It’s not because of the hundreds of kilometres of spectacular beaches (many deserted, waiting to be walked on) or dramatic coastal cliffs towering over wild seas. It’s not because the vision of the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road will leave you awed, out of breath and lost for words. And it’s absolutely not because of the intimate wildlife experiences where you can paddle with a platypus and tickle under its hind leg (or is that flipper?)
You see while Victoria is Australia’s smallest mainland state, it’s packed full of many of Australia’s most incredible landscapes, wildlife experiences, beaches and simply unbelievable food and wine. Picture this. Start your day to the song of Melbourne city and its bustling, art-filled laneways and depart with the taste of some of the globe’s finest coffee lingering in your mouth. An hour later, arrive in the lush Yarra Valley and watch kangaroos bounding around the vineyard as you sniff, swirl and sip tip-top pinot noir and chardonnay. Come sunset, feel the sand between your toes and the laugh in your belly as hundreds of little penguins parade up the beach on Phillip Island. And that’s just day one.
Ready to plan a road trip from Melbourne yet? Here’s what we believe are five iconic Australian journeys for our visitors and friends from the United Kingdom.
The crown jewel of all Aussie road trips, a journey down the Great Ocean Road is a stunning, diverse and breathtaking experience. Called “one of the world’s classiest drives” by the New York Times and “a road trip toward holiday Nirvana” by the BBC, the celebrated stretch of pavement located west of Melbourne is a worldwide wonder.
But why? Because each turn of the 243km road (which was built by the returned soldiers of WW1) reveals a new natural spectacle – vast beaches with sculpted cliffs, mobs of wild kangaroos, temperate rainforests made for exploring, and koalas nibbling on gumtrees ready for their next snooze. What’s wrong with the route? Not much if we’re honest, or perhaps too much? There is just so much to see and do. The route is lined with incredible scenic lookouts, hosting views of famous sights like the 12 Apostles and the waters of Warrnambool, where giant Southern Right Whales play and breach for an audience.
The Grampians National Park is one of those landscapes that is difficult to describe. But for those who are fortunate enough to have stood at the top of Boroka Lookout – one of the peaks of this rugged mountain range, the image of beauty of this uniquely Australian bush setting is hard to surpass. Perhaps one of the most remarkable experiences of this region is the wildlife. As your drive into Grampians region, you will be greeted by the locals. And we’re not talking about Pru and Simon Farrer, the smiling owners of boutique treehouse accommodation DULC cabins. We’re talking about the mobs of kangaroos who will be bounding along road-side bushland or grazing at the front of your accommodation when you wake up in the morning. Did we mention the rich Aboriginal history of the area and the ancient rock art sites? Not yet? Well there’s no time in this short piece. You see the Great Southern Touring Route is unique and world-leading because it combines so much about what is special about Australia into a 5-10 day road trip. It begins on the Great Ocean Road. Your first stop could (and should) be at Jack Rabbit Winery (just an hour from Melbourne) with a glass of the winery’s award-winning bubbles to toast your journey, a bowl of fresh Portarlington Mussels with crusty bread, and, one hell of an ocean view.
After taking your time to explore the spectacular Great Ocean Road and spending a few nights in the Grampians, there are still two more must-visit regions on this road trip. The first, the Goldfields, and the town of Ballarat (once the richest town in the world) where you can uncover Australia’s gold rush history first hand by panning for gold and heading deep into the mines at outdoor museum Sovereign Hill. And the road trip finishes as every journey should. In the spa-town of Daylesford where mining was banned as the area’s natural, mineral-rich spring water was deemed to be more valuable than gold.
You’re on Boomer. Big, bold, Boomer. The friendly giant amongst the horses of Mornington Peninsula’s Horseback Winery Tours. His saddle is freshly oiled and he takes you for a stroll through the region’s spectacular hinterland to T’Gallant, one of the Peninsula’s most loved wineries where a jazz band is playing in the sun, the pinot noir is flowing and the view over the vines is serene. How did you get here? By taking a road trip from Melbourne on the South East Touring Triangle, and the Mornington Peninsula is your last stop. The most unique (and awesome) aspect of this road trip is that in four days, you could have driven less than four hours – maximizing your time out of the car and experiencing Australia. But in those four hours you will have visited three of Victoria’s most diverse region – from wines to wildlife to white sandy beaches.
