The Grampians National Park
offers scenic rocky outcrops
and aboriginal art sites to those
who drive, or trek, through it.
Victoria, which is Australia’s smallest state, has 35 national parks. So, it’s a daunting task trying to run through the entire list looking for a place to start my wilderness weekend.
Narrowing my search on visitvictoria.com and using a criteria mix of “Outdoor Activities”, then “Walking & Hiking, Camping, Nature/Wildlife” plus “Scenic lookouts, Wilderness and Action Sports” as well as “Climbing, caving, abseiling”, I chanced upon the Grampians!
The Grampians National Park or Gariwerd, as it’s referred to in the indigenous aboriginal language, is one of the largest parks in the state. Covering an area of 1,672sq km, it surrounds the Victoria mountain range formed hundreds of millions of years ago. The land mass comprises five main sandstone ridges, running north to south, which have over the years been eroded and sculpted into dramatic and rugged rock formations.
Listed as an Australian National Heritage in 2006, the park is reported to have 150km of walking treks and a labyrinth, of which three-quarters is graded “easy” to “modest”. When you throw in the 40 or more recognised aboriginal art sites, the park certainly holds promise as a destination for an activity-packed excursion.
Bushwalking is a term which literally means walking in or through Australian bushland. Here in the park, leaving out the rock climbing verticals, some of the ascents could be more accurately described as serious hikes, not walks or strolls in the garden. Bush-hiking is what I would call it, a term with more zing than bushwalking.
While the Grampians Range is not high (the highest point being Mount Williams at 1,167m), it is sprinkled with myriads of small hills and angled ridges, which could whet the appetite of seasoned hikers.
For us, Hollow Mountain seemed like a good place to flag off our excursion. Sited on the northern tip of the Wartook Valley, the trail is a mere 2.2km, return, taking about two hours, and requires hikers to ascend to 380m only.
Our approach route was moderate, initially cutting through scrubby gum trees before clambering over boulders, and eventually manoeuvring across exposed ridges into gullies and rock hollows. The scenery from the top was no doubt worth every drop of our sweat.
Indie rock art
The aborigines had been staying on the land for more than 20,000 years before “Western explorers” set eyes upon it.
Several historical sites have been preserved as shelters for the aboriginal expressions of their culture. The Gulgurn Manja (“Hands of People”) site is a notable one and quite easy to locate, a leisurely 10-minute
walk from the Hollow Mountain Camping Ground.
The paintings on the rock cave overhang resemble tracks of animals (emu, perhaps?), lines, ropes, and, you guessed it, handprints.
After a quick snack, we jumped into the 4WD and headed southwards. The Grampians National Park has a good network of well-marked roads, which are immaculately tarred and signposted. Dirt trails criss-cross the inner country – perfect for off-road drifting and some mean wheel-spinning on red mud.
Still, we were constantly vigilant for the ubiquitous kangaroo, which at one moment may be skipping alongside the car, and the next, darting across the path ahead of us – and we’re not talking about one or two of the leaping marsupials, but droves. It wasn’t roadkill that worried us; it was the insurance coverage.
We smelled the freshness of a mountain stream and broke our drive along Mount Victory Road, dropping by Mackenzie Falls. If you find the trail to the bottom of the falls unchallenging, since the distance is only 1.9km, try racing back up the 260 steps! Handrails are provided.
By the time we reached Reed Lookout, it was noon, and cotton clouds had blotted out a chunk of the big blue sky. Even so, arriving on the ledge of the lookout, the most spectacular scene opened up before our eyes – the distant and endless expanse of the Victoria Valley.
Not wanting to lose the magic of the moment, we decided to delay lunch. Instead, we rushed down a side-trail into a stringybark (gum tree) woodland to emerge onto an open cliff side, a place famously known as the Balconies. It’s also nicknamed the Jaws of Death, as it’s a lookout point that juts out into thin air, over a vertical drop.
It’s a view to ... er ... die for.
Back at the carpark, we gleefully munched on our chicken sandwiches, resting our limbs on the rocky outcrops. Thankfully, the rain held, and we had a few more moments to squint at Lake Wartook, to the west, as it shimmered in the afternoon sun. But soon, the wind picked up and it was time to go.
As we rolled into Halls Gap, our map readings told us we were already in the Heart of the Grampians. A quaint town with a population of 300, it offers the facilities of a base station for tourists.
It has hotels, cottages and caravan parks, and places of interests such as the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre, plus a zoo, and vineyards.
We had ice cream and watched kids play in the town field. It was a gratifying close to an action-packed first day. Wow, had it been only a day?
The Pinnacle’s test of nerves
The following day, we roused early to tackle the Wonderland Circuit, a short drive from Halls Gap. The path to the Grand Canyon was well cut out, with stone steps and metal railings.
The roof of the canyon was easily assailed, and from there we moved enthusiastically over a platform of rock slabs, until we stopped to admire a large mound, marked on the map as Lady’s Hat, left behind by a female giant, I surmised. Then, squeezing between two stone walls, we entered Silent Street, at the end of which we felt a blast of cold wind and the “Aha!” moment.
Ahead loomed the culmination of our quest. At 770m, the Pinnacle provided a superb panorama over Halls Gap Valley and Lake Bellfield. From the cliff edge, the view is more petrifying than electrifying. Talk about being “stoned”!
Later that afternoon, we steered further south, to stop by Dunkeld, for tea, key lime pie and apple crumble, along the way passing Mount Abrupt and Mount Sturgeon, which I vowed I will climb the next time I return to this wilderness.
The Grampians allows you to create your own personal adventure. Enjoy it in relative seclusion, but, as the advice goes, leave with humility and gratitude, and pictures, of course. To make your memories pay back, post your photos at Instagrampians to win stuff. Who knows, good times may last longer than we plan.
Drive time is three hours 40 mins from Melbourne via Western Freeway and Western Highway, through the towns of Ballarat and Ararat before arriving at Halls
Gap. Alternatively, leave Melbourne using the Great Ocean Road and drive towards Ballarat. The V/line train service also has a route to Halls Gap from Southern Cross Station, Melbourne. You need to switch fr om train to coach along the way.
When to visit
All year round, activities abound. For nature-lovers, spring is a g ood time to see wildflowers and gushing waterfalls, and the weather is mild but windy.
Temperatures: In summer 13-29°C and winter 5-13°C. Rain is heaviest in winter and spring. We were there in August (springtime) and it rained hailstones one
There is plenty, from caravan parks to resorts. A small apartment or motel should offer sufficient comfort after a day out and about. It’s equally conve nient to stay in the nearby towns of Horsham, Stawell and Dunkeld. We lodged at the Mount Zero Log Cabins in Northern Grampians, to be closer to the wild.
Also check out
The many vineyards and olive groves nearby and the gold mining museums in Ararat and Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.
> Lee Meng Lai is an accountant-turned-marketer who believes both lobes of his brain should be equally utilised. He now plans to spend more time as a freelance writer and photographer. He’s trekked the Himalayas, Kilimanjaro and the volcanoes of Indonesia, but hasn’t quite figured out whether it’s the journey or the destination that matters more.
> Would you like to write articles on, or share some information about, your adventures? Whether on land, water or in the air? We are interested in a broad range of activities including: trekking, scuba diving, paragliding, running, sailing, windsurfing, white water rafting, rock climbing, kayakking, well...you get the idea, basically everything that involves an adventurous workout in the great outdoors.
Apart from describing what a great time you had, you can also share ideas on safety, equipment , training/preparation and eco-friendly practices. Feel free to write in to our coordinator, Andrew Sia, at star2@thestar. com.my.