We all understand the dynamics of budgeting for a caravan road trip. You have to consider the cost of fuel, accommodation, food, and, of course, sustenance for Happy Hour.
When planning for a long adventure, you want your precious savings to stretch as far as possible, and so what often gets left out is ‘nice things’. We’re talking admission to tourist attractions, guided tours and dinner cooked by someone else (who also delivers wine to a table, not a campfire chair).
Every now and then it is nice to treat yourself, whether that’s to a gourmet dinner for two in a destination dining restaurant, or something flashier like a helicopter ride. Victoria offers a bounty of riches to the RV traveller, from rugged, iconic coastlines to world-class gastronomic wine country and historic riverboat heritage — and there are plenty of ways to experience it if you can dig a little deeper into your hip pocket.
Here, we offer up a suite of ideas for splurging on your next southern sojourn.
COME FLY WITH ME
See one of Australia’s most iconic coastlines by air with a helicopter flight over the Twelve Apostles and Victoria’s renowned Shipwreck Coast along the Great Ocean Road. 12 Apostles Helicopters offers three tours to check out the incredible limestone structures standing tall against the might of the Southern Ocean long after being carved by millions of years of constant pounding. Spoiler alert — there are no longer 12 still standing. All flights are private and the company has instigated strict COVID-19 protocols so you will never fly with anyone other than your crew (minimum two passengers).
The 12 Apostles to Cape Otway flight (1 hour, 220km) takes you over the famed Apostles and then heads north-west along the Shipwreck Coast to showcase the famed Loch Ard Gorge, The Arch and London Bridge before swooping over the spectacular Bay of Martyrs and Bay of islands. The flight then backtracks toward the Apostles and heads towards Cape Otway Lighthouse in the south-east, passing Wreck Beach with its rusted treasures, Moonlight Head and the windswept Johanna Beach along the route before heading back to base.
The shorter 12 Apostles and Bay of Islands flight (25 minutes, 90km) takes on the north-east leg of the main tour, while the 12 Apostles and London Bridge flight (15 minutes, 45km) offers a bird’s eye view of the Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, the Sentinel limestone edifice and London Bridge.
Cost: From $145 (12 Apostles to London Bridge); From $235pp (12 Apostles to Bay of Islands); From $570pp (The 12 Apostles to Cape Otway).
Duration: 15 minutes to one hour.
More info: 12apostleshelicopters.com.au or (03) 5598 8283 .
RETREAT FROM THE RAT RACE
Nothing says ‘luxury’ like pampering, and the newly-opened Lon Retreat at Point Lonsdale, on the Bellarine Peninsula, offers a wonderful respite from the crazy world we are living in. Built on the grounds of a 100-year-old family farm, the retreat is a modern accommodation and mineral spa facility redeveloped from an older B&B built in 1997.
Natural mineral water that flows through limestone caves beneath the farm is used in the spa’s soaking tubs and Vichy shower steam rooms where you can enjoy breathtaking views of Port Phillip Bay, the Southern Ocean, iconic Point Lonsdale lighthouse and coastal landscape surrounding the farm.
You can choose to stay overnight at Lon Retreat, or if you fancy a day spa treatment, the general public are welcome to book from Wednesday to Saturday. Why not try a Rasayana Detox Body Scrub to emerge cleansed and refreshed (60 minutes, $165pp); a 24K Gold Age-Defying Facial — using actual gold leaf — (60 minutes $180); or a deep tissue massage (60 minutes, $180)? Enjoy access to the mineral pools when you book a treatment.
Or you could book out the whole spa for a private session with one treatment, bath soak and steam shower, grazing platter and bottle of sparking for $620 per couple.
Cost: From $165.
Duration: From one hour.
More information: lonretreat.com.au or
(03) 5258 2990.
Victoria’s Yarra Valley, about 1.5 hours north-east of Melbourne, is a famed wine region for good reason. Its fertile soils produce incredible cold-climate varieties, and it is literally brimming with both boutique vineyards and busy commercial estates. Many cellar doors have reopened and welcome visitors for tastings and accompanying menus of local produce, so why not indulge with a weekend wandering between wineries, sampling their wares and buying a few bottles to take on the road or ship home to enjoy as a reminder of your trip?
