Day 1: A BITTER DAY
After yesterday’s somewhat successful waterfall hunt in Gippsland, the time had come to leave Melbourne and head northwest towards the Grampians. It was the start of a loop tour that would eventually lead us back to Melbourne on Friday the 17th (five days later) via the Great Ocean Road – something Julie couldn’t wait to see.
So we checked out of the Mercure Hotel and rolled our luggage towards the QV Shopping area where our car was parked. As we walked over there, we tried to ignore a drunk guy cursing and trying to instigate something with whoever was around him – man or woman. Apparently, he partied a bit too hard last night. I tried to look down and stifle my cynical smile.
“Yeah, look away from me. You’re scared of me you chicken sh*t,” he said.
Being on holiday, I really wasn’t in any mood to throw down. I spent lots of money to be here so I reckoned this wasn’t worth defending my male ego over. So I kept walking towards Julie who was way ahead of me at this time trying my best not to let him get to me.
By 7:15am, we had left Melbourne. First up on the way to the Grampians was the Organ Pipes National Park. Unfortunately once we got onto their expressways and freeways, we had hit rush hour traffic. To complicate things, we also lost the way somehow, and those City Link toll roads confused things even more (we had unknowingly taken one after yesterday’s Gippsland day excursion and had to call from the hotel to buy the day pass and avoid a fine).
It was raining so I immediately thought this was good for our waterfall hunting for today.
Finally by 8:18am, we made it to the car park for the Organ Pipes. It wasn’t easy getting into the turnoff because you had to cross traffic that was zooming at 110km/h and very busy. I felt like Frogger trying to find the opening to make the mad dash across the dangerous highway intersection. Still, we managed to get through and into the well-signed reserve.
It was cold and windy this morning and we could see and hear Qantas airplanes flying over us (the Melbourne Airport must be nearby). So we quickly walked downhill towards a creek and eventually made it to the Organ Pipes.
The formation was very reminiscent of the Devils Postpile formation in California. But the formation in Oz was far more eroded than the shapely hexagonal columns of the Devils Postpile. We took a few photos here before walking back up the paved steep trail to the car park.
At 9am, we were back in the car and continued northwest on the M79 in an effort to get to Trentham Falls. We eventually got to the Trentham Falls car park at 10:10am after a quick stop at the Woodend Visitor Center.
Given all the waterfall successes on this trip up to this point, this was the first major waterfall that was really hurting. It was supposed to be a famous waterfall with the highest single drop in Victoria at 32m. What we ended up seeing was a pair of nearly trickling columns of water over a mostly bare basalt cliff. I could totally see how impressive this waterfall would be under more normal conditions. There was also a faint rainbow in the last bit of water flowing over the falls when the sun came out, but that did little for console us for this Trentham Falls experience.
The trail to the base of the falls was also closed because apparently some landslides wiped out the bottom-most parts of the trail. So all that was left was a somewhat unsatisfying and partially obstructed view of the falls from one of the upper overlooks.
We returned to the car at 10:42am. At that point, we headed over to Daylesford with the goal of seeing at least Sailors Falls. It might also be a good place to pick up a takeaway lunch.
We found the Daylesford Visitor Center at 11:16am. I inquired about both Sailors Falls and Loddon Falls, which I had read were both in the area. But both the elderly male and female clerks told me that Loddon Falls was far from here. The lady told me there was Glenlyon Falls nearby and it was quite nice and sure to be flowing.
So at 11:45am, Julie and I took her advice and directions in search of this waterfall, but not before picking up another meat pie lunch to go.
We proceeded to drive on the A300 towards Castlemaine and then on the C318 towards Malmsbury. As instructed, we turned left just past the bridge over the Loddon River, which happened to be the unsealed Holcombe Rd. We did notice a sign indicating “Loddon Falls,” which was what I suspected (not Glenlyon Falls as the clerk had told me) and tried to find the way to the falls.
Unfortunately, we wasted a few minutes after we realized on our GPS tracking that we were on the wrong path. When we finally did get on the correct path, the road to the falls deteriorated terribly. I was very concerned about the rental car getting stuck in the rocky, muddy, and overgrown road so I opted not to go any further. Besides, if the skies delivered on its threat to rain, then we would be hosed for sure. So we both reckoned it wasn’t worth the effort nor the risk and decided to just go for Sailors Falls instead.
At 12:25pm, we headed off for the Sailors Falls car park. And minutes before 1pm, we swore we saw signs for the falls but we couldn’t find the falls. We wasted time driving on unsealed logging roads thinking it was further from the road. But it turned out to be right off the busy C141 road. By this time, it was 1:04pm.
