This article details a weekend camping escape to Grampians National Park outside of Melbourne Australia, exploring much of its massive and diverse landscape. It begins with a journal excerpt and follows with the experiences, main points of interest, and information about staying there.
I needed a weekend at the Grampians like I needed air. Though the graffiti slathered city of Melbourne is one of the most interesting cities I’ve explored, I needed to be out in the wild. I needed to escape the concrete and brick and hipsters and be freed by the forest and to breath the mountain air. I needed to hike until my legs gave out and wake to the morning dew and the break of dawn. So that is what we did, my looney friend Landon and I, we took off a weekend to escape to the Grampians.
Into the midnight we drove through the ever-dark, the highway stretched seemingly into the glittering nothingness of space — a nothingness filled with millions of shimmering diamond stars before us. A nothingness that holds our entire being. We were on the way out of the low yellow glow of city streets and the symphony of steel to the mountains and forests and waterfalls. Bliss.
As the dark silhouettes of crooked trees flashed by and the highway lines melted beneath us, each crest of a hill threatened to send us hurtling into space, and each decent down into the asphalt trough back into the earth. Up and down through the black sea, we rode beneath the blanket of a clear universe with the arms of the galaxy in full view — driving toward a much-needed freedom from the blinding and blinded city, our eyes wide with wonder.
My hands patted the wheel to the tunes and my eyes, even at 2am, were bright and wide. Landon’s head bobbed to the beats of some dub-centric song womping from the speakers, but it fit the energy. Our excitement was palpable on that midnight ride into the wild.
Weekend camping in the Grampians
I’ve just returned from a weekend away camping at the Grampians National Park, a mini road-trip to the tune of 3 hours outside of Melbourne city. The weekend was actually three days starting on Saturday night and ending Tuesday morning for work that night.
This trip, taken with a friend and co-worker of mine, was one of those last-minute “I desperately need escape” kind of excursions. Vagabonds at heart, we both prefer travel and the road and camping over the comforts of a city. And we’ve been cooped up within the Melbourne city limits for over 7 months — only having a few brief moments away.
I was beginning to lose my mind and needed the slightest bit of adventure.
So when I say this trip was needed, it was painfully needed.
A drive three hours out of a city isn’t a huge escape, but in Australia, the world changes drastically once you leave any large town or city. That’s what we came to discover as we woke the next day to the vast expanse of forest and mountains, with no signal to be found and the only agenda of the day is which of the numerous hikes to embark on.
Grampians National Park is huge. A quick Wikipedia search gave me the eye-popping number of 400,000 acres. Chya. Huge. So to say that we tried to see it all would be an impossible feat over a weekend. Given that, we did cover a ton of ground by driving and hiking from the South Grampians to Central, and North Grampians. We had the unfortunate return to work Tuesday, but vowed to not speak of it and instead made it a mission to explore as much as our muscles would allow.
For the three or so days we were there, we spent them camping in various free grounds dotting the national park while our meals over fires and our baths taken by a simple dip in a river. Each day I woke at sunrise to the squawks of kookaburra, which were more what I’d imagine a pterodactyl to sound like. However annoying of a sound they make, it blended in with the rush of morning wind through trees and the circus of sounds a forest makes when it wakes.
Nature’s brass band rattled and I woke on the cold and hard dirt surrounded by the red hue from the morning sun radiating through the tent walls, the kiss of dew clinging to the outside and I could feel it as I unzipped the door each morning. There’s nothing like opening your tent, this warm and protective cocoon, to come out into the light and life of the wild.
The inhale of wildflower and pine and bark and dirt. The sight adjusting to the beaming warmth. The first stretch followed by an “ahhh” and the first breath wisps into the chill air. Each morning you aren’t waking to the scream of your alarm to go to work, but awaken born each day and go out into freedom.
This was the beginning of every day in the Grampians.
Known as Gariwerd as it was named by the aboriginal community, Grampians National Park consists of red and black sandstone ranges; some being oddly shaped, some formations carved and stacked, and others clean-cut as if the gods themselves sliced blocks out of the mountains. Wildflowers burst from the otherwise stark and arid landscape in some places, Eucalyptus and Gum Trees tower over your hot brows. Rivers, some tinted red with the rust-colored soot of the rocks, trickle in the belly of valleys. Our weekend was hot and dry, leaving the waterfalls searched for, found tragically non-existent.
That Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday began the same, but each held their own surprises that took our collective breath away. Cliché as hell, I know. But a true statement. I’m not kidding, Mother Nature is a vixen, and her naked beauty stole it each day. We gave it up willingly enough. I dare say that you should beware, because I will be showing you below highlights from my weekend camping in the Grampians National Park and it will take your breath away as well. Take a deep inhale and explore below.
