… and then it happened.
Rounding a corner on the M8 Western Highway, a little past Ballarat and about two hours drive from Melbourne, the Grampians suddenly peeled into view. It had a palpable impact on all of us in the car. Even from some distance these mountains appeared majestic and seemed to beckon us silently towards them. Excitement about the weekend ahead began to rise.
Nice as it is the M8 is just another freeway. Double-laned highways are so ubiquitous the world over. It’s not until you leave them that the countryside around you can begin to cast its soothing spell. And our very first stop on our Grampians Getaway was indeed magical.
Mount Langi Ghiran vineyard.
The location of the Mt Langi Ghiran winery is simply jaw-dropping. It’s vines and cellar-door are hewn into a spectacular undulating landscape. This beautiful man-made vista is juxtaposed against a magnificent natural backdrop. The peaks of the Langi Ghiran State Park cast mighty shadows across the verdant lands beneath. This is a special spot.
So unique in fact is the spirit of this place that the winery have infused this image onto the label of a new range of cellar-door-only wines entitled Spinoff. Well worth a try of course as is the whole suite of sumptuous wines on offer. For those non wine-drinkers or children in tow why not request the Bocce balls and head up for a game amidst the stunning scenery. Great news for those left at the tasting. Now there’s no rush is there!
Click an image to enlarge
Be careful with the turnoff. After a cursory glance on a map you’ll plan to exit onto Buangor-Ben Nevis Road; but don’t. Mainly because you can’t – anymore. A freeway upgrade now means that you must exit beforehand at the tiny hamlet of Buangor. Look for the exit sign that says Warrak/Buangor. After exiting turn right onto Peacocks Rd and then pass over the Western Highway enroute to the wineries. In fact this flyover is a good spot to smugly pause and watch other wine-lovers rocketing past beneath you who haven’t read this blog post.
From Mt Langi Ghiran you are roughly an hours drive away from Halls Gap. It’s both sensible and pleasant to break the journey in the small regional city of Ararat. If anyone is a little hungry there are plenty of dining options along the main street and for those self-catering during your stay in the Grampians Ararat has two supermarkets. Make sure to check out the beautiful Alexandra Gardens if time allows. An oasis of stunning green lawns, an ornamental lake, colourful garden beds, a network of walking paths and a great playground for the kids.
All Hail Halls Gap.
The 45 minute drive from Ararat to Halls Gap is such a pleasure. Gone are the fumes and congestion of Melbourne replaced by a snaking one lane road verged on either side by native flora and grandiose views. We travelled with our windows down, wind in our hair and the bursting aroma of Eucalyptus filling our nostrils. We were giddy with happiness and we hadn’t even arrived yet!!
To me the hamlet of Halls Gap fells like an amalgam of Switzerland and British Columbia. The village sprawls along a valley floor betwixt might peaks and sheer cliffs above. There were times that I caught myself thinking…
Am I really only three hours away from Melbourne?! How can this be?
Halls Gap just seems to whisper “relax” at every turn and you’ll overhear more languages here than at the United Nations coffee cart. It all adds to the feeling of exploration and discovery. For Melburnians in particular I think it’s even more special. To get to this magical natural amphitheatre I didn’t need a passport and crowded airport just a Toyota and a tank of fuel. It’s almost embarrassingly easy!
Halls Gap attractions.
Undoubtedly the main appeal of Halls Gap is its natural beauty and the nexus it provides the visitor to mother nature. At dusk and dawn you will see kangaroos, emus and even deer wandering about the lawns and gardens of the town. It is a wonderfully pristine environment. However there are other attractions in town well worth a visit too:
- The Brambuk Cultural Centre.
Interactively discover the culture of the local ‘Gariwerd’ Aboriginal communities through excellent multimedia shows, art exhibitions, artefact displays and elder talks. Plenty on offer for the kids too such as didgeridoo playing, traditional dance, boomerang throwing and finger painting activities.
- Halls Gap Zoo.
If you discover (like I did) that majestic mountain vistas, sweeping viewpoint panoramas and lung-expanding mountain hikes appeal rather more to you than your offspring then the Halls Gap Zoo is just the ticket. Set amidst what must surely be one of the most scenically beautiful locations of any zoo in the world it’s the perfect way to spend some quality family time together. It’s home to more than 160 species of native & exotic mammals, reptiles and birds and even offers ‘animal encounters’ – and no kids that’s not the name of an iPhone app.
