice award at the 2014 AILA Victoria Awards, thereby further increasing the profile of the trail to attract a new segment of visitors.