We have sailed past Halls Gap a few times recently in our travels without the time to have a good look around. When the opportunity for my wife, Karen and I to spend the weekend at the Halls Gap NRMA Park came up, we leapt at it. We had a cruisy three-hour drive northwest of Melbourne and checked in early on a Friday afternoon. The trip was a bit last minute, so we didn’t have much of a plan other than to get out and soak up some nature. Our lack of a plan was quickly remedied after a chat with the park reception staff. They were armed with maps and flyers on popular local walks, waterfalls and lookouts.
Natural wonders in an afternoon
A quick look at the map revealed most of the recommended destinations were quite close by. We headed up Mt Victory Road to link up a few spots. The first stop was a side detour to Silverband Falls. The walk is an undulating 800m stroll on a well-maintained path meandering alongside the pretty Dairy Creek with wattles in bloom. There are a couple of seats along the way to rest if you feel like it. Recent rain meant we found a good flow to admire.
We had whetted our appetite for falls, so the next stop was MacKenzie Falls further along Mt Victory Road. It’s one of the largest falls in Victoria and can be experienced in a variety of ways. A viewing platform provides easy access for people with limited mobility with a 500m stroll each way. If you are up to something a bit more strenuous, a 1km walk descending into the valley with a with a few flights of steep stairs (with good handrails) will have you looking the falls ‘right in the eye’. We continued on a bit further following the path of the MacKenzie River walk. I really liked the unique staircase which I reckon doubles as an art instalment. It has a lovely surface rust finish that looked like it really belonged there. You don’t get the benefit of handrails at that point, so you need to be steady on your feet. Heading back up all the stairs you are reminded that you own a set of lungs and a pair of legs but slow and steady wins the race.
Backtracking on Victory Road takes you to the shared car park for The Balconies and Reed Lookout. The walk to the Balconies is 1km each way. The flyer says it is suitable to push a pram which gives you a good idea that it is a comfortable stroll. We meandered through stringybark forests ending up at the aptly named Balconies Lookout which features distinctive rocks hanging out in space and panoramic views of Victoria Valley.
We timed our walk to be back at Reed Lookout (right at the carpark) in time for sunset. The lookout also affords expansive views of the Victoria Valley and surrounding mountain ranges. It’s a great way to get a feeling for the vastness of the Grampians while only taking a few steps from the car.
Its fair to say we moved at a brisk pace to cram these experiences into an afternoon. A full day would be ideal to cruise through these activities at a leisurely pace.
Kicking back at the park
We returned to the park in the early evening and noticed a communal campfire glowing with a bit of a gathering. We wandered over and met a lovely family staying for the weekend. We compared notes on where we had been that day and they recommended we check out Boroka Lookout for its great views of Halls Gap, the man-made lake above and the valley below.
We continued chatting and they told me they often go bush for their holidays, swagging it or taking their camper trailer. But they decided to treat themselves to the luxury of a cabin for a short getaway over the Father’s Day weekend. I can relate to that because we often tent it or stay in vans. For this getaway, we stayed in a Deluxe Villa. It is really interesting to see that this fully appointed, three-bedroom holiday house is built by Jayco. It features a master bedroom including ensuite, a second bedroom with a queen bed and a third bedroom with four bunks.
Dawn start and a big day out
Motivated by the allure of experiencing a sunrise from a special vantage point, we were out of bed just after 5am and were soon heading back up Mt Victory Road to the Boroka Lookout. We arrived at the carpark in the dark with the place to ourselves. The lookout has two viewing decks within a few hundred metres of the carpark, both accessible by wheelchair. From here we could see the lights of the Halls Gap township twinkling below. Over the next 10 minutes, 20 or so people arrived in small groups to enjoy the show. We were high enough to be looking down on the tops of the clouds illuminated by the first light. The wind picked up to nip at your face and make the mist race along the rocky outcrops. As the sun peeped out further, the clouds turned a softly glowing orange making the early start all worthwhile.
We zipped back down the mountain for breakfast back at the villa and then we were off to the Halls Gap Zoo just up the road. It’s Victoria’s largest regional zoo and has an interesting mix of native, exotic and the occasional domesticated animal. Cuter attractions include red pandas and ring-tailed lemurs. There is quite an African flavour with meerkats, giraffes and cheetahs. Aussie natives include wallabies, wombats and Tassie devils. The zoo is very hands-on with areas where you can hand-feed enthusiastic deer.
