It had been many, many years since I’d hiked in the Grampians. Despite having countless childhood memories of this area, its one place I’ve never visited with my own kids. Well, they have been to the Grampians but not the hiking bit. The purchase of a camper trailer earlier this year has led us to get out more often and sieze every spare weekend possible.
This was to be one of them…..
This is a longer post than usual and has a lot of photos. I apologise in advance if they take a while to load on your device. Even though it’s lengthy, there is so much detail I have left out. Such as the many wildflowers we passed (and pics I took). I could do a whole post just on that. Though I love photography, these days I’m finding that I really enjoy constructing the stories around the images. Instead of lugging a big DSLR around I simply carry my mirrorless Nikon 1AW1 and also utilise my smart phone camera.
I would also love to write about the rich natural history of the area – the indigenous heritage, the pioneers who built a hard lifestyle here, and of course the geological significance of this ancient land Gariwerd. I have restrained myself though, and decided to concentrate on the hike.
Pulling the boys out of school for a day was a no brainer – they gain so much from this sort of life experience that cannot be learned in a classroom. We headed off to Halls Gap and made ourselves home at the local caravan park. Being just the very beginning of Spring is was nice and quiet and we were able to tuck ourselves down the very back. It was almost like bush camping, even with plenty of wildlife.
After a good sleep on the Friday night it was time to tackle the hike. Considering we are an outdoorsy, active family – it is a little surprising that this is the first time we’ve camped with the main purpose being a hike. Not just that, but the hike began right from our camp – no drive to a start location. I could get used to that. As we were getting ready we watched many other groups head off in the same direction. Some of them had massive rectangular backpacks which intrugued us.
Turns out they are crash mats for rock climbers – a popular pastime in this area. If this is something that interests you check out the video here Bouldering pads.
As I mentioned, the hike began at our doorstep. Upon consulting the maps, we had decided to tackle the Wonderland Loop track. Wonderland is probably the most famous part of the Grampians among tourists. In my younger days we would make the trek from the Wonderland Carpark to The Pinnacle every time we visited The Grampians. This time was different – a much bigger and tougher hike.
Back when I was a kid we didn’t call it hiking – we went out for a walk. We didn’t have sophisticated footwear, backpacks or cooking gear (or crash mats). In fact, I reckon cheap Dunlops would have been on our feet and I can’t remember ever carrying a packpack. Dad probably carried most of my stuff ;). How times have changed – now my kids have been carrying their own gear from the time they could walk.
The Wonderland Loop is described as being 9.6kms and suitable for fit and energetic walkers (medium to hard). This was our intended hike. At the next junction we made an executive decision to take the high road, and unintentionally embarked on the walk “The Pinnacle via Mackey’s Peak”. What we later discovered was that this one was described as “strenuous” and rated as hard. I have a bit of an issue with the distances listed. The Mackeys Peak route was supposed to be 6.2kms if you returned via the same track. In reality though, it was more than 4kms by the time we reached The Pinnacle. Pretty sure that makes it an 8km+ return trip.
The hike begins by the gravesite of little Agnes Folks who died in 1870, aged 3 months. A stark reminder of how tough it would have been to raise a family then. Agnes’ parents had owned a local sawmill and when Agnes became ill, they were unable to reach medical attention due to floodwaters.
We paid our respects to Agnes’ memory and began the hike. Off to an easy start it wasn’t long before we were faced with a decision. At this point I should point out that I hadn’t studied the maps too much before hand. The Grampians is a well travelled area and I figured the chance of getting lost on the established tracks was minimal. Accompanied by Jamie and the boys, and well prepared for a day in the great outdoors, the focus was on adventure. If I were to lead a less experienced group here I would definitely do a bit more research, and proceed with less flexibility.
We opted to follow the signs towards The Pinnacle. After all, that was our intended destination. Venus Baths would be a nice way to finish up on our return. None of the sign posts mentioned Mackey’s Peak…..
The ascent to Mackey’s Peak was via a series of staircases. Many, many staricases constructed in a variety of materials. They all had one thing in common. They were steep. Did I mention there were a lot? Well that’s an understatement!
At first it was fun.
Jamie and Adam were off to a cracking start, while Brodie and I paced ourselves. Below is a shot of Brodie conserving energy before the next big staircase.
The up and the down….. what views!!
I think it was about this point that Jamie told me this wasn’t fun any more. I secretly agreed, but we’d come this far. We had to push on.
We had the occasional brief respite from the incessant UP, where we recharged the batteries and breathed in the stunning vistas.
