Walks, Wine and Wonders of Nature
8 December 2010
Australia abounds in unique and spectacular landscapes. One such wonder of Mother Nature that doesn’t receive as much press as the likes of the Kimberley and Ayers Rock, yet is certainly deserving of it, is the Grampians.
Located about 260km, or a three-hour drive north-west of Melbourne and 520km south-east of Adelaide, it’s not exactly hard to get to. I mean, if you want to see the rock, then from any major centre you’ve got a long journey ahead of you, through the desert mind you! The Grampians is also perfectly placed as a stopover for those starting or finishing either the Great Ocean Road or crossing the Nullarbor.
You could consider the Grampians to be a bit of an oasis. It’s a rich and diverse place, set amidst the agricultural west of Victoria. The national park was declared in 1984 and spans some 167,000 acres. Within the confines of it, you can discover a third of the state’s plant species and numerous animals. You’ll also find plenty to see and do, making it an ideal place to relax for a week or more.
The main tourist hub, and basically the heart of the Grampians, is Halls Gap. This picturesque town is set in the beautiful Fyans Valley, at the foot of the Wonderland and Mount William ranges. It also makes the perfect location to base yourself to explore the park. While the town normally has a permanent population of about 300, when the weekend comes and during the holidays, the numbers swell massively. So if possible, try to get here out of season or midweek.
What makes this location one of the most popular vacation destinations in Victoria is the incredibly broad range of activities and attractions on offer within a short drive of Halls Gap.
There are things to entertain every demographic and type of traveller, from lovers of food and wine, to those in search of some outdoor adventure.
The Grampians is made up of five spectacular sandstone ridges, running north to south with steep and craggy slopes on the eastern side and gentler slopes to the west.
Millions of years of tectonic movements has lifted and tilted the hard sandstones creating an impressive landscape of rocky peaks and deep valleys. For the energetic, there are several walking trails around the park that let you explore this beautiful place in detail. Many of the tracks lead you to magnificent waterfalls and panoramic lookouts.
Nature-lovers will also delight in the rich and colourful spring wildflower display, best seen from August to October. The extensive heathlands come to life with colourful shows of blue pincushion lily, Grampians boronia and countless other herbs and shrubs.
The park is also home to a large variety of native animals and birds. On an early morning stroll, you can expect to see kangaroos, koalas, emus, wedgetailed eagles and wombats. A favourite spot for viewing the resident kangaroos is Zumstein picnic ground.
One of the major attractions of the park is its collection of Aboriginal art sites. Indigenous people have a long association with the Grampians, and there are several shelters in the park where you can see ancient art work including Billimina Shelter, Gulgurn Manja Shelter, Manja Shelter and Ngamadjidj Shelter.
Beyond the park’s borders there are lots of other great sites worth checking out. To start with there’s Mount Zero Olive Farm. This olive grove is a certified biodynamic farm, meaning it is self-sustaining in its farming practices.
There are all sorts of olive products to taste-test in the shop, including yummy olive oil, dukkah, pink lake salt, vinegar and, of course, lots of different types of olives! The onsite Mount Zero Produce Shop is open for sales everyday from 10am to 4pm.
To accompany the olives, the next thing you’ll need to do is visit a winery to get yourself something nice for happy hour. The Grampians wine region is one of Australia’s most historical and acclaimed. The first vines were planted in 1862 on the Concongella Creek, and by the 1880s the region was famous for its sparkling wines.
Nowadays, to celebrate the fantastic wine and produce found in the region, there’s an awesome food and wine festival called the Grampians Grape Escape.
In this area there are several wineries to choose from, and one of the best is Grampians Estate, found on the Western Highway. It’s a boutique winery that produces a sensational shiraz. The cellar door is open every day from 12pm to 5pm, and apart from wine tasting, it’s also a great place for lunch.
While there might be plenty of animals in the wild in the Grampians, a visit to Halls Gap Zoo is even better. It’s a great day out where you can experience close interaction with a variety of animals. The zoo is situated about 6km from the centre of Halls Gap and has panoramic views of the Grampians and Pyrenees ranges. A meandering path takes you past a range of Australian native wildlife such as Tasmanian devils, wombats, cockatoos, reptiles and dingoes. Then there’s the highlight, an enclosure where you can touch and feed kangaroos and wallabies.
Beyond the native critters, there’s a host of other animals, including monkeys, deer, antelope and camels. There’s even a breeding group of South Australian mainland sub-species of Tammar Wallaby. Due to predation by foxes and clearing of their habitat, this sub-species of the Tammar Wallaby was listed as extinct in the wild. But through the captive breeding program, run here and at other sites, there are hopes of once again having sustainable populations in the wild. The zoo is open from 10am to 5pm everyday but Tuesday.
Other major sites of interest in the Grampians region that are definitely worth spending some time exploring include the historic town of Stawell, home of the annual Stawell Gift footrace, and the area’s major centre, Horsham.
Being centrally located to Mt Arapiles-Tooan State Park, Little Desert National Park and the Northern Grampians, Horsham is an ideal base for visiting the surrounding natural attractions. It’s also home to some sensational public golf courses, arguably the best outside of Melbourne.
So if you’re looking for a destination that combines active pursuits, beautiful scenery and fabulous food and wine, then you’ll love the Grampians!
HOW TO GET THERE
The Grampians is a leisurely 260km north-west of Melbourne. Follow the Western Freeway through Ballarat to Ararat. Then travel along Pomonal Road west towards Halls Gap. The drive takes around three hours.
HALLS GAP & GRAMPIANS VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
Centenary Hall, Grampians Rd,
Halls Gap, VIC 3381 Open daily, 9am – 5pm
(03) 5356 4616 or 1800 065 599
Fax: (03) 5356 4570
PLACES TO STAY
- Visit the cellar door of one of the region’s wineries.
- Take a walk along one of the many hiking trails throughout the Grampians National Park.
- Visit Brambuk – the National Park & Cultural Centre, located 2.5km south of Halls Gap shops.
- Spend an afternoon fishing in Rocklands Reservoir.
Have a counter meal at the Halls Gap Pub.
ONE-HOUR WINE TUTORIAL AT GRAMPIANS ESTATE
1477 Western Highway,
Great Western Victoria
Sundays, or by appointment, at 12:30pm and 3:30pm
(03) 5356 2400
TAKE THE BRAMBUK DISCOVERY TOUR
This tour includes a tour of the Brambuk site, interpretation of the six seasons of Gariwerd, the Dreamtime Creation story in the Gariwerd Dreaming Theatre, learning to play a didgeridoo and learning about and tasting some bush tucker. Tour commences at Brambuk at 9.30am. Duration is approximately two hours. Cost is $40.