Is it too soon to think about Easter camping?

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Howqua Hills Historic Area, Lyndon Sparrow

Howqua Hills Historic Area, Lyndon Sparrow

We certainly don’t think so. Camping at Easter this year is going to be big. If you take three days off work between Easter and Anzac Day, you’ll get a whole 10 days off. Here are our favourite Easter campsites (some of these require bookings).

Sheepyard Flat camping area, Howqua Hills Historic Area, Victoria

The Easter holidays is the last break before winter sets in, so get in before the snow does! If you want to go camping in the High Country, now’s the time to do it. And while Alpine National Park offers plenty of camping areas, our favourite spot in the area is Howqua Hills Historic Area, which has multiple campsites ranged around Howqua River.

One of the most popular is Sheepyard Flat camping area. This is a lovely grassy and spacious campground, with plenty of facilities. Because the camping areas are outside of the national park, you can bring your dog, and the area is also a keen haunt of horseriders and four-wheel drivers. These are no-bookings sites, but if you miss out at Sheepyard Flat you can just head further up or down Brocks Rd to the other campgrounds in the hills.

Appletree camping area, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales

The Blue Mountains hasn’t been having an easy time of it lately, with the catastrophic bush fires of 2013. But most camping areas will be up and running for the Easter holidays, including family-friendly Appletree camping area. As of the date this article was published, there were still camping areas available to book for this period. You’ll feel blue if you miss out on a camping area in the national park, so hop to it!

Appletree Flat is one of the camping areas that make up Euroka campground, and is in a ridiculously scenic position next to the Nepean River Gorge. It’s in the Glenbrook section of Blue Mountains National Park, which is the section of the park closest to Sydney. There are toilets (non-flush only, so warn the kids!), but you’ll have to bring your own drinking water.

Darlington Park camping area, Beaudesert, Queensland

We know, we know – we harp on about Darlington Park camping area. But that’s just because it’s so good. It’s affordable, scenic and spacious, with plenty of good facilities. We think you should go there and find us something not to like. In fact, we dare you.

Situated in the Darling Downs area of Queensland, it’s only a short drive to Beaudesert and within an easy distance of the Gold Coast.

Tulki Beach camping area, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Ten days in April? That’s enough time to travel up the new Indian Ocean Drive to Cape Range National Park and pitch your tent at Tulki Beach camping area, which as the name suggests is right next to the beach. Now, you might be thinking, not another beach. But this isn’t just any beach, as spectacular Ningaloo Reef is just offshore and you can rent a snorkel and get amongst it in the most literal sense.

You can set up tent next to your car, which always things easier, and there are toilets at the site. You’ll have to bring pretty much everything else yourself, including drinking water. Don’t forget to book this site online soon – it’s sure to fill up fast.

Memory Cove camping area, Eyre Peninsula National Park

If what you’re looking for at Easter is a place to get away from the crowd, Memory Cove could be the campsite for you. Access to the cove is restricted to 15 cars at a time, so you’re guaranteed to get the feeling of being alone with nature – at least until you spot another car on the horizon.

There’s even fewer cars allowed at the camping area itself, as it only has five sites. Memory Cove camping area is situated above the cove and your view will only be interrupted by the scrubs and trees of this shady campsite. With extremely limited facilities at the site, prepare to be self-sufficient. You’ll need a key to access this camping area, so don’t forget to book.

Taking a 4WD tour into the heart of the Otways

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Great Otway National Park, Tourism VictoriaGreat Otway National Park has an incredible amount of 4WD tracks, where you can really get amongst the beauty of the national park, as we see in this excerpt from Linda Lee Rathbun and Steven David Miller’s 4WD Australia: 50 Short Getaways.

Some things just are not fair. As if tiny Victoria did not already have a share of Australia’s 4WD opportunities far beyond its relative size, in 2005 a number of these were consolidated into one compact area.

Otway National Park, Angahook–Lorne State Park, Melba Gully State Park, Carlisle State Park, state forest land and crown land were all combined to form the new 103,000ha Great Otway National Park. The surrounding state forests are now the 40,000ha Otway Forest Park. Logging was phased out and ceased in 2008. Managed by Parks Victoria, this combined area swallows the Otway Range, a parade of mountains draped in forest and fringed by sea. Not only is it stunning, it is also cleaved by an astonishing number of 4WD tracks.

