For some, it’s just another sign on the drive to Geelong. But for the lucky folk who live in the quiet hamlet – and for those adventurous enough to hop off the freeway – the unassuming, reassuring turn-off sign to Little River represents everything the town stands for.
Whether you’re planning a larger road trip around western Victoria, a hike in the You Yangs or a trip to the Surf Coast, schedule in some extra time and spend some time in Little River. You might find you recognise it – parts of the area were used as locations for the original Mad Max film, Blue Heelers and as the fictional town of Dint in Chris Lilley TV shows We Can Be Heroes and Angry Boys. Of course, the town’s legacy in pop culture is enshrined in the name of one of Australia’s most successful groups, the Little River Band. As the story goes, the band were driving to Geelong for their first ever gig when the turn-off sign provided the inspiration.
Despite the rural feel, the numbers show the population of Little River (combined with its neighbour, Mambourin) has been growing. Between 2011 and 2016 the township has grown by more than 80%, with nearly half of these aged between 25-34 years old. With the Regional Rail Link connecting Little River with Southern Cross in 45 minutes, the growth is unsurprising. It also makes Little River the perfect daytrip, easily accessible by public transport should you enjoy a couple extra beers at the pub.
One of the more popular reasons for visiting Little River is the nearby Mount Rothwell Biodiversity Interpretation Centre. For fans of some of Australia’s cutest native animals – and their ongoing survival – this is the place for you. Entirely fenced off to outside predators like foxes and cats, populations of mammals like the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby, Eastern Barred Bandicoot and Eastern Quoll are now booming. Spend some time meeting the volunteers who make this oasis thrive, or check-in on their next evening tour where you might spot some of these critters yourself.
If you’re on the hunt for refreshments, look no further than the Little River Hotel. Purveyors of fine food (their menu is family-friendly, of course), live music and a good time, it’s a quintessential small-town pub within Greater Melbourne. Weekend lunches are very popular, so if you’re planning to stop in for a parma when you’re in Little River, it might be worth booking a table.
Another mainstay of Little River is the Little River General Store. Chances are Lisa and Peter Clarke will be there to greet you when you pull in, and they’ll tempt you with an old-school lolly counter that will have you searching for hidden five cent coins in your pockets and devising the perfect snake-to-pineapple ratio for the trip home. The store also stocks plenty of locally-made jams, sauces and chutneys, the perfect memento of that time you succumbed to temptation and took that freeway turn-off.