World-class wineries, grand ocean road trips, mineral-rich hot springs – discover them all easily within a day’s drive of Melbourne.
By Ute Junker
Few cities are as perfectly positioned for day tripping as Melbourne. Just an hour or two out of town, you can find yourself walking through ancient rainforests, watching wild penguins and koalas, or admiring world-class art. Throw in pretty seaside towns, a 100-year-old steam train and some of the best restaurants in the country, and you have plenty of reasons to get out of town.
With a scenic Central Highland setting and a healthy dose of style, Daylesford, just 90 minutes from Melbourne, makes for an easy day out. Spend the morning browsing the enticing shops and galleries. Highlights include the sprawling Paradise Bookshop, the atmospheric Convent Gallery and artist David Bromley’s spectacular studio and gallery, Bromley and Co. Follow that with an indulgent lunch at Lake House, one of Australia’s best regional restaurants, or perhaps something simpler at Mercato. Another good choice is Frank and Connie's Kitchen down the road in Hepburn Springs where you will also find the Hepburn Bathouse and Spa. Finish the day with a relaxing soak in the mineral-rich waters, and perhaps a massage, before heading back to Melbourne.
The Great Ocean Road is best explored over a couple of days; however, if you only have a day, you can still take in the highlights of the eastern end of the route. From Melbourne it takes around 90 minutes to reach Torquay, one of Australia’s best-known surf towns, which is home to both the Rip Curl and Quiksilver surfwear labels. A further 45 minutes down the road, Lorne is another charming seaside town, known for its lively arts scene (don’t miss Qdos Arts) and its one-kilometre (0.6-mile) long beach. You might like to grab some lunch here before continuing on to the Great Ocean Road's most famous sight the 12 Apostles. Nearby, the striking Loch Ard Gorge is also worth visiting before you head back to Melbourne.
Wineries aren’t the only attraction in the Yarra Valley. Your first stop, Coombe, about an hour out of Melbourne, is a historic house with heritage gardens that belonged to Australia’s first international opera star, Dame Nellie Melba. From here, it’s a quick drive to Domaine Chandon, one of Australia’s premier producers of sparkling wine. After sampling the bubbles, head on to Healesville Sanctuary to encounter kangaroos, koalas, wombats, dingoes, lyrebirds, platypus and Tasmanian devils. Ready for some more wine tasting? Innocent Bystander and TarraWarra Estate are both recommended, and each has an excellent restaurant. Stop in at the TarraWarra Museum of Art, which has a fabulous collection of acclaimed Australian artists such as Brett Whiteley, before heading back to Melbourne.
The Dandenongs’ tall forests and glorious gardens are a perfect escape from the city. Start your adventures at National Rhododendron Gardens about an hour out of Melbourne. Its 42 hectares (104 acres) are filled with azaleas, camellias and cherries as well as rhododendrons. From here, it’s a short drive to Kallista, where Grants Picnic Ground is the start of a beautiful 6.6-kilometre (4-mile) circular walk in Sherbrooke Forest through fern-filled gullies where kookaburras and cockatoos make their homes. Continue on to another of the area’s charming villages, Belgrave, to take a trip into the past on a 100-year-old steam train known as Puffing Billy. Book in for an on-board lunch and enjoy the return journey through the area’s towering forests before making your way back to Melbourne.
Its pretty seaside villages, superb wineries and restaurants make the Mornington Peninsula a wonderful year-round destination. It takes about an hour from Melbourne along the inland route to reach the McClelland Sculpture Park + Gallery at Langwarrin which showcases more than 100 works by well-known Australian artists. From here, start exploring the area’s celebrated wineries known for pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay. Many of the best wineries, such as Montalto and Ten Minutes by Tractor, also have acclaimed restaurants that are a great choice for lunch. After lunch, head to Peninsula Hot Springs for a relaxing soak in their thermal mineral baths before exploring historic seaside towns such as Portsea and Sorrento, which both feature well-preserved heritage buildings and beautiful beaches with great snorkelling. From Sorrento, enjoy the car ferry trip to the equally inviting town of Queenscliff, before heading back to Melbourne.
Aim to reach the fishing village of San Remo, about two hours from Melbourne, before midday to watch the daily feeding of the pelicans and stingrays. From here, a bridge takes you to Phillip Island. Take a walk around rugged Cape Woolamai with its striking pink granite cliffs and golden sweep of sand. Next stop for motor sport fans will be the Grand Prix Circuit that hosts the Motorcycle Grand Prix each October; take a guided tour or do laps with a professional driver. After lunch at Harry’s on the Esplanade, take an eco-cruise to admire one of Australia’s largest fur seal colonies. Finish the day at the Penguin Parade, when hundreds of little penguins come ashore at Summerland Beach after a day swimming at sea. The island is also home to a koala reserve where you can walk along an elevated boardwalk to see koalas close up in their natural habitat.