Driving from Melbourne to Sydney takes about nine hours. Assuming you don’t stop anywhere. Three and a half hours after you leave Melbourne you will reach the small town of Wodonga. Above the sun glistening Murray River lies the slightly larger neighbouring town of Albury. They are called twin cities. But despite their physical proximity, they belong to two separate states. Albury belongs to New South Wales while Wodonga belongs to Victoria. And for many years they have not been much more than just another place for truckers to stop during their journeys between the big cities. Somewhere the truck drivers can rest their heads after a tiring day behind the wheel. Or a place to stop for a short lunch and to stretch the legs. But there are reasons to stay here for more than one night. Make your stop into a voyage of discovery instead.
The southernmost tip of the Mainland has been named Wilson’s Promontory. It is a rugged cape dressed in a soft green, surrounded by inviting water. The cape is stretching out its mass in the Bass Strait in the state of Victoria. Long ago when the water was higher, there was a narrow strip of landmass, like a bridge here, leading to Tasmania. That is not the case today. In stormy days, ferocious waves move over the water and a journey across the strait with the ferry Spirit of Tasmania can make anyone seasick. In 1898, the area got its status as a national park. Since then, the park has been saved from exploitation and has instead expanded its borders on several occasions. Today, Wilson’s Promontory National Park spans over an area of about 50,000 hectares. The waters around the park are also protected as a marine park. This makes the corals, seaweed and seals able to survive here. Wilson’s Promontory is, to a large extent, still unspoiled wilderness.
For many, Victoria is synonymous with two things. Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. But if you look a little further, you are in for a surprise or two. Powder white moguls at high heights. Winding roads lined with wildflowers. And world-class vineyards. You will find this and more in eastern Victoria. The cooler climate separates it from other parts of the country. In this part, winter equals snowfall in the mountainous areas. In general, most people associate Australia with a quivering heat and a huge desert. But Victoria has been blessed with a mixture of high and low. In the northeast is the Alpine High Country. Here is the Australian Alps with several larger ski resorts just waiting to be tested. The pistes cannot quite match with their European counterparts. The mountains are not high enough and the pistes are not long enough. That said, it’s an incredibly popular destination among Australians. And there is something special about going slalom or cross-country skiing among snow covered eucalyptus trees. The ski resorts have slopes for both beginners and experienced.
Just like many of its neighbouring cities in Victoria, also Bendigo is literally built on precious metal. It started with gold being found in 1851 in Ballarat. And it wasn’t long before the whole nation had a gold fever. People ventured out hunting, and soon gold was found around Bendigo Creek. The rumour spread fast as lightning. People poured in from all over the world to try their luck. Victoria’s population increased at the speed of a rocket. A large part of the immigrants came from European countries such as England and Ireland, but a significant part of the workforce came from the east. In the middle of the 1800s, the Chinese represented almost one fifth of the population of Bendigo. Their arrival was not appreciated by all, and many Chinese were beaten up because of their diligent work. The situation calmed down somewhat when it was decided that the Chinese would pay a type of tax when arriving to the state.
Two of Victoria’s inland gems are the destinations of Daylesford and Ballarat. The distance between them is 46 km and it takes only 40 minutes to go from one to the other by car. Both places have widely differing characteristics. Located a short distance from Melbourne, these are great excursion destinations for a relaxing weekend. Daylesford is the northernmost town of the two. Here, health is the focus and there is a mix of shops selling herbal remedies, bright yoga studios and modern spa facilities. The town’s buildings are decorated in a Victorian and Edwardian style. Daylesford is beautifully situated by Lake Daylesford. Take a walk with a view of the water and sit down on a bench to have a picnic or a cup of coffee. There is an extensive selection of cafés, restaurants and historic pubs to try. Daylesford is a cosy spa town that over the years have attracted alternative people who has created a lovely, yet a little wacky feeling.
A majestic mountain range surrounded by dense forest awaits in western Victoria. The name is the Grampians and parts of the area is national park which also goes by the name Gariwerd by the local indigenous people. Explore jagged mountain ridges of sandstone mixed with an exciting plant life. The park is large enough to include a 600 km network of roads and 160 km of hiking trails. In total, the national park covers an area of 1,670 square kilometres. Grampians National Park is one of the largest national parks in Victoria and is known for its remarkable variety of vegetation and wildlife. A three-hour drive from Melbourne will take you here, but you can just as well take the bus.
The area is a paradise for those who like outdoor life. It shows great promises for hiking, mountaineering and biking. The mountains invite you to magical views and breathtaking lookouts. There are trails that suit both the beginner and the experienced hiker. But you can also take the car for help when you head up to the highest point in the park, ascending Mount William near the Hall’s Gap. The mountain is 1,167 meters above the sea. You get an unbeatable view of the entire area from up here. After a long hike, it might be nice to cool off. There are plenty of cascading waterfalls to discover. Splash around in MacKenzie Falls and admire the exciting rock formations. The Grampians is ancient. About 380 million years ago, sandstone from the ancient rivers in the area began to build up the mountain range that is visible today. Grampians rise out of Victoria’s flat farmland and is sometimes referred to as the garden of Victoria because of its rich flora. Small towns have settled around the mountain range. To name a few, there is Hall’s Gap, Dunkeld, Ararat, Hamilton and Stawell.
