The fast-developing town of Drouin is on the Princes Highway, 90 kilometres east of Melbourne.
Like its close neighbour Warragul, Drouin is on a plain between the peaks of the Strzelecki Ranges in the south and the first spurs of the Great Dividing Range in the north.
There are rainforest covered valleys, waterfalls and scenic peaks within a brief drive, as well as a much-loved trail linking Drouin with Warragul.
Every summer the ficifolia gum trees scattered around the town erupt with bright red blooms and there’s a seven-day festival to mark the occasion.
1. Civic Park
A few steps from Drouin’s shops, eateries and community services, the Civic Park is an agreeable place to pass an hour or two on a sunny day.
As well as being beautifully landscaped, with rambling lawns, shrubs, pergolas, shady trees and a pond, this space is loaded with facilities like picnic and barbecue areas, a rotunda, sound shell, a newly updated playground and a skate park.
For a bit of indulgence, the town’s McDonalds is tucked into the south-west corner, while Drouin’s indoor and outdoor pools are on the west side.
Civic Park is also a trailhead for the Two Towns Trail to Warragul, which we’ll talk about next.
2. Two Towns Trail
From Civic Park you can walk or ride to Drouin, eight kilometres to the east on this superb paved trail.
This route is vital for commuters, but casual walkers and riders will be wowed by the natural scenery, and can take the time to peruse the interpretive signs along the way.
At various points you gaze north or south across the plain to Mount Baw Baw, Mount Worth and the Strzelecki Ranges, and just outside Drouin the path crosses a wetland area.
The Two Towns Trail is almost entirely traffic-free, occasionally using quiet local roads, and has plenty of places where you can take a break and soak up the scenery.
3. Bunyip State Park
North of Drouin rise the southernmost slopes of the Great Dividing Range, a portion of which are protected by the 166-square-kilometre Bunyip State Park.
Although this space was used for logging up to 1990 and has regularly suffered bushfires, it’s an exceptional natural resource, with stands of mountain ash and mealy stringybark interspersed by swampy heathland.
You can discover these landscapes on hiking trails, mountain biking or by 4WD.
One worthwhile hike is the Lawsons Falls Circuit Walk, to the park’s only waterfall.
Bunyip State Park is one the only places in Victoria where you can spot the state’s avian (helmeted honeyeater), fauna (Leadbeater’s possum) and flora emblem (common heath) in the same place.
4. Robin Hood Reserve
You hardly have to leave Drouin to get to this key Aboriginal site that for generations was a gathering place for the Kurnai Brayakoloong clan.
Along several hundred metres there’s a loop trail enhanced with five interpretive signs relaying engrossing facts about Kurnai Brayakoloong culture and history, decorated with works of Aboriginal art.
After your walk you can take a break on the banks of the Tarago River, where there are barbecues and picnic tables.
5. Gumbuya World
One of the Melbourne Area’s most popular days out is a few minutes on the Princes Highway from Drouin.
Gumbuya World packs in roller coasters, animal attractions and fairground amusements with a water park.
The latter, dubbed Oasis Springs, is where Gumbuya World’s biggest thrills happen.
There’s a surf simulator, the reverse Boomerango water slide and the 180-metre dark slide, Taipan.
Gentler fun can be had on the 300-metre Lazy River.
Gumbuya World’s animal enclosures are set along the Wildlife Trail, featuring a walkthrough aviary, koala and dingo exhibits, a wallaby trail, “Critter Cave” with insects and baby crocs and a petting zoo.
6. Toorongo Falls
If there’s one day trip that needs to be made from Drouin it’s this magnificent tiered waterfall that slips down a wooded mountainside among towering gum trees and lush ferns.
Wet forest species like blackwood, mountain ash and mountain grey gum abound here, supporting wildlife like sugar gliders and various kinds of possum, best seen at dawn or dusk.
To get to the falls there’s a 2.2-kilometre loop, climbing steadily through the forest up to an observation platform.
After staring awestruck and taking as many photos as you can, you can continue on the route and in another 600 metres you’ll be confronted by Amphitheatre Falls, slightly smaller, but still marvellous.
7. Noojee Trestle Bridge
A detour that you have to make on your way to Toorongo Falls is this 100-metre long wooden trestle bridge, spanning a valley to a height of 21 metres.
