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Overview

Great Southern Touring Route

842 km/523 miles, about 13 hours

See the star attractions of the south on this five-day round-trip. Wind your away along the spectacular coastline of the Great Ocean Road, climb a summit in the magnificent Grampians National Park and soak up the riches of the spa country's mineral springs.

Learn about Western Victoria's fascinating Aboriginal history and culture, and delve into its gold-rush and maritime history. Sleep like royalty in heritage hotels and indulge in the finest regional produce at award-winning restaurants.

Wildlife watchers, keep your binoculars poised for whales, wombats, koalas and kangaroos along the way. Adventure seekers, pack your climbing shoes.

Destinations

Highlights

Day one

Great Southern Touring Route

Melbourne to Apollo Bay

187 km/116 miles, about 3 hours

Ease into your roadtrip with the leisurely drive from Melbourne to Torquay, just over an hour's drive. Home to some of Australia's best-known surf beaches, Torquay marks the official beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Dose up on surf culture at Surfworld before visiting Bell's Beach, host of the annual Rip Curl Pro.

Stop at nearby Anglesea and take a detour to the golf course, famous for the kangaroos lounging under the trees surrounding the greens.

Magnificent coastal views will dominate the next 30 kilometres as you drive to beach town Lorne, the perfect spot for lunch – fish and chips on the beach is a must.

Another twenty minutes winding along the coastal road will bring you to Kennett River and its most famous locals: koalas. Take some birdseed for their flighty friends then follow the 'koala walk' with your camera ready.

As you make your way to Apollo Bay, you'll travel up along cliff-tops offering incredible views and alongside wild beaches – take time to stop at the lookouts for photos, or beachside for a stroll.

From coastal town Apollo Bay, follow the Great Ocean Road into the lush Otway National Park, and turn off to the Cape Otway light station (about a 50-minute drive). Take a tour of the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia, climbing to the top to see where the Bass Strait meets the Southern Ocean.

Make your way back to Apollo Bay for the night. Dine at Chris's at Beacon's Point, where gourmet food is complemented by spectacular cliff-top views, and sleep next to the beach at Whitecrest. Or escape it all at the Great Ocean Eco Lodge, a conservation centre nestled 25 kilometres away in the Otway National Park, for an extraordinary encounter with native wildlife.

Day two

Great Southern Touring Route

Apollo Bay to Port Fairy

189 km/117 miles, about 3 hours

From Apollo Bay, follow the Great Ocean Road into the lush rainforest of the Otway National Park and turn off to the Otway Fly Treetop Walk, an easy hour's drive. Reach for the sky along the treetop canopy walkway – the longest and tallest of its type in the world – or up the adrenaline with a zip-line tour.

Back on the Great Ocean Road, get your camera ready for the spectacular coastline leading to Port Campbell and its famous 12 Apostles, a group of magnificent rock stacks rising up from the Southern Ocean. Descend all 86 of the Gibson Steps to walk down to the wild beach for a ground-level view of the 12 Apostles. Take plenty of time to stop at lookouts over the cliffs of the Loch Ard Gorge and, just beyond Port Campbell, the hauntingly beautiful Bay of Islands. For the best views of this beguiling coastline, take to the skies on a helicopter tour. Unforgettable.

Continue along the Great Ocean Road west, to Warrnambool. Explore the maritime capital's history then head to the viewing platforms at Logans Beach to spot its impressive winter visitors: southern right and blue whales. Catching a glimpse of these giants schooling their calves just offshore is truly awe-inspiring.

From Warrnambool, drive towards Port Fairy and take the turn-off to Tower Hill State Game Reserve, an easy 15-minute drive. Take to the walking tracks, keeping an eye out for koalas, emus, kangaroos and waterbirds who roam freely among the hills and lake-filled craters of this extinct volcano. Visit the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre to find out more about the reserve's Aboriginal and geological history.

Top off the day with dinner in nearby Port Fairy. Dine on seasonal regional fare at the historic dining room at the Merrijig Inn, Victoria's oldest inn. Book in to stay the night in cosy country-style comfort, or make the short journey back to Warrnambool and stay overlooking the beach in modern luxury at the Lady Bay Resort.

Highlights

Highlights

Day three

Great Southern Touring Route

Port Fairy to Halls Gap

158 km/98 miles, about 2.5 hours

Spend the morning exploring charming fishing village Port Fairy. Wander along the river, visit the beaches, or follow one of the historic walking trails to see old whalers' cottages and grand public buildings. For more wildlife, take a cruise out to the seal colony just offshore on Lady Julia Percy Island.

