The Great Ocean Road less travelled

The great ocean road

It’s hard to turn away from the seascape on The Great Ocean Road journey, but the hinterland that winds towards the Grampians Mountain range compensates with an ocean of green. In the heart of the Grampians National Park is the tiny township of Halls Gap. When we arrived it was late at night, the rain was splashing hard on our windscreen and if not for our 80’s playlist, we would have felt quite alone on a road so empty and dark that even the broad mottled tree trunks and overhanging branches had a ghostly feel. But when you awake to the chatter of native birds and find yourself at the foot of a sunlit escarpment, the morning views make the drive worth it.

Breathe in the mountain air

Halls Gap is the well known gateway to the Grampians National Park and a central spot for exploring the broader region. The Grampians mountain range is rich in indigenous rock art sites and is renown for sandstone escarpments, patches of wildflowers and an abundance of wildlife. Be careful though, at the first sign warning us of wallabies crossing, it was by a breath that one hopped across the road in front of us and escaped. Throughout the park, bush trails lead to gushing waterfalls like towering Mackenzie Falls and slender Silverband Falls.

Room with a view

The flat rock of The Balconies lookout offers views of the Victoria Range, while Boroka Lookout reveals glimpses of Lake Bellfield. A relaxed morning meandering through grassy hilltops, vineyards and sheep farms, the Grampian region is a world away from the coast. The soft grey open sky, rolling countryside, the earthiness of hand picking grapes and artisan cafes, make the region so vastly different as a weekend getaway.

Turn back time

The Ballarat cafe we found ourselves in was styled with old typewriters, classic novels with well-worn pages, tarnished maps and a re-run of settler’s life screened on the wall above the fireplace. It was partly due to being 3.00pm on a Saturday with little else open that we found ourselves there, but as a testament to the heritage of the town, the Turn Back Time café turned out to be an ideal setting for a walk through Victoria’s history.

It’s about a 90-minute drive and 150 years away from Melbourne CBD; that’s what it feels like walking through Sovereign Hill, the open-air museum helping travellers relive the ambitious gold rush period. The mid 1800’s were shaped by the rush of immigrants grappling for riches in the Goldfields on the outskirts of Ballarat marking a boom in prosperity and population in the south-eastern corner of Victoria.

In review

Serene bushland lookouts, wine-tasting, adventure or marvelling at nature’s wonders, the bushland drive, inland from The Great Ocean Road is an explorer’s wonderland. The surprising part is that it can all be experienced on one weekend trip. Fair to say it’s a lot of driving and trekking but the mountain villages, indigenous history, seafaring stories and remarkable natural wonders are waiting to be discovered and retold. It’s all the diversity of Australia bundled together in one glorious corner.

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