Koalas, Wallabies & Emus
The Grampians, Victoria, Australia
Drive outside of major Australian cities and you’ll likely see wildlife. That’s been my experience, anyway, after several visits and thousands of miles on the continent’s roads. Kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, lizards, snakes and all kinds of birds—from emus to parrots. But on this drive through Grampians National Park I spotted a first: a koala. I’ve seen them in Australian zoos and wildlife parks but never in the wild. And apparently, they are somewhat rare here. The park is three hours west of Melbourne. The drive through rolling farmland is peaceful and then suddenly, you come upon The Grampians, an impressive sandstone mountain range with lush forests, striking waterfalls, sweeping views of the plains and remarkable animals, the stuff Australian vacation dreams are made of. At one point it felt like a scene from Jurassic Park as about a dozen kangaroos hopped away from a mob of emus. Of course, my camera was buried in the backseat somewhere. But I did capture other emus as well as some gorgeous wallabies. They are smaller than kangaroos with prettier coats. Naturally, there’s no guarantee you’ll spot these creatures on your drive through The Grampians but keep a sharp eye, especially at dusk and dawn when they are most active—and most dangerous to drivers.
Halls Gap is the park’s main tourist town with lodging, fuel and food. To the east, Stawell and Ararat are also full-service, nearby options. I also liked Horsham, to the north. In any case, unlike more remote parts of Australia, The Grampians is pretty well-served in every direction.
Best Time to Visit
Spring and summer (October to March—the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere) mean wildflowers and more moderate temperatures. But the mountains are amazing in the fall and winter, too. Weekdays are best as The Grampians is one of Victoria’s most popular areas and thus, busiest on weekends.
Route & Map
From Melbourne, it’s three hours west to The Grampians, mostly on a superhighway. I entered the park from the north on C222, near Horsham. Then, I meandered south, making numerous stops including Halls Gap—the area’s main town. The northern part of the park is still recovering from wildfires. And while still very pretty, the middle and south are more picturesque. C217 to Dunkeld is a particularly fun road. I drove it twice and saw lots of wildlife, even in light rain.
From outside Horsham in the north to Dunkeld in the south, it’s about 130 km (78 miles). But with numerous waterfalls and overlooks, you’ll likely drive a lot more. And don’t forget all the great bushwalking, that’s Aussie for “hiking.” The Grampians are considered to be one of the premier bushwalking areas in Victoria.
Plan on at least half a day to explore the park, although you'll likely want more time.
Keep in Mind
The Grampians are a great side trip from Melbourne. Six hours to the park entrance and back doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing so maybe stay at least one overnight. Renting a car is easy and fuel is moderately priced in Victoria. And if you haven’t driven on the left before, don’t be intimidated. You’ll learn fast and the roads are well-maintained and well-marked.