Hit the back roads and discover the surprises throughout Western Victoria.
Words & images Glenn Marshall

We had only a week up our sleeves our options were limited as we didn’t want to follow the crowds to the beach or the high country. Instead we hooked up the Jayco, packed the Territory and headed west. First stop Hopetoun, final stop Casterton; and a plethora of things to see in between.

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HOPETOUN
Hopetoun is a beautiful RV-friendly town right on the doorstep of Lake Lascelles and Lake Corrong. It’s also a stone’s throw from the remote Big Desert and Wyperfeld National Parks and Lake Hindmarsh.

There are two options for camping: Hopetoun Caravan Park or the Mallee Bush Retreat on the shores of Lake Lascelles. You can check out both the Hopetoun Caravan Park and the Mallee Bush Retreat on Lake Lascelles. It just depends on what you prefer; the free camping on the lake or the services that come with the caravan park.

The caravan park was the better option for us: A place to relax as well as having powered sites and a clean ablutions block. There’s also a dump point right next door. Or for something different try sleeping in a silo, cowshed, machinery shed or grain store at the Mallee Bush Retreat. All our supplies were covered with a butcher-cum-coffee shop, chemist, newsagent, hardware store, supermarket, bakery and a couple of specialty shops. You will be supporting the community by shopping local.

A walk around town led us to Corrong Homestead. This old homestead was built by the first settler to the Mallee (Peter McGinnis) in 1854 and has now been fully restored to its original state. A gold coin donation afforded us entry and took us back in time to the pioneering days of the Mallee region. There’s also a large collection of old machinery and works buildings that kept us busy as we wandered through the garden.

The Mallee Sunsets Gallery Cafe is only 14 kilometres south along the Henty Highway and was once the hamlet of Rosebery. Inside the former church, we enjoyed viewing award-winning photography, framed cross-stitches, jewellery and custom framing. Here you can purchase a light lunch, or even a Devonshire tea. There is also a short town drive that shows what Rosebery once was.

We headed back towards Hopetoun, detouring to the shores of Lake Corrong. When holding water, it’s a haven for a variety of birds and popular with fishing enthusiasts. Enjoy the serenity for a while with the wind rustling the leaves and the occasional screech from the resident cockatoos.

Where Lake Corrong is serene, Lake Lascelles is action aplenty. Take the drive around the lake and watch the water-skiers, knee boarders and tube riders as they sweep around the lake behind high-powered speed boats. Part of the Mallee Bush Retreat, the setup is impressive with a couple of ablutions blocks and shelters with tables and barbecues spaced around the southern and eastern sides of the lake.

There’s a good variety of free campsites available and access is suitable for all vehicles. Most of the sites would only suit one RV or motorhome, but there are a couple that would certainly suit a travelling convoy of three or four RVs.

DESERTS, LAKES AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
We drove out to Lake Albacutya, turning at the main entrance to the lake 11 kilometres south of Yapeet. The drive to Western Beach is eight kilometres. Western Beach has toilets, free campsites and an old concrete boat ramp. Lake Albacutya is a eutrophic lake and hasn’t been full since 1975… only filling when the Wimmera River floods and Lake Hindmarsh overflows. Now it is used mainly by bushwalkers, four-wheel drivers and motorbike riders.

The campsites are small and based in the tree line so they don’t really suit RVs (instead, more tent-based camping due to the lack of manoeuvrability). Heading for Casterton, we continued south to the township of Jeparit on the banks of the Wimmera River. There’s a small caravan park in town that would suit an overnight stop. Nearby is Lake Hindmarsh where you can camp on the shores at Four Mile Beach.

There are a few powered sites but most are non-powered. A clean ablutions block and a canteen are open during busy periods. Lake Hindmarsh is Victoria’s largest freshwater lake and is teeming with wildlife. Fringed by ancient redgums and fed by the Wimmera River it is shared by pelicans, parrots and sea eagles. Lake Hindmarsh is a popular spot for sailing, water-skiing, fishing and swimming.

Next stop is Nhill – a perfect place to fuel up and enjoy lunch before continuing to Edenhope on the Wimmera Highway. This route dissects the central section of the Little Desert National Park, with the road bounded by red sand, banksias, tea trees and cypress pines. Travelling further south, the landscape changes. Wheat fields and sheep runs dominate the scenery, eventually giving way to red-gum-lined roadways with black angus and hereford cattle the mainstay of  the paddock dwellers.

