Victoria is a large and diverse state with geography the ranges from the towering craggy peaks of the Australian Alps, to the rolling, vineyard covered hills of the Yarra Valley, and the sandy shores and spectacular formations along the Great Ocean Road. Many of these amazing areas are just a short drive (1 or 2 hours) out of Melbourne, and can make for a great day trip or weekend away.
Tourism Victoria likens the state to a jigsaw, rightly claiming that “You’ll love every piece of Victoria.” Each area has its own charms, and although some drives are quite long when compared to European weekend breaks, they are usually worth it. Hop in a car with friends or family, head in any direction away from Melbourne, and you’ll quickly find yourselves amongst old-world charm and spectacular natural scenery.
For information on all areas of Victoria that are nice for short vacations, see the Tourism Victoria website at http://www.visitvictoria.com/
Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges
Daylesford is a sleepy country town, delightful in itself with plenty of antique and craft shops, festivals and cafes. The real attraction is that it is surrounded by relaxation spas that utilise the mineral waters of Hepburn Springs to rejuvenate and relax you in completely indulgent luxury. Daylesford can also be fun for kids. There are farm-stays that welcome children and occasionally pets, too. Giving kids the chance to visit a real farm (well, hobby farms anyway) and try their hand at milking cows or feeding kangaroos, which is a great way to spend a weekend.
Daylesford is approximately 90 minutes drive North-East of Melbourne on the Western Freeway or the Calder Freeway.
For more information on events, festivals, and the town itself, see http://www.visitdaylesford.com.au
The Great Ocean Road
This region is one of Australia’s greatest and most picturesque coastal drives. There are miles of cliff-edged, beautiful beaches, delightful little towns and a range of recreational activities from helicopter rides, to fishing and surfing.
The Great Ocean Road begins at Geelong, a city 80km South West of Melbourne. From Geelong follow the signs to Lorne and Apollo Bay. These areas offer a lovely seaside town escape, within a short distance from some of Australia’s best temperate rainforests. From Lorne, the nearby Otway Ranges offer beautiful coastal bush-walking with a high likelihood of encountering some uniquely Australian wildlife.
Continue along the Great Ocean road to Port Campbell. The wild coastline around this area is home to a scenic wonder that people from all over the world travel to see. The striking rock stacks that rise out of the Southern Ocean, the Twelve Apostles, have long been considered some of the most picturesque natural formations in the world.
Many small towns along the Great Ocean Road have caravan parks (campgrounds) that allow you to rent a cabin and use communal facilities. If you are more adventurous, you can bring your own tent and stay in some amazing locations that completely immerse you in nature.
Camping Guide, Great Ocean Road
If you like the idea of something more intimate and upmarket, you can rent a private apartment (fully equipped, usually with a jacuzzis and balconies overlooking the wild ocean). These are great in winter, too, when the coast winds make it necessary to light the open fires and shelter inside with a glass of Victorian wine.
For more information on vacation rentals on the Great Ocean Road, see http://www.greatoceanroad.com.au/
The Yarra Valley
Explore the vineyards and award-winning wineries of the Yarra Valley, just an hour’s drive East of Melbourne. To get to the Yarra Valley, follow the Maroondah Highway East to Coldstream (about an hour) for the very best vineyards Victoria has to offer.
Most wineries invite you to taste their produce at their “cellar door”, which might be anything from a multimillion dollar grand architectural triumph, to a very simple tin shed in the vineyard. The area is a rich, fertile, beautiful, cool-climate region that many Melbournians travel to for the weekend. A few days away on a wine tasting getaway can be a delightful distraction in all seasons.
Try a hot-air balloon ride at dawn over the spectacular hills and valleys, or head to Healesville Sanctuary for an up-close look at some of Australia’s favourite animals. You can even cuddle a Koala or wrap a python around your neck if you are really keen!
Hot Air Balloons
The Historic Goldfields
Victoria became a very rich state more than 150 years ago when gold was discovered North West of Melbourne. You can visit this famous region of Australia, and the remnants of its rich past in the architectural street-scapes of Bendigo and Ballarat. These towns feature impressive public buildings, grand hotels, shop fronts and miners’ cottages well worth a visit for those who enjoy history.
Learn about gold history and entertain the children with a trip to Sovereign Hill, an outdoor museum on an old mining site that re-creates life in the gold era of the 1850s and 1860s. All staff appear in period costumed character, and will interact with visitors, demonstrate their trade, or even help you learn to pan for gold. If you aren’t too tired after a day of exploration, stay for the show at night. “Blood on the Southern Cross” is an open-air reenactment of the Eureka Stockade goldfield battle between irate miners and British soldiers. It is conducted on an acre of land and the audience is right in the middle of the action. A treat, but probably not suitable for those under 5 as it can be a very realistic at times.
The region also boasts two of Australia’s finest regional art galleries.
Fine Art Gallery of Ballarat
Bendigo Art Gallery
A 90-minute drive South from Melbourne will lead you to one of the greatest attractions Victoria has to offer. Phillip Island boasts unmolested natural scenery and an abundance of Australian wildlife such as penguins, seals, and koalas.
The biggest draw-card of Phillip Island is the nightly Penguin Parade. A unique species of penguins (the Phillip Island Little Penguins) surf in on the tide, fresh from a day of fishing, and waddle up the beach in the thousands to their burrows. Benches and seating along the beach allow spectators to quietly witness this truly amazing natural movement. This activity is great for kids, and can be a romantic shared experience for couples. These little guys are too cute to miss.
Phillip Island Penguin Parade
Do take some sunscreen for the afternoon and warm clothes for the evening, as the temperature drops sharply after dark (the penguins don’t arrive until twilight). To get to Phillip Island, take the South East Freeway from Melbourne and follow the signs to Phillip Island all the way there.
40 minutes north of Melbourne is a strange and enchanting landscape feature that has inspired mystery and infamy in Australian popular folklore. Hanging rock is a distinctive geological formation (the only one of its kind outside of Scandinavia) that juts skyward from the surrounding plain, and provides amazing views from the top of the verdant farmland around it. Location of the mysterious disappearance of several school girls early in the 20th century (as detailed in the book and film, Picnic at Hanging Rock), the eerie outcroppings and regular low hanging fog that fills the gaps and crevices in this massive structure lend themselves well to the tales of strange happenings reported by early settlers and aborigines alike. Hanging Rock is also home to abundant wildlife and an excellent country race track, which hosts several horse races a year.