The Arapiles / Grampians – Victoria’s Uluru

Naracoorte Caves, SA to Ararat, VIC

Another gloomy and dreary morning.  With light drizzle meant that I didn’t want to get out of bed.  However seeing that in the are the winds were due to pick up, I decided to get out of there as soon as I could.  Packed the bags, went to get the Lawnmower from his accommodation with drinking buddies and pootled off Naracoote before the town’s folk awoke.

It was good that I put on all the layers I had including the rain jacket as the slight drizzle intensified and it’s not that it was full rain, but going 110km/hr over a period of time things would start to soak right through.  Before leaving town I looked at google maps and I saw Lake Wallace, a rather prominent looking lake, which seemed to prick my interest.  That was going to be my 1st stop, and make it breakfast there too.

Not a bad place to consume a couple of breakky bars.  I was lucky that the drizzle stopped when I got to Edenhope.  However I was disappointed; no actually very sad that this massive expanse of water that shows up on the maps, was nothing other than a dust bowl!

Such is the deep drought experienced in these areas that level 5 water restrictions have not done much to kerb the continual loss of water.  It was heartbreaking to see the jetty going into the distance, adjacent to a tourist caravan park, advertised as a wonderful place to relax and fish…. To see it bone dry.

The more I rode eastwards it became more and more apparent about the drought.  The trees on the side of the road look a bit drought stressed with lots of eucalyptus showing signs of recent limb drop (for those non Australians; Eucalyptus trees can suddenly ‘drop’ or shed sacrificial large limbs of themselves to conserve water and increase survival.  The problem being is that there is no warning and if you park underneath; can have disastrous consequences!)

Passing Miga Lake (there was no lake) you could start to see in the distance some rocky outcrops jutting out from an otherwise flat landscape now dominated by farming of some sort.  This region encompasses rock climber’s dream landscape, as there is the Mount Arapiles-Tooan State Parks and Jilpanger Nature Conservation Reserve.  The weather had now dried up and a breeze was blowing.  Since things looked dry, I decided to be a little adventurous and take the back tracks towards a lookout at the summit of Mount Arapiles-Tooan.

In the end I was clad to find that the very tight and twisty road to the summit had been asphalted as the tracks that I took to get there, sure gave me a few frights and made me work hard. The further away one got from the main road, the sandier and deeper the tracks got.  Which was not was I expected, considering the place was looking very rocky!  With smooth road tyres I would not recommend this little side trip to anyone.  Glad I didn’t find water there too!

But the lookout view was very much worth it.  This was one of the quietest of places I have experienced.  Not sure what the wind was doing but it seemed to be blowing quite a bit on the bottom near the main road; except there it was almost non-existent and just …. Silent.

Again it was heartbreaking to see that the whole landscape was parched and all lakes and farm dams were bone dry.  I don’t know how long since the last time they had proper rains, but I would hazard a guess that it’s been years…

Walking back to the car park of the summit I saw the full sealed way back to the main road.  That pleased me heaps.

It wasn’t long up the road that I found the perfect place to stop and look backwards to the place I had just been to – jutting out like Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in the Northern Territory looks like.  This is Victoria’s equivalent J   Stopped for some fuel and a comfort stop at Natimuk, and also started looking for next accommodation place.  I found out that there was a Youth Hostel at Horsham in the middle of the Grampians, so booked it and excitedly kept going on the journey.

The first view of the Grampians was exactly like the Arapiles; flat nothingness other than farming paddocks and then from afar, rocky outcrops appearing.  However, unlike the Arapiles, it wasn’t just a ‘little’ rock.  I was expecting it to be similar, but not quite.  This thing kept growing and growing and growing.  The best of the whole Grampians was probably where I turned off the Western highway onto the Northern Grampians Road.

This road certainly builds up the anticipation as it starts off much like the Western Highway, with farms on either side, to then getting more undulated, twistier, a bit narrower, and the road camber also becoming a little bit more varied.   Great signs for any motorcyclist!  I think for me, when the Grampians truly began was at the Zumsteins Picnic Area / Fish falls, as the mountains really commenced (at the change to Mt Victory Road). 

This is one of the roads that really makes me wish I had a movie camera strapped to my helmet….. The twists were just divine, having to ride with extreme caution due to the vistas… your attention was constantly torn between focusing on the road, looking out for emus and kangaroos on the road, and the sheer vistas (the road is built jutting out of the cliff face).

One of the most well-known waterfalls (that still had some water in the park) was Mackenzie falls.   A short walk 2 min walk from the car park and loos, is worth getting off the bike for a stretch.  Some of the locals that warned me about animals crossing the road, were not joking.  I guess due to the extreme drought, this attracted them even more to the road, where condensation makes new grass shoots along the edge, in the bottom of the drains too, as well as animals seeking feeding near the car parks and tourist attractions.  There were heaps of emus about that were almost tame.  Which is nice – but not so much on a motorbike as these things can stand over 1.5m tall.

The lookouts in this place are just epic.  And I was so lucky that the earlier in the day wind, had pushed the morning’s drizzle and fog.  Because it just made for memorable photos!

While at the lookout I was setting up the camera and tripod, and a lady came up to have a chat to me.  She noticed the Qld plates and wanted to pick my brains on touring on a bike.  As it turns out this lady, emigrated to Australia a long time back and due to her circumstances changing a couple of years ago; she threw caution to the wind and taught herself to ride a pushbike.  Sounds pretty simple right?  Not for this warrior it wasn’t.  This was never having done anything like this in her life, and reaching close to half a century, it was quite the feat.  But it didn’t stop there – she taught herself cycling, because she then wanted her motorbike licence!  Which she managed to get about a year ago! Wow!   We spent ages having a chat, and it was then that this lady asked me where I was going to stay that night and insisted that I come back with her.  Didn’t take me long to think about it, called the YHA and cancelled my accommodation for the night.  One of the things that she asked me is to be gentle with her as she’s still very cautious rider and takes things slowly.  I was more than happy to oblige as this would give me the opportunity to look at the scenery in more detail.

We rode through the guts of the Grampians, saw a few lookouts and stopped at Halls Gap for coffee and cake.  From there things were going to be fairly straight as she lived in Ararat.  During coffee and cake, she found out that I absolutely love the hidiotic (hedious +iditotic) BIG things and so she indulged me and told me to do a little detour to Dadswell Bridge.

And there my friends, is where I found what is now my number 1 hilarious is big or in this case, self-proclaimed GIANT koala.  With a warped face, different sized ears, ear hairs with moss and lichen growing out of it, and a demonic stare, is was just…. Breathtaking.  Eye watering too because when I saw it I nearly dropped the bike from laughing so much and not putting the side stand down properly.  Enough to give you nightmares material.

So the rest of the ride from there was fairly straight and otherwise uneventful along Horsham Road to Ararat.  But I was happy in my helmet, reliving today’s wonderful scenes, natural wonders, the sense of adventure that people have, humanity, nice cake, touring on a bike and the friends you can make in an instant.  That night after a wonderful home cooked meal, lots of girlie chatter about bikes and life in general and a warm, safe bed…. Magic!

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