Once upon a time, there was a girl who went walking in Wonderland.
Together with 4 friends, they wandered off into the mountains of Victoria.
My dear readers, join me on this real-life fairy tale to Wonderland. An incredibly beautiful hiking area in Gariwerd, the aboriginal name for a gorgeous display of nature known as The Grampians.
When we heard there was a long weekend coming up in the state of Victoria, the reason being a little event called the Melbourne Cup (as in: a horse race so popular it literally STOPS the nation), the first thing we thought was that we had to take advantage.
What could we be doing? Where would we be going?
During an afternoon coffee break from work, in the form of a quick visit to our new Swiss friends living down the road for 3 months, our answer was ‘brewed’.
What was that mountain range called again? Not too far from Melbourne? Oh yes!
Grampians National Park
We left Melbourne around 10.30 am. No worry, no hurry.
After an approximately 3-hour drive, and a welcome little coffee stop in Beaufort, we rolled into Hall’s Gap around 2 pm.
The main town in the Grampians, ‘home’ to the Tourist Information Centre, a large caravan park (a.k.a. camping site), a number of restaurants, and a disproportionate amount of ice cream parlors, Hall’s Gap was incredibly packed with campers, day-trippers, and other excited explorers.
Whatever your sleeping preferences, the Grampians is a popular spot for both local and international tourists. A quick raid of the Tourist Office brochure stand aside, we directly came to the conclusion that we had to get out of there as fast as we could. 😉
Sundial Car Park & Picnic Area
It had already gotten quite late, so once we left Hall’s Gap in the direction of MacKenzie Falls we decided to stop at the first opportunity presented to us. Time to enjoy a picnic with all sorts of home-made and healthy lunch goodies!
Sundial Car Park did not only turn out to be an ideal lunch spot, but it’s also the starting point of a 2.1 km hike to the famous Pinnacle (I’ll tell you all about that later!), as well as an easy breezy 0.6 km walk to Lakeview Lookout.
Although slightly in a hurry to make it to MacKenzie Falls at this point, we still felt we had to go take a look. I mean, 600 meters. That only takes like 10 minutes to walk, right?
Right. And boy are we glad we did.
Lakeview Lookout offers its visitors a magnificent view over – you guessed it! – Lake Bellfield.
Another stop before we get to see the falls?! Yes, siree!
The Grampians are very much like The Great Ocean Road, in the sense that you just have to stop everywhere and see it all.
So when we spotted a sign for another viewpoint, we were parking our car before anyone even had time to process the “We-really-have-to-keep-moving-if-we-want-to-see-MacKenzieFalls-before-sunset” thought that probably crossed all of our minds.
Again, I am glad we stopped.
Not only did we get to see another panoramic view over the hills on the horizon, not to mention this cool cloud cover, but we also ‘accidentally’ discovered that we would have to come back here for the trail to the beautiful Balconies. Yay for no planning and still finding out “where it’s at”! 😉
MacKenzie Falls turned out to be only a 10-minute drive from Reed Lookout, so there was still plenty of time to ‘climb’ down to the waterfalls. It’s a downhill stroll of about 550 meters, including a couple of staircases (with great sturdy handrails for those of you with a bit of vertigo! ).
After arriving at the ‘lake area’ at the bottom of the falls, we sat down for a while to admire the beauty before us.
Curious as I am, and surprised to find it was ‘only’ 6 pm by the time we got back to the MacKenzie car park, I simply couldn’t resist suggesting we’d still take a stroll to the Balconies.
Luckily, our friends were OK with this new ‘plan’. Before finding a place to eat in Hall’s Gap, we would return to Reed Lookout.
[We actually tried to make restaurant reservations, which is very much recommended with these kinds of crowds (!), but we didn’t manage to get any telephone reception for most of the afternoon. If you are the hungry type, make sure to reserve a table before heading into the mountains… 😉 ]
The walk from the parking lot to the Balconies is about 1 km, which would normally take approximately 15 minutes one way. But since there is too much to see on the way up, be sure to give yourself at least 20-25 min.
That way, you can be like me and try – and succeed! – to climb a huge mushroom-shaped rock to perform one of my classic “Jump for Joy” poses. Or, you can copy the great example of our 5-year old friend, and build you own rock pile “puppet” in an attempt to ‘stand out from the crowd’ in this already impressive stony collection.
It must have been about 7.30 pm at this point. Our tummies were rumbling, we were on our way to the nearest restaurant of our liking (a.k.a. one that miraculously wouldn’t be fully booked), when we spotted them. Roos. Skippies. A field full of them!
As we stood there watching in awe, more and more kangaroos came happily hopping into this popular patch of green grass.
Believe it or not, “The Apartment” was the name of our accommodation in the Grampians. On the road between Ararat and Hall’s Gap, our little ‘home away from home’ couldn’t have been more perfect. Clean, comfortable, and calm.
Set in the typical Australian country side of golden pastoral landscapes, the Apartment is close to the fun, yet far enough away from busy traffic, and tourist crowds.
Will and I woke up around 7 am, determined to go for a morning walk before breakfast. Would we be able to spot some more kangaroos?
The answer is yes, but no. Far enough away from the thousands of sheep grazing for what little green grass they could find, there were 3 or 4 kangaroos sitting on a hill on the horizon, but the only reason we could identify them as such was by using the 40x digital zoom on our compact camera. That doesn’t quite count, now does it? 😉
Breakfast was served “the Swiss way”. Home-made bread loaves, brie cheese, cheddar, ham, salami, different fruit jams, yogurt, muesli cereal, and corn flakes. All carefully washed down with milk, orange juice, tea, and coffee.
Our tummies full, our energy levels up… We were ready for our next challenge!
Unfortunately, during our hour and a half breakfast feast, the weather had turned. We were ‘welcomed’ with drizzle and a tremendously thick cloud cover when we left the house. Things weren’t looking great, but we decided to give the day a go anyway. “Now that we are here, we are not going to miss the highlight of the Grampians!”
From the Sundial car park, there is a short-cut trail of approximately 2 km to the Pinnacle. If you start from Wonderland car park, the same hike is about 4 km long. Since the weather was quite bad, showing no signs of improvement, and we were going to hike with a 5-year old, two kilometers seemed far enough to us. 😉
We walked, jumped, climbed, and slipped our way to the top. Luckily, we were no longer rained upon, and the clouds dared to open up a bit, giving us a chance to see some of the amazing view from the top of the Pinnacle. We made the right choice this morning!
Have you ever been to Grampians National Park?
What was your favorite spot / trail?
If not, would you like to visit the area after reading my article?
The Grampians make for a great road trip from Melbourne, or anywhere else in Victoria.
And if you have the time, be sure to spend a few days to check out all the amazing sights. Enjoy!