- Halls Gap shopping strip, Coolas Ice-Creamery & Tourist Information Centre.
Have all your Grampians questions answered at the super helpful Info Centre before nabbing yourself an indecently delicious Coolas waffle-cone ice cream. It’s the stuff of legend around here for good reason. The fudge is insanely good too. Where is it? Just look for the crowds on a hot day! There’s also a small selection of retail boutiques to check out too if that appeals.
Ok. Now you’ll need to walk off some of that ice cream won’t you…
Below we’re highlighting our three absolute favourite Grampians activities that are all easily accessible by car from Halls Gap.
Here they are…
Our Grampians ‘Top 3’.
This lofty lookout is 16 kilometres from Halls Gap. Whilst the crow flies straight, you on the other hand, will be zig-zagging and winding slowly along the C222 to your destination. Whilst Boroka is a treat at any time of day it is at sunrise that she truly shines – literally.
If you do make the sunrise pilgrimage dress warmly (even during summer) and drive with extreme caution as the question pre-dawn is not if you will see animals but rather how many. The lookout affords magnificent 180 degree views out over Halls Gap and beyond.
Reeds Lookout and The Balconies. (Three kilometres further along the C222)
Reeds lookout is handily situated right at the car park. There are in actual fact multiple vantage points all of which overlook the incredible forested expanse of the Grampians National Park. It is a spellbinding vista. Get ready to feel very small! This is mother nature at her bombastic best.
Be sure to leave the two platforms at the carpark and make the easy stroll up the fire road to the helipad. Follow the path around the gate and along the sealed road. From here you will be rewarded with 270 degrees of breathtaking views over Victoria Valley, Serra Range, Lake Wartook and the Mt Difficult Range. It’s only a two minute walk up or thereabouts.
For those feeling a little more energetic then a meander up to the Balconies is well worth it. It is a two kilometre round trip uphill on the way there. The weather in these parts can be very changeable so layer-up your clothes just incase a nasty squall floats in whilst you are at the other end of the track.
The view on offer at the Balconies is almost ethereal. I felt humbled just witnessing such beauty and magnitude.
If you are a photographer then you will want to hit the lookouts around ‘Golden Hour’ – the hour before sunset. The colours can be sublime. If not I would actually recommend staying away from this rush hour period. The car park is likely to be full to overflowing – particularly on weekends – and there can be a cast of hundreds alongside you. At other times of the day you will get a much more personal experience here and those views don’t change.
MacKenzie Falls. (Five kilometres further along the C222)
These magnificent falls flow mightily all year round and there are a number of different ways that they can be viewed. If you simply want to observe – rather than make the effort to walk down to them – there are two wonderful viewing platforms that provide impressive views of the action below. Both are suitable to be reached by wheelchairs.
However I do suggest the walk down to the falls proper if you can manage it. There is a well formed trail down to the first section of cascades that then flow down to and over a sheer 60 metre plunge. The last section of the walk is very steep and the stairs can be slippery. Take care. But oh boy, the rewards are so worth it.
The MacKenzie Falls really deserve a blog post all of their own so stay tuned for that. Whilst you wait though visit this Parks Victoria link for more details on the extensive network of trails and walks available in this area.
However you choose to view these falls though one thing is for sure – You simply must visit!
MacKenzie Falls may also be a busy spot depending on what day and time of year you visit. We recommend a visit as early in the day as you can muster. You might even be very lucky and get them all to yourselves!
The stairs up and down to MacKenzie Falls do need to be treated with some caution. They are very steep and become quite slippery down by the falls themselves. Take care! It is roughly 110m back up the trail with a very steep degree of elevation. You will need to assess your own ability to undertake this walk based on your own fitness levels. Go slow, be safe and make your own judgements. Over to you.
Where to stay and eat.
For a tiny town – population 613 (2011 census) – there is no shortage of accommodation and dining options. All budgets and tastes seem to be catered for. We’ll list a few of our favs below:
Food & Drink.
- Harvest Halls Gap Café & Provedore, 2 Heath St.
