by Marc Llewellyn

Australia's southernmost mainland state is astoundingly diverse. Within its boundaries are 35 national parks, encompassing every possible terrain, from rainforest and mountain ranges to sun-baked Outback desert and a coast where waves crash dramatically onto rugged sandstone outcroppings.

Melbourne (see chapter 11) may be this rugged state's heart, but the mighty Murray River, which separates Victoria from New South Wales, is its lifeblood, providing irrigation for vast tracks of semi-desert land.

Most visitors to Victoria start out by exploring Melbourne's cosmopolitan streets, and then visit a few local wineries, before heading for the gold fields around the historic city of Ballarat. Lots of them only experience a fraction of Victoria, but this wonderful and not overly touristed region is worth a closer look.

Visitors with more time might head inland to the mountains (perhaps for skiing or bushwalking at Mt. Hotham or Falls Creek), or seek out the wilderness of Snowy River National Park. Others head to the Outback, to the Grampians National Park, and Mildura through open deserts, past pink lakes and red sand dunes.

Lots of options await, and because much of it is out in the country, you'll find prices for accommodations very affordable. Whatever itinerary you choose, you're sure to find adventure and dramatic scenery.

See "Side Trips from Melbourne" in chapter 11, for information on the Dandenong Ranges, Yarra Valley, Phillip Island, and the Mornington Peninsula.

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