Tucked away on the state's East Coast, just shy of the New South Wales border, lies the small town of Mallacoota. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Croajingalong National Park, the town owes much of its serene atmosphere to the dedication of both council and residents to retaining as much as possible of the bushland around in its natural state and making the place a haven for native wildlife.
A 500km trip from Melbourne, it's a bit of a drive, but definitely worth it. You might even consider breaking the trip over two days and taking the opportunity to see some of beautiful Gippsland along the way, or stop over at Buchan for a view of the incredible limestone caves. My family and I have been making the trip since I was quite young, and though I have travelled the country quite extensively since, Mallacoota remains to this day my favourite of all the places I have visited. We have always stayed at the Adobe Mudbrick Flats: a collection of holiday residences spread over a sizeable and scenic block and varied enough to cater to most needs. Hand-built by owners Peter and Margaret along with a team of helpers, the flats are charmingly primitive but equipped with all the necessities including televisions and DVD players, wood fires, well-stocked kitchens and even electric blankets for the cooler nights.
My favourite thing about the flats though, is the almost constant presence of local animal and bird life. All visitors are supplied with a quantity of bird seed – in the words of the owners, their way of giving something back to the birds as small compensation for intruding on their habitat. Kookaburras, king parrots, crimson rosellas, galahs and the colourful but noisy rainbow lorikeets are among the species common here which you rarely find in the city (yes, I am a bit of a bird nerd). If you're lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a lyrebird with its magnificent plumage on display. But possibly my favourites of the visitors to the flats are the small furry bush rats who scuffle around scavenging for morsels of food. Don't be put off by the word 'rat' – I promise, these little fellows are thoroughly adorable.
The flats also offer a terrific view of the Mallacoota Inlet and there is nothing quite so relaxing as sitting back among the chirping birds, inhaling the scent of blossoms (I recommend going in Spring) and looking out over the still water. I'm sure all the other accommodation options in town have their own perks, but for myself I can't think of a nicer place to spend a quiet break from city life.
The town centre is only a short drive, but I highly recommend walking. It takes around 40 minutes but you will be rewarded by lush vegetation and a picturesque view of the inlet as the road winds alongside its banks. A boardwalk has recently been constructed which at times takes you over the water and at times envelops you with trees on either side. The walk back from town took me over an hour one day as I couldn't help stopping constantly to take photos of the view and of the various furry and feathery creatures I encountered along the way.
The town itself has all the basics and not much more: two supermarkets, a post office, bakery, bank and a few small shops and cafes. While the fare is not quite what you'd get in Melbourne's trendy cafes, it's decent and reasonably priced. A short drive from the town centre are several beautiful and swimmable beaches. Betka Beach is a favourite among families for its river leading from the ocean into a small estuary which is calm and safe for children to play in. A little further along the beach lies the giant sand dune which provides endless entertainment for the young and not-so-young alike, and also some vigorous exercise climbing to the top before rolling down each time. If the beach is not your thing there are dozens of day walks showcasing the native flora and fauna, or if you want a challenge a half hour drive will take you to Genoa Peak. It takes around half a day to scale and the view from the top is well worth the labour. The Genoa Falls are also a must-see. The falls themselves are spectacular, as is the surrounding scenery and if you're lucky you could come across one of the very rare monitor lizards who sometimes sun themselves on the rocks. In addition to all this, regular cruises run on the inlet and boats and bikes are also available for hire. One of my favourite memories is of spending a day exploring the inlet and its many tiny islands in a small motor boat.
Evidently there is no shortage of activities in and around this beautiful town. But for me the water, fresh air and birdsong alone would be enough. Everything else is just a bonus on top of what already promises to be a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing holiday.