A majestic mountain range surrounded by dense forest awaits in western Victoria. The name is the Grampians and parts of the area is national park which also goes by the name Gariwerd by the local indigenous people. Explore jagged mountain ridges of sandstone mixed with an exciting plant life. The park is large enough to include a 600 km network of roads and 160 km of hiking trails. In total, the national park covers an area of 1,670 square kilometres. Grampians National Park is one of the largest national parks in Victoria and is known for its remarkable variety of vegetation and wildlife. A three-hour drive from Melbourne will take you here, but you can just as well take the bus.
The area is a paradise for those who like outdoor life. It shows great promises for hiking, mountaineering and biking. The mountains invite you to magical views and breathtaking lookouts. There are trails that suit both the beginner and the experienced hiker. But you can also take the car for help when you head up to the highest point in the park, ascending Mount William near the Hall’s Gap. The mountain is 1,167 meters above the sea. You get an unbeatable view of the entire area from up here. After a long hike, it might be nice to cool off. There are plenty of cascading waterfalls to discover. Splash around in MacKenzie Falls and admire the exciting rock formations. The Grampians is ancient. About 380 million years ago, sandstone from the ancient rivers in the area began to build up the mountain range that is visible today. Grampians rise out of Victoria’s flat farmland and is sometimes referred to as the garden of Victoria because of its rich flora. Small towns have settled around the mountain range. To name a few, there is Hall’s Gap, Dunkeld, Ararat, Hamilton and Stawell.
Go to Lake Bellfield or Lake Wartook and test your fishing luck. Or try kayaking or canoeing in the calm waters. Take a trip to a local vineyard and relax with a glass of their wine. Book a lavish dinner in the hotel Royal Mail in Dunkeld and try local flavours. If you go to Grampians, exploring and adventure should be your main goal, because there are plenty of opportunities here. So many it might feel like you are running out of time trying to do it all. A playground for outdoor lovers but also a mecca for those who like the good life. And a place to learn more about the country’s history.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
MacKenzie Falls (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/grampians-national-park/things-to-do/mackenzie-falls) is a waterfall that is over 30 meters high and thus the highest in the state. Take a cooling dip if circumstances permit, i.e. if the currents are not too powerful. Keep in mind that the water is deeper than it looks. Unfortunately, the area in which the waterfall is located has been involved in several major forest fires. One was in January 2006 when almost half of the national park was affected by fire. Summers can be very dry and warm. If you are visiting during the summer, check the up-to-date situation with the information centre in Hall’s Gap before venturing out.
The Pinnacle (parkweb.vic.gov.au/visit/natural-wonders/the-pinnacle-in-the-grampians-you-can-do-it!) is an overhanging cliff with magical views of the Grampians. To get here you must climb through the Grand Canyon and beyond. But don’t worry, you do not need to be a seasoned mountaineer to manage. There are clear signs, paths and stairs for help. However, it is not the easiest thing you might have tried. Even though it says that it is only two kilometres from the car parking to the destination, the hike takes up to two hours. If you are you planning to do this in the fall or spring, bring a wind jacket. During the summer, a sun hat or cap is preferable and plenty of water. If you don’t have two hours, follow the signs for Grand Canyon instead. Even here the view is outstanding.
Art and culture
Take a trip to the Brambuk Cultural Centre (brambuk.com.au) in Hall’s Gap. They have exhibitions about the indigenous Australians, their traditions and origins. Test their unique instrument called didgeridoo, learn to dance traditional dance or try your skills in boomerang throwing. Only the building’s appearance itself is worth a visit. Admission is free for visitors of all ages. The area also has a café, a souvenir shop and dormitories for those who want to stay overnight.
