“Mum, look to the left…shhh…just look to the left,” my seven-year-old daughter Charli whispers, barely able to contain her excitement. “Come on, we’ll creep over and they won’t see us,” she says. We quietly get out of the car and, right in front of us, three grey kangaroos stare right back at us. They don’t move, and nor do we. To see wildlife in its natural environment is captivating, no matter your age.
Ah Grampians National Park, you are truly one of Victoria’s treasures.
Every time we even drive into the vicinity of the Grampians, in Victoria’s north west, there’s an overwhelming energy about the place that anchors me; the smell of the gum trees, kangaroos hopping around, and most of all, the ancient craggy peaks and vast sandstone rocks that form the most beautiful, timeless landscape.
I am not alone, of course. The Grampians have been calling people for tens of thousands of years. The entire area is filled with rich Aboriginal rock art – the park was listed on the Australian National Heritage List in 2006 for its outstanding natural beauty and being one of the richest Aboriginal rock art sites in south-eastern Australia.
Artists are mesmerised by the light that delicately dances across the rocks, and adventure lovers are left salivating at the very thought of exploring the enormous boulders (and that includes us!).
Away with my partner Clint, our seven-year-old daughter Charli Grace, and our cameraman (and friend) Russell for a three-day break filming for our TV travel series Places We Go, I don’t think any of us expected to be able to ‘fully’ unwind on our busy schedule (we do make a TV show, after all!). Yet that’s exactly what we did. I swear the ranges are like a tonic for the soul.
While it’s an easy 260km drive (or a three-and-a-half-hour journey with a coffee stop) up the highway from Melbourne, like any parent who travels, the car was sufficiently stocked with the usual suspects (yes, the iPad) to keep our daughter entertained for the journey. But to my delight, as soon as we arrived at BIG4 Grampians Parkgate Resort in Halls Gap, that was the last we saw of the gadgets. Mother Nature proved far more alluring (not to mention the incredible activities at the holiday park).
The national park spans 167,219ha, and while there are many wonderful places to stay, a popular spot is Halls Gap. It is home to a charming main street that has a couple of fantastic cafes. However, the main attraction is the striking series of sandstone mountain ranges that feel like they go on forever.
MY TOP 5 THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN THE GRAMPIANS.
The three furry friends we met on our arrival set the tone of our entire trip. Each morning, Charli and I would peer out of our warm, cosy cabin and see kangaroos hopping about the grounds without a care in the world, as our fellow campers woke up. Even with kids cruising past them on the park’s go-karts, I still didn’t see the kangaroos bothered. You could be guaranteed at dawn and dusk they would be there sprawled out on the main lawn together.
But it’s not just the kangaroos that captured our attention. Every school holidays, the BIG4 has Halls Gap Zoo come to visit! The zoo is passionate about educating the public on wildlife by hosting up-close-and-personal encounters in which visitors can learn, understand, and respect wildlife.
When a python was introduced to the room, the kids were all lining up with their necks stuck out waiting for the slithery friend to be draped over their shoulders for a bit of a cuddle. It was a very different story when it came to me – let me just say ‘I tried’, but didn’t last 20 seconds. Ok, maybe not even 10!
2. Abseiling and rock climbing
The entire region is calling out to be explored, climbed on, and jumped off! Abseiling and rock climbing are wonderful family activities and a great way to learn is on the natural boulders that sit within the site of the holiday park. An adventure company comes to the park to teach young kids the basics of abseiling; it’s like an entry-level course before they hit the big boulders of the national park.
Our daughter Charli was kitted up with her abseiling gear and was over the edge in a flash thanks to the calming and professional directions of our instructor Adrian who comes to the park regularly to share his passion for all things adventure and outdoors.
3. Bush Walking
There are so many trails to explore in Grampians National Park; you are seriously spoilt for choice. You can of course pack a lunch and go it alone on the well-marked tracks, or take a local guide.
Hike through the Grand Canyon up to the Pinnacle, or for something a little easier you can take a stroll and check out spectacular MacKenzie Falls. We chose to take the half-hour drive from Halls Gap to Dunkeld (home to the famous Royal Mail Hotel) and take the Piccaninny Walk with Eda from Grampians Eco Tours. It was an absolute pleasure – not only did we have breathtaking views of Mount Abrupt, but we got to hear what it’s like to live in this part of the world from a local. There are PLENTY of easy walks like this to do with kids, and we passed many families doing the hike together.
4. Brambuk – The National Park and Cultural Centre
A visit to Brumbuk National Park and Cultural Centre is a must. Situated in Halls Gap, the site incorporates the national park information and also the Brambuk Cultural Centre, which is the longest-running Aboriginal cultural centre in Australia. The award-winning architecture interprets the traditional stories of the Aboriginal people of western Victoria.
As soon as we stepped onto the grounds, the sound of the didgeridoo called us to the cultural centre where we met Frank, an Aboriginal elder and one of the staff. As we sat talking outside the centre, he spoke of how proud he was to be part of such a special place, and how it was his life’s purpose to keep the stories of his ancestors alive for those who came by.
There are art exhibitions, artefact displays, cultural talks, and many activities including didgeridoo music, traditional dance, basket weaving, boomerang throwing, and painting.
5. The Holiday Park.
Of course, the beauty of staying at a BIG4 holiday park is you don’t have to cram everything into every day. There is something to be said for old-fashioned family fun camping, caravanning, or staying in cabins.
Charli made friends with fellow kids, spending an afternoon riding around on the park’s pedal karts, followed by a game of tennis, and even a fake tattoo session in the games room (okay, I admit I got pushed into having one too!).
After several barbecues and days filled with adventure, plenty of walking, abseiling (and let’s not forget wine and cheese in our cabins at night), our weekend came to an end back at the holiday park toasting marshmallows around the new fire pit with our fellow campers.
On the journey back to Melbourne, it was obvious we had all not only connected with nature, but with each other.
This post originally appeared on big4.com.au