The Victorian town of Camperdown is another great detour off the Great Ocean Road. Not far from Port Fairy, Ian grew up and farmed in the area. He was keen to show me some of his favourite places as we made our way through Victoria. The crater lakes in the surrounding volcanic landscape are an overlooked gem when exploring the natural attractions along the Great Ocean Road.
Read also: Driving inland from Port Fairy to Melbourne
Victorian pastoral town
The historic pastoral town of Camperdown looks much like any other Victorian country town. The streetscape is lined with elm-trees and imposing 19th century buildings. The clock tower in the middle of the town and the agricultural machinery outlets are all quintessentially Australian country town.
The town has an extensive sheep and dairy farming history dating back to the time of the Victorian gold rush era. There is also a growing tourist industry, catering for visitors who want to explore the local archaeology, or simply enjoy the water sports the surrounding lakes offer.
Camperdown volcanoes and crater lakes
Besides its pastoral history, Camperdown is also located on the world’s third largest volcanic plain, surrounded by large freshwater lakes. It offers spectacular views, easy walking trails and a great opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
We drove to the top of Mt Leura, one of two scoria mounds. Here we had panoramic views across the surrounding dairy farms and the surrounding crater lakes which dot the rural landscape. The landscape looks like a giant patchwork quilt, the crumbling stone fences dividing the paddocks. The lush green irrigated pastures strongly contrast with the barren brown earth and the rock formations.
Scottish immigrant farmers erected drystone walls as a solution to the rabbit problem during the 19th century. The walls are an historic feature of this part of Victoria. Many of them are now heritage protected. You can still see remnants of these walls defining the landscape like a patchwork quilt from the lookout on Mt Leura.
Mount Leura and Mount Sugarloaf
Mt Leura and nearby Mt Sugarloaf are the two main volcanic cones. They provide a range of walking trails, picnic areas and interpretive displays. You can easily walk to the peaks of both scoria mounds, as well as to the depths of the main volcanic crater.
Take a 10 minute hike along the trails. A 45 minute walk takes you along the entire 1.7 kilometre panorama circuit. Free guide maps are available in the information hut on Mt Leura. We enjoyed an easy walk in the brisk winter air, taking in the breathtaking panoramic scenery.
The mounds were formed up to 40,000 years ago as the result of gaseous volcanic eruptions. The two mounts were important landmarks for the local Leehura people. They used them as navigation markers from the plains below as well as lookouts for monitoring the movements of both game and neighbouring tribes.
Conservation and revegetation
A number of story boards provide an interesting insight into the history of the area. Quarrying up until the 1970’s was threatening to destroy the Mount Sugarloaf scoria cone. This became the subject of a major conservation battle until the National Trust acquired the area in 1972. Local conservation groups, schools and community organisations have been working to bring the area back to pre-European conditions. The groups have undertaken extensive revegetation work.
Interpretative story board on Mt Leura walking trail
The “Pawesome Foursome” enjoyed a frolic along the many walking trails, taking in the spectacular scenery across the volcanic landscape along the way. We could tell by the excited tail wagging that there were many exciting smells to explore along the way from native wildlife (or other touring dogs) who had recently crossed the trail.
Dogs enjoying a frolic at Leura
Lake Bullen Merri, Campberdown
The largest crater lake, Lake Bullen Merri, is located just outside Camperdown. It is a popular destination for camping, fishing, swimming and water skiing. It was totally deserted on a blustery, cold Victorian day when we visited. However, it is easy to imagine how the area would become a haven for summer water sports on a hot January day.
Lake Bullen Merri, Campberdown Victoria
Camperdown is often bypassed as a destination on Great Ocean Road trips. However it is well worth a stop off to explore the walking trails and the natural history of the crater lakes.