CHAM­PI­ONS OF T HE GRAMPIANS

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Front Page - WORDS BARRY REYNOLDS Dunkeld, with its en­tic­ing Royal Mail Ho­tel, is a per­fect start­ing point for dis­cov­er­ing Vic­to­ria’s Grampians range The au­thor was a guest of the Royal Mail Ho­tel

The hills rise out of the seem­ingly end­less flat land­scape of Vic­to­ria’s west. But as dra­matic as they are from a dis­tance, it is only up close you re­alise how many in­di­vid­ual peaks and wind­ing val­leys and gorges, cliffs and plateaus make up the Grampians, a range the tra­di­tional own­ers call Gari­w­erd.

The di­verse to­pog­ra­phy is home to an abun­dance of nat­u­ral won­ders – in­clud­ing more than 800 in­dige­nous plant species.

Quiet Dunkeld, at the south­ern tip of the range with the tow­er­ing pres­ence of Mt Stur­geon to the north, is the start­ing point for ex­plo­ration. With a pop­u­la­tion of fewer than 500, it’s also the site of the renowned Royal Mail Ho­tel restau­rant.

The Grampians has al­ways at­tracted walk­ers and rock climbers. Now it is even more en­gag­ing with the chance to com­bine lux­ury with the great out­doors.

DIN­ING

The Royal Mail Ho­tel has es­tab­lished a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for its food and the word ex­ten­sive does not do jus­tice to the wines on of­fer, par­tic­u­larly the French wines (it has the coun­try’s largest col­lec­tion of bordeaux and bur­gundy), which are paired with ex­ec­u­tive chef Robin Wick­ens’ de­gus­ta­tion menu.

With a kitchen gar­den that pro­vides 400 va­ri­eties of veg­etable, herb and fruit, the menu changes daily. The ho­tel breeds its own lamb and beef next door on its Mt Stur­geon prop­erty, and Wick­ens also sends out dishes such as Western District goat with beetroot, chard and Ja­panese pep­per right through to pe­tits fours in cho­co­late soil that ends the meal with a the­atri­cal flour­ish.

The Royal Mail’s old public bar is now the Parker Street Project, of­fer­ing a smaller a la carte menu but still with a huge choice of wines (many by the glass) and beers on tap.

A new-look Royal Mail is ex­pected to open next month, when the main din­ing room closes and a new restau­rant opens. The Parker Street Project will dou­ble in size.

TOUR­ING

Across the road from the Royal Mail, tucked just be­hind the main street shops, is the cel­lar hous­ing 2300 imported and lo­cal wines from a larger col­lec­tion of 26,000 as­sem­bled over many decades. A tour of the cel­lar and tast­ings with som­me­lier Matthew Lance pro­vides ideas for the choices of wines for the night’s meal. Or you can just let the som­me­lier choose the per­fect matches for you. Tours of the kitchen gar­den, just up the road from the ho­tel, can also be ar­ranged, where heir­loom veg­eta­bles, herbs, fruit, nuts and edi­ble flow­ers are grown. It is or­ganic and makes its own com­post from kitchen scraps. Green­houses ex­tend the grow­ing sea­son.

SLEEP­ING

There is won­der­ful ac­com­mo­da­tion and it’s a great start­ing point for ex­plor­ing the Grampians from their south­ern en­trance. The re­cently re­fur­bished rooms have heated floors, walk-in show­ers and each has a pri­vate bal­cony over­look­ing the south­ern end of the moun­tain range, a view that will be shared by the new din­ing room. A la carte break­fasts are of­fered at the restau­rant. Guests can also stay at the ho­tel’s Mt Stur­geon home­stead and blue­stone cot­tages (which are pet-friendly).

WALK­ING

There is walk­ing for all in the Grampians, from beginners to those ea­ger for the Peaks Trail to be fin­ished so they can tackle what prom­ises to be one of Aus­tralia’s best long-dis­tance walks.

Work is con­tin­u­ing to join ex­ist­ing tracks to pro­vide a 144km trail that will link all the area’s im­pres­sive peaks. It will run north­south be­tween Dunkeld and Mt Zero, and have des­ig­nated camp sites that will need to be booked be­fore you set out.

Parks Vic­to­ria has worked closely with the tra­di­tional own­ers to en­sure the trail is sen­si­tive to their val­ues. There has been a long­stand­ing part­ner­ship as can be seen in Hall’s Gap at the Bram­buk Cul­tural Cen­tre.

While walk­ing, you can feel the strong spir­i­tual aura that com­bines with the closed-in gul­lies and soar­ing hill­tops to make even the short walks mem­o­rable. Once on a trail, that dis­tant, dis­tinct pres­ence seen from the car be­comes more com­plex; an en­tirely tac­tile and var­ied se­ries of rock, wa­ter cour­ses and end­less veg­e­ta­tion.

Walk­ing guide Eda Wil­liamson can take you through the area’s at­trac­tions, suit­ing walks to the vis­i­tors’ abilities and the area and sights they want to see. She also runs a bed and break­fast that wel­comes pets.

Clock­wise from top left, ac­com­mo­da­tion at the Royal Mail Ho­tel at Dunkeld boasts fab­u­lous views over the Grampians; the ho­tel features a large num­ber of French wines, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia’s largest col­lec­tion of bordeaux and bur­gundy; the Grampians are per­fect for peo­ple of all ages to go hik­ing ; and the din­ing room.

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