Hygge in wild Victoria
The Danish philosophy for living, hygge, pronounced “hoo-gah”, hygge translates as “cosiness of the soul”. Here, we take a tour around Victoria.
It’s the perfect way to spend a chilly winter’s evening: snuggled up around the campfire, feeling cosy and warm, and deep in conversation with a few favourite friends. There’s something delicious in your mug, a soft glow from the fire, and a distinct feeling of contentment among your happy crowd: all of it classic hygge, the distinctly Danish philosophy for living.
Pronounced “hoo-gah”, hygge translates as “cosiness of the soul”, and it’s all about relaxing in one happy, shared, indulgent moment. To cultivate hygge, the Danish believe that you need to make time for activities and rituals that connect you with others, awaken and indulge your senses, and make you feel peaceful and content.
One of the best places to cultivate hygge is in nature, so this winter take a mini-escape deep into the rainforest to wander an easy trail or tackle a breezy biking adventure, or practise yoga together on a windswept beach. Afterwards, collect some wood, build a campfire and stir a pot of hot chocolate while marshmallows toast over glowing hot coals, or stage a cosy night in with good friends and full glasses.
One of the more delightful things about the concept of hygge is that it celebrates all things natural. First, you need to feel hygge, by wrapping yourself in soft, soothing, natural fabrics that make you feel good (think wool, hemp, silk and bamboo over synthetics). Your surroundings should be as earthy as possible too, so when you escape, choose to stay in a timber cabin, a rammed-earth shack or an historic stone cottage by the sea. Concrete, glass and steel might be funky, but hygge they are not.
Add a cosy wood fire, a deep, candlelit bathtub and a wild view of a forest, the sea or the mountains — and get set to deepen your connection with the natural world. Perhaps the very best part of cultivating hygge relates to eating, because to embrace hygge means to take regular mini-breaks from your healthy eating regime and treat yourself to the kind of sweetness that makes you smile: good chocolate, coffee, cake, cookies … you get the idea.
Recent studies have proven that, rather than wealth or good health or some other kind of sporting or work success, feeling a deep connection with others is the real key to happiness. Ultimately, it’s the quality of our relationships with others that makes us smile, so if you’re looking to experience some hygge this winter, gather your tribe, choose your mini-escape and get outdoors.
Port Fairy’s Winter Weekends
Famed for its lively annual folk festival and dreamy historical streetscapes, Port Fairy comes alive over the chilly months with its action-packed Winter Weekends. For four weekends in June and July the town is illuminated in ways you’d never expect, and you can fill your days with art shows, music, performances, coffee, food and wine workshops, and get hygge outdoors too.
Pack your stand up paddleboard (SUP) to paddle down the calm Moyne River towards the sea, and afterwards, stroll across the causeway to nearby Griffiths Island, brave the beginner waves that roll onto Port Fairy’s East Beach or fossick around the rock pools along Pea Soup Beach (little beach babes will love them). If you like to hike, you can wander along the Mahogany Ship Walk anywhere between Warrnambool and Port Fairy with your eyes peeled for the fabled 15th-century Portuguese ship that some believe lies buried in the dunes.
Port Fairy’s four fun-filled Winter Weekends run from June 5 to July 17, and most events are free of charge. To reward your taste buds, the Winter Weekends’ food, coffee and wine workshops provide a really good excuse to savour new tastes in the company of passionate foodies who know a thing or two about pleasure too.
Where: Port Fairy is located 285km from Melbourne. Stay: Find your right fit at holidayportfairy.com.au. Don’t miss: Port Fairy’s Winter Weekends. Contact: portfairyaustralia.com.au.
Sea cliffs and fur seals
With fur seals and Indigenous shell middens, bat caves and blowholes, the birthplace of Victoria is an unexpectedly top place to get hygge this winter. Check into the Cape Nelson Lighthouse with its expansive sea views and cosy cottages, then head outdoors to warm up on Portland’s windy clifftop walk, spotting Australian fur seals from the highest sea cliff in the entire state.
