When Australians think summer holiday, they tend to think heading north – but the Australian mainland's most southern state holds plenty of warm weather enticement. Victoria's rivers, lakes and unspoiled beaches beckon water lovers, while country towns and city neighbourhoods engage the culturally curious and mountain trails and majestic national parks offer nature in abundance.
Victoria has plenty of its own perennially popular holiday spots, from the Great Ocean Road to Echuca on the Murray, but the more unexpected Victorian destinations reward equally. Just book ahead, be aware that COVID and other conditions may have caused staff shortages and that everyone's in it together. Says Visit Victoria chief executive Brendan McClements, "This summer, we all want to unwind, but please remember to be kind. When restrictions ease, travel will be booming in Victoria and we're encouraging people to show their support for local tourism businesses not only with their wallet but with their heart."
The laneways of Melbourne's CBD are famous but only three kilometres north-east is the hip hotspot of Collingwood, where a streetscape of blue-collar cottages, warehouse conversions and historic high street strips attract independent retail and some of Victoria's best restaurant and bar operators catering to a young creative crowd. This summer Collingwood Yards, a new social enterprise space in a converted former TAFE that harbours artists and independent arts organisations, will host night markets in the courtyard with outdoor concerts and nightly projection art.
Nearby, among many excellent art galleries in Collingwood, find Backwoods Gallery, a converted warehouse space which specialises in exhibitions of studio works by a cohort of Melbourne's talented street artists.
Bendigo Art Gallery hosts big international exhibitions. Photo: Supplied
Victoria's Goldfields region has an incredible concentration of heritage architecture, pretty villages, unique shopping, wineries, culture and events.
Bendigo, one of three cool smaller cities in the region, is characterised by grand buildings born of gold rush wealth that are now home to galleries, theatres, restaurants and bars, all within easy walking distance of each other. Chancery Lane is a microcosm of contemporary Bendigo, where Bendigonians go for coffee, live music and local designer boutiques under an ever-changing diorama of street art. And then there's the famed Bendigo Art Gallery, noted for its blockbuster international exhibitions.
This gem of a city, 150 kilometres north-west of Melbourne, is also home to historic gardens and, running from January through March, Bendigo Summer in the Parks, a program of free or low-cost events taking advantage of these shady, verdant spaces. Pack a hat and picnic rug. bendigoregion.com.au; bendigosummerintheparks.com.au
Swim, surf and paddle at Lakes Entrance. Photo: Destination Gippsland/Visit Victoria
The 32,000-square-kilometre region of East Gippsland is remarkably diverse, comprising the Alpine High Country, Snowy River Country, Coastal Wilderness Region and the Gippsland Lakes Region.
For the beach holidaymaker, it offers space and unspoiled stretches of sand. Pick the right spot on Ninety Mile Beach and you might not see another soul. There are camping and caravan parks next to the sand, where you're surrounded by wildlife and native plants making their comeback from the fires of 2019/2020. Self-catering and other accommodation options abound.
Lakes Entrance offers plenty of great activities, including surf lessons and stand-up paddle-boarding, while at Paynesville you can board a short ferry ride to Raymond Island and walk under gum trees populated by happy koalas.
It's not all bare feet and beach hair: the coast has outstanding dining and drinking and cultural highlights such as the Gippsland Art Gallery at Sale, the exclusive Victorian venue for the Archibald Prize 2021 regional tour. visiteastgippsland.com.au
Fishing on man-made Lake Mulwala in "Sun Country". Photo: Supplied
Yarrawonga, in "Sun Country" on the Murray River, with twin city Mulwala on the NSW side, has long been popular with boating and fishing folk. The sparkling, man-made Lake Mulwala is a magnet for water skiers.
It's also a golfing mecca, home to the Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort, the largest public-access golf course in Australia, with two championship courses and a nine-hole in a peaceful bush setting. With great accommodation and bowling green, croquet lawn, cinema and facilities for kids, it's a self-contained family option.
New to Yarrawonga is the stylish Sebel Yarrawonga at Silverwoods adjacent to Black Bull Golf Club, where apartment and studio accommodation overlooks Lake Mulwala as does the beautiful Sol Wellness Centre Day Spa.
For a break from boating and golf, hit up the mapped-out farm gate, op shop and silo art trails – you'll find the details on the official tourism site. yarrawongamulwala.com.au
Grampians National Park, traditionally known as Gariwerd, is 260 kilometres north-west of Melbourne and home to the largest number of significant and ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings and shelters in southern Australia. Add an abundance of animal and plant life and it's no wonder it's heritage listed.
Fit and experienced walkers can climb the highest peaks and there are plenty of gentler walks around Halls Gap. Creeks and streams for fishing or canoeing abound – Lakes Bellfield and Wartook and the Moora Moora Reservoir are popular with kayakers. Whatever activity you choose, keep an eye open for echidnas, wallabies and wildflowers.
The full 160-kilometre Grampians Gariwerd Peaks Trail, a 13-day signposted hike through the backbone of the mountain range, is just about to open. With camping sites established along the way, it promises unforgettable views and intimate encounters with ancient Aboriginal heritage. visitgrampians.com.au
Note: Travel from Melbourne to regional Victoria is not currently permitted due to COVID-19 restrictions, but these are expected to ease by early November.