Halls Gap is a popular destination for Victoria locals and those visiting from further afield, both as a holiday spot in its own right and as the gateway to the wonderful Grampians National Park. Roughly 250km northwest of central Melbourne, it’s possible as a day trip, but even better over two or three days.
While driving is the quickest and easiest option, it’s also possible to get there without a car. Public transport runs daily in both directions, and although it can take a while and requires switching between bus and train at least once, it’s inexpensive and relatively straightforward.
If public transport doesn’t appeal or you’d like to explore beyond the town itself, there’s also another option. Several companies run single and multi-day trips from Melbourne that take in Halls Gap, the Grampians, and several other attractions, handling all the driving and logistics for you.
I’ve covered all of the different options below, along with some suggestions of what’s worth stopping at along the way.
Most people drive between Melbourne and Halls Gap, and given it’s the quickest and easiest option, that’s probably not a big surprise. Assuming you don’t hit traffic, it takes about three hours to cover the distance from central Melbourne.
Take a bit of time and distance off if you’re starting from the western suburbs, add a bit on if you’re coming from the east or south of the city.
The fastest route leaves Melbourne via the Westgate Bridge and M1 (Westgate Freeway). Exit briefly onto the Western Ring Road (M80) for a few minutes, before taking the Western Freeway (M8) northwest out of the city.
You’ll go past Melton and Bacchus Marsh before skirting around the outskirts of Ballarat at roughly the halfway point of your journey. From there, you simply stay on what is now called the Western Highway to Beaufort and Ararat for another hour or so, before finishing the journey on the aptly-named Ararat-Halls Gap Road (C222).
As an alternative, from Ararat you can also stay on the Western Highway a little longer, veering north up to the regional centre of Stawell before taking the Grampians Road (C216) down to Halls Gap. There’s only a few minutes difference in driving time for that last section either way, depending on traffic.
There are no tolls between Melbourne and Halls Gap; the only toll roads you may encounter are the Citylink or Eastlink in Melbourne itself as you drive through. Set your Google Maps to “avoid tolls” if you’re not set up with a toll account, or just don’t feel like contributing to the profits of a multi-billion dollar corporation today.
Where to Stop Between Melbourne and Halls Gap
While you can drive straight through without stopping if you really want to, I’d definitely suggest making a couple of stops along the way. There’s plenty on offer between Melbourne and Halls Gap, from impressive hikes to goldmining history, heritage architecture, great food and drink, and even the birthplace of AFL!
Werribee Gorge State Park
Just past the small town of Bacchus Marsh on the Western Freeway sits Werribee Gorge State Park, a favourite spot for many hikers and picnickers. With dramatic views of the gorge and several great walking tracks, you could easily spend an entire day here if you felt like it.
If you’re keen on a short-ish walk with impressive views, I’d highly recommend either the Short Circuit Walk (5km/2 hours), or the Ironbark Gorge Walk to Falcon Lookout (3km/2 hours). If you’d prefer something more leisurely, go for the short nature walk from the Meikles Point picnic area, which is also a good spot for lunch.
Easily somewhere that’s well worth visiting in its own right, Ballarat is the third-largest city in Victoria after Melbourne and Geelong. It’s where gold was first discovered in the state, sparking a major gold rush in the 1850s, and for a while rivalled Melbourne for importance and wealth.
It’s a somewhat less frantic place these days, but there’s still plenty for visitors to see and do. Sitting right at the halfway point of the drive between Melbourne and Halls Gap, it’s the perfect place to stop for food, drink, and a slice of history.
Key places to visit are Sovereign Hill, a massive open-air museum full of dozens of rebuilt and recreated goldrush-era buildings, and the lovely Lake Wendouree, which has botanic gardens and walking trails alongside plenty of great picnic spots.
There are several excellent restaurants and cafes in town if you’re in need of refreshment: The Shared Table and Harry Limes are reliably great lunch options.
A bit further along the Western Highway towards Ararat, Beaufort is a little town with a lot to offer. It’s a great spot to grab something to eat or drink if you didn’t stop in Ballarat: I’d recommend The Pyrenees Pantry or Angels Cafe as good places to start.
There’s some impressive goldrush-era architecture lined up along the main street, these days converted to all manner of craft and antique shops that are worth popping into. Just south of town lies Beaufort Lake, another good spot to stretch your legs or enjoy some takeaway food.
Finally, if you’re a fan of Victoria’s
state religion favourite sport, you’ll want to make a quick stop in the village of Moyston. About ten minutes out of Ararat on the road to Halls Gap, Moyston had a population of 30,000 during the goldrush era, but it’s a sleepy little spot these days.
Its main claim to fame now is as the birthplace of AFL. Thomas Wills packed up his life in Sydney and moved to Moyston in 1838, and it’s believed (at least by some) that this is where he got the inspiration for what would later become Australian Rules Football from a local Aboriginal ball game called ‘marn grook’.
There’s more to the story, and no small amount of controversy around the truth of it. Regardless of any of that, there’s a monument and gazebo commemorating the man and the sport alongside the MCG (Moyston Cricket Ground) in the centre of town.
If you really fancy your skills, try to coincide your visit with the Moyston Longest Kick competition, part of the Easter Market festivities each year. Wills is said to have been able to kick a football 60 metres: can you do better?
