I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published July 2nd 2019
10 Great Family Days Out
Here are 10 top day trips to get you out and about visiting some of Victoria's greatest attractions, and all within a 2-hour drive from Melbourne.
Ballarat is Victoria's largest inland city and the third largest inland city in Australia, a city where the Victorian and Edwardian buildings, parks, gardens and broad tree-lined streets speak to the wealth generated here during the greatest gold rush the world has ever seen.
Step back in time at Sovereign Hill and enjoy one of Ballarat's truly historic attractions. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Some of the cities great buildings include the Town Hall (Circa 1870), Her Majesty's Theatre (Circa 1875) and Craig's Royal Hotel which took 38 years to complete, built in stages between 1853 and 1891.
Today visitors can still pan for gold and engage in the hustle and bustle of the 1850's goldfields at Sovereign Hill historical park or learn the history of the Eureka Rebellion at the site of the original Eureka Stockade.
Look beyond the history and you'll find a culinary hotspot with popular eateries, breweries and cafes spread throughout town.
A major Ballarat attraction is Lake Wendouree, a man-made lake covering 200-Hectares that hosted rowing events for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Ballarat's magnificent Botanical Gardens are situated on the western side of the lake and features a conservatory, fernery, beautiful lawns and an avenue of bronze busts of all Australia's Prime Ministers.
A vintage electric tramway runs down Wendouree Parade between the Botanical Gardens and the Lake Wendouree foreshore.
Visitors will be spoiled for choice for things to see and do in this imposing and historic goldrush city.
Ballarat is 116-kilometres west of Melbourne, about a 90-Minute drive via the National Highway/M8.
A trip to Phillip Island is something of a right of passage for most Victorian's, one of those places you have to go to at least once in your life to see the penguin parade at Summerlands Beach, visit The Nobbies for a look across to Seal Rocks and for petrol-heads, clock up a fast lap on the world-class Grand Prix Circuit.
Phillip Island is home to the world famous Moto GP circuit.
For many, it's been the scene of regular seaside holidays complete with lots of family attractions, swimming, fishing, surfing and a good dose of laid-back beachside relaxation.
There are a number of wildlife experiences to be had with tours to view the seals at Seal Rocks, koalas in the wild and migrating whales from May to October.
There are great wining & dining options, shopping, tours and scenic flights.
From Forts Pearce and Nepean to the old Quarantine Station and the former Army Officer Training School Point Nepean has played a significant role in some of the States most significant and memorable events. It was from here that the first Allied shot of World War 1 was fired and also the first Australian shot of World War 2.
You'll be amazed by the history of the old Quarantine Station. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Cheviot Beach was the site from which Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared without a trace while swimming in rough surf on 17th December 1967.
The Quarantine Station tended to thousands of sick immigrants in the 19th and early 20th Centuries and later hosted refugees from the conflict in Kosovo. Part of it became the Army Officer Training School, turning out hundreds of Officers between 1952 and 1985.
The former Regimental Sergeant Majors office, set beside the beautifully manicured grass Parade Ground, was once a shepherds hut dating back to 1845 and thought to be the oldest, intact limestone building in Victoria.
There are a number of walking trails that take in highlights of the park and a hop-on/hop-off shuttle bus service operates to Fort Nepean and return.
Point Nepean National Park is 112-kilometres south of Melbourne, just over a 990-minute drive via Citylink/M1 and the Mornington Peninsula Freeway/M11.
Bendigo is an elegant regional city awash in gold rush history and Chinese heritage. During the 1850's Bendigo was the richest goldfield in Australia, returning around 9-billion dollars worth of gold in today's terms.
That incredible wealth is reflected in the city today with its grand buildings. magnificent parks & gardens, artworks and broad, beautiful tree-lined thoroughfares.
Take a trip on Bendigo's Talking Trams through the heart of this historic goldfields city. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In its modern form, Bendigo is a foodies paradise, at the centre of one of Victoria's premier wine regions and boasting an eclectic range of pubs, restaurants, cafes, bars, and tasting rooms.
You'll never be short of something to do in Bendigo.
It's home to one of the best regional art galleries in the country featuring regular world-class exhibitions.
You can descend hundreds of feet underground at the Central Deborah Mine and see first hand the harsh conditions experienced by miners.
And don't miss Bendigo Pottery which has been turning out quality ceramics for more than 150-years and today is home to an excellent Interpretive Museum and a world-class collection of ceramic wood-fired kilns.