Look at a map of all those tracks in the combined parks, and try not to drool. This getaway begins in Anglesea, with quick access to the north-eastern end of the Otway Range and to the national park. The route follows a road that in many cases divides the forest park from the national park as it convulses and spins to the south-west. Time after time, 4WD-only tracks split from the tour route, providing additional and more demanding opportunities for fully equipped, experienced drivers with a real-deal 4WD. From No. 2 Road there is Denhams Track. From Seaview Road there is Gentle Annie Track with the chance to return on Moggs Creek Track. From Mount Sabine Road there is Garvey Track with the chance to return on Sharps Track. And all along the way, there are tracks that will take you to almost anywhere along the Great Ocean Road: Moggs Creek, Lorne, Wye River, Kennett River and Apollo Bay, to name just a few. North of the tour route are just as many tracks penetrating those sections of both the national park and forest park.

Though there is much, much more to explore, this route ends at Cape Otway. A tour of the lightstation will reveal the hypnotic tale of the many ships that crashed and burned (not to mention sank) along the coastline of Bass Strait. There is camping, koala-watching and walking on sections of the Great Ocean Walk. Stretching east and west, the Great Ocean Road promises delights galore.

Victoria’s Otways prove beyond doubt that good things do indeed come in small packages.

Tour information

Distances

• The start of the getaway at Anglesea is 111km from Melbourne.

• The getaway is 112km from Anglesea to Cape Otway, not including optional 4WD side tracks.

Duration

• You should allow 3 days for this getaway, not including time to get to Anglesea.

• A day to drive some of or the entire route from Anglesea to Cape Otway; more days can be added to complete additional 4WD tracks and to camp along the way.

• A 2nd day to spend at Cape Otway to do the fascinating lightstation tour, or for some walking and koala viewing in the park.

• A 3rd day to return home.

 When to go

• When it is dry, and when the tracks are open. Late spring, summer and early autumn are the ideal times. In summer, be bushfire aware (Ph: 1800 240 667).

Road rating

• The main tourist roads are sealed.

• The mountain roads from Anglesea to the Great Ocean Rd N of Cape Otway are unsealed. There are ascents and descents, narrow sections where passing is dangerous, washouts, potholes (possibly with water), fords and/or causeways through creeks and an endless number of extreme hairpin turns.

• Numerous 4WD-only tracks branch off from this tour. Conditions can vary, but always be prepared for muddy, boggy tracks, steep ascents and descents, creek crossings and sharp hairpin turns.

Vehicle requirements

• Any 4WD, SUV or AWD will be fine on the unsealed mountain roads. For the 4WD-only tracks, a 4WD with high clearance and low range is needed.

• You should have at least 1 spare tyre in good condition and full recovery gear.

• A means of communication in case you need help; it is best to travel in a convoy of at least 2 vehicles.

• Caravans should not be towed on most of these mountain roads; camper-trailers will fare a bit better, but be prepared for a truly wild ride. The 4WD-only tracks are not suitable for towing anything.

Road conditions

• It is best not to drive on these unsealed mountain roads when they are wet; in fact, most of the 4WD tracks are closed through the winter.

• For general road conditions visit VicRoads (http://traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au).

• For road and track closures in the park, check the Change of Conditions section of the Great Otway

National Park page at Parks Victoria (www.parkweb.vic.gov.au). Seasonal road and track closures are in force from the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (mid-June) to the Melbourne Cup Day weekend (1st weekend in Nov). This includes most of the 4WD tracks branching off the tour route.

Where to stay

• There is accommodation all along the Great Ocean Rd. From the main tour route a number of sealed roads, unsealed roads and 4WD tracks give access to the towns to the S and E. Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Lorne, Cumberland River, Separation Creek, Wye River, Apollo Bay and Cape Otway all have caravan parks. There is also accommodation and a caravan park in Forrest to the N of Lake Elizabeth. Wildlife lovers should not miss Bimbi Park – Camping Under Koalas (Ph: (03) 5237 9246 www.bimbipark.com.au) at Cape Otway, where koalas reside in the manna gum trees.

• Parks Victoria operates numerous camping areas throughout Great Otway National Park. Facilities vary and may include picnic tables, BYO-wood fireplaces and toilets. Camping fees may be required at some camping areas and are payable at self-registration stations. Along this tour route and on side tracks, camping areas include Hammonds, Big Hill, Sharps Track, Lake Elizabeth, Beauchamp Falls, Blanket Bay and Aire River West and East.

Caravanners

• It would be best to set up camp at a caravan park in Anglesea and do the tour route from there. Otherwise, leave your caravan or camper-trailer at any of the other Great Ocean Road caravan parks, and then access sections of the tour route via the many sealed and unsealed roads or 4WD tracks.

