Grampians, Victoria

Grampians, Victoria

The Grampians are like a burst of fresh air. Rising from the rural plains of the Wimmera in western Victoria, these dramatic sandstone ridges punctuate the otherwise flat landscape in spectacular style and provide a natural playground for those who like to get active. In summer the peaks and valleys here also provide welcome relief from the heat.
The most obvious place to base yourself on a visit to the Grampians is Halls Gap, the only community to be entirely surrounded by the national park.

Set in the Fyans Valley at the foot of the Wonderland and Mount William ranges this is a stunningly situated town, and there are numerous outdoor attractions within easy reach, with everything from a short stroll to a full day’s rock climbing on offer.

Begin your Grampians visit at the Brambuk Centre, just south of town, where not only can you discover the natural history of the area’s flora and fauna, but also the human history of the local Koori people. Brambuk is the longest running Aboriginal cultural centre in Australia and remains 100% owned and operated by the Aboriginal people. Here you can learn about the culture of the Aboriginal community through art exhibitions, displays of artifacts and a range of activities encompassing everything from didgeridoo music to boomerang throwing. Aboriginal guides can explain the unique six seasons of Gariwerd (the traditional name of the Grampians) and also offer tours to ancient rock art sites, of which there are many in the national park.

Around Halls Gap you’ll find a wide range of scenic lookout points, waterfalls and walking trails. One of the easiest is the walk to Venus Baths (2.3km return), along a shady track which runs along the creek from the Halls Gap car park to a secluded series of rock pools. There’s also an easy walk through the tree ferns at Delleys Dell (800m return) which passes through wet sclerophyll forest, making it an ideal escape on hot days. It’s also particularly beautiful after rain.

It’s a slightly more challenging hike to the park’s most popular lookout, the Pinnacle (4.2km return), involving some rock hopping and sections of rocky steps.

The track begins at the Wonderland car park, crosses the footbridge over Stony Creek and enters the impressive Grand Canyon, before passing the weird and wonderful rock formations of Silent Street to reach the Pinnacle. From here you are rewarded with awe-inspiring panoramic views out over the valley and back to Halls Gap.

The Wonderland car park is also the starting point for the short walk to Turret Falls (2.2km return) which leads to a rocky terrace above the falls, which are at their best after rain.

Kangaroo, Mount Rouse and the Pinnacle, Victoria. Photo from Victoria Tourist Board
Northwest of Halls Gap take the Mount Victory Road to reach some of the national park’s even more impressive sights. Park at the Reed Lookout car park for the two-kilometre walk to the Balconies (once more dramatically known as the Jaws of Death) where two rocky ledges jut out to form the appearance of a giant reptile’s mouth. The brave can edge out onto the platform to sit between the ledges – this is the Grampians headlining photo opportunity. The views from here are pretty special too, with the Victoria Range extending to the south and the Mount Difficult Range to the north.

Further along the Wartook Valley from here is the jumping off point for the walk to spectacular MacKenzie Falls, Victoria’s largest waterfall. The track leads from the MacKenzie Falls car park to a viewing platform overlooking Broken Falls before a trickier path heads down to the base of MacKenzie Falls. En route the Cranages Lookout offers views of the Mackenzie river gorge.

Also in the northern section of the park is the best of the Aboriginal rock art sites. The Gulgurn Manja (meaning hands of young people) shelter is accessed from Hollow Mountain car park and features paintings including emu tracks and handprints, many of which were made by children.

The southern section of the national park is home to two of the Grampians’ more demanding hikes, which provide more confident walkers with unparalleled views of the ranges.

Take the Grampians Tourist Road and park at the Mount Abrupt car park for the climb up the eponymous peak (6.5km return). The initial climb is the toughest part and although the whole track is fairly strenuous it is a straightforward climb – and the summit is well worth the effort.

Likewise, ascending Mount Sturgeon (7km return) requires a certain amount of energy and includes hiking on a variety of different surfaces, but offers panoramic views of the surrounding ranges and the plains below.

Just outside the national park to the south, the town of Dunkeld sits in the shadow of these two peaks and provides another good place to stay. The town’s Royal Mail Hotel is extremely well regarded and was awarded The Age Good Food Guide’s 2011 Restaurant of the Year. Hikers will welcome the 10-or-more-course degustation menu and the wine cellar is unrivalled. Dress up and book in advance if you want to eat here.

Wine lovers should also make the journey to Best’s Great Western, near the town of Stawell to the east of the national park. Here you’ll find a rustic timber winery and atmospheric underground cellar, not to mention the many outstanding wines, which include shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, pinot meunier, riesling and chardonnay.

The town of Ararat is a short drive from here. This is the only Australian town to have been founded by the Chinese and features a wide range of opulent gold rush era architecture in its town centre. You’ll also find the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre here, which recreates a two-storey Chinese temple and is set in a traditional Chinese garden. Inside are displays on the founding of the town and on Chinese culture.

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