Victoria is blessed with amazing natural sculptures. Sandstone ridges and spires tower above country plains, and the ocean is littered with bizarrely shaped coastal sea stacks and cliff faces.
Two of the best places to experience Victoria's spectacular nature are Port Campbell National Park and the Grampians National Park. The first encompasses the "best of the best" of Victoria's dramatic Great Ocean Road coastline. Stretching for about 20 km (12 mi) between the towns of Princetown and Peterborough, the park contains the iconic Twelve Apostles—huge limestone rock stacks, measuring up to 45 meters (148 feet). The Grampians are a striking series of sandstone mountain ranges that rise dramatically from volcanic plains and harbor several waterfalls. More than 30 walking tracks (from easy to strenuous) wind through gullies, native bushland strewn with wildflowers, and up and over hills. It's possible to drive to the most popular lookout points. There are a dozen wineries within an easy drive of the park.
When to Go
The Great Ocean Road is a popular summer road trip, so it's best to visit Port Campbell National Park in winter, spring, or fall. Crowds thin out by the end of February, but holidaymakers return in force during Easter. Winter is suitably cold and windswept, giving an idea of the ferocious sea conditions that claimed hundreds of ships during the 19th century. Grampians National Park can be very hot and uncomfortable in summer, and fall can still be quite warm. Spring and winter are best for bushwalking and visiting cozy wineries. Campsites and hotels in Halls Gap fill up during Easter, and prices rise accordingly.
Port Campbell National Park
The Great Ocean Road is perfect for walking, so perfect that a long-distance walking track was opened a few years ago. The Great Ocean Walk begins at Marengo, just west of Apollo Bay. It stretches 100 km (62 mi) to Glenample Homestead (which is now closed), adjacent to the Twelve Apostles, hugging rugged coastline as it passes through national parks. You can set out on the walk on your own, do a few sections of it, or join an organized walking tour that has overnight stays in B&Bs and other comfortable accommodations. Parks Victoria's dedicated Great Ocean Walk Web site is www.greatoceanwalk.com.au. It's easy to do something shorter as well. Walking trails wind past the iconic Twelve Apostles and nearby Loch Ard Gorge, each of which can be viewed from lookouts a few hundred yards from a car park. Loch Ard Gorge, a bay flanked by towering cliffs and with a narrow opening, is a spectacular sight. Other major landforms—the Arch, London Bridge, and the Grotto—have boardwalks and viewing platforms and are about a 10-minute drive (or a longer walk) from each other.
Timing for Port Campbell
It is possible to visit Port Campbell National Park on an organized day trip from Melbourne, but a better alternative is to stay overnight at one of the nearby towns and explore the region over a half or full day. The 20-km (12-mi) coastal drive is crammed with amazing sea sculptures, and you'll be stopping in the car parks along the way to get out and walk along the boardwalks to viewing platforms and steps that lead down to the coast.
Grampians National Park
Bushwalking is by far the most popular activity in the national park. Some of the best walks include Mackenzie Falls, the walk to Mt. Abrupt (or Mt. Murdadjoog in the Aboriginal language), the Hollow Mountain walk, and another to Silverband Falls. Even if you're not a big walker you can still see many of the best-known rock formations. Elephant Hide, the Balconies, the Pinnacle, and the Fortress are only a short walk from a car park. Canoeing is another great way to get away from the crowds and experience the lakes and rivers of the Grampians. And if you'd like a bit of education with your nature, we highly recommend a visit to the Brambuk Cultural Centre. Owned and operated by the Koori people (Aboriginal people of southeastern Australia), the center provides a unique living history of indigenous culture in this part of Victoria.
Timing for the Grampians
The most popular attractions of the central Grampians region can be visited in one day. However, if you want to visit the fascinating Bambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre and take in a few wineries, allow yourself another day or two. From the town of Halls Gap it's a 15-km (9-mi) drive (plus a 100-yard walk from the car park) to the spectacular Boroka Lookout.
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