CASTERTON
We passed through Edenhope, home of the first all-Aboriginal cricket team to tour England. A final 78 kilometres got us to Casterton where the Island Park Caravan Park awaited, nestled between the Glenelg River, the football oval and the community swimming pool. With mostly powered sites and a very clean ablutions block, this is a small caravan park. The gutters onto the green grassed sites are quite deep in places – so take care.

Major Thomas Mitchell was the first white man to explore the Casterton region back in 1836. He was impressed with the captivating beauty and prized grazing lands of the region, naming the district Australia Felix meaning Fortunate Land. On Mitchell’s return to Portland with the good news, the Henty brothers moved into the region in 1837 – taking up large pastoral runs along the rivers. Many other settlers followed and by 1852 Casterton township was gazetted. Casterton is nationally recognised as the birthplace of the kelpie. Each June long weekend, the town is taken over by kelpies and their owners during the Kelpie Muster.

The original kelpie was born in 1871 product of the intermixing of the progeny of three pairs of working collies imported into Australia bred at Warrock Homestead (25km north of Casterton) by George Robinson. You can visit Warrock and join an insightful tour around the homestead and the property. The heritage-listed property is worth a visit, with over 40 buildings built before 1860 by George Robinson. You can try your hand at milking a cow, watch sheep-shearing or enjoy a country roast in the restaurant.

The Casterton Kelpie Walking Trail links you to five unique sculptures that reveal the life and times of the kelpie breed with interpretive panels at each statue. Ess Lagoon is part of the Kelpie Trail and we loved the peaceful setting under the river red gums with the breeze blowing through the water reeds. The lagoon has been stocked with trout so you can throw in a line and try and hook yourself a fine specimen.

The town walk highlights the heritage buildings and led us to the Railway Reserve that houses the museum. The extended walk took us along the banks of the Glenelg River. We topped off our day with a drive up to Mickle Lookout that offers magnificent views down the main street of Casterton and over the rolling hills that surround the town.

PENOLA
Just across the border is one of South Australia’s oldest townships: Penola. The easy 60-kilometre drive via the Glenelg Highway takes less than an hour. First stop for us was the Penola Visitors Information Centre where the extremely helpful staff loaded us up with all the information we needed to find our way around Penola. There is also a gallery and a small museum housed in the same building and both are well worth a look.

Petticoat Lane is the place to go if you enjoy looking at historical houses. Four features here are Gammon Cottage, Wilson Cottage, Sharam Cottages and Davidson Cottage. Sharam Cottages are highly interactive – with access to both buildings allowed and storyboards throughout both cottages and out into the garden.

You can also pick your own herbs at the rear of the cottages, so now we’ve given you a heads up make sure you have your recipe for dinner on hand to gather the right ones. Another option is to head a little further north and reward your taste-buds with some awesome wines of the Coonawarra region.

Next time you have some free time on your hands, and are scratching your head on where to go in Victoria, why not head west and discover regions with deserts, lakes and historic sites? You could choose to explore them all in one go, or make more than one visit. You will not be disappointed … and the people will love to see you.

DESTINATION DETAILS
REGION: Western Victoria
GETTING THERE: Hopetoun is in Victoria’s Southern Mallee on the Henty Highway. The town itself is 385 kilometres from Melbourne via the Calder Highway to Wycheproof, then follow the signs on through Birchip before turning north onto the Henty Highway. Hopetoun is 194 kilometres south of Mildura via the Calder, Sunraysia and Henty highways. Casterton is part of the Glenelg Shire in the south-west region of Victoria. It is located 352 kilometres west of Melbourne and 63 kilometres west of Hamilton via the Glenelg Highway; and 45 minutes to Mount Gambier just over the South Australian border.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: Between autumn and spring as the daily temperatures are lower and more bearable than what’s experienced during summer.
ACCOMMODATION:
Hopetoun Caravan Park
Powered and non-powered sites; pet-friendly.
Austin Street, Hopetoun, Victoria
P: 0417 237 587

Mallee Bush Retreat
Low-cost powered sites, and free camping on the shores of Lake Lascelles; pet-friendly.
P: 0439 529 973

Casterton Island Park Caravan Park
Powered and non-powered sites; pet-friendly.
Malcolm Carmichael Drive in Island Park Recreation Reserve
P: 0457 414 187

MAPS and/or GPS Route details
35° 43’ 10” S 142° 21’ 27” E – Hopetoun
35° 46’ 09” S 141° 56’ 52” E – Lake Albacutya
36° 07’ 56” S 141° 55’ 40” E – Lake Hindmarsh
37° 34’ 54” S 141° 24’ 10” E – Casterton

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