Flying into a high fire risk area creates a dilemma. Worrying about the significant fires affecting Victoria ahead of our visit was far from irrational. However, following a reassuring conversation with the apartment owner and the local SES, not going seemed as illogical as refusing to come to Australia because of the dangers of snakes, spiders and crocodiles. We headed south with a combination of supportive bravery and uneasiness.
The road west from Melbourne, with its steady climb to Ballarat and the plateaus beyond, carved its way through a landscape of ashen paddocks and brittle grasses. It was not hard to realise the danger. You felt that even a hot temper was enough to start a blaze. It was disconcerting.
As The Grampians rose in the distance, there was a relieving sense of greenness, but with news that a 15,000 hectare fire (with a 150km fire front) had recently swept through the northern sections of the National Park, even the relatively lushness of the horizon seemed less than reassuring.
Acting as gatekeeper at the Eastern edge of the Park is Halls Gap, a small but attractive tourist town, overshadowed by imposing peaks. It is our home for the next few nights.
Apart from the main road that splits the National Park, The Grampians contains a labyrinth of smaller access roads, cut-trough’s and tracks, all of which seem to lead to impossibly beautiful lookouts, rugged peaks and commanding canyons.
It’s impossible to say that one of these wonders holds top spot, but perhaps the most famous of the lookouts is The Pinnacle, a towering vantage point from which to gaze down upon Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield. Before reaching The Pinnacle, the rugged path leads you through the Grand Canyon and Silent Street. Elsewhere, there is the lonely tree that sits within the Boroko Lookout platform almost as impressive as the lookout itself.
Back at Halls Gap, the late afternoon drop in temperature and the fading light brings yet more wildlife into focus. Kangaroos line the roadside and crows, kookaburras, rosellas, honeyeaters, currawongs and cockatoos vie for supremacy with apparent disregard for human activity.
There is a relatively slow trickle of humanity here this week, but word is that Halls Gap is a very busy place indeed in the heart of the holiday season. Despite this, it still seems to retain a sense of localness lacking in many small tourist towns. The very impressive Brambuk Cultural Centre, the zoo, and the wealth of accommodation make it quite clear that tourism is King, but then there are delightfully quirky local haunts, including eateries like the Black Panther Café and Livefast Café that would not be out of place in Boundary Street, West End.
As we say farewell, we realize that we have only really touched the surface. Note to self – Must return, and soon.