About MacKenzie Falls and Broken Falls
MacKenzie Falls was hands down the best waterfalling experience we’ve had while touring the west of Victoria that wasn’t along the Great Ocean Road. Not only did this waterfall impress us with its size (which I’m guessing was around 35m tall or so), but it also had surprisingly good flow. This was amazing considering how just about all of the Grampians National Park had been a sea of brown and fire tinder while whatever was left standing had been blackened by past bushfires with some kangaroo tails sprouting in between them. Meanwhile, up to this point, just about every waterfall we had seen in this side of the state had been either dry or had been barely flowing during our drought affected visit in November 2006. We did come back in November 2017 under rainier conditions, and surprisingly, the falls had very similar flow compared to our first visit.
In addition to the waterfall itself, there was also an impressively wide cascade called Broken Falls further upstream. There were even more waterfalls further downstream of the MacKenzie Falls (such as Fish Falls) though a visit just to the bottom of the main falls was sufficient enough to satisfy just about any waterfall lover. Julie and I liked this waterfalling experience so much that it was very deserving of a place on our Top 10 Australian Waterfalls List.
Julie and I were baffled as to how the MacKenzie River could be flowing so well when just about all the rest of the watercourses had been practically non-existent in Western Victoria. We got our answer from a lady at the Halls Gap Visitor Centre when she told us that the falls got its water from Lake Wartook, which was an excellent catchment area supplying drinking water to the town of Horsham (the administrative capital of the Northern Grampians Shire). As long as the lake had water (which was also further held up by dams to ensure there was a supply), the falls would have flow. It could very well be that the creation of this lake would regulate the MacKenzie River and thereby keep this waterfall flowing reliably year-round even in the face of Australia’s worst drought in 1000 years (or so it was said).
From the car park (see directions below), Julie and I hiked had a choice of going on two different trails to take in the MacKenzie Falls experience. We started with the 1.8km return walk to the MacKenzie Falls Lookouts, which was along a mostly flat forested track through a partially burnt forest sprinkled with blooming kangaroo tails. We learned from the interpretive signs along the track that kangaroo tails only bloomed after fires, and there were indeed intense wildfires that plagued Grampians National Park on multiple occasions prior to our visit. When we reached the lookout, we were able to have a top down look at the falls where we could appreciate the entire context of the falls as well as all of its upper tiers.
When we returned to the car park, we then took the 1.3km return track down a series of steps to the bottom of the MacKenzie Falls. Near the top of the track, there was a short 200m detour to the Broken Falls. This wide cascading waterfall (which was closed on our first visit back in November 2006) featured an overlook yielding partially obstructed views of the falls. If not for the main falls, it could have easily stood out on its own as a legitimate waterfall worth visiting in its own scenic reserve.
Anyways, as we descended on the main track to the bottom of MacKenzie Falls, we also spotted an overlook peering over the top of the intermediate waterfalls comprising the MacKenzie Falls ensemble as well as the expansive rugged terrain further downstream. Beyond this overlook, the track descended alongside some of the upper cascades on the MacKenzie River, including an attractive two-tiered section that could have been a pleasant swimming hole on its own (if it weren’t in the midst of more drops immediately downstream). The track became increasingly more narrow and steeper beyond these intermediate cascades though there were steps and railings to reassure the unsure.
Once we made it to the bottom of the track, we crossed some rock steps traversing the MacKenzie River onto a flatter slab of bedrock where were face-to-face with the impressive MacKenzie Falls from across its plunge pool. Sprinkled about the pool were some large boulders. We weren’t sure how those boulders got there, but they kind of acted like nice photo subjects fronting the very photogenic waterfall. The walking track continued further downstream of the falls which allowed us to get more distant and unusual views of the falls as well as some surprise cascades still further downstream. I didn’t continue the extra 1.4km to get all the way to the Fish Falls so I can’t say anything more about what else was along the MacKenzie River Walk.
Overall, Julie and I spent a little less than 2 hours to do both tracks to the upper lookouts of MacKenzie Falls and to its base (when we were younger and spry on our first visit back in November 2006). On our second visit in November 2017, we spent about an hour and 45 minutes on just the lower track to the base of the falls itself. Nevertheless, just witnessing this miracle of a healthy waterfall amidst an area so hard hit by Climate Change reaffirmed our perception of Nature’s resiliency despite the bleak circumstances.
The main town of the Grampians National Park was Halls Gap, which sat pretty much at the heart of the reserve at the junction of the C222 and C216 roads. So we’ll describe our driving route from this junction.
From the C222 and C216 junction just north of the main drag through Halls Gap, we turned left to leave the C216 and go onto the narrow C222 road. We then followed this narrow and winding road for the next 16.6km before turning right onto Wartook Road (there should now be signs leading to MacKenzie Falls from this turnoff).
Note that at roughly 11km along the Northern Grampians Rd (C222) from Halls Gap was the optional well-signed turnoff on the left for the Reeds Lookout and the Balconies. I’m noting this option because it was a worthwhile stop for vistas and panoramas as well as some unusual rock formations like the Balconies themselves.
Once we left the C222 at Wartook Road, we then drove the next 360m before turning left to leave the Wartook Road shortly after crossing the bridge over the MacKenzie River. We then drove the last 500m or so to the large car park for the MacKenzie Falls. Without stops, this drive took us roughly 25-30 minutes depending on how cooperative slower drivers are about using the pullouts to let faster traffic pass.
For context, Halls Gap was about 28km (under 30 minutes drive) west of Stawell, 75km (over an hour drive) southeast of Horsham, 50km (about 45 minutes drive) west of Ararat, and 96km (over an hour drive) north of Hamilton. Melbourne was roughly 205km (2 hours 15 minutes drive) east of Ararat and 300km (about 3.5 hours drive) east of Horsham.
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