I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published September 1st 2018
Victoria's Great Outdoors
The diversity of Australia's National Parks is extraordinary, everything from spectacular coastlines, rainforest, alpine meadows, deserts and towering forests. Victoria is home to 35 National Parks and you'll find all of the above somewhere in this great State.
Here's a small sample of that natural wealth, 5 Top Victorian National Parks where visitors can participate in a wide variety of activities including camping, swimming, fishing, birdwatching, four-wheel driving and much, much more.
The Mornington Peninsula National Park covers 2686 hectares and is basically an extension of Melbourne's southern and south-eastern suburbs. Consequently, it's very readily accessible and offers a great range of amenities and facilities.
The Mornington Peninsula National Park is steeped in history including Fort Nepean .....
..... and the Old Quarantine Station. Photos: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
It features some of Victoria's best bayside and ocean beaches and is incredibly popular in summer. Surfers flock to Gunnamatta, Portsea Surf Beach and Sorrento Back Beach. Popular dive sites include Diamond Bay, Bridgewater Bay and 19th-century fortifications within Port Phillip Bay including Pope's Eye and the South Channel Fort.
There is a wealth of history at Point Nepean including the old Quarantine Station, the Army's former Officer Training School at Portsea and the old fortifications guarding The Rip at Fort Nepean.
The historic theme continues at Cape Schanck Lighthouse and nearby Bushranger Bay.
The best time to visit the Mornington Peninsula National Park is from spring through to the end of autumn.
Getting There …..
Cape Schanck, the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula National Park is 103 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, about a 90-Minute drive via the Monash Freeway/M1, Eastlink/M3, the Mornington Peninsula Freeway/M11 and Boneo Road/C777. Wilsons Promontory National Park
To Victorian's Wilsons Promontory is 'the Prom', a rugged peninsula reaching out into Bass Strait and featuring the southernmost point of the Australian mainland.
With the National Park covering 53,000 Hectares the magnificent beaches, isolated coves, forests and grasslands of the Prom have been attracting day-trippers and holidaymakers for decades all keen to engage in activities including bushwalking, snorkelling & SCUBA diving, canoeing & kayaking, swimming and surfing. Fishing is very strictly regulated and is not permitted in the Wilsons Promontory and Corner Inlet marine national parks.
Tidal River is a haven for families attracted to 'the Prom' for their annual holidays. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Around the main population centre of Tidal River, there are hundreds of campsites plus cabins and lodges – all fully booked throughout the summer peak period.
Norman Bay, at Tidal River, is most popular with families. Other sheltered waters include Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove.
Hiking and bushwalking here is sensational with treks of varying difficulty to places like Mount Oberon, Lilly Pilly Gully and Squeaky Beach.
The beach at Norman Bay is right adjacent to the camping facilities at Tidal River. Photo: Ian Gilll / Footloose PhotoBank
The Lighthouse Trek is a 38 kilometre, 2-night walk of medium difficulty that follows the Telegraph Track to the historic light station. A stay in the old Keepers cottages is a popular accommodation option on the Prom.
The best time to visit Wilsons Promontory National Park is spring through to autumn.
Bookings for all accommodation, including campsites, are essential for all holiday periods and a ballot system is used for peak periods. Permits are required for overnight hikes.
Getting There …..
Tidal River is 225 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, about a 3-Hour drive via the Princes Freeway/M1 and the South Gippsland Highway/M420
Port Campbell National Park
Port Campbell National Park is home to some of Australia's iconic tourist destinations including the Great Ocean Road and Twelve Apostles Marine National Park.
This part of the Victorian coastline has been shaped by centuries of Antarctic winds blasting the relatively soft Limestone cliffs, causing large chunks to break away and leave isolated stacks of rock standing just offshore.
Port Campbell National Park .....
..... is home to the iconic 12 Apostles. Photos: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
It's a coastline that proved disastrous for sailing ships en-route from Europe to the Australian colonies, many of them ending their days tossed up on the Shipwreck Coast, often with great loss of life. Driving the Great Ocean Road you'll find 25 shipwreck sites scattered along the Shipwreck Trail.
The Port Campbell National Park covers 1750 Hectares, best known for its dramatic coastal vistas and shipwreck history but also popular with hikers, fishermen and divers.
Heritage sites include Loch Ard Gorge, Glenample Homestead and Gibson's Steps.
