Picnic At Hanging Rock

Hanging Rock is a granite rock formation situated approximately 60 kilometers north east of Melbourne, Victoria. Together with the nearby Mount Diogenes, it is part of an area of Regional Open Space parkland classified as the Black Range State Park.

Hanging Rock, Victoria
Hanging Rock, Victoria

The unusual name of the hill was probably given by surveyor William Naismith after he surveyed the area in 1853. The top of the rock formation has several large outcrops which are popular with rock climbers, and there are expansive views across Gippsland from the summit which is approximately 643 metres above sea level.


Hanging Rock was known to local Aborigines as ‘Dandenong’ or ‘Yarra Yarra’ and it first became known to Europeans in 1838 when explored by Major Thomas Mitchell.

The 1:25,000 map series shows the rock as named Hanging Rock and adjacent to it Mount Diogenes as ‘Diogenes Hill’.

Hanging Rock Reserve was proclaimed on 16 December 1969 under the provisions of the Crown Land (Reserves) Act,1906.

Hanging Rock is surrounded by the Warkite Aboriginal Australian people who used the area for tribal meetings and trade gatherings. The traditional name for Hanging Rock is Dandenong which means ‘Rock suspended’ or ‘Suspended Rock’. It is thought that the name Yarra Yarra is also associated with Hanging Rock.

Hanging Rock Reserve is classified as an IUCN Category III protected area.

The Kulin nation’s people gathered regularly at the rock to feast on the Bogong moth that flies annually from mid-August through to early October, and which provided a rich source of protein. The Yawangi, the Aboriginal name for Hanging Rock, has strong connections with Yuin (south coast Aborigines). It is believed that women of the Gunditjmara nation would gather to meet and socialise at Hanging Rock on important occasions.

It’s said that in 1841 many Kulin people attended a corroboree near Dandenong Ranges. As many as 600 came to see the two marriage ceremonies of two men and two women who had eloped from different parts of Victoria. There are accounts that Aboriginal people were still visiting Hanging Rock after white settlers arrived for picnics in the 1850s, but by 1889 it was reported to be almost deserted – ‘only two or three blacks’ were seen in the vicinity.

In 1914, a group of Kulin people led by William Barak returned to Hanging Rock from Coranderrk mission near Healesville and performed a corroboree. Other recorded visits to Hanging Rock include one in 1934 when approximately 200 Kulin people went there for a ceremony, and in 1986 when a group of 100 people from all over Victoria arrived at the rock to celebrate the Kulin peoples’ gathering.

In 1926, Hanging Rock was fenced off with barbed wire because it had become a favoured site for clandestine trysts …

There’s more than just bogong moths that live up here.

There’s ghosts too. The spirits of the Gunditjmara people who once lived here.

Gunditjmara women used to gather up on top of Hanging Rock, where they would chew on bogong moth larvae so they could ingest the hormones that turn men into sex-mad beasts. They would then go down into Melbourne and gather up all the bogong moths by dancing around them and leading them on a string, like you’d lead a dog on a leash. The sexed-up bogongs would fly back to Hanging Rock and deposit their moth spawn in the cracks between the rocks, which is why there’s so many insects here now.

picnic at hanging rock

Part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, Hanging Rock Reserve is managed by Bush Heritage Australia. Even though it’s just 70 minutes from the city, Hanging Rock feels like you’ve stepped into another world – standing amongst towering stands of mountain ash and manna gums, looking up at the imposing volcanic cliffs, which are streaked with white quartzite – it’s the sort of place where you could lose your sense of time and space.

But in January 2015, Bush Heritage Australia opened up Hanging Rock to the public for bushwalking again after closing it in 2011 due to “the risk posed by increased visitation”. Until recently though, visitors were not allowed to leave the main path that winds through the park.

That changed last year, when Bush Heritage Australia opened up Hanging Rock for bushwalkers to walk off the beaten track and camp overnight.

It’s now part of a trial to determine if there might be enough interest in overnighting at Hanging Rock that the park could stay open longer.

Even though it takes four hours to walk to Hanging Rock from Fernshaw and back, and most people don’t make it all the way down here on their own steam (some come by train or on a coach trip from Healesville), there’s been a surprisingly good response.

Can you picnic near the waterfalls at Hanging Rock?

The answer is yes, but only if you don’t mind being stared at by a bunch of feral goats that have been christened the Rock Goats.

There’s six of them, and they spend most of their time standing on their hind legs on top of rock formations, trying to eat leaves from low-lying shrubs or whatever yellow or orange flowers they can find.

