Weekend getaway to the Grampians
It’s officially autumn in Australia now and New South Wales has wasted no time rolling in cloud cover to suit the changing seasons. It’s been disgustingly humid, grey, and way too damp for my liking (although the tropical storms have been fun). Luckily, Melbourne is still sunny and beautiful, so Cal and I plan an outdoorsy weekend away in Victoria. My initial vote is for Wilson’s Prom, a gorgeous National Park on the southern coast with lots of beautiful beaches and coastal lookouts, but we quickly agree on something less ordinary— Grampians National Park.
Day 1: Boroka Lookout, Reed Lookout, the Balconies & MacKenzie Falls
The Grampians is about 250km NW of Melbourne, so we wake up dark and early on Saturday morning for the drive, having packed the car and done all our shopping the previous night. I sleep for a good portion of the morning drive anyway, sandwiched inside a stack of pillows in the passenger seat, and only wake up when Callum is snickering and trying to take photos of me. Standard, on both of our parts.
We drive through to Halls Gap, the main town in the northern Grampians, to rendezvous with our friends and suss out camping. We have a camp site app, WikiCamps, that we use to find camping in Australia, so we set our sights on Plantation Campground and finish our drive off there. It’s nearby and also free, so my expectations are rather low, but we are pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a spacious campground and is also home to many kangaroos.
We set up our swag under Callum’s canopy, cook up some delicious chicken skewers for lunch, and then head out to explore. Only one of our friends has ever been to the Grampians before, so we speak to a lady from Parks Victoria to get some tips for a good walk today. She recommends something more shaded to stay out of the heat and gives us directions to MacKenzie Falls. We drive along Mt Difficult Road and stop first at Boroka Lookout for some incredible views.
The Grampians is everything I hoped it would be—mountainous, lush, green, and vastly different scenery to our usual beach weekend getaways. Exactly what we wanted. After a few (dozen) photos and lots of jumping about in excitement, we continue along and stop at Reed Lookout for some more amazing scenery.
From this same car park, we walk 1km out to another lookout, The Balconies, which is just spectacular. I want to go straight out onto the ledge for a photo, but Cal is convinced that I’m too clumsy and will just trip right off the edge. Who knows if this is true, but he refuses to take a photo of me if I go out, so I have to settle for photographing others. Of course, he always trusts himself to go out onto steep cliffs and ledges, so at least I get to take photos of him in cool places.
Even on the short 2km walk to and from The Balconies, we are all sweating up a storm. It’s about 35C, full sun, and the hot rocks aren’t helping. Thankfully, the main event for today is swimming! And it can’t come soon enough.
We drive a bit further down the road to reach the MacKenzie Falls car park, where we set out in search of a cool dip. The hike starts out with a long series of stairs down to MacKenzie Falls, where dozens of people are already splashing around in the water. We sit near enough to catch mist off the falls, but soon decide to continue walking and look for something less busy.
Another 2km down the fairly flat path toward Zumsteins and we find our perfect spot. Interrupting a couple mid-canoodle, we all rip our shoes off and scamper into the freezing water. The rocks are incredibly slippery and the falls are putting out quite a current, so we mostly stay submerged in our little corner, relieved to be out of the heat.
After an hour or more of soaking, we reluctantly put our clothes back on and trek back out into the heat. It’s so hot that we are fully dry before we even have our shoes completely back on, and I am craving some shade. We reach the carpark in about 40min and quickly zip off to Halls Gap for some much-needed ice cream, but not after I slowly chase an emu around the carpark for a photo.
Back at the campsite, Cal and I whip up gourmet burgers with goats cheese, guacamole, and tomato relish for dinner, which are an absolute treat after a long day in the sun. We like to rough it, but not when it comes to food. And definitely not when it comes to gourmet cheeses.
We spend the night playing cards with our friends and planning tomorrow’s adventure. I can’t even believe the stars we sleep under. Like being in space.
Day 2: The Grand Canyon & The Pinnacle
We have grand plans to hike to The Pinnacle today for sunrise, which has the added benefit of also beating the heat we struggled with yesterday. When morning comes around, however, Cal immediately turns off both our 459am and 5am alarms and goes back to sleep. I sleep through this, but apparently our friends’ alarm also goes off a few times after ours and they end up shutting it off as well, both couples just silently hoping the other wouldn’t get up. When we do get up, it’s 9am and we are all feeling a lot more fresh.
Cal grills up another burger for me and some bacon and eggs for himself, and then we pack up camp and head out. There are several routes to get to the Pinnacle and we opt for a start at the Wonderland carpark since the trail will take us through the Grand Canyon, which the tourism website has (very boldly) described at “the younger cousin to America’s Grand Canyon”. That’s a pretty tall order, but it is beautiful.
From the carpark, the hike is about 2.5km to The Pinnacle. It’s not terribly strenuous, but the heat makes all the steep ascents exponentially more difficult. I’m definitely reminded of the hiking I did a few years ago in the real Grand Canyon—the landscape is not dissimilar from the southwestern USA. Nor is the intense heat.
We stop half a dozen times to reapply sunscreen—the heat may be like the American desert, but the sun is far more intense here—but eventually make it to the top and are rewarded with the most amazing views out over the Grampians.
We spend a long time just sitting and taking it all in. On the way back down, we see a very poisonous brown snake, which has Callum in a bit of a fit. It’s a baby, so it doesn’t seem too concerning, but I did just learn last week in a Remote First Aid course that baby snakes are far more dangerous than adults because they don’t know when to release after biting you and will just empty all of their venom into your leg. Luckily, I am now a master of the Pressure Immobilisation Technique for snake bites, so I was on lookout for an opportunity to spring to someone’s medical aid. Probably fortunate that no one was near death on the trail, though, so it’s not a total loss.
After the hike, we munch on some snacks in Halls Gap before saying goodbye to our friends and driving back to Melbourne for a much-needed shower and a fun night at the drive-ins. The weekend has been a marvellous success and I can’t wait to spam everyone with bulk photos of the Grampians. I’ll be dreaming of these mountains for the next month.
Melbourne Hit List: What to see & do on your trip Down Under – brooke around town
[…] 12. If you have access to a car, you absolutely can’t miss the Grampians, about 3hrs NW of the city. Incredibly unique scenery that you would never expect in Australia, amazing hiking, and with none of the crazy tourist crowds you’ll find along the Great Ocean Road. Read more about exploring the Grampians here. […]