Melbourne boasts excellent coffee blends for mums and dads, funky street art to be explored by bike, and great museums and art galleries. Now it looks Melbourne also tops the charts for family road trips, whether for the weekend or just a day.
A stone’s throw from Victoria’s capital city stretches a rich and varied coast of peninsulas, promontories and ports ripe for the picking. Otherwise, head to the hills for a taste of high country and national park. We have you covered with this list of our top 9 short-distance family road trips from Melbourne, suitable for winter and summer alike.
1. Phillip Island
This holidaying hotspot is no secret. Phillip Island, famous for its penguins and motorsports, has loads to offer families who want a varied, exciting escape from the hustle and bustle. Get a dose of history at Churchill Family Farm. Feel warm and fuzzy at Koala Conservation Centre. Or you can test out your cast and hook at Rhyll Trout Fishing Farm, before a sugar hit at the local Chocolate Factory and a few rounds on the go-karts at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.
Of course, a special dusk tour on the sand will introduce you to the famous Penguin Parade. Otherwise, the view from Nobbies will show off the resident seal colony. Whale-watching charters are also popular.
2. Mornington Peninsula
An easy hour from Melbourne, it comes as no surprise that the lighthouses, rugged cliffs and national park of the Mornington Peninsula make it one of the best road trips from Melbourne. Visit the picturesque Cape Schanck lighthouse and Fort Nepean, an 18th century stronghold with stories to tell from both WWI and WWII. Arthur’s Seat is worth a peek. In fact, you can even do so from a bird’s-eye angle inside a cable car. And for a brain-teaser in a lush, green setting, check out one of the many local mazes. Stay for a day or overnight at a caravan park or apartment in tourist hub Sorrento.
3. Great Ocean Road
This is definitely one for the cameras. In fact, the Great Ocean Road is one of the most famous road trips from Melbourne. The Twelve Apostles, London Bridge and other bizarre sea-bound rock formations are must-sees. But the quaint townships like Port Fairy and Lorne along this famed Shipwreck Coast route are where the true charm lies.
Fishing town Port Fairy has yachts, wallabies and whales in abundance. Animal-lovers will enjoy Tower Hill Wildlife Park, and musos should try and time their trip to coincide with the annual Port Fairy Folk Festival. The Crags make for a picturesque afternoon wander, as do local heritage trails which echo of the region’s maritime past. The locals love Lorne and you will too. Go kayaking on George River or surfing at Lorne Beach, which has equipment for hire.
4. Wilson’s Promontory
This Gippsland national park is the southernmost point of the Australian mainland. When you’re not trying to wave to your Tasmanian neighbours, delve into the rainforest, take in the view from craggy clifftops and granite mountains, and wander windswept beaches. Try camping at Tidal River, which has excellently signposted walking trails and beach access. Trek along Tongue Point walk, make the quartz sand squeak with your feet at Squeaky Beach and explore the world underwater in the Marine protected area. If you’re travelling with a wheelchair user, be sure to ask about the TrailRider and beach wheelchair available at some locations.
5. Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley region
Roughly 35 kilometres east of Melbourne sit the low-lying Dandenong Ranges and adjacent Yarra Valley. Although they’re close enough for a day trip, you’ll want as much time as you can get to explore local kid-friendly offerings. Stop in at Healesville Sanctuary to visit the koalas and kangaroos, before taste-testing your fill of fruit on the tractor tour at Rayners Orchard. There are two heritage railway routes to choose from in the area. Both are equally scenic, so toss up between Yarra Valley Railway and the Puffing Billy Steam Railway. Trees Adventure and its awesome ropes and obstacle courses is perfect for thrill-seekers. A foray into Dandenong Ranges National Park, perhaps to Sherbrooke Falls, is ideal for the nature lover.
6. High Country
Breathe in the crisp air of Victoria’s High Country, accessible from Melbourne via the Hume Highway. As a family, you have a wealth of activities at your doorstep, depending on where in the region you choose to stay. In winter, make the most of the awesome ski resorts such as Hotham Alpine Resort, Mt Buller Alpine Resort, and Falls Creek, which has great family fun year-round. Try your luck fishing for rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon at Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm, where littlies can also feed the fish. Pick up a brochure at Mt. Buller and follow fairytale trail ‘Gnome Roam’ to a gnome house. It is also worth checking out Benalla Adventure Playground, High Country Maze, Kerridale Mountain Railway Museum and the honey HQ of Beechworth, where you can sample the sticky treat.
Consider using Bright – Victoria’s unofficial adventure hub and a nice 1-hour drive from Mt Hotham – as home base. In summer, jump on your bikes and pedal the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, trek the Canyon Walk, pick your own produce at Bright Berry Farm and snap some mauve-tinted Instagram shots at Lavender Hue Farm.
The Daylesford region is nestled at the base of the Great Dividing Range and is most famous for its mineral springs. For a taste of history, take note of the Swiss-Italian influence on original architecture in Kyneton Gold Rush village and browse the trinkets and knick-knacks of Mill Market, one of the largest indoor antique markets in the country. Go fishing or paddle a rowboat on the artificial Lake Daylesford.
There is no shortage of open space for picnics and running around. In fact, the region is full of gardens and parks such as Castlemaine Botanic Gardens, Woodend Children’s Park, Gisborne’s Botanic Gardens and the atmospheric Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens in the crater of an extinct volcano. For more outdoor adventure, climb Mount Piper, visit the Trentham Falls lookout and follow trails in Black Hill Reserve. If you’re brave, scope out Hanging Rock, made famous by Joan Lindsay’s ghost story.
Mix up Melbourne’s metropolitan vibes with a road trip to a regional city centre like Ballarat. At about 1.5 hours in length, this road trip from Melbourne is easily do-able for a weekend. Step back into an 1850’s gold-rush village at Sovereign Hill. Dip-dye your own candle, delve deep into an underground mine and then see if you strike it lucky panning for gold in the river. Your tickets to Sovereign Hill also include entry to Ballarat’s Gold Museum. Otherwise, visit the Eureka Centre which was built on the very site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade rebellion. Wind the clock further back at medieval-style Kryal Castle. Get lost in the maze, learn archery, watch pantomimes and cheer at jousting contests.
For some fresh air, check out the Ballarat Botanic Gardens, the adjacent Lake Wendouree precinct or family-owned Ballarat Wildlife Park. Still got energy to burn? Let loose on the flying fox, swings and slides of Livvi’s Place, an inclusive playground in Victoria Park designed to suit all abilities.
Historic Bendigo sits on Dja Dja Wurrung land. On the Dja Dja Wurrung Tram, adorned with the artwork of Natasha Carter, you can hear local stories, music and traditions which have been present in Bendigo for more than 40,000 years. Distant echoes of a gold mining past also ring through Bendigo. For a taste of 1800’s history, visit Victoria Hill Mining Reserve or choose a mine tour at once-operational Central Deborah Gold Mine. Some take you as far as 228 metres underground.
Learn more about Bendigo’s Chinese culture at the Golden Dragon Museum, Joss House Temple and market gardens. Time your visit to coincide with the colourful celebration that is Bendigo Easter Festival, which includes the awakening of the dragon, lantern processions and lion dancing. Art lovers can work the wheel at Australia’s oldest working pottery, or join the Bendigo Art Gallery Children’s Program. Those with ants in their pants can roam Bendigo Botanic Gardens and Rosalind Park, bike ride past heritage sites on Bendigo Creek Trail, or walk the 12-kilometre Bendigo Goldfields track.