Image by Steve Davidson
Melbourne may have earned itself a reputation as a mecca of performing and visual arts, but the beautiful state of Victoria has so much more to offer those with a passion for getting off the beaten track.
St Kilda Beach
It’s this simple; you can’t come to Melbourne and not visit St Kilda Beach. And there’s one man in particular to thank for that – Carlo Catani. A civil engineer from Italy, Catani was responsible for overseeing the reclamation of what was then a simple beachfront used for occasional bathing by the local people. The ‘masterplan for the beautification’ of the area was drawn up and made a reality over the next 30 years, long after Catani himself passed away. Landmarks worth looking out for include the beautiful clock tower, St Kilda Sea Baths and of course the Luna amusement park – still open to the public today.
If strapping yourself in to a 70 year old rollercoaster doesn’t float your boat there’s plenty else to keep you occupied. The beach is notable for having been awarded the highest possible hygiene rating and a Miami-esque boardwalk hosts a lovely selection of restaurants that are perfect for popping into and getting out of the sun for an hour or two.
If you’ve ever dreamed of swimming with a platypus it’s time to make that dream come true. Yes, the Healesville Sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where you can frolic in the water with the little duckbilled delights. Located in rural Victoria, the sanctuary is a haven for native Australian wildlife where you can expect to see the usual array of koalas, kangaroos and wallabies. Make sure not to miss David Attenborough’s favourite mimic and resident of the Australian 10 cent coin, the lyrebird.
The zoo has something for everyone; wildlife enthusiasts can meet the keepers, find out all about the animals and watch them interact with the stars of the show, while those with a taste for the finer things in life can enjoy the ‘Wine & Wildlife’ tour, with a two course lunch, a tasting of local wines and the chance to admire the unique and iconic animals of Oz. Perfect for an overnight stay before setting off to explore more of what Victoria has to offer the next day.
1 hour 15 minutes
A city as fun to say out loud as it is to visit; Geelong is a Victoria’s second biggest hub after Melbourne and after a recent makeover, it’s hot on the heels of its bigger and better-known neighbour. What was once the centre of Victoria’s wool industry has been converted into upmarket wine bars and highly rated restaurants perfect for a late evening meal on the waterfront. If you’re here in summer head down to Eastern Beach, a small sandy part of Corio Bay, complete with geometric bathing pavilion, diving boards and a sunbathing area, while there is also a smaller pool that caters for any young explorers you may have with you.
If locally sourced produce, craft beers on a roof and live music is more your thing (and if it is, you’re our kind of person) then head to Jack & Jill on Moorabool Street, where the menu consists of a stomach-rumbling selection of tasting dishes including pepper crusted Winchelsea ostrich, quail egg salads and crunchy polenta bites. Food, glorious food.
1 hour 10 minutes
Central Deborah Gold Mine
Gold was discovered in Bendigo in September 1851 and the gold-rush that ensued turned what was previously a sleepy sheep station into a prospecting boomtown, with the area jumping from a mere 800 people to hosting a staggering 20,000 by the following June. Between 1851 and 1954 Bendigo produced 700,000kg of the shiny stuff, which equates to almost $30bn Australian in today’s prices. The area was quite literally showered with gold; accounts from the 1940s tell of how, after heavy rainfall, opportunistic locals could pan for gold in the gutters of the streets, while the town’s more enterprising children would use it to buy sweets and toys from the small collection of shops.
Central Deborah Mine is the only mine still open to the public and has over six different kinds of tour taking visitors through the dark and damp passages; from an ‘Underground Adventure’ 85 metres below ground to the ‘Mine Experience’ that allows you to explore the surface of the mine, vintage mining machinery, gold panning and explanatory museum – subterranean super-fans will be in their element here.
1 hour 45 minutes
Port Campbell National Park
Sometimes the obvious destinations are obvious because you simply can’t overlook them. Port Campbell National Park and its natural spectacles fit perfectly into this category. Its main attraction, the Twelve Apostles, rise out of the surf and spray of the Southern Ocean like remnants of a fantasy film set yet to be deconstructed and should you be lucky enough to drive down the Ocean Road, you’ll get the best possible view. Driving in this heat can be strenuous and hard work, but the many hidden creeks along the way are perfect for cooling off, taking a dip and escaping the sizzling summer heat.
Publications and well-travelled writers will consistently describe places as ‘spectacular’ and ‘breathtaking’, sure to leave you ‘full of wonder’, but the Southern Ocean’s coastal landscape is so unique, so powerful that all that hyperbole just isn’t necessary. We recommend simply heading there, parking up and taking it all in.