Gippsland is perhaps the most underrated slice of Victoria. Rolling farmland cascades into lakes and waterways; wineries and slow-food producers delight the palate; fishing isn’t only a pastime, it’s often a way of life.
Great Alpine Road
The 122km blacktop touring route of the Great Alpine Road starts in the charming town of Bairnsdale, with its frescoed cathedral, ends up in high-altitude Omeo, and takes in farmland, mountain views and rivers, and is Australia’s highest, year-round accessible sealed road.
Lakes and rivers
Five rivers meet in East Gippsland, and form a network of waterways that are a heaven-sent boaters’ paradise, with an abundance of delicious fish to catch and eat. Brilliant waterfront views are commonplace, as are secluded swimming beaches.
At the extreme eastern end of Victoria is the town of Mallacoota and the diverse and beautiful Croajingolong National Park. Running along 100km of coast, the national park takes in a diverse range of ecosystems, with long and short walks through and across rainforests, granite peaks and estuaries.
The Man from Snowy River had it good. Never mind the hydroelectric scheme, the legendary horseman and the modern caravanner can enjoy scenery and fresh air along the Snowy River Country Trail, which includes caves, plains and the point at which the river meets the sea.
Lakes Entrance is the place to begin a journey in East Gippsland, and it makes an excellent base. Close by are many attractions, as well as a couple of quaint waterside hamlets well worth a visit, such as Paynesville and Metung.
THE GRAMPIANS, VICTORIA
North-western Victoria is extremely variable: in the Grampian Ranges, steep granite cliff faces offer sweeping views across lakes, valleys and townships; in the Little Desert National Park, pancake-flat scrubland and fields of bright wildflowers abound at the right time of the year.
The Gold Rush came to the Grampians in a big way. The town of Ararat was founded by a hundreds-strong group of Chinese fortune seekers, and evidence of many a man’s dream lost or realised dots much of the surrounding area in the form of abandoned mine shafts.
Great Grape Road
Apart from sampling local cheeses, Mount Zero olives and fine dining in the Grampians region, you can also take a flavoursome journey along the Great Grape Road. Tour the underground cellars of Great Western’s Seppelt Winery and taste your way through Best’s, Montara, and Mt Langi Ghiran.
If easy walks with spectacular views sound to your taste, then the Grampians National Park will suit perfectly. If you’d rather seek out wildflowers in arid and semi-arid bushland, then head north to Little Desert National Park.
The Aboriginal presence in the Grampians is ancient and enduring. The local indigenous population, which know the region as Gariwerd, has a rich culture that’s especially accessible at the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre, near to which are around 60 rock-art sites, as well as oven mounds and evidence of tool-making.
Start your exploration of the Grampians in Horsham, the capital of the Wimmera, ideally situated north of the Grampians National Park and south of the Little Desert National Park, and with a well maintained golf course.
NORTH COAST, NEW SOUTH WALES
Volcanically forged mountains meet the earth’s largest area of subtropical rainforest on NSW’s north coast. Beaches are uncrowded and clean, and the soil is exceptionally fertile, supporting the coffee, nut, tea, dairy and wine industries. If you want to check packed tourist hot spots or prefer to find our own slice of coastal Eden, the north coast has both, and everything in between.
Make the first footprints of the day along the stunning beaches in and around Coffs Harbour, along the Coffs Coast. Paddle through Bongil Bongil National Park or, in October, savour the Coffs Coast food and wine festival.
On June 13, 1927, a boy named David Gordon Kirkpatrick came into the world at Kempsey, a fine historic town on the Macleay River. The man who later called himself Slim Dusty came from the same place as the Akubra.
Kick up your heels
It would be most remiss to head to the North Coast without visiting Byron Bay, the ultimate place to wind down. The hippie surf town is the place to join the rich and famous for their morning walk up to the lighthouse, and the nearby town of Nimbin is Kombi central.
Iron and wood
A six-hour drive north of Sydney is where the Clarence River passes through Grafton, having made it from the NSW highlands to the coast. In the town proper, on the northern side of the river, is a lovely patch of wrought-iron and woodwork-bedecked buildings. A short trip up the Pacific Highway, in Ulmarra, there is excellent craft shopping.
