As a backpacker who has now lived in Melbourne twice, I've loved getting out and exploring the city and far beyond. Not being much of a city girl, I've noticed Melbourne really has a fantastic balance of modern built up areas interweaved with beautiful sprawling parks that really help to make the skyscrapers feel less claustrophobic and imposing than they do in English cities. It's easy to wander around the city and quickly find yourself leaving the busy streets behind to get lost in lush, green woodland. Having lived in both South Melbourne and Southbank, I've been lucky enough to live with Albert Park right on my doorstep - a perfect place to run around the lake of an evening, or to gather with friends for barbecues or to watch the Grand Prix. Just behind sits the Royal Botanic Gardens, huge endless parks that stretch across the city with all kinds of treasures tucked just out of sight of the city.Fancy getting a bit further out of the city? There are so many amazing places right on your doorstop in Victoria that it would be a shame not to! Here are my top 5 places to escape into nature around Melbourne:
Wilson's Promontory National Park
Just a couple of hours drive down to Mornington Peninsula and you'll feel like you've entered another world. Wilson's Prom has everything from forest and mountain, to marshland, river, beaches and even sand dunes! You'll want a weekend to explore at your own pace so pack up the camping gear, the beers and bring your best mates for a weekend you won't forget. Definitely don't miss seeing the view from Mount Oberon Summit, sunset from the beach at Tidal River campsite and The Big Drift sand dunes.
Great Ocean Road
The absolute must-do when you go to Melbourne - Great Ocean Road is a perfect road trip to take with your buddies and is perfect whether you're on a budget or fancy a big blow out. There are plenty of luxury escapes to take your breath away, or do like my gang and just pack a tent, hire a car and take advantage of the many free things to see and do. There are so many hikes, beaches, viewpoints and more to explore - don't miss Bells Beach during the surfing competitions, Twelve Apostles at sunrise, the Round the Twist lighthouse if you're a 90's kid. Camp in Cape Otway National Park for an amazing experience and take a break from driving at Loch Ard Gorge for spectacular views. On your way home, take a detour through the Grampians National Park!
The Grampians National Park
A perfect trip to do on your way home from Great Ocean Road, you can see the highlights in 1/2 days. Taking you up into the mountains, don't forget a jumper for that fresh mountain air. Stay in the Hall's Gap campsites, they're perfect for a campfire and nice and sheltered from the wind. Don't miss the Pinnacle viewpoint - take the walk through the canyon - the Balconies, and Mackenzie Falls for those perfect photographs.
Dandenong Ranges National Park - 1,000 Steps
One I only ticked off my list last week, this national park is easily within reach for those without a car as you can get the train from Flinders to Upper Ferntree Gully and then walk from there. It takes just a few hours to get out there and complete the walk so perfect if you just fancy spending an afternoon in nature. The 1,000 Steps are the big attraction and although they'll definitely have you huffing and puffing, they're not as daunting as they sound. You'll see runners of all shapes and sizes taking them on over and over again as they sprint up and down. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top then take a different path down to enjoy a different pace of walk.
The last one I had to tick off my list, I was so excited to finally be visiting Phillip Island to overdose on nature, especially seeing wild penguins down by the shore. One that can be done in a day either by organised day trip or by just hiring a car with your mates and heading off independently. Home to some seriously beautiful beaches and even a Grand Prix circuit, there is plenty to explore and it is a perfect day escape from city life.
This post previously featured on Wild Melbourne - see the original post here.
What are you favourite places to escape into nature around Victoria? Can you recommend any other places across Australia or the world?
I woke up with a jolt as an alarm went off in the lake hut next door, had I really even been asleep? It felt like just minutes ago the French guy I'd ended up sharing a hut with had been telling me about life as a chiropractor. It took a moment to realise why the alarm was going off and why the heck I was awake when it was pitch black outside and the morning safari was two hours away, but then it all came flooding back. I was up at 5am, along with five others, to paddle out in canoes to watch the sun rise over the jungle. Quickly pulling on my bikini and meeting the others out at the jetty where the canoes lay waiting, some of us pulled on life jackets for a bit of warmth, it was pretty cool out in the jungle at that time. There was joy a single light on around the lake huts, we went by torch light until our eyes accustomed to the stars which lit the beautiful night sky above us.I won't lie, there's something about dark water that kind of freaks me out. I think it's just the not knowing what is beneath you, not having any warning if something comes for you.. Haha silly I know! I've never let it get in the way of doing anything, but I have to admit I hesitated slightly when I saw just how dark it was out there on the lake. I wasn't the only one who had second thoughts for a split second, but we quickly pushed any doubts to one side, and thank god we did! Climbing into the canoes, I was sharing with an Israeli friend, Joav, who was a bit of an all around Indiana Jones, so he happily took on paddling after we realised our badly timed paddling was more likely to tip us over if I joined in. Paddling like a pro, the canoe cut through the calm surface of the water cleanly and we were soon out in the middle of the lake, having left the others far behind in our dust. We waited, floating silently in the water, for the other two canoes to catch up and listened to the deafening silence. It amazed me that the jungle could ever be that quiet. Apparently earlier in the night, Joav and a local had overheard a wild elephant crashing around in the undergrowth, but now it was deathly silent with the birds and monkeys still yet to wake.The others finally steadied themselves and made it out to meet us, we joined the canoes as closely as possible and waited, taking in the whole experience. We floated around, chatting and enjoying the peace of the early morning. Then, shortly after, the sky began to lighten around a mountain to the east of us. The clouds started to form those beautiful patterns, reflecting the first rays of sunlight and the jungle started to come alive. It was beautiful, no words can describe this experience, it left me speechless which is no mean feat. By the time 7am came around the sun was still yet to appear over the mountain, but sadly we had to go back for the morning safari - nonetheless, the sky was beautiful at that time of the morning. It was worth the sheer exhaustion of the late night followed by the early start, the morning safari and a huge uphill hike later that morning.The hike was exhausting but great fun, taking us around the lake we started out at a new point with a national park guide leading the way. It was a fairly uphill climb and some people struggled, so beware of you take this one on, but anyone with a standard level of fitness would be fine. The hike took us to a viewpoint which was lovely, but the cave that followed was far more spectacular. This huge cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, vipers lay inside and there were huge parts to climb and explore. We all had a great time there, followed by a walk back to the boat where we ate lunch and swam - even inventing pineapple polo as a new game with the leftover peel from lunch. It was a perfect way to end our time as the A Team and sad goodbyes followed the end of this amazing weekend. A smaller group of us who were staying at the park an extra night met up for drinks and card games that might, which was a lovely way to say goodbye before we all parted ways the following day.Khao Sok was incredible. It was easily one of the most amazing places I have visited in my two-and-a-half months of travelling solo - and believe me I've seen a lot of different parts of Thailand in that time. If you love outdoor activities, hiking, canoeing, caving and the like - you will feel right at home here! There is so much to do and see, and you might even get lucky and meet some pretty amazing people like I did.
Tell me about the places you've travelled to that really stood out in your mind - what made them so special? Have you visited any national parks?