Don’t be fooled by the fact that Victoria is mainland Australia’s smallest state. It is also the most densely populated state and the state’s capital Melbourne attracts a great number of visitors each year. Outside of Melbourne city itself, the most popular destination in the state is the world-famous Great Ocean Road, running along sandy beaches, through lush rainforests and past the Twelve Apostles.
But there is more. If you look beyond the Great Ocean Road and the tourist brochures and advertisements, you will find that this relatively small state offers a wide variety of alternative road trips starting in Melbourne.
1. In western Victoria the Wimmera plains are abruptly interrupted by the Grampians, a series of sandstone mountain ranges.
The three-hour drive from Melbourne will take you through towns such as Ballarat until you reach Halls Gap, a village located within the borders of the Grampians National Park and the ideal base for exploring the region. All activities in the Grampians – except for the Brambuk National Park & Cultural Centre, where you can learn about the culture of local Aborigines – involve getting outside and active. Hiking trails will take you through the forests, up mountain peaks and past waterfalls and invaluable ancient Aboriginal rock paintings. Fishing, canoeing or rock climbing are other options. Continue north to Horsham and then take a right towards Bendigo, a former gold rush town with a rich heritage.
2. A couple hours southeast of Melbourne lies the southernmost point of the Australian mainland.
The peninsula of Wilsons Promontory – also lovingly called ‘The Prom’ by locals – is also home to a national park bearing the same name. Just like the Grampians above, Wilsons Promontory National Park is a haven for nature lovers. Short walks to long overnight bushwalks allow active visitors to experience the true beauty of the area. Wildlife is abundant and suggested activities include picnicking, going on scenic drives, fishing, camping and surfing. You enter the National Park and the peninsula in Tidal River, where there is a general store and take-away food shop, as well as camp grounds, cabins and lodges.
3. Completely different scenery is found in the east of Victoria, where the Great Alpine Road winds its way through the Victorian Alps. This road is a little more than 300km long, easily doable in three days, and starts in Wangaratta, a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
In Wangaratta you can enjoy local produce and fine local wines before starting your road trip over the highest mountain passes in Victoria. The first stretch of this road is all about food. Once you pass you town of Bright the landscape starts to change from alpine ash to snow gum forests. At Mount Hotham there are winter ski resorts, but during summer potential activities are hiking, horseback riding or fishing in the Alpine National Park. The last part of the Great Alpine Road leads past cattle and sheep fields towards Bairnsdale, a city established on the banks of the Mitchell River. Bairnsdale is the only city in Gippsland, a region well-known for its many lakes. Highway A1 will take you back to Melbourne from there.
Even if you’ve never driven on the left hand side of the road, don’t be put off getting a car rental in Melbourne and getting out exploring the city. You won’t need a car to get around Melbourne itself but you’ll have a much better trip to Australia if you see some of the scenery as well of the cities. Check out Victoria’s official road rules here.