Grab your swimming togs, bathing belles: the Gippsland Coastal Discovery Touring Route unlocks the largest inland water system in the Southern Hemisphere; you’ll drop anchor at historic gold towns, national parks, hidden beaches and treasure islands, too…
© Star Hotel, Walhalla
Swap caffeine highs for natural highs by leaving Melbourne for rugged Gippsland (a two-hour drive away). Your first pit-stop: quiet Walhalla, on the southern edge of the Victorian Alps, also known as the Valley of the Gods. Budding Vikings might recognise the town’s name from the Norse Valhalla: the legendary hall of fame, where Odin lords it over the war-dead in the afterlife. Walhalla entered its own immortal period after gold was discovered by four prospectors in 1862: Cohen’s Reef in Stringer’s Creek – a three-kilometre gold reef – made the town immensely wealthy and its population soar to 4,000. These days, there are only about 20 permanent residents; the tiny population and historic architecture give Walhalla a sleepy feel. Hop on the Walhalla Goldfields Railway, which was built in 1910, or tempt the spectres of the past with a ghost tour in the cemetery.
© Sunset over Lakes Entrance
If that’s got you feeling ghoulish, keep driving for Paynesville, Australia’s boating capital: a pretty resort town surrounded by lakes on three sides. You might spy dolphins gambolling in the waters; if you prefer koalas, take the ferry to Raymond Island and look out for the mellow marsupials (breathe in the perfumed wildflowers and orchids while you’re here).
Ninety Mile Beach, one of the world’s largest uninterrupted stretches of sand, is just under an hour away on the A1. Don’t be surprised if you have your patch of sun-kissed sand all to yourself when you visit. The beach separates 450 sq km of pristine waterways, rivers, streams and lakes from the Bass Strait; unsurprisingly, it’s ridiculously rich in marine life.
Obsessed with angling
© Kangaroos, Wilsons Promontory National Park
Obsessed with angling
Don’t forget your fishing rod: the little seaside village of Lakes Entrance is obsessed with angling; if you’re here in late January, you’ll get to witness the Ninety Mile Beach Surf Fishing Competition. Prefer watching wildlife to catching it? Have a picnic at Sperm Whale Head in the Lakes National Park or scout for whales and dolphins (in season), kangaroos, koalas and echidnas by the beach.
Go on a boat tour of the lakes with Riviera Scenic, followed by lunch at the Metung Hotel, on the shores of Bancroft Bay. Watch the pelicans being fed first (12 noon, sharp), then have your own feast: pick from European-influenced offerings and classic Australian pub grub (if you’ve not had a parma yet, fix that here).
Wilsons Promontory, an eye-bogglingly beautiful sprawl of beaches, rainforest, coastlines and mountains, is a three-hour drive away. Stop off along the way and stretch your legs in the cool and leafy shade of Tarra-Bulga National Park, home to peaceful fern gullies, ancient myrtle beeches, giant Mountain Ash trees and flocks of lyrebirds.
© Wilderness Retreats, Wilsons Prom
Get an art fix in the galleries and boutiques at Fish Creek, a 10-minute drive from Foster, or head straight to Yanakie, the last town before the entrance to Wilsons Prom. If you want to bunk down in the national park, drive to Tidal River, the main camping spot, where you’ll also find Wilderness Retreats: safari-style tents with just enough mod cons for the pampered explorer. The tents share a communal kitchen, so you can rustle up some post-adventures bush tucker; there’s also an obligatory barbecue area (don’t forget the ice-cold tinnies).
From Tidal River, it’s a short walk to Squeaky Beach, named because its rounded grains of quartz sand make a distinctive squeaky sound when you tread on them. You’ll be squeaking too, when you spy the dazzling coastal views over the headland that separates Norman and Leonard Bays. For more beach vistas, visit Norman Bay Beach or Whisky Bay Beach, or allocate a few days to the Great Prom Walk: a lengthy ramble that takes in the park’s highlights, including Sealers Cove, Little Waterloo Bay and Telegraph Saddle.
You won’t want to leave Wilson’s Prom behind, but don’t worry: great things (island-shaped; penguin-populated) await. The Inverloch-Cape Peterson Road offers up some prime scenery-spotting: expect eye-boggling Bass Strait vistas, best enjoyed from lookouts such as Shack Bay and Eagles Nest. If you’re interested in geology, or just a fan of Jurassic Park, look out for the dinosaur footprint at the Dinosaur Dreaming Fossil Site.
The Penguin Parade and more!
© Phillip Island Penguin Parade, Phillip Island Nature Park
The Penguin Parade and more!
Hungry drivers and their passengers will appreciate a meal-break at Kilcunda General Store off the Bass Highway, which champions seasonal local ingredients – rhubarb, blueberries, blood plums and so on – in star-turn dishes with a playful side. The Store lives up to its name, selling picnic provisions, craft beer and and accessories made by local designers.
Shopping and eating accomplished, continue on: you’re just a 25-minute drive from Phillip Island. When you get there, start the wildlife bonanza at the Nobbies Centre, on the western tip of the island. The centre is a temple to the marine life, flora and fauna on the island (and further afield – there’s a new Antarctic Journey exhibition to admire).
Don’t miss the Penguin Parade: a nocturnal viewing of the resident little penguin colony, best enjoyed with Penguins Plus tickets for premium seats. You’ll also want to eye-up the local fur seals who earned Seal Rocks its name: take a trip on the Wild Oceans EcoBoat to see them up close. Don’t neglect the dozy marsupials either: at the Koala Conservation Centre, you can watch koalas (they might not do much, mind) in their native habitat.
Get the best coastal views by setting off on a walk from Pyramid Rock (a triangular rock island off the southern coast of Phillip Island) to Berry’s Beach. Spy on Cape Woolamai to the east and Point Grant (the Nobbies) to the west. That’s probably your fix of wilderness for one day: return to civilisation in the island’s friendly seaside resort town, Cowes. Browse indigenous art in Mingara Gallery, go for a swim by the foreshore, learn to surf on nearby Smiths Beach or sit back with a beer by Rusty Water Brewery. When it’s pushing bedtime, head to Oak Tree Lodge or Glen Isla House for a kip – your nautical adventures will have you snoring in no time.
You’ve achieved a lot. The drive back to Melbourne from Phillip Island takes around an hour and three-quarters: plenty of time to congratulate yourselves on your exploits.