A long weekend spent in the Grampians exploring the beauty and finding some unexpected gems.
During the Australia Day long weekend, I joined a group of nine other women from the amazing group Melbourne Girls Outside (MGO) for a getaway in the Grampians. I've mentioned them in previous posts, having done quite a few hikes (like the George Bass Coastal Walk) as well as other more adventurous activities (such as the Aerial Silks Class). I'm also a leader with the group, and along with my friend Cayley, we organised a three day long weekend away in the Grampians.
First we had to find somewhere for a group of 10 women to stay where we wouldn't be on top of each other and that wasn't too pricey. Cayley was a champion in finding this place to stay - the Kailash Mountain Collective, and let me say, we couldn't have found a more perfect place. As a group who love the outdoors, and health & wellness, this was the best accommodation for us. Kailash is run by David and Rajni, a fantastic couple who were the best hosts we could've hoped for. Both of them are very spiritual and are more than willing to share their beliefs and practices, as well as their personal stories.
Kailash is located in Wartook, which made it a great base of operations for us. The Grampians are enormous and there's so much to see, so having somewhere central was important for our stay. In addition to the location and our hosts, the retreat has a number of unique and fascinating aspects to explore. First off are the millions of kangaroos that come out to play every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset. If you're looking to see some local wildlife (including echidnas, emus, goannas and koalas), then this is definitely the place for you.
Next there is the fantastic yurt that was hand built by David himself. He has done an amazing job in creating a space that is both warm and welcoming, as well as spiritual and peaceful. Our entire group loved taking part in classes in here (more on that later).
Next there is the tipi - located away from the other buildings, it overlooks the stunning Grampians mountains and even has space for a fire. Again, this was built by David and he's done a wonderful job.
Finally, the best part - the lodge. I can't say enough about how great this place was to stay, especially with a group of awesome women. It was like a three day slumber party and the lodge was the perfect setting.
There are so many beds in this place that it's almost like a dorm! For those that want a whole room to themselves (or are couples) there are two rooms with double beds, as well as another room with two single beds, and another room with two sets of bunk beds. These are all located on the ground floor. Upstairs there are four small single bedrooms, as well as an open plan area that contains a double bed and half a dozen singles.
I was one of the girls who slept upstairs in the open plan area, and we spent hours giggling and whispering to each other in the dark, or else pretending to be asleep and secretly peering over the banister to watch everyone in the living room below (we may or may not have dropped pillows on their heads when the conversation got boring - just to liven things up!).
All up, Kailash has 18 beds that can sleep up to 25 people, as well as another five glamping tents that can sleep an additional 25 people. Let me tell you, if you're looking for a retreat in the Grampians region that is unique and heart warming, then this is the place for you!
This is a short video of the inside of the lodge that Cayley took before we all arrived.
Meditation and Yoga
Having arrived the night before after we all finished work, we woke up super early to participate in a sunrise meditation class with David and Rajni. This is one of the best parts of staying at Kailash - the extras. David and Rajni are both experienced teachers of a number of wellness practices and offer their services to guests for a donation - an offer we gladly took up every single day!
We were all booked in to do the sunrise meditation session, and since it was a sunrise session (and it was January in the middle of summer) that meant getting up really early. I'm not going to name names, but I will say that some of us don't do so well first thing in the morning, and that some of us may or may not have briefly nodded off during said meditation session. However, the yurt is a gorgeous and quiet space to help find that inner peace.
After our early wake up, we then had ourselves booked in a couple of hours later for an 8am yoga class. Now personally, I'm not very flexible and I'm definitely not very coordinated, so this class was somewhat more difficult for me than the others. David ran a simple class though so I didn't feel too far out of my depth. Afterwards we ate our breakfasts outside in the glorious sunshine and got ready for the day ahead.
After our our early wake up, breakfast outside, and plenty of coffee, it was time to head off for our first full day of hiking. There are a million different options in the Grampians and for our first hike we'd decided on Hollow Mountain. It's not a terribly long hike, but believe me, what it lacks in distance it definitely makes up for in difficulty, skill, and the views. Oh man, the views; they really were magnificent.