Bendigo is 153-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, just under a 2-Hour drive via the Calder Freeway/M79.
Mount Macedon is a place of wonderful contrast. A place of beautifully manicured English style gardens set amid native bush.
It's a highly sought after residential address with homes ranging from small country cottages to impressive mansions. Hiking trails and picnic spots abound. There's snow in winter, an abundance of wildlife and the region is a birdwatchers paradise.
The Memorial Cross on the summit of Mount Macedon honours Australia's war dead. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The natural beauty of Mount Macedon is a great attraction but wait, there's more.
At the summit, the Memorial Cross commemorates Australia's war dead and provides expansive views to Melbourne and down Port Phillip Bay.
Forest Glade is also home to the Stokes Collection, an incredible collection of antiques and artworks including the largest private collection of antique porcelain in the southern hemisphere. It's open to guided tours but prior bookings are essential.
Mount Macedon is 66-kilometres north of Melbourne, under an hour's drive via the Calder Freeway/M79.
Queenscliff is on the Bellarine Peninsula not far from Point Lonsdale and close to the infamous Rip, the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It's been a popular seaside resort with generations of Victorian's and was once serviced by luxurious Bay steamers bringing holidaymakers from Melbourne.
Fort Queenscliff with its heavy guns overlooking The Rip was once the most heavily fortified military post in the southern hemisphere and eared for Port Phillip the unofficial title of the Gibraltar of the South.
Queenscliff's magnificent fort is a meticulously maintained historic site. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Queenscliff today is about taking a step back to the 19th Century with its historic streetscapes, former Coffee Palaces, steamer pier and lifeboat station, the magnificent fort and the Wreck Bell, used to summons the lifeboat crew in the event of a maritime emergency.
The Queenscliff Historical Museum in Hesse Street, the Maritime Museum on Weeroona Parade and a fabulous little museum in the fort each give excellent insights into different aspects of Queenscliff's history. Access to the military museum is included in the cost of a tour of Fort Queenscliff.
The town centre abounds with great hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars and cafés as well as a variety of quirky retail outlets but the dominant feature of the Hesse Street shopping precinct is the fabulous Vue Grande Hotel. Built in 1891 the Vue Grande gives visitors the opportunity to experience opulent wining, dining and accommodation in 19th Century style.
You'll find Queenscliff Harbour on Wharf Street. Home to fishing and pleasure boats it includes a retail strip with a number of restaurants and cafes offering views across the harbour. There's also a 30-Metre tall tower that serves as a navigation beacon and is topped by an observation deck offering great views across Queenscliff to Port Phillip Bay.
The eastern end of the harbour houses the Queenscliff to Sorrento Ferry Terminal.
At the northern end of Hesse Street, you'll find the headquarters of the Bellarine Railway running passenger services on 16-kilometres of track from Queenscliff to Drysdale and return.
One of my favourite spots in Queenscliff is the carpark behind Fort Queenscliff. Here you can sit and watch shipping coming and going through The Rip and offering some great photo opportunities.
For more information go to www.queenscliff.com.au visit the Queenscliff Visitor Information Centre at 55 Hesse Street or call them on (03) 5258 4843.
Getting There …..
Queenscliff is 102-kilometres south of Melbourne, just over a 90-minute drive via the Princes Freeway/M1 and the Bellarine Highway/B110.
Daylesford in Central Victoria is at the centre of the largest concentration of mineral springs in Australia.
Like many other towns in this part of Victoria Daylesford's initial growth was due to the influx of diggers following a gold strike in 1851. The Daylesford gold fields are now a lake, beautiful Lake Daylesford located just minutes from the centre of town. There's a popular café right on the lake's edge, walking tracks, several mineral springs and some great picnic spots. There are also jetties for fishing and launching small craft.
Magnificent Lake Daylesford was the scene of the regions initial gold strike in 1851. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Albert and Vincent Streets are the commercial heart of Daylesford and retain a number of historic 19th Century buildings including the Post Office (Circa 1867) and the Town Hall (Circa 1882).
But Daylesford today, together with nearby Hepburn Springs, is all about the mineral springs, spas and alternative therapies & lifestyle.
Visitors can choose from a range of naturopathy, herbal treatments, massage (including Hawaiian Kahuna massage), hypnotherapy, reiki, botanical facials, tarot and more. In fact, Daylesford could just be the alternative therapy capital of Australia.
