The combination of self-drive, small group tour and day excursions around Melbourne takes in Great Ocean Road, East Gippsland and the Wilderness Coast to see the best of Victoria’s iconic wildlife.
Heading south from Melbourne, you explore the wild coast along Great Ocean Road under your own steam, with a wide choice of optional activities as varied as a canopy walk, seal watching, a glow worm tour or a helicopter flight. Back in the city you take two expertly guided full-day excursions to visit Phillips Island and see the best of local birdlife, before joining a four-day small group tour to explore East Gippsland’s forests and the Wilderness Coast accompanied by a naturalist guide.
Day1: Depart UK
Fly to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur
On arrival in Melbourne transfer to your hotel in the city.
Day3: Drive to Great Ocean Road; dusk walk to see kangaroos and koalas
Collect your hire car and drive (215 kilometres or 3.5-4 hours) south on the Great Ocean Road with some of the world's most spectacular coastal scenery and surging surf. On arrival at your accommodation the afternoon is free to relax. At dusk there’s an included guided walk to see wild kangaroos, koala bears and other wildlife, and to learn about the conservation projects of this dedicated wildlife rehabilitation and ecological research centre. You can explore the grounds in your own time – there are plenty of very special spots that aren’t included in the dusk walk, including the messmate forest, springs and manna gum woodlands. It’s also worth spending some time in one of the hides to watch the birds of the bush.
Today you can choose from various optional wildlife activities in the area around Great Ocean Road. It’s a 45 minute drive to Otway Fly Treetop Walk, for a fascinating one hour/two kilometre walk through the canopy of eucalyptus trees in the magnificent rainforests of Otway National Park. This features a 600-metre-long, 30-metre-high steel structure that gets you right into the treetops – the longest and tallest walkway of its type in the world, with a thrilling cantilever. At the same site there’s a two-and-a-half hour fully-guided Zipline Eco-Tour, with eight cloud stations, six flights and two suspension bridges.
Alternatively you can go seal spotting: Australian Fur Seals come into Bass Strait to rest after long foraging trips in the wild Southern Ocean. You can watch them dive and play from the deck of a boat, or paddle sea kayaks out to observe them more closely, accompanied by qualified kayaking guides. Note: to guarantee availability, these activities – which are at additional cost – should be booked in advance.
In the afternoon we recommend driving to the Twelve Apostles (75 kilometres, or 1-1.5 hours), a collection of impressive limestone stacks in close proximity off Port Campbell National Park Travel, whose coastal heathland is home to echidnas, wallabies, lizards and many birds. These stacks were formed by erosion – extreme weather conditions gradually eroded the soft stone to form caves in the cliffs, which became arches and in turn collapsed, leaving rock stacks of up to 50 metres high. Despite their name, there were only ever nine stacks but, due to continued erosion, one collapsed in 2005 and now only eight remain.
In the evening you can do an optional glow worm tour: on a dark night beneath the rainforest canopy, you can see thousands of glow worms, which gives the impression that you are floating, surrounded by a myriad of tiny stars.
Day5: Free morning for optional activities; drive back to Melbourne
Free morning to enjoy wildlife activities in the vicinity, or a helicopter flight over the Great Ocean Road. Other recommended optional trips include: a visit to the oldest lighthouse on the Australian mainland on the towering cliffs at the tip of Cape Otway where the Bass Strait and Great Southern Ocean meet (admission is free for guests who spend more than one night at the lodge), or the unforgettable Paddle with Platypus tour, a guided canoe trip on Lake Elizabeth to see these unique 100-million-year-old egg-laying mammals in their natural habitat. In the afternoon drive back to Melbourne, returning to the same hotel as previously.
The Olsen Art Series Hotel, 3-nights
Day6: Melbourne; full day birding trip
On the second day you take a private full-day guided birding trip, which starts with an early pick-up so you see the forests of nearby Dandenongs National Park at their best. You spend the morning searching for colourful endemic birds such as the secretive superb lyrebird, which is famed for its mimicry, eastern whipbird, parrots such as eastern rosella, crimson rosella, galah, king parrot, yellow-tailed black cockatoo and sulphur-crested cockatoo.
After collecting lunch (included in the tour) from a café to eat later in the day, you spend the afternoon birding at a water treatment plant where around one hundred bird species can be seen. These include ducks, egrets, herons, raptors, crakes, rails, honeyeaters, wood swallows and much more. The tour ends at around 1700 – unless, of course, the birding is too good to stop and light allows.
Day7: Melbourne; visit Phillip Island
Full day (i.e. 10 hours!) excursion to Phillip Island Nature Park, some 90 minutes from Melbourne, with a ranger as your guide. In addition to seeing the spectacular coastal scenery with rugged beaches and roaring surf, you’ll learn about shipwrecks and the indigenous Bunurong people who lived here for over 30,000 years. The island has the second-largest colony of Australian fur seals, and its plentiful wildlife includes koalas – the most iconic of the marsupials – emus, wombats, crocodiles, dingos and Tasmanian devils!
In the evening join a small group (maximum 10 people) for the ultimate tour to see Phillips Island’s world-famous little penguins – the smallest in the world – arrive back on a secluded beach after a long day at sea, and waddle to the safety of their burrows in the sand dunes. A black overall and night vision scope are provided, and you may see as many as 50 to 100 penguins up close (no photography is allowed). This exclusive and fully accredited eco-tour is a far cry from the crowds that gather to see the popular Penguin Parade.
