The Mornington Peninsula is an achingly beautiful spot – the sort of place that makes you consider packing in your potential six-digit career in banking – shyeah, right – for a chilled-out life on the beach. You’ll spend day after day frolicking in the sand, growing dreads, fishing for your supper and renouncing all materialistic ways. This small boot-shaped peninsula – with its rugged ocean beaches and lush hillsides – is just an hour’s drive south-east from Melbourne, with access also available by bus and train, meaning you can do it on a daytrip or spend the night in fashionable Sorrento. There are a number of options on how to spend your day, depending on how much activity you feel like. Wine tours of the local vineyards are a good start, as there are dozens of wineries open to the public for tastings. Another idea is to go swimming with the dolphins. Tours are available from Port Phillip Bay or Sorrento and take a few hours. If history is your thing, head to Point Nepean at the end of the peninsula, where the first shots in both World Wars were fired, and where former Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim and never came back. The end of any day is not complete without a couple of schooners at the Portsea Hotel, chilling-out as the sun goes down.
More dreamy than the sight of Natalie Imbruglia swimming naked in a vat of beer – well, almost – Wilsons Promontory is a destination Aussies want to keep to themselves. One of the state’s best-kept secrets, the Prom (around two hours east of Melbourne) is where locals go to holiday, so you know you’re going to get a unique experience. This is definitely picnic country, so pack a hamper of goodies and head off to some of the Prom’s highlights – Squeaky Beach, with its long golden sands which, erm… squeak; a walk to the peak of Mt Bishop for some spectacular views; or for the sporty ones among you, a hike along the Sealers Cove Track to the cove of the same name and Five Mile Beach. If you feel like getting a bit kinky, make sure you go to Horn Point, Growler or Entrance Point – phnarr, phnarr. With tons of wildlife – watch out for the hundreds of wombats on the roads at dusk (they never indicate) – and stunning bushland, making this place pretty special.
When it comes to Down Under, you can’t get more Aussie than Phillip Island. Situated just 125km from Melbourne, this small holiday destination has three things Australians love more than anything else – cool wildlife, cool surf beaches and a yearly motorcycle race featuring loud, grunting machinery. I’m sure if the place had its own brewery, it would be the number one tourist destination in the entire southern hemisphere. Having said that, it doesn’t do too badly in the visitor stakes, and it boasts one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire country – the Penguin Parade. Every evening at Summerland Beach, hundreds of penguins march home to their burrows on the island, completely oblivious to the gawking tourists watching them. There are several viewing platforms where you can watch them waddle up the beach, pausing for a couple of minutes just out of the surf to catch their breath, before going back to the kids for dinner. Due to the popularity of the parade, it pays to book ahead with the Nature Centre, Ph: (03) 5951 2800 or book yourself on a tour from your hostel. Also worth popping along to are Seal Rocks and the Nobbies, a couple of kilometres from Summerland on the windswept south-east of the peninsula.
Why are men like fine wine? Like grapes, you have to walk all over them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you’d like to have dinner with. One surefire way to excite the senses is to get out of the city and into the Victorian countryside. About an hour out of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is home to some of the best vineyards in Australia and it’s the perfect way to spend a hazy afternoon – cruising through the hills, stopping only to sample some of the finest booze in the land. You really can’t go wrong with this one. You get the chance to act sophisticated as you taste everything in sight, you can get away with talking bollocks as you swill the good stuff, and best of all, the more you and your partner drink, the more attractive you become to each other. Why are women like fine wine? They’re loads of fun the night before, but you wake up in the morning regretting everything, with a bad taste in your mouth. For more info about taking a backpacker tour to the Yarra Valley, go to http://www.backpackerwinerytours.com.au.
