A mere three hours drive from Melbourne, the Grampians is a bushland sanctuary ideal for a short getaway. Declared a national park in 1984, it's teeming with wildlife and great hiking. But it's also a surprisingly good place for dining and shopping for pantry-fillers, with accommodation ranging from camping and glamping to luxurious private housing. Here's some of the best things you can do here.
There are more than 100 hiking trails within the Grampians, from easy to the 13-day, 12-night, 160 kilometre extravaganza known as the Grampians Peak Trail (scheduled for completion in August 2021, if you're keen). Here's three of the best.
View from The Pinnacle. Photo: Visit Victoria
Allow a little over two hours for the one hike you should do in this national park. From the Sundial Carpark, about 20 minutes drive from Halls Gap, the walk starts off easily through shady bushland and almost immediately rewards hikers with views of the park from above. While it's not much of an ascent, the walk is more about clambering over rocks and searching madly for that little yellow arrow and, just before you feel like the schoolgirls that disappeared at Hanging Rock, there it is, right before your very eyes - the Pinnacle. Rather treacherously perched on the edge of a rockface in order to give maximum, uninterrupted, 180 degrees view of the Grampians and Halls Gap below, those with vertigo may need to keep their eyes up before soldiering on to the top. After all, you've made it this far.
On the walk back, watch for unusual wildlife such as black cockatoos overhead. There's another route winding down to the Wonderland carpark, taking you through the rock walls of the Grand Canyon.
Photo: Visit Victoria
Photos just don't seem to do this waterfall any real justice. While Victoria can't really compete with the giant tropic thunders of Queensland or NSW, Mackenzie has its own charms, one being that it flows year-round so there is no chance of arriving disappointed. Hell has no fury like these falls; water tumbles furiously over the sheer cliff and bounces off the rocks below, and on a sunny day, rainbows spring from the spray it creates. The hike down to the base of the falls is as steep as the drop; it's not a long walk, but the stone steps at the end sure give the Thighmaster a run for its money.
The falls are nestled in a pleasant gorge which is ideal for picnics, and there are other hikes that follow along the water. Time-poor visitors should note there is a quick way to view the falls over an easy ten-minute hike from the car park, allowing splendid views over the valley.
Photo: Visit Victoria
This offers much the same view as the Pinnacle, without the workout. It's a five kilometre detour off Mt Victory Road, but there is no hike… And plenty of parking if you're in a hurry. Visitgrampians.com.au
Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
Away from the madding crowd, Mt Abrupt is as far south as you can go in the Grampians, and handily close to Dunkeld, where you can refuel at two of the best eateries in Victoria - but more on that later. Marked by a roadside carpark, the hike up Mt Abrupt is kick-started by a sheltered and gradual uphill climb, so it is with much relief when the sign indicates you only have 45 minutes left to the top of a three hour return hike.
The next section of the hike follows three peaks closely along the edge, allowing views of the Grampians to the north. But, just when you start thinking how tremendously fit you are in comparison to all those people who told you it was difficult, the last stretch to the top involves some alpine-level stone power-stepping, with gusts of freezing cold wind just to make it that little bit more challenging. Watch your hat (and your sunscreen) at the top while taking in the breathtaking, sweeping views of the mist-enveloped peaks to the north, paying off your hard work and closing your Move ring before midday.
While most think of Halls Gap as a base, the Grampians also have Great Western and Dunkeld to stay at and enjoy some of Victoria's best wines, unique dining experiences and local produce, and there's also Avoca along the way.
Blue Pyrenees (Avoca)
Not quite the Grampians, but en route from Melbourne, Blue Pyrenees Estate is a worthwhile detour, not only for their excellent wines (and the wine club here is particularly enticing) but for their delicious platters. Every element of local produce is set out before us, from the lion's mane mushrooms to the pickled vegetables, gougeres with Warnambool cheddar and homemade bread, and they're especially proud of the rabbit rillette. There is seating indoors, but you'd be mad not to graze under the shade of the vines at the winery's garden.
