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 DAY 5: THE GRAMPIANS – And the Way Home

I had always wanted to visit The Grampians, a mountain range in mid-west Victoria that is rich in aboriginal history, myth and legend, majestic in its formation, and offering spectacular views of the surrounding region. This brief visit would only allow us a glimpse of the rich joys that lie within the Grampians, yet it was enough; and for me was certainly one of the highlights of this entire ‘Road-Trip’It marked a fitting climax to what I now realize was a kind of spiritual re-awakening.

Patriotic as the following may sound (and why not?), I have fallen back in love with my own country, Australia. After the nightmare of 2015 when I had felt completely lost and isolated, this  wonderful ‘Road-Trip’ with Dan Koh, complimenting earlier excellent ‘country’ experiences  such as doing The Great Ocean Road with my sister Alison, followed by Xmas in Wodonga, has rejuvenated me and made me accept and look forward to this current re-invention of self.

To a certain extend all three of these ‘country’ experiences have been ‘Road-Trips‘. They have all involved traveling by car, re-visiting places one first experienced as a child and teenager, and visiting new places never before experienced. The one common factor, or rather response, in these journeys through the Australian countryside, and in particular rural and coastal South Australia and Victoria, has been the joy and wonder found in marveling at the vast magnificent beauty and great spirituality of the Australian countryside. It has all been rather cathartic, releasing old tensions and dominating and painful pre-occupations of the past, and allowing myself to be more the present. In a very romantic and patriotic sense it is as if I am being healed by my homeland. Welcome back, TK!

The Grampians is very, very, very old, millions of years old; its numerous mountains and sandstone ridges, dating from the Devonian period around 400 millions years ago, suddenly and dramatically rise from the flat plains that surround it. As Dan later commented about one of the mountains, Mt Abrupt, its name is very apt to the whole mountain range.

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Spectacular from the distance there is also within the Grampians numerous places that inspire awe and wonder. It has a considerably diverse range of geological environments, many of which can be visited, such as the mountain lookouts and aboriginal cave sites that are scattered throughout the entire region.

Aborigines have lived in The Grampians for over 20,000 years. The indigenous tribes connected to the region are the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurring people. The aboriginal word for this region is Gariwerd, but the region was named The Grampians in 1836 by Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, after the Grampians in Scotland. There has been some controversy and debate about the given name of the region, which was finally resolved in 1998, the official title now being – Grampians National Park (Geriwerd). Native heritage and history is strongly emphasized throughout the entire region, exemplified by the number of ancient aboriginal cave sights that can be visited and Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre, which is situated near Hall’s Gap, the main town inside the Grampians – and was on our ‘Must See’ list.

In 2006 The Grampians was placed on the Australian National Heritage list, primarily because of the number of aboriginal cave drawings that are scattered throughout the entire mountain range. The year 2006 was also significant for this region due to a catastrophic bushfire that destroyed virtually 50% of the national park. This was followed in 2011 by some major flooding, and what is more a minor 3.8 magnitude earthquake. However, the regrowth of the Australian native forest is truly extraordinary. It is actually called epicormic growth in which young shoots spring out covering the entire tree in quite a strange and yet spectacular manner. You can’t help but marvel at the Australian native bush, which needs fire to regenerate, and how quickly it does so after fire.

Like other mountains ranges and places in Australia, such as the Blue Mountains, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Hanging Rock, Kakadu and the Kimberly’s, the Grampians has within it many places and sites that have a considerable spiritual depth. For indigenous Australians the Grampians, or rather Gariwerd, is a very important place, with many caves containing significant and unique ancient aboriginal drawings and sketches on the cave walls that date back thousands of centuries, and some of which their precise meaning, the figures and symbols, remains a mystery. Nonetheless, Gariwerd holds a central position to aboriginal Dreaming, particularly creation myths the creator, Bunjil. 

Whilst many aspects of the aboriginal Dreaming remain remote, deliberate and/or otherwise, from an Australian ‘white’ experience and sensibility, nonetheless, it is not impossible for this ‘white’ Australian to relish and enjoy many wonderful, imaginative, inspirational and enlightening aspects of the truly extraordinary and deeply spiritual aboriginal Australia’s Dreaming; and which in many cases makes more sense to me that a dry factual analysis. We all like to experience joy and wonder; you can find this in The Grampians. I hope the following will convey that personal joy and wonder that I experienced, encouraging you to think about visiting this truly beautiful place in the world.

