With its natural beauty and wealth of attractions, it doesn't cost a fortune to enjoy the Garden State, writes Sandy Guy.
Aside from natural attractions across Victoria's diverse landscapes that you can enjoy for nothing - sweeping beaches, ancient rainforests, waterfalls, mountain trails, rivers and eucalypt-scented bush - free festivals and community events dot the calendar in regional Victoria, as well as museums, galleries, gardens and experiences that don't cost a cent. Sandy Guy reveals some of her favourite freebies.
The birthplace of the Australian Flying Corps and the Royal Australian Air Force, RAAF Base Point Cook is now also home to a military aviation museum. Housed in hangars that display a huge range of aircraft, including Tiger Moths, the museum also has the Heritage Gallery, crammed with fascinating aviation artefacts. Entry is free. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 3pm, weekends and public holidays 10am to 5pm. Free interactive flying displays are also held at 1pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Phone 83486040, see airforce.gov.au.
Bonegilla Migrant Camp
Take a step back in time to post-World War II Australia at Bonegilla, situated on the banks of the Murray River, about 12 kilometres from Wodonga. The largest migrant centre of the postwar era, Bonegilla holds powerful connections for many people in Australia - there are an estimated 1.5 million descendants of migrants who spent time there. Block 19, Bonegilla, which housed 320 migrants, survives as a rare physical example of the treatment of postwar migrants. Entry to Bonegilla and its interpretative centre is free, phone (02) 6020 6912, see www.bonegilla.org.au.
Port Campbell National Park
View Little Penguins for free from two cliff-top vantage points within the Port Campbell National Park. Penguins appear daily at dusk and you can view them through binoculars on loan for free from Port Campbell's Visitor Information Centre (26 Morris Street, Port Campbell), which are also available to view thousands of mutton birds (short-tailed shearwaters) flying to their burrows from a viewing platform in the Loch Ard Gorge from September to April. Astronomical telescopes are also available for free loan for stargazers to view the awesome southern skies at night. Phone 1300 137 255, see visit12apostles.com.au.
Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail
Follow historic railway lines through the scenic beauty of the Ovens and King valleys, Everton and Alpine High Country areas on the Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail, which covers more than 100 kilometres of bitumen track suited to both cycling and walking. The trail, which links Wangaratta, Beechworth, Myrtleford, Porepunkah and Bright, has a gentle gradient, making it suitable for all ages and fitness levels. For maps, see murraytomountains.com.au.
Brambuk Cultural Centre
Aboriginal people have lived in Gariwerd - the Grampians National Park - for thousands of years and it is one of the richest indigenous rock art sites in south-eastern Australia. Learn all about the park and Aboriginal culture for free at Brambuk Cultural Centre's interactive displays and 3D map models. Open daily from 9am to 5pm at 277 Grampians Tourist Road, Halls Gap, phone 5361 4000, brambuk.com.au.
Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail
Discover how the Mornington Peninsula inspired some of Australia's most notable artists - including Arthur Streeton, Albert Tucker and John Perceval - on the Sorrento-Portsea Artists Trail. The trail currently features stands of 14 paintings near the scene viewed by the artist and follows a scenic coastal walking route that includes Sorrento Pier, Point King and Sorrento Ocean beach. Download a free copy of the trail at virtualsorrento.com.au.
Free mineral water
Drink mineral water for free from several springs at the picturesque Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve - and take plenty of bottles to fill to take home. In nearby Daylesford, visit Wombat Hill Gardens and wander around the stalls of the Daylesford Sunday Market every Sunday from 8am to 3pm - admission is free. For more information, see visitdaylesford.com.
Pelican feeding can be viewed for free every day from 11.30am on the foreshore near the San Remo Fisherman's Co-Op, just across the gateway bridge to Phillip Island. Later, wander along the jetty where stingrays might be seen gliding through the waters. The San Remo pelican feeding area has amenities including children's playgrounds and barbecue areas. See visitphillipisland.com.
Stroll along the boardwalks at Phillip Island's rugged Nobbies, keeping a lookout for nesting birds and Little Penguins while taking in spectacular views of Bass Strait, and visit the Nobbies Centre, which showcases Australian fur seals and unique marine life through interactive displays and mini-presentations, for free. Open 11am to 6pm in spring, 10am to 8pm during the summer months. See penguins.org.au.
Beechworth Town Bikes
Enjoy the country air while taking in the historic sights of Beechworth over the handlebars of a free bicycle. Designed to link local businesses, Town Bike cyclists are given a map upon pick-up from the first stop, Bridge Road Brewers, to help guide them on their journey that includes Larder Fromagerie and Provisions and Pennyweight Winery. More at northeastvalleys.com.au.
Beechworth Honey Experience
While in Beechworth, learn about one of nature's sweet pleasures on the Beechworth Honey Experience, a free interpretive tour through a series of themed spaces all about bees and bee-keeping. Half-hour tours commence every 10 minutes between 9am and 5.30pm, seven days a week, at the corner of Ford and Church streets, Beechworth. Phone 5728 1432, see beechworthhoney.com.au.
Craters to Coast
The Craters to Coast Discovery Program has loads of free activities for families visiting the Shipwreck Coast region. The program loans telescopes, anemometers, GPS units, digital cameras and compasses so children can navigate for hidden treasure, track local fauna, learn to read history in rocks, use detective skills to uncover the secrets of Victoria's southern landscapes - and earn prizes along the way. Available from the Port Campbell Visitor Information Centre, 26 Morris Street, Port Campbell. Phone 1300 137 255, see visit12apostles.com.au.
Spring and summer are great times to visit Victoria's free parks and gardens.
National Rhododendron Gardens
The National Rhododendron Gardens at Olinda, perched high above Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges, contain thousands of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias, cherries and daffodils, as well as moorlands, rock gardens, fern gullies and sweeping lawns. Entry to the gardens is free, open 10am to 5pm daily except Christmas at Mathias Road, Olinda.
Victoria State Rose Garden
Stroll through hectares of formal gardens and parkland at Werribee Park, 30 minutes from Melbourne, and see the more than 5000 fragrant blooms at the Victoria State Rose Garden, in flower until April. Entry to Werribee Park grounds and the rose garden is free. Open daily from 9.30am to 6pm in summer, K Road, Werribee.
Alfred Nicholas Gardens
Situated on Sherbrooke Road in the Dandenong Ranges, the Burnham Beeches Estate is home to the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens, an art-deco masterpiece of waterfalls, water features, ornamental lake and native and exotic trees from ginkgoes to mountain ash, which you can visit for free. The National Rhododendron Gardens, Victoria State Rose Garden and Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens are managed by Parks Victoria. See these and other free parks and gardens at parkweb.vic.gov.au.
VicEvents smartphone app
Victorians can access up-to-the-minute information for events throughout metropolitan and regional Victoria from their smartphone using a new free Victorian government app called VicEvents, which is integrated with Google Maps. VicEvents is available on Google Android-based smartphones, Apple's iPhone and iPad. To download the free app, see vic.gov.au /VicEvents.