Part of the reason why we had trouble finding this waterfall was that it was bone dry so it didn’t make any noise. With this disappointing scene, we wasted no more time here (not even 10 minutes had passed) and decided to continue driving to Ararat.
Throughout the drive, we were hard pressed to find anything green. All the farms and hills on either side of the highway A8 were brown and seemingly sickly. Clearly we could tell the drought hit this area pretty hard. It felt even worse than the Riverina and Murray River districts. And our waterfall experience today certainly reflected this.
There were also plenty of “For Sale” signs to reinforce the desperation the farmers here must have felt.
Exacerbating this depressing scene was that for nearly the next two hours, we had mostly followed slow traffic as overtaking opportunities were limited. The rate of traffic was a bit too fast to spontaneously look for a pullout as well so you had to take chances overtaking in the oncoming traffic lane to get by. So eventually these slow drivers held up the flow of traffic creating a huge line of cars behind them (including big rigs).
It was 2:56pm when we arrived at the Ararat Visitor Center.
While at the Visitor Center, we got the news that most of the roads and trails in the Grampians National Park were closed due to a devastating fire that torched just about half the park back in January of this year. At least MacKenzie Falls and Silverband Falls were still accessible and the lady here said MacKenzie Falls would definitely be flowing.
We also asked about Kalymna Falls on the east side of the Grampians, but she told us that she honestly hadn’t been there before. So we were on our own on that one as we couldn’t tell if access to the falls was closed nor if the falls would be flowing.
Well at 3:25pm, we left Ararat and headed for Kalymna Falls, but at 3:55pm, we stopped at a locked gate after driving an unsealed access road for a few minutes south of Moyston.
So much for this waterfall.
Besides, we saw more evidence of fire and drought as we passed through more groves of dessicated trees with black trunks and unhealthy brown plains. Triple J was featuring the latest album by the band Dappled Cities Fly at the time and one of their catchy songs, “Fire, Fire, Fire,” seemed appropriate.
So we continued driving back towards Ararat before heading north to the Comfort Inn Goldfields in Stawell – site of our next accommodation. And we finally got there at 5:13pm.
With all the waterfall disappointments of today, I was quite bitter. I was glad to finally check in to our motel and hopefully put mercifully end this day where things just weren’t meant to be. Perhaps I could’ve swigged some Victoria Bitter – the local beer in Oz (not that I’m a big fan of beer) to take my mind off the feeling of wasting my money on this trip, I thought.
For dinner, we ended up having a meal of burgers and steaks in a smoky restaurant in the Town Hall Hotel in Stawell. The one thing that stood out in my mind during our dinner here was the caption on the TV that had said the current rainfall total for November was 4mm while the monthly average was 40mm.
When the dinner was over, night had fallen and it was quite cold and windy, but the skies were cloudless. We returned to the Comfort Inn Goldfields to clean up and sleep. I certainly hoped that our waterfall viewing would improve tomorrow…
Day 2: FIRE, FIRE, FIRE
At 7:35am, we checked out of the Comfort Inn Goldfields and left Stawell. It was now time to enter the heart of the Grampians and see for ourselves the extent of the fire damage and hopefully get to see at least MacKenzie and Silverband Falls.
When we got to the tiny town of Halls Gap, it was still too early to stop by for anything thinking no one would be open yet. So we decided to head north in the direction of MacKenzie Falls – but not before making a quick detour to see the Balconies near Reid’s Lookout. It was something Julie saw in a pamphlet at the Stawell Visitor Center and she made sure we stopped for this to mix things up a bit (as opposed to seeing nothing but waterfalls).
So at 8:15am, we were at the car park for Reid’s Lookout after having gone up a curvy and mountainous road to get here from Halls Gap. Up here, we got expansive views towards the south where Halls Gap should be. This view gave us a sense of how extensive the fire damage was.
Anyways, we took the walk (30-minutes return I recall) towards the Balconies. We had already sensed how fire ravaged the land has been in driving here, but upon walking this trail, we could really see up close how black the ground was and how dry the trees were.
But even despite the evidence of fire, we did see growth occuring on the tree trunks and branches, which was something we weren’t used to seeing. We also saw lots of kangaroo tails – a plant that looks like a long hot dog (or kangaroo tail) jutting up in the air.
Speaking of kangaroos, Julie and I saw a couple during the walk. Of course they hopped and thumped their way out of sight to avoid us before we could take a photo of them.
Once we got to the Balconies formation, which was basically a pair of rocks jutting out and literally looking like balconies perched above the dropoffs, we took photos as usual. Our photos would look nothing like what Julie saw on the post cards since we were looking against the sun peeked out from the clouds.
We returned to the car park at 8:58am and quickly made it to the MacKenzie Falls car park at 9:08am.
The well-developed car park already had many cars here.
