Victoria is the second smallest state in Australia and was of interest to us for three main reasons: the Sandbelt golf courses, Melbourne, and the Great Ocean Road. We had a lot of time in Victoria which gave us the opportunity to see more than we had planned. Of course, one of the coolest cities in Australia is Victoria. Melbourne! We spent some time at the beginning of our Australia trip and pre-COVID in this fantastic and vibrant city that is also known for its coffee culture. We also visited Philip Island, Wilsons Promontory, the Bellarine Peninsula, and – an absolute must when in Australia – the Great Ocean Road! But we soon realized that the Grampians National Park is also definitely worth a visit!
Grampians National Park
When we first heard that the border to South Australia would remain closed for at least another three months, we were more than frustrated. We had already seen everything that we wanted to see in Victoria. In addition, it was cold and rainy, we were missing our families, and our savings for our world trip was becoming smaller and smaller. We wondered if we should return back to Germany. But then what? After all, we still had a few golf courses, Kangaroo Island and Perth on our bucket list! We went back and forth for a whole weekend about what we should do. And we decided to travel within Victoria for a month and then see where we stood. We still hadn’t ticked off a “must” yet, so we decided to tackle that. The Grampians National Park!
Our Journey to Grampians National Park
First, we spent three nights at Lake Colac. During those three nights, we didn’t even move; after the many lockdowns, we needed that time for ourselves. Time for our thoughts. And time to read a book, listen to music, and try to make plans. The lake was an excellent fit for this. The Meredith Park campground in the north of the lake is free, has very clean restrooms, and has picnic tables and fire pits. It is definitely one of the campsites we recommend! We only drove 1.5 hours, with a short stop in Colac where we stocked up on our food supplies. We didn’t get far, but we like to travel stress-free and to be able to stop wherever we want.
With the intention of seeing the Grampians, we continued on. We visited the cute town of Ararat for a day and drove up to the One Hill Tree platform, which offered spectacular views of the Grampians. We were lucky because it was a clear day and we could see the impressive mountain ranges beautifully.
Before entering the Grampians National Park, which is known as “Gariwerd” in the local Aboriginal language, you can visit Bunjil’s Shelter. We really wanted to see as many Aboriginal rock paintings as we could, so of course, we stopped.
Tip: before you reach the parking lot of Bunjil’s Shelter, there is a single campsite on the right. It is allowed to camp here. It is free and has a fire pit and a picnic table. There is an outhouse just 100 meters away. An absolutely gorgeous quiet sleeping place in the middle of untouched nature! We saw native Eastern Grey Kangaroos here.
Aboriginal Rock Painting Excursion
If you’re like us and interested in Aboriginal history, be sure to check out the rock paintings at the Grampians. We were in awe at the Aboriginal rock art in Kakadu National Park and in the Flinders Ranges. But the rock paintings in the Grampians were our first in Victoria. It was only while looking at the sites, that we learned that the Gariwerd Mountains (the Grampians) are at the heart of Aboriginal culture in Victoria. Nowhere in southern Australia can you find more rock paintings than in this area! However, only five of them are accessible. These are Bunjil’s Shelter, Gulgurn Manja Shelter, Ngamadjidj Shelter, Billimina Shelter, and Manja Shelter.
Bunjil’s Shelter is located close to Stawell and was our first stop. From the parking lot, you arrive at the fenced shelter, or cave, in a few minutes. The short walk there is framed with large boulders, which alone are a sight in themselves.
The first Aboriginal population in the Grampians painted a picture of Bunjil. Bunjil translates as a wedge-tailed eagle. In a Dreamtime story, Bunjil is known as the creator of everything. After completing his work, he turned into an eagle and still flies today. The shelter painting of Bunjil is depicted with two dingoes, his helpers. The age of painting is unfortunately unknown.
Gulgurn Manja Shelter
Via gravel roads, you reach the Hollow Mt. car park, located in the northern part of the Grampians. From here you reach the Gulgurn Manja Shelter. The easily walkable and short path (about 1 km) to the rock painting is scenic. The beauty really opens to you when you stand in front of the rocks, which are surrounded by countless colorful plants, and endless views of the country.
