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Big Drift - Wilsons Promontory National Park
Photograph: Mark Watson

13 amazing natural wonders to visit near Melbourne

Salt lakes, redwood forests and more: these must-see Victorian attractions are just a road trip away

Rebecca Russo
Written by
Rebecca Russo
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One of the many great things about Victoria is that it's a comparitively small state, meaning that most destinations are within a day's drive from the capital of Melbourne. And boy, are there a lot of amazing destinations to visit. From surreal pink salt lakes to misty rainforests and ancient mountain ranges, Victoria is replete in natural wonders worth travelling for – and we've rounded up some of the best.

We've also got great ideas for day hikes close to Melbourne and these excellent scenic drives to take around Victoria

Victoria's best natural attractions

  • Travel

Located in north-west Victoria, about four hours from Melbourne, is Lake Tyrrell, Victoria’s largest inland salt lake. Covering approximately 208 square kilometres, the lake’s salt is controlled mostly by weather changes. About a metre of water can fill up the basin in cooler and wetter months, but the water almost completely evaporates over summer. The best time to visit would be on a clear winter’s evening when shallow water covers the lake, producing amazing and vast reflections of the sky above. During particularly wet and warm times of year, the water at Lake Tyrrell turns pink. This is because of the red pigment that’s secreted by pink micro-algae called red marine phytoplankton.

  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours

There’s a reason Grampians National Park brings bushwalkers back time and time again. Rough and rocky on first glance, it surprises visitors with hidden waterfalls, hollow mountains and incredible natural amphitheatres. The walk towards the Pinnacle is arguably the must-do walk in the region. It starts at the Sundial car park, where hikers can climb through fun geological terrain towards a big lump of rock overlooking Fyans Valley. If you’d like to test your fitness, there’s also a harder climb to the same destination that starts at the Wonderland car park.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Melbourne

How weird is nature? The beautiful Organ Pipes National Park can be found just off the Calder Freeway, about 20 kilometres north of Melbourne. The 121-hectare park is named after its star attraction: 2.5 million-year-old basalt columns that look strikingly like organ pipes. This type of structure is known in the geological community as trap rock. The valley walls of Jacksons Creek are actually Pleistocene volcanic rocks that fractured during cooling into these vertical columns. Today, people gather in the park to view this bizarre rock wall and spend time in the traditional country of the Wurundjeri people.

It might only be Victoria’s second-highest mountain, but it’s arguably the most spectacular. The best way to see it? On the epic razorback trail hike. This eye-poppingly long 22-kilometre walk is in Victoria’s Alpine National Park and, for obvious reasons, can only be attempted in the warmer months. You'll start at the Diamantina Hut, just 2.5 kilometres from Hotham Village, and begin the trail that follows a ridge towards the mountain. The path is mostly above the tree line, so you’re very exposed – the benefit of this is that you get to enjoy incredible views all the way to the peak.

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  • Travel

Visiting this national park is a no brainer if you’re driving the Great Ocean Road, especially if you like waterfalls. The park stretches from Torquay towards Princetown and up towards Colac, and it is one of the best places in Victoria to embrace a cool temperate rainforest. Head out on one of the many coastal walking trails and you’ll discover lush forests, quiet sandy beaches and more than one koala poking its head through the gum trees.

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

Descending towards Beauchamp Falls can feel a little like you’re falling deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. The good news is the reward is one of Victoria’s best hidden waterfalls. Take the marked path through mountain ash forests, down a constructed staircase and over a few rocks and you’ll reach this awe-inspiring 20-metre tall cascade. The rocks will be slippery when wet, and keep in mind the walk back is a little steep, so take your time.

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Did you know there are sand dunes only two and a bit hours south of Melbourne? You’ll find them on your way into the beautiful Wilsons Promontory National Park, located southeast of Melbourne. Named the Big Drift, this extensive series of sand dunes is pretty hidden from the main tourist track, and it’ll take you a bit of bush bashing to get there. The sand is tough to walk up, so take your time (we suggest crawling up, it’s that steep). Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by a seemingly endless view of sand, punctuated by the occasional green treetop and ocean view.

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  • Travel

Near the end of the Great Ocean Road you’ll find one of Victoria’s most visited tourist attractions: the famous Twelve Apostles. The name comes from the high limestone stacks that sit out from the coast, though only seven remain. Loch Ard Gorge is one of the most popular spots, but the view from back at the end of the Great Ocean Walk is quieter but still as scenic. 

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

If all you know about Hanging Rock is the movie (and play) about the ill-fated schoolgirls who went on a picnic there, it's time to revisit the location. Hanging Rock is a former volcano and geological formation located in central Victoria near Woodend. It's a sacred place for the local Dja Dja Wurrung, Woi Wurrung and Taungurung people, who have been occupants of the area for thousands of years. Explore the area and learn about the area's history and geology, and take a walk on the trails and paths that weave around plenty of native plants and cool rock formations.

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Californian redwoods are distinguished by their extreme height (they can reach up to 115 metres tall) and their somewhat horizontal branches. The bark is a bright red-brown colour, and as the name suggests, they are indigenous to coastal California and the southwestern corner of Oregon in the US. So, yes, arguably, the collection of Californian redwoods found in the Warburton Valley aren't exactly "natural wonders" as they were planted by man. But boy are they pretty! They're located just a few kilometres outside Warburton on Cement Creek Road. Hop out of the car and take a walk through the grid-like plantation – it includes more than 1,400 trees, up to 55 metres tall. There's also some to see out in the Otways. 

  • Attractions

If you’re driving out to East Gippsland, we suggest making a pit stop at the Buchan Caves, an incredible set of limestone caves that have to be seen to be believed. Researchers have dated the caves back to the Devonian period, which was about 300-400 million years ago. The caves were formed by underground rivers cutting through layers and layers of limestone rock. The formations inside the caves were created by rainwater seeping through cracks in the roof depositing calcite and crystallising in the form of stalactites and stalagmites. These days guided tours are conducted daily, with all caves fitted with walkways and lighting for easy access.

Go for a nice drive

  • Travel

Victoria is home to snowy mountains, centuries-old forests and pristine coastline – all of which are connected by a network of roads and highways just waiting for you to drive. Hey, your rego partly pays for these tarmac trails so you might as well enjoy them. Here’s our top pick of the best scenic drives in Victoria.

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