By Train and Bus
While there isn’t a train station in Halls Gap itself, and no direct buses that run to/from Melbourne either, you can combine trains and buses to get between the two in a couple of different ways. Total fare is $10 per adult, $5 per concession or child.
From Melbourne to Halls Gap
Depending on the day of the week and time you’re departing, the total journey will take somewhere between 3.5 and five hours each way. No matter which approach you take, you’ll leave in the morning from Southern Cross Station in the Melbourne CBD.
Each weekday, there’s an option that takes just under 5 hours:
- Train from Southern Cross Station to Ballarat Station, departing at 8:24am and arriving at 10:01am
- Bus from Ballarat Station to Stawell Station, departing at 10:21am and arriving at 12:02pm
- Bus from Stawell Station to Halls Gap Information Centre, departing at 12:42pm and arriving at 1:37pm
If you’re travelling on Tuesday or Friday, there’s a faster, easier route that takes just under 3.5 hours:
- Train from Southern Cross Station to Ararat Station, departing at 11:16am and arriving at 1:42pm
- Bus from Ararat Station to Halls Gap Information Centre, departing at 2:00pm and arriving at 2:38pm
At weekends the trip takes about four hours:
- Train from Southern Cross Station to Ararat Station, departing at 8:14am and arriving at 10:42am
- Bus from Ballarat Station to Stawell Station, departing at 10:52am and arriving at 11:17am
- Bus from Stawell Station to Halls Gap Information Centre, departing at 11:27am and arriving at 12:22pm
From Halls Gap to Melbourne
Returning from Halls Gap to Melbourne, you’ve actually got more choice about when you leave.
Each weekday, there are morning and afternoon departures that take a bit over four hours.
- Bus from Halls Gap Information Centre to Stawell Station, departing at 9:15am and arriving at 9:50am
- Bus from Stawell Station to Ballarat Station, departing at 10:00am and arriving at 11:42am
- Train from Ballarat Station to Southern Cross Station, departing at 12:04pm and arriving at 1:31pm
- Bus from Halls Gap Information Centre to Stawell Station, departing at 3:43pm and arriving at 4:18pm
- Bus from Stawell Station to Ararat Station, departing at 4:28pm and arriving at 4:55pm
- Train from Ararat Station to Southern Cross Station, departing at 5:17pm and arriving at 7:47pm
If you’re travelling on Tuesday or Friday, there’s also a faster, easier option in the morning that takes 3 hours, 20 minutes:
- Bus from Halls Gap Information Centre to Ararat Station, departing at 10:51am and arriving at 11:30am
- Train from Ararat Station to Southern Cross Station, departing at 11:48am and arriving at 2:11pm
At weekends the trip takes a bit over four hours, again with morning and afternoon departures.
- Bus from Halls Gap Information Centre to Stawell Station, departing at 8:30am and arriving at 9:05am
- Bus from Stawell Station to Ballarat Station, departing at 9:15am and arriving at 11:05am
- Train from Ballarat Station to Southern Cross Station, departing at 11:20am and arriving at 12:48pm
- Bus from Halls Gap Information Centre to Stawell Station, departing at 2:40pm and arriving at 3:15pm
- Bus from Stawell Station to Ararat Station, departing at 3:31pm and arriving at 3:58pm
- Train from Ararat Station to Southern Cross Station, departing at 4:13pm and arriving at 6:48pm
The above was correct at time of writing, but anything from maintenance work to timetable modifications and public holidays can and will change things. Be sure to check times and routes on the PTV site before making any firm plans!
On a Tour
If you don’t have a car and navigating public transport doesn’t appeal, there is an alternative. A number of companies run single and multi-day tours from Melbourne that include Halls Gap in their itinerary.
If you’re not driving, these tours are also the best way to explore the Grampians beyond the confines of Halls Gap. While it’s easy enough to get to Halls Gap itself by bus and train (above), and you can get around the immediate area by bicycle, public transport is essentially non-existent in the park.
These tours typically include a couple of stops in Halls Gap, often for lunch on the way into the park, and to check out the resident kangaroo population on the way back out. If you’re looking for a lunch spot, I personally recommend Livefast Cafe or Paper Scissors Rock: they’re both great!
Of the various Grampians day tours, my pick is this one from Go West Tours. As well as the Halls Gap cafes and kangaroos, you also get to hike to the Grand Canyon, take in impressive vistas from Reeds Lookout, check out the dramatic Mackenzie Falls from the top and/or bottom of the gorge, and more.
It’s far from the only option, though: all three of the tours below have a slightly different mix of activities and destinations, so see which one appeals most before making your decision.
If you have more time, you’ve got some great longer tour options. These popular two or three day trips are the ideal way to see more of Victoria’s highlights, starting in Melbourne and driving the length of the Great Ocean Road before heading north through the Grampians.
From there, the tours either continue on to Adelaide or return back to Melbourne: just pick the one that suits your needs. All of the trips take in the best parts of the Grampians National Park and overnight in Halls Gap, so you’ve got plenty of opportunity to explore.
- 2-Day Overland Explorer Tour
- 2-Day Great Ocean Road & Grampians Escape
- 2-Day Great Ocean Road & Grampians Tour
- 3-Day Oceans to Mountains Explorer
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