Portsea Pier, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria © Mornington Peninsula
Places to visit near Melbourne
Indulge in incredible food and wine, spot native wildlife and admire the ancient landscapes when you take a few days to explore some of the scenic locations surrounding Melbourne.
Where: a two-hour drive north of Melbourne
The grand buildings, Chinese heritage and living museums of Bendigo are a visible legacy of the 1850s gold rush. More recently, the town's art and culture scene has flourished with one of the best regional galleries on the country, the Bendigo Art Gallery. Bendigo is also known for its shiraz, which you can taste at one of 60 cellar doors with Bendigo Winery Tours. The food scene has a strong farm-to-table ethos. Try Bendigo Wholefoods, or one of the fancier eateries like Masons of Bendigo or The Woodhouse. Check into The Schaller Studio for the night, inspired by the working studio of Australian artist Mark Schaller.
Where: about three hours north-east of Melbourne
Like its name suggests, this is alpine country, known for its snow-covered slopes come winter (June-August). If you're not fond of the cold, there are equally as many drawcards in the warmer months. Adventure lovers can tackle all varieties of mountain biking or snowmobiling at Mount Buller. Take a drive up to Mount McKay for some of the region's best mountain views, or cycle or horse ride across Mount Stirling. Explore Beechworth, one of the best-preserved gold rush-era towns. Stop for lunch at The Provenance where you can also sleep in the converted stables out back. Just a half-hour away lies Rutherglen, famous for its fortified wines, and the award-winning eatery, Terrace Restaurant. If beer is more your style, follow the High Country Brewery Trail. End your adventure at Circa 1936 in Corowa, a restored Art Deco bank with just three guestrooms, a day spa, and butler service.
Where: a 1.5-hour drive south of Melbourne
Wildlife lovers can't leave Melbourne without making the drive south to Phillip Island. Known for its daily Penguin Parade, visitors get to watch resident penguins come ashore after a day of fishing out at sea. While you're waiting for sunset, head to the treetops for another kind of furry encounter at the Koala Conservation Centre. Alternatively, jump on board with Wildlife Coast Cruises to see local seals, dolphins, whales and birdlife. If you'd rather stay on dry land, head for the cliff-top boardwalks at The Nobbies where you can view Seal Rocks, home to the country's largest Australian fur seal colony. Follow the South Gippsland Drink Trail and experience Phillip Island's excellent cool-climate wineries and fresh produce. Settle in for the night at Clifftop, a cosy B&B with spectacular ocean views from most rooms.
Where: a one-hour drive south of Melbourne
The relaxing region of Mornington Peninsula is home to great food, wine and thermal springs. Do a tasting at a local winery, blend your own bubbly at Foxeys Hangout or discover some of Australia's premier craft breweries on the Beer, Cider and Spirits Trail. When you need something to soak it all up, head to Laura at Point Leo, an award-winning restaurant overlooking the vineyards. At Willow Creek Vineyard estate you'll find the stellar Jackalope Hotel, with one of the most exciting restaurants in the area, Doot Doot Doot. And don't forget to visit the local growers supplying them, like Green Olive at Red Hill, Main Ridge Dairy and Red Hill Truffles. After a full day of eating and drinking, relax at Peninsula Hot Springs, a natural thermal mineral spa house. If the weather is fine, enjoy the sandy shores of Port Phillip Bay. The colourful bathing boxes are an attraction in their own right.
Where: about three hours south-east of Melbourne
The wilderness of Gippsland stretches from Melbourne to Victoria's border with New South Wales, covering 542km (337mi). It offers Victoria's largest coastal wilderness area, Wilsons Promontory, which is threaded with walking tracks and wildlife. For more of the unique Gippsland landscape, head out to explore the Gippsland Lakes, a network of lakes, marshes and lagoons covering more than 600sq km (230sq mi). Go on a guided tour to see the stalactites and stalagmites of Fairy Cave and the calcite-rimmed pools of Royal Cave or spot wildlife at the Buchan Caves Reserve where you can stay in safari-style wilderness retreats. Follow the Gippsland Food and Wine Trail for the freshest seafood along the coast, wines at Dirty Three Wines and Tambo Wine, batch beers and gins at Loch Brewery & Distillery, Prom Country Cheese and a local meal at the Tinamba Hotel.
The Great Ocean Road
Where: a 1.5-hour drive south-west of Melbourne
Forget the destination, the Great Ocean Road is all about the journey. If it's the highlights tour you want, head for the world-famous waves at Bells Beach or laze on the sand at Anglesea. Visit the charming fishing village of Port Fairy and get among the buzzing arts community in Lorne. Take a selfie with the 12 Apostles, and then head inland to see the thundering waterfalls as you walk along the tops of ancient, mossy trees at the Otway Fly Treetop Walk. Thrill seekers can opt for the Otway Fly Zipline Tour which zips between "cloud stations" 30m (98ft) above the forest floor. Cool-climate wineries stretch the length of the Great Ocean Road, so be sure to stop off at cellar doors like Basalt in the Henty region, or Bellbrae Estate near Bells Beach. Book well in advance for the upmarket restaurant Brae, and settle in for the night at Drift House in scenic Port Fairy.
Where: a 1.5-hour drive west of Melbourne
Stepping into Sovereign Hill feels like going back in time, way back to 1851. The town is an open-air museum that re-creates Ballarat during the first 10 years after the discovery of gold. Set on an original mining site, and complete with costumed characters, you can walk into the shops, hotels, theatre, school, factories, gold diggings and underground mines as if they were still functioning today. Return from your foray into the past with a visit to the Ballarat Wildlife Park, then head to Tuki Trout Farm. Hook a rainbow trout from the farm's pond, then have it cooked fresh in the on-site restaurant. Stay at the Tuki Retreat, or head into Ballarat. Indulge in a meal at Underbar, an exclusive dining experience serving tasting dishes inspired by the seasons and surrounds for 16 diners at a time, so book ahead.
Where: a three-hour drive west of Melbourne
One of Victoria's most popular hiking destinations, the Grampians National Park is an incredible mountain landscape dotted with quaint towns. Get a taste of local Aboriginal culture and see ancient rock art at the famous Bunjil's Shelter. Take a guided tour from Halls Gap for a richer understanding. The area is also known for quality wines with big names like Seppelt, Montara and Best's. You can jump aboard a Grampians winery tour, or hop on a Grampians Helicopters picnic tour and really take in the grand scale of the surrounds. After you've indulged, trek the rugged cliffs and cascading waterfalls, go fishing or canoeing and get up close to native wildlife. Then wind down your day with a meal at the Royal Mail Hotel, regularly voted one of the best dining destinations in Australia.