The Grampians is an expansive national park to the northwest of Melbourne. Driving past Ararat you’ll spot them in the distance – a lumpy collection of grand mountains splitting the horizon in two. This dazzling region is populated by high sandstone peaks, gorgeous wildflowers and the epic Pinnacle walk, so it’s known to most Melburnians as a great nature escape from the city. The traditional owners of this land know it as Gariwerd, and the area is known for having one of the biggest collections of Indigenous rock art sites in southeastern Australia.
Wondering how to spend your time in the Grampians? We’ve laid out the best things to see, do and eat while you’re here.
Guide to the Grampians
Listen closely, can you hear that? It’s the sound when crowds and cars give way to bird songs, trickling waterfalls, the wind through trees and the crunching sound your boots make on the mountain trails of the Grampians National Park. Hiking is serious business here, but there’s such a range of hiking options that almost everyone will find something to their liking.
Head off early on the ultra-popular Pinnacle Walk early in the morning and take the hour-long walk up to a lookout, where you’ll watch green peaks emerge through the mist. Ancient volcanic rocks flank your path, and longer trails offer a challenge to more experienced climbers.
Photography enthusiasts will want to bring a camera to Mt Abrupt, a picturesque slice of rock rising 827 metres over the sprawling Serra Range to the north and Dunkeld to the south. It’s a steep climb to the summit, and keep your eyes out for kangaroos, lizards, peregrine falcons and other creatures on the ascent.
Found smack bang in the middle of the craggy and mostly dry national park, Mackenzie Falls is a gorgeous surprise. You’ll hear the falls before you actually see them as you descend down the steep yet well-marked path. Eventually, you'll set eyes on the cascade, which thunders over a vertical slab of rock into a deep pool of fresh water. Follow the path on the left of the falls towards neighbouring Fish Falls if you want a less crowded waterfall view.
Probably the best view in all of the Grampians (if you’re not that keen on hiking for several hours) is that from Reeds Lookout. From the car park, you can take in breathtaking views over the entire Grampians mountain range. Come at sunset for a real showstopper.
These mountain areas are central to the creation stories of many of the region’s Indigenous communities, who have been living here for thousands of years. Head to Brambuk: the National Park and Cultural Centre and learn more about the region and see Aboriginal art and artefacts from over the years. There’s even the option to join a tour to visit ancient rock art sites across the region traditionally known as Gariwerd.
You haven’t properly visited the Grampians without eating at the Royal Mail Hotel. This fine-dining institution split into two venues in late 2017: there’s fine diner Wickens and the more casual Parker Street Project. Seasonal produce comes from the restaurant’s organic kitchen and garden, and lamb and beef come from the property’s own farm. There’s now swanky accommodation there, too.
In fact, local produce is celebrated all over the Grampians’ food and drink scene. Live Fast Café does a hefty local produce platter that showcases cheese, charcuterie, bread and more, all from local all-stars. Harvest Halls Gap does strong coffee and all-day breakfast with standout dishes like the sweet potato breakfast hash and a deconstructed Italian baked beans.
Down in Dunkeld, you can head to the Dunkeld Old Bakery for some of the best pies in the region (featuring slow-cooked lamb roasted in a great 130-year-old Scotch oven). Koopmans, while a lot newer to the region, has mastered café classics, burgers and sandwiches, which are the perfect footnote to an early morning hike of neighbouring Mt Abrupt or Mt Sturgeon.
The local pub, the Halls Gap Hotel, boasts stellar views of the Grampians from its outdoor deck. The venue is split in two: there’s the public bar and the extra-large family bistro. On the menu, you’ll find a great selection of local and Victorian-brewed beers, including Holgate Brewhouse Mt Macedon Pale Ale and Flying Brick cider. Food-wise, it’s upped the ante on pub classics with a selection of pizzas, char-grilled meats, parmas and battered fish and chips.
Pomonal Estate is one of the newer wineries in the region, but it's managed to make a name for itself thanks to its warm hospitality. Head to the cellar door to try the estate’s own wine, beer and cider (don’t skip the ginger beer!) and dig into a tasting platter of local produce.
Dunkeld Old Bakery has an adorable little cottage attached to the bakery with two rooms available to stay in. The Victorian-style Queen Suite features a comfy sitting room, a small bathroom and a large bedroom with lots of natural light. Stays start at $153 per night.
Here with your significant other? Go the full romantic getaway and book a self-contained villa at Blaze Rock Retreat, where the bed is literally one metre from a large claw-foot bath and kangaroos hop across the expansive grounds outside your window. Just eight minutes from Halls Gap, it’s the perfect base for your hiking adventures.