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Itinerary: travel the winding Grampians Way

Melbourne’s hip urban vibes and the Great Ocean Road’s postcard-perfect views may be in front of mind when planning your Victoria road trip. But nestled in Western Victoria, you’ll find the majesty of the Grampians. The Grampians region is a vast area that stretches with its jewel, the Grampians National Park. 

The Grampians may only be three hours away from Melbourne in your JUCY car rental or campervan hire, but it feels like you’re popped through a portal and gone back in time. Not in an unsophisticated way, simply as a time machine that dials you to a period when nature was always medicine, and time was spent appreciating it. Exquisite views are plentiful, activities are abundant, and the wildlife is particularly mellow about sharing their home with you.

A quick Google search on the Grampians provides a mainly one-sided view of the park, with reams of guides geared towards the village of Halls Gap. While the ‘gateway to the Grampians’ is the most accessible place to reach from Melbourne, and a delightful base to explore the eastern side of the park from, there’s so much more on offer here. At JUCY rentals, we’re all about the ease of travel – not having you spend hours researching unnecessarily. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive road trip itinerary from Melbourne. Mix and match depending on the time you have available to explore and your interests.

We know, we know, we’re spoiling you. But you’re worth it.

Day 1: Melbourne to Halls Gap

A Grampians vacay is a triptastic start to any day, particularly if you’re heading off in a JUCY vehicle. Depart from our Melbourne City or Airport branches and hit the road. Often the drive to a destination is a means to an end, but cruising along the Western Freeway is a bonus scenic treat, too.

Covering close to 170,000 hectares the Grampians is a region with something for everyone. Hike, canoe, rock climb, swim or taste-test the route (some culinary gems await).

Our first two recommended Grampians stops are important ones. For over 30,000 years, the Aboriginal communities have connected with this land. Known as Gariwerd, the Grampians is one of the most prolific places in Victoria to explore indigenous sites.

Start at Bujnil’s Shelter, one of the 60 rock art sites in Gariwerd. It’s approximately 2 hours, 40 minutes from Melbourne. Home to ancient indigenous rock art of Bunjnil and his two dingoes, this is a significant cultural site. Bunjil is said to be the traditional creator of the land.

After you have seen this important cultural rock art, head to the Brambuk Aboriginal Centre – Australia’s longest-running - to learn of its significance. A visit here affords an overview of the Grampians ancient history before you set off on your multi-day adventure. No doubt you’re hungry by now, too, so skip the road trip snacks and dine at the Bush Foods Café. You’ll find crocodile, emu, kangaroo, wattle seeds, and more on the menu.   

Next up, the Boroka Lookout. It’s not just a feast for the eyes with its stunning Grampians vistas, but also a helpful way to get your bearings. It’s only 15km from Halls Gap and a short walk to reach the two viewing platforms.

Depending on your pace today, and the timings of sunset, you may choose to explore a little of Halls Gap village or check in to your accommodation or campground. As the sun begins to set, however, you want to ensure you’re at one of two places.

For an accessible sunset viewing spot for everyone, Reed Lookout offers incredible views over the Mt Difficult and Serra Ranges. Our fave, however, is to go for the more adventurous panoramic views from the Balconies. Don’t let this scare you, but it was formerly called the Jaws of Death, perhaps for it’s rock-jutting platform that many like to perch on for that perfect Insta-pic. Allow 1-2 hours to visit, including plenty of time for oohs and aahs as the sunsets over the Victoria Ranges.

Day 2: Halls Gap Area

A stay at Halls Gap is like walking into Haighs and trying to pick just one kind of chocolate treat. Luckily, you’re creating your own itinerary so spend the day in Halls Gap, as we’re proposing here, or tack on extra days to take more in. It’s a popular spot for a reason, so pick’n’mix as you please!

The Grampians is a hikers paradise, with a variety of trail styles, vistas, and butt-workout gradients. You’ll find everything from wheelchair accessible lookouts, to go-hard-or-go-home tracks. For instance, we love the Pinnacle Walk where you can choose from a moderate-grade hike (one hour from the Sundial car park) to the more challenging, rocky climb via the Wonderland car park.  

If you’re looking for maximum exertion but still with that Pinnacles Lookout views, the Wonderland Loop is a 9-km circuit that you’ll need to allow 4-5 hours to complete. Start early from Halls Gap village before the temperatures creep up. While the views are spectacular throughout, be sure to take in some of nature’s finest (and free) medicine with a (long) pause at the Silent Street canyon. It’s truly spectacular.

The greatest trade for all your fitness efforts (aside from the epic views) is a delicious lunch! Our pick - enjoy locally home-grown meals at Harvest.

Lake Bellfield is your summertime friend as it’s a picturesque spot for a refreshing dip and only 5km from Halls Gap village. You can often spy kangaroos, emus, koalas, and wedge-tailed eagles here. Kayaking or fishing are popular activities on the lake, though you’ll need a license for the latter.

If you’re travelling with kids, the Halls Gap Zoo - Victoria’s largest – makes for a fun afternoon excursion. There are over 160 native and exotic species, with the wombat or dingo encounters being the most wow-worthy!

If you’re feeling extravagant, a Grampians winery tour is fun. Or, for the ultimate splurge, a helicopter picnic tour over the Black Range Scenic Reserve to the famed Best Wines.  

Round out your day with dinner at the Kookaburra, a sophisti-pub with delectable treats, including the blackened barramundi or kangaroo fillet.