Horsham Regional Art Gallery (horshamtownhall.com.au/horsham-regional-art-gallery) has over 1,000 different artworks, of which a significant part is photographic art. The gallery is focusing on three major areas; Australian photographs, the Wimmera region and the Mack Jost collection, but other exhibitions are temporarily showcased sometimes. This is a great place for art lovers. The entry is a symbolic sum. In Grampians you can also find other art exhibitions of varying character. Find the best fit for you on the official information website Visit Grampians (visitgrampians.com.au).
If you are not afraid of anything, you can visit one of Australia’s most fearsome buildings and take part in the Eerie Tours ghost tours (eerietours.com.au). The year was 1867 when Ararat Lunatic Asylum was opened, and it is said that some of the British Empire’s craziest people lived here. For 130 years, around 130,000 people died at the asylum and this is now considered to be one of the most haunted places in Australia. Ararat Lunatic Asylum consisted of 68 buildings that were inhabited by over 2,000 doctors and patients, making it a self-sufficient village. The tour takes two hours and departs once every 30 minutes after eight o’clock in the dark.
Sports, entertainment and events
If you are in Hall’s Gap during the first weekend in May, secure a ticket to treat yourself with a great taste experience. Grampians Grape Escape (grampiansgrapeescape.com.au) is a food festival for the whole family. Take the opportunity to meet more than a hundred exhibitors from West Victoria and hear about their knowledge in food, drink and production. This festival has been around since 1991 and is visited by approximately 10,000 guests annually. There are also food markets held in the area, including Avoca Riverside Market (facebook.com/AvocaRiversideMarket), Hamilton Farmers Market (facebook.com/HamiltonFarmersMarketHIRL) and Jung Market (facebook.com/Market.Jung.Vic.Au).
Stawell Gift (stawellgift.com) is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious short-distance race. The race started in 1878 by the miners as a fun thing to do, and since then it has become an annual tradition except for a break of four years during World War II. The lucky winner goes home with 40,000 Australian dollars. The city of Stawell is one of few cities in Victoria that still has an active gold industry. The race is on being run on Easter Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
If you want to try some special dishes from the Aboriginal kitchen, Brambuk’s Bushfood Café (brambuk.com.au/bushfoodscafe.htm) might be something for you. They serve dishes that include for example kangaroo meat, Australian daisies and seeds from the acacia tree.
For the wine-lover, the vinery Best’s Great Western (bestswines.com) is a must. The vineyard has produced lots of different wines since it opened in 1866. In addition to fantastic wines, they also have a seemingly magical underground cellar where you can guide yourself through, among barrels of wine of all sorts. It is said that the Thomson family produces outstanding Shiraz in their timber brewery.
If you are in the Grampians, make a stop at Dunkeld and Royal Mail Hotel (royalmail.com.au/eat-and-drink/dining-room) for a meal. Since their meals are based on local ingredients, the menu varies according to season. Some of the ingredients are even grown in the hotel’s own garden. They have their own wine cellar and beautiful views of the South Grampians. The restaurant has won several awards for its food.
Good to know
For official information about Grampians you can visit the website Visit Grampians (visitgrampians.com.au). Parks Victoria (parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/grampians-national-park) gives you good information about the national park. Once you have arrived, you can make a visit at one of the Visitor Information Centres in Ararat, Halls Gap, Dunkeld or Horsham.
Warnings and preparations
As always when you are in nature, be careful of what you leave behind. This is a national park, so be extra careful. If you want to have a picnic or want to barbeque, be sure to find out where, when and how you can light a fire. In summer, it is very dry in Australia, and Grampians do not wish for more forest fires. Pack clothes according to weather and bring plenty of water.
To get to Grampians use your own car (wotif.com/Car-Hire) or take the bus. Buses from Melbourne depart from Southern Cross Station, and the journey takes up to three hours. The V/Line buses take you to the station of the community of Ararat and from there, continue via connecting buses that will take you to other parts of the region. Check the timetable on Public Transport Victoria (ptv.vic.gov.au). If you take the bus, remember that the distances in Australia are long. For example, Between Ararat and Hall’s Gap, it is forty minutes. If you want to get around the entire Grampians region, be sure to check out how the buses connect with each other. Call an information centre and ask about tips for the best and most effective travel planning, they are usually very nice and helpful. Driving between Melbourne and Hall’s Gap takes just under three hours.
