Victoria, as I like to point out on a regular basis, is perhaps the most under-rated portion of Australia. Travellers coming here know about Sydney with its Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Bondi Beach. They know about Queenland’s Surfer’s Paradise, Cairns, Townsville and Cape Tribulation. Images of Uluru in the Northern Territory are stamped on most western kids’ collective memories as the archetypal travel image for Australia, matching the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben as one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. Even Western Australia is getting known for its outback trips, beaches, wineries and general expanses of vast wilderness. Only Tassie and South Australia seem to drop further down the list of travellers’ itineraries.
I rate Melbourne as easily the most enjoyable place I have lived, overall. It has a smattering of everything. City life, with great cafes, restaurants, culture and an Asian-cosmopolitan vibe. Rolling hills and wineries in the Yarra Valley and now, increasingly, the Mornington Peninsula (check out their Pinot Gris’ and Pinot Noirs) and near Geelong (best Chardonnays coming out of Australia now, in this humble quaffer’s opinion). Mountains for outdoor enthusiasts (though the skiing is distinctly average) in the Victorian Alps. Dramatic plunging coastline drives (Great Ocean Road), beaches (bayside and oceanside) for lounging, playing and surfing, deserts, rock-climbing, and big open countryside. All within a couple of hours of the Central Business District.
Melbourne’s downfall, maybe, is that a) its bounty isn’t that well advertised, and b) you really need a set of wheels to enjoy it.
In other words, it’s just not that backpacker-friendly. So they all go to Sydney, where they see Bondi, the Opera House, the Harbour bridge, and then go out and get trollied.
As various friends of mine have pointed out, Sydney is like a one-night stand. Melbourne is like a love-affair.
I’m actually okay with this. It means that some of our special places stay a little more special, a little less well trod.
One of our local haunts is a household name in Victoria, although folks who haven’t travelled here or who aren’t fans of Ken Duncan’s photography, may not have heard of Wilson’s Promentory. Known as Wilson’s Prom, or simply The Prom, it is a peninsula sticking out of the southern tip of Victoria where a land-bridge joined mainland Australia to Tasmania within the last fifty thousand years (moments ago, geologically speaking; indeed aboriginal Australians, not to mention countless animals, are believed to have crossed back and forth along it before rising sea-levels swallowed it into the Bass Straits).
I went down to the Prom a couple of months back with friends A and M. It’s a national park, and a delightfully peaceful one at that (at least, it is if you go out of season). Miles and miles of wild coastline wrap around dry rocky hills covered in scrubby brush. A devastating bushfire season last year hasn’t substantially diminished the grandeur of the landscape. The sea is clear, the waves plunging. The sand is soft and expansive. There are walks, swims, and plenty of corners to explore.
We camped, as most people do. With a four-year-old in tow, long exploratory treks were out of the question, but we did some enjoyable trundles through the bush and along beaches, and enjoyed the fresh air. By day three, the sun was out and the sky turned a cloudless rich blue colour that ached to be drunk.
I only got the briefest of tastes of The Prom, but am hungry for lots more, and it’s made it up onto my list of places in Victoria that I need to explore in considerably more detail. And I’ll make sure I bring my camera with me then, as well.