Beautiful beaches, quirky wildlife, spa towns, and spectacular wilderness areas – you’ll find all this and more within a few hours’ drive of Melbourne. One of the country’s most dazzling scenic drives, the Great Ocean Road, lies less than 200 kilometers from the city, as well as gorgeous Grampian National Park, the gleaming white-sand shores of Wilsons Promontory, and the rugged Dandenong Ranges.
Wildlife scores top billing at many of these city escapes. You can watch penguins parading up a pristine beach at Phillip Island and see colorful parrots, wild kangaroos, and wombats in the national parks. In addition to the rich natural beauty that beckons just a short drive from the CBD, Victoria’s elegant seaside resorts charm visitors with their quaint shops, art galleries, and award-winning restaurants. History buffs can explore an old gold rush town, and in winter, skiers and snowboarders can carve up the slopes of Mount Buller less than a three-hour drive from the city.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage listed 243-kilometre stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford.
Length: 243 km
Constructed: March 18, 1922
West end: Princes Highway, Allansford, Victoria
East end: Surf Coast Highway, Torquay, Victoria
Major cities: Apollo Bay, Lorne, Torquay, Anglesea, Port Campbell, Aireys Inlet, Wye River, Peterborough, Lavers Hill
About 200 kilometers from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most spectacular stretches of coastline and a top road trip destination. The drive from the city carves along steep sea cliffs, as well as the surf-thrashed beaches of Port Campbell National Park, where the distinctive rock pinnacles, the Twelve Apostles, tower above a swirling sea. Other highlights include the wind and sea-sculpted rock formations of Loch Ard Gorge and London Arch.
To fully appreciate Mother Nature’s power, hop aboard a helicopter for a bird’s-eye view of this dramatic coast, also called the Shipwreck Coast. While in the area, you can take a walk near koala-rich Kennett River; look for kangaroos and wallabies in Great Otway National Park; or enjoy a different perspective of the forest at Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, including a treetop walk and zipline tour. Surfing fans should stop in Torquay along the way to visit the Surf World Museum and look for huge waves at legendary Bells Beach.
You can enjoy many of these adventures on the Great Ocean Road Small-Group Eco-Tour. This full-day excursion includes plenty of time to soak up the beautiful coastal scenery, a hike in Great Otway National Park, Kennett River koala spotting, and a stop at Apollo Bay. A 15-minute helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles is an optional extra.
Phillip Island’s Penguin Parade
Phillip Island, about 140 kilometers from Melbourne’s city center, is a top pick for wildlife lovers. Each night at sunset, visitors gather along the shore to watch adorable penguins waddle up the beach at the Phillip Island Nature Park. Before the Penguin Parade, as it’s called, you can visit some of the nearby wildlife parks.
See koalas in their natural habitat at the Koala Conservation Centre; hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies at Phillip Island Wildlife Park; or visit the Nobbies, a boardwalk that skirts the headland’s sea bird gardens with breathtaking views of the coast. Little penguins often rest along here, and in the spring, keep an eye out for silver gull chicks. For more information on the ecology of the area, stop by the free Nobbies Centre and browse the educational displays. Across the Bass Strait from here, lies Seal Rocks, Australia’s largest fur seal colony. Bring binoculars to see the seals or board a wildlife cruise for close-up views. An easy way to visit this top attraction from Melbourne is on the Phillip Island Tour. This full-day excursion covers all the highlights, including wildlife viewing at Maru Koala and Animal Park; the Nobbies; and the famous Penguin Parade, with optional upgrades for closer views.
The Dandenong Ranges and the Yarra Valley
The Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley have been a favorite weekend getaway for well-to-do Melburnians for more than a century. This day trip has a little something for everyone – from nature and wildlife to cute villages, fantastic food, and a fun ride on a historic train. Start the day with a scenic drive through the Dandenong Ranges, about 40 kilometers east of Melbourne. Here, you can hike through rainforests of mountain ash trees to soothing cascades in the beautiful fern-filled Sherwood Forest and hand-feed native birds, such as crimson rosellas, cockatoos, and galahs at Grants Picnic Ground. Nearby, the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens and William Ricketts Sanctuary are also worth a visit.
At Belgrave, board the 100-year-old Puffing Billy steam train and stroll around the artisan shops. You can also relax with a Devonshire tea in storybook-cute villages such as Olinda, a green thumb’s delight with the excellent National Rhododendron Gardens and Cloudehill Nursery and Gardens. Not far from here, the Yarra Valley is a haven for foodies, with fresh produce, first-class restaurants, and the chance to sample handmade farmyard cheeses at Yarra Valley Dairy. Animal lovers should also stop by the popular Healesville Sanctuary to see native Australian animals and birds. A stop at this sanctuary is included in the Yarra Valley Day Tour, which also visits other highlights of the region. Enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Dandenong Ranges from an air-conditioned coach, try a traditional billy tea, and coast through the forests on the Puffing Billy Steam Train. An expert guide and hotel pickup and drop-off are also included.
