From the Great Ocean Road, Aboriginal rock art and gold rush splendour to gourmet discoveries, mineral springs, wilderness and wildlife. The Great Southern Touring Route delivers a fabulous road trip within easy access of Melbourne.
By Sue Gough Henly
The Great Southern Touring Route delivers a spectacular diversity of landscapes from the Southern Ocean to the sandstone escarpments of the Grampians National Park. Along the way learn about Aboriginal culture, pan for gold, see wildlife and wilderness, enjoy local food and wine, and soak in some of Australia’s finest mineral springs.
Just a 30 minute drive south of Melbourne, go on safari at the Werribee Open Range zoo to see rhinoceros, giraffes, zebras and antelopes grazing on the grassy plains. And come face-to-face with gorillas, a pride of lions, monkeys and cheetahs on the Pula Reserve Walking Trail. Continue for 50 minutes to the bayside city of Geelong for lunch in the funky surrounds of the Little Creatures Brewery or enjoy the innovative tasting menu at Igni. Explore the nearby Bellarine Peninsula and enjoy a glass of wine at Jack Rabbit Vineyard, with its splendid views of Port Phillip Bay, and wander around the Victorian-era seaside town of Queenscliff. Continue to nearby Torquay, birthplace of surf brands Rip Curl and Quiksilver, to visit the Australian National Surfing Museum and shop the surf wear boutiques. Enjoy a game of oceanside golf or tennis at the RACV Torquay Resort, where you will stay for the night.
Take an early morning learn to surf class in Torquay. Or watch pro surfers in action from a clifftop viewpoint at Bells Beach, site of the world’s longest running surfing competition, the Rip Curl Pro, held every Easter (March or April). Stop by the Anglesea Golf Course to see kangaroos grazing on the fairways and continue to the Great Ocean Road memorial archway at Eastern View. Go for a walk along Fairhaven Beach, the longest beach on the Great Ocean Road. Head into the pretty seaside township of Lorne and enjoy lunch at The Swing Bridge Café before an ocean swim (lifeguards patrol during the summer months). Spend the afternoon picking berries at Gentle Annie and visit the 30 metre (98 foot) tall Erskine Falls in the surrounding rainforest. Enjoy superb contemporary fare at Brae, a 30 minute drive into the hinterland, which is No.65 on the World’s Best Restaurants list. Stay overnight in one of Brae's luxury suites or at the oceanfront Cumberland Lorne Resort.
Drive the curviest and most spectacular stretch of the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay, roughly an hour drive. Stop at Kennett River to see the koalas and parrots along a quiet side road. Have a Mediterranean-inspired lunch with a stunning bird's-eye view of the ocean at Chris's Beacon Point Restaurant. Head inland to taste craft beers at the Forrest Brewing Company and enjoy a dusk platypus paddle at Lake Elizabeth. Or continue to the pretty seaside resort of Apollo Bay and enjoy a guided kayak tour of the Marengo Seal Sanctuary. Drive half an hour through the Otway National Park rainforest and visit the Cape Otway Lightstation, the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. Stay at the Great Ocean Eco Lodge to see Australian animals in the wild and help with rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife. See glow worms on an evening walk at nearby Maits Rest.
Do a treetop walk or zip-line adventure in the heart of the rainforest at Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. Enjoy a steak sandwich with a local Crowes Nest Steam Train brew at the Otway Central Tavern and discover other local gourmet products on the Otway Harvest Trail before hopping in the car for an hour drive to the 12 Apostles. Enjoy a panoramic view of Victoria's famous limestone stacks on a helicopter flight and explore Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, the Arch and London Bridge from the ground. If you're feeling energetic, walk the later part of the Great Ocean Walk, which ends at the 12 Apostles. Drive west for an hour to Warrnambool to visit Flagstaff Hill, a fascinating historical village showcasing life in a 19th century seaport. Between May and October see southern right whales from the viewing platform at Logans Beach. In the pretty nearby historic fishing township of Port Fairy, enjoy cutting-edge local fare at Fen and a deluxe stay at Drift House.
