What to do in Dunkeld, Victoria
A local gem at the tip of the Grampians.
A quarter of a million tourists and rising visit Dunkeld each year. They come for festivals and markets, for runs, racing and a rodeo, to eat, drink, hike or simply to contemplate. What stays with them is the thing locals love about their gem at the southern tip of the Grampians – a very Australian beauty which, like the three mountain peaks that frame the town, reveals a little more of itself with each and every glance.
Image slideshow: Dunkeld Arboretum and Mount Sturgeon, Wickens at Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld Arboretum at sunrise.
“I work across Australia, and my favourite part of work is coming home,” says Darren ‘Cat’ Gordon, an agricultural consultant old enough to remember Dunkeld as a shearer’s town where Friday was fight night at the pub. “If you didn’t have enough of a go Friday night you’d be back Saturday. It was a tough town, and I’m very glad it’s not any more.”
Chef Dan Hunter brought his knives to the table in 2007 and made the Royal Mail Hotel a rural gastronomic trailblazer. Under current chef Robin Wickens the pub remains a key pillar in drawing visitors with hearty appetites, and budgets to match. Undoubtedly the revamped pub changed Dunkeld, but the community has taken the ball and run with it.
Three years ago, Alison Prentice and husband Derek started the Peaks & Trails Run, which in August draws up to 450 fit folk to tackle a range of tracks into the Grampians, including a 50-kilometre ultra marathon that sends runners up Mount Sturgeon, The Picaninny and Mount Abrupt. “We have 50 volunteers on course during the runs, out there all day,” Alison says. “They’re all locals.”
It’s home, that’s my heart. The Grampians alone are like 10 encyclopedias of stories.
After last year’s event, a French runner told organisers he’d done trail runs all over Europe, and this was as beautiful as any.
The mountain range towers over the pub, the primary school, the cricket club that shares the school oval, and the famed racetrack that each November is swamped by 15,000 revellers for the Dunkeld Cup.
Schooling the locals in the riches of the Grampians begins early; once a fortnight pre-schoolers are bussed to The Picaninny (a spectacular slope wedged between the mountains) for ‘Bush Kinder’, to climb trees, play with sticks and spot animals.
For some, like Indigenous artist Nerissa Major, the mountains are alive with the stories of her people, the Jardwadjali, and her cousins’ country, the Djab Wurrung. “My centre point of caring for country is the Three Peaks. It’s home, that’s my heart. The Grampians alone are like 10 encyclopedias of stories.”
Tourists have long been awake to this, travelling the Great Ocean Road before heading back to Melbourne via Dunkeld. Visitor numbers to this town of fewer than 700 permanent residents are tipped to grow by more than 200 a day from 2020, when 144 kilometres of walking track will finally connect Mount Zero, at the tip, to Dunkeld at the toe.
“There might be a run in that,” Alison Prentice smiles. “Zero to Hero, how’s that sound?”
Mount Sturgeon from the Dunkeld Arboretum.