Your first stop is the Yarra Valley wine region, where you could start your day in style by taking to the air in a hot air balloon and watching the sunrise over this pristine landscape. Come back to land (and earth) with a champagne breakfast before a day of visiting local vineyards and chatting with talented winemakers. While you may want to explore all of the 160 vineyards, the wildlife of Phillip Island awaits. Feel cool ocean spray on your face as you bound over waves on a Wild Ocean Ecoboat Tour to Australia’s largest colony of fur seals, just off the island at Seal Rocks. Have your camera ready as the seal pups make their way up to your boat to meet today’s visitors. A trip to the island is not complete without an evening spend with the little penguins, who emerge from the sea at dusk every night and waddle in packs to their burrows. A more adorable sight is hard to think of. But back to the Mornington Peninsula – a coastal wine region with beaches begging to be wandered, wineries laying lunch tables of fresh local produce, and, a horse called Boomer, who just wants to show you his patch.
Where do you find Australia’s best beaches? Not its most famous, but its hidden gems that only the locals know about? The answer is on the Sydney Melbourne Coastal Drive. And ranking the diverse and spectacular beaches that road trippers along this route will discover, is no mean feat. Is the top spot in Wilsons Promontory – a 50,000 hectare coastal national park teeming with wildlife and diverse landscapes? The Prom, as it is known to locals, is home to Squeaky Beach, where the rounded grains of white quartz “squeak” as you walk along the dry sand. Here is coastal Eden where you will want to sit and soak in the stark beauty for hours. And rock formations stained with every colour of red at the north end of the beach create a maze of passages for exploration. Competing for pole position is The Prom’s more secluded Picnic Bay Beach with endless rock pool habitats to gaze into.
Further up the coastline, in the Gippsland Lakes region is 90 Mile Beach, the long (really long) stretch of pristine golden sand that separates the Gippsland Lakes from Bass Strait. It’s the ideal platform for swimming, fishing, walking or simply whale and dolphin spotting in the sunshine. Life’s a beach. Soak it up. While we could talk about this drive’s incredible beaches for a long time yet, it’s important to acknowledge some of the other highlights. These include intimate wildlife experiences, such as the koalas at Phillip Island, the wombats, wallabies and emus of The Prom and underwater oasis that lies in Croajingolong National Park. And one of the most memorable parts of the drive is when you pull over at night and turn of the headlights to see the stars of the Milky Way light up the sky. Our final tip. The landscapes and sights of this road trip are best served with beach side picnics at sunset with fresh seafood and cold local beers. Enjoy.
I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me.
Dorethea Mackeller’s 1904 poem written in the UK of her childhood memories of Australia capture the essence of the Sydney Melbourne Heritage Drive.
For culture-vultures wanting to uncover the true Australia and the country’s pioneering spirit, this is the ultimate road trip. Heading off from Melbourne, prepare for the surprising modern impact of Australia’s gold rush. Just an hour from Melbourne is Bendigo, once one of the wealthiest cities in the world, this legacy lives on today through majestic architecture and magnificent gardens. Take in the rich heritage of the area with a ride on the Blues Tram, listen to local musicians sing of the characters from bygone days, sip the region’s celebrated shiraz and gaze at the Edwardian buildings lit up in the evening to highlight their grandeur. This is truly a place where you can get your hands dirty. Try your skill at wheel throwing at Bendigo Pottery – Australia’s oldest pottery or gear up in overalls, a miner’s hat and lamp in search of gold at the Central Deborah Gold Mine.
But the Goldfields are just the start of this ultimate history road trip. Explore the Murray River region in the only way you should – on the water. Take a paddle-steamer (such as the PS Success or the Emmy Lou) along the mighty Murray River, the third longest river in the world at 2,520 kilometres. Spanning three Australian states, the river has been home for more than 40,000 years to our Aboriginal people. Meet red-headed Joel at the Port of Echuca, a costumed-guide with a back pocket of laughs as he takes daily tours around authentic working steam port, which is home to Australia’s largest fleet of steam-driven paddlesteamers. After hearing the remarkable stories of Australia’s hard-working pioneers it’s time to head to the mountains and tastes of the High Country. This place has something for everyone. Adventure lovers can bike ride, hike or simply stroll through Australia’s highest peak – or take in the scenery Man from Snowy River style with Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides. Food and wine lovers will never want to leave. From the friendly family welcome of Brown Brothers winery in Milawa, to the hand crafted, cool climate wines of Feathertop Winery – the High Country is the secret hiding place of many of Australia’s best drops. But the food… oh the food. A cooking class at Patricia Simone’s is a must, spend the morning smoking local trout with red gum, sipping prosecco and laughing like you haven’t at years with the warm Simone family. Bon Appetite. From there it’s time to head into New South Wales towards the bright lights and beaches of Sydney.