Neighbourhood Watch / Halls Gap19 August 2015
Halls Gap is a small tourist village nestled in the Grampians National Park, familiar to many abseiling enthusiasts, rock climbers and bush walkers. The park, also named Gariwerd in one of the local Aboriginal languages, is located off the Western Highway between Stawell and Horsham – about a three-hour drive from Melbourne. The township itself is quite literally situated in a gap in the mountains, and was originally settled by Charles Hall in the mid-1800s as a cattle grazing run. The mountains appear to lean into the village, making it seem simultaneously claustrophobic and open, an oasis in the dry wheat belt.
The place is dense with flora and fauna and thus prone to bushfires; it was nearly devastated by fire in January last year, and many houses in nearby Wartook and Brimpaen were destroyed. Much of the greenery that was destroyed has now regrown and it’s as lush as ever. The township itself is modest in its offerings: there are a handful of stores on the Stoney Creek strip, including some cafes, a first-rate ice cream shop, and an equipment shop or two if you’re keen to dabble in something a bit more on the extreme side.
There are countless bushwalks for people of every fitness level, and it would be remiss to not brave a few. The sandstone mountains are quite rugged at parts so be aware of this in choosing appropriate tracks to take. The iconic MacKenzie Falls is just outside of Halls Gap and is one of the most spectacular waterfalls you’ll find in Victoria, but a word of warning: the trip back up is super steep. The walk to Venus Baths is comparatively easy and a personal favourite during summer; the water is clean enough to drink or paddle in.
A trip to Brambuk is absolute essential for first time visitors to Halls Gap. It’s Australia’s longest running Aboriginal cultural centre, and the architecture of the building itself is a sight to behold. The roof is shaped like a cockatoo in flight, and within the walls there’s the Gariwerd Dreaming Theatre, boomerang and didgeridoo workshops, and opportunities for bushfood walks. Gariwerd itself is home to many original Aboriginal rock art sites and being able to appreciate this local history enriches the experience of the place.
It very much feels as if nature is king in the Grampians, and the structures built in its shadow seem slapdash. It’s certainly a tourist’s dream in its almost clichéd embodiment of Australia: the bush, the roos, the imposing mountains. The relatively new Halls Gap Zoo is also worth a look for those who are comfortable with being pestered by tame deer that wander the grounds. Whilst the cocky free-range deer are reason enough to visit, there’s an unexpectedly extensive variety of both native and exotic animals in a far calmer environment than most zoos.
The place is a bonafide tourist town, so if you visit in the summer be prepared to encounter avid climbers and hikers of all abilities and scores of Melbourne families. During the off-peak season you’re also bound to see some school groups. The Grampians Grape Escape, a long-running food and wine festival, is also held every year in the first week of May, so be aware that accommodation around this time will fill up quickly. Even so, the options are many and varied. A handful of cheap (and quite nice) motor inns and caravan parks are available alongside more upmarket resorts and houses.
If you’re eager for a tree change, even just for a weekend, consider giving Halls Gap a go. It seems immune to huge change in that there is an immense sense of serenity, whatever the season.