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5 Melbourne Road Trip Highlights of the ‘South East Touring Triangle’

Victoria may be called the ‘Garden State’ but you’ll find a variety of activity and scenery that sits side-by-side within such a short distance from one another, including city and coast, valley and flat prairie-like wilderness.

We clocked up 1,000km in five days road tripping the ‘South East Touring Triangle’, which takes in the Yarra Valley, Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula. Yet at any given point we were never far from the city. It’s as simple as taking a map of Victoria and drawing a one-hour drive radius around Melbourne – you will be surprised at just how much exists so close to it.

South East Touring Triangle

Becki Enright is a British Travel Press award winning travel writer at Borders of Adventure. Her work focuses on adventure and culture, while changing perceptions and shedding light on the misunderstood aspects of particular destinations or entire countries.

5. Adventure on the Coastline

Crossing from Sorrento to Port Phillip Bay by ferry, we eventually drove to what marks the beginning of the Great Ocean Road before heading back to Melbourne.

When you are on one of South Australia’s most iconic beaches and Victoria’s surf capital of Torquay, it’s only right that you learn to master the infamous waves. In just two hours with my private instructor, Rusty, from Go Ride a Wave taught me the basic skills and I was soon standing up and riding some small and mighty waves. I later looked with admiration to the surfers enjoying the crashing waves from nearby Bells Beach.

Surfing at Torquay

Brushing up on my Stand up Paddle Boarding (SUP) skills, I was able to glide through some low tide waters that lined the yellow sand coastline in the Mornington Peninsula. Cath, who runs Peninsula Stand Up Paddle, will soon convert you to the serenity of sea balance, and encourage you to take up pace when you have found your confidence. It’s a great alternative coastal view than a traditional walk in the sand.

SUP in Mornington Peninsula

4. Nature & Conservation

Conservation is at the heart of the state, with sanctuaries and controlled breeding sites working to eradicate foxes, cats and rabbits (introduced with the arrival of the Europeans) that have disturbed the natural habitat and survival of native species.

The Healesville Sanctuary wildlife conservation park in the Yarra Valley has established dozens of programmes, alongside a wildlife hospital, to help fight the near-extinction of over 200 species of Australian animals. You can see koalas, kangaroos, wombats, Tasmanian devils, dingoes, platypus, emus and possums in a natural environment, on indigenous land. Internationally renowned for its work saving endangered species, injured animals are often brought here for breeding or rehabilitation, brought back to life and eventually released.

Healesville Sanctuary

Phillip Island is a conservation haven. The main highlights are the EcoBoat Tour that departs in the early evening to the Seal Rocks, home to Australia’s largest seal fur colony, and watching the beautiful and peaceful ‘Penguin Parade’ in the evening.

Seal Rocks, Phillip Island
Penguin Walk Phillip Island

This truly magical experience sees crowds of penguins waddle in to Summerland Beach to rest up and hibernate on the land after a day sourcing food. It’s a spectacle of nature, seeing over 1,000 of these gorgeously furry creatures come to a safe haven, made possible after the government ‘bought back’ 183 houses and restored the area to its natural use. You wait quietly and watch with trepidation alongside the other spectators on the various above and below ground viewing platforms and a roped off section of the beach. This conservation and education programme has resulted in creating a home for one the largest penguin colonies in all of Australia.

Historical Churchill Island, one of the first sites in Victoria to be colonised, now has a new underground community whose population is flourishing. With its mixture of farmland and gardens, this island has become a successful trial site for breeding Bandicoots, which became extinct in the wild in 2010. Wander with a ranger, like I did, and see if you can spot one.

Churchill Island

From Sorrento Pier, I headed out into the waters of Port Phillip Bay that are home to wild bottlenose dolphins. Polperro Dolphin Swims, one of only two registered conservation boats allowed to take people out, are careful not to disturb the natural habitat of these playful creatures, allowing visitors to enter the water a maximum of five times. The dolphins swim so close below you as you peacefully float on the water surface, holding on the boat’s long rope, that it’s hard to keep still and not splash around in delight. A swim with the seals and a reef snorkel to see weedy seadragons, completes this unforgettable experience in a unique underwater habitat.