DAY 1: HALLS GAP
Tents — all you need. No campers or multi-room tents mansions, just a simple place to sleep. I’ve had difficulty sleeping in my big comfy bed lately, but slept deeply when we were camping in the Grampians. One of a handful of free camp grounds, this one being close to Dunkeld and had few people staying here even with our 2am arrival. Most of the free camp grounds had well-kept clean toilets and rain water faucets for washing, with fire pits and grills in each section.
NOTE: Make sure to check the fire warnings before you start one to make sure there is no fire ban!That damned squawking kookaburra bird, probably a close relative to a pterodactyl from the sound it makes. But, as mentioned before, it’s just a bird doing his thing in the wild, and eventually it became an ongoing joke when we’d hear it.Grampians Road, the one we followed the entire trip, splits right through the national park. As you can see, the views along this road are fantastic, but you can also see the diverse changing landscape as you try to focus on the road and not outside. It’s hard to focus and not feel the need to pull over every 5 minutes.Lake Bellfield was a quick stop we made when heading to do our first hike. There was nobody around when we saw the lake and pulled off, and though it’s a man-made lake and reservoir, the surrounding landscape made it a pretty beautiful one. Walk along the dam to the end and it’ll give you an even better view of the valley and Halls Gap ahead.From Lake Bellfield, Halls Gap unfolded north when green-brushed mountains and high jagged peaks. Since there is only one main road through, all that you see here still surrounds you as you drive on, even though some more tourist-centric motels and chic cabins begin popping up. Breathe in the wild mountain air.Finally out of the car for the day and into the wild. In Halls Gap, the Grampians Peak Trail starts off. As you head into the dry bush, gum and eucalyptus trees grow thicker, with the misshapen red and grey rock faces rising higher and higher. Here you have a few choices of trails to embark on, with varying difficulties and lengths.Ignore the Venus Baths unless you want to see families of young and loud children literally rolling around the rocks and water. We arrived and said, “This is it?” and decided to forge on to find somewhere else to cool off. In peace. After making the mistake of cling a dried waterfall thinking we’d take a shortcut, the brief detour led us down another dried up falls to this incredible lagoon. For the hour or so, we swam in the pond that was a perfect temperature, like pool water, and relaxed on the sun-warmed rocks as we dried. One of my favorite spots from the trip because we didn’t even see another person.By the time we reached the Grand Canyon of the Grampians our legs were weary and muscles searing. It was all worth it. We were the only ones in this whole area, besides a family that clomped down the metal stairs at the end coming from the Wonderland Carpark that allows you to skip the exhaustingly rewarding journey. One side of the canyon the rocks were hot enough to bake on, and the ones in the shade cold enough to send chills through your body. The highlight was when you curve around to the end and stand atop the canyon, where Landon and I invented fantastical stories about how it all formed. Because geology rocks (see what I did there?) but myths are cooler.Silent Street is a tiny crevice twice the height of us, and when we were around the bend and into this alley of rocks, all sounds ceased. I guess that’s where it gets the name from huh? It was dead silent, with not even the sound of the breeze. Though we were alone, we couldn’t help but feel the urge to whisper if we needed to say something in here as if some great ancestral spirit would judge us if we broke the silence.The sun was falling fast by this point, but after a wrong turn and having to backtrack about a kilometer uphill, we finally made it to the end of our journey — the Pinnacles. It wasn’t the end of course, since we had to hike 3.2 kilometers back to Halls Gap, but this was what we hiked all day to get to. The journey of about 6 kilometers over boulders, up mountains, through hot valleys, it all led to these incredible and rewarding view of the entire valley below.
Of course, since I have an addiction to adrenaline (even though I’m afraid of heights) I had to crawl out onto the rock face and experience the exhilaration of being at the edge of the world as it felt. The view dropped a thousand feet, and peering over made my heart beat like a machine gun.
After catching our breath and drinking the last drop of water, we had to make a mad rush from the Pinnacles to Halls Gap descending 720 meters and 3.2 kilometers down knee-pounding trails and we did it in 45 minutes to make it to the grocery store just in time.
