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Victoria’s best road trips
Five iconic drives to sample Victoria’s infinite variety.
As a place to go for a drive, Victoria has all the boxes ticked.
There’s fabulous variety no matter which way you turn, from the mountains of the north-east to the unique volcanic plain stretching across the south-west half of the state. Gippsland is snug and green year round, in stark contrast to the deserts, salt lakes and endless horizons of the Mallee.
Slideshow images: Entering Marysville, Wye River on the Great Ocean Road, driving the Black Spur.
If you take Melbourne as the starting point, freeways in all directions have you out in open country in no time, and you’re never more than five or six hours from any part of the state.
Here are five of the best, and most contrasting, drives in Victoria.
The Black Spur
- Where: Healesville to Narbethong
- Distance: 20 kilometres
- Time: Half/full day.
- Because: It’s the perfect Sunday drive.
The Black Spur section of the Maroondah Highway connecting Healesville to the Central Highlands isn’t long, but don’t think you can do it in the blink of an eye.
On its hairpin turns, you could well be stuck behind a logging truck or Eildon-bound caravan, but that’s to your advantage, as the majesty of the mountain ash forest you’re enveloped in needs to be absorbed slowly and deeply.
These trees are among the highest flowering plants on Earth, and are so tightly packed together, the sun barely penetrates through to the forest floor. And the fern gullies are something else.
This stretch of road has virtually no places to pull in and admire these giants up close. To do that, simply keep going to Marysville, loop back via the Acheron Way to Mount Donna Buang (a sealed but very narrow road) or return to Healesville and then up into Toolangi State Forest. Glory awaits at every turn.
Don’t miss: Marysville. It has regrown from the devastation of Black Saturday, and the forest is slowly but surely doing the same.
Great Ocean Road
- Where: Torquay to Peterborough
- Distance: 202 kilometres
- Time: One to two days.
- Because: Show off your state to visitors.
The popularity of this unique stretch of Victorian coast shows no sign of diminishing; it’s almost as famous as Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef.
And that’s because the journey itself is the destination. On one side, the Southern Ocean is spectacular no matter what season or time of day. On the other, you’re against sheer cliffs, but only for as long as it takes to round a promontory and dip into holiday havens such as Lorne and Apollo Bay, or pull up at beaches in the likes of Wye River, Skenes Creek or Princetown. And there are those amazing rock formations and coves near Port Campbell.
But try pulling away from the splendour now and then, for hidden treasures off the main road.
The region has the best waterfalls in Victoria, so seek out Beauchamp, Triplet or Hopetoun Falls (all near Beech Forest) or Carisbrook (near Apollo Bay).
When then tide is right, walk out to old anchors embedded in the rocks at Wreck Beach.
And try the great variety of cheese at Apostle Whey, near Princetown.
Don’t miss: A unique stand of Californian redwood trees planted near Beech Forest in the 1930s. Their size and colour are remarkable.
Through the rolling green of South Gippsland.
Great Alpine Road
- Where: Wangaratta to Bairnsdale
- Distance: 310 kilometres.
- Time: Two to four days.
- Because: It’s Victoria’s highest road.
For a good part of the year most traffic on the Great Alpine Road uses only a fraction of it, the goal being the ski resorts of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek.
For the rest of the time, it’s the ultimate Victorian road trip that needs several days to taste its variety.
Leaving the Gippsland Lakes behind, the road north from Bairnsdale is a steady climb, the bubbling Tambo River an almost constant presence on your right.
Omeo is a well-preserved gold town, and you’ll find other touchpoints of Victoria’s golden heritage as you approach Mount Hotham, from where the trail to Mount Feathertop is a great walk for the well-prepared hiker.
The descent to the Ovens Valley is short but steep and winding. If it’s autumn, the foliage colour in Bright is the reward.
Don’t ignore the side trip up Mount Buffalo, with its array of wondrous rock formations, trails and panoramic views.
The final stretch flows through classic eucalypt country to Wangaratta.
Don’t miss: Milawa, the gourmet capital of the north-east, for its wine, cheese, honey and mustards.
South Gippsland Highway
- Where: Lang Lang to Wilsons Promontory
- Distance: 140 kilometres.
- Time: One day.
- Because: It’s a beautiful route to a beauty spot.
Gippsland is rarely less than captivating, and the road to the Prom starts off along the prettiest section of national highway in the state.
At first you roll through gentle green hills dotted with dairy cattle. The major towns of Korumburra and Leongatha are easily negotiated, and if you haven’t brought your picnic lunch, the Koonwarra Store is renowned for food and wine, or sample the lip-smacking Trulli Woodfire Pizzeria’s fare in Meeniyan.
Turn off the highway here and head south through Fish Creek and Yanakie as the hills gradually give way to low coastal scrub. At every turn you’re anticipating that first view of the haunting peaks of Wilsons Promontory, the southernmost point of the mainland and one of Victoria’s great natural icons.
Don’t miss: Fish Creek, for its great array of art and craft outlets.
- Where: Bendigo to Mildura
- Distance: 400 kilometres.
- Time: One to two days.
- Because: A drive just for the sake of driving.
You don’t need to go to central Australia to see the Outback. The Mallee is wide, flat and open, just not as red. Along the Calder you’ll find unique traits in each community.
Inglewood has the intriguing eucalyptus museum, with a working still. Wedderburn’s old general store is a step back in time. At 148 metres above sea level (and just 43 metres above the surrounding town), Mount Wycheproof is the lowest official mountain in Australia.
Whether in daylight or when the stars are out, Lake Tyrrell, near Sea Lake, produces mesmerising reflections off its salty surface. And Ouyen is the spiritual home of the vanilla slice.
In between, count all the grain silos and just enjoy the vastness of this fabulous part of Victoria.
Don’t miss: The Bakehouse near the bridge in Bridgewater, for the best jelly slice in the state.
Images: Visit Victoria