While many early settlers to Australia struggled to farm the land, others were busy shooting their own mothers as gold fever swept the country. As more gold was discovered, the names Ballarat and Bendigo became famous throughout the Commonwealth, and both played a starring role in Australian history. Bendigo has grown a lot since the mid-1800s, and its heritage buildings and chic cafÃ© culture give the town a bustling vibe. There are plenty of opportunities to tour the old goldmines and try your luck. TNT Magazine scrabbled around in the darkness of the Central Deborah Gold Mine, about 70m under the town, but got nothing but sore knees and some really crusty bogies. Ballarat is about an hour-and-a-half down the road, and the two towns enjoy a very healthy rivalry. Ballarat’s architecture is much like that of Bendigo, but that’s where the similarity ends. Sturt Street is the main strip, a busy thoroughfare with a healthy smattering of cafÃ©s, pubs, and for some reason, loads of photographic shops. Lake Wendouree is a focal point for the locals. With a six kilometre circumference, there are heaps of spots for BBQs, fishing kayaking, or just chilling out. Sovereign Hill, on the outskirts of town, is an “historically accurate outdoor museum”. What does this mean? Well, there’s loads of people dressed up in 1850s clobber, and everything from the local alehouse to the coach depot and church has been painstakingly researched to make the experience as authentic as possible. It may sound like something from The Simpsons but this is where Australia grew into a nation. A bit naff? Very possibly. Stupidly entertaining? Damn right.
Great Ocean Road
How many great roads do you know? Well, there’s the Great Ocean Road, then… erm… well that’s about it. So there you have it. Victoria’s most beautiful stretch of tarmac must be the best bloody road in the world. What’s so great about it, you ask? Heading south out of Melbourne, the city and suburbs soon give way to rolling countryside and stunning coastal scenery. It’s green. And believe us, that’s not a colour you see in Australia too often. First stop on the trail will be the world-famous Bells Beach. One of Australia’s top surf beaches, the waves crashing onto the shore are dotted with bronzed surf hunks, risking serious injury just to get the best wave all to themselves. Moving on into the gorgeous Otway National Park you’ll have the chance to finally get those kangaroo and koala photos your mum’s been waiting for. The little bastards are everywhere. Stop the car, look up a tree and there they are: cute, grey lumps snoozing in the sun. Stop off and stretch your legs in Apollo Bay. Have a coffee and a stroll in this laidback coastal town before moving onto the main attraction: the Twelve Apostles. Known as the Shipwreck Coast, this stretch of rugged limestone cliffs, coves and beaches has a fascinating history of sunken ships and desperate survivors, not to mention the many tourists all vying for that perfect shot of the surf breaking onto the Apostles in the setting sun. If you’ve got a bit of extra cash in your pocket, we definitely recommend a helicopter ride for the most amazing photos and a breathtaking view of the coast. See? We told you it was great. For more information about travelling here, see http://www.greatoceanrd.org.au.
They may sound like they’re for old people, but The Grampians have plenty to offer people of all ages. From the casual camera-toting daytripper to the serious hiker, there’s enough waterfalls, stunning ridge-top panoramas, good rock climbing, satisfying hikes and frisky wildlife to satisfy (we say frisky because friends of TNT gleefully filmed two kangaroos doing team push-ups there – friggin’ weirdos) everyone. Bush fires ripped through parts of the parkland recently, but like a true survivor, the regeneration process kicked in, giving the area a stunning facelift Hollywood croonies could only dream of. The Visitor Information Centre, 2km south of delightful Halls Gap, is a good starting point and the excellent and insightful Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre just behind offers plenty more on the area’s history. Halls Gap, the national park’s only township, is an inviting place to stay for a night or two. It’s full of ice cream parlours, shady cafÃ©s and kangaroos hopping about between the trees (especially at dusk), plus stoner koalas can be seen too. Whether you choose a shorter walk – there are over 50 well-marked trails – or something more substantial, like an over-nighter, the views from atop the Sandstone ranges are truly spectacular. If you’re an experienced hiker, ask about the Major Mitchell Trail, which is 1700 kilometres long, although you can do parts of it in the Grampians. The top photo stop is the Balconies (or “Jaws of Death”), where you can edge out anxiously into the valley’s void on a narrow rock ledge and hope your photographing friend doesn’t take too long to focus. Though most of the Grampians’ Aboriginal rock art sites are off-limits, Gulgurn Manja and Billimina provide the best two examples of the area’s social history. The Cultural Centre also provides tours.
The Joke’s on you if you thought Australia was all beaches and scuba diving. Head north from Melbourne and you’ll find Victorian Alps where in the winter Aussies get their fix of the cold white stuff. While it’s not Alaska, resorts like Mt Buller, and Mt Hotham and Falls Creek provide great skiing and snowboarding in weather that won’t frost your bits. Just over the border NSW has great hills too.