Great Southern touring route

Great Southern touring route, Victoria

Love the mountains and the sea? There’s no need to choose between the two in Victoria – on this four-day touring route you can have both. First, cling to the coastline for spectacular ocean views, sweeping sandy beaches and some truly dramatic geology, then pass through the lush rainforest of the Otways and finally turn inland to explore the sandstone ridges and tumbling waterfalls of the Grampians and the historic goldfields of Ballarat.
On day one turn your back on Melbourne and head southwest to Victoria’s second city, Geelong. Here you’ll find the recently revamped waterfront complete with landscaped gardens, an art deco style pool and a fascinating selection of public art works, including more than 100 wooden bollards sculptured to represent characters from the city’s past and present – look out for Matthew Flinders, who discovered this very bay back in 1802. Don’t leave before checking out the Botanic Gardens in Eastern Park, where a range of rare trees, exotic plants and native species can be seen.

Heading west from Geelong you’ll join the Great Ocean Road at the surf town of Torquay. This is Victoria’s centre of surf culture and there’s no better place to ride the waves or simply soak up some Aussie beach culture. Experienced surfers shouldn’t miss the awesome swell at Bells Beach, while everyone will enjoy discovering Australia’s surfing heritage at the Surf World Museum – the largest of its kind.

Further along the Surf Coast you’ll reach Lorne, the perfect place to unwind. There’s a Mediterranean flavour here and the town’s thriving café culture makes it the ideal lunch stop. Suitably fortified, take the 3km walk up to Teddy’s Lookout, where an elevated wooden platform looks over the St George River as it spills out into the ocean and gives magnificent views of the feat of engineering that is the Great Ocean Road.

From Lorne it’s a short but spectacular drive to the small fishing town of Apollo Bay. This is a fantastic place to spend the night, with plenty of gorgeous forest scenery to take in in the surrounding Otway Ranges.

Highlights include Marriners Falls, reached by an easy 40-minute walk through the tree ferns, and Maits Rest, where a short stroll from the car park takes you into an atmospheric fern gully for a real sense of the dense rainforest that used to cover this region.

Explore this enticing area further on day two, with a visit to the Otway Fly Treetop Walk, which runs between the trees at a height of around 25 metres, giving visitors unparalleled views of this temperate rainforest.

Continuing along the Great Ocean Road the headline attraction is the Twelve Apostles, one of the world’s most iconic coastal sights. Here the limestone cliffs have been eroded over millennia to form a series of rock stacks, dramatically rising from the Southern Ocean.

Great Southern Touring Route. Illustration by Lisa Joanes

Just ten minutes further along the coast is Loch Ard gorge where a walkway leads down to the beach, taking you in amongst the dramatic geology. Another 45 minutes west and you’ll reach Tower Hill state game reserve, where the extinct volcano is home to free ranging koalas, emus and kangaroos as well as a varied selection of waterbirds.

From here, travel on to the picturesque fishing village of Port Fairy before turning inland to head north towards the Grampians through the Western District farmlands. A good place to spend the night is Dunkeld, a beautifully situated village on the edge of the Grampians in the shadow of twin peaks Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt. Don’t miss dining at the award-winning Royal Mail Hotel here (booking in advance is advisable).

The next morning continue north into the heart of the Grampians national park. There are numerous walking trails around the sandstone ranges here and closest to Dunkeld are the moderately challenging climbs up Mount Sturgeon and Mount Abrupt. Choose to tackle these or continue north to the Brambuk centre just south of Halls Gap. Here you can pick up further information on walks in the area and visit the excellent Aboriginal Cultural Centre, designed to incorporate symbolic features important to the five local Koorie communities who own and manage the centre.

North of Halls Gap is a range of further sights. Don’t miss The Pinnacle lookout, reached by a fairly easy walk of around 4km, or the Balconies (formerly the Jaws of Death) where a short walk leads to this popular photo opportunity – two rocky ledges form the appearance of a large open mouth in which the brave can pose.

From Halls Gap head east through Stawell to Ararat, where you’ll find the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre. This recreation of a two-storey Chinese temple recounts the story of the founding of Ararat, the only community in Australia to have been founded by the Chinese.

Continue east along the Western Highway to Ballarat, centre of the Victorian gold rush and now home to some of the region’s (and the country’s) finest 19th-century architecture. Stay the night here and take in the Blood on the Southern Cross sound and light show, which tells the tale of the Eureka Rebellion.

Spend the following morning exploring the sights of Ballarat. Start with a walk along Lydiard Street to take in the opulent architecture here before enjoying a free iPod tour of the Art Gallery of Ballarat, the oldest and largest provincial art gallery in Australia and home to the original Eureka Flag. Before leaving, don’t miss a visit to Sovereign Hill, located just outside the town. This recreation of a gold-mining township is planned around an actual 1880s mineshaft and features a cast of costumed characters.

From here, return to Melbourne along the Western Freeway.

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