By James Worthington
There comes a time when a married bloke with kids needs to let off a bit of steam – so that’s why Hayley (and Loz) organised the ultimate 3-night road trip to Halls Gap, to see everything we could in and around the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park in Victoria. Now this is a place where you could easily do the “relaxation thing”, with plenty of comfort food, multiple coffees, slow mornings and family walks around the base of the mountains. Or you could do what we did and cram about a week’s worth of bucket list experiences, family adventure AND world-class food into a three-night #grampiansroadtrip.
I had only ever heard about the Grampians through Hayley’s fond memories of family holidays trekking all day with her rather energetic parents, as Hayley and Ryan dragged their tired legs behind them. Before this trip, I always said, “Yeah, we should do a walking holiday in the Grampians like you did with your parents”… but had no intention of ever doing it. Oh, how wrong I have been to dismiss this place! After our epic road trip, hand on heart, I can say that #thegrampians are the ultimate adventure playground for adults and kids alike. Our itinerary was choc-o-block and we needed to hit the road early on day one to fit everything in. Here’s how we did it…
Coffee with Keith
I love a road trip and blasting all our favourite tunes is part of the fun. But rather than playing Keith Urban on Spotify, we visited Keith Rural instead! Our first coffee of the day set the bar high… very high. Henry & Rose is no ordinary “truck stop” – it has an all-day brunch menu and coffee to satisfy even the biggest coffee snobs, like yours truly.
A place to let the kids cut loose
Speaking of country music, our next stop was Horsham, which is known for its country music festival and abundance of art. We couldn’t pass up this opportunity to visit the Horsham Regional Art Gallery, which was showing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in an exhibition called, “Body Language”. Really cool stuff and the highlight was three Star Wars-inspired pieces of digital art.
When travelling with our kids, it’s almost mandatory to find the local skate park or pump track. Well, Horsham has both! The boys had new scooters to test out, so they got to stretch their legs at Adventure Island and Apex Pump Track, only a short drive from main street and on the banks of the beautiful Wimmera River. If we didn’t need to be in Halls Gap that arvo, we could’ve easily killed a few hours on the track, adventure playground, bike paths, BMX track, barbecues and picnic tables.
The animals are much BIGGER around these parts
You can’t drive into Vicco without passing the iconic Giant Koala, about halfway between Stawell and Horsham – the kids loved seeing it looming over the Western Highway. And we heard rumours about its laser red eyes at night, making it look like something ready to take on Godzilla right after she defeats Kong! There’s also a gift shop and if we didn’t have more driving to do, we would’ve made time to head into the Tavern for something to eat and to blow the froth off a coupla “koala beers”.
Closer to our accommodation in Halls Gap, we spent the afternoon at Five Ducks Farm. GIANT geese roam around outside their recently renovated shop, which is loaded with home-made jams (including sugar-free varieties), lemon curd, honey, savoury pastes, chutneys and spreads made from seasonal local berries and produce in #thegrampians area. Oh, they even make a custard ice cream – our kids nearly lost their minds! There were so many to choose from, so we all picked out some savoury and sweet jams for our #grampiansroadtrip.
There was no way I was cooking dinner after driving all day
I love to cook, but the choice of family-friendly places to eat around Halls Gap is too good! Our TGIF moment happened at Barney’s Bar & Bistro, where we could think of nothing better for dinner than a parmy with chips – or “parma” to the locals. Barney’s was packed and we have no doubt the food and hospitality were the reasons for it. I would’ve been happy with a “parma”, but couldn’t help but be like the Mario Brothers and level-up to the eye fillet. Col has a large arsenal of jokes and his team knows how to do an epic steak. If you’re in the area, make time for dinner and a few laughs, at Barney’s.
Halls Gap Zoo
We had no idea there would be a world-class zoo at the base of #thegrampians! What an experience to get up close with the kinds of animals you’d expect to see in capital cities and zoos on the other side of the world. Cheetahs, giraffes, alligators, snakes, Texas longhorns, two enormous bisons and my absolute favourite, a two-and-a-half tonne Southern White Rhino named Kapamba, or “Pumbi” for short. Watching him from afar just wasn’t going to cut it when I’ve waited over 40 years for this bucket-list moment. So, we all booked in for an intimate encounter, where we could feed and pat Pumbi, watch him have a mud bath and learn a bit about a day in the life of one of the most majestic animals on the planet.