They have a majestic presence, and will often look straight at you as if to say, “Come closer!”

A ranger estimates it’s been between two and three years. We also learn that there used to be a colony of black swans that lived here, but they all flew away one day and were never seen again.

Can you picnic on top of Hanging Rock?

No, you can’t.

Hanging Rock is sacred ground and you can’t light a fire here or set foot on it at all. Which means there’s no camping allowed at this reserve either, not even by the lake. You can have a barbecue down on the rocks next to the water though. There are some picnic tables there too.

Or if you want to go somewhere with more facilities, Bush Heritage Australia runs three other reserves in the local area that all have campsites – Spinifex Ridge, Bornes Hill and Empress Falls.

What can you do in Hanging Rock beside picnic?

Bush Heritage Australia offers a range of activities for visitors.

You can join a guided walk to learn about the ecology and culture of Hanging Rock from 12pm-3.30pm weekends and public holidays from now until late autumn, as well as New Year’s Day. You’ll visit places such as Mount Diogenes, which Bush Heritage Australia says was “the site of an ancient Aboriginal cave ceremony, and home to sugar gliders, powerful owls and superb lyrebirds”.

There are also self-guided walks for those who want to explore the reserve at their own pace. Make sure you pick up a map at the park entrance or Visitor Centre.

You can also go kayaking in the main dam, which is situated near picnic area 2. The water might be a bit chilly in winter though – it’s fed by snowmelt from Hanging Rock. Winter visitors are advised to bring plenty of warm layers, just in case.

Other activities include horse riding and cycling.

When can you go on picnics at Hanging Rock?

The best time to visit is from April to October. The park’s open every day from 10am-4pm, but if it’s a nice weekend you might have trouble finding a park at peak times. In winter, the native plants and animals go into a state of dormancy. There are also fewer activities on offer, although you can go on a skills day from 10am-2pm every Saturday during winter.

You’ll have to look for some other place to picnic, as there’s no picnicking allowed at Hanging Rock. But remember – the beautiful natural environment is always worth visiting.

Where was the film Picnic at Hanging Rock filmed?

Some of the film was shot in the Dandenong Ranges, a couple of hours from Melbourne. The most significant location is a private property called Sandridge Park that has a lake and waterfall, but it also filmed at another nearby property called Glenburn. Both have been used for many different purposes over time, from growing turf to building a circus.

You can see some of the film’s locations on a self-guided motorbike tour or by hiring a private car.

Do the film and book “Picnic at Hanging Rock” based on fact?

Directed by Peter Weir, the film is an adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel. We’re told that “a young woman vanishes without a trace on St Valentine’s Day” in 1900, but it’s never revealed what really happened to her.

The book was based around historical events and places, including Hanging Rock itself. But no one involved in the creation of the movie really knows what happened to the missing girl. It’s now viewed as a work of fiction, not fact.

How do you get to Hanging Rock?

The best way to visit is by car, but there are also many coach operators that run tours from Melbourne. Be aware though that the nearest town is Healesville, which is about 30km from Hanging Rock. It’s best to fill up with petrol in one of the towns before you get here because there aren’t a lot of services available at Hanging Rock.

There are also some bike tracks that go through the reserve, and visitors can hire bikes from the Visitor Centre on weekends and public holidays.

What type of rock is Hanging Rock?

Hanging Rock is basaltic rock, which means it was formed by the rapid cooling of magma. It was created about 140 million years ago when volcanic eruptions occurred in what is now known as central Victoria.

The volcano that created Hanging Rock collapsed after its peak had been eroded away. This left behind Hanging Rock and nearby Mount Diogenes, which is a volcanic plug.

The rock formation was formed by the intrusion of molten basaltic rock between layers of sedimentary limestone and sandstone during the late Silurian period. The relatively hard volcanic rock we see today fractured into columns that we call “Gibraltar Pinnacles”.

What can you find at Hanging Rock?

Visitors will see many different types of native plants and animals, including wedge-tailed eagles, rosellas and cockatoos. There are over 370 species of plant in the park, such as yellow gum, mountain geebung and prickly heath.

Some rare animals that live here include the short-beaked echidna, powerful owl and parma wallaby. There are more than 30 types of fish including redfin perch, Macquarie perch and Murray cod.

What’s the history of Hanging Rock?

The land was originally inhabited by Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years before European settlers started arriving in Australia in 1788. It wasn’t until 1851 that the land around Hanging Rock was properly surveyed and divided up, and by 1860 all of the good farming land had been taken.

