1200km, 8 days, 6 National Parks – all in a tiny VW up!
Over Christmas and New Year the office of my company is usually closed and everyone gets a few weeks off. Instead of staying in Melbourne and watching the fireworks on New Years Eve (yawn...) I chucked all my camping gear in the car and drove off to check out some great places in Northern Victoria, then return to Melbourne via The Grampians and Great Ocean Road in an epic road trip.
I started planning this trip about two days before I left, and the most important thing for me was to not do much planning at all. It all started by looking up the Parks Victoria website and clicking through some National Parks, ideally up North, in the Victorian outback. Pretty soon I had decided on Murray Sunset and Hattah-Kulkyne National Parks as my destinations for the first couple of days.
Some of my friends always go camping near Cape Otway in January, so I thought I could visit them on my way back. And I had always wanted to return to one of my favourite places in Victoria: The Grampians. With this, my rough itinerary was complete.
The first night I camped at Lake Crosbie in Murray Sunset, after driving several hundred kilometres from Melbourne via Bendigo. Sadly the lakes had all dried up, but they had left incredible salt flats on which you can walk. I had always wanted to see a salt lake, so this was a great experience.
It was very hot and dry, around 40ºC and because of feral bees it was difficult to use the bore water taps on the campground, but I had plenty of water with me. Still it was a great spot to camp, because it gave me a real outback feeling and I had missed that. For me, the Northern Territory is still the most beautiful place in Australia.
The next morning I spent an hour or two following a walking track around the area before it became too hot. For the first time I also saw Western Grey Kangaroos. Murray Sunset National Park is quite large, but it appears most of it is limited to 4WD cars, so I decided to drive to Hattah-Kulkyne National Park close by, for the second night.
After about two hours driving I arrived at Lake Mournpall campground. Again it was a beautiful location, next to flooded areas. A few other campers were there already. I walked around the campground to find the best spot to stay, when suddenly a massive branch broke off one of the trees and crashed into the water. The same would happen later at night, only metres away from my tent, scaring the hell out of me.
It felt even hotter than the day before, the best I could do was sit in the shade, try not to move and wait for sunset. After sunset however the campground became alive, with ants crawling out of their holes where they had been sitting out the heat of the day. I could not sit or stand in one place for more than two seconds.
The following day the weather changed completely. It was overcast, not as hot, and even looked like rain. I still decided to try Lake Mournpall walk, despite a warning that parts of the track may be flooded.
After about an hour I then actually arrived at a dead end, the track was flooded and there was no way around it. I had to retrace back to the campground. The reason I still wasn't too upset about it was that I spotted an emu nearby and took some photos. I think the last wild emu I had encountered in the bush was in 2008.
It looked rainy and there were no other walking tracks, so I packed up and left. I wasn't sure if I was going to drive all the way to The Grampians, but at least in that direction.
On the way towards The Grampians I stopped by Wyperfeld National Park and I considered staying for the night. When I arrived the park seemed completely deserted. Nobody there, not even at the visitor’s centre where I spent some time studying the park information and maps.
I decided to drive around the main campground, which was very large, but empty. The facilities were occupied by wild bees and not very inviting. My feeling was I might be visiting the park at the wrong time of the year and should drive on the The Grampians, but before I left I at least drove on the James Barrett Nature Drive around the park and walked up to a viewing platform along the track.
On my way to Halls Gap I drove through heavy rainfalls. I arrived late but still managed to get an unpowered site at one of the campgrounds. Just when I set up camp the rain stopped. The drop in temperature compared to Northern Victoria was remarkable, at least 20ºC. I chose to stay at a commercial campground because it’s nice to have access to facilities at least every couple of days.
I ended up staying for three nights. One thing I love about The Grampians, and Halls Gap in particular, is the amount of wildlife around. Even on commercial campgrounds you’ll see kangaroos, cockatoos and kookaburras. They seem to be used to visitors.
In the morning I walked up the Pinnacle track to a viewing platform. After lunch I drove to Brambuk Cultural Centre which offers plenty of information on the park and its Aboriginal history. There are also some easy walking tracks, on which I saw a lot of kangaroos and a very unimpressed echidna.
Here is a video I made of the echidna:
My next stop was at MacKenzie Falls, possibly one of the most crowded places in The Grampians but beautiful nonetheless. With a little bit of daylight left I also visited Reed lookout and Boroka lookout. Most of them are places I had already visited in 2008 and going there again brought up great memories of my first weeks in Australia.
The campground I stayed on was a starting point for a whole network of short walks, and on the following day I walked up to Chatauqua Peak where I came across a lot of wildlife again.
After two days bushwalking in The Grampians I packed up and hit the road again, towards Blanket Bay in Great Otway National Park. On the way there I did countless short breaks to take photos or go on short walks, like in the southern Grampians, Bay of Islands, The Arch or the Twelve Apostles.
Shortly after 6pm I arrived at Blanket Bay campground and joined my friends there for another two nights camping before heading back to Melbourne. Blanket Bay is a wonderful place full of koalas, opportunities to go fishing, bird-watching, walking on the beach, snorkelling and more. I really enjoyed it.
Overall it was a fantastic trip. I drove over 1200km and visited six beautiful National Parks, during which I encountered wildlife I had never come across before, such as Western Grey Kangaroos, Major Mitchell's Cockatoos and Stumpy-tailed Lizards.
This trip was a great reminder that it doesn’t always need a camper van or 4WD to have a great time outdoors in Australia. A tiny VW up! and a bunch of camping gear, food and water is all I needed to see the outback, lots of wildlife and some of the greatest places off the usual tourist routes in Victoria.
More photos are in the album Road Trip North West Victoria.