Dolphin Swim Boat 

It’s hard to imagine that the golden brown wilderness of The Mount Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre (Mt Rothwell) is only one hour west of Melbourne. It’s flat lands – the largest predator free ecosystem in Victoria – are scattered with boulders where wallabies keep watch, and dramatic trees that made me feel as if you are in an isolated desert. It’s also a film set, having recently been used for the set of the film, The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslet.

3. Verdant Parks and Rolling Valleys

The rolling hills and immaculate gardens of the lush Yarra Valley project hues of green that make you feel thousands of miles away from the city. It’s cool climate, which has created some of the best terroir in the country and soils that grow quality produce and botanicals, has created a well-established wine scene that sees visitors hop from one winery to the next – 150 or more of them.

Dandenong Ranges

In the Dandenong Ranges you can hike acres of mesmerising leafy forest, next to the mountain-backed valleys. One of the shorter strolls is in the William Ricketts Sanctuary, where you will find dozens of wood-carved sculptures depicting Aboriginal culture and heritage, based on his research and experience of living with members of the indigenous populations. Re-fuelling with a hearty breakfast burrito or brunch in a former historic mansion and pig farm, ‘The Piggery’ is a highlight to experience the rustic heritage of the area.

 

2. Winding Coastline and Picturesque Peninsulas

From the rows of multi-coloured beach boxes that line the coastal villages of Port Phillip to the striking and sparkling blues that emanate from the towns on the Peninsula tip, the popping colours of the Mornington Peninsula – a winding drive south of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges – will likely steal your heart as it did mine.

Sorrento, Mornington Peninsula

It’s a region that combines a hinterland of villages and nature spaces with a stylish coastal lifestyle. I plunged into the 40 degree waters of the Peninsula Hot Springs spa nestled in the bushland hills, walked beach pier points and coastal trails, sampled wines that came from the 50 or so vineyards with award-winning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, touched upon small patches of the 25,000 hectares of National Parks and leisurely browsed the boutique stores of artistic coastal villages such as Sorrento.

Peninsula Hot Springs

If sipping wine in the sun-drenched gardens of the Portsea Pub are not enough to satisfy the taste buds after a coastal ramble, be sure to indulge in the menu of the iconic Flinder’s Hotel. Devastated by fires in 1889, it has since been rebuilt and stands as one of the area’s top culinary hotspots (the region’s forth Chef’s Hat restaurant) and contemporary hotels.

 

1. The City and its Concealed Laneways

A city that was born from the gold rush in the mid 1800’s, Melbourne gleams with a scattering of architectural colonial opulence, nestled alongside contemporary glass towers and luxury hotels. Aside from riverside restaurants and bars, a famous tram network connecting well-known neighbourhoods including St. Kilda, Richmond and Fitzroy, Australia’s cosmopolitan city is most known for its laneways concealing everything from eateries, boutique stores and hidden bars, coffee culture and street art.

Artists from Blender Studios run Melbourne Street Tours teaching visitors about this urban movement that burst into life around 2001. Alongside the big murals, my local artist guide, Junky gave insight into graffiti works, throw-ups, stencils, paste-ups and lanes containing everything from re-purposed junk, Barbie dolls and picture frames.

Melbourne Street Tours

Always changing colour and style is the most famous of all street art alleys – Hosier Lane. The longest a mural stays is around a month or two and in the summer a wall space can get painted over 13 times a week. Most of the work is playful, except a few pieces that stand as odes to Aboriginal rights, historical movements and events.

Melbourne Street Art

For the best introduction to the city’s suburban layout though, aside from a ‘Hidden Secrets’ tour that uncovers the best architecture, design, arcades and local hangouts, is to see its scattering of funky neighbourhoods around its Central Business District (CBD) with a bird’s eye view.

Melbourne Hot Air Ballooning

Melbourne is one of the only cities in the world where hot air balloons are allowed to fly over, and what a way to start the day – hovering over the suburbs at dawn and towards the CBD at sunrise, landing in one of the city’s huge green spaces that is Fawkner Park.

 

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