• There are dump points at the Torquay Foreshore Caravan Park, the Anglesea Beachfront Family Caravan Park, the Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park and the Pisces Holiday Park in Apollo Bay.

What to take

• Plan to be self-sufficient with food and drinking water from Anglesea on.

• Be sure your 4WD (and your spare tyre) is in good order; you do not want to break down along these mountain roads and tracks as help is hard to come by.

• Bring a first-aid kit, prescription medication, personal items and clothing, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. If it is summer, bring swimwear. If you enjoy bushwalking, bring your hiking boots.

• Fuel should not be a problem as long as you fill up in Anglesea. Fuel is not available along the tour route; you would have to exit the route for fuel.

• Bring a gas stove and all your usual camping gear to be self-sufficient. Most of the camping areas have fireplaces where you may build a campfire unless it is fire-ban season. You must BYO wood (not to be collected in the national park).

Permits and fees

• Entry fees to the national park are not required.

• Camping fees are charged and must be paid at self-registration points at each camping area. All camping area are first-come, first-served, except for the Blanket Bay campsites which are allocated by ballot during summer and Easter holidays.

• Bookings can be made at the Bimbi Caravan Park (Ph: (03) 5237 9246 www.bimbipark.com.au) in Cape Otway (fees apply, of course).

Highlights

• The highlight of this getaway is simply the drive. To twist, turn, climb and plunge through the saturated, emerald forests of the Otway Range is perfection itself. As if that was not enough, the return drive along the Great Ocean Rd is considered one of the most scenic in Australia.

• For the more serious 4WD enthusiast, there are endless 4WD tracks splintering throughout the park. Try a few and as you become familiar with the terrain, try more!

• If time allows, explore more of the Otways from Lavers Hill, Gellibrand and Forrest.

• While your wheels will get you to many splendours, your feet will get you even further. Do not miss the walking tracks at Erskine Falls, Kalimna Falls, the Grey River picnic area, Lake Elizabeth, Beauchamp Falls, Maits Rest and at least a bit of the Great Ocean Walk along the coastline of Cape Otway.

• Sections of the 91km trek from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, called the Great Ocean Walk (www.greatoceanwalk.com.au) that can be done from Cape Otway include a wander along Station Beach and along the coast to Blanket Bay. standing at the northern point of the ‘Eye of the Needle’, a passage between Cape Otway and King Island where ships under sail, screaming across Bass Strait, had to navigate through to land in Victoria, safely or not: that is, without motors, radios, electronic depth sounders, weather forecasts or satellite navigation systems.

• Cape Otway presents numerous opportunities to see koalas in the wild along Lighthouse Rd. Find a safe pullout and look up, or look for people who are looking up and pull over safely to join them. The Bimbi Caravan Park has resident koalas in the manna gum trees.

• Play a round of golf with the kangaroos at the Anglesea Golf Club (Ph: (03) 5263 1582 www.angleseagolfclub.com.au).

Cautions

• You will be sharing mountain roads and tracks with hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Never travel so fast that you cannot come to a sudden stop when one of these appears before you. Always drive taking account of the conditions and with other road users in mind.

• Check the weather forecast before leaving home and do not go if the area is wet.

• A number of tracks and roads bisecting the Otways are not open to vehicles; they either are closed for revegetation or are only used by rangers as service tracks. In addition, tracks can be closed at any time for any reason; this is usually after extended wet weather. If a gate bars access, it means you should not go there!

• Rubbish bins are not provided in the camping areas; you must take your rubbish with you.

• Generators are not permitted in the national park camping areas.

• If you have no other means of communication and become stuck, you can try using your mobile phone even if you are out of range. Dial 112 then press the YES button; this is the same as 000 so it should be used only in an emergency.

 

Top 4 autumn road trips

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Indian Ocean Drive, Tourism Western Australia

Indian Ocean Drive, Tourism Western Australia

Autumn in the perfect time to take a road trip. The air is crisp, the leaves are changing (well, at least they are in Bright), the roads aren’t as packed as they are in summer … But the worst thing about taking a road trip in Australia is that there are too many roads to decide between. We’ve selected our four favourite autumn road trips to help you get your planning started.

1. Rainforest Way, New South Wales

You’ll need the residual warmth of summer in the lush environs of Rainforest Way, as these ancient rainforests will give you the chills – in a good way.