This hugely scenic ramble is a breeze to tackle, and the colony of fur seals that gathers at the base of Cape Bridgewater is one of the mainland’s largest (and most entertaining). Watch them lazing and feeding from the airy platform that overhangs the sea caves, and spot seabirds riding the thermals and looping down to snatch fish from the sea. It’s hard to find a prettier spot than this to escape your worries and let your mind and feet wander, and the trail is just easy enough that you can walk and chat all the way to trail’s end.
While the wintertime weather holds out, there’s more to explore in nearby Discovery Bay Coastal Park that wraps itself snugly around Portland. This stellar destination is a top spot to try your hand at trout fishing or paddle a kayak on calm, clear Lake Monibeong and Swan Lake to the west. Close to town at Cape Duquesne, turbulent seas explode against volcanic cliffs filling dramatic blowholes, and a short clifftop walk leads to Indigenous shell middens, spring-fed pools and a Petrified Forest of crumbling stone columns that stands sentry over the sea.
There are plenty of eateries, bars and beachy cafés around Portland to lure you back in from the cold, but before you do, squeeze in one last scenic drive to Cobboboonee National Park, 50km northwest of Portland. Towering gum trees cradle sleepy koalas in this pristine pocket of wild, and if you really want to excite the senses, gather your pals and arm yourself with torches to tackle a moonlit stroll here in search of spotted-tailed quolls, bandicoots, long-nosed potoroos and yellow-bellied gliders. You don’t have to hike far: Tim’s Loop Walk is a lovely, easy 1km wander and takes less than 30 minutes return.
Where: Portland is located 357km west of Melbourne. Stay: Try the Cape Nelson Lighthouse Cottages (from $200/night, capenelsonlighthouse.com.au) or historical Victoria House (from $135/night, vichouse.com.au). Don’t miss: Surf breaks at Yellow Rock and Whites Beach (if only for the chance to warm up again afterwards). Contact: visitportland.com.au; parkweb.vic.gov.au.
Ride the Snowy River
From the lofty slopes of Mount Kosciuszko where the Snowy River leaves the High Country, Australia’s most nostalgic river gathers force, carving a path through rugged, sometimes inaccessible wilderness. But it’s where the Snowy crosses the Victorian border that one of its best river trips begins: surging and winding through Alpine National Park from Willis Campground to McKillops Bridge and beyond.
Riding the river might not seem like a classic hygge way to spend a chilly winter’s weekend, but you’re feeding your soul here, not hiding out from the cold, and with good company and a toasty campfire to warm up around afterwards, this easy, beginner-level paddling adventure is just the thing to do it.
The 32km paddle south from Willis to McKillops is doable in a day, but most paddlers choose to break up the journey and make a weekend of it, spending a gorgeously solitary night camped riverside in one of the last remaining woodlands of white box and cypress pines east of the Great Dividing Range.
South of Willis, the Snowy River is wide and calm, with just enough grade two rapids to give you a brief buzz. So as long as you can dip a paddle, there’s little chance that you’ll end up wet. Instead, you can float, chat and relax into the soothing rhythm of the river, and gather at day’s end around a starry night campfire.
Where: Willis Campground is located on the Victorian–NSW border in Alpine National Park, 450km from Melbourne. Stay: Camping at Willis or McKillops Bridge campgrounds, or book a rafting or paddling trip with local outdoor adventure operators, Karoonda Park (karoondapark.com). Contact: parkweb.vic.gov.au.
Horseride the Otways
Great Otway National Park
On the high country that flanks Victoria’s famously crumbling coastline, the Otways’ ancient forests offer respite, peace and magnificent natural backdrops. Here you can hike to dramatic, tumbling cascades, meditate beneath a canopy of 300-year-old trees, ride your bike, rise at dawn to spot Lake Elizabeth’s platypus, and spend time eating your way along the Otway Harvest Trail.
Whether you’ve a love of horses or not, there’s something incredibly healing about spending a few hours in intimate contact with such a large animal. Horses don’t mind if you bend down for a cuddle mid-ride, and cantering along a windswept beach or trusting your horse to carry you carefully through the forest will leave you feeling utterly changed. Do it with your tribe to share the connection.
