How lucky am I to have rung in another new year in yet another new country! I was fortunate enough to spend the first week of 2016 hiking, swimming, sunbathing, and eating ice cream in the town of Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park.
To kick start the annual “New Year New Me” fun and fit lifestyle, I took on Boronia Peak. The peak was situated a short distance from the campground and was a nine kilometer circuit, taking our daring dozen approximately four hours to complete. The upward trek was a medium grade climb equipped with a relatively easy rock scramble up the face of the outcrop to the top. Once atop Boronia Peak, one is left to rehydrate, refuel, and snap a few selfies amongst the picturesque background* of Grampians National Park.
There is an option to complete the return hike via the same route taken to reach the peak, but what’s a hike in Australia without a little bush trek action? Our daring dozen became a nerveless nine, as those feeling a bit more adventurous took the path less traveled (and unmarked). Down the opposite outcrop face we scrambled and through every prickly, poking, and scratching tree and shrub we strode to reach the original path. I was advised during this excursion not to put my hands in any crevices, not to make too much noise, and not to stand still for too long as there was an abundance of Aussie creatures that could bite, jump, sting, manhandle, and kill me within three minutes (if you don’t believe me, check this out: Come to Australia). Fortunately, with only a few minor slips, cuts, and scratches, we all made it out alive.
While not nearly as “grand” as the United States’s, the Grand Canyon is a definite sight to see. A 1.8 km circuit from Wonderland Carpark, it is a family-friendly walk thanks to its relatively easy ascent. Clearly posted arrows and signs make it easy to find the vast rock valley sprinkled with small outcrops that are great for climbing and getting a better view of the surrounding mountains.
It is highly frowned upon to go to the mountains and not witness at least one spectacular mountaintop sunset. Where better than from atop the highest peak in the National Park? The strenuous 1.8 km upward hump to the top of Mount William was well worth the sweat, tired quads, and overpowering wind. Located just over 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) above sea level, the wind scored panoramic view was breathtaking. You do not realize how vast the Park is (or how small you are) until you are able to see its full expanse.
I took a break from my hiking excursions to take a short bike ride to the Brambuk (pronounced bram-book) Aboriginal Cultural Centre** in the town of Halls Gap. The Centre was constructed as a “testimony to the survival of Aboriginal or Koori culture.” The building contains artwork and artifacts from native Australian tribes with an abundance of cultural history not shared elsewhere in Australia. To this day, Aboriginals are still unequally represented and mistreated in Australian society, but through select government regulations and rights activist groups, they continue to strive for equality.
By midweek, that daring dozen I spoke about dwindled to a mere venturesome seven, but darn if the seven of us didn’t pack up and head out for yet another 10 km, 4-hour return hike; this time up Mount Rosea. Slightly more challenging than Boronia Peak, the trek began with a level walk through a fern gully, followed by (what seemed like) an endless maze of rock formations to the top, only broken by a short bridge named the Gate of the East Wind (LOTR-esque, don’t you think?). Searching for small lizards and skinks hidden among the shrubbery is an easy way to alter the monotony of winding and back-tracking curves that define the path. Yet again, no disappointment once we reached the peak, but it is quite hard to be disappointed when you feel like you are standing on top of the world.
We wrangled a rather large group together to tackle the Pinnacle before our departure from the Grampians. Another family-friendly walk, approximately 1.8 km from the Sundial Carpark, leads you to an outcrop from which you can see Mount Rosea and Mount William in the distance. The furthest outlook of the Pinnacle is railed-off to ensure the safety of park guests as they view the steep cliff side.
As expected, I did not return to the carpark with the majority of our pack. Instead I agreed to take the longer trek and return on a different path that would lead us back to the town of Halls Gap. Approximately 900 meters from town, we took a small detour. Much to the dismay of my Aussie friends-slash-tour guides, the Venus Baths were more like the Venus Sinks, seeing as they were rather dry in comparison to previous years. During exceptionally wet summers, water rushes over the rock faces and into crevices, such that people are able to use the rocks as slides into rather deep pools.
Eight days is not nearly enough to experience all the Grampians National Park has to offer, but I can say I am happy with the ground I covered, the friends I made, and the memories I will cherish forever. If the first week of January is any sign of the year ahead, I would say 2016 is going to be one exciting as year!
*No photos do justice to the striking beauty of Grampians National Park.
**To respectfully honor the Aboriginal people and their culture, the taking of photos is not permitted within the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre.