When it comes to observations on holidaying, you can’t go past the esteemed Mr Toad of Toad Hall, who had all manner of adventures while travelling the countryside.
As anyone who has read author Kenneth Grahame’s famous novel, The Wind in the Willows, will confirm, when it comes to sheer fun, good old Mr Toad was never hesitant in taking the road less travelled and by whatever vehicle he could lay his hands on.
“Today, to him gazing south with a new-born need stirring in his heart, the clear sky over their long low outline seemed to pulsate with promise; today, the unseen was everything. The unknown the only real fact of life,” Grahame wrote.
While you might like to avoid the “Mr Toads” on the road, the state of Victoria in Australia does have something of the English countryside about it and if you are motivated to take a driving holiday in Australia, it’s a very good place to start.
Victoria, covering 227, 600 square kilometres, is roughly the size of Great Britain. Within its compact boundaries are a huge variety of landscapes and associated experiences, ranging from the dining and cultural scene in the capital, Melbourne, to the vineyards of the Bellarine Peninsula, the historic Goldfields region and Ballarat, the snowfields and High Country of the Victorian Alps and the rugged beauty of the Grampians mountain range.
The state’s road network covers around 151,000 kilometres, including 22,400 kilometres of freeways and arterial roads. There are also another 50,000 kilometres of minor roads and tracks in national parks and forests, more than enough scenic roads on which to find your own personal adventure.
Travelling by car, campervan or tour bus, from Melbourne it is little more than a 90-minute drive to tall forests, historic villages, wildlife, scenery, vine-filled valleys and rugged coastline.
Victoria offers a range of touring routes, a number of which are accessible via free iPhone and iPad apps which can be downloaded by visitors to access interactive maps, pinpoint places of interest and learn more about regional highlights.
Here are a few routes to consider.
Great Southern Touring Route
Beginning in Melbourne, the journey heads south-west to Geelong, continuing along the coast past heritage towns and the vineyards of the Bellarine Peninsula to the spectacular Great Ocean Road. Noted travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler rates the Great Ocean Road as one of the top 20 journeys of a lifetime, while Frommer’s guide rates it as one of the world’s top 10 road trips.
The 243-km-long Great Ocean Road which starts in Torquay and finishes in Allansford, near Warrnambool, is the world’s largest war memorial. The heritage-listed road was built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to the Australian soldiers killed in World War I. Winding through varied terrain and past prominent landmarks, including coastal limestone formations such as London Arch and the Twelve Apostles, the road is governed by speed limits ranging from 80 km/h to 100 km/h.
The Great Ocean Road hugs the Surf Coast from Torquay to Cape Otway, clinging to vertical coastal cliff faces in parts, linking Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell. As the route unfolds, the lushness of the Great Otway National Park gives way to the history of the Shipwreck Coast, and at picturesque Port Fairy the route turns north towards the Grampians. The Grampians National Park is a beautiful mountain landscape of walking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife where visitors can see the largest selection of Aboriginal rock paintings in Victoria. After journeying east through the Goldfields region to Ballarat, the return leg to Melbourne takes travellers to Hepburn Springs and through the Spa Country.
Sydney-Melbourne Coastal Drive
Shaped by the constant pounding of the Pacific and Southern oceans, the coastline between Sydney and Melbourne is a spectacular series of tranquil coves, long beaches and wild, rocky shores. Visitors can do everything from fishing to surfing, sailing and snorkelling and see dolphins, penguins and whales in the wild.
The coastal national parks are home to native flora and fauna, including kangaroos, koalas, emus and native parrots. The Gippsland Lakes are ideal for water skiing and kayaking and the Mornington Peninsula’s coastal hinterland is renowned for food, wine and golf. The treetop walk, the Illawarra Fly, provides visitors with a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the forest, while at Buchan Caves they will discover a 400-million-year-old limestone wonderland.
Sydney-Melbourne Heritage Drive
On the inland route from Melbourne to Sydney you can take in indigenous culture, colonial history and the ancient landscape of the Murray River. The Heritage Drive travels to the gold rush region around Bendigo, where visitors can explore old goldmines, and on to the Murray River for a ride on a working paddle steamer and to experience the picturesque beauty of the giant river red gums at sunset in Barmah National Park. The route continues on to Rutherglen, famous for its fortified wines, then crosses the border to the nation’s capital, Canberra, which offers everything from hot-air ballooning to hours of exploring the National Art Gallery and the Australian War Memorial. On the drive to Sydney through the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, travellers pass through quaint villages, including Bowral, the birthplace of cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman.
Melbourne South East Touring Triangle
Melbourne’s South East Touring Triangle links three regions surrounding the state capital – the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula.
The Yarra Valley is noted for its wineries and boutique hotels, while Healesville Sanctuary is home to more than 200 native wildlife species, including platypus, koalas, Tasmanian devils, kangaroos and wallabies. In the Dandenong Ranges, visitors can ride the Puffing Billy steam train as it chugs its way along 25 km of railway, through sheltered valleys and cool fern gullies.
On route, don’t miss the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island and spend some time on the Mornington Peninsula where more than 50 wineries specialise in quality pinot noir and chardonnay, with some featuring outstanding restaurants offering fresh regional produce. The Mornington Peninsula is noted for its natural hot springs and day spa centres, golf courses and spectacular cool-climate gardens.
West Gippsland Hinterland Drive
This route takes around five hours to drive, beginning in Melbourne and passing through the Yarra Ranges to the townships of Powelltown and Noojee in Gippsland, before travelling across to the summit of Mount Baw Baw, taking in the sub-Alpine villages of Walhalla, Rawson and Erica. The route takes in forests of giant mountain ash trees, waterfalls, regional food outlets and boutique wineries.
The entrance to Gippsland Lakes – Wikimedia Creative Commons
River redgums growing alongside the Murray River – Wikipedia Creative Commons
Yarra Valley – Wikimedia Creative Commons
All other photos via Tourism Victoria