Jayne D'Arcy looks at four national parks and a nature park.
National parks. You have to take your own tents, water, four-wheel-drive and super-powered GPS and generator, right? Wrong. Some are more remote than others but plenty of Victoria's national parks offer the comforts many people prefer, such as flushing toilets, washing machines and free barbecues. Some even have general stores.
WILSONS PROMONTORY NATIONAL PARK
Yes, that's a wombat over there, wandering around the campsite. Look! It's burrowing its nose into the grass, snorting, then moving on. Wow, there's another one. Tidal River campsite is in a beautiful spot adjacent to the brackish Tidal River in Wilsons Promontory National Park. It has been a national park since 1898 and is Victoria's oldest. These days it is possible to drive there in a motorhome and plug it into mains electricity, and there are hot showers, washing machines and a general store. You can still camp, but there are also some gorgeous cabins hidden among trees. If the last time you were here was school camp, it's time you came back to give Squeaky Beach another squeak and Tidal River a paddle. You might like bushwalking as an adult too. It's a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve as well (see below).
GETTING THERE: Wilsons Promontory National Park is about 200 kilometres south-east of Melbourne.
No, Phillip Island is not a national park, but it is a nature park, meaning it has its own board of management and funds itself with its ecotourism. This is one of our most popular destinations, receiving more than 1 million visitors a year, 45 per cent of whom are from Australia. Despite its popularity, especially regarding the penguins, there are pockets of Phillip Island where you cannot see another person for miles. The habitats covered include coastal, woodlands and wetlands, so book at a local caravan park and explore the variety, and maybe go on one of the "hidden secret" walks around surfing spots Cape Woolamai and Pyramid Rock. The internationally recognised Rhyll Wetlands are a hotspot for twitchers.
GETTING THERE: Phillip Island is about 140 kilometres south-east of Melbourne.
CROAJINGOLONG NATIONAL PARK
This park was one of the first world biosphere reserves designated in Australia in 1977, and now it's one of 14 in the country. This means that it's part of a program to "promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science". There are about 1000 native plant species in this biosphere reserve, including 90 species of orchids. It has the coast covered, stretching for 100 kilometres and providing plenty of secluded coastal spots for campers. Book early to nab a spot at the popular camping spots of Wingan Inlet, Tamboon Inlet and Shipwreck Creek.
GETTING THERE: Croajingolong National Park is about 500 kilometres east of Melbourne.
ALPINE NATIONAL PARK
If you like heights, the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing has had a bit of work done to help you enjoy the Alpine National Park that little bit more. Cope Hut and Dibbins Hut have had new camping platforms and toilet facilities installed. The crossing is a 37-kilometre, three-day walk.
GETTING THERE: Alpine National Park is about 400 kilometres north-east of Melbourne.
CASTLEMAINE DIGGINGS NATIONAL HERITAGE PARK
Nature is not the only criteria for a national park listing. Australia's first national heritage park is in Castlemaine and is pretty much all about gold. The Box-ironbark-filled area was gold mad between 1851 and 1854, with the shallow alluvial goldfields attracting thousands of gold seekers and increasing the population to between 40,000 and 50,000 people. Here you will find remnants from this brief period in history, including homes, machinery and the mines themselves. There are quite a few picnic spots in the park, including Vaughan Springs, which has the added bonus of mineral springs, toilets and camping sites. Keep an eye out when you dig up your tent peg. You never know what you might find.
GETTING THERE: Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park is about 120 kilometres north of Melbourne.