Open season: Victoria’s regions beckon

Path outside RACV Inverloch Resort

Clare Barry

Posted October 30, 2020

As restrictions ease, Victoria’s regions are getting ready to welcome back visitors.

After months of lockdown and separation from metropolitan Melbourne, regional Victoria is set to welcome back the restless-hearted to our country towns, forests, beaches and mountain villages.

From the dreamy river country of the Murray to the windswept beauty of Bass Strait and the historic charms of the central goldfields, Victoria beckons. And it seems we can’t wait to get back on the road to explore it. According to the latest AustraliaSCAN survey more than three-quarters of Victorians are planning a trip to a regional area this year.

Things will be a little different, of course, as accommodation providers, restaurants, cafes and tourism operators implement social-distancing requirements as well as other measures such as contactless check-in to protect staff and visitors. And on the upside, international travel restrictions mean fewer crowds at the most popular attractions.

There will be new things to see and do too, as some savvy operators have taken advantage of the long weeks of lockdown to rethink, refresh and rebuild. For instance at all of RACV’s resorts, including further afield at Noosa, Royal Pines and Hobart, staff have been busy repainting and refreshing rooms, finishing new cabins, and in the case of Cape Schanck and Goldfields properties, preparing to open two spectacular new restaurants. Resort teams are working on a number of new outdoor dining options across the properties to make the most of the spring and summer weather and provide additional options in line with government restrictions.

Victoria has always been blessed with world-class scenery and attractions, but now after months confined to quarters and with long-haul travel off the agenda for now, there truly has never been a better time to get out and make the most of what’s on our doorstep.

So where to first? For inspiration, we asked the managers of RACV’s Victorian resorts to give us the inside scoop on what’s new and worth a visit in their backyards.

Lighthouse at Cape Shanck

LIghthouse at Cape Shanck

Five must-do Victoria weekenders

Cape escape

The Mornington Peninsula has long been a summer playground, but its diverse cellar doors and postcard-pretty vineyards, cheeseries, chocolatiers and new-kid-on-the-bay breweries make for a perfect spring-time escape too.

Overlooking Bass Strait, RACV’s Cape Schanck Resort now boasts a new 150-seat restaurant, Samphire. Framing stunning views of the bay, Samphire’s contemporary Australian menu is designed to share and focuses on seasonal local and regional produce.

Executive chef Josh Pelham, formerly of two-Michelin-star restaurant The Square in London, is committed to working with local producers to deliver simple, tempting fare that pairs to perfection with Mornington Peninsula’s boutique wineries, along with a focus on less-traditional grape varieties from up-and-coming producers to encourage diners to try something new.

We’re looking forward to when we can reopen premium dining venue Cape, as soon as government regulations and operational considerations make it possible. The new 70-seater restaurant will feature an open kitchen, dedicated bar and an intimate setting for guests.

The resort has been a hive of activity in lockdown, with solar panels now being installed, while a walkway connecting the resort to the Coastal Walk, which skirts the south-west sweep of the peninsula from Cape Schanck to Point Nepean, was also completed during lockdown. It can be tackled in smaller sections, or you can trek the whole ocean-fringed 30 kilometres.

Anglers are never far from bay or ocean on the peninsula, or for a freshwater catch head to Devilbend Reservoir near Tuerong for estuary perch and trout. And at dusk animal lovers can catch hundreds of roos going about their business just off Boneo Road a few kilometres from the resort.

To the river

Whatever the season, it’s always a good time to head north to the Murray for river beaches, olive groves and a better-than-Melbourne chance of sunshine.

“We used to have a tourism motto that we have more sunny days here than Queensland,” points out Cobram Resort manager Gary Hunt, “and I think it still applies.”

There are plenty of outdoor activities for that sun to shine on too. Cobram sits within a “mecca” for golfers, says Gary, with 36 holes of championship golf within five minutes’ drive of the resort, and several more courses within half an hour. Cycling, boating and walking are popular too. For wildlife, he recommends a wander around nearby Quinn Island in the Murray, “and if you don’t see a koala you’re not looking”.

Gary has recently opened 27 new two-bedroom deluxe park cabins, designed by the RACV Cobram team with a Victorian-based manufacturer. “They’re designed with a bedroom at each end which makes them ideal for two couples,” says Gary. “And they’re set in a lovely spacious grassy area near the tennis courts.”

RACV Cobram Resort at sunset

RACV Cobram Resort

Surf’s up

No region has endured a more dramatic drop in tourist numbers than our magnificent Great Ocean Road, but that means fewer crowds for domestic travellers.

And spring is a “fantastic” time to explore the area, says Torquay Resort manager Dean Newell, before summer’s sun-and-surf seekers descend on the quieter-than-usual coast. “It’s a really good opportunity for Victorians and Australians more broadly to get out and experience it without the crowds at those key points like the Twelve Apostles.”

Aside from the Great Ocean Road itself, the Surf Coast Walk, stretching from Point Impossible north of Torquay to Fairhaven, is popular year round, and is split into 12 bite-sized trails. Or head for the hinterland hills for forest walks, waterfalls and the towering redwoods of Beech Forest.

Dean says the absence of guests in recent months has allowed for a paint-and-polish blitz at the architect-designed resort. “It’s looking like new,” he says.

Animal attraction

South Gippsland has long drawn visitors to its beach-fringed coastline and rolling green hills. This is the place for fishing and rock-pooling, hiking and cycling, and for indulging in straight-from-the-paddock produce. It’s also home to wildlife both great and small, from echidnas and wombats to dinosaur relics.

And with humans confined to quarters during lockdown some of those creatures have been reclaiming their turf, with an “influx” of kangaroos and wallabies in the grounds of RACV’s Inverloch Resort.

“Guests are almost guaranteed to see a kangaroo at some stage when they stay here,” explains manager Carey Norton. “But now in the morning there might be six of them sitting on the lawn in front of the restaurant – or another 10 near the cabins.”

Wombats and echidnas are common on the property too, along with the occasional koala, says Carey. “We see whales sometimes too from the observation deck. Last season one was in so close you could easily see not just the spray from the blowhole but its [tail] flukes.”

Family walking in Inverloch


Go for gold

There’s a story down every byway of Victoria’s Goldfields region – tales of calamity and instant riches from the ultimate treasure hunt. Perfectly placed to explore them is RACV’s Goldfields Resort set outside Creswick.

Chef Mark Boyd, who has worked with culinary stars Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White as well as Melbourne legend Jacques Reymond, is ready to open new restaurant Three Founders with dishes like family-favourite whole roast chicken, and a deep-fryer-free kids’ menu. “We are a real family destination here so providing healthy cooking for kids is so important,” says Mark.

Resort manager Martin Zumstein says Three Founders now has a new covered alfresco dining area. Local produce will star in the resort’s Urban Grocer, completed during lockdown, as was a bigger games room with table tennis, an arcade game and air hockey.

Martin says spring in the goldfields lends itself to exploring, starting with the mountain-bike trail around the resort itself. Beautiful St Georges Lake is a five-minute drive away, or venture out on your own historic tour of gold-rush towns like Creswick, Clunes and Talbot.