A travel junkie who loves to write, Caity Pfohl comes from central New York state and recently finished making her way around Australia on a one-year Work and Holiday visa. Read more about her travels here: caitypfohl.com
Published May 4th 2015
Giant walks, giant views and giant koalas
One of Victoria's most renowned tourist destinations is the Grampians National Park, more commonly referred to as the Grampians or by the Aboriginal name Gariwerd. If you've seen what coastal Victoria has to offer (and between Wilsons Prom, Philip Island, the Mornington Peninsula, the Great Ocean Road and more, there is a lot to choose from!) maybe it's time to head inland for some killer views and a taste of country Victoria.
The park, covering 413,210 acres, is located 160 miles (260 km) west of Melbourne and 290 miles (460 km) east of Adelaide. Some ambitious travelers stop by for a day and make a beeline through all the major sights before moving on, which can work if you're low on time; however, in stretching out your stay to 2-3 days or even a week, you will not be hard-pressed to find ways to fill your days.
Here's a rundown of some of the more well-known sights and areas to get you started. During our trip, we based ourselves in Halls Gap (more info below) so the majority of attractions listed here are in its vicinity; however, there are several other villages you can choose to stay in, such as Dunkeld or Hamilton, which would open up their fair share of great hiking and viewpoint opportunities.
Many visitors to the Grampians stay in Halls Gap, a sleepy and peaceful little town surrounded on all sides by beautiful rising hills and peaks. The town center is a tiny row of businesses including a grocery store, a couple of cafes, a bakery and an ice cream shop. (Side note: if you're planning on making your own meals while in Halls Gap, bring food with you when you come; the local IGA is tiny and very expensive.) Halls Gap has a variety of accommodation options to choose from, running the gamut from hostels and caravan parks to high-end hotels.
We started each day enjoying the peace and quiet of the village and getting our caffeine fix at Livefast Cafe before heading out to sightsee.
Arguably the region's most popular attraction, The Pinnacle is a large rock outcropping that can actually be seen from the main street of Halls Gap (if you know where to look). For the more intrepid hikers, you can start your walk up to the peak right from town; the 11 km circuit is estimated to take about five hours. Another option is driving up to the Sundial car park and walking from there (4.2 km circuit). Lastly, you can also use the nearby Wonderland car park and take the walk from there, also roughly 4.2 km round trip.
However you choose to reach it, you won't be disappointed with the sweeping views over Halls Gap and beyond that you'll find at the top.
Rewarding views after a challenging but beautiful hike up to the Pinnacle
As with The Pinnacle, there are multiple ways to enjoy MacKenzie Falls, as well. We followed the steep track to the base of the falls (2 km return), which took about 40 minutes each way. You can also walk to the MacKenzie Falls lookout (1.9 km return) which takes about 20 minutes each way and has a much gentler grade. The walk to the base also takes you by a path toward a lookout over Broken Falls.
This lookout, also reached by sealed roads and just off the car park, is the perfect spot to enjoy sweeping views over the Victoria Valley on one side and Lake Wartook on the other (and if you're on the hunt for a great place to watch the sunset, this is it). From the lookout, you can take the easy one-hour walk (2 km return) to enjoy the valley from a different perspective from the Balconies lookout.
Looking out over Lake Wartook from the Reed Lookout carpark
A 1.4 km circuit walk will lead you through a beautiful forest to arrive at the base of the falls. If you're lucky, you might see some wildlife, too - we shared our time there with a Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby.
Located between Halls Gap and Dunkeld, Mt. William is the highest peak in the Grampians, clocking in at 1167 meters. The steep and winding road up to the car park offers an abundance of breathtaking views all on its own; continue the 3.6 km return walk up to the summit to be even more impressed. The walk is on a sealed road (closed to vehicles) but don't be fooled, it's very steep and challenging regardless and is only recommended for fit hikers.
Trees on trees on trees on the windy road heading up to the Mount William car park
The Venus Baths are a collection of serene rock pools, and an easy circuit walk (2.3 km) from downtown Halls Gap will lead you to this tranquil spot. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more relaxing place to unwind after a long day of hiking.
A must-do upon arriving in Halls Gap, this beautiful centre offers information on the national park as well as local aboriginal culture and history. Owned and operated by five Aboriginal communities, it's the longest running Aboriginal cultural centre in the country. Be sure to take a few minutes to appreciate the architecture of the centre itself, meant to look like a flying cockatoo, a symbol of the local Aboriginal communities.
Take a break from hiking to check out one of Australia's Big Things, Sam the Giant Koala, in Dadswell Bridge. With a height of 46 feet and a weight of 12 tons, this just might be the biggest koala you will ever see. As if his size alone isn't impressive enough, he is considered by some to be the "Guardian of the Grampians". Cool off with an ice cream from the shop next door before heading to your next lookout.
Hanging out with the Giant Koala in Dadswell Bridge