I hadn’t heard of the Grampians before April of this year.
Like most attractions in Victoria (apart from the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne and Phillip Island), this National Park is virtually unknown to people outside of its home State.
When friends in Melbourne suggested we join them for a camping trip there over Easter, I was hesitant at first. I had my heart set on driving the Great Ocean Road but they had only just done that and were keen to go somewhere new. We wanted to do a trip with them so I google imaged the Grampians, and saw a picture like this.
I didn’t need any further convincing. Hell yes, we were in!
The Grampians National Park, 235 km west of Melbourne, is known for its striking sandstone mountain ranges and indigenous rock art. A great place for hiking and to spot kangaroos in the wild, it is a popular holiday spot for Victorians. As I had only seen kangaroos in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries before, I was really excited to see some wild ones.
We flew into Melbourne after work on the Thursday before Easter. After a boozy night out hitting Melbourne’s trendy bars, including one in a converted shipping container (gotta love hipster Melbourne!), we dragged our hung-over selves out of bed and hit the road for the three hour drive to the Grampians.
It definitely felt a lot longer than three hours and the drive was pretty painful in our fragile states.
After a pit stop in Ballarat for lunch, we arrived at our camping ground for the next three nights, Grampian Gardens, located a few kilometres from the township of Halls Gap.
As the sun set, we set up our tents and started cooking dinner over our camping stove. It got cold pretty fast but luckily we were able to get a fire pit and we spent the next three evenings drinking, talking and stargazing around a toasty fire.
On the last night at the camping ground we heard kangaroos hopping through the forest only metres away from us. We shone our torches on them which stopped them in their tracks for a second, before they carried on their night’s journey.
The tiny tourist village of Halls Gap is the main town in the Grampians National Park. There are a only a handful of shops, a school and an Aboriginal Cultural Centre along the main road as well as a small shopping village made up of a cluster of wooden buildings fronting a grassy park with a rocky, dry riverbed running through it. Surrounded by green mountains, there was a definite alpine feel to the village and surroundings.
The Aboriginal Cultural Centre was interested for a quick look around. We browsed the exhibits about the local aboriginal community and admired the beautiful paintings on display. There was a small café serving ‘bush tucker’ – Kangaroo, Emu, Crocodile and native berry jam. We didn’t end up eating there, picking up lunch to take on our hikes from the Village Bakery instead, but it would have been interesting to try some of the food that made up a big part of the local aboriginal people’s diet.
Each morning we drove into Halls Gap and picked up a coffee from a Café by the dried up river. In the afternoons we sat ‘riverside’, chilling out after our hikes in the autumn sun. As it was Easter weekend there were a lot of people around but there was still a feeling of peacefulness. Maybe it was the crisp mountain air.
On Sunday morning there was a Farmers/Craft market being held in the school grounds. It was the social event of the week and we saw so many happy locals selling their wares and chatting with one another, as well as tourists, while live music played in the background.
It was a gloriously sunny day and I enjoyed wandering aimlessly between the stalls selling local produce, skin care, arts and crafts. One stall was selling feijoas – my favourite fruit in the world. This was thoroughly exciting as you rarely find feijoas in Australia although they grow everywhere in New Zealand. The only two times that I have seen them over here has been in Victoria – probably because the climate there is more like New Zealand’s.
There was also a stall selling magic tricks and the stallholder was happily demonstrating with an impromptu magic show which had many onlookers enthralled (including me).
Halls Gap really is such a friendly little community. They must get so many tourists through here but everyone we interacted with was so helpful and accommodating. We felt very welcome.
A couple of evenings we visited the Halls Gap Hotel, a quiet country pub and restaurant a few minutes’ walk from our camping ground. We were hoping to see kangaroos hopping around the open fields surrounding the pub and we did end up seeing a couple, although they were quite far away. On our last night camping we ate dinner there, in the pub rather than the restaurant. It was unpretentious and simple – sitting with the locals eating hearty pub food rather than in the overpriced tourist restaurant next door.
So I’ve talked about the food, the town, the hangover and the camping so now you are probably wondering about the hiking. We managed to fit in a couple of different hikes while we were in the Grampians. Here is the rundown:
Halls Gap to the Pinnacle: 9.5km return
The hike to the Pinnacle is probably the most popular in the Grampians. We chose to do it from Halls Gap rather than from the Wonderland carpark which would have shortened it to 4.5km return. What’s the point is shortening something you love? We would have struggled to find a car park at Wonderland anyway.
There were a lot of people on the trail. We encountered a few traffic jams, passing numerous families with young kids as we steadily climbed the track to the top of the ridge.
The views once we reached the top were beautiful, looking out over the forested valley and adjacent mountains, despite the low grey clouds.
Hiking along the ridge, we continued to enjoy the awesome views before heading into more dense forest.
The last stretch to reach the Pinnacle was through a narrow passage between boulders followed by a bit of mild rock climbing before reaching the best views of the day: The Pinnacle.
The Pinnacle is a rocky precipice, jutting out over the valley with views over the blue waters of Lake Bellfield in the distance. It is one of a few perilously steep cliffs in the area, which are made up of what looks like layers of compacted rock. Certainly a striking and unique sight.
After walking out to the edge of the Pinnacle and back (and almost invoking a fear of heights), we sat and ate our packed lunch before starting back down to Halls Gap to complete our loop hike.
We took a short detour to take us through the ‘Grand Canyon’. It was not nearly as exciting as the real thing but it was a nice enough walk, down steep stairs into a narrow canyon and along a stream, surrounded by small trees and bushes.
Close to the end of the hike, the Venus baths were a popular spot, despite it being too cold for swimming in the small pools that are formed by the river slowly cascading over the smooth rock face.
All in all a pretty good hike, although overcrowded and a tad boring at times (the grey weather didn’t help). The Pinnacle and views made it all worth it though.
Halls Gap to Chatauqua Peak: 6km return
This hike was in stark contrast to our crowded Pinnacle hike. We barely saw another soul this time around and the sun was shining brightly.
We started from Halls Gap village again, and after a short and relatively easy hike through the forest, we crested the top of the peak.
We clambered over giant rocks and boulders, edging closer to the end of the rugged cliff.
The views were absolutely incredible, and were so much easier to enjoy and take in with the near silence that comes when there are only four people up there.
We sat there for about an hour. A couple of people came and went in that time but the peace remained.
The market was going on far below us in Halls Gap and it was interesting to see it from a different perspective after being amongst the bustle only an hour earlier. We could even hear the music playing and a low buzz of voices and laughter. I felt like Frodo sitting outside Bag End, watching the merriment of the party going on in the field below.
On the way back down we ran into a mob of Kangaroos lying around in the forest. I walked up fairly close and they didn’t seem bothered by my presence. They just glanced at me lazily before carrying on with their business.
The native animals of Australia truly amaze me and Kangaroos are one of my favourites. The way that they use their tails as a third leg is so interesting to watch and the speed in which they hop across the land is really impressive.
Also, they are really cute.
Look at that face!
With the combination of the lack of people, perfect weather, kangaroo spotting and great views, Chatauqua Peak was my favourite hike in the Grampians. It may have been short but it was stunning.
The Grampians may not be as impressive as the Canadian Rockies but they are still beautiful and unique, and truly Australian.
I am looking forward to discovering more of what Victoria has to offer in the future. I have a feeling that this underrated State might just turn out to be amazing.