Walks range from the Port Campbell Discovery Walk of 4.4 kilometres (1.5 hours) to the Great Ocean Walk stretching 91 kilometres between Apollo Bay and Glenample Homestead and taking between 5 and 8 days to complete.
The majority of beaches along this stretch of coastline are definitely not suitable for swimming but Port Campbell does have a relatively sheltered beach that is patrolled by Lifesavers during the summer peak season.
The Port Campbell National Park is very popular year round with winter providing some spectacularly rough conditions along the coastline.
Getting There …..
Port Campbell is 307 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, just under a 5-Hour drive via Torquay and the Great Ocean Road.
The Organ Pipes National Park
At just 121 Hectares the Organ Pipes is one of Victoria's smallest National Parks. It's also the closest to Melbourne, just 21 kilometres away at Diggers Rest.
This is a day use park only open from 8.30 AM to 4.30 PM (6 PM during Daylight Savings).
The Organ Pipes NP was declared in 1972 and work has been going on eversince to restore the area to its natural state. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Features here include the Organ Pipes, 20 metre high basalt rock stacks, the remnants of a molten lava flow filling depressions and river valleys that has subsequently been eroded by the flow of Jackson's Creek.
There's also the Tessellated Pavement, basalt rocks worn down by the waters of the creek.
The Organ Pipes National Park was created by significant geological events millions of years ago. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Restoration of the natural environment has been an ongoing job since the park was declared in 1972. Weeds are being eradicated and native plants reintroduced.
The park is home to a variety of native birds including Wedge-tailed Eagles that are frequently seen soaring above the deep gorge that is the centrepiece of the park.
Be warned though. You will need some comfortable walking shoes if you're to make the most of a visit here because the trek from the carpark to the creek and geological features below is very steep.
Getting There …..
Organ Pipes National Park is 20 kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 30-minute drive via the Tullamarine and Calder Freeways.
Mount Buffalo National Park
Part of the Victorian High Country Mount Buffalo National Park is at the western extremity of the Victorian Alps, a steep and rugged landscape comprised of granite outcrops, sheer cliffs and grassy plains.
Spring is perhaps the best time to visit Mount Buffalo with melting snow filling the streams and dozens of waterfalls appearing, the largest, Crystal Brook Falls dropping some 200 metres into the magnificent Mount Buffalo Gorge.
Picturesque Lake Catani is one of the standout attractions of the Mount Buffalo National Park. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The park is a mecca for snow sports in winter but at other times it's a favourite with fishermen looking for trout in Lake Catani and the mountain streams, bushwalkers have 90 kilometres of walking trails within the park, there's rock climbing and abseiling, horse-riding, canoeing and kayaking on Lake Catani, hang-gliders flirt with danger launching themselves from a platform high above the gorge and there's an underground river cave open for guided tours.
At more than 1,700 metres above sea level, views from The Horn across the King Valley below are absolutely stunning.
The Mount Buffalo Chalet was built by the Victorian Government in 1910, not long after the first road reached the summit.
The country's largest wooden building the chalet was Australia's first ski resort and was a favourite with skiers and hikers for decades until its closure in 2007.
Over the years numerous schemes have surfaced with a view to renovate and reopen the Chalet but the multi-million dollar price-tag continually deters potential developers.
The Mount Buffalo Chalet, built by the Victorian Government in 1910, is slowly being returned to its former glory. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Apart from winter for the snow the best time to visit Mount Buffalo National Park in spring and early summer when wildflowers carpet the region.
Getting There …..
Mount Buffalo National Park is 350 kilometres northeast of Melbourne, about a 4½ - hour drive via the National Highway/M31 and the C522 and C535.
If this small selection has whetted your appetite for exploring National Parks you'll be pleased to know that throughout Australia we have more than 500 National Parks covering an amazing 28 million Hectares, a bit under 4% of the country. You'd better get a move on if you're going to see that lot!
Why? The diversity of Australia's National Parks is extraordinary, everything from spectacular coastlines, rainforest, alpine meadows, deserts and towering forests. Here are 5 top Victorian National Parks guaranteed to blow your mind.
When visiting the Organ Pipes National Park note that you can access it both outbound and inbound from the Calder but last time I visited, on leaving you are not permitted to cross the centre divide and can only go outbound and there are no U turns permitted on the Calder.