Top Five Places To Escape to Nature Around Melbourne

This is a guest post by Lucy Ruthnum. 

As a backpacker who has now lived in Melbourne twice, I've loved getting out and exploring the city and far beyond. Not being much of a city girl, I've noticed Melbourne really has a fantastic balance of modern, built-up areas interweaved with beautiful sprawling parks that really help to make the skyscrapers feel less claustrophobic and imposing than they do in English cities. It's easy to wander around the city and quickly find yourself leaving the busy streets behind to get lost in lush, green woodland.

Having lived in both South Melbourne and Southbank, I've been lucky enough to live with Albert Park right on my doorstep - a perfect place to run around the lake of an evening, or to gather with friends for barbecues or to watch the Grand Prix. Just behind sits the Royal Botanic Gardens, huge endless parks that stretch across the city with all kinds of treasures tucked just out of sight. 

Fancy getting a bit further out of the city? There are so many amazing places right on your doorstop in Victoria that it would be a shame not to! Here are my top five places to escape into nature around Melbourne.

Wilsons Promontory National Park

Just a couple of hours drive out of Melbourne and you'll feel like you've entered another world. Wilsons Prom has everything from forest and mountain, to marshland, river, beaches and even sand dunes. You'll want a weekend to explore at your own pace so pack up the camping gear, the beers, and bring your best mates for a weekend you won't forget. Definitely don't miss seeing the view from Mount Oberon Summit, sunset from the beach at Tidal River campsite, and The Big Drift sand dunes.

Great Ocean Road

The absolute must-do when you go to Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is the perfect road trip to take with your buddies, whether you're on a budget or fancy a big blow-out. There are plenty of luxury escapes to take your breath away, or do like my gang did and just pack a tent, hire a car and take advantage of the many free things to see and do. There are so many hikes, beaches, viewpoints and more to explore - don't miss Bells Beach during the surfing competitions, Twelve Apostles at sunrise, and the Round the Twist lighthouse if you're a 90s kid. Camp in Cape Otway National Park for an amazing experience and take a break from driving at Loch Ard Gorge for spectacular views. And on your way home, take a detour through the Grampians National Park!

The Grampians National Park

A perfect trip to do on your way home from the Great Ocean Road, you can see the highlights in one to two days. Taking you up into the mountains, don't forget a jumper for that fresh mountain air. Stay in the Halls Gap campsites - they're great for a campfire, and nice and sheltered from the wind. Don't miss the Pinnacle Viewpoint and take the walk through the canyon; The Balconies and MacKenzie Falls are also ideal for those perfect photographs.

Dandenong Ranges National Park - 1,000 Steps

One I only ticked off my list last week, this national park is easily within reach for those without a car as you can get the train from Flinders Street to Upper Ferntree Gully, and then walk from there. It takes just a few hours to get out there and complete the walk, so it's perfect if you just fancy spending an afternoon in nature. The 1,000 Steps are the big attraction and although they'll definitely have you huffing and puffing, they're not as daunting as they sound. You'll see runners of all shapes and sizes taking them on over and over again as they sprint up and down. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top then take a different path down to enjoy a different pace of walk. 

Phillip Island

The last one I have to tick off my list, I'm excited to be finally visiting Phillip Island next week where I plan to overdose on nature, especially seeing wild penguins down by the shore. This is one that can be done in a day, either by an organised day trip or by just hiring a car with your mates and heading off independently. Home to some seriously beautiful beaches, there will be plenty to explore and it will be a perfect day escape from city life.

Lucy Ruthnum is an award-winning travel blogger who has been travelling full time for three years, exploring the world and seeking adventures. She fell in love with Melbourne a year ago and couldn't resist coming back to live here a second time. You can read about more of her adventures over on Absolutely Lucy or by following her travels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

All images courtesy of Lucy Ruthnum.  

Science Shorts: Fire, Climate, and Small Mammals

This month, we were fortunate enough to visit the beautiful Grampians National Park and chat with Deakin researcher, John White. John has worked on the ecology of the Grampians for around a decade, and his team's research has yielded surprising insights into the influence of climate on small mammal populations. 

Oddly similar to the boom and bust ecology found in arid ecosystems, the small mammals of our Grampians appear to be highly responsive to rainfall. During dry periods populations are low but they soon explode following high rainfall events. While this is interesting from a scientific perspective, it raises questions about the longevity of our small mammal populations in the Grampians. As our climate shifts and dry periods become more frequent and more enduring, the isolated populations 3-4 hours West of Melbourne may struggle to hang on. 

Adding to their struggle is the increasing risk of large, intense fires. Such disturbance events may outright kill our furry friends, or deprive them of the food or cover necessary for them to survive at high numbers. However, as John's PhD student Sussie is finding, there are some areas within the Grampians' vast expanses that tend to be less prone to burning and retain moisture during dryer periods. These wetter refuges offer our small mammals a heightened chance at survival  and may be the key to conserving these species in this ruggedly beautiful but precarious landscape. 


Wild Melbourne's Chris McCormack speaks with John White and his PhD student, Susannah Hale of Deakin University about their ecological research in the Grampians National Park. John's team are finding fascinating responses of small mammals to fire and climate in this amazing Victorian landscape.

Photos credit Robert Geary