There comes a point where snaking columns of traffic and the ongoing buzz of activity in a city gets to you. I guess ‘boxed in’ is the best way to describe it, and a restlessness seems to take over. I knew I had reached that point when you when I was waiting at the lights listening to the whir of the car engine, and found myself imagining treetops, fresh eucalyptus-laced air, and the kookaburra-punctuated silence. When I caught myself in these thoughts one March afternoon, I knew it was time to do something. With a rare long weekend on the horizon (anything more than a weekend in placement years seems like gold), it was time to load up the car and head on a road trip.
The Grampians National Park seems to have come up in many conversations since I moved to Victoria a few years ago. Friends at university frequently spoke positively about the Jurassic-esque scenery, plethora of walks, and never-ending sunsets. To be honest, it sounded like a slice of my beautiful home of Tasmania right here in the mainland, and presented itself as the refresher I needed after some intense weeks of placement. When we were brainstorming places to go for the long weekend, it was the place that kept topping the lists.
On a Friday evening, we packed our bags, piled in the car and began the drive towards our mountain escape. After working through a couple of hours of after-work traffic to avoid paying toll roads (regrets), we were finally on the open road. Looking out over fields with the bright blue sky above us was liberating and the excitement continued to mount.
As the sun was setting, we pulled into Halls Gap, the quaint town which serves as a base for exploring the Grampians. A neon motel sign signaled where we would call home for the next few days, however we didn’t spend long getting to know the place before rushing out to catch the last rays of golden sunlight. We drove quickly (but under the limit, don’t worry, I’m a granny driver) and somehow made it up to Reeds Lookout. Many other visitors had headed to the popular Balconies Lookout, but we didn’t have enough time left to do the walk, so strolled up to Reeds Lookout instead and plonked ourselves on the stony surrounds. The sun melted over the horizon like liquid gold and the rolling tree-lined mountains seemed to go on endlessly. It was the perfect end to the first day and a timely reminder of the big world out there.
The next day was hot, really hot. Being pale as anything and Category 1 Sunburn Susceptible (if that exists), we decided that we probably couldn’t go out for a full day of hiking. Instead, we treated ourselves to a sleep in and then jumped in the car again to drive to some of the further away points in the National Park. With a map generously printed by the motel staff, we drove down the road until the figures of Mount Abrupt and Mount Sturgeon eventually made themselves apparent.
These two mountains are symbolic of the Grampians landscapes: jagged towers of ancient stone rising seemingly out of nowhere. A ribbon of bitumen runs close to the bases of both and makes for an unbelievably scenic drive. After driving for a while and stopping an unacceptable number of times to take in the views, we ended up in the town of Dunkeld for some lunch.
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Thankfully because of the the time of year, the days were still nice and long, so we were able to head back to the motel and relax during the hottest hours and await a cooler evening. There are just so many hikes to do in the National Park, and with so many mountains, the views look stunning from nearly every walk. With only one evening and a half day to go, we had to choose. We landed upon the idea of squeezing two walks into the one evening: The Pinnacle and The Balconies, hoping to mix a good hike with a stellar sunset spot.
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When the temperatures had comfortably dropped below the 38 degrees of midday, we laced up the hiking boots and hit the Pinnacle. The walk was through beautiful bushland and every now and then it would open onto rock platforms where you could soak in views over the National Park. Eventually we reached the top and the sheer cliffs were breathtaking. Unfortunately the best places to take in the view were taken by beer-drinking backpackers who refused to move despite a dozen walkers and photographers asking them to make some space (argh) but we managed to get the gist of it. The sun was beginning to set and the purple colours accentuated the cliff face and gum trees. But, we still had to make it to the Balconies for sunset – and time was running out!
We gave up on hoping that the backpackers would vacate the viewing platforms, and headed back towards the car to drive up to the next walk. With the sun starting to set, the pressure was on. We basically ran along the track towards the Balconies and made it just in time. The Balconies is easily one of the most popular walks in the park and it was already pretty packed. We found a little corner and watched the sun set gently over the horizon. It is named the Balconies for a reason: rock juts out from the cliff face on top of each other and they are big enough to stand and sit on. Visiting here on a quiet weekend when the slabs of stone are free of people would be amazingly beautiful.
