There’s something about the sheer ancientness of the Australian landscape that’s truly awe-inspiring. Anyone who has travelled to the Bungle Bungles in the remote Kimberley in Western Australia, spectacular Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory, or of course Uluru, will know what I’m talking about. These are landscapes that feel as if they’ve existed ever since time began. They are lined and timeworn as they wait patiently for who knows what. The Grampians in regional Victoria inspires that same kind of feeling.
Hiking the newly established Grampians Peaks Trail is actually quite a humbling experience. And let’s face it, in our constantly connected world we don’t really do humble much these days. The Grampians have been here longer than anyone or anything else in Victoria. As the continental drift continued around 400 million years ago (millions of years before the dinosaurs), this was the eastern shoreline of what was to become the continent of Australia. Massive forces pushed, lifted and folded the accumulated sediment, creating three spectacular west-sloping ridges that are still clearly visible and seem to rise from nowhere. Weathering gradually eroded the monoliths, creating the dramatic sandstone peaks and towering escarpments of the Grampians today. As you walk the trails beneath the soaring stone monoliths, you can’t help but feel just how short our time on this incredible land has been.
Indigenous Australians have a much longer history in this region. Some of the rock art found in the Grampians National Park dates back more than 20,000 years. Because of its unique ecology, ‘Gariwerd’, as it’s known to the first people, provided a constant source of food including kangaroo, emu, fish and yabbies. Our first stop on arrival in Halls Gap at the foot of the range is the excellent Brambuk Cultural Centre, entirely owned and operated by the local indigenous community. It’s an inspiring introduction to the region.
We’re on a four-day fully guided and accommodated itinerary with Park Trek Walking Holidays, which starts with pick-up from Melbourne’s NGV and a pleasant three hour drive west to Halls Gap. Park Trek itineraries include transport, comfortable accommodation, most meals (prepared by your guides) and guided walks through Australia’s most spectacular natural settings. On this trip we stay at the rustic D’Altons Resort in Halls Gap, in clean two bedroom chalets (single studios are also available). If the resident kangaroo population is anything to go by, this is clearly a great spot to call home. Our guides Rachelle and Ann do a superb job of the catering and the menu is fitting fodder for a hard day’s hiking on the trail.
At present you can hike about a quarter of what will ultimately become the full Grampians Peaks Trail – 144km of walking tracks traversing the entire length of the range. The full trail is scheduled for completion in 2019. There are many highlights as we head out over the next four days to hike different sections of the national park. For me, day three’s 13km climb to the top of Mount Rosea is probably the most breathtaking – and certainly the most challenging. My quads and calves moan in agony as I navigate my way up stone steps that could well have been constructed by giants out for a really good laugh at our expense. A good general level of fitness is required for all Park Trek itineraries, but the pace is comfortable and the views and sense of achievement you get at the top are really something. The walk down the other side through magnificent lush forest is a different experience yet again.
Once you let go of the outside world and tune in to the local environment, you start to realise that it’s all about the tiny details here in the Grampians. There are stunning wildflowers and tiny ground orchids throughout the park. It’s absolutely enthralling.
On day four we head off on a final half-day walk to the top of Mount Mitchell which brings home what a geological oddity these mountains really are. Flat agricultural land stretches out in almost every direction, with emerald green pastures and vivid yellow fields of flowering canola rudely interrupted by this great bunch of mountains right in the middle of it all.
It all seems highly implausible and quite improbable, and yet here we are. The reasons are lost in time and the wait for who knows what continues.
Adam Ford is a travel presenter, writer, blogger, commentator and editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide – www.thebigbus.com.au.