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March 02, 2019

Victoria's Regional Beauty


Victoria is one of Australia's most satisfying holiday destinations. The 'big city' experiences of Melbourne offer its restaurants, laneways, shopping, cultural attractions and sporting events.

Then there's regional Victoria, which provides a completely different pace of life, yet is richly endowed with natural attractions, fascinating history and as many lifestyle pursuits as you can wish for.

To the east of the state, there's Gippsland, a majestic region of lakes, rivers, forests, beaches, national parks, valleys and villages. Gippsland epitomises the lucky country'.

Gippsland is rich with history from the gold rush cra of the 1860s and provides a wealth of attractions and activities for all the family. The Gippsland Lakes are Australia's most extensive inland waterways and are separated from Bass Strait by a long line of sand dunes known as the Ninety Mile Beach.

The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park (Tourism Victoria)

For the energetic, there's boating, swimming, fishing and bushwalking aplenty. A feature of the area is the large variety of birdlife, some of it quite rare, so it's wise to take a pair of binoculars.

Wilsons Promontory, known to the locals as the 'Prom' is the most southerly part of the Australian mainland, jutting into Bass Strait. It comprises some 50,000 hectares of pristine national park and a magnificent and rugged coastline with quiet beaches, long walking trails, stunning scenery and prolific native wildlife.

You don't need to be a snow-junkie to make the most of north-east Victoria's High Country. Certainly, there is a magic about winter when all seven Victorian alpine resorts are operating at full capacity and friendships are being kindled on the slopes by day and in the restaurants, pubs, clubs and lodges by night.

Take a few days and travel the Great Alpine Road that connects the waterways of the Gippsland Lakes with the High Country The 308-kilometre road follows a route through much of Australia's finest country, so give yourself enough time as the temptation to stop and explore will be fierce.
There's much more to the snowfields experience than downhill skiing, with snow bikes, snow tubing, helicopter flights, tobogganing, Cross-country skiing, spa treatments and wining and dining just some of the reasons visitors return year after year.

When Melbourne's wealthiest wanted to escape the summer heat in the late 19th century they headed north-west to Mount Macedon. Daylesford and other parts of what would become known as 'spa country. Their legacy which is still enjoyed today has been some fine homes and gardens that are now accessible as parks, guest houses and small hotels.

Bellinzona Daylesford / Hepburn Springs

Visitors have been enjoying the mineral springs at Hepburn Springs for more than a century, with many people of European extraction swearing by the curative powers of the pure waters welling from the bowels of the earth. Today's visitors can expect health and beauty treatments using a variety of lotions and potions. Wellbeing seems to be a concept that sells itself.

Daylesford, a popular weekend retreat for Melburnians, has long understood the interests of its visitors and provides a suitable range of activities and shopping, The local fresh produce is evident in the restaurants and cafes that dot the town and there's no shortage of galleries or antique stores to browse.

Ballarat and Bendigo are redolent with history, most evident in the fine gold rush era influenced architecture – some of the best Victorian architecture in the country. Sovereign Hill at Ballarat is well worth a visit. It's a living, breathing museum dedicated to recreating the life and times of a gold rush-era town. You can also see the Eureka flag and learn about Australia's only major insurrection in the past 200 years.
The Great Ocean Road is ranked among the most impressive scenic coastal roads in the world. Its landscape, irrespective of the weather conditions, is endlessly fascinating.

Leaving Melbourne, the road commences at Geelong and ends at Nelson in the west, passing national parks, famous surf beaches and – between Lorne and Apollo Bay – the massive cliffs and rock stacks that rear out of the boiling surf. The road follows the contours of the land, and so inhospitable is it that it wasn't until the 1930s that the Great Ocean Road was complete. More than 3,000 soldiers who returned from World War One were involved in the project, which took 14 years to complete. It also provided a modest income during the mass unemployment years of the Great Depression.

There are any number of tours you can take on the Great Ocean Road and the Otway National Park, but it's an easily driven route that allows you to dictate your own pace.

Naturally, the high point of any trip along the Great Ocean Road has to be the Twelve Apostles, the most recognised natural attraction in Victoria and, along with Uluru (Avers Rock), one of the key icons of nature for Australia. When I drove the Great Ocean Road last November the wind was screaming out of the great Southern Ocean at around 120 kilometres per hour. We had to hang on to the timbers along the boardwalk to stay upright, but it bothered the visitors not a jot as they scrambled to get their pictures. The rock stacks, the tallest of which is 45 metres high, are part of the Port Campbell National Park and had their beginnings some 20 million years ago and are the result of erosion forced by wind and sea over the millennia.

To fully appreciate the Twelve Apostles and the massive limestone cliffs on the mainland that add to the dramatic scene, a visit to the interpretive centre is a must.

Great Alpine Road

There are extensive boardwalks to provide dozens of views for photography that are quite different from the standard picture postcard shots one is familiar with. There's also the opportunity to take a helicopter flight to view the Apostles from the seaside, adding another memorable dimension to the experience.

Many hold a special place in their hearts for the Grampians, a magnificent rugged section of western Victoria where they camped and bushwalked for the first time as children.

Dramatic sandstone buttresses, ancient Aboriginal rock art, canyons, waterfalls and a blanket of stars are among the many enduring memories evoked by this special place.

A relaxed drive north of the Great Ocean Road brings you to the Grampians National Park, a place of superb walking trails, natural rock formations and deep Indigenous Australian cultural significance. The area was badly scarred by bushfires a few years ago, but the landscape has recovered significantly and the new growth is an attraction in itself.

The Grampians offer some of the best rock-climbing adventures in Australia and novices are welcome to join a commercial adventure operation offering not only rockclimbing but abseiling, canoeing, mountain bike tours and night spotlight walks as well.

The Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre's design is symbolically linked to the Dreamtime stories and the centre offers visitors information on Aboriginal cultural heritage and local rock art sites.

The centre offers a busy program of activities for the whole family including ranger walks, talks, theatre, dance, food, art and boomerang throwing demonstrations. You'll get a real feeling for the heart of the country at a didgeridoo performance and have the chance to try your hand at this most Australian of musical instruments.

Closer to Melbourne, there are a variety of tours of the Yarra Valley where some 40 wineries welcome guests all year round. Many of Victoria's top chefs and restaurateurs choose to work in this area where much of the fine produce they use in their kitchens originates.

You can take a gastronomic tour through this region and combine it with other parts of country Victoria. li's an adventure of the palate. Don't miss TarraWarra Estate, which has a splendid art gallery adjoining the cellar door.

On the third Sunday of the month, the place to be is the 'Barn' at Yering Station in the Yarra Valley. Here you have the chance to buy directly from the producer the best in locally grown potatoes, fresh salmon or trout, homemade pasta, hand-baked biscuits, wood-fired sourdough bread and marmalades, chutneys and jams.

For accommodation in regional Victoria, see www.bestwestern.com.au


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