We’re on top of Hollow Mountain surrounded by the grandeur of the Grampians National Park in Victoria. We’re no strangers to the Grampians having camped in the heart of Halls Gap numerous times, pitching a tent lakeside and trudging along the park’s most popular walks.
However, this trip we thought we’d venture northwards into the park and check out some slightly more remote tracks and places of interest away from the busy hub of Halls Gap. In such a vast mountainous playground there are always new spots to enjoy and, sure enough, heading towards Wartook, it didn’t take long to make a new discovery.
One of the most scenic drives in the area is to the Asses Ears mountain range; two prominent and rugged peaks renowned for rock climbing. The walk to the range is reputedly excellent, however it’s not marked on a map and the only clue we were given was to drive along Asses Ears Road and look for a small indent off the road, “ … just wide enough for two cars to park”, and then to forge our own path!
Our quest started on the road directly across from the Zumsteins picnic ground – where it’s likely that birds and kangaroos will steal your food before you eat it – we found Asses Ears Road and, armed with our basic map of the northern Grampians and a highlighted line to our destination, we set off.
Asses Ears Road is graded, two-wheel-drive friendly and easy going, however there are four-wheel-drive tracks branching off this road and we figured it was more likely we would reach the rugged peaks by going uphill. Our basic map and GPS were pretty useless among the towering mountains, but eventually we found the Wallaby Rocks track, which was actually on the map – things were looking up.
The track began in good condition but within a few kilometres turned rocky and in some parts downright slushy from water flowing down roadside waterfalls. The vehicles were handling the rugged terrain well, but there were some big ridges in sections and at one stage we had to stop to dislodge a branch wedged underneath our four-wheel-drive. Nonetheless it’s very scenic, especially after rain. We stopped to photograph waterfalls on the side of the road, wind ravaged boulders, roadside wildflowers and even, ironically, a couple of wallabies! There were many dips and climbs along the way making it an exciting drive.
After driving for about forty minutes, passing no another vehicles and getting noticeably higher in altitude, we hit the jackpot. Well almost. Pulling over into an area where campfire remains were evidence of earlier campers, we were met with the spectacular sight of the surrounding mountain range. As we walked onto the rocks, we could see right across the Wartook Valley with a trio of massive boulders taking centre stage. Although we didn’t realise it at the time, we were at Wallaby Rocks – not the elusive Asses Ears, but close enough.
Our early morning drive had turned into an epic adventure, however with two ravenous children on board and no food it was time to head back. Soon enough the track began to improve and we reached a T-intersection where we turned left back onto Asses Creek Road, although a bit too quickly perhaps. Had we turned the other way we would have reached the Mount Victory Road within a few kilometres. Instead, we ended up detouring even further, but in the process discovered some fantastic spots: a shepherd’s grave dated 1878, the Asses Ears Wilderness Lodge, the El Grelco Homestead, a motor museum and even a horse riding centre.
We spoke to a young couple returning from a ride at the Grampians Horse Riding Centre. It sounded like a great way to appreciate the area from a totally different perspective. Set in the foothills of the Grampians this is the
ultimate playground for both horse and rider. Even if you’re a novice, you’ll be perfectly matched to a steed for a sure-footed and memorable adventure.
On our travels we also passed Brim Springs picnic area, which is on the spot where one of the early settlers first made a home. This discovery would have been even better if we’d packed a picnic basket!
Back at camp tummies were filled and spirits rejuvenated ready to hit the road again. After our morning drive we were looking forward to a good walk and Hollow Mountain sounded perfect. To get there we took Plantation Road and headed towards the Mount Zero area. Along the way we passed a number of olive groves including the Mt Zero Olive Farm, with its shop and café and, although very tempted to stop, we pressed on wanting to make the most of the afternoon. At the Hollow Mountain carpark the track has a deceptively easy start with steps leading through a picturesque gully and woodland of banksias and grass trees.
After about two hundred metres we arrived at the base of a cliff and an exclamation of: “We’re going up there?” from our awe-struck eleven-year-old son. As we gazed up at the imposing iron-stained cliff we knew onwards was all uphill.