Rainforest Way is in northern New South Wales. Rather than a complete road trip, Rainforest Way is more accurately a series of interconnected detours around the towns of Lismore, Murwillumbah and Nimbin, passing through national parks including Nightcap and Wollumbin. There are seven of the routes all up, and you’ll find some of them across the border in Queensland.

It’s a magical road trip. If not for the charming towns that dot the route, you could almost pretend that you’re exploring a forbidden island, as this heavy rainforest is the sort that inspires talks of pirate hideaways and treasure hunts.

2. Great Alpine Road, Victoria

Can’t decide whether you’d prefer mountains or the beach? Get the best of both worlds on the Great Alpine Road. If you time this trip properly, you’ll get to see both the stunning seasonal change of colour in Bright, as well as say farewell to summer with a final dip in the ocean on the other side of the mountains in Gippsland.

After driving up the Hume Highway, spend the first night in Bright. This delightful town on the Ovens River is famous for its deciduous trees, which coat the town in red leaves come autumn. Wind your way up into the mountains on the Great Alpine Road. Omeo is only a couple of hours away, but between Bright and Omeo is access to Alpine National Park. This spectacular national park warrants at least a day’s exploration. You can also detour along Bogong Alpine Way, which will add a few hours’ to the trip to Omeo.

Meander out of the mountains towards Bairnsdale. This town is a gateway to the Gippsland Lakes, and from here the lakes are your oyster. Head up to Croajingolong National Park or towards Ninety Mile Beach.

3. Indian Ocean Drive, Western Australia

Those of us on the east coast can sometimes find it hard to admit that the Western Australian coastline rivals our section of the coast. But the west coast is jaw-droppingly gorgeous, which makes it even more surprising that until recently you couldn’t drive all the way along the Coral Coast, as the major road used to be slightly inland. That’s all changed with the opening of the Indian Ocean Drive.

This drive covers a huge section of the coast, from Perth to Exmouth, where you’ll find Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia’s answer to the Great Barrier Reef. But don’t rush the trip up – there’s plenty to see along the way. Highlights include Kalbarri National Park, with its sinuous gorges and dramatic rock structures, Shark Bay Marine Park, the Pinnacles, Cape Range National Park, and the coastal towns that line this route.

4. Valley and Vines Touring Route, Queensland

The parts of Queensland that fall between the coast and the outback often miss out on public attention – which is why you might not have heard of the Valley and Vines touring route. This touring route takes in the Darling Downs, Granite Belt and Scenic Rim regions of Queensland. It’s a scenic journey where you’ll drive by ancient rainforests, artistic communities, old dairy farms, as well as some of the best wineries in Queensland. Start to the south of Brisbane, head towards Warwick, and then loop your way around to the north through the Blackall Ranges and down into the Sunshine Coast.

 

 

Discover the wine regions of Victoria

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Wine Regions of Victoria app

Wine Regions of Victoria app

The best holidays aren’t all about the destinations – they’re all about the detours. And some of the best detours can be had at the fantastic wineries around Victoria’s 22 wine regions.

Tourism Victoria’s Wine Regions of Victoria, available as a free smartphone app on Google Play and the iTunes store, is the easiest way to find these wineries. This easy-to-use app contains information on over 240 wineries across Victoria’s 22 wine regions, so you can discover a region from the barrel up.

We’re not sure whether it’s coincidence or conspiracy, but many of these wineries are situated on picturesque country roads and boast spectacular views of the local region – as well as, of course, some wines that will send your tastebuds on their own journey.

You can use the enhanced mapping in the app to navigate your way to each winery or locate wineries near you. Wine Regions of Victoria also includes details on which wineries offer more for visitors such as great dining options and food and wine-related events.

Add a winery to your itinerary, or save it to a favourites list. The app has instant click-through access to wineries, including websites, phone numbers and addresses, so no matter how picturesque, you’ll never be lost on a country lane. Once you’re at a winery, you can add tasting notes to the app.

For an even more comprehensive guide about what to see and do in Victoria’s wine regions, download the free ebook version from iTunes or Amazon .

Camping near Melbourne: The best campsites

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Sorrento Foreshore, courtesy of Tourism Victoria

Sorrento Foreshore, courtesy of Tourism Victoria

Feel like going camping, but don’t want to travel too far from Melbourne? We’ve found the best campsites within one or two hours from Melbourne, so you no longer have any excuse for not taking that weekend camping trip.