In the middle of the state of Victoria lies the metropolis of Melbourne with its four million residents. Many are in love with Victoria’s capital. The standing big-city-rival Sydney simply cannot compare to Melbourne’s European café culture and experimental art scene. The city has a vibrant nightlife where late evenings often are spent on a roof-terrace bar. Add sport-crazy supporters and old trams crisscrossing through the city. Melbourne is an obvious stop, but more awaits.
Western Victoria is a mixture of breathtaking nature with wide plains. Along the southwest coast stretches the scenic Great Ocean Road. It is an Instagrammer’s wet dream, with giant limestone pillars standing tall in the sea, just off the coast. Powerful waves crash into the steep coastal cliffs. Embark on an unforgettable journey along the Great Ocean Road, which is a total of 240 km. The most spectacular stretch of coastline runs between Torquay and Port Campbell, but the road continues all the way towards Nelson, just before the state border of South Australia. Along the way you’ll encounter the iconic limestone rock formations of The Twelve Apostles and beautiful national parks. Stay in surfer towns and resorts. Tourism dominates the towns around the Great Ocean Road. But it is not only international visitors who show up here, also locals want to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
In Yarra Valley you will find a high concentration of Victoria’s vineyards, lying beautifully nestled among hilly and lush landscapes, stretching out like a patchwork quilt made of grapevine fields. This is the connoisseur’s mecca, where good food and full-bodied wine is at the centre. Yarra Valley is just an hour’s drive east of Melbourne but lightyears away from the stressful urban environment. It is a popular weekend destination, especially for those who want to relax and get closer to nature without compromising on comfort. Here you can visit one of the cellars and sample various appetizing drinks produced in the region. Stay at a cosy bed and breakfast and wake up refreshed. Join in on an exciting tour of the region, led by knowledgeable and passionate guides. End the day at any of the restaurants that has taken the art of food to a whole new level. Take the opportunity to treat yourself when you are in the area. Pick and choose among handmade chocolates of the highest quality in Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery. If you have more room, there is also fresh ice cream. Then get an introduction to the Australian wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary. This is more of a sanctuary than a classic zoo. Here you can see the animals in their natural environment. The areas are large, and the cages few. Indigenous animals such as koala, platypus, kangaroo and the Tasmanian devil live here.
Phillip Island may be a small island, but it is a true holiday destination with plenty to offer. The island is 26 km long and 9 km wide and is located 140 km southeast of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. The island is linked by a bridge to the mainland and is a popular weekend excursion. Around 10,000 people reside there but during peak season the figure quadruples when visitors pilgrimage to Phillip Island. In other words, it is a tourist attraction, and rightly so. The wildlife is amazing. Here you can see kangaroos, pelicans, fur seals, koalas and not least the little penguins in their natural environment. The latter is the great drawing card and what really put the island on the map. A large colony of the little penguin with its bluish-grey back and white belly can be seen every evening as they waddle up on Summerland Beach, returning to their nests after a full day of fishing out at sea. The phenomenon is called the penguin parade and is extremely appreciated by tourists. But even people from Melbourne like to come here to see the cute little animals waddle around. This is the largest concentration of little penguins in Victoria. In addition to penguins, you can check out the sunbathing fur seals at Nobbies Point or the koalas sleeping in the trees at the island’s koala centre.
Australia’s most famous road is officially B100 but is better known under the dreamy name of the Great Ocean Road. This phenomenal sea-sprayed winding coastal road is almost 250 km long, stretching between the cities of Torquay and Allansford in South Victoria. Already at the end of World War I, plans were forged to build a road that would attract tourists to the southern regions of the country. It was meant to be a memorial for all the soldiers killed in the war. And those who returned home were soon put to work. Over 3,000 men worked their way through thick rainforests, chopping logs and hacking rocks. It was heavy work. The rocky coastline offered hard resistance and the workers encountered great difficulties during the construction of the road. In November 1932, the final stage was completed between Lorne and Apollo Bay, and the entire Great Ocean Road was finally inaugurated. The road winds its way largely close to the coastline. Countless vantage points and photographic highlights are waiting around the next bend. This is no scenery one should rush through. And it is a case of driving sensibly. Various corniches will occasional take you breathtakingly close to the edge of the high cliffs. This is a particularly dramatic piece of surfaced road, where the surroundings showcase an immense beauty. Smell the salty sea water and feel the warmth of the sun as you drive with an open sunroof, navigating westward. The road is lined with peaceful surf towns where you can stop and rest for the night.