Victoria’s capital city is also Australia’s capital of food, culture, shopping and sport. Melbourne is most visitors’ introduction to the state, and what an introduction it provides – join the masses at a game of footy at the MCG, sip on speciality coffee in one of the moody inner-city laneways, nab a table at one of the world-renowned eateries, and shop till you drop in one of the quaint Victorian-era arcades.
After spending a few days in Melbourne, many international travellers make a beeline two hours’ down the road to Phillip Island for one reason and one reason only: to see the adorable little penguins scamper across the sand at Summerland Beach, filling the viewing platform at Penguin Parade for a glimpse of the action. Petrol heads will enjoy the V8 and motorbike race track, and surfers will love the breaks at Cape Woolamai and Berrys Beach.
There’s no shortage of reasons to visit this rugged sandstone mountain range three hours’ drive west of Melbourne. The Grampians offers Victoria’s best bushwalking terrain, a rich array of native Australian plants and animals, a long Indigenous history that plasters caves with ancient rock art, and a burgeoning gourmet food and drink scene in towns such as Halls Gap and Ararat.
This town marks the official start of the Great Ocean Road, but don’t be too quick to jump behind the wheel and cruise along Australia’s most scenic touring route. Torquay is one of the country’s premier surfing destinations – the birthplace of Rip Curl and Quicksilver, the home of the National Surfing Museum, and the venue of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach every Easter.
At the other end of the Great Ocean Road is a charming village that’s almost as pretty as the 240-odd kilometres of coastal scenery you’ve just cruised past. Port Fairy itself looks like a postcard, with little stone cottages and quiet wharves shaded by towering Norfolk pine trees, and that’s before you even get to the birdlife on Griffiths Island, the whales cruising along the coast, the miles of untouched coastline and the famous links golf course.
This peaceful town at the foot of the Great Dividing Range sits on top of an extinct volcano, which explains the natural springs that Daylesford is famous for. Victoria’s favourite spa town is perfect for a blissed-out weekend escape from busy Melbourne, inviting visitors to put their feet up and pamper themselves at one of the dozens of serene day spas, luxury resorts and upscale eateries.
Victoria is home to most of Australia’s ski fields, including Mount Hotham, Falls Creek, Mount Baw Baw and Dinner Plain, but Mount Buller is perhaps the pick of the bunch. Only three hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne, Mount Buller boasts the largest lift network in the state, with 22 lifts covering 300 hectares of skiing and snowboarding terrain criss-crossed by more than 80 runs.
This town’s origins in the Gold Rush era are obvious thanks to the mid-19th-century architecture and beautifully preserved streetscapes. A large inland city only 90 minutes from Melbourne, Ballarat boomed in the 1850s thanks to the discovery of gold – step through that history at the immersive Sovereign Hill open-air museum, as well as the Eureka Stockade, the site of a rebellion that’s considered the birthplace of Australian democracy.
The whole of the Mornington Peninsula – from the top of the Peninsula Hot Springs to the tip of Sorrento Pier – is one of the most gorgeous corners of Victoria, and Portsea is a great launchpad for exploring the area. Go snorkelling in Port Phillip Bay, catch a wave at Portsea Surf Beach, or lace up your walking shoes for a bush walk through the Mornington Peninsula National Park then kick back with a pint at the iconic Portsea Hotel overlooking the water.
This eastern chunk of the state is a vast expanse of outdoor experiences, be it camping in the remote Croajingolong National Park, wandering along Ninety Mile Beach, or bushwalking through picturesque dairy farm country. Gippsland’s biggest drawcard is Wilsons Promontory, a craggy coastal national park that represents the southernmost point on the Australian mainland.