Top things to do in the Grampians in regional Victoria
The Grampians in western Victoria is a landscape that feels as old as time itself. The region has plenty to offer visitors and is the perfect foil to the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Melbourne. Louise Reynolds checks in with suggestions for top things to do on a visit to 'the Gramps'...
The jagged and jumbled rock formations of the Grampians look like a giant has hurled them across the landscape in a fit of rage.
Peaks rise at peculiar angles and rock ledges hang precariously over deep gorges. This dramatic, rugged landscape is the result of an act of geological violence that took place millions of years ago. A continental shift forced the ancient shoreline inland, buckling and folding the land to form the Grampian Ranges; or Gariwerd as it is known to Indigenous Australians.
At around 168,000 hectares, the Grampians National Park is large and topographically diverse. It’s punctuated with soaring peaks, dense forests and plunging waterfalls, and is home to a huge array of native animals and plants. It’s also a place of great significance to the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung First Peoples, who have maintained a close connection to this land for thousands of years. Ancient Aboriginal rock art can be found in several locations in the national park.
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The Grampians are about 240 kilometres (a good three to four hour drive) north-west of Melbourne. East of the ranges is the Goldfields town of Stawell. It’s home to two legends: the Stawell Gift, Australia’s richest professional footrace, which has been run here for 138 years, and the award-winning vanilla slice at Waack’s Bakery. If you have the chance to experience one or both, take it!
From Stawell, it takes about half an hour to reach Halls Gap — the Grampians’ main tourist hub. Here you should pay a visit to the Brambuk Cultural Centre. The building is designed to resemble a cockatoo in flight. It takes some imagination to see it. Inside we learn that in the Indigenous creation story of Gariwerd, Bunjil the ancestral spirit created the land, water, animals, birds, fish and people. A dramatic split in one of Gariwerd’s mountains came about when an angry giant emu cracked it open with his beak while trying to catch a thieving crow.
The national park has several fabulous lookouts. From Reeds Lookout, it’s an easy two-kilometre return stroll to The Balconies to enjoy the panorama over the Victoria Valley. The country looks so big and empty from here. It’s easy to forget we’re only a few hours from a bustling city of five million people.
The Pinnacle is another Instagram hotspot and Grampians highlight. There are three walking routes to the Pinnacle, ranging from two to nine kilometres and varying in difficulty over rocky terrain. The Pinnacle provides a vista over the entire Grampians region, with Halls Gap seen wedged between the peaks below.
The multi-layered cascade of MacKenzie Falls is one of the top attractions in the Grampians. The base of the falls can be reached by a steep stone staircase.
The trails to the waterfall and the lookouts are a reminder that the best way to explore the Grampians is on foot. Bushwalkers from around Australia and the world come here to enjoy day walks and multi-day treks. It’s already great, but bushwalking in the Grampians will soon reach a new level of awesome. The Grampians Peaks trail is currently a three-day loop. Work is underway to connect existing trails with a network of new track that will create a continuous 144-kilometre trail linking several peaks and stretching from Mt Zero in the north to Dunkeld in the south.
The 13-day hike is expected to open in 2020 and is destined to become a classic trek. I can’t wait to walk it. When I do, I’ll walk right into Dunkeld for a celebratory meal. I can practise that part now.
Dunkeld is home to the Grampians region’s premier dining experience. The Royal Mail Hotel is famous for its top shelf degustation menus created by chef Robin Wickens. The hotel’s second eatery — The Parker Street Project — offers a share-plate style menu and is a perfect place for a more relaxed lunch. The team there have performed what could fairly be described as a food miracle. They have made brussels sprouts delicious! It could be the bacon and hazelnut butter they are cooked with. Try marrying your sprouts with the melt-in-your-mouth lamb with parsnip and yoghurt, and baked pumpkin with macadamia.
Enjoy your meal looking out over the spectacular Grampians. It’s the perfect way to cap off your visit to this special part of regional Victoria.
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.