Melbourne is a city renowned for its cultural energy and laneway dining scene, but for nature lovers, it’s the gateway to an accessible feast of Australian beauty spots and wildlife hangouts. The surrounding state of Victoria covers just 3% of Australia but hosts 30% of the country’s native animal species, meaning there are creatures to encounter in every direction, from strutting pelicans on the Gippsland Lakes to tree-hugging koalas on the Great Ocean Road.
These wildlife experiences take place among some of the most impressive landscapes in Australia. Natural adventures in Victoria bring rainforest waterfalls, dramatic views from sandstone ridges, ancient volcanoes and vast, golden beaches. There’s fabulous flora and fauna to be found at many places around the state, but these five destinations are particularly visitor friendly.
1. Spot kangaroos in the Grampians
Good luck playing any sport on the Halls Gap Recreation Ground — a large mob of kangaroos has taken up residence. Situated at the edge of the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park, this laid-back holiday town has a ‘roo at every turn, while the park itself hosts a large concentration of waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art and dramatic lookouts amid its rumpled mountain landscape.
A three-and-a-half-hour drive northwest of Melbourne, the Grampians throws together sharp sandstone ridges, pristine, green-carpeted valleys and shimmering cobalt lakes. The star turn is arguably MacKenzie Falls, where the MacKenzie River cascades over steep cliffs, creating a rainbow mist above the pool at the bottom. The Grampians is at its most rewarding, however, when visitors take time to tackle the numerous walking trails. Popular short walks to lookouts such as the Pinnacles or the Balconies always bring something else along the way, whether it’s birdlife, waterfalls, narrow canyons or tempting swimming holes.
2. Discover flora and fauna in the Dandenong Ranges
The Dandenong Ranges National Park, on Melbourne’s eastern fringe, offers a more serene take on natural Australia. The Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens exemplifies this, with several easy-going walking trails through the tall mountain ash trees, while its carefully tended floral displays, dainty water features and boathouse by the lake add to its charm. This endearing vibe continues at the Sherbrooke Forest picnic ground, where crimson rosellas flit between the tall, bare tree trunks of the temperate rainforest and families cook lunch on the public barbecues. All around are walking trails, and a path through the lush, supersized ferns leads to the gentle cascade of Sherbrooke Falls.
The pinnacle of Dandenong’s timewarp wholesomeness, however, is the Puffing Billy steam railway, which choo-choos for 16 miles over timber trestle bridges, down the valley and into the forest on the original mountain track between Belgrave and Gembrook.
3. Witness southern right whales and koalas along the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road, a 151-mile driving route to the southwest of Melbourne, is all about variety. It starts with vast, fabled surf beaches, such as Bells Beach which is a staple of the pro-surfing circuit, while beginners can take lessons at Anglesea and Lorne. But it only takes a short deviation off the clifftop-hugging road to find waterfalls plunging through the rainforest.
Further along, the Great Ocean Road brings moody, photogenic coastal rock formations, such as the Twelve Apostles and Bay of Martyrs, both famed for their precarious, free-standing limestone stacks, battered by the swells of the Southern Ocean. Then, at the end, comes a burst of wildlife: southern right whales are regularly spotted from the clifftops at Logans Beach in Warrnambool, while echidnas scuttle inside the ancient volcanic crater at Tower Hill. There’s also Australia’s largest concentration of koalas inside the Great Otway National Park; patient observation pays off when a little joey scampers along a branch, away from its sleepy mother.
4. Enjoy birdwatching at the Gippsland Lakes
The pelican, so comical and ungainly on land, looks magisterial in flight when gliding elegantly along the water — and there’s ample opportunity to witness this while puttering around the Gippsland Lakes, roughly a three-hour drive east of Melbourne. This network of coastal lagoons, islands and dolphin-dotted waterways is primed for puttering around in boats, although each lakeside settlement has its own character. The entrance to the lakes has a plethora of man-made beaches, mini golf and holiday parks, while Metung offers indulgent bathing in hot springs and Paynesville is a short ferry hop from Raymond Island, where a massive koala population drowsily resides.
Beyond the towns of the Gippsland Lakes, though, is a satisfying sense of the untamed wild. Migratory birds flock to the wetlands around Sale, while surf crashes against the dune-backed Ninety Mile Beach, whales and seals swimming just beyond the shoreline.
5. Glide above Yarra Valley at sunrise
Situated to the northeast of Melbourne, Yarra Valley is best known as a key food and wine destination. Most come to flit between cellar door tastings and lavish winery lunches, but there’s plenty of nature, too. The Black Spur Drive, which twists and climbs through the Yarra Ranges National Park, has numerous forest-shrouded picnic grounds and short walks under the thick mountain ash canopy, which inevitably lead to sightings of king parrots, lyrebirds and skittish wallabies. But, perhaps the best way to experience Mother Nature in all her glory, is on a silent, scenic hot air balloon flight at sunrise, drifting through the cool breeze and taking in the bird’s-eye views and rolling vineyards of Yarra Valley — hopefully spotting the occasional kangaroo as you go.
Several airlines offer one-stop flights from UK airports to Melbourne. From there, a hire car is the best way to get around — there’s more freedom to tailor your itinerary and many of the drives are notably scenic. Several tour companies offer multi-day excursions that take in the highlights of the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road. For more information and to plan your trip, see visitmelbourne.com