The area around Mount Diogenes became a camping place for gold miners during the gold rush of the 1850s, but it wasn’t until 1901 that locals started calling it Hanging Rock.

It was named after a nearby cliff formation called Hanging Rock, which was first reported as “Ayer’s Rock” by Hamilton Hume and William Hovell in 1824. The rock got its European name from John Aitken, who later described it as “the most remarkable object in the neighbourhood of Mount Macedon”.

How long is Hanging Rock Trail?

The Hanging Rock Reserve has a number of different tracks, from the easiest – Hanging Rock Trail – to the most strenuous – Pyramid Track. The shortest track starts at the Visitors Centre and is 5km long.

The longest stretches for 18km and includes a climb to Mount Macedon. It takes about three or four hours to complete, depending on your fitness.

Other trails include:

  • Hanging Rock and Sandstone Walk (1.1km) – starts at the Visitors Centre and takes about one hour to complete. There is also a half-day walk that visits Alexander’s Falls.
  • Kindling Trail (1.8km)
  • Kallista Parade Track (5km) – partly formed by the State Electricity Commission in 1956.
  • Kallista Fire Trail (7km) – goes to the old site of a fire tower, which had views over Bendigo and Melbourne. It takes about two hours to complete.
  • Kallista Rock Trail (2.5km)

Is it safe to go hiking at Hanging Rock?

Hanging Rock is a wilderness area, so visitors are advised to take enough water, food and clothing for day trips or overnight hikes. It’s also important to check the weather forecast before you go, because conditions can change suddenly. Summer is the best time to visit the park because you can swim in nearby Alexander’s Falls.

Winter temperatures can drop to single digits, so warm clothes are recommended. It is not recommended for inexperienced hikers or young children to go on long hikes without adult supervision.

Can I get lost at Hanging Rock?

Hanging Rock Reserve has well-marked tracks and trail markers. If you head off the marked tracks, it can become dangerous very quickly because of steep cliffs and loose rocks.

There are no water supplies in the park, so visitors must carry drinking water with them at all times. There is also no mobile phone coverage within the park.

It’s not recommended to go walking at Hanging Rock after dark, so be sure to check the opening hours before you visit.

How do I find the Picnic area at Hanging Rock?

The picnic area is easy to find if you follow the signs from Rockton Road or Mount Macedon. Make sure you take enough drinking water for your visit because there are no water supplies in the park.

What should I pack for a picnic at Hanging Rock?

There are no bins or other rubbish facilities in the picnic area, so you must take all of your rubbish with you when you leave. It’s important to remember this because it is easy to become litter-minded after visiting towns and cities.

It’s also recommended to take a mat and something to sit on, such as a rug or towel. This can make your picnic more comfortable and protect you from ant bites.

Is there campground at Hanging Rock?

There are four campgrounds in the Hanging Rock Reserve:

  • Wonga Hill Campground (includes six cabins) – has no power or water, but has a shelter and toilet.
  • Bosley’s Camp – is located near the main car park of Hanging Rock Reserve. It has no power or water, but there are barbecues and toilets on-site.
  • Holland’s Campground – is two kilometres from Wonga Hill Camp and has no power or water. It has a shelter and toilet.
  • Redbank Camp – is the most basic option, with no power or water available. There are toilets on-site, but visitors need to bring their own drinking water.

It’s recommended for campers to check opening hours before they visit the park.

What if I get lost at Picnic Area at Hanging Rock?

The Hanging Rock picnic area is well-signed, so visitors shouldn’t have any trouble finding the right track. It’s always best to take a map with you on long hikes, but make sure you leave enough time before dark.

What happens if it rains at Picnic Area at Hanging Rock?

If the ground is wet on your visit, it’s best to return home. It can become very dangerous on some tracks when they are covered in water or mud. There are no water supplies or shelters at Hanging Rock Reserve, so you should also pack an extra change of clothes.

What if I want to stay longer than planned at Picnic Area at Hanging Rock?

If you want to stay longer than planned on your visit, make sure you head back to the car park before dark. There is no mobile phone reception in the picnic area, so it’s important for safety reasons to check the opening times of Hanging Rock Reserve.

What if I get injured or lost at Hanging Rock Reserve?

If you get lost or injured at Hanging Rock Reserve, it’s important to call 000 immediately for help. Do not climb cliffs or go into dangerous areas on your own because this could make the situation worse. If you have an EPIRB with you, use it instead of wandering in an effort to find help.

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