Although I’ve undoubtedly fallen in love with Melbourne since arriving last September, sometimes it’s nice to get out of town, especially when it’s for a Girl’s Weekend!
Over the past six months, I have explored the great state of Victoria through small weekend trips, and without a doubt one of my favorite city escapes was my weekend to the Grampians National Park with my friend Caitlin.
Caitlin and I met ten years ago at university in Atlanta, and spent March 2015 traveling together in Russia and Europe. Over the past few months, we have both been working in hospitality in Melbourne and enjoying life down under. Neither of us wanted to take too much time away from work, but were itching for an adventure. Luckily for us, there are few better places to visit during autumn than a national park, and Victoria’s Grampians National Park was a perfect fit!
The Grampians, as it’s locally referred to, is a national park located in the western region of the state of Victoria. It’s possible to reach Hall’s Gap, the self-proclaimed “heart of the Grampians” by public transportation from Melbourne, but the schedule seemed dubious with many ‘potential service disruption’ warnings displayed alongside the incredibly accurate and helpful PTV journey planner.
When we decided we didn’t want to spend our weekend away waiting for a potentially non-existent bus, we decided to drive ourselves the short three hours. After browsing a few rental car sites and comparing prices with car sharing options (CarNextDoor.com being a popular choice in Melbourne), we opted to go with Budget Car Rental in Melbourne’s CBD* and were on our way.
Sidenote: I think it’s necessary to specifically state my possession of an Australian driver’s license. When I learned the US and Australia have a reciprocal driver’s agreement (if you possess a license in one country, your license is recognized by the other country), I was happy. But when I realized I could apply and be granted a license without taking a test, I was stoked!
To be eligible, all I had to do was present my US license at the Australian DMV, show proof of residence here in Melbourne, pay a nominal fee of $70 AUD, and *BOOM* I have an Australian license.
Innocent enough, but alarming when you consider that I have never driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and here I was being handed a completely unrestricted license. Stranger still when you consider that Australians have restricted licenses for a couple years before they are deemed worthy of said unrestricted license.
For me, the little American, ten minutes of paperwork with an incredibly helpful, efficient DMV attendant (a mind blowing experience in itself…) and a few bucks was all I needed. No tests, no fuss.
Terrifying? Probably for everyone else. Our thoughts? Super AWESOME and let’s adventure!
Contrary to the boldness I displayed when handing my Aussie license to the Budget Car Rental attendant, I was quite concerned at the prospect of driving in inner-city Melbourne during heavy traffic hours. As such, I woke up quite early (especially given it was a weekend) and was the first at the Budget Car Rental counter when they opened at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning.
Before I knew it, I had signed all the necessary papers and was slightly shaking as I approached our weekend chariot. It was a black Toyota Corolla, the exact car I purchased as I was finishing university in Atlanta.I was thrilled at the revelation and told myself – out loud, to the chagrin of onlookers – that I would feel at complete ease behind the wheel. My nerves subsided momentarily until I realized I was entering the car on the wrong side…
Luckily for us and our techie generation, I used the Apple Map app on my phone for the duration of our drive. The soothing voice guide helped me get from point A (a very tightly packed parking garage in the middle of Melbourne) to point B (Caitlin’s house) with relative ease and relaxation. This maps app takes into consideration one-way roads, traffic, and upcoming lane changes – thank God! Although I continued to use my windshield wipers instead of my turn signal throughout the first bit of our drive, I had adjusted to the opposite side of the road much quicker than I expected. After a quick break to caffeinated ourselves and grab snacks, Caitlin and I were off to see what Australia had in store for us in the Grampians!
In an obviously fated email the week prior to our adventure, a popular Melbourne website I subscribe to, Broadsheet, included a detailed weekend getaway plan designated for visiting the Grampians in their weekly newsletter. How great is that!?Although we didn’t need any suggestions for accommodations (hello, we’re hostel girls through and through; we stayed at the Grampian’s Eco YHA in Hall’s Gap), we were excited to read the dining and itinerary suggestions, especially for the hikes near Hall’s Gap.
On our drive into Hall’s Gap where we were staying for our weekend, we made a Broadsheet suggested stop at Red Rock Olive, a specialty olive oil, vinegar, and salt producer. The small shop doubles as a cafe, and when we arrived on the beautiful grove we were given the grand tasting tour of their offerings by a young shop clerk.My favorite was the chili and olive salt combined with their freshly pressed olive oil. The slight spice of the salt alongside the savory oil was a delicious combination, and I was so obsessed that I ended up purchasing a pack of salt to send home to my family. I shuttered when I paid the $8 AUD for a small canister, but when in Rome…Other delicious flavors included caramelised fig vinegar and a few other house-made vinegar and olive oil combinations.
As we entered Hall’s Gap we passed a few hostels and then quickly ended in the “center” of the village, which was a combination of cafes, picnic areas, an information center, parking lots, and endless families.We decided on a quick cafe lunch before heading to our hostel and beginning our adventure to Mackenzie Falls that afternoon. The weather was perfect all weekend and we leisurely explored the various manicured trails around the park while chatting.
After our hike, we headed back to our hostel and came across an entire oval pitch (think soccer field) filled with kangaroos. They could not have been more indifferent to the handful of curious humans, but a few of the younger ones let us approach and even pet them. It was such an unexpected surprise!
After showering and enjoying dinner at Black Panther Cafe near the center of town, we relaxed at the hostel and met some fellow travelers. Fortunately, with a complete lack of options for late night shenanigans, we got to bed reasonably early and geared up for our following day exploring The Pinnacle Lookout trail.
We woke up and headed off to the trail mid-morning after a delicious brunch at Harvest Halls Gap, a local cafe with Melbourne-high standards for food and coffee, one we would strongly recommend if you’re in the area!
Hiking along the Pinnacle Lookout trail was arduous at times, but usually clearly marked and fairly straight forward. The trail wasn’t too packed, which allowed us to chat or walk along while silently soaking in the scenery. When we made it to the top, the views were absolutely breathtaking! It seemed like you could see forever into the distance and made the physical exertion completely worthwhile! Heading back to Melbourne, we were exhausted but exhilarated from our weekend getaway and time together!