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Wonthaggi means ‘home’ in the local indigenous language of the traditional Bunurong people – and you’ll certainly be made to feel welcome and right at home here! This lovely little seaside town sits peacefully along Bass Strait in the South Gippsland region, 132-kilometres from Melbourne. Enjoy long coastal strolls along wide golden beaches, as well as fun water activities such as snorkelling, surfing, rock fishing and swimming. Unwind and get in touch with nature in this perfectly positioned spot between the penguins of Phillip Island and the windswept shores of Wilsons Promontory National Park – two of Victoria’s much-loved getaways.
Once a former coal town, Wonthaggi has undergone a sea change of sorts. While the old mine has been transformed into a heritage attraction (with underground tours, interactive displays and a picnic area), a visit here will now give you a chance to catch up with fresh air and lots of relaxing activities. Before you wander too far, check out what’s happening right here in downtown Wonthaggi. Whether you’re here for a weekender or a longer stay, shop at the Plaza to find all the retail and services you need. Drop in at ArtSpace Wonthaggi and spend time with the region’s best arts and crafts. Then fuel up at The Coffee Collective and enjoy a good brew within the warm community ambience. Plan your escape to see epic sand dunes at the Big Drift, or have a pint at the tiny town of Fish Creek. Your hire car will take you on a scenery-laden adventure, and help you find some characterful places along the journey – many tucked away and offering gourmet treats.
The fertile soils around the South Gippsland region yield fresh regional produce and gourmet fodder for the pantry. Bring out the foodie in you and indulge at the twilight markets and eateries of Meeniyan, 30-minutes east on the highway from downtown Wonthaggi. From an artisanal baker to a top-notch woodfire pizzeria to deli supplies, there’s a culinary delight around every corner. Arrive in February if you’re particularly partial to garlic. Meeniyan celebrates this tasty little bulb with garlic flavoured ice-cream and beer, plus other fun pungent peculiarities.
Ten minutes in the other direction, Wonthaggi’s locals consider Kilcunda to be a neighbour well worth having. Stop for cake and coffee at the General Store to prepare yourself for an active afternoon ahead. You’ll love the vantage point from grassy cliff top trails as you head out along the George Bass Coastal Walk. This popular track scoots west towards San Remo and goes for seven-kilometres from Kilcunda. The vistas are spectacularly scenic and you’ll stop by beaches that can only be accessed on foot. This coastline is a birdwatcher’s haven, with sights of kestrels and kites not uncommon. Migrating humpback and southern right whales can also be spotted during the winter season in the choppy waters of Bass Strait.
The stunning coastline fanning out from Wonthaggi, from Hamers Haven travelling east to Inverloch, is part of the Bunurong Coastal and Marine Park. Explore hidden coves, underwater reefs and rocky platforms, home to an impressively rich and diverse habitat. From seals to sea stars, to seaweed and at least 87 species of fish. Perfect for scuba diving, so come prepared with your gear.
Along this protected stretch, Cape Paterson also lies on Wonthaggi’s doorstep. Choose from six beaches, many of which you can enjoy in seclusion (depending on the time of year). Or dive into the ocean rockpool, a popular feature here, built in the 1960s as a swimming hole.
Cruise the Bunurong Coastal Drive from the towns of Cape Paterson to Inverloch, a scenic trip of around 15-minutes. Within the first five, you’ll be at Eagles Nest which promises commanding views right over the Strait from the lookout. Other worthwhile stops include Twin Reefs and Shacks Bay. Inverloch’s sheltered inlet makes it a great spot for family dips as well as boating excursions. Wait till low tide to hunt for fossilised dinosaur bones in the offshore sandstone platforms at Flat Rocks, where thousands have been found before. How many holidays would offer that as an attraction! What’s more, this Dinosaur Dreaming site was home to Australia’s first-found fossil (from the mid-Cretaceous period), attracting both local and international visitors to Anderson Inlet.
Cyclists and horse riders will be excited to explore the track along the Bass Coast Rail Trail, all 23-kilometres of it. Start at Wonthaggi Railway Station and pedal or horse-power your way through to Woolamai Racecourse. The only coastal rail in the state (the Great Southern Railway) now makes for a memorable trip through bushland, farmland, and historic coal mining reserves on one side, and the pounding seas and rugged coastline of Bass Strait on the other. Link your ride with the George Bass Coastal Walk to cover terrain from downtown Wonthaggi right though to San Remo.
And the natural attractions don’t just stop at the shorelines. An hour‘s drive from Wonthaggi, you’ll discover some amazing waterfalls hidden in South Gippsland’s hinterland. The Agnes Falls, near Toora, are a spectacular 59-metre single-span drop (the highest in Victoria). Take the lookout track and appreciate the charms of an Australian bush picnic, surrounded by blue gums and colourful rosellas, while listening out for the laugh of kookaburras. Your break in Wonthaggi will certainly give you cause to smile!