It's also a great place for a spot of fine dining with the Lake House, one of Australia's greatest restaurants just a short stroll from the centre of town.
Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens were established in 1863. They sit on an extinct volcano and offer panoramic views across the surrounding countryside.
Nearby Jubilee Lake was original a source for water for the town but today is popular swimming, boating and fishing spot.
Daylesford and surrounds is a great place for holidays, natural health and for a day trip.
For more information go to www.visithepburnshire.com.au, visit the Daylesford Visitor Information Centre in the old Fire Station at 98 Vincent Street or telephone them on 1800 454 891.
Getting There …..
Daylesford is 114-kilometres northwest of Melbourne, about a 90-minute drive via the National Highway/M8 and the C141.
The Mount Dandenong Tourist Road winds its way for 30-kilometres through stunning forests of mountain ash and steep, leafy fern glades carrying visitors to countless picnic spots, lookouts, the summit of Mount Dandenong and the quirky villages of Belgrave, Sassafras and Olinda.
This is Devonshire Tea country but with so much more to attract families.
One of the great joys of a trip to the Dandenong Ranges is a ride on Puffing Billy. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Attractions like the many cool climate gardens found here. The National Rhododendron Gardens, the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens, Cloudehill Nursery and Gardens, the RJ Hamer Arboretum and Tesselaar Tulip Farm are all icons of the Ranges and attract droves of visitors particularly during spring and autumn.
And who wouldn't want to enjoy one of the great thrills of a visit to the Dandenong Ranges, a ride on Puffing Billy. This icon of Australian tourism is one of Australia's best preserved scenic railways running along 24-kilometres of track, traversing wooden bridges and stopping at quaint mountain villages as it steams through spectacular forests and gullies.
The Dandenong Ranges has it all – nature and wildlife, food & wine and history & heritage. All helping to make your day out a great day out.
Mount Dandenong is 47-kilometres east of Melbourne, about a 1-hour drive via the Eastern Freeway/M3.
The revitalised Geelong waterfront is the result of millions of dollars of investment and years of hard work transforming a disused industrial wasteland into a fabulous public leisure, residential and entertainment precinct.
A rejuvenated Cunningham Pier has become the focal point for many major events and a totally revamped streetscape, lush parks and expansive grass areas stretch all the way from Eastern park and Limeburners Point to The Esplanade and Ripppleside.
One Hundred and three colourful carved wooden bollards are a feature of Geelong's popular Waterfront precinct. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Bars, restaurants and cafes abound alongside playgrounds, a skate park, a magnificent carousel and a host of seasonal attractions.
A highlight of any visit to this part of Geelong is a walk along all or some of the Waterfront Bollard Trail, a total of 48 sites comprising 103 carved bollards extending along the shore from Limeburners Point to Rippleside Park and taking about 2-hours one way.
And don't miss the very rare 1892 vintage Armitage-Herschell Carousel with its 26 horses and 2 chariots.
Protected in a purpose-built pavilion the carousel is a major hit with children and one of the very few carousels of its vintage still operating anywhere in the world.
Geelong's revitalised waterfront is colourful and vibrant leisure & recreational precinct, a fabulous family attraction and a destination not to be missed.
Geelong Foreshore is 75-kilometres south of Melbourne, just over an hour's drive via the Princes Freeway/M1.
Real name Mount Diogenes, Central Victoria's Hanging Rock is a 6-million year old volcanic site, sacred to the local indigenous people and shrouded in mystery thanks to a totally fictitious book and movie.
Hanging Rock itself is a large boulder suspended between other rocky outcrops and overhanging a footpath leading to the top of the mount.
Hanging Rock is abuzz with history and mystery. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In author Joan Lindsay's 1967 book Picnic At Hanging Rock a group of schoolgirls go missing on a Valentines Day picnic in 1900. The book was made into an award-winning film in 1975 and only served to deepen the mystery. People still go there today convinced that the story is true, and rumours of weird happenings and eerie events on and around the rock only serve to strengthen the air of mystery that surrounds the place.
The climb to the top of the Rock is a reasonable workout and provides great views of the surrounding farmland the nearby Mount Macedon and the Cobaw Ranges.
Rumour has it that the bushranger Mad Dog Morgan hid on Hanging Rock and preyed on diggers making their way to the central goldfields.
The Hanging Rock Discovery centre provides interpretive displays on the area's history and there's a great little café for light refreshments. Alternatively, bring a picnic and enjoy the large grassed areas and picnic & barbecue spots.