Dominique Portet Winery in Coldstream was founded by its namesake in 2000 and mirrors the traditions of Dominique's native cold-climate Bordeaux region in France. Guests are welcomed into the private André Room to sample the vineyard’s Brut Rosé, Origine Chardonnay, Fontaine Rosé, Dominique Portet Cabernet Sauvignon at 12pm and 2pm, Friday to Sunday (bookings recommended). There’s a $10 tasting fee but that’s refunded if you purchase a bottle. The vineyard’s bistro offers French-inspired cuisine with a Prix Fixe Menu for $75pp plus a seated wine tasting experience of four wines at 12pm and 2pm Friday to Sunday (children $40).
Just down the road you’ll find the delightful Helen & Joey Estate with some of the more impressive cellar door views in the region. It’s open every day for you to sample their Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Helen & Joey Estate’s Wayward Child Collection is exclusive to the cellar door — you won’t find it in any conventional bottle shop. Guided tastings start from $8 or take up their offer of a wine ‘flight’ from $18 — essentially bigger pours. There are some wonderful charcuterie platters (vegetarian options available) as well as artisan cheeses to accompany your tastings.
Also in the region are the more well-known Rochford Wines and Chandon (did someone say bubbles?).
Cost: From $8 for a single tasting (but we’re pretty sure you won’t stop there)
Duration: All day if you want to!
More information: www.dominiqueportet.com or (03) 5962 5760; www.helenandjoeyestate.com.au or 0452 240 616
HIGH COUNTRY ON HORSEBACK
Step out of your vehicle and explore Victoria’s magnificent High Country a very different way — on horseback. Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides offers an assortment of tours from short one-hour rides through to multi-day adventures. The Watson family have lived on their 580-acre working farm (which includes an 85-year-old house and stables), at Booroolite, near Mansfield for more than 50 years. Michael and Sally Watson operate the tours each day — currently limited to 10 riders.
The one day, two-night Man From Snowy River Winter Ride includes an overnight bunkhouse stay, oodles of spectacular 360-degree views, native wildlife such as kangaroos, wallabies and the impressive wedge-tailed eagle as well as the site of the famous ‘jump scene’ where Tom Burlinson leapt over a steep rocky outcrop to chase down the wild brumbies in the Man from Snowy River film. The seven-day Bluff and Beyond tour takes you across the majestic Howqua River to the summit of The Bluff with overnight swag camping at Lovick’ Hut and several others while drinking in the views of Picture Point, Mt Howitt, The Cross Cut Saw, Mt Speculation and Mt Cobbler among others.
A shorter three-hour ride from the farm includes a visit to the Man From Snowy River jump site, views across the Delatite Valley to Mansfield and the chance to get a canter up while admiring Lake Eildon to the west and Mt Buller to the east.
Cost: $140pp (three-hour ride) $300pp (Snowy River Winter Ride); $2500pp (Bluff and Beyond).
Duration: From one hour to seven days.
More info: watsonstrailrides.com.au or
(03) 5777 3552.
GET ALL STEAMED UP
Camping by the river is one thing, but how about cruising on it? And doing it with flair? The Murray River is famed for its paddlesteamer pedigree, with fleets dating back to the mid-1800s. The PS Emmylou is undoubtedly one of the star attractions, and is named after the American country singer Emmylou Harris. Powered by a restored 1906 Marshall and Sons steam engine, PS Emmylou was recently refurbished to offer luxury cabins and dining experiences.
Touted as the world’s only remaining wood-fired paddlesteamer offering overnight cruises for passengers, she’s a grand old dame with plenty of nostalgia to offer a classic evening experience or overnight cruises of up to six nights departing from the township of Echuca.
Evening steaming dinner cruises offer a gourmet five-course menu at sunset, with Australian wines available to match. Relax in an old-world setting while spotting wildlife along the riverbank as you cruise, as well as a history tour with commentary from the skipper.
