It’s been two years since I arrived and fell in love with Melbourne. Such was my love for the city that the original week I had intended on staying quickly turned in to 5. Because I was there for so long, I had plenty of time to explore not just the city, but also the surrounding area.
Victoria, I was soon to learn, is home to some of the most spectacular and diverse scenery Australia has to offer. You don’t have to travel far from the heart of Melbourne before you can find yourself at the foot of a beautiful mountain. Or watching dolphins frolic from the shore. Or driving mile after mile through rolling vineyards or lush, dense rainforest…
There is so much to do in the outer Melbourne area. Here are my top ten recommendations for activites which can be easily achieved within a day trip from the city:
Portsea and Sorrento
A short drive down the Mornington Peninsula will take you to the beautiful coastal towns of Portsea and Sorrento. The clifftops here are dotted with millionaire’s mansions and luxurious holiday homes. It’s easy to see why, as the local scenery and harbour views are just spectacular. The sea here is calm and beautifully turquoise, making it perfect for diving and kayaking. It’s also teeming with life, making wildlife spotting an absolute doddle. It’s not uncommon to see bottlenose dolphins passing through the marina, or pelicans gliding by.
Just 52km from Melbourne, nestled into the heart of the Yarra Valley, sits the lovely town of Healesville. Surrounded by rolling hills and berry farms, the town offers the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s CBD. Though it feels a million miles away from city life, there are still plenty of lovely shops and restaurants lining the colourful High Street. The town is also home to an excellent wildlife sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with over 200 species of native critters. Also worth checking out is the Maroondah Reservoir Park, where you can have a picnic overlooking views like this…
Yarra Valley is Victoria’s premier wine-producing region. It’s also where you’ll find some of the state’s most beautiful scenery, where sweeping hills meet forest, and vineyards pattern the land.
There are many wineries worth checking out, and wine-tasting tours can easily be arranged from the city centre. Just be careful about how much you knock back if you’re prone to getting carsick. Windy roads and a belly full of expensive wine are never going to be a good combination, I can assure you… You can also experience the valley from above with a hot air balloon ride. Again, I’d hold back on the wine consumption for this…
The Great Ocean Road
Driving the Great Ocean Road is a must if you are visiting Melbourne for long. This 250km stretch of road begins just an hour outside the city and runs past some of Southern Australia’s most dramatic coastal scenery. There’s plenty to see inland too, with ancient rainforests and mountain ranges to explore.
There are plenty of bus companies which offer the chance to do the drive as part of a day trip from the city centre. I would strongly recommend hiring a car and doing the drive over a few days if you can. We were lucky enough to be able to borrow a van from friends, and spent three days on the road. I can’t recommend it enough! You can read all about our Great Ocean Road trip here.
Philip Island, located 140km South of Melbourne, is one of the most popular day trips from the city centre. Though it’s home to some lovely coastal scenery, there is one thing and one thing only that brings people in by the crowd: the penguins.
At sunset, people flock to the shore to watch the ‘Penguin Parade’, as the local colony of Little Penguins waddle up the beach after a busy day’s fishing. There’s even a viewing platform and the option to wear night-vision goggles for those who want the best possible view of Victoria’s most famous birds!
Though it can make for a fun day out, it’s also worth bearing in mind that Melbourne’s St. Kilda beach has a colony of penguins too. Just gather round the pier as the sun goes down and you too can witness the little fuzzballs for free.
Visit the Dandenongs
It often goes unnoticed that Melbourne sits within the valley of one of Australia’s most impressive mountain ranges, The Dandenongs. The mountains offer spectacular scenery, from cascading waterfalls and giant ferns to trees unfathomably old.
For the perfect day trip start with a ride through the hilltops on the vintage steamtrain, Puffing Billy, . Then, check out the galleries and boutique stores in the colourful mountain villages of Olinda, Belgrave and Sassafras. Finally, as the sun begins to set, head up to the SkyHigh viewing platform at the summit of Mount Dandenong. The twinkling lights of the city below will warm the soul.
Peninsula Hot Springs
An hour and a half’s drive from the city centre lies the Peninsula Hot Springs, Victoria’s premier outdoor spa. Set over beautifully landscaped hilltop gardens, this centre offers guests the opportunity to bathe in naturally heated thermal pools.
Having spent an evening there myself (in the middle of Winter!), I can safely say that once you get into that water, you will never want to get out. I would strongly recommend going in the evening. There’s something incredibly surreal and peaceful about lying back in a hot pool, gazing up at the stars with a cool chill on your face and not a care in the world. Be warned though, at $50 per person, it’s not exactly a cheap experience. With views like this though, it’s worth every penny.
The Grampian Mountains
If you don’t mind heading a little further afield, head into the Grampians National Park, about 3 hours from Melbourne. Base yourself in beautiful Hall’s Gap, where you can enjoy the great outdoors on one of the many walking trails.
The mountains are home to many unusual rock formations, with interesting peaks and gorges a’plenty. It’s a great place to try out rock climbing if you’re the adventurous type! The area is also renowned for its Aboriginal heritage, and as many as 4000 examples of artwork have been found scattered across the area. The most notable are Bunjil’s Shelter, and that of Ngamadjidj. If you’re interested in learning more about the region’s Aborigonl culture, visit the Grampian’s Cultural Centre or take a guided tour from Hall’s Gap.
For something a little bit different, head to Montslavat, Australia’s oldest artist colony. It’s not the sort of place you’ll read about in the guidebooks, but it’s truly fascinating.
The community was founded in 1934 by artist Justus Jorgensen. Throughout the years, it has been home to many resident and learning artists. Set in over five acres of land, the collection of traditional French mudbrick cottages are in themselves beautiful. They seem to encourage creativity, as much as they harbour it.
Today, the grounds and buildings are mostly used for exhibitions, performances, conferences and weddings. Many artists, however, still live, work and teach at Monsalvat. Walking through the myriad of buildings, you really get a sense of the strength of community, and can only wonder at how inspiring it must be to spend your days honing your craft in such beautiful isolation.
Ballarat is a city located on the Yarrowee River, just over 100km from Melbourne. Today, it is a melting pot of cultural and sporting events. It is perhaps best known for its association with the Eureka Rebellion and the gold rush of the 1850s.
Step back in time by visiting Soveriegn Hill, a live-action recreation of a 19th century village. Actors will talk you through the gold-mining days, and you can ride in a horse-drawn carriage, before venturing underground to check out the mine intself. Prefer to take things at a slower pace? Head to the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Australia’s oldest and largest regional gallery. Or, see if you can catch a show at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which has been running since 1875!