So we started the easy walk and immediately had to choose between walking to an overlook or walking to the base.
We chose the overlook path first.
The walk was actually very quiet (apparently, everyone headed to the base of the falls) as the path was mostly flat. It passed through a forested area that, not surprisingly, was affected by fire. However, we did see several kangaroo tails blooming, which I understand was indicative of fires since they rely on them to bloom.
And boy did the falls put on a show – especially considering the drought.
I wondered aloud to Julie how this waterfall could have such trememdous flow when everything else was dry or trickling. I hypothesized that the lake we saw in the distance on the Balconies walk must somehow be feeding the falls, and that the lake was man-made and probably regulating the flow of the falls somewhat. Still, I wouldn’t know for sure unless we went to the visitor center in Halls Gap and got more concrete answers.
Meanwhile, we spent plenty of time taking photos of the falls. There was a blooming kangaroo tail hugging the cliff where we were standing on so we made numerous attempts at using the flowering plant as a subject with the impressive waterfall way off in the distance behind it serving as the backdrop.
When we had our fill of this overlook, we headed back towards the fork by the car park with the intention of heading down to the base of MacKenzie Falls. And after taking the steep but nearly all-paved route to the base of the falls (some stairs were involved), we got down to the noisy base and joined the rest of the crowd frolicking and admiring this wonderful waterfall feature.
Down here, the falls were flowing well enough to produce mist. A group of young folks led by an adult leader managed to scramble onto some precarious ledges just above the spray of the base of the falls. Julie and I were content to be solidly on the ground taking photos. The giant boulder sitting on the shores of the plunge pool made for an interesting subject before the wall of water.
The trail continued to go further downstream into a gorge. However, access to the gorge was closed due to fire damage. That same group of young folks who sat atop the precarious ledges were turned back by this closure after they left their viewing spots and headed this way.
Thoroughly relaxed at finally seeing a decent waterfall in this side of Victoria, we headed back up towards the car park. It was a shame that the spur trail towards Broken Falls was closed due to fire damage. I reckoned that this falls sat further upstream from MacKenzie Falls on the same stream and that it was a worthwhile detour to do.
Maybe better luck next time – whenever that might be, I thought to myself.
Julie and I finally made it back to the car park at 10:50am. This was after the snack bar finally opened and I talked to the proprietor about the photos they posted on their window of some impressive arches and formations in the Asses Ear Mountain Range. She told me that her husband was very bush savvy and getting to those places required good off-trail skills. Obviously, we weren’t going to do this. Plus, the fire damage probably closed off access there anyways.
At 11:16am, we returned to Halls Gap. By now, we expected the businesses and the visitor center to open. I had also given up hope of seeing the other Grampians waterfalls such as Clematis Falls, Splitters Falls, Beehive Falls, and Turret Falls. I doubted that these falls would be flowing and they were probably closed due to fire, which was probably why the visitor center at Ararat didn’t bother to mention any other falls besides MacKenzie and Silverband Falls.
So Julie and I first walked into the visitor center for some more literature and to answer a pair of questions about why MacKenzie Falls had such good flow and about whether Silverband Falls has sufficient waterflow to be worthwhile.
One of the workers explained to me that MacKenzie Falls was fed by the Lake Wartook. It turned out that the lake was indeed manmade and that it sat in a very good water catchment area – meaning a good deal of creeks and snow drain into the lake. The man-made aspect of the lake also helped to regulate the flow of the stream, which ultimately went to the town of Horsham.
“If Lake Wartook went dry, Horsham would be in deep trouble,” she said. “However, nearby Lake Bellfield, which feeds some farms near the South Australia border, is actually pretty close to drying up.”
I then asked her about Silverband Falls.
“The falls probably won’t have nearly as much water as MacKenzie Falls. But it’s definitely not a trickle,” she continued.
“But, there’s an interesting story about the falls…” she said, sensing Julie and I were about to leave. “The falls actually disappears into the ground. Most waterfalls have pools at the bottom but not this one.”
“Really?” said I, quite intrigued. Then we politely made our way out after her helpfulness as I said, “Thank you very much for the info.”
“No worries,” she said, in the typical Aussie saying which in essence replaces “You’re welcome.”
Julie and I continued to walk around town looking for a lunch. We ended up having burgers then some passion fruit waffle-cone ice cream in town. We came too late for this famous eggs a la emu brekkie at the Flying Emu Cafe so that disappointed Julie a little, but the burgers and especially the ice cream around the corner weren’t so bad anyways (albeit unhealthy).
Finally by 12:15pm, we made our way out of Halls Gap and headed to Silverband Falls, and less than 10 minutes later, we made it to the car park.
At first, Julie stayed in the car while I quickly started hiking in the sunny and breezy weather. I was about 10 minutes into the hike when I realized that I had forgotten my camera!