Gulgurn Manja translates as “hands of young people”. The paintings show exactly that; many young hands of several generations are painted, but curiously only the right hand. The footprints of emus are also recognizable. Unfortunately, the meaning is unknown. However, we learned that Dreamtime stories are passed on from generation to generation in Aboriginal culture, and the knowledge resides within the community.
At Stapylton Campground there is another rock painting in the Ngamadjidj Shelter. You walk just 300 meters to this outstanding art. White figures are depicted, which is why Ngamadjidj Shelter is also called the “Cave of Ghosts”. The unique feature of Ngamadjidj is that it was painted using white clay rather than the usual red pigments. Unfortunately, the age and meaning of the painting are also unknown.
The Billimina Shelter is accessible from the Buandik picnic area. A path, which in places is overgrown with ferns and other plants, leads to the Aboriginal shelter, 1.1 km away. This trail takes about 40 minutes and brings you to the Billimina Shelter, an overhanging rock that is covered with countless rock art. The rock paintings show thousands of horizontal, red-colored strokes. It is believed that the strokes represent the number of days spent here or the meetings that took place here. You can also see stick figures, which we found particularly exciting.
On the way to the Billimina Shelter, there is a turnoff that leads to the Buandik waterfall.
Tip: After this short hike, enjoy a picnic at the tables by the parking lot. If you’re lucky – like we were – you’ll see kangaroos hopping by while you’re eating.
The Buandik campsite is conveniently located shortly before the Buandik car park.
Located a few minutes drive from the Billimina Shelter is the Manja Shelter.
We found the Manjil Shelter to be very special, as it shows several hand paintings. First, the hand was placed on the rock and red Ochre color was put in the mouth. The Ochre was then blown onto the hand. This is how the hand paintings were made. You can also see stick figures and animal tracks at Manjil Shelter.
Halls Gap – the Gateway to the Grampians
After spending the night at Bunjil’s Shelter, we drove to the Grampians National Park; Halls Gap to be precise. Halls Gap is a small touristy town, with several campgrounds, ice cream parlors, and other shops. We equip ourselves with tourist guides that pick up at the Halls Gap Information Center. From there, it only takes a few minutes to drive to the Wonderland car park, where most of the hikes begin.
Tip: In the information center you can treat yourself to a hot shower for only $3.
After studying the map that we received from the Info Center, we decide to do the Pinnacle and Balcony hikes in the next few days.
For our overnight stay, we opt for the free campsite Plantation. The campsite is reached via a gravel road about 12 km outside of Halls Gap.
It has outhouse toilets and bucket showers. There are no trash cans or kitchens, but this simple place to stay has everything we need. Even internet reception!
Our Pinnacle Hike
Enthusiastically, we started our first hike in the Grampians. As always when we decide to do a hike, we were little prepared but were full of zest for action. The first few meters led us over stone rocks, pierced by bushes. Just steps from the car park, the views were already spectacular. Towering rock walls piled up darkly next to us.
Amazed, we walked on, continuing uphill. After a while, we heard voices from other hikers, but they sounded far away. We also couldn’t see any more yellow signposts that marked our route. The narrow path that we were on didn’t seem like the path at the beginning. Did we take a wrong turn somewhere? Were we already lost?
Of course, we must have gone the wrong way. We had to turn back because the bushes became more and more impenetrable, and the stone path became steeper and more dangerous. We turned around and found the right path that led us first to the Grand Canyon. There must have been a rockslide recently because the way down to the Grand Canyon was unfortunately closed.
We kept walking and I knew immediately that this steep path would give me sore muscles in my shins. And I was already thirsty! We had actually forgotten our water back in our campervan! When we arrived at the parking lot, we were so excited about what was to come that we had packed our camera, but nothing else. When we saw Bridal Veils Falls, this was just the perfect place for a refreshment. We didn’t drink the water but washed our faces, which was extremely refreshing.
