Tony Dawe offers leisurely tours, encompassing the dramatic coast and majestic mountains
Great Southern touring route
The dramatic coastal cliffs and towering rock stacks along the Great Ocean Road, the rugged beauty of the Grampians and the atmospheric Goldfields region are the highlights of this itinerary, which, according to Tourism Victoria, requires five days to do it justice.
From Melbourne, the route travels southwest to Geelong, Victoria’s second largest city, where the options include boarding a jet boat at the bustling waterfront for an exhilarating trip around Corio Bay, or hopping on the steam-driven carousel for a slower-paced round trip.
For those with the time and inclination, a detour through the Bellarine Peninsula will reward them with vineyards and the maritime village of Queenscliff, dotted with fishermen’s cottages, lighthouses and museums.
The renowned surfing centres of Torquay and Bells Beach signal the start of the Great Ocean Road, which winds its way to Lorne, a popular weekend lunch spot, and Apollo Bay and Cape Otway, where the choice of accommodation includes Great Ocean Eco Lodge, which invites guests to enjoy the sight of koalas and kangaroos.
The second day is one for reaching for the sky, like the Twelve Apostles, the magnificent rock stacks that rise up from the Southern Ocean. Admire them from the cliffs or for the best view, take a helicopter ride. Before you reach them, spend time exploring the fern gullies, waterfalls and secluded coastline of the Great Otway National Park, follow paths through the rainforest or admire it from above the canopy on the Otway Fly Treetop Walk.
Finish this awe-inspiring day at Warrnambool, where you can view southern right whales with their calves from Logan’s Beach from June to September, or at Port Fairy, a busy fishing port and one of the first coastal villages to be settled, with imposing 19th-century buildings.
Head inland on day three for a scenic drive through the Grampians National Park, stopping off for walks to cascading waterfalls and for viewpoints across the mountain ranges, including the famous Jaws of Death. The Royal Mail Hotel in the attractive village of Dunkeld is a good option for lunch or dinner.
The next destination is Halls Gap, the tourist hub of the Grampians, where places to stay include Boroka Downs, an exclusive couples-only hotel, and Meringa Springs, a stylish guesthouse. The town is home to the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre, the best place to learn about Aboriginal rock paintings and history.
Leaving the Grampians on the fourth day, the route turns east towards the Goldfields region, with stops in the winemaking village of Great Western to tour the Drives, a heritage-listed network of underground tunnels, and Ararat, a thriving community settled during the gold rush by Chinese and Pacific island immigrants, as well as Australians in search of a fortune.
Ballarat, where more than a quarter of Victoria’s gold was found in its reef mines, is the ultimate gold rush town, its fine buildings and Art Gallery displaying the opulence of the era. You can even pan for gold at Sovereign Hill, an outdoor museum recreating the 1850s’ atmosphere.
On the final day, ease your way back to Melbourne by taking the Great Grape Road through Bacchus Marsh, lingering over lunch at the Lake House in Daylesford and relaxing at the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa in Hepburn Springs.
South East touring route
Three of Victoria’s most delightful regions are within little more than an hour’s drive from Melbourne and this itinerary includes them all in a four-day tour, with a series of short journeys between the main attractions.
Start by swapping Melbourne’s laneways for the rolling hills of the Yarra Valley, where life’s great pleasures of gourmet food, wine and nature are revered. Sample cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir wines at more than 40 cellar doors and call at farm gates and markets for fresh produce. The wineries are also celebrated for their restaurants and some offer accommodation.
If you can tear yourself away from the food and wine, browse the eclectic collection of Australian modern art at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, or meet more than 200 species of Australian wildlife, at Healesville Sanctuary. A detour into the Dandenong Ranges will lead you to romantic hilltop villages, towering forests and spectacular gardens.
The itinerary continues on the second day with a 90-mile drive to Phillip Island. The most popular attraction here is the Penguin Parade at Summerland Beach, when hundreds of little waddlers emerge from the sea and scamper to burrows in the sand dunes. Alternatively, visitors might join guided tours with a ranger, visit the Koala Conservation Centre or take a boat trip along the coast to spy sea lions, penguins and, sometimes, whales.
Cowes, the largest town on the island, provides a range of accommodation and eateries for all tastes and budgets.
Day three is time to wind your way around the coast, with frequent views across to French Island, to reach Mornington Peninsula and once there, relax. Laze on beaches, recuperate in the therapeutic waters of Peninsula Hot Springs, or just simply enjoy the wine.
The peninsula is home to more than 50 wineries, growing mostly chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris grapes and many have restaurants. The area around Red Hill and Arthurs Seat, the peninsula’s highest peak, are dotted with small orchards and farms where organic fruit and vegetables are sold at the gate. Hotels, guest houses and self-catering accommodation are available across the peninsula and include Big Blue Backyard, a luxury beach retreat, Blue Moon beachside cottages and Flinders Hotel, established in 1889 and recently refurbished.
On the final day, board a boat at Sorrento Pier to go swimming with dolphins, or continue to Portsea for surfing and diving. Horse riders can canter along St Andrews beach or go on horseback winery tours. The peninsula is also home to some of Australia’s best golf courses, so by the time you get back to Melbourne, you will need a rest.
Gippsland touring circuit
This six-day itinerary takes in the main attractions of the South East route and heads east to Lakes Entrance, the access channel to Gippsland Lakes, the country’s largest network of inland waterways. From Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island travel to Wilsons Promontory, remote and unspoilt, at the southernmost tip of the Australian mainland.
Tracks lead through eucalypt forests and wildflowers to secluded coves, white-sand beaches and granite mountains. Sightings of kangaroos, wombats and emus are frequent. Campsites are located discreetly throughout the park and cottages are available near the entrance.
Next up is Port Albert, Victoria’s oldest port, with an interesting maritime museum. The journey continues through central Gippsland to Sale, an inland port and a good starting point for boating trips.
Lakes Entrance, by Ninety Mile Beach, is where the Lakes meet the ocean. Along with the villages of Metung and Bruthen there is lots of accommodation.
First stop on the return journey is Traralgon, with its vibrant nightlife, alfresco dining and art galleries. The drive north leads to Walhalla, a wealthy 19th-century gold mining town where you can pan for gold at Stringers Creek and ride on the Goldfields Railway. And then back to Melbourne via the Yarra Valley.