It was around here that we stopped for morning tea. A bit of fruit and some cheeseballs in the company of cheeky currawongs was all we needed to be energised for the next leg.
It was time for some more UP.
The breathtaking views were enough to keep us in good spirits. Brodie looks like he’s playing the part of the sulky teenager in this panorama, but he was actually right into it – leading most of the way up while the rest of us straggled behind.
To be honest, I’m unsure which peak was Mackeys – this one looks the most likely as it was dominating the other rock formations and had a fantastic view out over Halls Gap. Our campsite (ground zero) is located down on the flat, just out of sight to the left. Pretty sure we climbed either over, or around this peak.
By now we were almost at The Pinnacle. Despite seeing so many groups heading off before us, we had only seen a handful along this tougher route. The few who were on their way down gave us some words of encouragement – “you’re almost there”, “the hargest bit is over”, ” the view is well worth it!”. For the last few hundred metres though, the track was barely discernable and we relied on the occasional painted arrows to guide us across the rocky terrain.
Finally we were there – The Pinnacle! And it was indeed worth the tough slog up all those steps. We stopped to take in the view and did the obligatory group selfie.
There were a lot of people at the Pinnacle, all spread out in their groups, taking a breather before tackling whatever downwards route they chose. We had packed a light lunch for the hike and settled down out of the wind to cook and eat. I do enjoy a cooked lunch on the trail, even if it’s just something simple such as today’s toasted sandwich and 2 minute noodles. We jazzed this one up a bit with the addition of some dried meat and served it up in my new collapsible bowls (compliments of Jamie for my birthday).
The boys wanted to go back the same way we had come, but I was keen to head back to the Wonderland Turntable via the track I remember from childhood. Jamie and I also knew only too well that the way down via the steps would likely be worse than the ascent – a big strain on the knees and ankles.
From The Pinnacle the terrain flattened out a bit, though we still needed to do some rock hopping. Adam looked looks like he was dwarfed by the expansive environment.
Very soon we were passing through the rock formations and canyons which have been given names over time on this well travelled track. In general it was quite busy – although I enjoy peace and solitude while hiking it’s also nice to see so many people out enjoying nature.
Here are the boys at the start of “Silent Street”, a steep descent into the crevasse.
Then looking up and down….. Silent Street is long and narrow. Quite beautiful and peaceful to walk through before opening up to yet more views at the end.
Brodie is always in his element when immersed in nature, and today was no exception.
It was evident that this was the main tourist route as we encountered a number of organised groups with paid (I’m assuming) guides. What a job! Something I could easily enjoy doing (though personally I don’t know how I’d go leading groups of foreign tourists who may be unprepared for our conditions and climate). Who knows – one day maybe. Below is one such group, heading in the opposite direction to us.
Once past Silent Street there were a few more notable landmarks to check out. Bridal Veil Falls, The Cool Chamber and the Grand Canyon. I can remember long ago doing this walk in the summer heat and enjoying some respite in the Cool Chamber. I learned on this trip that there is evidence inside of an ancient fault line from the time when the Grampians turned from being on the coast to move far inland.
Bridal Veil Falls, The Cool Chamber and The Grand Canyon
Just as we were about to hit the Wonderland Turntable car park Brodie twisted his ankle. Not badly, but enough to figure it wasn’t wise to complete the walk back via Splitters Falls. Due to my waterfall fetish I had really hoped to see this one but the track was described as steep and slippery with rock hopping and possible river crossings involved. We opted for the flat safety of the road. Easier for Brodie to walk but not necessarily so safe due to the cars whizzing past.
The benefit of this route though was that we got great views of the famous “Elephant’s Hide” and the “Indian’s Face” rock formation.
Once Brodie’s ankle was feeling better we took the first opportunity to get back off road. White Cliffs Creek Track pointed us back in the right direction. It was so nice to be back on a track again.
It wasn’t long before we hit a junction which pointed us either left to Venus Baths, or right back to Halls Gap. The boys were pretty over it by then (though they had been real troopers). We were confident that they would have no problem getting back to camp from there so we sent them on their way and made a quick detour to Venus Baths. With such a pretty name I just had to go take a look.
With that done, we high tailed it back to join the boys. It was time to put the feet up for a while before heading in to town for a well earned meal.
The overall washup of the day was 11.55kms, completed in a little over 5 hours. A really nice walk which I can highly recommend. We all had a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and Jamie and I were that little bit prouder of the boys than we had already been. I think all of our fitness levels are improving as a few years back this walk would have been a real struggle.