Written By Katarina @ cockatoo collection - December 15 2016
Rugged cliffs and magnificent coastline, pristine beaches, unique Aussie wildlife, mountains, lakes…the choices are endless! Victoria truly seems to have it all. But where to start?
When you have visitors from overseas you really want them to experience all the best places. And for the first time in 3 years we finally have family visiting from my Nordic home, which prompted me to list my top 5 weekend escapes around Victoria - all easily accessible by car from Melbourne.
No 1: THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD: the coastal drive to rule them all
The 12 Apostles
No surprises here: the great ocean road surpasses in my mind all the famous coastal drives in the world (not that I have seen all of them: but when you know, you just know!). From the magnificent steep cliffs and the world famous 12 apostles, to the winding coastal roads with its beaches and rock pools, the scenery along this route is too stunning for words. And even if you have taken this road before, there is always a cove or a bay you haven’t seen, waiting to be explored.
The 12 Apostles
The great ocean road also takes you past the Cape Otway national park. It is worth driving to thelighthouse,not only for the lighthouse and its history, but also as on the road leading to it, you are bound to spot some cuddly koalas, sitting on the tree branches sleeping the day away.
On the road to Great Otway Lighthouse
Although you can do the drive in a day I recommend staying overnight in any of the coastal towns along the road. Starting from the surfing hot spot of Torquay (and the world famous Bells Beach) all the way to Warrnambool there are plenty of places to stay overnight. Just book in time as it gets busy in summer. My own favourite stop is Apollo Bay or the more quiet Peterborough – but you are guaranteed to be happy anywhere.
No 2: WILSONS PROMONTORY: coastal wilderness, white sand and iconic Aussie animals
Wilsons Promontory, the southern most tip of mainland Australia, is all about the great outdoors. The white beaches and rock formations of Squeaky Beach (yes, the sand really squeaks!) would be enough to warrant a high score on any list, but for me the main attraction of this stunning nature park is the Australian wildlife.
Boulders on the beach
Kangaroos hopping away at dusk, emus, echidnas are all there, but for me the top reason for staying overnight at Wilsons Prom are the quirky wombats (or as my friend calls them ‘giant guinea pigs’). If you are staying at the campsite you will definitely spot these funny creatures at dusk, wondering about sniffing for food. But make sure to lock all your food in your car or you will suddenly find yourself being robbed!
A wombat at the Tidal River campsite
As Wilsons Promontory is a national park the only way to stay there overnight is on the campsite at Tidal River or in one of the campside lodges or cabins. Again, it gets extremely busy and there is a ballot for the peak summer period so get in there early. If you can't get a spot it is still worth while driving there for a day trip - just set off early and be prepared for a road trip!
There are plenty of outdoorsy things to do from hiking (the trail from Tidal River on top of the mountains to Squeaky beach is a must) to water activities. Or if you are feeling lazy why not just slowly float away with the tidal river current.
Mountain top walk from Tidal River to Squeaky beach
No 3: HALLS GAP & THE GRAMPIANS: majestic mountains, waterfalls and wildlife
The Grampians - one of many scenic lookouts
If sea side is not your thing then mountain top views, waterfalls and kangaroos might be more up your street.
Staying in Halls Gap or nearby you will have access to the beautiful Grampian walking tracks and plenty of stunning scenic lookouts. The areas is full of Australian wildlife such as cockatoos, emus and kangaroos and any overseas visitors desperate to spot their first kangaroo in the wild is guaranteed to get lucky here.
If you have more time on your hands (lucky you!) take the great ocean road, then drive through Ballarat with a stop at the small wildlife park(my favourite as the park is small, focusing solely on Australian wildlife and you get close to the animals) or at Sovereign Hill for a deep dive into the gold rush era. Then make your way to the Grampians – a route that will give you seaside, mountains and wildlife all in one!
No 4: ECHUKA AND MURRAY RIVER: red gumtrees, steam boats and swims in the river
Beautiful red gumtree forest on the banks of Murray River, gentile trips on steamboats and an interesting history as Australia’s largest inland port makes Echuka one of my top 5 destinations in Victoria (perhaps a tiny bit influenced by the warmer inland climate. Let's face it, the weather in Melbourne doesn't always live up to the expectations!).
There is plenty to do here: take a trip on a steam boat, visit the historic wharf or just stroll around town with its shops and cafes. The large Sunday outdoor marketon the lawns next to the riverbank with fresh produce, arts and crafts is also worth a visit.
For a bonus different experience have your dinner at one of the massive clubs (and no, I don’t mean nightclubs) on the other side of the river in the New South Wales border town of Moama. The clubs – a mix of meals and gambling – are a result of a time when gambling wasn’t allowed in Victoria. Think along the lines of good pub food and slot machines rather than fine dining and a fancy casino.
No 5: LAKES ENTRANCE AND THE GIPPSLAND LAKES: lakes, rivers and beaches
The Gippsland lakes are really a network of waterways joining up and connecting to the sea offering loads of opportunities for boat trips, fishing and swimming – it is all about lakes, rivers and beaches here.
Take it easy and go on an all day boat trip with stops on the way, or if you prefer to explore on your own terms, hire a motorboat. No experience needed as the waters on the lake are tranquil. The scenery has almost a tropical look to it with riverways surrounded by bush and plenty of pelicans and other birdlife.
But the lakes are not the only option here. Cross the sand dunes that separate the lakes from the sea and you are on the 90 mile beach. With a vast expanse of white sand and beautiful waves it is easy to find an empty spot and spend the day swimming or just relaxing under the parasol with a good book.
The 90 Mile Beach
Stay at Lakes Entrance with its pretty harbour. And if you are on a mood to explore further – and are not worried about going underground - the Buchan Caves with spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations are well worth a visit.
Lakes Entrance on Australia Day
Let me know your top spots!
Hope you feel inspired to do some exploring! Please comment or let me know your own top spots. After all it could have been easy to prolong this list or make a different list altogether!