Guides

Where To Stay, Eat And Hike On Your First Trip To The Grampians

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I like the outdoors – cool, crisp country air and wide-open spaces. After a year spent mostly in our homes, it’s certainly more than time to reconnect with the wild via heart-pumping hikes and perhaps even a good Insta pic. However, when you’re a beginner it can be hard to know where to start.

The Grampians — a national park in Victoria — is home to a huge range of wilderness trails that go from 30-minute, flat wanderings through pretty bushland, all the way to overnight hikes through rocky, steep terrain. If you’re looking for an entry-level hiking weekend to reignite your passion for the outdoors, here’s where to start.

Step one: Find a home base

 

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Halls Gap is the usual stop for most hikers to plant their packs after a hefty three-hour drive to the base of the Grampians, also known locally as Gariwerd. There are plenty of accommodation options here, ranging from affordable to boutique – but I chose somewhere a little further afield.

In nearby Pomonal, in a sheep-dotted field on the edge of a dam, sits a tiny house by In2TheWild called ‘Elliot’. It’s a little kerfuffle to get into if you’re arriving in the dark of night like we did – follow their exact Google pin and a little searching will reveal a solitary gate just off the highway, which you have to unlock via a secret pin by car headlight, followed by a second gate, and a series of instructions to get the solar, gas and water for the off-grid tiny house up and running – but once you’re in, you’ll be hooked.

I fell asleep under a blanket of stars to the sounds of — well, nothing. Ah, the serenity!

What ‘Elliot’ lacks in size, he makes up for in excellent design; a loft double bed floats above a well-equipped kitchen, fridge and gas stove, and a second single bed can be retrofitted where the generous seating is, in front of a huge picture window, with views out to the property. The bathroom is kitted out with a hot shower and composting toilet, completing the off-grid experience.

Step two: Choose your adventure

 

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Before you head out on your hike, ensure that you have a few supplies on hand. Plenty of water (and a few snacks) is a must regardless of the season, as well as a pair of sturdy, grip-soled hiking boots — or sneakers in a pinch. The Grampians features fairly well-trodden trails, mostly fitted with clear yellow arrow markers, so as long as you stay on course you should be fine.

Start your day with an easy walk to Venus Baths. Park in the car park next to Halls Gap public pool and grab a coffee at Livefast Café in the little village across the road. Head to the trail at the back of the car park, and look for the sign to Venus Baths and The Pinnacles. At the end of the trail, you’ll discover a set of pretty rock pools that form as the water makes its way down the rock forms. It’s about a 40 minute round trip, for a shady, level two kilometres or so.

You should also try a short hike to the breathtaking Balconies, which starts from the Reeds Lookout car park. Just off the side of the car park is Reeds Lookout — in itself a pretty amazing view over the endless, rolling green treetops below. Continue to the marker showing the start of the Balconies walk. The hike is about two kilometres of fairly flat, easy-going terrain leading to a rocky outcrop of architectural boulders, sticking out over the breathtaking drop below.

Another great beginners option is MacKenzie Falls. About 40 minutes from Halls Gap up Mount Victory Road, you’ll find MacKenzie car park. This easy one kilometre, wheelchair-accessible loop will take you to the lookout, or you can brave the steep trek down to the base of the waterfall, which will take you just under an hour to complete, round trip.

 

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If you’ve chosen to stay an extra day, and you’re looking for a medium-sized challenge, I’d highly recommend tackling The Pinnacle. You will need to be relatively fit – it’s approximately three hours of an entirely upward slog. The peak is at a 715m elevation, most of which you’ll be navigating yourself via skinny passageways through rugged cliffs, up slippery rockfaces (mostly graced with convenient rock stairs), and through some pretty gorgeous bushland.

To get to the Pinnacle trail, park in the Wonderland Carpark, and choose The Pinnacle walk via Grand Canyon – a very picturesque series of undulating cliff faces that make for an excellent Insta pic.

I’d classify The Pinnacle summit as an intermediate level hike, so if our previous recommendations have proven a challenge, perhaps consider this one for another time once you’ve got a few hikes under your belt.

Step three: Treat yo’self

Now, word to the wise: everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – in Halls Gap shuts at 8pm. That doesn’t mean last orders at 8pm, that means the doors close and you’re left with no dinner. So, aim for an early meal at about 6pm at one of the local eateries.

After a long day hiking, you can refuel at Paper Scissors Rock, who offer a gastropub-style menu and a collection of local brews on tap. If you’re a meat lover, head to Flame Bros, a BBQ joint delivering American goodies like salt and pepper brisket and dry rub beef ribs, or for a veggie option try Raccolto, the local vegan-friendly pizza joint.

For those who really want to go all out, reserve a table well ahead of time at the famous, hatted Royal Mail Hotel in nearby Dunkeld. If you’re struggling to get a booking at Wickens for their excellent Chef’s Tasting Menu, try their on-site casual option, Parker Street Project. It’s all of the seasonal-garden-fuelled, high-end foodie fun without the price tag.

Step four: Connect with country

 

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The Grampians, or Gariwerd as it’s locally known, was traditionally owned by the Jadawadjali and Djab Wurrung Peoples. Brambuk Cultural Centre is a great place to learn more about the cultural history of the area.

It’s a one-stop-shop for information about the Grampians, cultural artifacts and history, as well as housing a café and gift shop. It’s a small moment of pause to remember the rich connection Australia’s Indigenous people share with the surroundings.


The writer stayed as a guest of In2TheWild at ‘Elliot’ tiny house.

(Lead image: Unsplash /Manuel Meurisse)