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Australia's second-smallest state, Victoria is the most densely populated and industrialized, and has a wide variety of attractions packed into a small area. It may not be a state to tour comprehensively, but Australians, at least, lap up the legends of their history that are thick on the ground: you're never too far from civilization, but everywhere there's a wild past of gold prospectors and bushrangers . All routes in the state radiate from Melbourne , bang in the middle of the coastline on the huge Port Phillip Bay, and no point is much more than seven hours' drive away. Yet all most visitors see of Victoria apart from its cultured capital is the Great Ocean Road , a winding 280km of spectacular coastal scenery. Others may venture to the idyllic Wilsons Promontory National Park (the "Prom"), a couple of hours away on the coast of the mainly dairy region of Gippsland , or to the Goldfields , where the nineteenth-century goldrushes left their mark in the grandiose architecture of old mining towns such as Ballarat and Bendigo .

There is, however, a great deal more to the state. Marking the end of the Great Dividing Range, the massive sandstone ranges of the Grampians , with their Aboriginal rock paintings and dazzling array of springtime flora, rise from the monotonous wheatfields of the Wimmera region and the wool country of the western district. To the north of the Grampians is the wide, flat region of the Mallee - scrub, sand dunes and dry lakes heading to the Murray River , where Mildura is an irrigated oasis supporting orchards and vineyards. In complete contrast, the Victorian Alps in the northeast of the state have several winter ski slopes , high country that provides perfect bushwalking and horse-riding territory in summer. In the foothills and plains below, where bushranger Ned Kelly once roamed, are some of Victoria's finest wineries (wine buffs should pick up a copy of the excellent hundred-page brochure, Wine Regions of Victoria , available from the tourist information centre in Melbourne and other towns). Beach culture is alive and well on this coastline with some of the best surfing in Australia.


The only real drawback is the frequently cursed climate . Winter is mild, and the occasional heatwaves in summer are mercifully limited to a few days at most, but the problem is that of unpredictability. Cool, rainy "English" weather can descend in any season, and spring and autumn days can be immoderately hot. But even this can be turned to advantage: as the local saying goes, if you don't like the weather, just wait ten minutes and it'll change.

Public transport, by road and rail, is with V/Line and subsidiary country bus lines. After the restructuring of recent years, however, using one's own vehicle is definitely a more convenient transport option, as train and bus services are fairly infrequent and quite a few places of interest can be reached only with difficulty, if at all.

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