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The Grampians Peaks Trail Stage 2 is 165 kilometres of hiking track winding past a snow-capped mountain through lush fern gullies and everything in between.
Unlike most architectural projects that respond to one setting, here the architects, Noxon Giffen, worked closely with landscape architects and the lead consultants, McGregor Coxall, to create a series of responses over the many kilometres of track featuring 11 different sites that would cater for the 12 overnight stops (with the township of Halls Gap being at the midway point).
The huts are evocative of a Japanese teahouse, with sliding doors and translucent polycarbonate walls.Credit:Shannon McGrath 
The project was commissioned by Parks Victoria.
The Grampians, referred to as Gariwerd by the traditional owners of the land, the Jadawadjali and Djab Wurrung peoples, called for a series of ‘simple, robust, raw and enduring structures’, with many of the materials having to be brought in by helicopter due to the difficult and inaccessible terrain.
Addressing the brief but going considerably further in their responses earned Noxon Giffen and McGregor Coxall top accolades at this year’s Victorian architecture awards – namely the Regional Medal and the Victorian Architecture Medal.
“For this project we needed a deep understanding of each site and its microclimate, together with the unique vegetation across the entire trail, as much as the wind, the sun, the geology and key views,” says landscape architect, Nick Griffin, associate director of McGregor Coxall.
Given each site on the trail is unique, the idea of creating a mould replicated for the 11 sites was never going to be on the drawing board.
So, while some of the hiker’s cabins, in particular their raked roof profiles took their inspiration from the shape of the dominant mountain peaks, each ‘capsule’ beautifully responds to each site through the expression of materials – extending from charred timber (found in the forests) to greyed off timbers and oxidised steel, the latter picking up on the rough oxidised sandstone.
Evocative of a Japanese teahouse, with sliding doors and translucent polycarbonate walls, the hiker’s huts are as close to nature as one could hope for.
Filled with a couple of single beds and bunk beds above (each hut accommodates four people), one of the few added furnishings is a simple canvas blind, like a tent flap, that can be drawn across at night.
This project needed a deep understanding of each site and its microclimate.Credit:Shannon McGrath 
“The huts are not dissimilar to tents but you’re not carrying them on your back,” says architect Justin Noxon, director of Noxon Giffen.
Those who do come with tents have the opportunity to erect these on ‘tent pads’ that hover, like the cabins, lightly about the landscape, with a dozen or so pads thoughtfully placed within the two main sites along the trail.
Customised timber chaise lounges are also strategically placed along the Grampians trail, allowing hikers to take a moment’s rest and enjoy the views of Lake Wartook.
The seven different shelters are as finely conceived, allowing hikers to stop along the way, rest and share a meal with friends and family.
Loosely following a crucifix floorplan, these timber huts that accommodate up to 20 people and include a kitchenette, built-in timber seating and outdoor decks either side that further blur the division between indoors and out.
“Parks Victoria wanted a world-class experience, a sense of place rather than simply staying at a generic hotel that could really be in any city in the world,” says Noxon, who was as mindful of delivering low maintenance buildings, given the difficulty required in servicing them in such remote areas.
The team also delivered amenities that were low maintenance and as eloquently conceived.
Made from mild steel and mesh, these amenities, set a few metres away from the huts have hand basins and water tanks that recycle grey water.
With some parts of the trail being 800 metres above sea level, the disparity of climate is considerable – as is the terrain.
It’s not surprising, given the reaction so far, that the number of hikers using this trail is predicted to jump from 8,500 annually to over 35,000 by 2025.
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