Born to Run: Mount Gambier and Lower Glenelg National Park

Thursday 13th March
One of the people had already left my room when I woke up to get ready at 8.00am. I checked out and waited for Dad and Jenny before we made a short drive across town to a bridge (more a man made causeway) leading to Griffiths Island. This was to do a short walk to the lighthouse to see Muttonbirds though we knew it was unlikely because they only fly in after dark and out before the sun rises.

It was a pleasant walk and during the walk to the lighthouse we saw two swamp wallabies and we could see the nests of the muttonbirds. We also saw some that had been killed and saw a number of bird of prey in the area that were waiting for one of the chicks to show itself in a fatal error. It was nice to start the day with a walk and once we were back in the car we started the drive to Halls Gap in heart of the Grampians National Park.

We wanted to stop off at a tourist information centre on the way to the Grampians to seek some advice on walks and what had reopened after the devastating fires in January. In the end we settled for Dunkeld because it appeared to be the last township of any notable size on the road we were on before we entered the National Park. The lady serving whilst very friendly unfortunately couldn’t really help because she didn’t have all the maps available and in hindsight she probably didn’t have knowledge of all the walks. The best leaflets available contained a brief synopsis of the walks but only general directions and whilst the maps weren’t that detailed we had no option but to pay for them.

On our way through the national park we saw a sign for the Mirranatwa lookout and decided to explore. This was partly because the lady at the YHA in Port Fairy had said we’d see nice views and it was a nice walk even though it isn’t currently signed. The walk was longer and the path steeper than I expected. Once we were at the top I climbed on to a rocky ledge where the view wasn’t blocked by the top of the tree canopy. I hadn’t been sure what to expect of the Grampians but I was surprised at the density of the forests growing on the different mountain ranges.

We scrambled back down to the bottom and continued along the Grampians Tourist Road as we searched for the Jimmy Creek Campground which was the start of the Teddy Bear Loop walk. Somewhat surprisingly there wasn’t a map of the walk on the information board though a small sign pointed us in the correct direction. After a while we came to a cross roads and after walking for about 15 minutes accepted we’d probably taken a turn too early as we were going down hill not up.

We made our way back along the path back towards the crossroads and this time headed up the steep hill. As with the walk earlier in the day it was tougher going than we had expected but at the top we did have a nice view of the Victoria Ranges on one side and of the highest peak Mount William on the other side. On our way back towards the campsite we caught up with a group that had left just before us and were surprised that they had achieved the entire walk because one of them had completed it on crutches. Just as we saw them we also saw a swamp wallaby on the path before we finally arrived back at the campsite and saw a Red neck wallaby.

We checked in to the YHA and after having a light lunch stayed in the kitchen/dining room area where dad and I got talking to two people that had driven the west coast. During the course of our conversation we found out they were from Milton Keynes and their dad was a Luton Town fan.

Friday 14th March
We had already explored a lot of the Grampians and both of the walks we had done had been tougher than expected but I was looking forward to exploring some of the more well known locations. We decided to do the walk to the summit of Mount William first because it appeared that it would be a hot day and we wanted to do the most strenuous walk when it was a bit cooler. The elevation change was greater than the walks we had done on the previous day however the path was sealed and it therefore seemed less strenuous. Even on the way up the views appeared to be better and when we reached the top they were truly spectacular.

When we reached the top we got chatting to a couple from Jervis Bay and they seemed equally impressed with the views. They asked if we had done the walk to the Pinnacles and as we hadn’t they suggested that we should. We were already planning on visiting a Aboriginal Shelter outside of the Grampians to see some rock art and to visit ‘Reeds Lookout and the Balconies’ so it was difficult to see how we could fit anything else in.

It was already lunchtime when we visited the Brambruck Cultural Centre and I spoke to the lady at tourist information who surprisingly said we could comfortably fit it all in advising that Reeds lookout would be good for the sunset. After having our sandwiches we walked around the display learning how The Djab wurrung and Jardwadjali used sophisticated farming burning the land to allow regrowth and to herd animal. The first contact both groups ever had with outsiders was in 1836 when Major Mitchell climbed Mt Abrupt therefore becoming the first European to view “Gariwerd” as they still know it.

During my time in Australia I have come to appreciate that a lot of the old myths about the Aboriginals are unfair. They were, they are, more in touch with their surroundings and know how to get the most out of the land in a way that is almost inconceivable to ‘modern’ society. They are one of the oldest civilisations, they have been in Australia long before the end of the last Ice Age and they have outlived both the Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian Empires despite living in a harsh environment.

We briefly left the Grampians and drove to the ‘Bunjil Shelter’ in the Black Range Scenic Reserve. This is a particularly sacred site because the painting depicts Bunjil (the creator) and two dingos who are his helpers. The site was quite phenomenal because there were huge boulders around and we had a fine view looking back towards the Grampians. The painting itself wasn’t as big as some of those I had seen in Kakadu but it was still sobering to think how old it could be. The actual date is actually still unknown but tests have shown it was painted using traditional clay ochres though it was painted over in 1911.

