Grampians

 

 

David Whitley finds himself surprised by one of Australia’s unheralded journey-breakers. 

A wrong turning takes us down a side road and into the driveway of a motel. Guarding it stands a kangaroo, who looks at us and clearly decides that our car is bigger than him. He bounds off through the grounds, acting as our guide towards the exit.
 Anywhere else, following a kangaroo through a motel would be a little odd. But in the Grampians it somehow fits. The area – named after the mountains in Scotland – is a green oasis in the sea of monotonous wheat-growing country that is western Victoria. Approximately three hours away from Melbourne by car, it acts as a breath of fresh air for city dwellers, a playground for walkers and climbers – and a haven for wildlife. 

 

Not all that many travellers get to this part of the world (although it’s a reasonably logical stop off between Melbourne and Adelaide). Those that do get out of Melbourne will usually tackle the Great Ocean Road and Philip Island, then toddle off to the more glamorous states. However, if you want to tick off your Australian cliché box and find kangaroos in the wild, there are few better places to do it than the Grampians. Halls Gap, the village that acts as the area’s tourism hub, is absolutely teaming with the buggers. They munch away nonchalantly in the park opposite the shops, happy to pose for photos, and anyone thinking of driving at dawn or dusk had better be doing so at snail’s pace – the roads become a marsupial obstacle course.

 

It’s not just kangaroos of course, although they’re the easiest creatures to find. Around 40% of all mammals found in Victoria can be found here, along with 45% of all the bird species. Spend a day walking through the forests with your eyes peeled and you’ll probably come across koalas, cockatoos, kookaburras and many of the other Australian wildlife favourites. A large part of the Grampians region is National Park, but this only partly explains why it’s a wildlife hotspot. To get a full idea, you need to go back a few million years. Around 430m years ago, the Grampians was a coastal area. Sea levels have risen since then, but the beach sand that was around at the time has slowly evolved into sandstone. 

 

In the intervening years, continental plates have pushed together, creating the ridges and mountains that make up the Grampians National Park, while the higher points became islands in a shallow inland sea. The area, to all intents and purposes, became a natural island. This allowed new species to evolve and develop. And once the sea retreated, a certain degree of natural impenetrability protected the wildlife.

 

The hills and ridges very much give the Grampians its character. They attract rain, ensuring that a regular carpet of green stands out in contrast to the often-parched surrounding areas. Plant species thrive and forests grow, although the rugged, jagged edges of elevation formed through violence lead to startling valleys and sheer drops.

 

The best way to see these unique rock formations, of course, is to get out there and walk. But for those too lazy to put in the shoe leather, many of the best bits can be explored by car. There are a number of scenic drives throughout the Grampians, most of which are designed to coincide with the best photo opportunities. Arguably the best of these is the Boroka Lookout, reached via a steady uphill drive along winding roads and under lush canopy. Along the way, it’s possible to see the blackened trees that have been ravaged by bushfires through the years. They’re all part of Australia’s unusual life and death cycle – the fires kill, but they also make seeds burst and start new life.

 

Once you reach the top of the hillside, you look out over Halls Gap and realise why it got its name. It is in a tiny valley, threaded through two towering semi-circular ridges that look a little like a giant clam enveloping the settlement and Lake Bellfield. It’s an extraordinary view; the formation juts out from a flat landscape like a bear trap under a carpet.

 

And this is what Australia can do to you. Beyond the headline attractions are unexpected treasures that have a genuine wow factor. I went to the Grampians expecting relatively pleasant countryside for a few days; I came back with a scene that will always stick in the back of the mind.


Disclosure: David was a guest of the the ultra-green Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel (YHA.com.au). It is, incidentally, one of the best hostels he’s ever stayed at.