Visit the Tower Hill Nature Reserve, an enormous volcanic crater to the east of Port Fairy where its easy to see koalas, kangaroos, emus and native birds. The beautiful visitor centre is managed by the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative, which offers guided walks explaining local Aboriginal culture and bush tucker. Drive an hour north through the rolling farmland of the Western Districts to enjoy an informal meal at the Parker Street Project or an inspired tasting menu in the Dining Room of The Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld. Drive 45 minutes north to the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Grampians National Park. Watch a video of the Gariwerd creation story and enjoy didgeridoo workshops, bush food tasting, boomerang painting and throwing lessons. Stay at the stylish Brambuk Backpackers Lodge.
Take a guided tour of Aboriginal rock art sites or enjoy one of the many other walks in the Grampians National Park and a bush tucker-inspired lunch at the Bushfoods Café. Drive 30 minutes east to explore some of the region's historic wineries, such as Seppelt Great Western, famous for its sparkling wines and labyrinthine cellars dug by gold miners, and Best's Great Western, one of Australia’s oldest family-owned wineries, which specialises in old vine Shiraz. Learn about the gold rush from a different perspective in Ararat, the only town in Australia founded by Chinese miners. At the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, learn how Chinese miners travelling overland from Robe in South Australia discovered the Canton Lead, one of the world's richest shallow alluvial goldfields. Drive an hour east to Ballarat to stay in Victorian splendour at Craig's Royal Hotel and have dinner in its conservatory restaurant.
Spend the day at Sovereign Hill, a living museum goldfields town that re-creates Ballarat's first 10 years after the 1851 discovery of gold, when thousands of international adventurers came in search of fortune. It's set on 10 acres (25 acres) of an original mining site, and costumed characters bring the shops, hotels, theatre, school, factories, gold diggings and underground mines to life. Take an underground mine tour, pan for real gold, watch a $150,000 gold pour, visit the gold museum, ride in a horse-drawn carriage and use pen and ink in the one-room school house. In the evening, watch Sovereign Hill's multimillion-dollar sound-and-light show, Blood on the Southern Cross, which tells the dramatic story of the 1854 Eureka Rebellion, in which miners rebelled against unfair government gold taxes and swore allegiance to the Southern Cross flag.
Explore the gracious city of Ballarat, built on the riches of the world's largest alluvial gold deposit. Visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat with one of the most comprehensive collections of Australian paintings in the nation. Enjoy the digitally immersive exhibitions at the Museum of Australian Democracy on the site of the Eureka Rebellion. In the afternoon, pay a visit the Ballarat Wildlife Park to see native Australian animals and reptiles in natural bush or wander amid the mature trees of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens beside Lake Wendouree. Visit Creswick Woollen Mills, the last coloured woollen spinning mill in Australia, where you can feed alpacas, see the interactive exhibit and shop for fine natural materials. If you have kids, visit Kryal Castle, Australia's only medieval adventure park. Drive 30 minutes to Hepburn Springs to soak in mineral springs at the historic Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa before staying at the Peppers Springs Mineral Retreat.
Just 10 minutes down the road, enjoy a class with some of the finest chefs in Australia at the Lake House cooking school, complete with baguette or sit-down lunch. Spend the afternoon exploring the region following the Daylesford Macedon Produce Trail to find gourmet products and meet producers. Go shopping in Daylesford, wander through the Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens and visit the Convent Gallery, which showcases the work of local artists and artisans. Enjoy a massage at the Salus Spa, perched in a treetop stilt house above Lake Daylesford, before a sublime meal at the trailblazing Lake House restaurant before you tuck in for the night at the Lake House hotel, one of the
Drive 30 minutes east to the pretty township of Trentham to visit Trentham Falls, the longest single drop waterfall in Victoria, plunging 32 metres (105 feet) over basalt columns. Explore the boutiques and enjoy a coffee and pastry at the Red Beard Bakery, or take a sourdough bread making class before having lunch at the nearby cafe, La Trattoria, in the historic Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm. Explore the farm's historic stone buildings, which overlook the lavender fields that supply the raw materials for the farm-made lotions and creams. Drive an hour to Mount Macedon to visit exquisite private gardens at Forest Glade and Tieve Tara, or climb nearby Hanging Rock, a 105 metre (344 foot) tall, steep-sided ancient volcano, which has eroded to create bizarre rock formations. You'll see lots of Australian birds, and maybe an echidna or wallaby, and enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding farmland from the top. Drive an hour back to Melbourne.