Click through the photos above to see just how awesome this place is.
The walk starts from the Hollow Mountain car park, and there's heaps of space so you don't have to worry too much. What I will say is that there isn't a lot of shade so if you're going in summer, definitely aim for an earlier start in the day to avoid some of the worst heat. There is a toilet block in the main car park area, but it's very basic (long drop toilets), so keep that in mind (might be a good idea to bring a roll of loo paper with you). After parking the cars, we all shouldered our day packs and set off (keep in mind to bring plenty of water and a phone or camera to take pictures of the amazing views).
Hollow Mountain has a number of walks, but we did the 2.2km hike to the peak which sounded fairly simple, but believe me it requires some skill, some fitness and for those who are afraid of heights, some guts. There were times when we were scrambling over boulders, crawling through gaps in the rock, or else inching our way around some sheer cliff face drops. Make sure you have really good shoes for this walk, at the very minimum a good pair of runners, but proper hiking shoes would be better as you really do need the grip and stability.
This is a medium (grade 4) hike, and is relatively well sign posted. Basically you need to follow the arrows that are attached to the rocks, and make sure to take some time to explore the various caves and crevices along the way. After doing the rock scramble all the way to the top, and snapping the obligatory Insta-worthy photos, we pulled out our mid-morning snacks and just sat down, taking in the breathtaking scenery around us. The climb up was tough, requiring a lot of rock scrambling and some very serious cliff edges that had those of us who are afraid of heights taking an extra deep breath. However, it was all worth it a million times over.
Eventually it was time to make the trek back down to the cars to head off for our next destination. On the way down, we worked as a team to help each other through some of the more difficult sections. Keep in mind that going up is one thing, but coming back down is another. In fact, I would say that whilst it was strenuous in some areas getting up, the steepness and the unstable ground made coming down more precarious. Just be sure to take your time and help each other.
The Grand Canyon
Once we were back at the cars, we all piled in and headed off. Next up? The Grand Canyon. This hike is usually done as a circuit of approximately 9kms and taking around 5 hours. However, it was the middle of summer and the middle of the day, plus we'd already done the hike up to Hollow Mountain. We therefore made the decision to just do the smaller circuit of the Grand Canyon, starting from Wonderland Car Park.
Wonderland car park is easy enough to find, but boy is it busy! There were cars parked on every available surface and for miles down the road. The place was crawling with tourists and other hikers. There's really no secret to finding a parking space though I'm afraid, you'll just have to keep a sharp eye out for anyone that might be leaving and stalk them to their spot! Additionally, there is a toilet block here as well, but again it's a long drop toilet that smells pretty bad, so use it at your own risk.
We did have an awesome time hiking and climbing our way around the Canyon though. It was only about 1-2 kms but there was so much to see. There were groups doing abseiling down the cliffs that looked super fun (will have to keep that in mind for next time). The track itself was a mixture of gravel, rock scrambling, metal stairs and everything in between. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is unsteady on their feet or anyone without some sort of fitness. It's also very busy so you'll need to be patient as there were frequent traffic jams. Keep in mind as well, that there is basically no shade for this entire hike, so if you're there during the day make sure you bring a hat and plenty of water.
Taking photos was definitely half the fun, but with so many people around it can get a little tricky. Luckily the word "Instagram" breaks through all kinds of language barriers and I was able to negotiate with a lovely Chinese girl to swap taking photos of each other's groups. She was there with her family, so I took some pics of them, before we swapped and she took some shots of our group.
By now we were all extremely hot and tired, not to mention hungry. So once we'd trudged our way back to the main car park, we found a much needed spot of shade, plopped down on the ground and pulled out our packed lunches. Ah food!
With our temperatures back down, it was time to head to our final destination for the afternoon - Venus Baths. This is a wonderful, easy walk that takes you through to a lovely rock formation with fresh, cool, clear water running through (although it does dry up in summer so there wasn't as much running water in January). If the water is stagnant it's not a good idea to take a dip, but if the water is flowing then definitely bring your bathers along and hop in. Seeing as it was now mid-afternoon (i.e. the hottest part of the day), this was a welcome break.