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Dunkeld, where we had stayed the night at the Royal Mail Hotel, situated at the southern tip of the Grampians, was the perfect gateway to start our journey into this unique place.

We got up early, taking advantage of the terrific breakfast at the Royal Mail Hotel. Well – we tried to start early; dear Dan, however, is not a morning person. Check out wasn’t until 11am so we decided to have a lazy morning prior to our journey around The Grampians, and then the long drive back to Adelaide; but what a lovely morning! Clear blue sky with some light whisks of white clouds Mt Sturgeon towering in the background above the hotel, looking  majestic in the morning sun, offering a hint of what was to come.

Check out was not until 11am so we decided to have a lazy morning in preparation for the long day ahead. This was a sensible decision as dear Dan is not a morning person. So – whilst Dan remained snuggled up and dozing on the couch in the apartments living room, I went for swim at the hotel’s pool that looked out to Mt Sturgeon.

Dan came and joined me at the pool, having been woken up by native birds, which he continues to hold with considerable disdain and annoyance. First it was my Magpies at my Muggs Hill Road home, quickly followed by the Lorikeets who were steadily demolishing the half-ripen fruit on the plum tree in my garden. Now it was Kookaburras whose insane cackling was part of this morning’s soundtrack and ambience. He saw one fly directly into a glass door, then just sat there as if nothing had happened. I told him that despite their somewhat fierce look, and that they are expert snake killers, Kookaburras are not the brightest of birds.

He then bravely attempted to enter the water, but found it too cold for an actual swim.

We left Dunkeld just after 11am, and just after a brief visit to the excellent second-hand bookstore, Roz Greenwood Old and Rare Books, which is directly opposite the Royal Mail Hotel. 

From Dunkeld we drove north on the Grampian Road up through the centre of The Grampian’s mountain range heading towards Hall’s Gap, passing the very impressive and the aptly titled Mount Abrupt.

Our first pit-stop along the way was Jimmy Creek, a dry creek during Summer and subsequently not currently flowing; but whilst dry on the surface, as I explained to Dan, it was still operating underground. The nearby waterfall was also just a trickle, but enough to grab a refreshing mouthful of water. As we were to later learn, the only waterfalls that were flowing were MacKenzie Falls and its neighbour Broken Falls, both of which we intended to visit.

This was our first walk in The Grampians, and it was wonderful, breathing all that rich mountain air and just being inside an Australian forest – so unique. As well as us  there were a couple of families, and we also passed a tour group that were, according to Dan, wearing United Nations logos. Dan was in a rather mischievous mood; this and the fact that he was constantly falling asleep I put down to all the fresh clean air he was breathing.

Our next stop on the way to Hall’s Gap was the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This was truly wonderful; well set out in lovely grounds and modern buildings that complimented the cultural centre. There were two buildings, the first holding the restaurant and a gift shop and an outside exhibition area – with some rather startling and odd statues; the second building housed the actual museum, as well as being a community centre and performance place. We went immediately to the second building, which was an easy walk through the Centre’s park, with a number of public art statues and other objects on display. Inside this second very modern and impressive two-storey building was the actual museum, with an excellent very informative and well-presented exhibition detailing the indigenous history of the region, as well as indigenous art and culture in general. There was also a classroom/studio dedicated to indigenous art and local artists, and a large meeting room that had on its walls numerous modern works by local artists (couldn’t take any photos as it was prohibited). Immediately outside in front of the building was a Corroboree circle, set in the midst of trees and overlooking a creek. Wonderful – and really worth a visit.

The numerous Caves in the Grampians that contained National Heritage listed aboriginal art and drawings, and which date back centuries, were all associated with 20-30 minutes walks, which we simply did not have the time to do. I was disappointed as I really wanted to see tDSC06126hese cave drawings – particularly those associated with Bunjil Man who is the ‘Creator’ figure for many 18359881212_808b6561d4_baboriginal tribes in Southern Australia. However, I will be back – it will have to wait for another time. I did, however, pick up at the  a sheet explaining the respective figures often found in aboriginal art. This was excellent for me and my beautiful dot painting Women Dreaming / Goanna Dreaming by Helen Nelson Napaljarri.