The estate has an interesting history. The Australian distributor of French cognac Remy Martin kept the company afloat after it was devasted during World War II, so Remy repaid them by coming to Australia to set up a joint brandy-producing venture. They settled on land here at Avoca, which had soils similar to that of Cognac and neighbouring Bordeaux, and eventually expanded into wine. Remy sold to wine-loving Australian businessmen in 2002, thus putting an end to the French partnership. Bluepyrenees.com.au
Deep Dine at Seppelt (Great Western)
Underground at Seppelt, Great Western. Photo: Seppelt
Thirty minutes from Halls Gap, one of Victoria's oldest wineries offers a unparalleled dining experience in their historic cellars. Established during the gold rush era, miners were employed to hand-dig the 3-kilometre long tunnels, which were used to store the first bottles of methode champenoise sparkling wines in Australia, including a uniquely Australian sparkling red. It's the closest any of us are going to get to the underground wine cellars of Champagne; while the latter are still used today, Seppelt's are open for tours and "deep dining" over a three course meal in a "drive" right next to Malcolm Fraser's former bin. Seppelt.com.au
Award-winning 'living museum' at Best's Wines (Great Western)
Cellar door at Best's. Photo: David Hannah/Visit Victoria
Across the Western Highway from Seppelt, the old winery here has claim to some of the oldest vines in the world. Their "nursery block" or Concongella Vineyard has the oldest pinot noir, pinot meunier and dolcetto vines in the world, as well as some rare and even unidentified varieties. How is this possible? Phylloxera, a North American insect introduced to Europe in the late 1800s wiped out vines around the world; the rest were all pulled up as varietals fell out of fashion. The Thomson family, who have owned Best's for a century, are intent on preserving this block as a "living museum" through propogation of the vines and welcoming researchers from around the world, and won "Old Vineyard of the Year" in 2021 for their efforts. Apart from paying homage to the world's oldest vines, visitors can self-tour their charming old winery and taste their award-winning wines in the converted stables. bestswines.com
Five Ducks Farm (Pomona)
A haven for sweet tooths and berry lovers, Five Ducks produces organic jams from its farm-grown berries with flavours that range from plain old raspberry to plum and licorice. Owner Anita Evans is a former cell biologist and when she is not experimenting with growing berries of every colour of the rainbow, she's coming up with inventive ways to use her produce in the kitchen. Ducks and chickens roam the farm free range, and produce non traditional white and blue eggs; and duck eggs go into produce such as ice-cream, to make it extra rich and creamy. A new cellar door at the property will stock more of her own produce plus some of the best local produce around. Fiveducksfarm.com.au
Grampians Olive Co (Laharum)
Photo: Visit Victoria
One of the oldest olive growers in Australia, Grampians Olive Co (formerly Toscana) produce a small amount of high-end organic olive oil. Land at the north end of the Grampians is well suited to organic olive oil production, much like Europe. With no irrigation, the 28,000 trees are spaced widely apart so they don't compete with each other for water. When the olives are ready, they're shaken off the tree and sent to the cold-press within 30 minutes. Visitors can see how it's done over a short tour of the property and buy platters which showcase their beautiful olive oils and vinegars, which include an orange balsamic and an incredible roasted capsicum vinegar. Grampiansoliveco.com.au
Raccolto Pizza (Halls Gap)
This new, friendly pizza joint serves ace wood-fired pizzas with flavour-bomb combinations such as pepperoni and pepperonata as well as local wines and beers. If you're really hungry, try the fontina baked with cream, honey, walnuts and rosemary, sold as an entree but could also translate as a dessert. The place is super-casual and even attracts cute-but-noisy local clientele of the crested, white-winged variety. It's also handy to note that it's the last place in town to close. Raccoltopizza.com.au
Livefast Cafe (Halls Gap)
Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
A rare example of a cafe that serves food that tastes as good as it looks, the beautiful breakfasts sound like a treat but are surprisingly light and well-balanced, such as the pancake breakfast with caramelised stonefruit, plum puree, macadamia ice cream and a hit of coconut from tiny macaroons; and the savoury avocado on sourdough with mango, rocket, goat cheese and harissa. The lunch menu also looked impressive. City-standard coffee is from St Ali, but make sure you try the hot chocolate from Ballarat's Grounded Pleasures, a name that's taking western Victoria by storm. Livefast.com.au
Dunkeld Old Bakery (Dunkeld)
Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
This old cottage may operate on a quiet backstreet, but word is out, and so will all its top-notch pastries be if you don't get in fast. From 8.30am this buzzing bakery churns out croissants and freshly baked bread, and at lunch, it's all about pies, with flavours like beef and ale or chicken and leek, with monstrous sausage rolls and vegetable-packed quiches. The menu changes daily, but you can bet on tempting cakes, vanilla slices and tiny little tarts dotted with fruit and flowers that are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Dunkeldoldbakery.com.au
Wanderlust Glamping at Seppelt. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
Outside of Africa, these are the largest and most impressive glamping tents I've stayed in. Roomy enough to furnish with all mod cons, inside you'll find everything from a large fridge, kettle and toaster, to wine glasses, cutlery drawers and heating. The beds are as comfortable as any hotel room and there are two sets of outdoor loos - a portable for those late-night runs and a block belonging to Seppelt, a little further away with a shower. The tent is pitched under large shady trees filled with cockatoos and there's views to the vineyards and beyond and outdoor seating to enjoy them from. You can arrange to have your tent pitched elsewhere (such as Lakeside Camping near Halls Gap). Wanderlustglamping.com.au
Photo: Visit Victoria
Centrally located off Halls Gap main road, Heath House is a luxurious, three bedroom, two bathroom house with a fully equipped kitchen that would be perfect for longer, self-catered stays. Bright and spacious with floor to ceiling views of the national park, and adjacent fields inhabited by kangaroos and emus. The large bedrooms, with comfortable beds, encourage long, restful sleeps as does the blissfully silent surrounds. Outside, a patio is fitted with a spa, dining table and binoculars from which you can take a closer look at the wildlife. Out front are parking and bonfire facilities. Heathhouse.com.au
Rooms at the Royal Mail. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
Undo all those hard days of hiking with a degustation at Wickens, the Royal Mail's fine dining restaurant at Dunkeld. The meal itself almost requires as much stamina as a climb up Mt Abrupt; starting at 7pm, the last plate doesn't reach the table until midnight, an epic, but fun-filled five-hour journey that utilises its own produce, including amuse bouche in the image of their kitchen garden, an alphabet soup that spells "Wickens"; to celery parfait for dessert and fruit flavoured jellies in the shape of vegetables. Matched wines must be included as part of the experience, as each glass is poured, your sommelier tells the story of its origin from regions as far-flung as Armenia. Two-night packages are available that are inclusive of meals and the rooms have splendid views of the bush surrounds. Royalmail.com.au
The writer was a guest of Visit Victoria; visitvictoria.com