Rocks seemingly arranged by nature into tall stacks, each rock balancing precariously yet with complete stability on top of another, the scorched remains of burnt trees now seeming with new growth and the silence, only interrupted by the sound of your footsteps on the rock or the occasional kookaburra’s call awaited us on a day trip into the Grampians National Park.
The 506km round trip is not your average day trip, but the road is divided freeway to Ballarat and then highway to Ararat before you get onto some narrower country roads. The driving is pretty easy, if not a little not boring as you set the cruise control to 110kph and glide along the freeway sections. Passing through Ararat, a once thriving gold mining town during the late 1850’s, we were greeted by the new dominant species in regional Victoria, the locust. These destructive grasshoppers filled the air of the town like dust in the wind, the road covered with millions of splattered corpses. Although destructive, the plague does allow you to spot the local from the tourist as most local cars have shade cloth mesh across their radiators to stop the bugs overheating their cars.
The locusts seemed to like the town, as a few km’s out of town the swarm had reduced to the odd splat on the windscreen every minute or so compared to the thud a few time each second while in town. The drive becomes more interesting from around Ararat onwards. The wind farms on the surrounding hills turn peacefully (well some do, others just stand still on this calm summer day) and the Grampians park gradually rises from the horizon.
After leaving home around 8am and collecting some friends on the way we arrived into Halls Gap just after 11am. Halls Gap is a tiny town on the eastern edge of the Grampians national park where visitors easily outnumber the 250 or so permanent residents (and the locusts outnumber everyone a million to 1). We park by the swimming pool which is directly across from the small
strip of cafes, general store and visitor information centre, which is our first stop. I collect a small map and get directions from the friendly tourist office lady who I’d imagine makes great scones and lemon slice, before we head back out side and our group splits up for the day.
Cam and Adam decide for a more relaxed day of Devonshire tea (you need to get into the country for some CWA scones and jam) and watching the day go by in the town while Nathan and I choose a more active walk within the park. With mobile phone (although once in the park reception all but vanishes), water and sunscreen in hand we head back to the car, this time cutting across the grassed area and watching the locusts form a cloud around us growing more each step we take.
The Pinnacle walk was our destination which began with an easy 5min drive into the park to the Wonderland Car park, which is not by any means related to the Beverly Hills Cop movie. Even this short drive provides great views of the sandstone rock outcrops that were formed some 380 million years ago which immediately makes human exploration of the area seem tiny in comparison. If you are feeling super energetic, you can actually walk to the Pinnacle from Halls Gap, but for a day trip the quick drive provides a useful head start.
Sunscreen now liberally applied and water bottles at the ready we cross a small bridge across a creek with clear yet brown stained water slowing flowing beneath and begin the 5.5km round trip walk. Although the walk is listed at 5.5k, there are plenty of variations to the walk that you can do to extend it if you are keen, we extended at every opportunity so don’t really know how far we walked. As most walkers took the grand canyon track we decided to veer right and head along a different trail to avoid some of the general flow of people.
Following small red and yellow arrows painted on the rock we being the uphill walk across the rock formations that are naturally spectacular and seem to open up to crevices which drop sharply then rise again about 20m from the path. Only a few mins into the walk and already panting, we turn around to see regenerating bushland and rocky hillsides and feel completely immersed in the park’s natural beauty. We realise that we can still see the car, and thus haven’t completed the walk yet so continue upwards along the path although it is hard to resist climbing on nearby rock piles for an even better vantage point to take in the panorama.
Although it’s a relatively easy walk, you do need to be relatively fit (i.e. able to walk uphill for about an hour) and able to move around as the path is pretty much stepping from rock to rock as you follow the path. Shoes are an essential item, although I was surprised at how many people were in sandals or worse, thongs!