Venus Baths are one of the Grampians National Park's most unique and stunning attractions, where Stony Creek flows over a beautiful sandstone shelf, creating pools of flowing water with sloping stone walls either side. The walk to the Venus Baths starts in the centre of Halls Gap at the car park of the caravan park. It's about a 2.3km circuit walk which is extremely easy, including crossing over a lovely little bridge.
As we were there during the hottest part of the year, the water was only flowing as a trickle, however it was still enough to fill a couple of wonderful little pools. These rock pools have been carved into the stone naturally over time, and provide a great place for a cool dip on a hot day. We arrived at about 3pm and unfortunately by this time the pools were quite busy. We hadn't actually brought bathing suits with us, but our touch hiking boots and thick woolen hiking socks were boiling and we couldn't wait to take them off and soak them in the little stream (don't worry, we did it downstream from the rock pools!).
After a long day of hiking in the hot sun, we were all tired and ready for some dinner. Luckily, as part of our amazing accommodation package, David and Rajni were cooking a big buffet style BBQ for us. When we got back to Kailash it was all ready for us and we immediately sat down to eat. We invited David and Rajni to join us and were delighted when they took us up on the offer. The conversations over delicious food were fantastic and there was a real sense of community and connection.
Reeds Lookout & The Balconies
After dinner, some of us wanted to check out the sunset at the famed Reeds Lookout & The Balconies. These two lookouts are located walking distance from each other and share a car park, and are the most magical vistas you're likely to see for a long time. Whilst I'm sure they'd be lovely to see at sunrise (and you will no doubt have smaller crowds), sunset is really the time to see these places in all their glory.
Again, like many other places within the Grampians, this place is incredibly popular with tourists and sightseers, so be prepared to get there a bit early before sunset to find a good spot. Additionally, the car parking situation can be challenging so be prepared to do a bit of hunting and stalking!
Reeds Lookout is the first lookout and is located on the right hand side of the car park. It's quite a small area, but the views are magnificent! We actually were incredibly naughty and jumped the fence to take a quick pic on the little rocky ledge. It was very naughty but the photo op was just too good to pass up...
After you get your fill of the views from Reeds Lookout, it's time to head up the trail to The Balconies. Now this is a bit of a walk, so keep that in mind if you're wanting to see both lookouts. The sun goes down quite quickly and this is a 2km walk (although it's an easy walk), so make sure you allow yourself enough time. When you get there, you'll see a tonne of people and a majority of them will have jumped the various fences to get some really amazing positions! Below is a pic of what you're likely to see...
The views from here are stunning though, so I highly recommend you take the time to check out both Reeds Lookout from the car park, and then walk up the track to The Balconies. It's the perfect way to finish up your day.
Note: Keep in mind that you're going to see the sun set, meaning you'll be walking back in the dark to the car park. The trail is clear and even, but it goes through the bush so there's almost no light. You'll need to make sure you have a flashlight or a phone with a light so you can make your way back safely.
Sound Healing and MacKenzie Falls
The next morning we took up yet another option for a class, this time a Sound Healing session. This was perhaps a little more "woo-woo" than I was accustomed to, but I was willing to broaden my horizons and try something new. Let me tell you, it was the absolute best class any of us had ever had. It was fantastic, and we all left the hour long session feeling rejuvenated and peaceful. I would highly recommend that if you choose to stay at Kailash that you take up the offer to try some of these classes.
After yet another breakfast outside in the glorious morning sunshine, we piled into the cars again, this time headed for MacKenzie Falls.
Now here's the thing about MacKenzie Falls; it's beautiful, it's busy, and it's a big effing climb to get back up to the damn car park!!! I swear I nearly had a stroke climbing back up that damn cliff! But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's start at the beginning.