DAY 2: HOLLOW MOUNTAIN
Day 2 of our camping began in Plantation Campground in the Northern Grampians, just a 20-30 minute drive from Halls Gap where we spent the night for free. Again, the wonderful sounds of the forest were what woke us, and before packing up our tents, I spent the early morning hours reading Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac and writing in my journal.In our campground the night before, we met a crew of people who were going to the Northern Grampians to do some bouldering the next day. They invited us and we said, “Hell yes!” We doubted we’d be able to find them the next day but they had pointed out Hollow Mountain, which we hadn’t heard of, but with no plans we decided to go and explore it.When we arrived to Hollow Mountain, we were shocked by the contrast in landscape, going from valleys of grey rock and trees, to an arid red landscape. The hike up the mountain wasn’t too long distance wise, but the entire trek involved squeezing between boulders and climbing up rock faces. It was midday and the sun was searing us, but the sprawling views of the jagged rocks and valley were worth it. It was a valley of wildflowers sprouting amongst charred trees from a rush fire years before, with hot rust-colored sand and rocks as our path up the mountain.We were told about a cave, but Hollow Mountain Cave was mental. And refreshing. Hollow mountain actually has tons of caves big and small, but this one is the more well-known cave amongst bouldering and rock climbing enthusiasts. For us, it was a sanctuary away from the sun, and we sprawled out on the cool rocks for a rest and to take in all the immense beauty surrounding us.Hollow Mountain Cave isn’t the only one worth seeing, because as I mentioned, there are tons hidden on the mountain. Hollow Mountain for the both of us ended up as our favorite place we explored, because it released our childlike spirit and all we could do is run about climbing and gawking at the landscape like little kids.Past the caves we hiked higher and higher, and at the top of Hollow Mountain, small pools of algae filled water dotted the flat plateau peak. We were surprised to see any water up there at all given how hot it was, but I’m sure the flux of life and death and water or naught happens frequently in these harsh but beautiful landscapes depending on the rain.
After spending hours hiking and climbing about, we ran into the crew we met from the landscape on our way back down. They were headed back up the mountain to do some bouldering, and though we were hot and tired and had already been up there, we decided to hike back up to try our luck at some bouldering. What’s bouldering? Think rock climbing but without ropes — just large mats they have to carry up and spotters. How’d I fare? Well, my fingers were torn and muscles on fire by the end but I did manage to climb a bit. It’s now become a hobby I want to take on.
That night,we parted ways with them after taking a quick dip in the pool we had discovered the day before, and soon after we were knocked out and snoozing under the stars back at Plantation Campground.
DAY 3: THE BALCONIES
Day 3 in the Grampians marked our last day before returning back to work, and we only had the morning to explore. So we decided to hit some of the more easy accessible destinations. A drive up Mount Difficulty would take us to the Balconies and Boroka Lookout, but the drive alone was stunning enough.
Boroka Lookout was a simple drive up, park, and walk to the edge. The views didn’t disappoint as we rushed to get there before the families of people parking did. The valley below was filled with birds gliding on wind streams and the distant mountains were shaped like some giant frozen wave of rock.On our way to the Balconies, there is a short 1 kilometer walk that was easy but still filled with amazing sights overlooking the landscape and lake below. Though, one thing we wondered when we passed this bench was, “Why the hell isn’t it facing the other way?“Finally, we made it to the Balconies. This rock formation is probably the most Instagrammed place in all the Grampians, and one of the most easily accessible. Once to the view-point, one can simply walk along a small dirt path and down some rocks to stand at the edge. When we were there, warning signs were posted about trying to deter people from climbing down given the rocks are slick and there is absolutely no safety rails. I heard rumors someone had fallen off, so I would recommend if you aren’t a good climber, don’t attempt it.Landon and I climbed down and for about 15 minutes we both sat in silence. You could hear the entire valley speaking to each other, from the trees swaying to various birds calling. I could have sat there all day.
Leaving the Grampians was tough. We were on a time crunch for our shift at work that night, but still decided to take the scenic route out of the national park. It was mostly silence on the way back. Silence because we were already missing it even before we had left it behind. As the asphalt melted into the horizon and the mountains grew smaller, we had to pull over. It was silence here as well, besides the wind trailing through the golden wheat, with the sound of the grass rattling.
Each way the road went off, one way back to the wild, the other back to the city. Our souls desired to stay, but were forced to drive away from the mountains and forests and rivers for a temporary obligation. But, as the wind whispered to the grass, and in turn to my spirit, I whispered, “Soon, I’ll be back soon. I must.“
History of the Grampians
In the time before time, the Great Ancestor Spirit, Bunjil, began to create the world we see around us; the mountains, the lakes, the forests and the rivers, the plains and the seas. He created all the plants and all the animals. When he had created the beautiful sandstone ranges of Gariwerd, he often took the form of Werpil the Eagle so that he could view his work. He looked over the cliffs and the mountains. He listened to the sound of water, dripping after rain and thundering over waterfalls. He watched the plants and animals grow – From moss and tiny blades of grass to tall sturdy gums; from birds that ew to animals that burrowed through the soil.” — Branbuk Gariwerd Creation Story
MORE TO COME
Besides this highlight article, I’ll be creating guides for visiting the Grampians and sharing more in-depth day-by-day stories. Subscribe to the newsletter to find out when more stories go live!