AS a four-wheel drive destination, the Grampians has some of the most scenic tracks in Victoria and, whilst not overly challenging, they offer spectacular views and memorable driving. An easy touring route can quickly turn into a remote track in this rocky wonderland.
Our love affair with the Grampians began way back, pre-kids, with a borrowed tent from the in-laws and loads of youthful enthusiasm. Over the years we’ve returned many times with family and friends, and I reckon we’ve tackled most of the walks, from easy lookout strolls to challenging treks. We’ve explored the major touring routes, but as we discovered recently there are always exciting new tracks to be found.
This time we’re back with two first-time Canadian visitors to Australia and our base is Lakeside Park on the edge of Halls Gap. We’d normally free camp, but we feel like offering a bit of mountain comfort for our overseas guests. It’s run by owner operators Josephina and Rohan McDonald, an enthusiastic couple who have transformed this once basic park into one of the most awarded in Australia. Its location is picture-perfect, nestled between Lake Bellfield on one side and a peaceful valley on the other.
Our international guests were enthralled with the amount of wildlife in the adjoining valley their swag opened to, as well as the cheeky cockatoos and crimson-coloured rosellas that are quick to steal a lunch. The biggest plus within the park is the wood-fired swimming pool, the only one of its kind in Australia, which is heated all-year ’round and the best tonic for tired muscles after a hard day’s bushwalking.
BEST 4X4 TRACKS: Close to Melbourne
And bushwalking is what the Grampians is all about. Dominated by the craggy peaks of the Wonderland Range, Mt Victory Road and the Mackenzie River, it’s in the Central Grampians area you’ll find the largest selection of day walks, including the well-known trek to the Pinnacle, the Balconies and the majestic Mackenzie Falls.
It was to all these places we took our guests; as well as a mandatory trip to Boroka Lookout, an easy way to enjoy a spectacular view with the carpark only 25m away from imposing cliff tops. Later that night we ventured out for an easy sunset walk to Reeds Lookout and the Balconies.
GRAMPIANS PEAKS TRAIL
On the other extreme is the Grampians Peaks Trail, a project which when completed in late 2020 will be one of Australia’s premier long-distance walking trails. The 144km trail connects some of the Grampians most spectacular peaks, and links Mt Zero in the north to Dunkeld in the south. The walking is designed to be tackled in stages to suit each walker’s level of experience. The first completed section features the Halls Gap, Wonderland and Mt Rosea area and includes a three-day/two-night loop walk from Halls Gap to Borough Hits towards Mount William.
For those who enjoy remote camping there are 12 campsites run by Parks Victoria scattered throughout the park. One of the best free campsites is Plantation Campground found off the Mount Zero Road. It’s also known as The Pines and has about 30 free spots, ranging from tent-based sites through to large areas where you can park a camper or van. There are shared fireplaces, picnic tables, drop toilets, bucket showers and plenty of wildlife to keep you company.
Less than five kilometres from Plantation Campground is Mount Difficult Quarry, one of the most fascinating and overlooked sites in the National Park. Located at the base of Mount Difficult, the Quarry (also known as the Heatherlie Quarry) provided a massive amount of freestone, used in some of Melbourne’s most historic buildings including Parliament House, the Town Hall and the State Library.
A tramway was built to link the quarry to the main railway line at Stawell. Today you can follow the signposted trail and see remnants of the equipment, accommodation houses and rock faces that still show the marks of the operations of the quarry.
ADVENTURE SERIES: Touring Aussie tracks
In the southern part of the park you’ll find the small, secluded Wannon Crossing campsite, adjacent to the tranquil Wannon River. This campground is more suited to tent camping and is a short and easy drive to start the walks to the dramatic peaks of Mount Abrupt and Mount Sturgeon.
Mt Abrupt is a relentless climb but an absolute ripper. It rises steeply over 3.25km (one way) to the 827m summit and isn’t for the fainthearted. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much before the views are worth stopping for. And at the top, several hours later, as the terrain gets steeper and rockier the scenery is magnificent. Views across the Victoria and Serra ranges, the southern plains and Dunkeld make the Mount Abrupt hike one of the most scenic, and underrated, in the National Park.
BACK in the hub of Halls Gap, you can stock up on supplies and fuel, and next door visit the Info Centre for local knowledge and maps. While you’re there you can also partake in a bit of wine tasting. Just keep an eye out for emus and kangaroos as you drive through town. At the cricket oval you’ll often find ’roos taking centre stage and playing extras in a local cricket match.
We were keen to do some off-road exploring away from the touristy spots so, once we refuelled and restocked, it was time to head out of Halls Gap, taking the turn off on to Glenelg River Road. After about 16km we arrived at the sheltered woodlands of Boreang Campground, a popular base for four-wheel drivers exploring the Victoria Valley and these more remote sections of the Grampians.
As we continued, in the distance we could see the peaks and craggy crevices of mountain ranges. Less than an hour later we were high up on top of the world on Goat Track as it winds its way over the Victoria Range, with spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. Goat Track is aptly named. It’s rocky and steep and, though it’s a relatively easy track in summer, with a bit of rain it could quickly turn challenging.
ROLLING COVERAGE: COVID closures, state-by-state
This track also gives northern access to Victoria Range Track and a few other seasonal tracks in the area, as well as a few Aboriginal sites. As we wound our way through the tracks that varied from dirt, clay, sand and rock we didn’t see another vehicle. We were hoping to tackle the more challenging Henham Track, but it was getting late. Keep in mind that while most of the main dirt roads remain open through winter, the tougher trails are subject to seasonal closures.
Coming back down and on the other side, venture beyond Roses Gap Road to Wallaby Tracks Road and enjoy a scenic route that has loads of interesting rock formations and a couple of places to stop and enjoy the views over the Wartook Valley. Within the Northern Grampians are tracks that head into the Mt Difficult Range and the Mt Stapylton area where there are easy walks to Aboriginal rock-art sites and other day walks to exposed mountain peaks. Hollow Mountain is one of the best walks in this area. To get there head up Plantation Road towards the Mount Zero area, passing the Mount Zero Olive Farm along the way.
At the Hollow Mountain carpark, the walking track has a deceptively easy start with steps leading through a picturesque gully, however after about 200 metres you’ll reach the base of a cliff and from there onwards it’s all uphill. There are some nail-biting sections to this walk, before it levels out to breathtaking views of the Mount Stapylton Range and the Wimmera Plains. The wind-sculpted caverns of Hollow Mountain are truly stunning.
Getting lost, or even just a little bit immersed in the Grampians, is a perfect way to blow away those city cobwebs. In our uncertain times of travel, a weekend here, escaping the crowds in a remote campground will reignite your love affair with this spectacular part of Victoria. With just stars and birds and massive sandstone escarpments for company, it sounds pretty good to us. The best part is, with so many awesome tracks to explore, both on foot and by fourbie, it’s just three hours from Melbourne so you can come back and rekindle the love affair, all over again.
LOCATION: 250km from Melbourne or 460km from Adelaide
CLOSURES: Throughout the year Grampians National Park may have closures in place from natural events (storms, floods and bushfires), park operations and projects.
PARK INFORMATION: Phone: 13 1963
VISIT: Brambuk the National Park and Cultural Centre, 2.5km south of Halls Gap; Phone: (03) 8427 2258 or go online at Parks Victoria: www.parks.vic.gov.au
CAMPGROUND BOOKINGS: Brambuk The National Park and Cultural Centre, Halls Gap, phone (03) 5361 4000