We had lunch at the cafe/restaurant. Dan had fish, whilst I was slightly more adventurous and had a Kangaroo Pie, which was accompanied by the most delicious native tomato relish and chutney. Very pleasant sitting outside, despite the heat, and fun to be in the company of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo who was eating in a nearby tree. Dan, however, added this breed of bird to his ‘I hate Birds’ list; and whilst I love Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos I did inform him that they are terrors in that they will gnaw and eat through virtually anything.

After lunch we got directions to our next pit-stop, the Boronka Lookout, from the very helpful young woman at the Centre’s Information Desk: ‘Just turn left at the Police Station – You can’t miss it’. So – we drove down Grampian Road and through Hall’s Gap, which was very busy, nearly missing the turn-off – couldn’t see the Police Station, but there was a small sign – we giggled. We turned left going westward and upward along the winding and somewhat ominously named Mt Difficult Road to reach the Boronka Lookout.

The Boronka Lookout is about 15kms from Hall’s Gap and is one of the most popular and visited of the numerous mountain lookouts in the Grampians. This is partly because it is easily accessible, not requiring a lengthy trekking to reach the two viewing platforms. From these two platforms you look respectively eastward and then southward, and the views they offer are absolutely gob-smacking wonderful. The two connected vistas offer an enormous canvas that ranges from the vast plains below stretching eastward and to the north-east as far as the eye can see, and to the south and south-west the rugged mountain ridges and valleys that lie in the heart of the Grampians. 

Boronka Lookout – First Viewing Platform

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The only draw-back from this experience, and it was literally and figuratively an actual draw-back, was the somewhat reckless behaviour by a group of young adolescent girls who ignoring all the warning signs had climbed over the steel fences to stand at the edge of the rather precipitous and formidable cliff face in order to take ‘selfies’. This was dangerous and rather stupid, as the edge and the rock shelf that were playing around on was not safe, as all the signs stated. I said something – but of course was completely ignored. Still – it was a little unsettling to watch them so we quickly went to the nearby second viewing platform.

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There were two young Park Wardens at the Second Platform, chatting casually to a group of adults. I mentioned to them about the adolescent girls who were behaving recklessly on the unsafe cliff edges; didn’t get the response I expected; more a casual shrug and expression of indifference. Oh well – different times – different attitudes – so why bother – just enjoy the view – and move on.

From the Boronka Lookout we drove further westward down to Reeds Lookout and The Balconies, which the friendly young woman at Information Desk at the Brambuk Cultural Centre said was her favourite of the various lookouts in The Grampians.

We then walked along a easy track to the lookout known as The Balconies; due to the numerous rock/sandstone shelves in the extremely precipitous cliff faces in this area. Along this track there was a section that had on either side a vast collection of stone cairns, which I think were associated with indigenous funeral markers, like headstones in ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ graveyards. Very strange – very mysterious.

We finally reached The Balconies and the view was again simply stunning. As with the other lookout there was a group of young people who disregarded signs about staying on the path, keeping behind the barriers and fences, and not going near the cliff faces due to their instability. This group of teenagers, however, were a lot more sensible and polite, and their enthusiasm and excitement was very engaging. They cautiously approached the cliff edges, never going right to the edge, and they courteously got out of the way when asked by me and others in regard to taking photographs of the surrounding spectacular beauty.

Looking eastward at the nearby ruggered grey-stoned ridges that spread before us it is relatively easy to see why Sir Thomas Mitchell was reminded of The Grampians in Scotland, and hence naming this mountain range after them, as the terrain is very similiar in his epic scale and severity. Looking south, however, to the distant shilouteeted mountains that seemed to be blanked in a rich deep blue, it was a breathtaking view that was distinctly Australian.

