Grampians National Park (Gariwerd)
The four greatest mountain ranges are the Mt Difficult Range in the north, Mt William Range in the east, Serra Range in the southeast and Victoria Range in the southwest. They spread from Ararat to the Wartook Valley and from Dunkeld up almost to Horsham. Halls Gap, the main accommodation base and service town, lies in the Fyans Valley.
Like a pop-up folk museum, the whole of Maldon is a well-preserved relic of the gold-rush era, with many fine buildings constructed from local stone. The population is a scant reminder of the 20,000 who used to work the local goldfields, but this is still a living, working town – packed with tourists on weekends but reverting to its sleepy self during the week.
Kyneton, established a year before gold was discovered, was the main coach stop between Melbourne and Bendigo, and the centre for the farmers who were supplying the diggings with fresh produce. Today Piper St is a historic precinct lined with bluestone buildings that have been transformed into cafes, antique shops, museums and restaurants.
Mt Arapiles State Park
Mt Arapiles, 37km west of Horsham and 12km west of Natimuk, is Australia’s premier rock-climbing destination. At 369m it’s not a very big mountain but with more than 2000 routes to scale, it attracts salivating climbers from around the world. Popular climbs include the Bard Buttress, Tiger Wall and the Pharos.
The major town to the northwest of the Grampians and capital of the Wimmera region, Horsham makes a convenient base for exploring the surrounding national parks and Mt Arapiles. The main shopping strip has postal and banking facilities, supermarkets and plenty of other shops and eateries. Grampians & Horsham visitor centre has information on the surrounding areas.
About 10km northwest of Castlemaine, the Harcourt region (bypassed by the new Calder Fwy) is known as Victoria’s ‘apple centre’, but in recent years it has also developed as an excellent mini-wine centre, an extension of the Bendigo wine region – the visitor centre can provide a map and a list of cellar doors. Check out Bress, a combined winery and cidery; and Blackjack Wines.
Dunkeld & the Southern Grampians
The southern access to the Grampians, Dunkeld is a sleepy little town with a very big-name restaurant. The setting is superb, with Mt Abrupt and Mt Sturgeon rising up to the north, while the Grampians Tourist Rd to Halls Gap gives you a glorious passage into the park, the cliffs and sky opening up as you pass between the Serra and Mt William Ranges.
Little Desert National Park
Don’t expect rolling sand dunes, but this arid park is rich in flora and fauna that thrive in the dry environment. There are over 670 indigenous plant species here, and in spring and early summer the landscape is transformed into a colourful wonderland of wildflowers.