If you want to get really close to your favourite animals, you can sign up for a personal encounter. We were lucky enough to share some time with the energetic meerkats who are real crowd pleasers and an affectionate alpine dingo named Bobby.
We were up for a laugh in the afternoon and headed off for 18 holes of mini golf at Grampians Adventure Golf. Also close to town, the course is nestled in the trees and has a bit of a jungle feel about it. Young and old were out in force with some having a very competitive look in their eye. If you don’t feel like battling it out, the same precinct has a café bar and art gallery so there is something for everybody.
Footy finals fever and the local pub
My wife and the in-laws are crazy about the footy and they hatched a plan to get together to watch two Saturday night finals. So, from Melbourne comes my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. It was wisely decided that their over-enthusiasm should be contained to the villa rather than be seen in public. Fortunately, the living area was huge with plenty of room for a decent-sized crowd to watch the telly.
We figured we had time to slip down to the pub for a quick meal in between the games. We were on a mission, so we drove but you could stroll from the NRMA Park to The Halls Gap Pub if you wanted to stretch your legs. The pub has a great country atmosphere with a classic open fire and is clearly popular as there were no spare tables. We enjoyed great meals from a menu with plenty to choose from and a selection of beers on tap. We were having too much fun, so the plan changed, and we watched the second game on the big screen at the bar. Fortunately, my relatives behaved themselves!
Returning to the villa, the three-bedroom set-up worked out perfectly for our motley crew who were ready to retire after all the excitement.
After a good night’s sleep, Sunday morning was the first real chance to slow down and appreciate the park. The rugged, rocky mountain ranges surrounding the park are unique and provide an impressive backdrop for all park users. Strolling around the park revealed there was plenty on offer for kids and active adults. The two pools are picturesque and there were kids in there having fun even though I was wearing a down jacket! The good old jumping pillow was getting a good workout, the bike pump track was buzzing, and pedal go-karts were putting smiles on dials around the park. Other activities on offer include tennis and beach volleyball. I spotted an indoor cinema in my wanderings and more than one kangaroo casually hopping about.
On my stroll, I bumped into Andrew, the park manager and we had a chat about NRMA parks. Andrew explained to me a lot of people perceive it to be a NSW thing because that’s where the organisation originated. NRMA stands for National Roads and Motorists' Association. The brand is linked with roadside assistance, insurance and tourist parks. NRMA Parks' presence is steadily growing outside of NSW. NRMA Parks now owns or manages 13 parks scattered across Victoria and 40 nationally.
Andrew invited me to check out the kid’s outdoor program run by a number of NRMA Parks. Inspired by TV personality Bear Grylls’ adventures, kids get to have a crack at all kinds of fun activities including camouflage face painting, building a bush shelter, clamouring on ropes and throwing at targets. It definitely sounds like a great way to keep the kids engaged.
Completing my stroll, I could see the park offers various levels of accommodation from the fancy villa we were put up in right through to simple one-bedroom cabins. Nicely grassed caravan/tent sites are plentiful with ensuite, powered and unpowered options to choose from. And everything looks neat, tidy and well maintained.
We are coming back
Frying up a hearty breakfast on the outdoor barbecue, my wife and the in-laws compared notes on the accommodation. People talk about going back to this town or that town for the best vanilla slice or the best pie. There were plenty of reasons, but we decided we could come back to Halls Gap just for the best shower ever! The shower heads in the villa were huge, gushing out torrents of hot water. A real pleasure compared to the miserly shower heads you find just about anywhere else.
Our very indulgent showers were fed by Lake Bellfield. After checking out we headed off to the man-made lake just 8km out of town. It’s well worth a visit as the town's water supply also doubles as a recreational lake. Swimming, kayaking, fishing and boats (without internal combustion engines) are permitted at this wonderful resource. There are plenty of picnic spots with great views across the lake and rocky ranges into the distance.
On the drive home, we decided there was plenty to do next time. We could look forward to some of the more adventurous walks such as Hollow Mountain that involve rock scrambling. And we heard great things about Grampians Wine Tours. The Beer and Wine Blast sounds like a fun tour to check out with stops at a local vineyard, microbrewery and a classic Aussie pub.
Thanks Halls Gap. See you next time.
Halls Gap Visitor Contacts:
EXPLORING WINTER FANTASY OF PHILLIP ISLAND