Spotted by Locals
Shane Kelly, Grampians
When Shane Kelly sat down for breakfast at Halls Gap's Livefast Lifestyle Cafe, the tweets telegraph went to work and within minutes a party of cyclists dropped in to refuel and talk shop.
"I knew a few of them," says Kelly, who represented Australia in five Olympic Games, specialising in track cycling's 1000-metre time trial event known as the kilo. "They were on the road as part of their weekend ride from Stawell. I used to do those rides, but it has been a while. From Ararat, I'd cycle to Halls Gap, then loop up the mountain and head for home."
The mountain in question is Mount William, the highest peak in the Grampians National Park, and about 22-kilometres from Halls Gap. The region is a magnet for nature lovers, day trippers, hikers, bikers and families who explore its gorges and weathered landscapes, villages, artisan produce and communities.
Kelly has explored the Grampians since childhood and recently spent the weekend in and around Halls Gap with his wife, Matti, and young children.
"We stayed in a self-contained apartment called At The Gap, with wildlife on the doorstep. Brilliant," Kelly says. "There were kangaroos and deer nearby and emus grazing further along the road. It was unexpected, the kids loved it. The apartment had everything we needed and was close to Halls Gap's shops, but not too close. It was quiet and the views from every window were fantastic.
"Nowadays I'm pretty busy running a business. It's corporate and private coaching, team building and motivational speaking, so to get back to my roots means taking time out from work and I'm so glad I have."
Kelly nominates the Brambuk Cultural Centre, just south of Halls Gap shops, and the centre's Bushfoods Cafe dishes, as the region's hidden gem. A close second is the Venus Baths – rock pools about a kilometre's walk from the Halls Gap township. "At sunset, with shades of light on the mountains, even my little iPhone could take award-winning photos," Shane says.
"Being so close to animals is an amazing experience, especially for children," says Shane Kelly, on a visit to the Halls Gap zoo with his young daughters. "Mine were patting and feeding wallabies, kangaroos and deers." Open daily from 10am–5pm, it's Victoria's largest regional zoo and home to more than 140 native and exotic mammals, reptiles and birds. Meerkats and monkeys live at the zoo alongside red pandas and koalas, and the zoo has endangered species captive breeding programs.
Nearby is Grampians Adventure Golf, "a pretty slick 18 holes, some quite challenging," Kelly says. "If you have a morning or afternoon free I recommend it."
Next door to the mini-golf, Moco gallery exhibits the work of award-winning local artists and is a key stop on the Grampians Arts Trail, held every Easter.
North-west of Halls Gap, MacKenzie Falls is a rare, year-round waterfall. It's also Victoria's largest waterfall and the views of the Grampians from here are nothing short of spectacular. Many visitors drive to the Falls' car park, then walk. "You have a choice of walks to various vantage points," Kelly says. "We saw the falls from high above, at a lookout, then walked to the top of the falls themselves, then to the base. It's a pretty impressive site and popular, too." Picnic grounds with tables and barbecue facilities are nearby.
Places to stay
Self-contained cottages and houses, B&Bs, motels, a boutique YHA and designer retreats are dotted throughout the Grampains. Shane Kelly and his family spent a weekend at the centrally located At The Gap apartment, where views of the Grampians are framed in every window and reverse-cycle air-conditioning and gas log heating makes for comfort year round.
Food and wine
The Kelly gang recommend lunch at the Views Restaurant, a new addition to Halls Gap's Grampians Motel. The views from the motel are superb. For dinner, it's a tie between Kookaburra Bar & Bistro, for the "the best risotto I've ever had," Shane Kelly says, and the Quarry Restaurant, where steaks are slow-cooked over an open grill.
Bushfoods Cafe at Brambuk Cultural Centre is the go-to place for scrambled eggs, Kelly says, and not just if you're hungry. "My eggs came with a bush mint," he says. "The local produce here extends to bush herbs and foods." During school holidays, Brambuk rangers host gardens and bush foods programs. Year round, the restaurant's menu can include emu and crocodile dishes.
This article first appeared in The Age and is reprinted courtesy of Fairfax Media.