We drove back to the Grampians and after first taking the wrong turn off eventually arrived at the Sundial Carpark where we started our walk to the Pinnacles. Whilst the walk itself was mostly up hill it had been steady and it wasn’t until the end that we had to scramble over a few of the rocks. Shortly before we reached the final section we saw another Red necked wallaby and it’s quite amazing the terrain they and the kangaroos can cover as it seemed too steep and unstable for wildlife. When we reached the top the view was in the words of my dad “Awesome”. A balcony led out from the cliff providing a jaw dropping view of the valley below. The Pinnacle is one of the famous lookouts and it didn’t disappoint.

We were all feeling slightly tired and our legs were heavy but thankfully we knew the walk from the Reeds Lookout carpark to the Balconies was short and flat. During the drive we saw some of the devastation that had been caused by the fires that had prevented me visiting earlier in my trip. It was quite phenomenal how the road must have become the barrier used by the firefighters because one side of the road was totally burnt out. The other had a few scorched trees but seemed mostly unaffected.

We had intended to see the sunset but we arrived slightly earlier but the sky had started to cloud again which meant it was unlikely much of one would occur. The Balconies still provided a good view and it was an  unexpected bonus that we also got to see the ‘Jaws of Death’ Rock one of the more photographed rock formations.

It had been yet another fantastic day and after all the walking we had done over the past two days it was nice to enjoy a proper dinner including (much needed) veggies at the restaurant just outside of Hall’s Gap. Returning to the hostel Dad and I watched our first AFL game together which was between Collingwood and Fremantle. The manager of the hostel supported Collingwood and had decided not to travel to Melbourne for their opening game which was a wise decision as they lost by 70 points. I returned to my room and discovered to my complete surprise that whilst I was in a 4 bedroom dorm no one else had checked in so I had the room completely to myself.

Saturday 15th March
When I was having a shower one of the guys was playing loud music and it sounded like he had a bit of company. The bra lying on his bench merely confirming the matter or implying he enjoyed a bit of cross dressing. I left before they came out and finished packing before making my way down to reception. I commiserated the manager of the hostel on the rather humiliating defeat Collingwood had suffered and I genuinely meant it, I’ve been there with Watford. Jenny and dad soon came down and we set off Robe.

We called in at the Portland information centre as we had seen there was the possibility of seeing Wombats in the Lower Glenelg National Park but we needed a bit of extra information on potential walks. Unfortunately the lady didn’t have to much local knowledge but kindly phoned the office in Nelson as an ex ranger worked there. They were able to tell us exactly where the wombat holes were located and the time in the late afternoon that they had recently come out at.

We stopped in Nelson for lunch where it was ridiculously windy. We successfully ate our sandwiches outside but then as everything was lighter things began to blow away. First I chased a sandwich bag which a number of times I could have caught if I’d dived to thee floor. Eventually it evaded my capture by disappearing in to some long reeds the other side of a steep slope of the river. As I was returning I saw dad chasing a coffee cup and as I wasn’t going to let two things get past me I managed to intercept its path.

At some point we crossed the Victoria/South Australia border though it was without much ceremony because there was no sign welcoming us on the back road we had taken. Shortly after we had to back track up an even smaller sealed road. This meant by the time we arrived at the Dry Creek River Walk we weren’t sure what side of the border we were on or therefore what the time officially was. To be on the safe side we went with South Australia time which was half an hour ahead so we wouldn’t lose track of time and be late for our check in.

We started the walk and almost immediately saw the bizarre but unmistakably obvious square wombat droppings. This is part of the way they have evolved as the square shape stops the droppings from rolling back in to their holes and this allows them to mark their territory. We were still a couple of hours earlier than the lady had suggested and we knew we’d need a lot of luck as Wombats are particularly nervous creatures and can spend several days underground.

We wondered round and saw a number of holes before I saw something moving up at the top of a bank where the grass was shorter. With my naked eye and without the aid of binoculars it appeared to be the size of a small wombat and even the picture I took on my camera seemed to show it as such. Dad looked through the binoculars…”it looks more like an echidna” and he was right, in my second photo you could just about make out its nose. So close.

We returned back to the car and almost immediately it began to rain quite heavily though it passed over fairly quickly. We assessed our options and decided to go on a walk in the opposite direction towards a viewing platform which over looked the Glenelg river. The previous walk had been mostly in open shrub land though this walk was amongst the trees of a forest. We continued to see a number of wombat holes though surprisingly we didn’t really see much wildlife. The view of the river was good and it seemed a bit surprising that we were the only people that appeared to be out though tourists probably miss this area because it wasn’t on the Princes Highway.

We returned back to the start of the first walk and before entering the valley with all the short grass had a look to see if there was any movement. There didn’t appear to be so we gradually and silently made our way down. We walked to the area most of the holes had been and waited but we couldn’t afford to stay to late and unfortunately no wombats decided to come out early, or if they did they alluded us. It was a bit of an anti climax as we knew by the time we got to Robe loads would have been investigating our foot steps. I have seen one during my time over here, at night on the Nullarbor, but I am slightly surprised I didn’t have another encounter.

We arrived at Robe and there were signs warning us about Wombats crossing the road and luckily none ran out in front of us though neither did we see any at the side of the road. We arrived in Robe and dad and I decided to have an Italian but Jenny stayed back at the motel as she wanted to get some chores done and to relax after all the recent busy days. The restaurant was surprisingly busy considering we were in a town with less than 2000 people and the food was excellent. I did however over indulge by getting a dessert pizza which consisted of nutella, banana and strawberries.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s