Yamba, toward the northern end of the North Coast, adjacent to Yuraygir National Park, the Pacific Ocean and the largest river in the east, the Clarence, is one of the most popular fishing destinations in the region, and is a great place to spend a couple of nights.
GREAT WESTERN PLAINS
Move away from coastal NSW and you may be pleasantly surprised. The area around Dubbo is packed with an unusually diverse range of things to eat, drink and experience, and if you’re in the right place at the right time, you’ll enjoy a special event or two.
The CSIRO Observatory at Parkes, NSW, was made famous by the 2000 movie, The Dish, which starred Sam Neil and shows how the tiny town played a crucial role in the Apollo moon landing. Visitors to the radio telescope can find out about all things astronomical.
Camel races and bushrangers
Good Friday in Forbes puts the animal kingdom to work with an unusual annual day of races: yabbies, guinea pigs and camels all take to the track, though not at the same time. The town is the final resting place of the notorious bushranger Ben Hall.
The Warrumbungle National Park could be a giant, prehistoric cutlery drawer. Immense volcanic spires rise up above the bush and rolling hills, with The Breadknife one of the most striking of them all. The Grand Base High Tops track will take you to its base.
Well-wined and heritage-listed
Gulgong is a town for fans of old buildings: 130 of its historical constructions are heritage-listed. Nearby, Mudgee sits in the midst of around 50 wineries, runs a wine festival every November, and also produces honey, venison and olives.
Somewhere near the centre of the vast NSW hinterland, Dubbo offers world-class open-range animal encounters at Western Plains Zoo, as well as an old gaol with a sound-and-light show.
CAIRNS AND SURROUNDS, QUEENSLAND
The ever-present swaying fields of sugarcane aren’t the only reason Cairns and its surrounds are a great place to visit: the Great Barrier Reef and tropical rainforest are two more excuses to warrant a drop in – not that you need too many.
It’s no secret that the city of Cairns, which functions as a major hub for Qld’s tropical north, is exceptionally popular. But that could be because it’s the perfect springboard for a journey throughout the area.
Day spa central
Port Douglas and Palm Cove are stunning places with sky-high accommodation prices. As a caravanner, though, you can indulge in the spas and drink in the vistas with substantially lower overheads.
Many people fly many thousands of kilometres to see the Great Barrier Reef, and for good reason: if you have the opportunity to take a cruise out to the reef, duck your head under and have a look around; your life will be incrementally closer to completeness.
The north’s north
North of Cairns, through and well past the most exclusive sun-seekers’ enclaves, Cape York Peninsula offers a truly wild wilderness and outback trips, but make sure your vehicle’s up to what you want it to do.
Yes, there are macadamia and coffee plantations to taste your way through, but at Cairns’ Red Ochre Grill, your meal will take inspiration and ingredients from the bush, with a range of house-produced condiments and sauces for you to take on the road.
OUT THE BACK OF ISA, QUEENSLAND
Western Queensland is rough-and-tumble outback. It also happens to be well set-up for insightful road trips, with oodles to do, both deep underground and across its frequently scorching surface.
Mount Isa isn’t only central to the mining industry in western Queensland, it’s also a touring nexus, right in the middle of a stack of attractions including the imposing Lead Stack, a famous element of the town’s skyline.
The city of Mount Isa sits within tribal lands that belong traditionally to the people of the Kalkadoon nation, descendants of whom still live in the area. A visit to the Kalkadoon Aboriginal Cultural Centre will ensure you’re familiar with the stories, art and artefacts of the area’s original inhabitants.
Escaping the heat
If somebody mentions Mount Isa, you might be inclined to think of mining, and you’d be right: it’s an inextricable and important part of the place. At Hard Times Mine, don the hard hat, descend in the cage, and try out the machinery.
Since 1960, students across the huge expanse of Queensland who have no ready access to brick-and-mortar schools have been educated by the School of the Air. Tours of the school reveal the organisations involved in dispensing these crucial half-hour radio sessions.
Not too far from Mount Isa, Cloncurry is the regional base for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Highly trained pilots and intrepid, self-sufficient doctors are crucial to remote regional medicine. Drop by to see how it all comes together.