The structure, the tallest of its kind in Victoria, is a remnant of a railway that ran from Noojee down to Warragul, first constructed in 1919 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1939. You can come to marvel at the bridge via the Noojee Trestle Bridge Rail Trail, which traces the old line for three kilometres through peaceful rainforest.
8. Farm World
The countryside around Drouin has a reputation for farming, which makes Lardner Park outside town the logical venue for one of Victoria’s major agricultural conventions.
There are 800+ exhibitors at Farm World each year, and while those in agribusiness can make contacts, check out new equipment and watch demonstrations, there’s plenty at Farm World to keep families and casual visitors entertained.
Across four days at the end of March you can catch equestrian competitions and sheep herding, and discover all the livestock breeds that are farmed in Victoria.
Children can take camel rides and meet cuddly farmyard animals like goat kids, lambs, piglets and chicks.
9. Mount Cannibal
If you need a bit of quiet contemplation on your way to or from Gumbuya World there’s an unexpected beauty spot just off the Princes Highway.
At Mount Cannibal you can get on a 2.3-kilometre loop, which will give you ample opportunity to survey the classic rolling Gippsland countryside.
Near the summit is a lookout atop a massive granite spur, granting unbroken 180° views.
Mount Cannibal is set within a reserve complete with toilets, a picnic area, barbecues and a children’s playground.
10. Peppermint Ridge Farm
Underlining the Drouin area’s specialty produce cachet, the wonderfully landscaped Peppermint Ridge Farm is on eight hectares next to Bunyip State Park and offers a range of experienced for anyone interested in where native Australian food and spices come from.
You can take a multisensory tour of the Australian Native Food Garden, order a bushfood platter or take afternoon tea featuring anise myrtle tea, lemon myrtle muffins and strawberry gum jam.
The nursery is also a must-visit, selling all of the plants in the farm’s garden, from mountain pepper to lemon myrtle, while you can up for a bush food class at the Native Creative Cooking School.
11. Mount Worth State Park
For hilly scenery you could turn south to the Strzelecki Ranges where within about half an hour of Drouin sits Mount Worth.
The slopes here are under a mantle of wet mountain rainforest growing blackwood, mountain ash and mountain grey gum.
The mountain ash in particular can live for centuries and grow to exceptional heights, as you’ll see on the Giant’s Walk taking you past a tree thought to be 300 years old and with a girth of 14 metres.
On McDonald’s Track meanwhile you can cast your gaze across the Latrobe River Valley as far as the first slopes of the Great Dividing Range.
Living in this environment are some famous Australian animals, like wombats, platypuses and possums.
12. Laurie Collins Sculpture Garden
The esteemed regional artist Laurie Collins has set up his studio on a rural property about ten minutes out of Drouin.
Collins is a sculptor, working mainly with recycled metal and metallic junk that he turns into idiosyncratic creations.
If you get in touch in advance, he will give you a guided tour of his newly developed sculpture garden, after which you can take a look at his shed/studio where you can learn about his creative process.
13. Path of Achievement Discovery Trail
For a town of relatively modest proportions, Drouin has produced some sporting giants, particularly in the world of Aussie Rules Football.
Among these are Gary Ablett Sr. and Dale Thomas, while Lionel Rose, the first indigenous Australian to win a boxing world title, was also born in Drouin.
Another of the walking trails beginning in Drouin’s Civic Park pays tribute to the town’s sporting achievements, winding up the slope to the Drouin Recreation Reserve, and then cutting north to Victoria Street.
The start of the walk is hard to miss, heralded by a spectacular mosaic serpent’s head created by the indigenous Koori community.
14. Ficifolia Festival
Every February the small ficifolia gum trees dotted around Drouin burst into flower with fiery but delicate red blooms.
To mark this event there’s a week-long festival, culminating with all kinds of fun on the third Saturday of the month.
On this day there’s a parade with floats and costumes designed according to a specific theme.
The parade ends up at Civic Park where there will be live music, food trucks, a market (more below), a movie screening in the evening and fireworks.
15. Drouin Craft and Produce Market
This market is organise Drouin’s rotary club and takes place in Civic Park on the third Saturday of the month.
Typically you can shop here for fresh produce, handmade arts and crafts, flowers and potted plants, clothing toys and a great deal more.
You can pick up a cup of coffee to wake you up in the morning, and as lunch time approached there will be cold refreshments and a barbecue.
In February there’s an extra special market to coincide with Drouin’s Ficofilia Festival.