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Dan asked what caused this colouration.  I explained that this was partly due to the eucalyptus trees and their interaction with the environment, the subsequent result being this extraordinary natural blue that adds to the joy, wonder and mystery of such mountain ranges. I told him that this unique natural occurrence is common in many of the mountain regions in Australia, particularly The Great Dividing Range that goes up virtually the entire east coast of Australia, and includes the Snowy Mountains in the south and the Daintree and Cape Tribulation in the north (near Cairns); it is also how the Blue Mountains west of Sydney gained their name and identity.

From The Balconies we drove further westward to our final pit-stop – MacKenzie Falls. This and its neighbour, Broken Falls, in the Summer months were the only mountain falls with clear running water to be seen. They lay at the bottom of a gully, reachable by a well trodden and maintained path with steps that at times were very steep. We decided that we would first walk to a lookout that looked down at the two waterfalls.

Along the way to this lookout there were signs about the natural vegetation and flora that surrounded us. One of the things that makes this walk rather special is the number of ‘Black Boys’, a very unique species of native plant,  which are clearly visible and present. They have this name due to the round stump, and/or trunk that holds up the green vegetation of this native plant. These They are no longer referred to as ‘Black Boys’ due to the racial connotation; but the modern name also reflects that the attempt to find a universally accepted  new name has proved to be a bit elusive. In this case, they were called Kangaroo Tails. Whilst there may be a justifiable reason for all this, nonetheless, this speices of native Australian flora is still generally referred to as ‘Black Boys’. They are a fascinating plant  with a number of distinctive features, not just the black stump. For example, it can take up to 6 years for a young plant to mature and develop, which is quite a long time in the plant kingdom. Furthermore, once upon a time, they were a major feature of many native forests. Sadly, over the last two centuries their numbers have considerably diminished in the wild. Some of this is because of bush fires that has ravaged a particular region, such as The Grampians, but also The Adelaide Hills. Their numbers have also declined due to people stealing them from national parks, as well as their own neighbours. People pay exorbidant prices for them, put them in a garden, only to discover a few days later that they have mysteriously disappeared – stolen! Dan was shocked! ‘People really steal this plant?!’ – Well – yes – it’s supposed to have special healing qualities; and in certain cases the owner has them chained up and locked into the earth in order to to prevent thieves from just whisking them away. Dan then suggested that we should take one now. I pointed out to him that that would be illegal and besides ‘Look at the size of them; the ones in front of us. They would weigh tons’. LOL.

But – I digress…

Walk to MacKenzie Falls Lookout

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MacKenzie Falls Lookout

 

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Broken Falls

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We then walked back to the path that took one down to the bottom of MacKenzie Falls. You could see from the lookout that it was a very steep descent; but there were a number of people around, either descending or ascending, and a gathering at the bottom of the falls. It was now, however, very hot, and Dan decided he would rather sit in the car than do the climb down and climb up. I went, saying I wish I could take my board-shorts and just quickly jump into the large pool at the bottom of the falls, freezing though the mountain water may be. Little did I know that it would take me nearly an hour to get down and back again; and I should have taken my board-shorts as, despite signs saying not to, there were a number of people swimming in the base pool.

MacKenzie Falls

From the top of the falls to about mid-way to the bottom there is actually what could be called multiple cascades and smaller waterfalls that eventually all come together for the final spectacular waterfall.

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THE GRAMPIANS - VIEW 4- MACKENZIES FALLS

The final descent is quite steep, but it is a solid stone staircase for most of the way, with little balcony type inlets to wait for others to pass up or down, or to take a rest. Once at the base of MacKenzie Falls, however, it is a little paradise. There were a number of people simply resting and placing their feet in the cool mountain water; there were also a number of young people who were swimming the large pool at the bottom of the falls, and/or standing under the waterfall, letting the water cascade over their heads. Damn it! I should have brought by boardies!

The journey back to the top was a bit tough. It was no very very hot!!! I drank some fresh clear running mountain water from a stream after the falls, but I didn’t have any water carrier with me. I had to take a couple of rests on the way up – still snapping away with my camera.

By the time I reached Dan and the car I was very dehydrated and exhausted. I was also very excited as I was glad that I went to the base of the MacKenzie Falls, even though it had eaten  considerably into our valuable time.

