Melbourne might not be the first place that springs to mind when it comes to driving around Australia and travelling the outback, but there’s actually some pretty amazing places within a couple of hours drive time from the city so if you’re like us and have found yourself living amongst the city dwellers, adventures on pause, you can still chase that travel high on the weekends exploring beautiful coastal roads, local wineries and Australian wildlife.
1. GREAT OCEAN ROAD
A 243km National Heritage stretch of road from Torquay to Allansford, the Great Ocean Road is possibly the most famous road trip in Australia and is certainly a big attraction for those travelling through Victoria. But it’s not just for the long distance travellers who have unlimited time to embark on such a journey as much of this long stretch of road can be enjoyed within one weekend from the centre of Melbourne and you can even experience some of the wonder in one day with popular destinations like Lorne just a 2 hour drive away.
Of course, it’s always best to take your time and although many have completed the venture in a single stint, driving out to the 12 apostles and back with only a few stops for photo opportunities and toilet breaks along the way, it’s best enjoyed over 3 or 4 days where you can take time to enjoy the local towns, take a few hikes as well as a surf lesson or two so a long weekend would be perfect.
Torquay, Anglesea and Lorne are all great destinations for a day away from the city so if you are restricted with time I’d definitely recommend you make the most of these areas and save the longer ride for another time.
It can be a pretty cheap getaway, with plenty of free campsite options available for happy campers. Our first Australian camping experience was at a peaceful location near Anglesea, where we spent two nights of not so peaceful activity due to the fact that large groups of students and ex pats had descended on the area to host ‘bush duffs’ but we didn’t let that deter us and even joined in the fun in between two days attempting to surf at the nearby beaches. I particularly liked Lorne, it’s full of charisma, with the usual beach side atmosphere and ice creams to match.
2. MORNINGTON PENINSULA
Mornington Peninsula is a beautiful region south-east of the city where you’ll find an abundance of outdoor activities including hot springs, coastal walks and adventure gardens as well as diving, fishing and swimming with dolphins. The Peninsula’s love affair with cheese, wine, seafood and fresh produce also makes it wonderful for foodies like us.
The drive down there is all part of the fun too, maybe not as impressive as the GOR on the south-west but picturesque all the same and there’s barely any freeway to get through before you’re scaling the twisted and steep roads all the way up to Arthur’s Seat – a must do while you’re there.
After we’d taken in the views, we made our way back down and headed for Cape Schanck to take on one of the many scenic routes on offer for keen walkers and hikers. It was a pretty warm day and we weren’t dressed for ultimate comfort so opted to take the short loop, which provided views of the lighthouse built in 1859, several lookout points and a wooden walkway that took you all the way along the cliffs and down to the rocky beach below. Had we been up for a longer, more demanding walk we would have definitely explored the Bush Rangers Bay Trail which leads from Cape Schanck past farmland views and ends at a glorious secluded beach.
We intended to grab some food on the way to the Hot Springs that we’d heard so much about for some ultimate down time and indulgence, however, our lack of planning got the better of us and they were in fact fully booked. Now I think about it, it was silly to assume otherwise but never mind, it gives us a reason to go back!
All was not lost though, if one plan fails there is no shortage of ways to entertain yourself in a place like this. We made the short drive to the other side of the Peninsula in search of yummy coastal treats in Rye and were met with a selection of typical holiday maker style eateries – fish and chips, pizza and cafes. A sucker for our usual habits, we went down the cafe route and each had the biggest salmon bagel with the tastiest mix of spinach, cheese and garlic with possibly other cheeky ingredients I couldn’t quite pinpoint inside. We found an idyllic spot on some rocks on the beach and enjoyed our food overlooking the calm seas while we fought off advances from the seagulls!
3. PHILLIP ISLAND
For wildlife lovers this place is spot on. With a Heritage Farm, Koala Wildlife Conservation, Maru Koala and Animal Park and Penguin Parade there is an abundance of opportunity to see some of Australia’s best loved wildlife in their natural habitat, giving visitors a unique experience that can’t be found at city zoos.
The Penguin Parade is certainly one of the biggest attractions for holiday makers as at sunset each night you can watch the world’s smallest penguins return to shore and waddle up the beach to their homes in the sand dune after a days fishing, CUTE!
For sports fans, the island is also home to an impressive Grand Prix circuit where you can truly get stuck in to motor sport life by testing your own driving skills on their go kart course or even buckle in for the real deal and brave an adrenalin pumping hot lap with an experienced racing driver before cooling down with a visit to the History of Motorsport museum where you’ll find displays of articles, images and machinery to capture your imagination.
4. YARRA VALLEY
The Yarra Valley is another amazing place to visit and again just an hour or so’s drive from Melbourne. It’s the area that surrounds the Yarra River and is inland Victoria so instead of coastal beaches and seaside activities you have a gorgeous countryside setting with a plenty of things to do.
Some of the main attractions include the fun and slightly boozy cider and ail trails as well as numerous wineries and tours plus you can feel the morning breeze when you take a Global Ballooning hot air balloon ride. Again, wildlife is abundant here so take a trip to the Healesville Sanctuary and explore the bushland haven for animals.
If you’re around in the winter, Lake Mountain is Melbourne’s closest and most affordable alpine resort so you can take to the slopes and have a mountain of fun!
The Grampians National Park is a series of rugged sandstone mountain ranges where visitors can inhale the fresh air and be dazzled by the diverse natural attractions.
You can truly get to grips with nature by taking one of the many walking or hiking trails to reach impressive lookout points and discover amazing views across the region. The popular Boroka Lookout provides spectacular view of the Wonderland Range, Mount William Range, Fyans Valley and Lake Bellfield. Camp amongst it all at one of the thirteen sites and make use of the picnic areas at Zumsteins, Jimmy Creek or Mount Zero and be sure to check out the tranquillity of Mackenzie Falls, this is the perfect place to spend an adventurous weekend away from the city.