Three hours west of Melbourne, the Grampians National Park is home to rugged rock formations, breathtaking panoramas and indigenous rock art dating back 22,000 years. Popular with hikers, the area has a multitude of walking trails and scenic lookouts, but it also boasts impressive art galleries and museums, as well as more unusual sites. From the Silo Art Trail to haunted asylums and zoos, here are some of Culture Trip’s favourite things to see and do in the Grampians.
One of the most popular lookouts in Victoria, the Pinnacle is also one of the most challenging to reach. The most accessible trail is a 4.2km (2.6mi) return hike that begins at the Sundial car park and is appropriate for families. Avid hikers will prefer the route starting at the Wonderland car park. Both tracks will lead you through rugged rock formations, and upon reaching the Pinnacle, you can marvel at the spectacular scenery of the Grampians and feel like you’re on top of the world.
Known to the traditional custodians of the land as Gariweld, the Grampians have been home to the Jadawadjali and Djab Wurrung peoples for tens of thousands of years, and their footprints can be found all over the region. Established in 1989, Brambuk: The National Park and Cultural Centre was set up to preserve and share the fascinating indigenous culture and history of the Grampians. About 2km (1.2mi) south of the Grampians tourist village, Halls Gap, Brambuk celebrates indigenous culture and storytelling through interactive exhibitions, theatre, cultural workshops and activities.
Watch the water cascade down Victoria’s largest waterfall all year round in the Grampians National Park. Starting at MacKenzie Falls car park, follow the steep trail downhill for 2km (1.2mi) until you reach the base of MacKenzie Falls. Alternatively, you can view the waterfall from the platform at the Bluff, which has wheelchair access. Although MacKenzie is the only waterfall here with water all year round, if you’re fortunate enough to visit the Grampians in winter or spring, you’re in for a treat. Waterfall season in the Grampians is nothing but spectacular, especially during spring when the wildflowers are out.
Formerly known as the Jaws of Death, the Balconies lookout offers spectacular panoramic views over Victoria Valley. One of the best viewpoints in the Grampians, the 2km (1.2mi) trail to the Balconies starts at Reeds Lookout car park and winds its way through rocky outcrops and stringybark forest. Photographers should visit in the morning or at sunset to capture the magnificent scenery in its best light.
Home to over 160 native and exotic animals including meerkats, giraffes, rhinos, red pandas, lemurs, macaws and many other species, Halls Gap Zoo is Victoria’s largest regional zoo. Located at the foothills of the Grampians, Halls Gap Zoo is involved with a number of endangered species captive breeding programs and offers animal encounters as well as zookeeper experiences.
Built in the mid-19th century as the Ararat Gaol, J Ward transitioned into a maximum-security psychiatric ward for the criminally insane in 1887. Housing and treating Victoria’s mentally ill for over 125 years, J Ward was still operating up until 1991, when it finally closed its doors. Take a guided tour or ghost tour of the complex, with its eerie architecture and abandoned buildings, including the gallows, and learn about the stories of the murderers and the murdered, whose spirits are still believed to haunt J Ward — or so they say.
One of the best lookouts in the Grampians can be found on Mt Difficult Road in Halls Gap. From the car park, it’s only a short walk to the lookout, which features 180-degree panoramic views of Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield. The Boroka Lookout is also a great location to spot local birdlife. The area also has toilet facilities and picnic tables, so bring your lunch and enjoy the view.
With a history spanning nearly 60 years, the Hamilton Gallery is a world-renowned exhibition space showcasing European, Asian and Australian works of art. Featuring a variety of different mediums, from ceramics, paintings and print to metalwork, furniture, contemporary art and 18th-century watercolours, the gallery has an impressive collection and is one of Australia’s leading public galleries.
Located in Ararat, the only city in Australia founded by the Chinese, the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre tells the story of Chinese miners who made the journey from Southern China to Australia in search of gold in the 1800s. Built in traditional Chinese style, the centre provides a snapshot into Chinese culture in Australia and invites visitors to try calligraphy, dress in traditional costume and try panning for gold.
One of five Aboriginal art sites in the park, the Ngamadjidj Aboriginal Art Shelter is only a short walk from the Mt Stapylton campground. Known as the Cave of Ghosts, the site features indigenous artwork depicting dancing, standing and squatting white figures different in colour and style from the vast majority of northern Gariwerd art sites. Aboriginal people associate the colour white with death and the spirit world and may have viewed Europeans as ghostly figures.
While the Grampians may be better known for its waterfalls and wildflowers than its wine, the region is home to some of the oldest vines in the world. The perfect way to wind down after a day exploring, the Grampians are home to some of the state’s most varied and unique cellar doors, with some dating back to the 1800s.
One of Victoria’s most popular new attractions, the Silo Art Trail zig-zags through the countryside above the Grampians. Although trying to squeeze seeing all of these incredible painted silos on the Victoria Silo Art Trail into one day could be a bit much – around a six- to seven-hour road trip – some of the closer ones like Sheep Hills and Rupanyup are well worth a visit if you can spare a few hours.