Last weekend, I visited The Grampians for the first time with two girlfriends, Olivia and Marlo. The Grampians National Park is enormous, and best explored in sections. We stayed in Hall’s Gap, which is close to more lookouts, mountains and hiking trails than we could possibly do in one weekend.
I was surprised to realise that it’s also the farthest west I’ve ever been in Australia – I clearly have a lot more travelling to do!
We headed out from Melbourne after work on Friday night, and made the 3.5 hour drive with a strict no “are we there yet?” rule.
We stayed in the charming Noonameena Cottage in Halls Gap, and made the most of the kitchen and BBQ and brought our groceries with us. We had a BBQ on the Saturday night followed by wine and cheese on the back deck, which was a relaxing way to spend an evening after a day of sightseeing. I couldn’t recommend Noonameena more, and noticed in the guest book that it was popular with couples, groups of friends and families.
A morning in Stawell
It was foggy on the first morning in the Grampians, so we decided to wait it out in the nearby town of Stawell and save sightseeing for the afternoon when the weather would clear.
Like many towns in Victoria, Stawell was built on the Gold Rush. It didn’t boom like Ararat, Ballarat or Bendigo because the land wasn’t quite as abundant as in other towns, but it gets points for persistence – it’s one of the only towns in Victoria with an active gold mining industry to this day.
Walking down Victoria Street, it felt like we were stuck in a time warp. Pretty historic buildings lined the streets, which were dotted with speakers pumping out 1950s Christmas carols.
I’m a big fan of country bakeries, and it’s a pipe dream of Mum and I to become judges of a national bakery competition, and spend our days taste testing the cabinets at various country bakeries. I ordered a delicious apple slice from Waack’s Bakery, which has stores throughout the Grampians region in Stawell, Ararat and Horsham. We wandered down the street to a coffee shop, where I found (after I ordered) that all coffees are double shots, which made for a very bitter coffee.
One of the easiest and most beautiful lookouts is The Boroka Lookout, which offers staggering views over the Wonderland Range, Fyans Valley and of Lake Bellfield suspended among the mountains. My jaw actually dropped when I reached the lookout, and I don’t think photos do it justice.
The MacKenzie Falls Walk is one of the most rewarding bush walks I’ve ever done. We were lucky that heavy rain during the week meant that the falls were at their most thunderous and majestic when we visited. MacKenzie Falls is definitely up there with the gorgeous waterfalls along Waterfall Way in New South Wales, but has the added advantage of a trail that takes you right up close at the basin. A quiet moment sitting on the rocks opposite the falls, just close enough to feel a refreshing mist from the falls, was the highlight of the weekend.
The walk to MacKenzie falls is only 2km (1.2mi) return, but it’s steep. It was a mild day, and I was glad not to be doing the return hike in the peak of summer.
The Grampians were given their European name in 1836 by Sir Thomas Mitchell, because the area reminded him of the Grampians ranges in his native Scotland. On the rocky landscapes on the trail to The Balconies I could see where he was coming from. It’s an easy 1km (06.mi) to the Balconies lookout, which has sweeping views of the Victoria Valley. While the views aren’t as impressive as from the Boroka Lookout, it was a pleasant walk.
Before we went back to the cabin, we also stopped off at the edge of Lake Bellsfield and did the short walk to Silverband Falls, which was a little underwhelming after MacKenzie Falls.
Wine tasting at Mt Langi Ghiran Estate
There are very few regions of Victoria where you can’t find a vineyard. Victoria is better known for the wine regions in the Yarra Valley, Heathcote and the Mornington Peninsula, but there are wine regions all over the state, including the Grampians.
On our way home from Halls Gap, we stopped in at Mt Langi Ghiran Estate. We initially planned to find a winery where we could have lunch, but I found that most of them only offered coffee, tea and sometimes a cheeseboard, so we decided to wait for lunch until we got to Ballarat.
Mt Langi Ghiran Estate, as the name suggests, is set underneath the staggering Mt Langi Ghiran, and is said to be one of the most beautiful wineries in Victoria. The winery is best known for the award-winning Langi Shiraz, which has received international recognition and has been compared to Penfolds Grange and Henscke’s Mount Edelstone Shiraz.
Since we arrived at 11am, we were the only people in the tasting room and so we were able to ask our host lots of questions, which she was more than happy to answer.
Our free tasting included six wines, my favourite of which were the 2015 Cliff Edge Riesling, Spinoff Bradach Pinot Noir, 2016 Spinoff Sangiovese Barbera and the velvety 2015 Cliff Edge Cabernet Sauvignon.
Coffee in Ararat
Ararat is another former Gold Rush boomtown that has been steadily shrinking since the end of the 19th century.
Chinese immigrants discovered gold in Ararat, and their heritage and history is commemorated in the Gum Sam Chinese Heritage Centre. We walked through the garden and read about some of the key figures of the Gold Rush, who have statues in the garden, but didn’t have time to go inside.
Today, Ararat is better known for it’s former asylumns, mental hospitals, and now prisons, and for being the town that made it onto reality weight loss show The Biggest Loser, due to it’s status as one of the most obese towns in Australia. Since the show ended, a public health campaign in the town has seen the town’s average BMI approach the national average.
We stopped for a coffee at Sede, a cute and colourful café on the main street, before driving up to the lookout from One Tree Hill. The view over Ararat from One Tree Hill was a quintessentially Australian outlook, and I was mesmerised by the gnarled trees braving the elements and the swathes of parched golden grass.
Lunch in Ballarat
Our final stop was for lunch in Ballarat, at Mitchell Harris Wine Bar. The bar is in a converted loft space, and felt like a slice of Melbourne in the goldfields. The menu is an eclectic mix of small and large plates using local produce and the 100-strong wine list focuses on the surrounding wine regions of the Victorian Pyrenees, the Grampians and the Macedon Ranges. The bar tender offered us tastings of a few of the wines before we ordered, which was much appreciated, and the food was delicious. Who knew golden potato pizza and chardonnay were such a happy pair?
After lunch, it was straight back to Melbourne. I loved the scenery in the Grampians, and have only just scratched the surface – I will definitely be back!
Credit where credit is due: the entire trip was masterminded by my friend, Olivia. Normally, I’m the planner on nearly every trip I take, and I have to admit it was really nice to have someone else take the lead on finding a place to stay and suggesting things to do. Olivia has been to the Grampians before, so I was happy to trust her recommendations on things to see while we were there. I did pitch in (briefly) to pick the winery and lunch spot on the second day, which makes me feel a little bit better!
Have you been to The Grampians? Where’s your favourite weekend getaway?