When people talk about Victoria, the state in Australia’s south, they immediately will follow up with one of Australia’s most famous tourist attractions: the Great Ocean Road. But there is more to it that meets the eye, as many Melburnians will be able to confirm. Despite Victoria being Australia’s most urbanised state, the real treasures can be found outside the cities: majestic mountain ranges and stunning surf beaches, romantic river systems and cute wildlife are all part of the state’s attraction, oftentimes easily accessible from Australia’s second biggest city, Melbourne.
Related Blog Posts: Country Victoria
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It is hard to wrap your head around the fact that 90% of Victorian’s population live in cities and urban centres. Melbourne is of course the most populated place in this state, with the coastal strip around Port Phillip Bay coming in a strong second. Here you will find the city of Geelong, just an hours’ drive from Melbourne and popular with the weekend crowd thanks to the historic beachside atmosphere and culinary pleasures.
A little bit further away but still easily accessible by car, is Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a 240km coastal route that is famous for its eroding sandstone formations, shipwrecks, waterfalls and roadside koalas. The most famous rock formation is that of the 12 Apostles, but there are also noteworthy stops along the way such as the London Bridge, the Grotto and the Bay of Islands. If you are flying into the region just to see the Great Ocean Road without planning a stop in Melbourne, use Avalon Airport as your gateway.
Further inland, visit places like Ballarat and Bendigo to learn more about the mad gold rush in the 19th century that helped build Victoria to what it is today. The gold rush that emerged shortly after the foundation of Victoria as a separate state is unmatched anywhere in the world, and the cities that sprung up like mushrooms during that time have many interesting stories to tell – just look at the grandeur of the buildings that are lining the main streets of the city centres.
The Yarra Valley is just 90mins from Melbourne’s CBD and is one of the most successful wine growing regions in Australia. Combine a tour of the local vineyards with a visit to the Dandenong Ranges National Park and treat the kids to a ride on the famous Puffing Billy Railway. The area is perfect for visits to gardens, parks, and local farms.
Morning Peninsula and Phillip Island are geographically close to each other and offer two very different experiences, both in day-trip range to Melbourne. The first is a popular weekend destination for Melbourne residents, with many beach houses offering accommodation close to the sea in summer. The latter is famous for the cute fairy penguin parade which happens daily at sunset when the penguins come ashore in groups.
Climbers and hikers will venture further. The Grampians are a formidable mountain landscape with some spectacular peaks and stunning vistas. Local Aboriginal groups have strong ties with this region, and there are numerous rock art examples to be found here, making it one of the richest rock art sites in south-eastern Australia.
Lastly, up in the state’s far north you can experience rural living in Mildura and surrounds, which hugs the mighty Murray River in the most romantic and enchanting way. Or, in winter, head to the mountains for some skiing action on the slopes of Mount Buller.
Facts at a glance:
What to eat: Eat straight from the producer: visit the many farms in Victoria for fresh berries, honey and dairy products, and sip a glass of chardonnay from one of the wineries in the Yarra Valley. Attend the Lobster Festival in Kilkunda or the Seafood Festival in Apollo Bay. Abalone, a sea snail which is found off the coast of Victoria and Tasmania, is a popular and pricey export which can also be enjoyed at selected restaurants in the region.
What to buy: Victoria’s slower pace cannot compete with the beating heart of Melbourne which is one of the best shopping destinations in Australia. However, don’t return home from the Yarra Valley without a bottle or two of locally produced wine. Gold nuggets and precious stones are perfect souvenirs if you are hitting the historic gold fields.
Best beaches: Victoria is blessed with 2,000km of coastline and literally hundreds of unspoilt and stunning beaches. However, the coast in Victoria is wild and untamed (hence the name Shipwreck Coast which applied to a certain stretch of that coast). Also, the water is close to the Arctic Circle and thus rather chilly. Swimming can be very dangerous and is outside of patrolled beaches not recommended. Surfing conditions are amazing in many locations. For family-friendly beaches, try Rye Beach and Frankston Beach.
What to pack: Depending on where you want to go and when, you need to consider different options. The weather in the south of Australia is notorious for being unreliable and unstable, with four seasons sometimes showing in a single day. Winters can be extremely unpleasant and chilly so that you will need windproof jackets and beanies, and summers can be scorching hot, but nothing is for sure.
When to go: A lot of Victoria’s tourism is sourced from within the state, which means that most tourists to the regional destinations will hail from Melbourne. If you want to avoid the crowds, stay clear from destinations that are close to the big city. The 12 Apostles see a lot of visitors, many of them bus tourists, throughout the year. Overall, consider the weather when you plan outdoorsy activities which will no doubt be more enjoyable when the sun is out and the temperatures not too low.
Good to know: Road trips are a great way to get to know the state of Victoria but don’t underestimate the distances. Pack your camping gear and simply lose yourself in the stunning beauty of this destination, or travel the Great Ocean Road all the way to its end.
What I like most about the Victoria: The Great Ocean Road and the small townships dotting the coastline are probably some of most charming areas that you can explore in Australia. But the historic gold rush area around Ballarat is also fantastic to explore, with Sovereign Hill being the perfect family-friendly attraction to learn more about the first years of the budding Australian colony.
What I don’t like about Victoria: Coming from Sydney, I have a hard time adjusting to the cooler temperatures in Victoria. But as they say, there is no such as thing as bad weather, just bad clothing (or something like that).
Must-do’s: If you can afford it, hop in a helicopter and see the famous 12 Apostles from above. Less pricey but still enchanting, watch the fairy penguins on their daily migration ashore on Phillip Island. Whale-watching is big in the state, and there are many great vantage points to spot a whale during the season. Enjoy the special atmosphere at Eastern Beach in Geelong. Spot wild native animals in Tower Hill Reserve near Warrnambool.
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