Nioka Bush Camp, Plenty Gorge Park

Nioka Bush Camp is a casual site on the banks of the Plenty River. Close enough to Melbourne, yet far enough away that it still feels like a break, this campsite is in Plenty Gorge Park. The reserve is maintained by Parks Victoria, and has a good selection of facilities, including toilets, hot-water showers, drinking water and a camp kitchen (so you can try out some of our camping recipes!). It’s not the most scenic site in the world, but it is great for a weekend getaway from Melbourne, as well as a testing ground for longer camping adventures.

Anderson Reserve camping area, Anderson Reserve

The spacious campsites at Anderson Reserve camping area are stretched out along the foreshore at Indented Head on the Bellarine Peninsula. The campground is only open over the summer months, so you’ll need to get in quickly. As you’d expect, the focus here is on the water, and swimming, fishing, canoeing and waterskiing are all possibilities. The facilities here are also good. You’ve got hot showers so you can wash off the sand, drinking water so you can wash out the sand, and barbecues so you can roast up a few snags and then sit back and enjoy the view – on the sand, of course.

Kurth Kiln camping area, Kurth Kiln Regional Park

Kurth Kiln camping area is a short distance east of Melbourne. It’s  named for the remains of the Kurth Kiln, a chimney that was used in WW II to make charcoal. The kiln is no longer operating but remains an interesting centrepiece for the reserve. The camping areas are spacious and surrounded by a pretty bush setting. It’s one of the best camping spots close to Melbourne, and has opportunities for cycling, horseriding and bushwalking. Facilities are limited – you’ll basically only find fireplaces and toilets – but the trade-off is that you can bring your dog and the camping is free.

The Gums camping area, Kinglake National Park

The Gums camping area is in the heart of the land that was scorched by the 2009 bushfires. Around 10km from Kinglake, in the Great Dividing Range, the 18 campsites here are set amongst the natural bush setting, next to a stream, and are great for families. You might think that this means there’s drinking water at the site, but it’s not provided, so you’ll have to bring your own. This is quite a simple camping area, and you’ll only find barbecues, toilets and caravan access. There’s a camping fee, and you have to book a site before you arrive.

The main activities within easy access of the campsites are fishing and bushwalking, although you might be interested in travelling a bit further to see the fantastic regeneration work underway in the rest of Kinglake National Park.

Andersons Garden camping area, Mount Disappointment State Forest

Don’t let the name fool you; Mount Disappointment State Forest is not disappointing. In fact, we’d say the camping at Andersons Garden camping area is quite the opposite. Only around 9km from the Hume Highway, this easily accessible campground is in a charming spot, under the mountain ashes and with wattle abounding around the sites. Being in a state forest, the facilities are limited, with toilets being the only real amenity provided. Yet you can bring your dog and camping is free, so it’s a case of you win some, you lose some. Be prepared to bring your own entertainment too – walking is really the only activity around here.

Sorrento Foreshore camping area, Sorrento Foreshore Reserve

Sorrento is one of the most popular holiday towns in the already popular Mornington Peninsula. That means that hotels here can cost more than you want to pay for a short weekend away. Luckily, there’s Sorrento Foreshore camping area, which has hundreds of sites. This camping area can get rather hectic, so if you’re after some peace and quiet, this is not the place for you. But if you’re after a family-friendly site with proximity to many of the attractions of the Mornington Peninsula and great facilities, you can’t do better.

Fairhaven camping area, French Island National Park

Fairhaven camping area is on French Island, just a hop, skip, jump, ferry ride and bus trip away from the Mornington Peninsula. It’s almost as isolated as Sorrento Foreshore camping area is accessible. French Island isn’t as famous as neighbouring Phillip Island, but it is a beautiful natural spot where you can kick back for a few days, if you’re after some peace and quiet. The only amenities at the campsites are a drop toilet and water that needs to be purified before you can drink it. You’ll have to bring your own stove. After you’ve had enough of kicking back, take a walk around the island and keep an eye out for the native wildlife.

Nash Creek camping area, Bunyip State Forest

Don’t worry. As far as we can tell, there aren’t actually bunyips roaming between the trees at Bunyip State Forest. Even if there were, we doubt it would be enough to turn people off camping at Nash Creek camping area, which has peaceful campsites spaced out in the bush. Bunyip State Forest was another section of the state severely affected by the bushfires in 2009 but, as with Kinglake, the forest has experienced a spectacular regeneration, and is a place where Melburnians can enjoy abundant nature and wildlife. Nash Creek camping area is in the heart of the forest, and has access to the forest’s great walking paths and mountain-biking trails.