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The largest national park in Victoria, Australia, this region is commonly referred to as simply 'The Grampians'. It covers 167,000 hectares of land and consists of picturesque mountain ranges, waterfalls and native forests. The area was explored by Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1836, and was named after another mountain region in Scotland with the same name. Over 1000 species of plants can be found in the park, along with emus, koalas, kangaroos, rock-wallabies and many native birds.

Some of the mountain ranges that lie within the Grampians include the Wonderland range, Serra range and the Victoria range. The highest peak in the area is Mt. William, which reaches 1167m high (this is pretty tall for a mountain in Victoria). Between Mt. William and Mount Difficult Range lies Halls Gap, which is a popular tourist centre for the area.

When visiting the Grampians, you can enjoy your surroundings by hiking, fishing, swimming, canoeing, rockclimbing, picnicking and/or wildlife observation. The scenic views give fantastic photo opportunities, and the area lies just 250km's west of Melbourne.

Grampians National Park is also known as Gariwerd as named by the local Jardwadjali people.

History

Occupation of Gariwerd by the Jardwadjali tribe dates back around 5000 years, and the park contains the majority of rock art located within Victoria. As European settlement spread, the arable region became an important water source for most of North Western Victoria. Areas throughout the park have been used variously for logging, gold and copper mining, and farming. The National Park status was declared in 1984.

In 1989, the Victorian government took the view that many of the European names in the Grampians National Park were unsuitable for a region with Victoria's greatest concentration of Aboriginal art sites. Correspondingly, there was a desire to promote the area as Victoria's answer to Kakadu, and the restoration of Aboriginal names was seen not only an attempt to strengthen tourism, but an important means of reconciliation with the Jardwadjali people. In March 1989, preliminary research into naming in the region was commissioned, and a list of Aboriginal place names and suggestions for alternative names for art sites were produced. The Victorian Minister for Tourism announced that prior Aboriginal names would replace the European names of the National Park and other places and features in and around the Park. Local Aboriginal support for the initiative was unanimous, and was seen as a necessary recognition of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Non-indigenous community support was otherwise. An ad hoc group of local stakeholders under the banner of "Grampians Support Group" strongly opposed renaming the area. In a conciliatory move, indigenous groups made the concession to accept dual naming, with a preference towards Aboriginal names having first usage. Whilst the correct name for the park is Gariwerd, Grampians National Park is still in common usage. The naming committee also removed names in the Grampian mountains that were found to be offensive to local Aboriginal communities; names such as 'Mt Lubra', 'The Piccaninny', and 'Blackfellows Rock'.

It's full of tasty creatures!

The park is particularly important for its abundance of bird species. The open shrubby woodland in the park support many nectar-feeding birds, and the tall forests are important for hollow-dependent species such as the endangered Powerful Owl. The lowland areas are packed full of Emu. Over 40 species of mammal have been recorded in the immediate region.

...and plants!

The most vivid feature of the park is its diverse wildflower display, which reaches its peak in early October. The normally barren heath comes alive with boronia, lily, thrytomene, and an array of shrubbery. The park is a botanist's wet dream with over 800 known species of plant life within the park, 20 of these occur nowhere else in the world. To top this off, there are eight broad vegetation communities within the park - Sub-alpine, Sclerophyll Forests, Shrubby Woodlands, Savannah Woodlands, Heath Woodland, Heathlands, Swampland and Riparian vegetation. Bushfire plays a huge role in the ecology of the Grampians' vegetation and fauna.

How to get there

Most of the best bits of the park are accessible from the township of Halls Gap, a 260 km drive from Melbourne along the Western or Glenelg Highways. There are approaches to Halls Gap via Stawell, Horsham, or Dunkeld.

I know where you sleep

There are camping areas scattered throughout the park with pit toilets, fireplaces, and the odd picnic table. In Halls Gap, a range of accomodation is available from Bed and Breakfast through to the brand spankin' new 60-bed YHA eco-hostel. Bookings are essential in high season.

In January 2006, the Grampians National Park and surrounding area burned.

The fires started on the weekend of 21-22 January, following a period of terrible weather: hot, dry days and a lightning storm that ignited the blaze at Mt. Lubra. It burned for two weeks, finally getting under control in early February. In this period, 130,000 hectares (an area around the size of metropolitan Melbourne) were burnt, along with 40 dwellings, 72 farm sheds and over 62,000 sheep. Of the actual Grampians, about 50-60% was burned. Only two human lives were lost, which is not so amazing considering the vast amount of farmland around the Grampians. Certainly this is the most devastating bushfire I have ever seen in Australia.

Tributes to the DPI, CFA and to those unlucky souls who lost their houses and livestock in the blaze included a short play put on by a local school theatre group, Theatrerats; flowers and a cross at the place where the two people died; murals depicting 'Elvis' and 'Rocky', two water-carrying aeroplanes; and a sign at the front of the small community of Pomonal, which, because the fire came so close to this town, read "Pomonal Island / Pop: Lucky". This is also depicted on a T-shirt I happen to own, showing the area burnt out on the back, and a small fire truck logo with "Pomonal Firefighters" encircling it.

Since then, many of the National Park's attractions have reopened, but scars are still present: blackened, burnt tree trunks with stray leaves growing at odd places, and the absence of a particular kind of fern (which I completely forget the name of).

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