Day8: Join a 4-day small group trip to East Gippsland and Wilderness Coast
Today you join a fully-inclusive small group safari (maximum 8 participants) to the wildlife-rich forests of southeast Australia's coastal wilderness, returning each night to the comfort of characterful accommodation. Accompanied by an experienced naturalist guide you’ll look for koalas in magnificent stands of giant eucalypt forest, walk the rainforest in search of lyrebirds, watch sea eagles soar above untouched beaches, and spot huge goanna lizards beside secluded rivers. Your guide will show you where to look for wild wallabies, kangaroos, echidnas, parrots, cockatoos, black swans and many other endemic animals.
Leave the city and drive past the internationally acclaimed RAMSAR wetlands of East Gippsland’s Lakes District, before taking a ferry across to an island sanctuary in the wetlands with a thriving colony of wild koalas. Take a walk through the forest with your naturalist guide to spot these delightful animals in the wild, and learn about their lives. You may also see echidnas, wallabies and kangaroos, plus many birds such as colourful parrots, honeyeaters and seabirds. Continue to the small town of Orbost. Dinner tonight is in a local restaurant.
After breakfast you drive into the rugged forests of East Gippsland – the diversity of forest is why the region’s wildlife is so abundant. Today you visit both wet and dry mountain forests and the famed Snowy River, and walk beside a wilderness creek where the landscape changes dramatically from the sunny, dry slopes to the near-rainforest of the gully. Your naturalist guide will explain how provides these mighty forests were formed and help you search for lyrebirds, parrots, goannas, wallabies and honeyeaters. There is an abundance of birds and reptiles, but few humans. You finish the day with a classic Aussie dinner back at the homestead.
Day10: Explore the Wilderness Coast
You start the day with a walk in a large lowland (i.e. warm temperate) rainforest in search of birds and wallabies, continuing across heathland and along a forest-lined river to its estuary in Australia's Coastal Wilderness to look for sea eagles, cockatoos, kingfishers, swans and huge goanna lizards. This includes a visit to a quiet beach with a complex dune system where beach and ocean-going birds are frequently seen. After lunch you walk on the nearby rocky headland, peering into tidal rock pools and passing wind-sculpted coastal shrubs on the 90-mile-long beach.
You’ll spend some time gathering up old fishing nets which have washed up on the shore, before they wash back out to sea and trap or even kill some sea creature. This gives you the satisfaction of knowing you have contributed to conservation by giving something back to the beautiful places and wildlife you have seen. Dinner tonight is a picnic in the bush overlooking the beach (weather permitting), and on the way back you search the plains for wallabies, kangaroos and wombats.
Day11: Drive back to Melbourne
This morning you depart East Gippsland after one final visit to the beach at the mouth of the Snowy River. En route back to Melbourne you visit the Krowathunkoolong Keeping Place, an informative Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Bairnsdale. You also stop to see grey-headed flying-foxes in their daytime roost beside the river at Bairnsdale. This large colony established itself in 2013, and currently provides great viewing opportunities – although they may move on at any time! Arrive back in Melbourne in the late afternoon.
The Olsen Art Series Hotel, 1-night
Day12: Depart Melbourne
The day is free until it’s time to head to the airport to check in for your flight to the UK.
Day13: Arrive UK
Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 13 daysfrom £4,395 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 11 daysfrom £3,495 pp
Single supplement: From £795
When to go: Sep-May
Victoria’s state capital and most populous city, second in Australia only to Sydney, Melbourne is frequently called Australia’s cultural capital, and is home to many of the country’s largest and oldest cultural institutions. It is the hub of the Australian film industry and gateway to the stunning scenery of the Great Ocean Road.
Excellent for: City stopover, History & culture
A piece of Australian national heritage, the 243-kilometre-long Great Ocean Road runs along the southeast coast of Victoria from Torquay to Allansford. Built between 1919 and 1932 by returned soldiers, it was dedicated those killed during World War I, making it the world's largest war memorial.
Named after the first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, the island’s southern and western coasts are an Important Bird Area, with significant populations of little penguins, short-tailed shearwaters and Pacific gulls. At the western end of the island, Seal Rocks is home to Australia’s largest colony of fur seals.
Ideal for viewing: eastern grey kangaroo, little penguin, swamp wallaby, fur seal, short-tailed shearwater
Due east of Melbourne, East Gippsland stretches east and north from the western watershed of the Mitchell and Thomson Rivers to the border of New South Wales, covering some 14% of the state of Victoria. The region is famous for its forests and wildlife – particularly big mammals, birds and reptiles.
Ideal for viewing: koala, swamp wallaby, superb lyrebird, yellow-tailed black cockatoo, southern hairy-nosed wombat
Excellent for: Vehicle safaris, Self-drive
Suggested accommodation options are shown below.
for further recommendations.
Great Ocean Ecolodge is an award winning social enterprise, established and operated by the Conservation Ecology Centre. All profits are re-invested into wildlife conservation, and the lodge is solar-powered and ecologically responsible. There are only five guestrooms, so you are assured of personalised attention.
Situated at Newmerella, which in aboriginal language means "Valley of Plenty”, this early settler’s homestead lies in the heart of beautiful countryside overlooking the Snowy River Valley, some five kilometres outside Orbost and adjacent to the East Gippsland Trail, a popular bush walking track.
Located in the residential suburb of South Yarra, just five kilometres or 10-15 minutes drive from Melbourne’s city centre, The Olsen offers boutique accommodation in 229 suites of various sizes and configurations. You can enjoy the services of a five-star hotel with two in-house restaurants.