A Long Hike
Sitting around in lockdown had not done us so well in terms of fitness, and we were already a little tired. But we were halfway to the summit. Or so we thought! We approached a couple on their way down the hike, so we stopped to chat. We learned that we still had a bit of a walk until halfway. As we walked on, I noticed that the initial enthusiasm that both of us had was beginning to wane. We walked and walked, and the path went on and on uphill. We reached a relatively flat area, and we could see the mountains and the valley below us.
How beautiful it was! We could hear birds chirping and saw pretty yellow flowers blooming. We decided to sit here for a while and soak up everything on our way back. But for now, however, we had one goal in mind: the Pinnacle Lookout! We continued until we saw a sign. Silent Street!
The path narrowed drastically. In front of us, a dark corridor opened up. To our immediate left and right, dark rock walls towered up like skyscrapers next to the path.
In the beginning, we felt a bit queasy and had mixed feelings. But only seconds later, we found Silent Street was the best thing about this hike! We had never seen anything like it before. In the end, a vertical wooden staircase led us out of Silent Street, and it was only a few more minutes until we made it to our destination.
The Pinnacle Lookout
We had made it to the Pinnacle Lookout! Our reward was a breathtaking view of the land below us, and a lake that lay dark blue in the distance.
The platform itself was built in such a way that you have virtually nothing underneath you. For me and my fear of heights, this was another test of courage, which I fortunately mastered. After all, I hadn’t walked all the way up here and then not taken the last few steps onto the lookout! The breathtaking view was worth every step!
Happy with our achievement, we started our descent. We took a few more photos in Silent Street and listened to the beautiful sound of the birds singing as they accompanied us on our way back down. As expected, the descent was much easier and faster, even if our knees made themselves felt.
But our decision was clear. We loved the Pinnacle Lookout hike, and even though everything hurt, we decided that tomorrow we would do our next difficult hike, The Balconies!
As predicted, the next morning we woke to sore legs. Sore everything actually! We realized that the hike up to The Pinnacles was much more strenuous than walking 18 holes of golf! But we didn’t want to admit to ourselves that we were suffering a little, so we set out to do our second hike: The Balconies. Powered with breakfast and coffee, we drove to the Reed parking lot and started right away. After just a few meters, we realized that this hike was nothing compared to the Pinnacles! Rather, it was a nice gentle walk in the sunshine! We walked one kilometer along the orange sandy path to the viewing platform.
Even though the way to The Balconies seemed easy compared to the previous day, the view was again absolutely spectacular! We just stood there soaking in the beautiful landscape until it was time to go back.
The hike to The Balconies didn’t take long. We spent over three hours in The Pinnacles, but only one hour at The Balconies. It took us about half an hour for the round trip, and we spent another half hour enjoying the view. So, we decided to go to the MacKenzie Falls. The drive from the Balconies took about twenty minutes.
There were several viewpoints at the MacKenzie Falls. We first walked to Cranage’s Lookout, then to the Broken Falls Lookout.
As we were there, we saw a sign that said that we could walk down to the pool of the waterfall. Warning, it read, 260 strenuous steps! Why not, we thought and started our descent. After all, we walked The Pinnacle Lookout way, and we were feeling like serious hikers! After a few minutes, we saw a family returning up the track. They were sweating and breathlessly joked “Enjoy the way down!” We knew exactly what they meant!
Once at the bottom, a surprise was awaiting us. We saw a rainbow at the waterfall! It was beautiful to look at. We couldn’t take our eyes off it and stayed for quite a while. Reluctantly, we started our way back up, which we managed slowly, and with many breaks.
Some Additional Hikes
There are definitely many more hikes you can do in the Grampians. Another hike that was recommended to us is Mt. Hollow. It is said to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the Grampians. The National Park is also known for its great rock climbing.
As you can see, there is something for everyone and we highly recommend a trip to the Grampians National Park. Although we are not the biggest hikers, we really enjoyed our time in the Grampians, and don’t rule out returning and tackling one or more of the other hikes!
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