We were still determined to drive to Adelaide, so I worked out the most direct route, which in this case meant crossing the Grampians and traveling south for a bit down the western side of the range on the Henty Highway until we reach the town of Cavendish. We would then take a right turn and head westward to the Victorian towns of Balmoral and Harrow. Cavendish, Balmoral, Harrow? I was intrigued by these towns and their very English names, and wondered if they were anything like their English counterparts. We then would drive on to Edenthorpe, joining the Wimmera Highway until Naracoorte, then on to the Riddoch Highway until Keith, then the Dukes Highway to Murray Bridge, which would then bring us to South Eastern Freeway that would take us all the way home to Adelaide and Muggs Hill Road. 

I was so exhausted after MacKenzie Falls that it was clear that unless Dan took over the driving for a bit we would never make it to Adelaide. We agreed that he would take over after I had driven us down from The Grampians and began our journey south to turn off to Balmoral.

I told Dan the towns to look out for in order to make the correct turn right that would get us heading directly westward. Inevitably this meant that we would not always be traveling along designated highways but on small country back streets and short-cuts. This all seemed doable from the information we had on our available maps and GPS. I only had one stipulation – that we don’t take and go down any dirt roads. From my experience, this inevitably leads to some sort of disaster and reversal.  Dan took over the driving whilst I had a nap, and he successfully got us the small country town of Balmoral.

Balmoral isn’t anything like its Scottish namesake – well – at least from what we saw, which was only the main street. In the park opposite the Balmoral Hotel I was taken with a rather eclectic number of strange objects inside the park, including a Xmas Tree and WW2 anti-aircraft gun.

I took over the driving and from Balmoral we continued to Harrow – where I missed an important turn-off and mistakenly took the road to Robe. I realized my mistake after about an hour’s driving; searched for quick alternative routes and traveled along back country sealed roads until we rejoined the Riddoch Highway, which after the town of Keith becomes the  Dukes Highway that would take us all the way back to Adelaide.

The consequence of my mistake, however, was that it was now sunset. The very last thing I wanted to be doing was driving at this time and at night. It wasn’t just because of the wild animals, kangaroos and koala, as well as rabbits and foxes etc, but also because I am a little intimidated by the numerous large truck that speed along the main roads at this time. I did, however, have another wild animal sitting right next to me who was hungry. I had realized something endearing about Mr Dan Koh – that when he says he is hungry it is best to feed him asap!

We kept passing through small towns, but there was nothing open. I told Dan that there was bound to be something in Keith the next major town on the highway. However, about 12 kms before we reached Keith Dan spotted a hotel on the right-hand side of the road – the Willalooka Hotel. It was open and looked rather busy judging from the number of cars parked out the front. We pulled in and Dan went inside to see if they were serving food.They were – thank heaven! It was a very friendly Australian hotel, taking our orders as take-aways and inviting us to have a drink whilst we waited. The hotel was relatively busy with a number of people sitting down to eat quite large meals of various kinds of meat, or fish, and all with a huge pile of fried chips. I couldn’t work out if the clientele were mainly locals or tourists as they also had accommodation available out the back in the hotel’s rather large grounds. Dan waited for our meals whilst I went out to snap pics of the sunset.

Once we got our meals we wolfed them down – mine was a simple Aussie Burger with the works, and it was delicious; Dan had fish and chips (as usual) and also said that it was very good. Thank you Willalooka Hotel.

Dan offered to drive but I thought it best that I do it considering the possible hazards and challenges of driving at this time of night – animals and trucks! The final part of the journey, however, was uneventful and we reached Adelaide and my Muggs Hill home about midnight. Unpacked and then straight to bed.

And so our ‘Road-Trip’ had come to an end. It had been wonderful – all of it – Robe and The Limestone Coast, The Great Ocean Road, and The Grampians. We had certainly crammed in and achieved a lot for such a short trip, discovering wonderful parts of Australia hitherto unseen – marvelous. I am also very glad that Dan was my companion on the ‘Road-Trip’, and that he enjoyed it, albeit perhaps for different reasons, just as much as I.

This chapter of ‘Dan Does Adelaide’ was over; but we still had a couple of more days before Dan was to fly back to Singapore, which I intended to make as interesting and diverse as possible. So – just a little bit more of ‘Dan Does Adelaide’ to come….