Even more for the kids
Halls Gap Zoo also has a massive adventure playground and dinosaur exhibit, where you can grab a decent coffee and watch the kids run wild! And if they have any energy left after all of that, there’s always Grampians Adventure Golf.
Just out of town is this little piece of paradise… for the kids. Grampians Adventure Golf has 18 holes set around five waterfalls, six ponds and obstacles galore to test your putting ability. Now, you might’ve conquered a few courses around Adelaide, but this place will test your putting and your patience – both of mine struggled. You’ll need to putt across creeks, around rock walls and down six-foot drops. This is the most challenging and rewarding round of mini-golf I’ve ever seen!
Dinner at the local
I need to give you the heads-up, this isn’t Alf and Ailsa’s Diner in Summer Bay and you’ll want to be prepared to eat a lot of really, REALLY good food on your #grampiansroadtrip! The Halls Gap Hotel sits in the foothills on the edge of town and has attracted some seriously talented people from around the globe to prepare the massive international menu on offer. With a few log fires to warm the bistro and the kids very busy in the “Brat Shack”, we sat back and stuffed ourselves silly with incredible local produce, wine and desserts. Our kids gave it five stars, too. Alfie loves his pasta, but I’ve never seen him inhale an adult-sized bowl of spaghetti as fast as he did that night! Austin has slightly more sophisticated tastes than his little brother and went with the kids’ grilled steak, house gravy and seasonal veggies.
We met The Rock!
If you’re into celebrity spotting, there’s no bigger star around #thegrampians than “The Rock”. On Sunday morning, we woke the kids up and met Adrian from Absolute Outdoors at the base of the mountain. Now, I’ve got to tell you the older I get, the worse I am with heights. But Adrian’s experience and calm demeanor made us (me) feel completely at ease as we scaled the rock that has lived there for millions of years.
And I’m going to emphasise that this wasn’t just Hayley and me climbing; the kids went up, too! Absolute Outdoors caters for all ages and abilities, so you can climb, paddle, ride or even abseil to a level that you’re completely comfortable with. I went a little beyond my comfort zone, but these are the lengths I’ll go to as a hard-hitting journalist for Adelady!
A GREAT lunch
Great Western is part of #thegrampians wine region and lies about 30 minutes outside of Halls Gap. A booking at Salingers was totally worth the short drive after our rock-climbing adventure, as their all-day breakfast, dumplings and high-end presentation will win you over. And if that somehow doesn’t do it, the region’s best coffee (and milkshakes) surely will!
Got locked up in Ararat
If you Google things to see and do around Ararat, J-Ward Gaol and Lunatic Asylum will be at the top of every tour guide or reviewer’s list. Have a think about all the crime shows and doccos on Netflix – people seem to love them! Well, this is your chance to hear the stories in the place that they happened. Over a two-hour tour, you’ll hear all the grizzly stories about criminals and former inmates. And don’t forget to bring a warm jacket, as you’ll get a real feel for what the residents went through. You’ll hear about Australia’s longest serving inmate and some of Australia’s youngest. Oh, Chopper Read spent a bit of time at J-Ward, too!
On release from gaol, we celebrated making parole with a visit to the Ararat Gallery Textile Art Museum, followed by a skate down at Ararat’s gigantic skate park!
I might’ve mentioned that I’m a little bit of a coffee snob? Massive. Coffee. Snob! So, I suggested we do a quick detour through one of the region’s oldest towns, Dunkeld, to grab a coffee from the famous Dunkeld Bakery. And nothing goes better with coffee than freshly-baked blueberry muffins, or apple and vanilla slice!
If you’re a nature lover like we are, Dunkeld also has a living collection of the world’s trees. You can drive slowly through the Dunkeld Arboretum, with coffee in hand, or stay a while for a picnic and the walking trails. It’s a beautiful place and the ideal way to recharge before we #takethewheel for the drive back home to Adelaide!
One good coffee deserves another
The long(ish) drive back to Adelaide can be broken up into stops for morning tea, lunch or a stretch of the legs at one of the magnificent waterfalls. We chose to do that in Hamilton, which is a bustling little town full of retail shops and places to eat. The kids loved it because there’s an enormous Adventure Playground at Lakes Edge – with dog park – for those who love to take their pooch on holidays! And just down the road from the playground, yep, we found the Hamilton skate park. One more for the road and the perfect way to round out our amazing few nights away with the kids to #thegrampians.