The One-Night Upper Murray Experience cruise offers passengers a five-course meal aboard the Emmylou as she powers upstream from the port of Echuca, then turns to head downstream past the port and toward a mooring at Layfield Lane. Here you can disembark and join your fellow passengers for an after-dinner Happy Hour around a campfire under the stars (socially distanced, of course) before retiring to your luxury cabin. Breakfast is provided the next day prior to your departure. Caravans can be accommodated in a secure location for a small fee.
Cost: $110pp (evening dinner cruise); From $800 per cabin (overnight cruise).
Duration: From 3 to 24 hours.
More info: psemmyloucruises.com or
(03) 5482 5244.
SOAK AWAY YOUR TROUBLES
We couldn’t let the opportunity pass to include one of Victoria’s worst-kept secrets — the Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula. The state’s only hot natural thermal springs, the facility is a collection of pools at varying temperatures, gorgeous gardens, a restaurant and a luxurious spa offering treatments including body scrubs, massage and facials.
The Bath House bathing option (from $45pp) offers the chance to pool-hop between thermal mineral pools, cold plunge pools, hydrojet pool, a Turkish hammam and the iconic Hilltop Pool which offers picturesque 360-degree views of the surrounding region.
The spa dreaming centre (from $110pp) offers a more private experience with access to thermal mineral pools and the cold plunge pool as well as massaging bamboo showers, a Moroccan hammam, Zen Chi massage, hanging tree pods, and poolside lounges. The more exclusive private bathing opportunity ($175pp) offers secluded indoor mineral bathing away from the crowds plus a private outdoor pool.
If you have room in the wallet for a spa treatment, including mud wraps, massages and facials, these start at $179pp.
Cost: From $45pp.
Duration: From one hour.
More info: peninsulahotsprings.com or
(03) 5950 8777.
A WHALE OF A TIME
Ahoy there, sea adventurers! Leave your land legs behind with a marine wildlife tour of Phillip Island and Wilsons Promontory with Wildlife Coast Cruises. Wilson’s Prom is an iconic destination for bushwalkers, but its rugged coastline is even more spectacular when explored from the water, especially in winter in the midst of the whale migration season.
The six-hour Wilsons Prom Whale Cruise departs from Port Welshpool in South Gippsland with the hope (but not guarantee) of spotting an impressive humpback or southern right whale making their annual journey north from the Antarctic to warmer waters with their young. You’ll also be on the lookout for albatrosses, dolphins and seals and marvel at the coastline’s formations and remote beaches, including Rabbit Island, Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove. Wildlife talks, lunch and morning tea are included.
The company also operates a two-hour Seal Watching Cruise from Cowes Jetty in Phillip Island. This tour is not as seasonal as the whales, and offers a brilliant chance to hang with these adorably fun-loving creatures. Seal Rocks is just 2km off the Island’s rugged south-west coast and is home to one of the country’s largest colonies of fur seals — around 5000 animals. Watch them in their natural habitat and have your camera ready as they often approach the boat to check you out as well. The tour includes morning or afternoon tea, expert commentary and sightings of seabirds and dolphins.
Cost: $122.50 child / $175 adult (Wilsons Prom Whale Cruise); $59.50 child / $85 adult (Seal Watching Cruise).
Duration: Two to six hours.
More info: wildlifecoastcruises.com.au or 1300 763 739.
YOU TOO CAN BE A FUN-GI…
Here’s one for the diehard gourmet lovers. Head to the Mornington Peninsula and the Glen Bower property, also known as Red Hill Truffles, to partake in a very unusual search for the king of mushrooms aka truffles or ‘black gold’.
The farm is run by Jenny McAuley, whose family have owned the land for more than 150 years. She transformed the once-orchard into a truffle farm, and hosts hunts each winter where guests join Jenny and her faithful pooches Maddie and Thomas to literally sniff out the precious (and expensive) fungi from the base of hundreds of oak and hazelnut trees.
Join a hunt then enjoy a gourmet two-course lunch with a glass of wine at the nearby Max’s Restaurant at Red Hill Estate winery. Pick up a few foodie mementos at Jenny’s farmgate including fresh truffles and truffle products including butter, honey, and salt.
Duration: Four hours.
More info: redhilltruffles.com/hunts.
At the time of writing, all of the above experiences were operating and bookings were open. But we recommend you check with the relevant company and book ahead before making plans to travel to that region specifically.