From Aireys Inlet, you can tackle an absolute beginners’ ride with Blazing Saddles Trail Rides along Fairhaven Beach and into Great Otway National Park too, and there’s an all-day ride on offer that ends with lunch at the Aireys Pub. If food is your thing, head to Birregurra to the irresistibly named Love Sets The Table to learn the rustic art of baking all things sweet and delicious.
Where: Great Otway National Park is located around 200km west of Melbourne. Stay: Top of the Otways at Barramunga offers farm stay cottages from $150/night (riparide.com or find them on Facebook). Alternatively, take your tents and campfire wood to Dandos Campground (free camping, 13km southeast of Gellibrand). Contact: visitotways.com, lovesetsthetable.com, blazingsaddlestrailrides.com.
Drive the Great Ocean Road
No mention of cosy weekend escapes could possibly exclude Victoria’s most famous coastline, because when the weather turns wild, the waves pounding against the Twelve Apostles’ crumbling limestone sea stacks creates an electrifying energy with the power to turn your mood around.
Winter sees far fewer crowds along this coast too, and at less-visited sites like London Bridge and The Arch, you can get out of the car and venture onto the rock itself to hike, scramble and get a little salt spray on your face.
Where: The Great Ocean Road stretches 244km from Allansford near Warrnambool to Torquay. Stay: The Lighthouse Lodge at Cape Otway Lightstation is self-contained and sleeps 11 people, so bring a crowd (from $350/night). All-inclusive stays at solar-powered, non-profit, Great Ocean Ecolodge start from $395/night (minimum two nights). Contact: visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.
Return to Mallacoota
Travel to the furthest point, that’s the one piece of travel advice I always stick to, and you can’t get much further in Victoria than the wild coastal town of Mallacoota. Putting last summer’s devastating bushfires behind them, this steadfast town remains a breathtaking destination, with 100 kilometres of coastline to explore, forest trails and inland waterways that are perfect for slow, soothing paddling trips and watching the birds.
You are much more inclined to get exploring over the cool winter months, and the big-picture view from the summit of Genoa Peak is worth the hour-long uphill climb to stand 490m above Mallacoota Lakes and Croajingolong National Park (3km/2hrs return). Begin your day on the easy Wingan Nature Walk (1.5hrs) to watch the wild world awaken.
Where: 450km east of Melbourne. Stay: Visit travelvictoria.com.au to find the right accommodation for your tribe.
6 ways to get Hygge
1 Spend time with good people
New friends or old, family, spouse or pal, it’s the quality of the company that counts, and the time spent talking (and listening) and sharing the stories that unite you all rather than create differences. Brew a pot of hot chocolate, pass around the cookies and kindle the conversation.
2 Be indulgent
To be genuinely hygge you have to put that good-for-you diet on hold for a bit and give yourself a little loving kindness of the culinary kind. Choose rich, creamy, sweet, buttery treats, and sit back and smile!
3 Share a simple meal
It doesn’t have to be fancy; any meal prepared without haste and served to a gathering of good friends or family (or just the two of you), can be utterly hygge. The key is to be really present, without the distractions of phones or the intrusion of television, and engage with everyone around the table. No stress and no rushing.
4 Turn down the lights
Switch off any harsh electric lights and replace with unscented soy candles that create a soft glow and a soothing atmosphere. Candles are easier on tired eyes and will get you ready for sleep too.
5 Get snuggly
Pack a handmade blanket or pashmina that you can wrap around yourself as you sit by the fire or snuggle up with a book. Knit yourself a beanie, scarf or a pair of toasty bed-socks — anything that utilises soft, natural, earth-friendly fabrics that soothe your skin.
6 Create a hyggekrog
A hyggekrog is the place where you love to snuggle, and it could be your bed or the couch, or some new, happy place overlooking a beautiful, natural scene. If it’s quiet, uncrowded and tranquil, any place that gives you the chance to take a deep breath can become your hyggekrog.
Captivated by wild places and passionate about their preservation, Catherine Lawson and David Bristow run wildtravelstory.com, a website devoted to inspiring adventurous travellers to tackle trips they never thought possible. Road-testing every adventure is the couple’s seven-year-old daughter Maya who is world schooled along the way.