With the concrete jungle behind us, we cue our favourite road anthem, wind down the windows and begin our freedom quest to explore this charming rural locale enveloped in an extraordinary and dramatic landscape.
Located just over 2.5 hours from Melbourne, inland from the Great Ocean Road, the quiet-achieving Volcanic Lakes and Plains region boasts more than 400 volcanoes, including Victoria’s largest. Meandering through the endless carpet of rolling farmland punctuated with deep crater lakes and conical peaks, we draw fresh air deep into our lungs and revel in connecting to a new and timeless land. We are curious to unearth its deepest secrets and fill our two days with nature seeking, treasure hunting and time travelling. Let the quest begin.
Download a copy of the Mortlake Heritage Trail and prepare to step back into the past. Uncover secrets along with 19th and 20th-century trivia while eyeballing more than 20 heritage-listed buildings. At the former Temperance Hall, step back to the 1850s when Mortlake was growing apace to serve the needs of hungry gold-diggers and a flourishing pastoral community. Don’t miss the close-knit cluster of bluestone beauties in the Shaw Street Bluestone Precinct.
Amble along the main street and peek into period shopfronts. Fossick for quirky local treasures at Jack Mace & Daughter Second Hand Store. Bet you find a nostalgic keepsake or two among the eclectic antiques and knick-knacks.
Hot Tip: Eager to learn more about Mortlake’s rich past? The Mortlake Historical Society (Shaw Street) is open by appointment.
It’s a rite of passage in these parts — Mortlake’s iconic Clarke’s Pies, a classic bakery that won’t disappoint. Drool over a delectable display of freshly prepared pastries, rolls and desserts that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
Time to discover the Volcanic Lakes and Plains!
Try your luck fishing in Tea Tree Lake, frequently stocked with ready-to-catch trout. You can pick up a rod at the local hardware store. Cast a line and there’s a good chance you’ll have rainbow trout and yabbies nipping at your bait. The Tea Tree Lake Reserve is a nostalgic relaxation spot complete with a historic rotunda, summerhouse, idyllic parkland, scenery, and wildlife.
Hot Tip: There are over 100 bird species nested amongst Tea Tree Lake. How many can you spot?
Just a 15-minute drive southwest from Mortlake, Mount Noorat is ideal for a lofty viewing of the region’s incredible volcanic landscapes. The Alan Marshall Trail begins not far from the town of Noorat. Take the 500m trail to the crater view lookout or push on another 500m along a steep and more technical path to the summit (elevation 310m). Enjoy the spectacular and deep main crater plus multiple eruption points and lava flows to decipher amidst the complex environment. Soak up panoramic views across the countryside and spot volcanoes on the distant horizon.
Hot Tip: Allow an hour’s return walk time for Mount Noorat’s peak, adding in plenty of extra viewing time. Trust us, you’ll want to linger longer to truly appreciate the view.
Stay and eat:
Settle in for your stay at the fabulous character-filled Mac’s Hotel in the heart of town. Expect a big country welcome and traditional comfort. Built between 1858 and 1910, the historic building has been renovated in period style so you get to enjoy the beauty of yesteryear with modern-day creature comforts. And once you’ve tried the fabulous fare at the on-site bistro, you’re sure to become a rusted-on regular.
Get together for a family fun game of lawn bowls, at the Mortlake Bowls Club. Travelling solo or a couple? Never fear: come along and join a group. Rolling along since 1922, the club holds many tournaments throughout the warmer months. Lace on your sneakers and get on the rink! Join in the fun and let the locals show you how it’s done.
Pack a picnic ready-made by Mortlake’s Deli Fresh Cafe. The team at Deli Fresh will take your order and create a fabulous picnic feast of fresh, fun fare for you to relax and enjoy wherever you spot the perfect lunch-spot out on your travels. All dietary requirements were cheerfully catered for. Order ahead and pick-up in Mortlake before you head off in the morning.
Hot Tip: Deep Lake Recreation Reserve is just 4.5km from the beautiful township of Derrinallum and with spectacular views, it makes for the perfect picnic spot!
Head northeast towards Mount Elephant, Victoria’s largest volcano. At 360m elevation, it dominates the skyline for 60km in all directions, and, yes (of course) it’s shaped like an elephant.
But it’s not all you’ve come to see. You can’t miss the beautifully crafted dry stone walls that are the hallmark of this region. Some 3,000km of the most dramatic and accomplished dry stone walls in Australia criss-cross Western Victoria. Built around the 1850s, they are historically and culturally significant. The stones themselves originate from past volcanic eruptions and were a ready-made fencing resource for early farming families. Take the time to stop and admire the craftsmanship that went into building these enduring boundary-keepers. Wondering about that tottering row of rocks on top? That’s a design feature to deter sheep jumping the wall.
As you ogle Mount Elephant, think of this: it last erupted (maybe) 180,000 years ago and is aged between 30,000 — several million years old.
A short steep climb gets you views from 240m high. Can you spot Mortlake’s very own Mount Shadwell?
The moderate rated 3.4km loop hike to the summit is only open Sundays from 1-4pm. It’s worth planning your visit so you can bask in the stunning views of endless plains and lakes. They say that from Mount Elephant’s summit, you can see forever!
Hot Tip: The Mount Elephant hike is best tackled with hiking poles. You can pick some up at the visitor centre.
Buckle back in and venture further east to check out the artworks on the famous Silo Art Trail. The Water Tower mural in Lismore was painted by Jimmi Buscombe in February 2020 and portrays a mating dance between a male and female Brolga, native birds to the area. A fun fact is that the artist originally painted two Brolga eggs in the mural and then returned thirty-two days later to ‘hatch’ the eggs.
The tower’s easy to find, right opposite the Fairway Coffee and Eatery, which is another option for hearty lunch or snacks. They serve delicious breakfasts and lunches 7-days, then dinners from Thursday to Sunday.
You’re deep in crater lake country here. Picturesque, sand-bottomed Lake Tooliorook, located 5km from Lismore is worth a visit for superb views across to Mount Elephant.
Hot Tip: At the risk of giving away a local secret, Lake Tooliorook also offers good boating amenities and fishes well for Brown and Rainbow Trout, Redfin and short-finned eel.
It’s time to go. High-five each other for a fantastical freedom quest fulfilled. Cue that road anthem and hit the road for a leisurely drive homeward with your hearts memory-filled and your souls refreshed and rejuvenated.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.