Six experiences to add to your Victorian travel bucket list
When it comes to bucket-list travel experiences, Victoria is home to some of the finest.
The Colosseum and Pyramids of Giza are off the list for now, but you don’t have to roam the world to find world-beating experiences. It may have taken a global pandemic, but more and more of us are finally paying due attention to the extraordinary attractions right in our own backyard. Here are six truly memorable Victorian experiences well worth a place on your bucket list.
Hiking the Grampians Peaks Trail, taking a helicopter flight over the Twelve Apostles and cycling the Goldfields Track should be on every Victorian’s travel bucket list.
Hike the Grampians Peaks Trail
The ancient mountain range of Gariwerd soars above the plains of Western Victoria like a giant wave, which is fitting given its sandstone form was once a seabed in the Silurian era (about 420 million years ago). Today The Grampians – Gariwerd to its Indigenous Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali custodians – is a lure for nature lovers, rock climbers and outdoorsy types keen to lose themselves in one of the state’s most dramatic landscapes.
Currently they’re confined to the 36-kilometre Grampians Track, which connects the national park’s best-known features including the Wonderland Loop, Pinnacle Lookout and the striking forms of the Grand Canyon gorge. En route there’s Indigenous history, wildlife (emus, birds and roos abound) and a rich floral heritage including 20 species found nowhere else.
Those attractions will multiply later in 2021 when the track becomes part of the newly completed, 160-kilometre Grampians Peaks Trail. This epic, 13-day hike along more than 100 kilometres of new trails links Mount Zero in the north to Dunkeld at the southern tip of the Great Dividing Range. The extended walk will reveal more ecosystems and landforms and “take you on a journey where every day you’ll be discovering something new,” says Tammy Schoo, a lead ranger at the Grampians National Park.
Only hardcore hikers will attempt the whole thing in one go. Most will space it over multiple visits. Either way it’s worth bearing in mind much of the track is rated grade four, or ‘adventurous’. There are numerous campsites en route but BYO everything, especially water.
Fly high over the Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles are usually the climax of a journey along the Great Ocean Road. But to really appreciate Victoria’s spectacular southwest coastline, park at the visitor centre and take to the air with 12 Apostles Helicopters. Even short, 15-minute joy flights capture most of the coast’s star attractions and put the Apostles in their proper perspective – of a crumbling shoreline literally (and liberally) littered with limestone stacks. Pilots provide an engaging account of human and natural history as they fly over landmarks such as Loch Ard Gorge, named for one of the 180 or so shipwrecks sunk along the sea floor here, The Arch, The Grotto and London Bridge. Slightly longer, 25-minute flights explore further south to the Bay of Martyrs and Bay of Islands, the latter one of the Great Ocean Road’s most underrated highlights. Arguably more stunning than the Twelve Apostles, it’s often overlooked because day-trippers don’t make it that far along the coast. 12apostleshelicopters.com.au
Stay: RACV Torquay Resort
Settle back against the limestone cliffs to catch the pros riding a wave at Bells Beach.
Explore Victoria’s goldfields by bicycle
The Goldfields Track is so much more than a cross-country bike route. This 210-kilometre trail from Mount Buninyong (outside Ballarat) to Bendigo links extinct volcanoes and Indigenous heritage, historic country towns and subtly changing landscapes to create one of the continent’s most rewarding rides (or walks). “I don’t think there’s another trail like it because it combines so much culture, Aboriginal history and nature,” says Goldfields Track Committee member (and avid mountain biker) David Bannear. An archaeologist by trade, David’s favourite section is between Daylesford and Castlemaine through the heart of the Victorian gold-rush region, via frozen-in-time townships such as Hepburn Springs and Fryerstown. Other highlights include views from the top of volcanic Mount Buninyong and from Mount Alexander, once used as a scared ceremonial ground by the Dja Dja Wurrung people.
With a bit of pre-trip planning, riders can space their rest stops to take full advantage of fine regional dining – at popular tourist centres such as Daylesford, Castlemaine and Creswick, where the Three Founders restaurant at RACV’s Goldfields Resort works wonders with Modern Australian fare. Allow time for a side trip to sample Heathcote region wines. Allow four days’ riding to cover the entire route, which splits neatly into Mount Buninyong-Creswick, Creswick-Daylesford, Daylesford-Castlemaine, Castlemaine-Bendigo.
Take in the surf at Bells Beach
The notorious right-hand break at Bells Beach, about 90 minutes’ drive southwest of Melbourne, and just a short hop from RACV’s Torquay Resort, has been a magnet for the world’s boardriders since the first pro championship was staged there in 1961. Today surfers travel from near and far to test their mettle against the Southern Ocean swell, especially in winter when the big rollers start pumping.
Unless you’re a seasoned surfer it’s best just to settle in on the beach against the limestone cliffs and spectate; this is not a wave for amateurs. But if the surf bug bites, Go Ride a Wave offers beginner lessons in the calmer waters of Torquay, Anglesea, Lorne and Wye River. There are lessons for adults and children, in groups or private sessions, so you can dip your toe in where the pros prowl.
Stay: RACV Torquay Resort
Snorkelling Port Phillip Bay.
Paddle down the Murray
The Murray River is an odyssey waiting on our doorstep. The continent’s longest river offers natural beauty, world-renowned birding, great fishing, sandy beaches, abundant wildlife and endless opportunities to commune with nature along the Victoria-New South Wales border.
A slow boat is the best way to navigate its charms; there are canoe and kayak-hire places along much of the route. Popular paddling spots include the Murray Valley National Park and the Ramsar-listed wetlands of the Barmah National Park, home to the state’s (and the world’s) largest river red gum forest. The Gunbower State Forest brims with sites of Indigenous and colonial significance and is an important breeding ground for more than 200 bird species.
In the water, watch out for crayfish, yabbies and, if the river gods are on your side, the occasional platypus. On land, keep eyes peeled for the shell middens and scar trees of the Barapa Barapa and Yorta Yorta peoples. Many of the routes are graded Class 1 (easy) so there are few challenges beyond working out where to set up your swag each evening.
Stay: RACV Cobram Resort
Dive (or snorkel) Port Phillip Bay
Melbourne’s bay is best known for its beaches but beneath the sea there’s a treasury of wonders including more than 1000 marine species, from rays and seals to neon-coloured nudibranchs.
The easiest access points for divers (and snorkellers) to get their gills wet are the piers of the Mornington Peninsula – especially Blairgowrie, Rye and Portsea – which throng with sealife. Explore Portsea’s beds of seagrass and kelp for banjo sharks (keep an eye out for arriving ferries), Rye for seahorses and octopus and Blairgowrie for nudibranchs and, between April and July, the startling sight of swarming giant spider crabs that migrate here to moult. On the Westernport side of the peninsula, Flinders Pier is one of the world’s surest spots to see the curious creatures known as seadragons, the bay’s emblematic residents.
For more adventurous divers, dozens of shipwrecks lie scattered across Port Phillip Bay. For a partial list see scubadoctor.com.au, which rents equipment from its shopfront in Rye and offers guided dives.
Stay: RACV Cape Schanck Resort