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The Grampians

Author: Francesca Baker
Date of Trip: December 2013

Sitting on the verandah eating my dinner I am suddenly surrounded by yellow crested cockatoos. From the far corner of my eye I can see a family of kangaroos, and my arrival at Halls Gap Lakeside Park was greeted by two emus. Back to nature in The Grampians this is a charge to relax and reconnect after a frantic few days in metropolitan Melbourne.

Described as Victoria’s Garden, The Grampians National Park is more than an an artfully attended vegetable patch and a few flowers.  Forming 350 million years ago from the fault lines upon which it lies, the area is some 1600km square of dark elephantine mountains protrude the surface, streaked with sandy shards, the layers and shifting rock starkly searing, some forced over 90 degrees forming jutting look outs and crops of shear sliding climbs.

Situated around 250km from Melbourne, this is just a day trip for Australians, and so it is that I discover the volcanic plains and rugged scenery to see some of the panoramic views that proliferate The Grampians.
On such a journey there is plenty to see en route, and so we pass through Moyston, the birthplace of Australian football, Beaufort, as English country village as it gets, and not surprisingly so given the settlers that founded it, an Ararat, a city founded by Chinese gold prosperers who found a hoard so enticing that over theory thousand people descended from China in a matter of weeks. This is Australian touring country, and as campervans and trucks line the roads to take the formidable journey and it’s ever evolving scenery in.

Once into the park the long straight drives give way to winding capricious roads. Our first stop is strikingly beautiful, at Carroll’s Cliff, the sharp fold that rises up over the national park. But we learn that this was only a hint at the views to come.

Reeds Lookout is a stunning spot, peering out over flat swathes of square fields surrounded by the undulating mountains. Offering almost a 360 degrees view over the Central Grampians, the highlight is Lake Wartook. The blue lakes are astoundingly blue. Almost incomprehensibly blue (there is truly no other word to capture their hue) given the burning heat that rages down and has dried up some of the smaller waterfalls in the area. However Mckenzie Waterfalls still rage, and the view from both above and below is well worth the steps, especially with the hope of a splash or two to cool you. It is the Boroka Lookout that offers the wide cinematic lens view of the Halls Gap valley and the plains to the easy of the Grampians.

It’s early summer but grass already burnt and singed and the tips of the trees going the same way. The sky is so blue that the occasional line of cloud is like a faint streak of tippex on a aqua page. These swathes of shade between which the grey rocks are sandwiched are so large ad all consuming of the eye that when a brightly coloured butterfly, a red bodied bird or a butter yellow flower appears the vision is captured immediately.

Over a thousand species of flowers and trees full the area, and the olfactory effect is more than delightful. Fresh fragrant flowers, the occasional pine scent that is authentic rather than car scented synthetic, and the faint ilk of burnt straw. Occasionally I am there also the unmistakable aroma of hot jam, that it am unable to place. The fauna and flora is dramatically diverse, especially given the current lack of water. Sinuous tree trunks wind and bend, slenderly reaching to the light some streaked with ash from bush fires that can strike so easily when temperatures reach upward of forty degrees.

The area houses the largest collection of aboriginal artwork, found in caves and shelters all over the range, and is proud if it. The world’s oldest continuous culture, the Grampians is home to remains of cooking pits and paintings from stretching back over forty thousand years and sixteen hundred generations. The Brambruk heritage centre in Halls Gap tells the story of the Gariwerd people who were the original inhabitants of this beautiful area, and their cultural fusion with nature, working alongside and respecting the awe inspiring environment within which they inhabit.

Keen to explore the area a little more, it the suggestion of my tour guide that if I want to be active and inquisitive, I base myself in Hall’s Gap. Halls Gap is a pretty little town in The Grampians, an expansive mountainous area of bush and faulted highlands so named as it reminded its ‘discoverers’, the Chief General of New South Wales of  their native Scotland. A ludicrously expensive supermarket aside, it’s a great place to be.

Other than the Gold Coast it is the most visited place in Australia, and so beds are not scarce, but wanting some quiet time I choose the exquisite location of Lakeside. A jacuzzi bath, a kitchen and private BBQ, wood heated pool and an essential coffee bar are all mine, resident animals wandering, friendly owners advising on good local grapes, the best walks, and an a lush gentle ambience, this is boutique bush at its best.

Over 160km of well signed oaths surround Halls Gap and whilst the majority of high viewing points are best viewed by car, there is plenty for the solo (but prepared) walker. The Wonderland range is aptly named and although tough, at times like scrambling across a brain with all its curves and lamps and windy canyons, dizzyingly diverse in view and experience, and crucially, close to my location. The soft sand paths do often abruptly change to slippery shifted plates, and navigation is often like exploring the mind, all bobbling rocks, narrow winding gorges, seemingly simple and pleasant routes suddenly being stunted by a tricky climb.
Not just a poor metaphor for my mental state.

The nearby Mount Rosea is not only prettily named but a pretty view, and Sundial Peak an apt place to watch the movements of the light. The great thing about staying where I do is that nature is everywhere, so whether I choose to meander along the dam of Lake Bellfield or simply sit and observe the kangaroos and emus that fluster around the park site, breathing in the gentle smell of clean air, it’s a relaxing experience.

Aboriginals defined the seasons by the animals that thrived at the time of year, and I visit during butterfly season. So it is that on a steep descent down gritty meandering trees from The Pinnacle, one of the highest points around Hall’s Gap and offering an unrivalled vista of Lake Bellfield in the hope of catching the sun kiss the water before I return back, I find myself in a flurry of little yellow butterflies playing what appears to be a giant game of tag.

The daytime deafening cacophony of randy cicadas has abated. My step cracks a twig and red deer bounds off in the distance. Coupled with the lemonade light filtering through the trees as day time slowly departs and the gentle but growing rustle of leaves, like a breeze starting in the distance and making its way from green leaf to green leaf by way of a whisper, it is pretty magical. My travels so far have taught me that I am a city girl at heart, but a few days of this – any time.

I visited with Autopia Tours and stayed at Halls Gap Lakeside.

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