The land of sleeping giants: Volcanoes you can visit in Victoria

A drone shot of Hanging Rock at sunset

Nicola Dowse

Posted January 31, 2023

Did you know that Victoria features the third largest volcanic plain in the world? Though these wonders pose little threat, they do present an opportunity for adventure.  

When you think of volcanoes you probably think of Hawaii, or maybe Iceland. You probably don’t think of Australia, and certainly not Victoria, as being particularly volcanic. 

In reality, Victoria is home to hundreds of volcanoes across the state, concentrated largely in the west. You might have driven past or even hiked up these volcanoes without realising, with many located at popular tourist sites. RACV Goldfields Resort for example is just a short drive away from a number of volcanoes!

Given that the last known eruption in Victoria was around 7,000 years ago, you might think that all our volcanoes are long since extinct. While some volcanoes are inactive, many of them are more accurately described as ‘dormant’, meaning eruptions are possible and could happen in the next few thousand years. 

The good news is that most experts agree that there’s very little to worry about in the short term, with the scale and beauty of and created by these sleeping giants well worth travelling to see.  

Volcanoes you can visit in Victoria

Tower Hill

If you’re planning a trip along the Great Ocean Road, it’s worth scheduling in a detour to Tower Hill, just outside of Warrnambool. The extinct volcano is known as a ‘nested maar’, a type of volcano that is broad, shallow and typically forms a crater that becomes a lake. 

That's certainly the case at Tower Hill, which as the largest nested maar volcano in Victoria (and one of the largest worldwide) features a massive crater lake that is now a haven for wildlife like koalas, kangaroos and emus.  

The lush landscape is thanks to the team of volunteers who worked over decades to restore the national park (Victoria’s first) following significant land clearing and degradation post European colonisation. 

Budj Bim

Budj Bim is a great example of how volcanoes can be both destructive, but also constructive. The lava flows from this volcano are what helped the Gunditjmara Traditional Owners construct a UNESCO Heritage Listed aquaculture system at the site thousands of years later.

The volcano is about 300,000 years old with the last eruption believed by the Gunditjmara people to have been between 30,000 and 39,000 years ago and that the event represented their Ancestral Creator revealing themself. This is supported by evidence of an axe found buried volcanic ash dated to at least 34,000 years ago.  

Today tourists are welcome to visit the culturally significant site where they can take a enjoy walking, mountain biking, 4W driving, camping, or book a guided cultural tour. A bush tucker café is also on site. 


A drone shot of Tower Hill and the crater lake at sunset

Tower Hill is one of the largest examples of a nested maar volcano in the entire world. Photo: Visit Victoria.

Hanging Rock

Hanging Rock, possibly the most famous and well-visited rock in Victoria, is in fact a volcano. When you hike up the rock you’re hiking up the remnants of a volcanic eruption that happened more than six million years ago – the volcano is now extinct.  

Known as Ngannelong by some Traditional Owners, Hanging Rock is geologically a ‘mamelon’. This means it was created when very thick lava erupted from the volcano, so thick in fact that the lava was unable to flow away from the eruption site and instead cooled and hardened into the rocky formation tourists now climb. 

The pinnacle walk is the most popular activity at the rock, but there are other nature walks to enjoy, plus a café and picnic areas.  

Mount Napier

Say hello to Victoria’s youngest volcano, with Mount Napier, a dormant volcano, last erupting around 30,000 years ago. There's a forested nature trail you can hike to the summit of the volcano, on a clear day from which you can see as far as the Grampians in one direction, and all the way to the sea in another.  

While you can explore this volcano from above, you can also explore it from below. Lava flows from when the volcano was active have created Australia’s most extensive and accessible system of lava caves, known as the Byaduk Caves. 

Walking trails connect these caves, which are also home to bat colonies. Avoid bright, direct light and loud noise to avoid startling them.


The entrance to the Byaduk Caves

Evidence of Mount Napier's past eruptions can be explored at the nearby Byaduk Caves. Photo: Visit Victoria. 

Mount Franklin 

How does camping in a volcanic crater sound? You’d never guess that this leafy campground near Daylesford was once an active volcano. Mount Franklin, known as Lalgambook by the Dja Dja Wurrung people, was formed when lava leaked out from the caldera of the volcano – the road that leads to the campground is where the lava leaked out from originally.  

This is a free, short-stay campground for those with tents, caravans and motorhomes. Toilets, fireplaces and water for washing is provided but availability is on a first come, first served basis.  

Lake Purrumbete 

Volcanoes generally evoke images of fire not water, but the aftermath of eruptions often creates massive lakes filled with life. Lake Purrumbete is a 2.8km wide lake that started life as a broad maar volcano that eventually filled with groundwater and became habitat aquatic life.  

Lake Purrumbete is now a holiday destination popular with anglers who enjoy the clear waters and access to trout, salmon and perch stock. The deep lake (up to 60 metres) has boat access as well as a café and caravan park on the foreshore.   

Mount Rouse and the Penshurst Volcanoes Discovery Centre 

The Penshurst Volcanoes Discovery Centre is a great destination for all ages to find out more about the hundreds of volcanoes across western Victoria. Here you can learn about the different types of volcanoes in the world as well as about the volcanic landscape specific to Victoria.  

The centre is also just a short walk or drive from Mount Rouse, a dormant volcano with a viewing platform and picnic areas. If you take the Mount Rouse Tourist Road up the volcano you can even stop by the crater lake.


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