The climb was fairly easy for a while but soon became steep and strenuous as we ventured amongst fallen boulders and some exposed ledges, with a few tight squeezes between rocks. At times it was tricky finding the marked arrows on the boulders, which are the only signs one is heading in the right direction. The steep rocky track was fairly hairy going in places and not for the faint hearted.
At one stage I had to keep my vertigo firmly in check as we scaled around one sheer rock face, ever mindful not to look down at the drop. There are no guard rails to hang on to and, with our son between us, a sensible and intrepid walker, but nonetheless nervous, it was heart stopping.
Beyond this nailbiting section, the track becomes easier and eventually leads onto an open rock slope. Young Daniel had a great time imitating a lizard crawling through the rocks and after a short scramble we reached the wind-sculpted caverns of Hollow Mountain. At the top are breathtaking views of the Mount Stapylton Range and the Wimmera Plains. The reflections of mountains and clouds in the rock pools and the red coloured cavernous boulders are simply spectacular.
Coming down took less time however it was strenuous on the knees. Back at the carpark, signs point to an easy one-kilometre return walk to Gulgurn Manja Shelter meaning “hands of young people” where you can read about the legends of the people and the mountains they call Gariwerd.
There are other equally exciting walks in the vicinity and Mount Stapylton is one of the most challenging. Classed as only suitable for “fit and energetic walkers”, this steep trek has water crossings, slippery track surfaces and a fair bit of rock hopping and rock scrambling. If you’re not up to this particular challenge a climb to Flat Rock is also worthwhile. From the Mount Zero picnic area the climb travels through the Amphitheatre and the Taipan Wall is an amazing sight at dusk when fading light hits the red cliffs.
The Grampians’ lakes are full from the heavy rains in 2012 and are well stocked for keen fishermen. Lake Wartook, one of the largest lakes in the Grampians, is a perfect spot to catch a redfin or trout and in summer is a great place to enjoy a swim or take a boat out to Bear Island, the tiny island in the middle of the lake.
Another great place to stay is Wartook Rise, a secluded mud brick cabin, on the edge of the park. Set on 500 exclusive acres overlooking the McKenzie River Valley and the Mount Difficult Range, this is a magical place. It’s the ideal spot to unwind with long walks, fishing and canoeing in the large dam, breathtaking sunsets over the valleys and space to do nothing.
The lodgings have a rustic wood heater and accommodation for adults downstairs as well as a loft with seven single beds upstairs that would sleep Snow White’s dwarves easily.
For even larger groups, the adjoining mud brick cabin can be combined to serve as one big lodge sleeping twenty-two. Outside there is room for a tent or camper trailer so it’s a great option if you’re with a large group and want somewhere different to stay. Dogs are allowed here although they need to be watched with mobs of kangaroos literally at the doorstep.
Our homeward trek took us along Roses Gap Road via Troopers Creek Campground, adjacent to the Old Adelaide Highway, which provides a great spot to camp with picnic tables and benches, fire places and pit toilets. Trooper’s Creek is the site of the old police station and lock-up that was used during the gold rush to collect the Victorian Government’s £10 landing tax. The campground backs onto towering mountain peaks and is the starting point of hikes to Briggs Bluff and Mount Difficult. Troopers Creek is also the start of the Tilwinda Falls Loop.
We continued along Roses Gap Road and reached a carpark and signpost to Beehive Falls, a small waterfall but one of the Grampians’ most picturesque. An easy track leads to rugged cliffs that overhang a tumbling waterfall with lush ferns, moss and caves at the base offering a tranquil spot to rest. This was our last walk for the trip and, after yesterday’s steep and exciting climb up Hollow Mountain, the two-kilometre gentle undulating track was like a stroll in the park.
Not so the proposed Grampians Peaks Trail, a project which, when completed, will be one of Australia’s premier long distance walking trails. The 150 kilometre trail will link Mt Zero in the north to the town of Dunkeld in the south and is designed to be tackled in stages so that bushwalkers and campers will be able to enjoy various parts of the trail to suit their level of walking experience.
In the meantime, the northern Grampians, with its coloured cliffs and rock formations, remote bushwalking and off-road adventures, is perfect for anyone wanting to experience the area away from the crowds. And, if you love the idea of jazz in the great outdoors, in February 2013 Halls Gap will come alive to the sounds of music at the annual Grampians Jazz Festival, one of the major music festivals in the area.