The Mornington Peninsula
A 90-minute drive from Melbourne, the picturesque Mornington Peninsula is a favorite seaside escape from the city. Flanked by the ocean on one side and Port Phillip Bay on the other, this prime sliver of real estate hosts tranquil coves, cute villages, and rocky shores. One of the region’s must-see destinations is stylish Sorrento, the site of the state’s first mainland European settlement, with its heritage buildings and high-end shops, boutiques, and cafes.
Soak up the seaside scenery and see the vacation homes of Australia’s posh set along “Millionaire’s Walk,” as it’s known by locals, a five-kilometer clifftop trail above Port Phillip Bay between Sorrento and Portsea. Hiking is popular on back beach trails and in the rugged bushland on the end of the peninsula at Point Nepean National Park. Other highlights of the area include a ride on the scenic Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry, dolphin cruises, Peninsula Hot Springs, and the chance to swim with wild bottlenose dolphins and seals.
Grampians National Park
About 260 kilometers from Melbourne, Grampians National Park (often called “The Grampians”) offers beautiful vistas of waterfalls, colorful spring wildflowers, rock formations, and rugged crags. Avid hikers, in particular, will enjoy this park, and anyone can admire the breathtaking scenery from its many panoramic lookouts. Called “Gariwerd” by the aboriginal people, the park also shelters traditional rock art. You can learn more about this rich history and the park’s ecology at Brambuk the National Park & Cultural Centre. Other top attractions include the beautiful MacKenzie Falls, Victoria’s tallest waterfall; Beehive Falls, with its fern-fringed rock pools; Fish Falls; and the panoramic lookouts at the Pinnacle and the Balconies. You can also drive to Reeds and Boroka lookouts. Wildlife is abundant; kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and echidnas, make their home here, and sightings of friendly marsupials are common.
Besides hiking, other popular outdoor activities include abseiling and rock climbing on the faces of Mt. Arapiles, fishing, and canoeing at the park’s lakes and rivers, quad biking, and horseback riding. If you’re considering staying overnight, Halls Gap is the gateway to the park and makes a great base. Bring a camera, and be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes. The Grampians is also a popular destination for foodies with its excellent restaurants and fresh local produce, including olives, cheeses, and meats.
Wilsons Promontory National Park
Affectionately called “The Prom” by locals, Wilsons Promontory National Park is the state’s largest coastal wilderness area and nirvana for nature lovers and photographers. It lies on the southernmost point of the Australian mainland, about a three-hour drive from Melbourne’s city center, but the spectacular scenery of squeaky-clean beaches, cool-climate rainforests, and rugged granite peaks are worth the trip. Highlights include guided walks through the bushland; the granite rock formations of Giant Rock, the white quartz sands of Squeaky Beach, Lilly Pilly Gully, and the sea-sculpted boulders of Whisky Bay.
The park is also known for its rich native wildlife, such as wombats, emus, kangaroos, and many birds. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of things to do. Scenic hikes lace the bushland, from short one-hour walks to multi-day treks, and the one-hour hike up Mt. Oberon summit has one of the park’s best viewpoints, overlooking the Tidal River and the coast. Divers can explore the underwater world in the marine national park. Other activities include swimming, fishing, canoeing, camping, and birdwatching. Strong hiking shoes are highly recommended.
Daylesford: Day Spas and Mineral Springs
Skirting the Wombat State Forest, about 115 kilometers from Melbourne, Daylesford is perfect for a pampering city escape. Soothing mineral springs, wellness centers, and day spas are the prime draws in this quaint country town, earning it a reputation as the spa capital of Australia. Drawn by these healing mineral springs and the gold rush, many Swiss and Italian immigrants settled here, imbuing the town with an old-world feel. A popular destination in the region is the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, in neighboring Hepburn Springs, which has been lavishing guests since 1895. Another must-see is The Convent, an enchanting 19th-century estate on six acres atop Wombat Hill, with beautiful views over the town, impressive art galleries, a chapel, and a museum.
Daylesford is also known for its many award-winning restaurants serving seasonal local produce. To dine at one of the town’s top eateries, stroll around beautiful Lake Daylesford, and enjoy a gourmet lunch at the Lake House, which is also a small luxury hotel. You can also browse the town’s quaint shops, antique markets, and historic buildings. Just out of Daylesford, Lavandula Swiss-Italian Farm, a working lavender, olive, and grape farm offers a taste of Europe with its fragrant purple fields, stone cottages, and La Trattoria cafe.
About 138 kilometers from Melbourne’s city center, Lorne, on beautiful Loutit Bay, has long been one of the country’s favorite seaside resorts. Snuggled between Otway National Park and the Great Ocean Road, this pretty little town offers an intoxicating mix of Mediterranean ambiance, seaside elegance, and natural beauty. Popular things to do include swimming and surfing at the long, golden beach, with its nearby cafes and skatepark, and casting a line off the local pier for fish like trevally and whiting.
