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The Best Road Trips in Victoria, Australia

by Travelbag on 11 February 2020, 17:02PM

Besides being home to Australia’s cultural capital – Melbourne – Victoria also has stunning countryside and one of the most iconic coastlines in the world. What’s more, its compact size makes it perfect for a self-drive road trip. According to James Litston, these are the best places to go in the Garden State.

Yarra Valley

I’d always thought the Spice Girls invented Girl Power, but that’s because I’d never previously heard of Dame Nellie Melba. Born under the less stellar moniker Helen Mitchell in 1861, Dame Nellie was blessed with two key talents: an incredible singing voice and an unstoppable will to succeed. In an era when women were expected to be meek and mild, this bold and gifted diva defied all the odds to become a global phenomenon. Not only was the opera star among the world’s first modern celebrities, she also made herself fabulously wealthy at a time when Melbourne – the hometown that inspired her stage name – was one of the richest cities on the planet. Girl Power, indeed.

It’s a fascinating story to discover at Coombe: The Melba Estate, a winery and restaurant in the Yarra Valley, about an hour east of Melbourne. Located in the building that once housed Melba’s fleet of cars (on top of everything else, she was the first female driver in Australia), it’s one of the area’s standout spots for sampling local wines. Outside is an avenue of English elms, down which Melba would gallop her horses, while on the other side of the building is Coombe Cottage, her much-loved home and gardens. Its rooms are filled with all the treasures she picked up on her travels and it’s said that she felt happier here than anywhere else in the world.

Coombe: The Melba Estate

As I sit sipping some of the wines produced right here on the Melba estate, I can see for myself why she loved it so much. The Yarra Valley’s gentle pace and rolling scenery were as appealing then as they are today, which is why so many Melbournians come here for relaxing weekends and holidays. Wine’s the main attraction, but there’s also farm-to-fork dining and some lovely places to stay. Plus it’s quick and easy to get to and from the city, which makes it a handy first stop on a road trip into the Victorian hinterland.

The coast and countryside around Melbourne are beautiful and diverse, which makes the region hugely appealing for self-drive holidays. After my history lesson at Coombe, I follow the road past farmland and vineyards, many of which have restaurants and cellar door tastings. For the uninitiated, these are wineries with tasting rooms, where you can turn up, typically without a booking, and pay a small amount for a tasting and perhaps a short tour. It could be complimentary or cost anything up to £20 at a really upmarket estate. The region is best known for its sparkling varieties and premium cabernet, and it’s a genuine pleasure to sip vintages surrounded by the vines that grew their grapes and the vintners who tended them.

Before moving on from the Yarra Valley, I pull into Healesville Sanctuary to get to grips with some of Australia’s famously quirky critters. As well as the famed wallabies and wombats, it’s a good opportunity to meet the lesser-known bilbies and bandicoots, and other unusual creatures that I’m unlikely to see in the wild. Perhaps best of all are the platypuses. Close up they’re bizarre yet strangely endearing. They also seem to single-handedly embody all the wonderful weirdness of Aussie wildlife.

Koala at Healesville Sanctuary 

Phillip Island

There’s plenty more wildlife to be found on Phillip Island, the next stop on my itinerary. The journey’s simple, and clocking up the miles via traffic-free roads is a pleasure. On arrival, I make the Koala Conservation Centre my first port of call. Here I come face-to-face with these Aussie icons while strolling along the tree-top boardwalk.

Phillip Island is also home to a healthy colony of fur seals. They’re best seen on boat trips to the offshore isles where the animals haul out. But as wonderful as it is to see these creatures in their natural habitat, it’s nowhere near as big a draw as Phillip Island’s little penguins. These adorable seabirds put on a show each night as they waddle ashore like clockwork toys to their colony in the dunes. Penguin Parade – the attraction that’s built up around the spectacle – is filled with visitors who pile into tiers of seats to marvel at this wildlife encounter. I’m not surprised when a staff member tells me it’s one of Victoria’s most-visited spots.

Phillip Island Penguins

Mornington Peninsula and Great Ocean Road

Things calm down again the next day when I relocate to the Mornington Peninsula. As popular with Melbournians as The Hamptons is with well-heeled New Yorkers, it’s a particularly pretty region of rolling hills and sandy shores. The fruit-heavy vines that I drive past sustain a proliferation of wineries, though the Peninsula’s sculpture parks, natural hot springs and leafy landscapes are enough to leave me smitten.

All too soon, it’s time to push on to another regional icon. I take the ferry from Sorrento and pick up the legendary Great Ocean Road, which hugs this celebrated coastline via headlands, forests, bays and cliffs. I’m particularly wowed by the stretch between the villages of Lorne and Apollo Bay, for here the road is carved directly into the cliff face, providing unobstructed views of the big blue ocean beyond. I continue through Great Otway and Port Campbell National Parks to discover the Great Ocean Road’s signature sight – the landmark Twelve Apostles. This striking collection of limestone stacks, each standing proud in the ocean, is easily viewed from the boardwalks or from down on the beach itself.

As I’m staying locally, I’m able to take my time and soak up the scene, which looks spectacular as the rocks light up in the rays of the setting sun. It’s a magical way to spend my final night on the road less travelled. Finally it’s time to turn the steering wheel back towards the city. As I count down the miles, I reflect on the wonderful memories I’ve made on the road. It’s been a thoroughly energising and enjoyable few days surrounded by nature. The quality and diversity of experiences – and all within such easy reach of the city – have made this Melbourne road trip a genuine highlight of my time Down Under.

Great Ocean Road 

If you want to discover the best of Victoria, check out our incredible holiday offers.

Or for more holiday inspiration, take a look at our Escape magazine.


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