Just 235 kilometres west of Melbourne is Grampians National Park which is down on Australia’s National Heritage List for its outstanding natural beauty. The Park boasts of one of the richest aboriginal rock art sites in south-eastern Australia, with some of the best bush scenery against a backdrop of rugged sandstone mountains that can reach as high up as 1000 metres.
I had never been to The Grampians during my previous visits to Australia – until last year. Of all days, I had to sign up for a day tour during one of the wettest and coldest days in Victoria! It was too late to pull out from the trip by the time it was announced that heavy showers were expected the next day.
I felt less apprehensive when the Driver/Guide explained that The Grampians had its own climate and eco system, so the wet weather forecast need not necessarily apply to the National Park. With this assurance, I didn’t think too much about the intermittent showers that accompanied our small group during the 3-hour journey.
Brambuk Cultural Centre
The coach drove into the township of Halls Gap and dropped us off at the Brambuk Culture Centre. Owned and operated by five Aboriginal communities, Brambuk Culture Centre is the longest running Aboriginal cultural centre in Australia, offering information on the Grampians National Park as well as local aboriginal culture and history. The architecture of the centre looks like a flying cockatoo, a symbol of the local Aboriginal communities.
There was a lot of interesting things on display at the Centre – multimedia shows, art exhibitions, aboriginal artefacts, cultural talks, an aboriginal museum, and activities such as didgeridoo music, traditional dance, basket weaving, boomerang throwing and painting. I even managed to spot a number of wallabies roaming freely in the garden.
The group was scheduled to have lunch at Halls Gap and I was really looking forward to checking out this interesting-looking town. Once we got inside the coach, however, the Guide broke the news that we would be by-passing Halls Gap and heading straight for MacKenzie Falls instead. Storm clouds had already started to form in the distance and he wanted to make sure that we got the chance to visit the Park’s major attraction before the rain. We began the 40-minute drive up the winding mountain road towards MacKenzie Falls.
On the way, I could see evidence of the destructive forces responsible for shaping the landscape – burnt, charred, naked trees everywhere with no birds or animals in sight.
In the past ten years, Grampians National Park has been hit by a series of natural disasters, namely bushfires and floods. In 2006, a major bushfire devastated about 50 percent of the park, followed five years later by a major flood that damaged a significant amount of the park’s infrastructure, particularly along the MacKenzie River.
The road we followed marked a transection between two distinct vegetation types – healthy woodlands on one side and scorched eucalyptus trees standing out of rock and ash on the other. The lonely trees, dark clouds and stillness of the surroundings gave the area a bleak and gloomy feel, as if waiting in quiet anticipation for something to happen.
After a hurried lunch at the picnic area, I made my way down the 1.9 km path leading to the waterfalls. MacKenzie Falls is one of Victoria`s largest and most spectacular waterfalls. It is independent of weather and season, and flows all year round.
The falls sees torrents of water cascade over huge cliffs and plunging into a deep pool, sending fine sprays of rainbow mist high into the air above a stunning gorge.
The weather seemed to favour us, with the grey clouds being held in check by the wind. At first, the hike seemed to be an easy one but as I walked further in, the path became progressively steeper, involving many stairs going down to reach the base of the waterfall. In any case, it wasn’t nearly as tiring as climbing back up!
The pool at the base of MacKenzie Falls looked tempting especially after the long walk. However, the water is deceptively deep and the rocks slippery. Swimming is discouraged as some people have drowned here in recent years. It’s best to stay out of the water and just enjoy the scenery.
Reed Lookout and The Balconies
Just as the coach made its way out of the carpark, the clouds gave way and it started to pour. It was still raining very heavily when we arrived at Reed Lookout.
Reed Lookout right across the carpark is supposed to be a fantastic platform for enjoying sweeping views of the Victoria Valley on one side and Lake Wartook on the other. This lookout is also the starting point of the track to the rock formation known as The Balconies.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to capture any views from Reed Lookout due to the rainfall, clouds and thick fog which reduced visibility to near zero. We remained inside the coach, hoping for the storm to subside soon. It was freezing cold outside and everyone just stayed put on their seats! I was beginning to think that this would be another one of those disappointing trips where I had to make my way home without accomplishing what I had set out to do.
Luckily, the rain eased to a moderate drizzle 15 minutes later and I decided to make the 2-kilometre walk to The Balconies that takes about 25 minutes one way. Apart from the fact that the ground was wet and a bit slippery, it turned out to be a pleasant walk on a gentle dirt track with some interesting sights along the way. I walked past a rocky outcrop of stacked rocks and through a forest with lush bush and wildflowers.
There were seats hewn from tree trunks for resting, before arriving at the highlight of the Grampians – the rock formation called The Balconies, better known as The Jaws of Death.
At one time, there used to be uninhibited access to this lookout and people could walk all the way to the edge of the ‘jaw’ to take in the scenery. Today, the path is sealed off to visitors to allow the bush around the rock formation time to recover from the bush fires. I suspect that the real reason behind the closure has something to do with safety because someone accidentally slipped and fell to her death some years back.
Visibility at The Balconies was blurry and misty – not what they could have been. Still, The Jaws of Death is admirably huge, jutting out fearlessly and majestically, and beckoning the daring and suicidal to walk out of its upper lip and mouth for stunning views of the valley below.
Just as I started to make my way back it started to rain again – a light drizzle at first, turning quickly into a shower and culminating in a downpour midway along the trail. I started to run all the way back, but was soaking wet and numb with cold by the time I got inside the coach. Ahh! It was so nice to have the air-conditioning turned up and feel warm again. I took this opportunity to space out and let my mind wander while waiting for the others to make their way round the bend and back!
The last stop was to Boroka Lookout, a 10-minute drive up the mountain from Reed Lookout. This is an easy lookout as it is accessible via sealed roads and therefore suited for those with limited mobility. A casual stroll through an open forest leads to two viewing platforms giving a bird’s-eye view of the Fyans Valley, Lake Bellfield and more.
In my case, getting to the lookout involved a light sprint instead of a stroll as it was still raining. While most of the others remained inside the coach still recovering from the damp and cold experienced earlier, I made a dash for Boroka Lookout, taking a shortcut through the forest and bushes. For my efforts, I was rewarded with views of the fog, more fog and not much else!
So…it was not exactly the best day to visit Grampians National Park. I must say, however, that the gloomy weather had a special quality of its own, bringing to attention other ordinary elements that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. In retrospect, I enjoyed myself immensely, although in an unexpected way! I’d love to go back there again and spend a night or two at Halls Gap to explore more walking trails, lakes and waterfalls and take more photos in better weather!