The pier also plays host to the fish co-op, where you can buy the fresh catch of the day. Tourists also love browsing the boutiques, bookstores, bakeries, and galleries. Teddy’s Lookout, a five-minute drive from town, offers beautiful views over the coast and Great Ocean Road. Another popular attraction in the area is Erskine Falls, rimmed by lush ferns and eucalyptus forest. During peak vacation times around Christmas, a torrent of tourists fills this tiny town, so you should book well in advance if you want to stay overnight.
Sovereign Hill at Ballarat
At Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, about 110 kilometers from Melbourne, you can experience the exciting 1850s gold rush days in a living museum. Sovereign Hill is a recreated gold-mining town, with Victorian-era houses and shops where you can watch goldsmiths and artisans at work, tour an underground gold mine, and even pan for the precious metal. Costumed staff, stagecoach rides, and a dazzling sound and lights show to round out all the historical fun. The town of Ballarat was the epicenter of the Australian gold rush, and you can learn about this important chapter of Australian history by touring the historic sites, heritage buildings, and old churches around town and visiting the Gold Museum. Other highlights include Art Gallery Ballarat, with works from gold rush artists; the beautiful 40-acre Ballarat Botanical Gardens on the banks of Lake Wendouree; and Ballarat Wildlife Park. Ballarat is also home to award-winning restaurants, so don’t forget to top off your tour with a memorable meal.
Mount Buller Skiing
In winter, rain often means snow in the mountains, so if the weather is not cooperating with your outdoor activities in the city, you can play at the snowy peaks nearby. From early June through late September (depending on snowfall), avid skiers and boarders can hit the slopes of Mount Buller, one of Australia’s most popular ski resorts, about a three-hour drive from Melbourne. Mount Buller has the most extensive lift system of all the Victorian resorts, with 22 lifts transporting guests to 300 hectares of skiable terrain and three terrain parks.
About 35 percent caters to advanced skiers, and the resort also offers plenty of runs for beginners and intermediates. Cross country skiers can explore nine kilometers of trails. For non-skiers, the village is a fun place to hang out with its spas and shops, and kids will love the resort’s toboggan parks. This is a great trip for families seeking a first-time snow experience, as well as enthusiastic skiers and boarders looking for a wintertime city escape.
Hanging Rock Reserve, The Macedon Ranges
Rich in mystique, Hanging Rock Reserve is a wonderful wilderness escape less than an hour northwest of Melbourne, in the Macedon Ranges. The massive 105-meter-high extinct volcano, now eroded into columns, was the location for Peter Weir’s iconic film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, based on the book by Joan Lindsay. The rock is also an important aboriginal landmark and was reputedly a refuge for bushrangers during the Gold Rush. Even if you’re not familiar with the legend that captured the imagination of many Australians, Hanging Rock Reserve is truly a beautiful spot to enjoy a picnic or a hike in the fresh eucalyptus-tinged air.
The round-trip climb to the top takes about 50 minutes, with plenty of secret nooks to slither in along the way and beautiful views over the countryside. You can also explore the other hiking trails that weave through the reserve. Keep an eye out for wildlife like wallabies, kangaroos, koalas, echidnas, and wombats.
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Incredible Victorian road trips
There’s never been a better time to holiday in your backyard. So why not set aside a weekend, and venture off on one of these spectacular road trips.
Explore spa country
Victoria’s “spa country” got its name from the 141 mineral springs in the area. It’s now a place for glorious relaxation, with more indulgent spa treatments, decadent meals, and beautiful bush walks than you can poke a stick at. There are loads of great overnight accommodation options too – our top spots to stay are Daylesford (about an hour and a half from Melbourne) and Hepburn Springs. Pictured here is the Lake House in Daylesford, which is a top spot for a long lunch
Discover beautiful bright
Bright is a picturesque little town at the base of the Victorian Alps, and it’s a great base if you want to explore this leafy, peaceful area. Spend your time bike riding, sampling local wines and craft beers, kayaking in the river, or hiking in the nearby hills. It’s a scenic drive, about 3 hours 40 minutes from Melbourne.
Port Fairy and the Twelve Apostles
Four hours out of Melbourne you’ll find the iconic Twelve Apostles (sorry, but there are only eight now … you can thank erosion for that). Keep driving another hour and 20 minutes and you’ll hit Port Fairy, the last stop on the Great Ocean Road. This lovely seaside village is a great spot for an over-nighter. There’s lots of great food – including cracking fish and chips – and you can often spot seals, whales, and dolphins from the shore.
Meander along the mighty Murray River
Following the river’s path from the mountains of the Great Dividing Range in northeast Victoria to the desert country and wide-open plains of South Australia is a really lovely drive. You can stop in and explore gorgeous river towns along the way.
Wilson’s Promontory National Park
Rainforests, spectacular beaches, and granite mountains … the southernmost tip of Australia has it all. Affectionately known as “The Prom” this area 2.5 hours from Melbourne offers fabulous bushwalks, and plenty of native wildlife. Pictured here is Refuge Cove – definitely worth a dip if you find yourself there in the warmer months.
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