Somewhere around Ararat, flat farmland starts to crumple upwards in the distance. Crank up your car’s loudspeakers with suitably stirring music – Yothu Yindu or Cold Chisel perhaps – because ever-more dramatic landscapes will fill your windscreen as you approach the Grampians in western Victoria.
The Grampians are dramatic, with high sandstone peaks and mighty cliffs. Lakes glimmer, waterfalls tumble, and wildlife is everywhere. Small wonder that Indigenous people have admired what they call Gariwerd for millennia. Rock overhangs are covered with their art.
At Halls Gap, a three-hour drive from Melbourne, you’re already enveloped in rugged landscapes, which makes it the region’s gateway for most visitors. You’re missing out, though, if this is as far as you explore, since several other Grampians towns not only make for great bases, but will encourage you to tour the region for longer than just a weekend.
Lift your foot from the pedal, leave your urban need to rush behind, and take a week to discover wide-open spaces, food and wine, nature, outdoor adventure, and a touch of history, too.
Find the best Grampians town for you from the list below
If you take a driving holiday and tour the Grampians clockwise, you’ll shortly come to Pomonal. It’s only 13 kilometres from Halls Gap but already you’ll find more elbow room and a slower pace.
Couples will find this an attractive alternative, with springtime adding an extra touch of romance as pear and apple orchards blossom and wild flowers carpet the hillsides.
Five luxury lodges at Boroka Downs provide a suitably secluded overnight in beautiful countryside. Another kickback luxury accommodation option is Mt Cassel Villa, where you can gaze over the vineyards of Pomonal Estate, which not only has a cellar door, but a microbrewery that produces cider and beer.
Relax into this part of the Grampians by visiting other wineries such as Fallen Giants, farm gates such as Five Ducks Farm for seasonal berries, preserves and ice cream, and Red Rock Olives for fresh olives and olive oil.
You’ll also want to call at James McMurtrie Glass Blowing studio to see molten glass magically transformed into sculptural bowls with shapes inspired by nature.
Drive south and you pass through Moyston, the birthplace of Australian Rules Football in the 1850s. If you’re peckish, stop by Moyston General Store for some Persian-influenced food that demonstrates the delightfully cosmopolitan influences of the region’s country towns.
For an experience of a working cattle and sheep station, stay overnight at the 1869 Shearers’ Quarters at Mount William Station between Moyston and Willaura deep in eastern Grampians farming country, where plump lambs frolic and fields explode yellow with rapeseed in spring.
Dunkeld & District Historical Museum, housed in an 1865 bluestone church, provides an overview of the town’s Indigenous, explorer and early settler history. Kids will be agog at the chamber pots, mangles, old-fashioned telephones and other household items.
Dunkeld is great for nature-lovers and energetic families. Dunkeld Arboretum features 700 trees including significant oaks and spectacular red gums, as well as a labyrinth and old sawmill. Outcrops in the area are also beautifully reflected in its lakes.
A steep, three-hour-return walk to the top of Mt Abrupt is worth it for the views and peregrine falcons that drift overhead. Meanwhile a drive through Victoria Valley, prettily sandwiched between two rugged ranges, connects you with farmland noted for its production of Australia’s finest merino wool, destined for the high end fashion labels. Also home to award winning painter Ros McArthur, known for her still life, landscape and contemporary work.
Views on the easy, wildflower-studded Piccaninny (Bainggug) walk are glorious, and supply terrific views over Dunkeld and Mt Abrupt for your efforts.
Dunkeld’s accommodation options include Aquila Eco Lodges on the slopes of Mt Abrupt, where walking tracks bring encounters with kangaroos, wallabies and emus, and the chic Royal Mail Hotel in town, where two-hatted Wickens restaurant is one of Australia’s best regional dining experiences.
As you continue your Grampians Way loop, pause at Cavendish to follow the Settlers Walk, an hour’s stroll along riverbanks where birds flit between red gums. Revive yourself on pub grub at the 1840s Bunyip Hotel before swinging north to Wartook.
Wartook provides some of the Grampians’ most rugged mountain scenery for active, adventurous travellers who want to explore by 4WD, mountain bike or on foot. Don’t miss the Beehive Falls and steep scramble up Mt Zero for great views.
You’ll find abundant Aboriginal rock art in the Wartook Valley, such as human stick figures and animal tracks at Billimina and the unusual white-clay paintings at Ngamadjidj Shelter, which show sixteen painted figures.
Stay at Meringa Springs for luxury rural lodgings and the chance for a wallow in a heated infinity pool with Wartook Valley views. Alternatively, Kangaroos in the Top Paddock is a cosy cottage with a fireplace where you can watch kangaroos graze at sunset.
Take the road back towards Halls Gap, visiting MacKenzie Falls on the way, and you’ve joined the circle on the Grampians Way. Wine lovers and gourmets, though, will want to take in Great Western, a half-hour to the east on the return towards Melbourne.
Winemakers planted vines here in the 1860s. The warm days and cool nights of this Shiraz Central wine region create perfect conditions for both Shiraz and cabernet.
Best’s Great Western cellar door is housed in stables dating from 1866. At Seppelt Wines, which has a notably sophisticated Shiraz, you can enjoy a tour or progressive dining experience in labyrinthine cellars.
Other wineries include Grampians Estate and ATR Wines where the surrounding eucalyptus forest is loud with cockatoos. The Great Western Hotel has the Grampians’ biggest wine list, making you dither over the best drop to accompany slow-cooked ribs or lamb rump.
You’ll find quirky accommodation at several vineyards including Winery Glamping at Seppelt and Railway Bed & Breakfast in a refurbished railway carriage at Miners Ridge vineyard. Hounds Run Vineyard has a beautifully scenic cellar door and an elevated, off-grid Tiny House with spectacular views.
Farmland rolls into the distance and, on the horizon, the Grampians are jagged purple with evening promise, as if inviting you to return.