Stunning coastal drives, wine tasting tours, national parks and some of Australia’s best skiing and snowboarding slopes can all be found in Victoria, within a few hours’ travel of Melbourne.
Great Ocean Road
Travel west from Melbourne (towards Adelaide) and you’ll reach the Great Ocean Road, where the main attraction is Victoria’s most famous sight – the Twelve Apostles, a collection of sandstone outcrops that rise dramatically from the ocean. It’s one of the best places in Australia to splash out on a helicopter scenic flight. The Twelve Apostles are near enough to Melbourne to do as a longish daytrip, either on a tour or in your own rental car, however it’s worth finding accommodation to stay overnight so that you can see them at sunrise or sunset. Apollo Bay and Lorne are both nearby picturesque towns with plenty of hotels and campsites. Another option is to travel on a two or three day tour to Adelaide, which will stop along the Great Ocean Road and then often several wineries once into South Australia.
Before reaching the Great Ocean Road, you’ll drive along the Surf Coast, home to some of the best surf beaches in Australia. Most famous are Winki Pop and Bells Beach (as name-checked in classic surf movie Point Break). Bells Beach is where the oldest world surf tour event, the Rip Curl Pro, is held each April. Nearby town Torquay is Australia’s surf capital. Being the home of surf giants like Rip Curl and Quiksilver, it’s a good place to pick up boardriding gear cheap. There’s also a surf museum and plenty of hotels.
About an hour or two south-east of Melbourne, Phillip Island is most famous for its strange combination of penguins and motor sports. Most tourists travel there for the nightly penguin parade in which you watch hundreds of very cute little penguins race up the beach back to their nests at dusk every evening. It’s the best place in Australia to see hundreds of penguins really close up, and many tourists rate it as a highlight of their Melbourne holiday. Tours are easy to organise through your hotel. Phillip Island also has a big race track which hosts numerous motor racing events throughout the year, notably the superbikes MotoGP in October. Also on the island is a koala sanctuary and big seal colony. It’s also a good place to learn to surf. Many of the hotels and restaurants are found in the town of Cowes. Book accommodation well ahead if your holiday coincides with one of the big races.
Just south of Melbourne is the gorgeous Mornington Peninsula, which has pretty seaside towns Sorrento and Portsea as well as a national park with plenty of good hiking trails. Sorrento and Portsea both have lots of accommodation and are good places to book sea kayak tours and boat tours, with numerous operators offering swimming with dolphins and seals. It’s also a good area for scuba diving, with several scuba centres offering trips and diving courses. The nearby Dandenong Ranges are another easy Melbourne getaway good for going hiking and exploring in your rental car.
Located about 250km north-west of Melbourne, the Grampians are one of Australia’s more dramatic mountain ranges. They’re good for bushwalking, Aboriginal rock art and 4WD tours. Find a hotel in Halls Gap, the only town actually surrounded by the national park. Note that accommodation gets very booked up in the school holidays (especially January). While in the area, travel on and arrange a wine tasting tour of the Coonawarra region, just over the South Australian border, which produces some of Australia’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Along with the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, the Victorian Alps, in the north-eastern corner of the state, are the best place to go skiing or snowboarding in Australia (although the slopes are much smaller than those in New Zealand). Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller are the main resorts, with Mount Buller the easiest to get to from Melbourne (about 200km away). The ski season runs roughly from June to October dependent on snow fall. The Alps are very popular with mountain bikers the rest of the year. Travellers hoping to get a job in a resort in order to work a snow season should ideally apply in March or April. Not far from the Victorian Alps are the High Country gold towns which provided much of the wealth Melbourne was built on. The main towns with lots of hotels are Bendigo and Shepparton, while smaller places like Euroa and Glenrowan also attract many tourists for being where Ned Kelly made his name. There’s even a Kellyland.
Wilsons Promontory is the southern tip of the Australian mainland and is Victoria’s most visited national park. Expect spectacular coastal scenery, a surf school and lots of good walking tracks, with the Mount Oberon trail offering the best views. Accommodation on ‘The Prom’ is limited but you can easily go on a tour from Melbourne, with several operators offering bushwalking eco tours.