A very ‘Melbourne’ cafe in look & feel. Stylish decor and a wonderful outdoor decking area provide an enticing ambience. The menu is contemporary, prices reasonable, service friendly and the coffee top notch. It is also a provedore for local Grampians producers and their yummy fare and has accommodation. Highly recommended.
Breakfast, lunch and now dinner (Fri and Sat nights)
- Red Rock Olives’ Grove and Farm Gate Café, 3594 Ararat – Halls Gap Rd, Pomonal.
Located close to the Halls Gap Zoo Red Rocks is a great place to pop into for a sampling or just to sit back, sip a coffee on the deck and discuss the day’s antics. Produced on their own chemical-free olive groves their tasty oval treats are scrumptious. Their Olive Salt was flying off the shelves whilst we were there and their olive oil as you would expect is silkily divine! Oh and you just gotta try the cheese platter! All foods available for purchase are sourced locally.
Open from 10am – 5pm, seven days.
- The Views Restaurant. Grampians Motel, 394-404 Grampians Rd.
Ok now we have a very Halls Gap dining option. In fact so much so that our children even got to feed ‘Lemontree’ the tame-ish but still wild kangaroo during dinner. Lemontree is oft to wander up to the restaurant in the early evening and really adds to the experience. In daylight hours the view from the patio across to towering cliffs opposite is highly recommended. Top spot for a Sun-downer. The excellent menu is modern Australian with a soupçon of European influences and the creme brulee for desert is simply delicious. We didn’t try the kangaroo!!
Lunch and dinner. Booking for dinner recommended.
Click to view a full range of Halls Gap dining options.
You are spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation options here. You will find plenty of hotels, motels, AirBNBs, cabins and camp grounds in Halls Gap and surrounds. Just consult your favoured accommodation website for all the options. Two that we have stayed in and enjoyed are:
Grampians Pioneer Cottages.
Comprising four bespoke cottages hand-built from locally-sourced natural materials these dwellings ooze rustic charm. You have the choice of Redgum log, Redbrick, Mudbrick or Stone Cottages all individually ensconced on 60 acres of beautiful bushland overlooking the Grampians. The location is mind-blowing. Relax on the veranda with glass in hand as kangaroos nibble mere metres away whilst a roaring open-fire warms the cottage for your return. Bliss. Very family-friendly yet each cottage is still secluded enough for a very private and enriching couples getaway.
If you have a penchant for something a little more contemporary in style then the centrally located Gariwerd Motel is a good option. Comprising 25 clean, quiet and comfortable rooms all feature a TV/ DVD player, mini fridge, tea/ coffee & toast making facilities and Free Wifi. The small breakfast room also seems to be a great place to meet travellers from all over the world and share your travel stories over some really good coffee.
The Halls Gap wrap.
I think it would be fair to say that most Australians default to overseas destinations when planning their next holidays. Well at least I know I do – or should I say I did.
I’m loving the ease these days of avoiding crowded airports, security screening, screaming babies and $7 coffees by filling our car with petrol and discovering a world right on my own doorstep.
With beauty like that afforded by Halls Gap and the Grampians only a three hour drive away I’ll be doing more and more of these local getaways. It really is true that you don’t have to travel far to escape ordinary.
HALLS GAP FAST FACTS:
- Driving: 250 kilometres from Melbourne | 3 hours drive direct on the M8/ A8 Western Highway |Driving Conditions – use caution at all times due to wildlife. Knock off at least 20 kph at dusk and dawn in the area.
- Accommodation & Dining Options: Plenty!
- Shopping: Shops for provisions – yes | Supermarket(s) – no | Boutiques/ Souvenirs – yup.
- Petrol Station: Yes (closes early. 7pm but check).
- Tourist Information Centre: Yes.
- Suitable as day trip: No.
- Halls Gap is blessed with a plethora of Events & Festivals throughout the year. From film to food, jazz to Indie music. Click the link above for a calendar of events or check out our post on the Grampians Music Festival.
- Grampians Tourism website. We’ve only scratched the surface in this post. Visit the excellent Grampians region website for all the info you will need
- Parks Victoria website. Fantastic site for those of an adventurous ilk. Detailed information about the National Park and the vast network of walks and trails within it.
Please note: Some portions of this itinerary were covered by Grampians Tourism for research purposes. All opinions and views expressed are our own. All photography © Saxon Templeton.