Day 3 – The Southern Grampians

How does starting your third day in the Grampians with one of Victoria’s largest waterfalls sound? Cool – because we love the cleansing nature of the MacKenzie Falls amid the incredible Grampians gorges. 

The epic MacKenzie Falls is only 40-minutes out of Halls Gap, and a minor detour for the southbound direction of the day. The thrashing falls plunge into deep rock pools, with the steep gorges framing the scene into the type of image that remains etched in your memory bank forever.

For some low-key effort, you can walk twenty minutes to the MacKenzie Falls Lookout, a gentle walk accessible to all. If you’d like to amp it up and get your butt workout for the day (it’s steep), take the 1.5-hour return walk to the base of the falls. Both start at the MacKenzie Falls car park.

After a quick stretch, hop in your JUCY rental and journey to the southern region of the Grampians park. As you drive, observe the scenic transition to more farmland and vineyards, all with the stunning mountain backdrop make the Grampians special.

The charming village of Dunkeld makes an excellent base for your time here. It’s nestled at the foothills of Mt Sturgeon (Wurgarri). After wandering the town, stop by the Dunkeld Old Bakery for some delectable eats – dine-in or pack as picnic supplies. Founded in 1887, get a slice of nostalgia with your slice of homemade quiche or cake.

We’re all about choices at JUCY. So, either mellow in town exploring the artwork or hang with the ‘roos on the oval. Alternatively, get active on a cool hike to witness the magic of the Southern Grampians up close.

For thrill-seekers, both Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt (Mud-Dadjug) are advanced (read: steep) summit hikes that take three hours. The rewards equal the effort if you’re game. An easier option is the Picaninny (Bainggug) Walk. It’s 1.5-hours through the open forest and affords views over Dunkeld and the distinct peak of Mt Abrupt.

For your evening pleasure, start by heading to the Dunkeld Arboretum to view sunset before dining at the award-winning Royal Mail Hotel. Book ahead to sample their 5- or 8-course degustation menu at Wickens or go casual at the Parker Street Project.  

Day 4 – Dunkeld to Wartook Valley

Start the day with a 20-minute drive to Hamilton for coffee and brekkie at Jack + Jude; it opens at 7am. After you’ve fuelled up, head to Nigretta Falls, particularly if it’s been raining. It’s an easy-viewing photo stop, with tiered rocks that create tumbling falls.

The small town of Cavendish is up next, another 20-minute drive. Settled in the 1850s, Cavendish offers an opportunity to understand the settler history of the Grampians region. The 2km Settlers Walk takes in an old sawmill, farmhouse, and jail, plus there are a ton of birds to spot.

It’s worth stretching out your time in Cavendish until you’re hungry for lunch at the Bunyip Hotel (open Thursday to Sunday). Melbourne foodies drive 3.5hours just to eat here, it’s that good!

Your next stop is to the Aboriginal art at the rock overhang of the Bilimina Shelter, 40 minutes north into the Grampians. Stick figures, kangaroos, and emus make up some of these primitive red ochre paintings.

Wartook Valley is a natural drawcard for the northwestern part of the Grampians, and an ideal place to conclude the day. Magnificent mountains provide the backdrop for the native flora and fauna of the region. Add to this a ton of olive groves, and olive-related yumminess, and you’re onto a winner.

On the sunset side of the Grampians, Wartook Valley’s are famously spectacular, so check the timings and factor it sunset to your day. Whether that’s against the backdrop of an olive grove of a sunset hike at Mt Hollow, is up to you! The latter offers jaw-dropping views across the Wimmera Plains.

Be sure to step outside after sundown, too. The night skies in the Wartook Valley are mind-expanding!

Day 5 – Wartook Valley to Melbourne

If you’re not hiked out or you skipped the sunset hike at Mt Hollow, start the day on the Mt Zero Walk. It’s rocky so sturdy footwear is necessary for this medium-grade hike; allow an hour or so.

Close by; visit the Aboriginal rock art at Guglurn Manja Shelter and Ngamadjidj Shelter. Guglurn Manja translates to ‘hands of the young people’ and is consists of ochre handprints from the younger members of the Jardwadjali people. Ngamadjidj is referred to as the ‘cave of ghosts’ and reveals white stick figures that appear to be dancing. Stone tools were also found here.

If it’s been raining recently, a detour to the lesser-visited Beehive Falls can be worthwhile. It can be a trickle if it’s been dry, however, so make a call on whether the 1.5-hour hike is worth it.

We’re not sure you can even claim you’ve been to this area of Victoria if you don’t have a selfie of you standing at the foot of the iconic Giant Koala in Dadswell. You can also go into the belly of Australia’s most loved marsupial to the gift shop. Random, but true.

You’re on the home stretch back to Melbourne now. Maybe we’re a little bit creepy to recommend a stop in the ghost town of Ararat, but we own it. Seriously, you can tour J Ward, a jail for the criminally insane, as well as visit the abandoned Victorian Aradale Lunatic Asylum. You’ll kinda be glad you’re heading back to such a populous city after hearing a myriad of ghost tales all afternoon.

Bonus suggestions:

More time to explore? Add a day between days 4 and 5 for a side trip to Little Desert National Park. It’s particularly special if you visit from August to October when the wildflowers are blooming. For rock climbing or more hiking, Mt Arapailes-Tooan State Park affords a spectacular opportunity to scale its dramatic rocks.  

Book your JUCY rental now and get exploring!
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