Grampians National Park outdoor escapes
Three hours northwest of Melbourne, Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park has something for everyone, whether you’re a keen hiker, cyclist (both road and MTB routes are found inside the park), four-wheel drive tourer, or just want to sit back with at camp and watch the sun set over some of this country’s most dramatic mountain ranges. It is one of Australia’s best outdoor escapes. The park’s landscape is dominated by sandstone rock formations, interspersed with lakes and waterfalls, and contains plenty of evidence of aboriginal habitation; a number of rock art sites are dotted around the park. (The park accounts for around 80 per cent of Victoria’s Indigenous rock art.)
From Melbourne, Grampians NP is best accessed from the township of Halls Gap, on the park’s eastern boundary, off Grampians Tourist Road, reached via the Western Highway, through the township of Dunkeld to the south of the park. Halls Gap is a great place to grab last-minute supplies, and it is home to the excellent Brambuk (the National Park and Cultural Centre) that contains loads of maps, walk guides, and park info and permits.
To explore the park, your best bet is to tackle it in sections, with the southern, central and northern Grampians offering unique experiences. The park is popular and thankfully Parks Victoria (unlike its neighbouring state directly north) understands the appeal of actually camping in national parks and offers 10 vehicle-based campgrounds (bookings apply for seven of these). Once you’ve sorted your permits and checked out Brambuk, we reckon heading west is the best way to immerse yourself quickly in the park’s speccy natural attractions.
Following the Northern Grampians Road west you soon come to the Boroka Lookout side-trip which is a cracker; with the peaks of the Mount William and Wonderland ranges, as well as Halls Gap itself, all visible from this lofty viewpoint, it’s a nice early taster. From here you return to what becomes Rocks Road when you turn (and continue) west, passing Reeds Lookout and then – just nearby – a turn-off to Bluff Lookout and a grand sight: MacKenzie Falls. Here, you can opt to check out this wild waterfall’s cascading descent into the river of the same name (it is a 1.9km return/40minute amble to the lookout), or you can head to Broken Falls Lookout (from the same carpark) for similar views. For the more adventurous, you can tackle the trek to the base of the waterfall, a 2km, relatively steep 1.5-hour-return tramp, accessed via a signposted walking track near Cranages Lookout after you return to the main carpark.
For your weekend, a night has to be spent at Buandik Campground. Continuing on from the MacKenzie Falls side-trip you will follow Wallaby Rocks Road further west before looping south. The final side-trip before camp is the spectacular Billimina Shelter Rock Art Site. You can stop here and walk in to view the art or continue on to Buandik Campground and then tackle the 45-minute return walk to the site. Just south of the campground, via Harrop Track, you will also find Manja Shelter Rock Art Site. The park is full of bushwalks such as these, but for the really keen/experienced bushwalkers, there is the new multi-day Grampians Peaks Trail, a 12-day trek from one end of the park to the other. If you have the time to come back for a longer visit, this one is worth a crack, for sure.
The High Country outdoor escapes
The Victorian High Country (in the state’s north-east) is full of outdoor escapes and is only a couple of hours’ drive north of Melbourne. It is chock-full of cycling and hiking adventures, for all ages and experience levels. For road cyclists, the lofty peaks offer some amazing climbs, with all that effort offset by the alpine landscape you ride through. For families that include little’uns, Victoria’s northeast can lay claim to the largest rail trail network in the southern hemisphere, with not only the Murray to Mountains, but the Great Victorian Rail Trail and the High Country Rail Trail. These rail trails are ideal for family cycling thanks to the relatively flat terrain (click here to read about Australia’s best family rides).
A number of alpine resorts (Dinner Plain, Falls Creek and Mt Buller) dotted across the high ranges offer excellent MTB trail networks for the spring/summer/autumn season, with riding ranging from cross-country through to epic downhill runs. Mt Buller Resort contains one of the southern hemisphere’s only IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) EPIC trails – and it is a 40km doozy that every Aussie mountain biker should ride at least once in their life. Beechworth and Bright also offer excellent knobby-tyre adventures (with the bonus of being able to celebrate your day on the bike at some awesome craft breweries – Bright Brewery is brilliant).
Walking in the Vic High Country provides equally sublime experiences with, again, myriad options for all ages. For the keen and experienced walkers, the three-day (37km) Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing is an absolute belter. Over the three days you will traverse mountains, alpine plains and then descend heavily forested alpine valleys to amble alongside clear mountain streams. Those with less time can still get their walking experience in, thanks to short walks at most of the alpine resorts, as well as a number that start from (or are near) the region’s towns, such as Bright, Harrietville, Myrtleford and others.