The walk continues with more and more rock formations, some of which you could almost slide a piece of paper between the layers of rocks that have formed over millions of years. These massive layers of rocks stack up in piles or in some places form cliff faces. One part the rock face has been formed or worn down and from a distance looks like hundreds of round rocks (almost face like) stacked one on top of the other. We can make some amazing buildings, but the way that these rocks have formed looks amazingly beautiful.
In 2006 a major bushfire burnt a large section of the park and 4 years on you can still see the scars that it left. The trees are sprouting new growth across scorched trunks while the undergrowth has begun to return. The completely blackened upright trees provide an eerie silence against the brilliant blue sky above. Some trails in the park still remain closed to allow the park to rejuvenate itself but fortunately the pinnacle walk remains open.
Further along the walk the trail is well maintained and feels like a never ending series of steps carved into the rock and covered with sand before our next option on the path appears. Here you can choose the 0.7km walk or 2.2km walk to the Pinnacle, naturally we opt for the longer walk which is well worth it if you have the energy. This walk passes through some more heavily forest area where the tall trees provide shade for some ferns and other undergrowth that you wouldn’t expect to find in this hot and dry part of the state. It also provides great views across to Mt William, the highest peak within the park.
As we approach the Pinnacle we are reminded of the need to stick to the path as a massive gap in the rock becomes visible as we weave around the path which was completely hidden from our earlier perspective. In some ways the self onerous nature of the walk is what I like about the walk. Unlike some places you go where everything of any danger is either fenced off or signposted to the hilt, out here you need to take precautions into your own hands and look after yourself which makes it more unspoilt. If you want to climb a rock stack on the edge of a massive cliff, you can (like one lady was doing) but for us it was more a case of crawl to the edge, look down and then quickly scurry back to safety before vertigo really kicked in.
The Pinnacle itself has a small fence around the edge and a strategically placed platform which provides an amazing panorama of the surrounding countryside with Halls Gap below. Its here, holding onto the rail with white knuckles I ask a fellow walker to take our photo while I try not to think of the large drop a few inches behind (definitely no free hand to make sure the hair is ok for this photo). Once the vertigo subsides a little it would be easy to sit here for hours and watch the day go by, but alas there are many others who want to do the same so we begin our walk back down.
This time we take the shorter route which takes you into a narrow crevice 1 person wide where you step from rock to rock descending down between the refreshingly cool and shady rock walls. Although shorter this is steeper than the track we took on the way up, which our knees soon start to notice as we try to lightly step down on each rock with little success. There are some small creeks that you cross and a few small waterfalls that dribble from the rocks above which I use as a mini shower to cool my head down before continuing the walk.
As we approach the end we take the Grand Canyon route which although adds a little more to our already tired legs is stunning as you climb down steep steel steps into the canyon floor. A small waterfall at the top of the canyon provides water to the creek that flows along the canyon floor. The sound of running water is very relaxing and although it was a warm day, made it feel much cooler.
Concluding our 3’ish our walk, It was now only a short walk back to the car and back into town and a well earned lunch with Cam and Adam (who had a lovely day relaxing while we walked off Christmas lunch) before refreshing our own water levels and heading back to the car for the 3 hour drive home. I could easily stay in Halls Gap for a few days and tackle a new walk each day, it was a great (although long) day trip from the city where you really can immerse yourself in one of Victoria’s great national parks.
By Car: 3 hour drive each way from Melbourne along the Western Highway. Mainly freeway, Easy drive.
By Public Transport: V-Line can get you there, but it will take you about 4:20min there and almost 5 back including 2 changes in Ballarat and Stawell. An adult return ticket costs $53.80 and concession is $26.80 so renting a car is probably a cheaper option if you have more than 1 adult. http://www.vline.com.au
There are a few Cafes and Restaurants in Halls Gap. We ate at a small café and the food was pretty good. In the past we have eaten at some of the local hotels and the food (especially the kangaroo) was great.
Halls Gap: http://www.visithallsgap.com.au/
Parks Victoria: http://www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/1park_display.cfm?park=109
The Grampians: http://www.thegrampians.com.au/