Today was a day full of promise. We had a lot of nature preserves planned and high hopes of spotting what Loren, our Airbnb host, has described as “heaps of wallabies.” We started out the day at Tower Hill, the remnants of a volcano that blew apart a pretty sizable mountain from the looks of it 30,000 years ago. The caldera of the volcano is now a nature preserve with emus, kangaroos, wallabies, and enchiladas (actually called echidnas). We started out on the Journey to Last Volcano walk and saw a flock of emus right off the bat. They were enjoying a delicious brekkie of grass and didn’t seem to mind us taking pictures at all. A little while later we spotted some kangaroos off in the brush. They were a lot less tolerant of our presence and kept a watchful eye on us while they gathered together. We decided to leave them alone and continued on where we saw even more. All told, by the end of the 45 minute hike we had seen seven emus, five kangaroos, two rabbits, and a whole mess of birds. Sufficiently satisfied with this very auspicious start to our wildlife spotting day, we climbed into Mickey and hit the road for our two hour drive to the The Grampian mountain range and the small town of Hall’s Gap.
As we drove inland from the coast the landscape started to resemble Texas more and more as we drove past endless fields of browning grass with cattle grazing in them. The weather also started to warm up which we both appreciated. The southern coast of Australia, so far, had been much cooler than we had expected with average highs in the 60s. Though this made us feel like we were at home in a Texas November, it was definitely not something we were terribly excited about.
As we got closer to the mountain range we began to see its silhouette rise from the horizon and we both commented that it looked a lot like Red Rocks in Colorado, but much, much bigger. The mountains are all massive tilted layers of sandstone that stick out of the ground and look like giant stone waves about to break over the fields below. The highway to Hall’s Gap took us right through the middle of two of them, allowing us to fully appreciate their beauty as we drove underneath the cliffs.
We arrived in Hall’s Gap just around lunch time and settled down at a bench in the town park for a picnic lunch after grabbing some brochures and a map at the local visitor information booth. Lynn had some left over lamb in a sandwich and I finished off the roast beef with some cheddar and sweet thai chili sauce. Feeling a little hungry still, we wandered across the street to an ice cream shop and both had a cone of Timboon ice cream (from the town we had visited yesterday).
Feeling energized, we set off on a tour of the park that had been recommended at visitor information. We started with the park visitor center, which Lynn had read offered a nice video introduction to the park. The video was indeed something to see, though probably not for the reasons it was trying to be. The first 16 minutes told the creation myth of the Grampians, as recounted by what sounded like a drunk Australian man with a very heavy accent. The myth involved a bird, a very large emu, two brothers, and a warrior who gets turned into a possum for reasons that aren’t quite clear. The whole thing was presented with life size animals that would light up and a strobe light to simulate lightning. Lynn and I both very much enjoyed it and would occasionally speak like the narrator the rest of the day, causing the other one to burst out laughing. The second 16 minutes was a much more normal national park video, recounting how the mountains actually formed (it wasn’t by an emu kicking a crack in the rock open) and the various wildlife present in the park.
Full up on knowledge, we headed out to start our grand tour. We began by driving out to MacKenzie Falls and walking the hundreds of steps down to the base where we were greeted by a lovely falls spraying a rainbow mist over the dark pool at the bottom. Unfortunately, the area at the base was full of rowdy youths playing loud music, so we set off along a trail that followed the creek away from the waterfall and where we were quickly alone. We walked for 20 minutes out before coming to a nice lookout on some boulders overlooking another waterfall. I tried to do some rock hopping to get some good pictures of some white and green river foam but Lynn strongly disapproved for safety reasons, so I resigned to take pictures from far away instead. We decided this was as good a turnaround point as any and headed back to see what else the park had to offer.
Our next two stops brought us to lookouts that offered sweeping panoramas of the park. One of them featured a short 1 km walk to The Balconies, which are ledges that overhang the cliffs and the valley below. Before safety regulations and handrails people would venture out onto the ledges for pictures in their Sunday best. Today we had to settle for a picture a little distance away from behind the safety of a welded steel railing. The views were still quite stunning though and we appreciated how green the valleys were and couldn’t get over how cool the slanting sandstone was. Though we never saw any more wildlife (except for roadkill occasionally) we still very much enjoyed the Grampians.
By the time we finished our lookouts it was getting towards 5 pm and we thought we should head into Stawell (pronounced Stawl) where we were staying for the night. There were no Airbnbs in this part of Victoria, so Lynn had booked us a room at the Coorobin Motor Inn. I had read they had a microwave in the rooms, and so not wanting to eat overpriced bland bar food in a small dusty town we headed to the grocery store to buy some dinner supplies. After perusing our options we settled on microwave soups and some fruit and headed back to check in and “cook” dinner. As it turns out, we would have been much better off with the bland bar food. Lynn, who had tried a fancy premium soup, basically ended up with a $4 can of Campbells chicken noodle soup, and I had a very burned tasting chunky chicken and vegetable. We were both quite disappointed and supplemented with fruits, cheese, bread, and nuts from our stash in the car.
After “dinner” we headed across town to check out the local gold mine and lookout spot that our motel attendant had told us about at check in. The gold mine is still active and has a lookout from which you can see trucks coming in and out of the mine entrance and the large crushing machines. They also had some signs that teach you about how gold mining works and we were both surprised to see how complicated it is, essentially crushing the ore into a powder and then using all manner of chemicals including cyanide to extract the gold.
There was only so much poking around to do at the gold mine before we got bored, so we headed to the lookout hoping to catch the sunset over the Grampians in the distance. We waited around for 20 minutes or so before realizing that sunset was still an hour away (the sunsets at 8.45 here it seems) and not wanting to keep staring at the sun for that long, we headed back to our motel to enjoy it from there.
Daily Walking Miles : 8.3 miles
- The Stawell Easter Gift is an annual footrace held every year in Stawell (the town we’re staying in tonight) and is famous for having the largest purse of any footrace in Australia ($40,000).
- The Stawell gold mine is the oldest operating gold mine in Australia and has produced more than 4.9 million ounces of gold since it opened in the 1850’s.
- Aboriginees have been living in the Grampians (they call it Gariwerd) for tens of thousands of years. Cave paintings have been found that are at least as old as those at Lascaux.