Getting back to nature is good for the soul, and the best thing is that you don't have to make yourself car-sick to do it. There are plenty of places a stone's throw from the CBD where you can lawfully pitch a tent.
Before you head off for a Victorian adventure, always check the air quality rating, check for closures on the Parks Victoria website, and check fire danger ratings and fire bans for all regions you are travelling to and through. Extreme weather conditions and catastrophic bushfires have led to the closures of many national parks in recent months.
Top campsites near Melbourne
When a caravan park offers itself as a location for wedding photos, you know it must have something going for it scenically. No fake sunset backdrops here, but the real thing: a stunning natural setting near the mouth of the Cumberland River. Craggy cliffs tower over the campground, which is backed by great walking tracks and fronted by the Great Ocean Road. Book well ahead for a prime riverfront site.
It’s the biggest national-park campground in the state, hosting up to 3,000 campers at a time. So where are they all? The expansive beach and the extensive network of hiking trails absorb the crowds and still leave space for privately contemplating the reflections in Tidal River at dusk. Catch a movie at the outdoor cinema or watch the live show in the campground: wombats, wallabies and echidnas doing their thing.
Surf’s up, guaranteed. Johanna Beach is a back-up location for the Rip Curl Pro surfing comp in case Bells Beach is dead flat. As the tournament’s website says, ‘If there is any swell in the Southern Ocean, Johanna will pick it up. If the sand banks are in great shape, you can get some of the best beachbreak waves in the world out there.’ The open grassy space behind the beach is the Great Ocean Road’s greatest free campground.
One of the whitest, sparkling-est, beaches on the Great Ocean Road is right here at Marengo Holiday Park and you don’t even need to cross the street to get to the water. Enrol in surf school, practise yoga on the beach or rent a sea kayak – the shops and services in Apollo Bay, within walking distance, can sort everything you need.
Get in quick: Lake Catani campground is open till the end of April, then it closes for the snow season. Autumn is a top time of year to visit the high country – Bright and Beechworth are ablaze with deciduous colour and the farm gates of the Milawa gourmet trail are in full production. The air is crisp for invigorating walks on the Mt Buffalo plateau, followed by a hot shower at the campground, where peaceful campsites are nestled among the snow gums.