After a day of sunshine and hiking, we retired to the motel to tackle our final morning. We decided the final walk should be Mount William and we were not disappointed. The walk was beautiful as it climbed up towards the sky. Mount William is the tallest peak in the National Park so there were stunning views over the other mountains and the whole Grampians range. The steady uphill climb got our heart rates up and was a great finish to the trip — it was satisfying to look out over the Grampians and remember all the beautiful places we had seen. There is still so much more to see and do in the Grampians, so I cannot wait to get back another time there is a rare long weekend.
THINGS TO DO IN THE GRAMPIANS
You can either walk to the base or the lookout for MacKenzie Falls, both of which are spectacularly beautiful. The cascades are immensely popular (for a reason). If you’re here in the warmer months, people like to visit MacKenzie Falls to cool down after a day of hiking.
Distance: 2.0km (to base), 1.9km (to lookout)
Time (return): 1 hour and 30 (to base), 40 minutes (to lookout)
Boroka Lookout is the most popular sunrise spot in the Grampians with views of Lake Bellfield, Mount William, and more. The walk is incredibly short and easy so this means you will most likely be sharing the vista with a sizable number of people. There is a rock platform which looks just like a seat, making it a cool – albeit kinda scary – place to watch the sun come up.
Distance: 90 metres
Time: 3 minutes
Mount Sturgeon (Wurgarri)
As I said, we didn’t manage to actually do the Mount Sturgeon walk because it was too hot but the mountain itself looks stunning. It is the first thing on our list to do upon our return. This walk sounds more challenging, however the panoramic views look phenomenal. Bushwalking experience is recommended as this walk has water crossings and rock scrambling.
Distance: 7km (return)
Time: 3 hours (return)
Mount Abrupt (Mud-Dadjug)
Same thing goes with Mount Abrupt: it’s a stunning looking mountain and walk which we have high on our next agenda. The views from Mount Abrupt are touted as some of the best in the whole park. This walk is not as tricky as Mount Sturgeon and provides wonderful vistas over Serra Range.
Distance: 6.5km (return)
Time: 3 hours (return)
The Balconies is another incredibly popular spot in the Grampians. It is easy to reach and the rock platforms really are something special. The Balconies are stunning at any time of the day but the colours and view really peaks at sunset. The views over Victoria Valley are something you cannot miss when in the Grampians. We didn’t visit the Balconies for sunrise but have heard that it can also be quite atmospheric.
Distance: 2 km (return)
Time: 45 minutes (return)
The Pinnacle is a spectacular place, and I mean truly spectacular. There is a beautiful viewing platform which overlooks valleys and cliff faces. The Pinnacle is stunning at any time of day, but if you can brave it with head torches, it would be spectacular in the morning/evening light. There are two options for getting to the Pinnacle and you can either start from Sundial Carpark or Wonderland Carpark. Starting from Sundial Carpark is an easier walk however the Wonderland track provides some cooler views and beautiful boulders.
Distance: 2.1 km (Sundial and Wonderland)
Time: 1 hour (Sundial) and 1 hour 30 minutes (Wonderlnd)
Reeds Lookout is at the same carpark as the Balconies and has a near identical view over Victoria Valley. There are some viewing platforms from the carpark, but I would recommend walking up the small hill to the right past the building where there are boulders. These boulders have spectacular views and they are way less crowded than the Balconies.
Distance: 70 metres
Time: 2 mins
The tallest peak in the Grampians is host to some of the most epic panoramic views of the National Park. The uphill climb is worth it and the track is a paved road which makes for pretty seamless walking.
Distance: 3.6 km (return)
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (return)
For some great hiking advice and more info on all things Grampians, I would recommend heading to Visit Grampians.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE GRAMPIANS
We stayed at the Halls Gap Motel however, there are plenty of accommodation options around the Grampians. Whether you’re after camping, glamping (yep), motels or hotels, there is something for you.
Of all the areas to stay, I would recommend Halls Gap because it is in close proximity to most of the walks. It is possible to stay in other areas but don’t forget to tack on some time to drive to the starting points of hikes.
Halls Gap has a convenience store and *some* small restaurants, however I would recommend packing a decent amount of your own food because everything is pretty expensive.
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