Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne is a great city but a big part of Melbourne’s appeal lies in the fact that so much natural beauty lies a mere day-trip away. That being said, we took time to explore some of Victoria State’s jaw-dropping, mind-blowingly beautiful nature spots, diverse natural landscapes and iconic wildlife.
Our second whole day in Melbourne was to be spent on a DIY half-day tour of the 225-hectare Werribee Open Range Zoo, an African-themed zoo about 32-kilometer southwest of Melbourne. The highlight of our visit here was our unique 35- to 40-minute safari bus tour that took us out into the 45- hectare open savanna section of the zoo. This is where we could find the hippo, the grassland animals such as the bison, zebra, waterbuck, giraffe, ostrich, eland, antelope and rhinoceros, as well as the camel and the scimitar-horned oryx.
The next day, we availed of a Go West Philip Island Day Tour for us. The tour first took us to trendy Brighton Beach along Port Phillip Bay where we visited the iconic Brighton Bathing Boxes, a row of 82 distinctive, multicolored and uniformly proportioned wooden beach huts which were built more than a century ago. Then, it was on the 10-hectare Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park, crossing over to Phillip Island via the 640-meter long San Remo Bridge.
At the park, we had a great deal of fun hand feeding and petting the adorable, freely roaming kangaroos and wallabies, doing selfies with them, as well as seeing colorful birds in aviaries and other Australian animals.
Next was the 900-meter long The Colonnades (also called Ocean Reach Beach), an exposed, high energy beach used by surfers and fishers (but not suitable for safe bathing). One of the most Instagrammable places on Phillip Island, here we admired the columnar basalt, unusual rock formation resembling organ pipes on the tall cliffs that gives The Colonnades its name. We also dropped by the Nobbies Ocean Discovery Centre, a network of boardwalks that allows visitors to view The Nobbies, the fur seal colony, and The Blowhole. This is where I went for “The Antarctic Journey,” the world’s first interactive virtual reality Antarctic experience; toured Cowes (Phillip Island’s largest town) and its jetty and, finally, the Penguin Parade Visitor Center to see Australia’s largest colony of friendly, frolicking fairy penguins. In their natural habitat at Summerland Beach, the iconic Penguin Parade is one of Australia’s most popular tourist attractions. After the sun went down, the penguins made their way to their burrows in the sand dunes after a day out fishing in the ocean.
The best was yet to come as, on our sixth and penultimate day in Melbourne, we explored a bit more of Victoria’s stunning coastal scenery via a full-day tour of the famous Great Ocean Road which hugs about 150 miles of the Victorian coast. Living up to its lofty name, we discovered some of Australia’s most photographed landscapes.
Our tour began with morning tea and coffee in the quaint surf town of Anglese as we made a stopover at the Memorial Arch, the gateway to the Great Ocean Road, and then another for lunch while overlooking the dramatic Apollo Bay. After lunch, our tour continued on the Cape Otway Light Station where we ascended the spiral staircase to enjoy amazing views from the top of the lighthouse.
Back on the bus, we again made a stopover to check out a wild koala poking its head through the gum trees. Then, we finally made it to the majestic and iconic 12 Apostles (there are actually only eight), arguably Victoria’s most famous natural landmark, which were created by over 10 million years of constant erosion of the coastal mainland by the stormy Southern Ocean. From the various lookouts linked by coastal timber boardwalks around the cliff tops, we strolled and paused for photo opportunities and awe-inspiring views of these craggy limestone sea stacks which are a physical testament to the power and beauty of nature, as well as the inescapable truth that all things must change. This natural wonder erodes at a rate of roughly three-quarters of an inch per year.
A few minutes down the road is Loch Ard Gorge, another highlight of our Great Ocean Road tour, where we visited the beach and appreciated the scale of the limestone cliffs. As we still had time, we also visited Gibson’s Steps which were carved into the limestone cliff during the 19th century to provide access to the beach below.