Camping in the Grampians can come in many guises, writes Dani Wright.
Grey nomad Brian Hamilton says he and wife Heather were "just a couple of backpackers" until they found Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park and set up a more permanent base. He became night manager of the campsite in The Grampians National Park in Victoria's west, which has a variety of accommodation options — including bell tents, safari tents, and a 1950s retro caravan named Queen Maxima, plus more-traditional styles of camping accommodation.
There's also the aero-glamper safari tent. It's much like the other beautifully decked-out safari tents, but it has something a little extra — the addition of a fully functional 737 flight simulator behind the bedroom door.
As an aviation enthusiast, Hamiltoh helped the park set up the flight attraction that he says is exactly like the real thing, other than you can't actually take off.
My children Georgie, 8, and Henry, 11, are intrigued by the unexpected unveiling of the cockpit behind the bedroom door and take turns flying to Paris and Hawaii, flying under bridges, changing the weather and landing at the airports until the 7.30pm icecream tricycle announces its presence outside, to great excitement from the holiday park's younger guests.
The Grampians feature spectacular sandstone mountain ranges and plenty of wildlife. But its other attraction that intrigues modern visitors is the region's history as a meeting place for indigenous tribes.
So, our first stop on our trip out west from Melbourne is to Brambuck, the National Park and Culture Centre, where visitors can learn all about the tribal gatherings when people travelled from near and far to meet and decide important matters.
Today, you can pick up supplies of lemon myrtle tea and mountain pepper, or chocolate in the shape of the Grampian granites, before walking through Brambuck's display of gorgeous black and white photos featuring Aboriginal people from the 1800s.
You can also learn about the six seasons of the area. Why have four seasons, when you can have six. It's the season of the eels (or late summer) when we visit, which the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung people called KooYang. It was a festive time when Koori people came from afar to camp by Salt Creek and catch migrating eels or native galaxia fish and feast on nature's bounty.
Back at the holiday park, modern campers gather. It has everything a family needs, including extras you didn't think you needed, such as the flight-simulator option. Our two-bedroom tent has an ensuite, dining table, deck with barbecue, burner and sink, leather butterfly chairs and a bunk room for the kids. Basically, everything you ever could need under canvas.
The park also has a swimming pool heated by wood-fire — one of the only outdoor ones in the country and created from an old boiler the ingenious owners found and converted.
We head for a warm dip and the smell of wood-burning brings a cosy ambience.
There's also a stream on the edge of the campground where we spot deer drinking and, in an adjacent park, more wildlife has come out to play with emus wandering, families of kangaroos hopping close by and cockatoos sitting in trees like Christmas ornaments.
It's like a wild petting zoo and the best entertainment possible for the children at the holiday park — aside from the eight spring-free trampolines nearby.
We eventually drag ourselves away from the wildlife watching, "flights" to exotic locations and dips in the heated pool to explore the region, much to the displeasure of the kids, who think the idea of a walk in nature sounds boring compared to racing around with the other camp kids.
Thankfully, we find a hike to The Balconies, which takes us through stringybark forest and lunar-like landscapes from Reed Lookout carpark. It instantly inspires the kids and soon they are hopping from stone to stone saying: "I could spend a whole day doing this!"
"A whole week!" says Georgie.
"My whole life," replies Henry.
Nice as the views and rock-jumping are, we move on sooner than that and head back to the campgrounds where we rent a firepit and a buy big bag of marshmallows to toast outside our tent.
Deer roam nearby, crackling twigs under their feet, and galahs shriek in the trees as we sit contemplating the day under the stars — so many stars. The smell of eucalyptus and of wood burning in firepits all around the camp gives a meeting-place atmosphere, a modern version of what the ancient tribes must have experienced.
"There's just something about this place," the man in the corner store told us earlier in the day, and we were quick to agree.
Qantas flies from Auckland to Melbourne, with return flights from $547. qantas.co.nz
The Grampians National Park is a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park has a range of accommodation, from the aero glamper to the three-sleeper vintage caravan Queen Maxima. The owners' love of creating something special makes this the best holiday park we've ever visited.