Great Ocean Walk
While the Great Ocean Road is famed the world over, the lesser known Great Ocean Walk comes into its own in winter when the landscape is at its most diverse. The slower pace at this time of year enables hikers to take in the scenery – from lush national parks teeming with wildlife to deserted beaches and historic shipwreck sites. Visitors with no time limits can walk the whole 104 kilometre coastal route, (approximately eight days of walking) while those short on time can take the option of a two day, one night walk. En route accommodation varies from campsites to luxury retreats.
Flinders and Cape Schanck
Some of the most country’s most magnificent rugged coastline lies at the point where Bass Strait meets Westernport Bay. Hiking enthusiasts can set off on the 100-kilometre Mornington Peninsula Walk, or, for a more leisurely pace, opt for the shorter Two Bays Walking Track or Coastal Walk components. Along the way, nature’s backdrops include tranquil inlets, rocky outcrops, and even some of the coast’s native animals – and the Flinders Blowhole is a ‘must see’.
Nestled on the eastern side of Wilson’s Promontory, Sealers Cove is one of the ‘The Prom’s’ lesser-known gems, primarily because it is inaccessible by car. Hikers who persevere are well rewarded by the natural beauty of a spectacular golden beach sheltered from harsh winds, with turquoise waters and an abundance of wildlife. From the Telegraph Saddle carpark, the track to Sealers Cove is approximately 10 kilometres, and walkers will need to allow two to three hours each way. There are also a limited number of camping sites at a campground adjoining the beach on the southern end of Sealers Cove for those keen to linger a little longer.
The best way to paddle in the shallows in winter is from the height of a horse’s saddle. Gunnamatta Trail Rides offers two-hour rides that take in long sandy stretches of Mornington Peninsula beaches, from Gunnamatta to St Andrews, as well as rugged bushland with panoramic views of Port Phillip Bay.
A popular swimming beach in summer, in winter the Great Ocean Road’s Fairhaven Beach is perhaps best explored on horse-back. Blazing Saddles‘ trail rides amble through the Otway National Park and onto the six kilometre long stretch of sand – the perfect backdrop for a wintry ride.
Wintry weather makes for great waves, and the surf doesn’t get any better than at Bells Beach, reputed as one of the best surfing spots in the world. Visitors to the Great Ocean Road can watch the locals catch – and lose – spectacular waves, and those brave enough to try it themselves can learn to surf with Go Ride A Wave on the much smaller waves in Torquay, just around the corner.
The ancient pink granite cliffs of Cape Woolamai provide a beautiful backdrop for surfers – but it is the waves that surfers crave. The Phillip Island beach is one of the most popular surf beaches in Australia and the region was recently declared a National Surfing Reserve in recognition of its rich surfing heritage and pristine natural environment. Seven times surfing world champion, Layne Beachley labels Woolamai as one of her favourite surfing destinations and it is the break of choice for Hollywood stars, Chris and Liam Hemsworth who grew up on the Island.
For nature spotting
Phillip Island Nature Park
It is a sight that never gets old: every night at dusk, thousands of little penguins paddle ashore and waddle to their burrows at Summerland Beach on Phillip Island. Tiered seating provides a 180 degree elevated view of the Little Penguins on parade and new premium viewing facilities (including an underground viewing experience) allow for up-close encounters that have minimal impact on the beloved birds.
Bunurong Marine and Coastal Park
Located about six kilometres south-west of Inverloch in South Gippsland, the Bunurong Marine and Coastal Park is full of striking rock formations, while the coastal waters conceal a remarkable range of habitats including rocky reefs and seagrass beds. The marine environment is home to a plethora of wildlife, including seastars, crabs, snails, Port Jackson Sharks and up to 87 species of fish. Occasionally, Humpback Whales, Southern Right Whales or Subantarctic Fur Seals can also be seen.
Each year, roughly between late May and early October, Southern Right Whales return to their nursery at Warrnambool’s Logan’s Beach to give birth and raise their calves. Just offshore, in clear view, mothers and their giant children loll about and play, enjoying the shelter of Lady Bay. So impressive is the display that a platform has been built to allow visitors to take in the full majesty of these creatures.
The wintry landscape of Gippsland’s Cape Conran is now accessible to all, with all-terrain beach wheelchairs available for those who are physically impaired – thanks to Parks Victoria. The chair is suited for sandy and semi-rough track surfaces that are not accessible with conventional wheelchairs and disassembles to fit in the back of a station wagon. The Cape Conran Coastal Park also offers accommodation, including one fully accessible self-contained cabin with disabled parking and bathroom facilities suitable for most wheelchairs.
Point Nepean National Park
Located at the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula, Point Nepean is home to outstanding coastal scenery and panoramic views of Bass Strait, the Rip and Port Phillip Bay. All-terrain beach wheelchairs are also available here (free of charge) enabling all visitors to enjoy the coastal surrounds.