From Port Fairy, make the easy drive 90 kilometres north to Dunkeld (about an hour's drive), gateway to the southern Grampians. Popular with wildlife watchers, outdoor adventurers and history buffs, the Grampians is a series of rugged sandstone mountain ranges and forests rich with wildlife and home to significant Aboriginal rock art sites.

The stunning twin peaks of mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt provide a glorious backdrop for Dunkeld, and inspiration for much of the art in the galleries. Wander through the galleries and museum or be inspired by fine food with a sumptuous lunch at the award-winning Royal Mail Hotel.

If you're feeling fit and energetic, tackle a challenging but rewarding climb to the summit of Mount Sturgeon or Mount Abrupt for panoramic views of the surrounding ranges and volcanic plains. Both hikes take around three hours return, require good levels of fitness and suitable walking attire, and promise camera-worthy rewards.

Leaving Dunkeld, take the scenic Grampians Road right through the national park to Halls Gap, an excellent base for exploring the ranges. If you're the outdoorsy type you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities: hiking, canoeing, rock-climbing and abseiling, fishing and more. Whatever your activity of choice, keep your camera poised for wildlife  the park is home to a profusion of native animals and birds, including kangaroos, koalas, emus and wedge-tailed eaglesand wildflowers.

Spend the night in luxury and book secluded boutique accommodation at Boroka Downs or one of DULC's 'eco-funky' contemporary cabins, nestled in bushland.

Day four

Great Southern Touring Route

Halls Gap to Ballarat

142 km/88 miles, about 2 hours

Start your day with a visit to the Brambuk Culture Centre to delve into the area's fascinating Aboriginal history and culture. Enjoy the art, artefacts and activities – try your hand at a boomerang. Join Aboriginal guides on tours to ancient rock art sites and to learn more about the landscape's spiritual significance.

Looking with a new point of view, explore the park further, taking in its famous lookouts: Boroka, Reed and the Balconies, all a short distance from Halls Gap and offering stunning views over the Mount William and Wonderland Ranges and Victoria Valley.

Make time to stop at another of the Grampians' star attractions: MacKenzie Falls, one of Victoria's largest and most spectacular waterfalls. Take the steep climb down to the base of the falls (allow an hour return) or the easier, more accessible trail that follows the top of the ridge line.

From Halls Gap, Ararat is just a quick 50 kilometre drive away. Stop in at the Gum San Chinese Heritage Museum to learn about the town's intriguing Chinese history or give yourself goosebumps on a ghost tour of Aradale, Australia's largest abandoned asylum.

Back out on the open road, you're just over an hour's drive from your final destination for the day, Ballarat. Along the Western Highway, admire the imposing Mt Ghiran and explore the beautiful Langhi Ghiran State Park, rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage and home to significant art sites.  

Upon arrival in statuesque Ballarat, allow yourself a regal treat: dinner at Craig's Royal Hotel, a grand heritage hotel. To really live like a king, book in to stay the night here or at the nearby George Hotel. Before you lay down your crown, see if you can catch the Blood on the Southern Cross sound and light show at Sovereign Hill, for a dramatic introduction to local history.

Highlights

Highlights

Day five

Great Southern Touring Route

Ballarat to Melbourne

166 km/103 miles, about 2.5 hours

Spend the morning in Ballarat's heritage precinct and unearth the city's rich gold mining history and magnificent architecture on a self-guided heritage walk. The grand tree-lined streets are perfect for meandering, the heritage trails are dotted with elegant Victorian and Edwardian buildings, parks, gardens, statues and churches.

Dig deeper into the region's gold-mining history with a visit to open-air gold-rush museum Sovereign Hill. Try your luck panning for gold, brace yourself for an underground mine tour, and learn about rare 19th-century trades.

Back in the present day, fawn over native fauna at the Ballarat Wildlife Park. Pat a koala, watch wombats wander up close and see crocodiles feeding – from a safe distance.  

Before you make your way back to Melbourne, treat yourself to a visit to Daylesford and the surrounding spa country. For food and pampering, it's nothing but heavenly.

Linger over a long lunch at the renowned Lake House, where local culinary hero Alla Wolf-Tasker's sensational seasonal menu and views across Lake Daylesford make for an unforgettable meal.

Enrich the last day of your trip with a short detour to nearby Hepburn Springs, named for its naturally occurring mineral springs. Taste the different mineral waters from old-fashioned pumps in the Hepburn Springs Mineral Springs Reserve, or soak it up – literally – with a pampering spa at Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. Fully rejuvenated, make the short drive back to Melbourne – and start planning your next trip!