The Victorian Coast: from East to West
by Grace Ghattas.
If you're Victoria-bound and want to explore the state beyond Melbourne (and its many shopping temptations!), then how about a road trip along the region's coastline from one side to another?
These two alternative routes will allow you to avoid the city's traffic but rest assured that the good food, beautiful vineyards and locally produced indulgences for which this part of Australia is known for will be there wherever you go. All you need to pack is a swimsuit, sweater, full tank of petrol and your appetite for both adventure and gastronomy!
The Mornington Peninsula
Your first step is to get out of city and venture southeast to the Mornington Peninsula. Road 1 will take you from Melbourne's Central Business District (CBD) to Portsea, situated at the very southern tip of the peninsula. Choose to travel either via the Nepean Highway that hugs the coast of Port Phillip Bay, or along the freeways that cut your travel time in half but are subject to tolls.
A quick stop at Frankston – the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula – is all you'll need here, as the best is yet to come. Continue through Mount Eliza, a sleepy yet interesting community of affluent families with strong historical ties to the area. Pick your next few stops from the towns of Mornington, Mount Martha, Dromana, Safety Beach, McCrae, Blairgowrie and Rosebud, all of which are lined with beachfront camping spots that are extremely popular during the long summer months. A browse around these quaint towns will uncover great cafés serving up fresh, local produce.
At any time on your journey, you can take a left turn and travel inland to Victoria's famous wine country. Moorooduc and Red Hill are ideal places to stop as both have local wineries, cheese producers and fruit farms, as well as antiques that act as vintage mementoes of the area's history. As you drive onwards, venture back west and you'll hit the Mornington Peninsula's best surf beaches. Merricks and Point Leo are ideal for catching some big waves, so bring your board or hire one from one of the surf schools on arrival. Leaving the beach, Peninsula Hot Springs in Fingal is a must-see as you travel back towards the bay. This stop shares the same boundaries as Moonah Links Golf Course, providing perfect R&R options for everyone.
Ten minutes drive from Sorrento is Portsea and the historically rich Point Nepean National Park. This preserved former army barracks has great walking and bike tracks that run around the amazing coastline and is famously where former Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared. These days, it's also an upscale beachside playground for Melbourne's rich and famous – similar to upstate New York's Hamptons area. The Portsea Pub is a local institution and as well as being a relaxed watering hole, offers up regionally-sourced gastronomic delights to both locals and visitors. Both Sorrento and Portsea also have beautiful beaches with great surfing opportunities, although only experienced swimmers should tackle the sea here, as the rip can be unforgiving.
The Great Ocean Road
Take the B100 road out of Melbourne CBD and continue driving until you reach one of the world's most breathtaking coastal drives, The Great Ocean Road.
You'll travel through a number of picturesque coastal towns along your route, including Point Lonsdale, Ocean Grove, Barwon Heads, Torquay, Jan Juc, Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne, Apollo Bay, before finally finishing your journey in beautiful Port Campbell. A common assumption amongst visitors is that the Gold Coast's Surfers Paradise and Sydney's Bondi Beach are home to Australia's best waves, but think again! The annual Bells Beach International Surf Competition takes place every Easter, with people gathering from all corners of the globe to experience the thrill that comes from catching the perfect wave – and with 243 kilometres of Australian National Heritage coastline to explore, you're sure to find a decent wave or two.
Once you tire of the seemingly endless blue sea and fresh salty tang of the coastal breeze, take a right turn inland to catch your breath in the reviving, oxygen-rich air of two national parks – Great Otway and Carlisle – as well as several nature reserves crammed with indigenous flora and fauna. Make sure you rug up for a hike, before heading back to one of the many beachside townships for a relaxing night of local hospitality at a quaint bed and breakfast.
This region of Victoria makes for the perfect add-on trip to your stay in Melbourne, as it's so accessible, laid-back and extremely welcoming to visitors. It also offers the opportunity to support small, family-run businesses and experience the unique nature of these beautiful towns.