The greatest selection of accommodation can be found in Hall’s Gap (hotelscombined.com/Place/Grampians_National_Park.htm). If your budget is limited, a tip is to book your accommodation in this area since they have hostels and other budget-friendly options. There is an YHA hostel In Halls Gap. Grampians ECO YHA (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Grampians_Eco_YHA.htm) is located in the heart of the national park, and just as the name reveals it is an eco-friendly accommodation. They use, among other things, solar energy, rainwater depots and recycling. In the kitchen you will find organically grown herbs, free-range eggs and fruits and vegetables that you are welcome to use.
If you travel to Grampians by car and are bringing your own tent, there are a few campsites not too expensive to choose from. If you feel like camping in the forest instead of at a manned campsite, ask the information centre for help. It can be a bit tricky camping like this in Australia, but it is not impossible.
Grampians Motel Halls Gap (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/The_Grampians_Motel_and_The_Views_Bar_Restaurant.htm) is located at the foot of the high mountains and in the heart of the forest, only a few minutes walking distance to central Hall’s Gap. There are many different types of rooms, ranging from simpler variants to more luxurious suites. The motel also has its own restaurant. If you are travelling by car, the parking lots adjacent to the motel is a plus.
A Saturday in Grampians with access to a car
08:00 – Food and miniature golf
Start the day by charging your body at Livefast Café (livefast.com.au) at Grampians Road in Hall’s Gap. The staff here love to explore the area, so take the opportunity to ask about tips on things to do. To digest your food and prepare yourself at the pace of the day, make a stop at Grampians Adventure Golf (grampiansadventuregolf.com.au). It is a miniature golf course with 18 holes that are built with small mountains and waterfalls. In addition, they are named after local icons such as the Pinnacle and Mount William.
11:00 – Forces of nature
Now the real adventure begins. Drive 25 minutes north to MacKenzie Falls and enjoy the creations of nature. Take a bath in case the water streams allow. Go up, dry yourself and be fascinated by the power the water comes down with when it falls from an altitude of 30 m. Walk back to the parking lot, but don’t take the same route as when you arrived. There are more options to choose from.
13:00 – Aboriginal teachings
Drive back to the centre of Hall’s Gap. It’s time for a history lesson. Brambuk Cultural Centre (brambuk.com.au/information.htm) awaits. Check out the building. What an interesting architecture! Then go directly to Bushfoods Café (brambuk.com.au/bushfoodscafe.htm) and enjoy a different lunch. Crocodile, kangaroo and emu are available to choose from. Join the guided tour of the forest and learn about which plants that can be eaten and which ones are toxic. Try throwing a boomerang and paint your own message stone in true Aboriginal spirit.
16:00 – View over the mountains
Pack a picnic and drive to Picaninny carpark in Dunkeld. From Hall’s Gap it takes about an hour’s drive, so any passengers can use this time for a little nap. Park your car and start the hike on Picaninny Walk towards a fantastic view. This hike is classed as simple and is two and a half kilometres long back and forth. Stop when the road runs out or when the view is overwhelming, and you decide to bring out the picnic.
18:00 – Dinner at Royal Mail
After a busy day, also your taste buds are worth a memorable treat. Royal Mail Hotel (royalmail.com.au/food-wine/) in Dunkeld solves this for you. Study the menu carefully as it changes depending on what products are in season.
20:00 – Enjoy a beer
To finish the day on top, drive to Hamilton. The last stop is a bar. Sit down at the Blue Malt Restaurant and Beer Lounge and do what a true Aussie would, enjoy a cold beer. Their beer menu consists of 60 different local, national and international varieties. Just take a pick. From Wednesday to Saturday they are open late.