Cooler weather means one thing: starry nights by the camp fire, a world away from the big smoke. Take a look at these favourite Victorian campgrounds.
Johanna Beach Campground
LOCATION Great Otway National Park
BEST FOR Rainforest hiking trails and world-class surfing
Knuckles of wind-whipped cliffs and rolling grassland keep watch over Johanna Beach, a sandy, four-kilometre stretch of the southern coast. About 50 kilometres south-east of the Twelve Apostles Marine National Park, the rugged, imposing shoreline is matched by an equally wild ocean. There’s no shortage of camping areas in the Great Otway National Park but Johanna Beach Campground is among the most spectacular.
Picnicking, walking, fishing and surfing are popular, though the latter is best left to experienced wave-riders. It’s not recommended for a leisurely swim; in fact, Johanna Beach serves as an understudy to Bells Beach during major surf comps, should the waves be flat in the north-east. If you’re keen for a dip, try Aire River, a half-hour drive away.
Great Otway’s hiking trails, however, are for all levels of trekkers. Melba Gully, known as the “Jewel of the Otways”, is a crowd of lush rainforest splendours about 15 kilometres north of your camp site.
FACILITIES 25 unpowered sites and non-flush toilets
Killarney Beach Camping Reserve
LOCATION Shipwreck Coast
BEST FOR Fishing, swimming and leisurely walking trails
Killarney, population 205, is 10 minutes’ drive from the quaint Victorian settlement of Port Fairy (named the world’s most livable town with fewer than 20,000 people at the United Nations-endorsed 2012 LivCom Awards).
Sitting on a ribbon of grass along the beach’s pristine white sand is Killarney Beach Camping Reserve. Make it your base for some serious fishing. Those angling for salmon and trevally should aim for winter and spring; after that, King George whiting is the catch.
Next, you can either go swimming or lace up your boots and take the 15-minute drive to Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, home to a 30,000-year-old dormant volcano. The caretaker, who stays at the ground over summer, is sure to have some advice.
FACILITIES 20 powered and 50 unpowered sites, hot showers, flush toilets, gas barbecues and playground
Lake Crosbie Campground
LOCATION Murray-Sunset National Park
BEST FOR Walking with wildlife and four-wheel driving
Those who take the six-hour drive from Melbourne to Murray-Sunset National Park near the South Australian border will stumble upon some 677,000 hectares of semi-arid wilderness filled with flora and fauna, such as the star-shaped Murray lily or the rarely glimpsed mouse-like Gile’s planigale.
The four lakes at the park’s southern entrance (Becking, Crosbie, Hardy and Kenyon) are known as the Pink Lakes because their hue changes from white to an otherworldly bubblegum pink. At the southern edge of the largest fairy-floss-tinged pond you’ll find the flat, open expanse of Lake Crosbie Campground, one of the park’s three lakeside camping areas.
Four-wheel drivers rejoice: about 600 kilometres of tracks knot through the park, inviting off-road discovery of terrains as varied as saltbush plains, mallee scrub and delightfully bumpy sand dunes. Your two feet can take you to great heights, too. Walk to the Mount Crozier lookout to see the deserted plains in sweeping detail or take the 90-minute Kline Nature Walk to encounter the unexpectedly abundant wildlife that lives in the park’s barren reaches.
FACILITIES Eight unpowered sites, non-flush toilet, gas barbecues and fireplaces
Tidal River Campground
LOCATION Wilsons Promontory National Park
BEST FOR Challenging hiking trails with beautiful views
Set on the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, Wilsons Promontory National Park is a 50,000-hectare playground that juts into the sapphire-tinted coast, puncturing Bass Strait. Tidal River Campground is one of two main camp sites in “The Prom”, as the park is affectionately known, and it’s a good jumping-off point for the area’s many walking trails.
For hikers, it’s a case of choose your own adventure: do you prefer plodding through stringybark forest, temperate rainforest or mangroves? Either way, be sure to summit the park’s crowd-pleaser, Mount Oberon, where you can admire the edge of the continent.
FACILITIES 464 unpowered sites and 20 powered sites, hot showers, flush toilets, gas barbecues, laundry and general store
LOCATION Grampians National Park
BEST FOR Lookouts and ancient rock art
Striking sandstone mountain ranges slice through the 168,241-hectare Grampians National Park, about 260 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. The peaks and fertile gorges – formed some 400 million years ago – make for a hiker’s paradise. Highlights include Reeds Lookout, Hollow Mountain (Wudjub-Guyan) Walk and Mount Sturgeon (Wurgarri) Walk.
The National Heritage-listed park has 10 vehicle-accessible campgrounds, with six additional camps in more remote spots for keen trekkers. Plantation Campground is on the eastern edge of the Mount Difficult Range and can be accessed via Mt Zero Road. It’s a good starting point for journeys into the spectacular jutting verges of Halls Gap. The campground is also about a half-hour drive from the Aboriginal rock art shelters Gulgurn Manja and Ngamadjid, thought to be more than 20,000 years old.
FACILITIES 30 unpowered sites, bush showers, non-flush toilets and fireplaces
LOCATION Lake Eildon National Park
BEST FOR Wakeboarding, easy kayaking and paddleboarding
Tucked into the northern foothills of the Central Highlands, 150 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, Lake Eildon National Park is the perfect antidote to the big smoke. Mountains of open woodland lend scenic charm to the calm, blue lake with its jagged shoreline and whether you explore on foot or by car, the sense of seclusion is something special.
But a trip to Lake Eildon isn’t just about tranquillity – it’s actually Victoria’s most popular inland waterway for water sports. And with six times the volume of Sydney Harbour, there’s room for everyone to move, whether you’re paddleboarding, boating, kayaking, wakeboarding or canoeing. If you can’t cart your own vessel, drop in to Jerusalem Creek Marina & Holiday Park to hire a canoe, stand-up paddleboard or picnic boat.
There are eight campgrounds in Lake Eildon National Park, a mix of well-equipped sites and bush camping. Candlebark Campground, on the western bank, is a good choice for water babies. The ground’s boat-launching facilities are designed to allow for year-round access, even when the water level is low. It’s also just a 20-minute drive to the town of Eildon, where another boat ramp allows for easy launching.
FACILITIES 68 unpowered sites, hot showers, flush toilets, gas barbecues and fireplaces at the nearby foreshore
LOCATION Cathedral Range State Park
BEST FOR Rock climbing and difficult hiking trails
The Cathedral Range, between the towns of Taggerty and Buxton, about two hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne, cuts a rather subtle figure against the surrounding countryside. But take the Cathedral Range Southern Circuit, a 10.5-kilometre, Grade 5 track that summits at 920 metres on Sugarloaf Peak, and you’ll get astonishing 360° views.
As you advance, take care on the narrow Razorback Ridge Track, which calls for some scrambling. From there, it’s a hop, skip – and definitely no jumping – to The Farmyard, a quiet campground 741 metres above sea level that’s only accessible by foot. This is a real bush camp: there are no facilities and it’s a first come, first served deal.
The sandstone peaks at Cathedral Range State Park are perfect for rock climbing. Beginners should set up at The Boulders near Sugarloaf Saddle, while the more experienced can do some problem-solving on the crags of North Jawbone. Fishing is another option; rainbow and brown trout make an appearance at Little River during salmonoid season (the season closes from 11 June to 31 August).
FACILITIES Camp sites are unmarked and unpowered