Whoops. Time to backtrack, get the camera, then continue on my way.
During the track, things didn’t look promising. The bridge near the start of the track had no water. But as I had gotten closer to the falls, I could start to see some standing water in the watercourse that the trail more-or-less follows. Eventually, I could hear the clapping sounds of the falls.
And at the end of the trail at the head of the little ravine was the Silverband Falls. Sure enough, it had a singular stranded column of water that wasn’t particularly thick. However, I recalled what the lady at the visitor center told me and I immediately noticed that the waterfall does indeed fall right into the ground, disappearing into a jumble of rocks at its base.
The stream actually reappears further downstream.
I took a few photos here before I was joined by an elderly Australian couple. When I mentioned to them about the falls disappearing into the ground, it astonished them too. They also asked me if I had seen the reindeers just off the trail.
I told them I didn’t, but I would look for them on the way back. I wondered how I missed them on the way here.
When I was just about done taking photos, I was ready to leave. That was when Julie was headed my way.
“I thought you were staying in the car,” I said.
“Yeah, but someone told me the falls were only 15 minutes away so I decided to go,” she said. “Did you see any of the reindeers?”
There was that reindeer talk again. I couldn’t believe reindeers existed here. I thought they were only in the Arctic areas like in Scandinavia. I figured I’ll have to look up some information on the fauna of the Grampians National Park to see exactly what grazes here.
So I lingered longer at the falls so I could share the experience with Julie. She couldn’t get enough of the fact that the falls disappeared into the ground. Meanwhile, another family also showed up. The father was holding their kid on his shoulders the whole time.
It sure didn’t look like any deer or elk that I had seen before. It had unusual antlers that weren’t fully grown. So we were busy taking photos of this creature trying not to disturb it. Still, it got me wondering whether reindeers did indeed exist in Australia.
Anyways, it was 1:19pm when we finally made it back to the car park. That was enough of the Grampians and we now headed south for Hamilton. The long drive allowed me to gather my thoughts about our experience the last two days. Julie was taking a nap.
Yesterday had begun with a disappointing Trentham Falls as it barely had any flow over its impressive basalt cliff. Then, we had difficulty finding Sailors Falls because it had been bone dry and silent. When we got to the Grampians, we couldn’t see Kalymna Falls (not that we expected it to flow anyways given how brown and barren everything was) due to closure.
And today, we couldn’t see the other Grampians waterfalls such as Splitters, Clematis, Beehive, and Turret Falls. These two days in Western Victoria were indeed turning out to be a bitter experience. But as we continued south towards the town of Hamilton, I had my sights set on seeing both Wannon and Nigretta Falls as they were on the Wannon River. Surely they must be flowing since they’re on rivers, right?
At 2:25pm, we arrived at our accommodation at the Quality Inn Grange Burn in Hamilton. Rain clouds threatened to dump their moisture on us. So I had high hopes of building on the momentum of MacKenzie and Silverband Falls.
But the lady at the Hamilton Visitor Center warned us about the falls trickling. Now I’ve heard this before and ended up with better-than-expected results on this trip. So she didn’t stop us from taking the little 15-minute drive west of town.
Not wasting any more time here, we immediately went across the highway and onto some rural road bound for Nigretta Falls. When we got to that waterfall, it was trickling too. Obviously the recent rains didn’t do jack to help out these falls.
But I think it became apparent that much of the water on the river got diverted to farms for irrigation. So even though the Wannon River may be flowing, it needs to flow well in order to fuel satisfying waterfalls. So out went the momentum built earlier in the day.
We returned to Hamilton at 3:45pm. At that time, Julie and I merely walked around town. Eventually, we had a meal in town at Gilly’s Coffee Shop where the cafe had a nice fireplace. The warmth was welcome considering the brief downpour that bombarded the area.
Meanwhile, I had time to sit and again reflect over the events of today as I awaited dinner while Julie was busy internetting.
This drought really put a damper on things, I reckoned. The implication of the drought experienced here meant that South Australia (later on in the trip) would also be bone dry, and I had planned to see at least three waterfalls there. I also wasn’t sure about whether waterfalls would be flowing near the Great Ocean Road as we headed that way tomorrow.
So I really felt like I wasted money on this trip as my waterfall collection wasn’t really augmented and I would need to come back and redo this type of trip again to see the area in a more normal year (if it ever recovers). I probably wasn’t in a very good mood this evening, but I knew there really wasn’t anything I could do except to push forward. Fortunately, the day was about to end and I could sleep away my worries and begin anew tomorrow.
And like yesterday, a non-beer-drinker like me could’ve probably swigged a can of Victoria Bitter to drown out the bitter experience of the day…