MacKenzie Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Victoria. Flowing year round, the falls sees water cascade over huge cliffs into a deep pool, sending fine sprays of rainbow mist high into the air above a stunning gorge. There are a number of places from which to view the falls, the first being the easy, one-kilometre path to the viewing platform at the Bluff (wheelchair accessible). The second being the steep trail to the base of the falls.
After checking out the falls from above at the Bluff viewing platform, we then proceeded down the very steep trail/staircase that leads to the base of the falls. As we were there during summer, it was really hot, and there were also masses of people. In fact, the trail is so steep and narrow that there were regular traffic jams as people tried to squeeze past each other to get through. Not to mention, the level of fitness required to climb back up meant that there were quite a few people who were seriously struggling (e.g. grandmas that were wearing flip flops and no hats). Here's a pic of what part of the climb looked like...
What I will say is that the views are totally worth it!
From the base of the main climb down at the bottom of the falls, you have a fantastic view up at the falls (see video above). Additionally, you can make your way across the river and stand on the opposite bank. There were a lot of people hanging out there, and even a few that jumped into the big pool at the base of the falls. This is actually not permitted though, so I wouldn't recommend it.
From the falls, there is then a further walk that you can take across the river and along its banks. I'm not actually sure how far this is but it's a gorgeous trek. The ground can be quite uneven in places to make sure you're wearing good footwear (runners at least). We spent some time sitting in a quite spot in the sunshine with our feet dangling in the water and having a snack somewhere along the river which was absolutely lovely.
We spent a few hours at MacKenzie Falls, walking and eating and just enjoying the views. After a while though it was time to head back up that horrible climb. Let me just say that doing it in the blazing sun in the middle of summer is not recommended. It was a very tough walk for those of us with only a moderate level of fitness (and who stupidly didn't bring shorts to wear).
Once we did make it back to the top though, we discovered there was another short walking track available which we decided to check out. It took us around through the bush and we came out at the top of a fantastic lookout over the Grampians and the falls below.
After we'd had enough sightseeing and baking in the hot sun, we headed into the town of Hall's Gap which is not far. This is a lovely little country town and home to some wonderful gems - including two ice cream shops and a fantastic place called Flame Brothers.
We immediately headed for one of the ice cream shops and stocked up on the sweet delicious cold treat that was heaven when we were feeling so hot. Having had a fantastic dinner the night before cooked by David and Rajni, and after a huge day our and about, none of us felt like fending for ourselves for dinner, so I suggested we book into one of the local restaurants for dinner. After having a wander around the town, we stopped in at the local information centre to get a local's advice on where to eat. Eventually we decided on Flame Brothers and booked a table.
All of us were hot and sweaty so we agreed we'd head back to Kailash to have showers and dress up a bit before heading back into Halls Gap for dinner. It was a fantastic evening with really great food. Flame Brothers have a wonderful menu and there was something for everyone. If I had to put a label on it, I'd say the food is slightly geared toward the American style, with burgers, fried chicken, smoked meats (the brisket was awesome) and plenty of side offerings (including my favourite - mac n cheese). It was a brilliant evening sitting outside in the warm evening with an amazing group of women telling hilarious stories.
With our bellies full and our legs tired, we headed back home for our last night at Kailash and then the long drive home the next morning. Before falling into bed though, we did make the trek out to see Reeds Lookout and the Balconies just one last time.
The Grampians are one of the most famous places to visit in Victoria for a reason. We could've spent a week there and still not seen everything. The hikes we did and the places we saw won't be forgotten anytime soon, and no doubt a number of us will be heading back there again in the not too distant future. If I could offer one piece of advice though it would be that perhaps the height of summer isn't the best time of the year to visit. The heat and the low water meant that the scenery wasn't as lush or green as it could be, and it also made for some challenging conditions in which to do our hikes. However, it was still a magical weekend.
If you do decide to check out the Grampians and want something a bit different, do look into staying at Kailash Collective as it's a wonderful and unique experience. Also, remember to take plenty of water, good footwear and a camera, it's well worth the effort!
Until next time,