Most visitors to Victoria start out exploring Melbourne's cosmopolitan streets before taking a few day trips to the wineries or the gold fields around the historic city of Ballarat. But that's only a fraction of what Victoria has to offer -- this wonderfully diverse area is worth a closer look.

The Murray River, which separates Victoria from New South Wales, has been the lifeblood of the region, providing irrigation for vast tracts of semi-desert land. In recent years, the state of the once-mighty Murray has been a focus of environmental concerns; you're likely to still hear talk of this when you visit.

While devastating bushfires ravaged parts of Victoria in 2009 -- on a day now known as Black Saturday -- most of Victoria's major tourist destinations escaped the worst of the disaster. Parts of the High Country and Gippsland may still be recovering when you visit, and this will give you a first-hand look at the wonder of the Australian bush regenerating. And the bush here is vast: Australia's southernmost mainland state has 35 national parks, encompassing every possible terrain, from rainforest and mountain ranges to sun-baked Outback desert and a coast where waves crash dramatically onto rugged sandstone outcroppings.