Distance from CBD: 65 KILOMETRES
With its gorgeous scenery, the temptation with Healesville is simply to drive around all day, but there are several notable places to stop. If your memories of Healesville Sanctuary (Badger Creek Road, Healesville, 5957 2800) date from a distant childhood visit, you need to update them; the now expansive site has a vast menagerie of Australian wildlife in natural settings. Taste (and undoubtedly buy) hand-made cheese from the renowned Yarra Valley Dairy (70-80 McMeikans Road, Yering, 9739 1222), and pay particular attention to the goat’s cheeses. Train buffs as well as the merely curious will enjoy the Yarra Valley Tourist Railway (Healesville-Kinglake Road, Healesville, 5962 2490), where volunteers run a train or trolley service hourly most Wednesdays and Sundays. Their tracks are almost as old as the Healesville Hotel (256 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville, 5962 4002), which has been restored over the past decade. There’s a cafe, fine dining restaurant and a relaxing beer garden.
Distance from CBD: 86 KILOMETRES
This is a day to start early, perhaps stopping for breakfast at the rustic Merrick General Store (3460 Frankston-Flinders Road, Merrick, 5989 8088), which boasts hearty country fare. Choices around the historic Mornington Peninsula town are predicated on the proximity to water, so you can walk along the Flinders pier and see what’s being caught by the regulars, or if you fancy a surf, jump in at nearby Point Leo. If you want to get lost – in a good way – consider Ashcombe Maze and Lavender Gardens (15 Shoreham Road, Shoreham, 5989 8387), home to Australia’s oldest hedge maze. The circular rose maze is in bloom from November til June. Finish up at Red Hill’s Paringa Estate Winery (44 Paringa Road, Red Hill South, 5989 2669), where Lindsay McCall’s pinot noir is winning award after award, year after year.
Distance from CBD: 115 KILOMETRES
The Lake House (4 King Street, Daylesford, 5348 3329) is many things, including a day spa, hotel and creative home to the artist (and co-owner) Allan Wolf-Tasker, but it’s nigh on impossible to go past the restaurant overseen by executive chef Alla Wolf-Tasker, where seasonal produce sourced from regional suppliers is transformed into an acclaimed menu. A walk afterwards may be necessary, so consider Mount Franklin (Daylesford-Castlemaine Road), a Parks Victoria site eight kilometres north of town, where you can walk to the summit for fine views. Alternately, just keep spoiling yourself at the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa (20 Mineral Springs Reserve Road, Hepburn Springs, 5348 8888), which is beginning its 116th year. Choose from private mineral baths, body scrubs, massages and more. Art enthusiasts will enjoy The Convent Gallery (corner Hill and Daly streets, Daylesford, 5348 3211), where a renovated gold rush mansion presents Australian and international artists.
Distance from CBD: 140 kilometres
More than 3 million people visit each year, and a fair percentage of them are interested in penguins. But during the summer, the daily penguin parade at the Phillip Island Nature Park (1019 Ventnor Road, Ventnor, 5951 2800) occurs at about 9pm, so it would be a long day trip. If you do stick around, consider the Penguins Plus ticket: it costs more (adult $40, family $100), but you get remarkably close. Before that you can visit the Nobbies, the park’s spectacular boardwalk path along the natural sea bird gardens of the headland. For one long weekend in October, the Grand Prix Circuit (Back Beach Road, Phillip Island, 5952 2710) becomes a sprawling temporary city for the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, but the rest of the year it hosts various automotive activities, from go-karts and hot laps with an experienced race driver to slot car racing. Smell the flowers on the way back to town at Cranbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens (corner Ballarto Road and Botanic Drive, Cranbourne).
Distance from CBD: 104 kilometres
Queenscliff was, 130 years ago, a Victorian era seaside resort and it has retained its history and appeal. There’s a thriving arts community, and one of the town’s simple pleasures is perusing the craft outlets and galleries. Eating options support varied tastes: try the innovative take on modern Australian cuisine at Loam (650 Andersons Road, Drysdale, 5251 1101), or opt for fish and chips along the newly modernised marina (queenscliffharbour.com.au). Go one nautical step further and catch the ferry (searoad.com.au) for a 40-minute journey across to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula; ferries depart both ports hourly from 7am to 7pm daily. Have a drink at the elegant Queenscliff Hotel. Music fans should take note of the final weekend in November, as that’s when the annual Queenscliff Music Festival hosts a panoply of talent.
Distance from CBD: 35 kilometres
At 633 metres above sea level, you can literally look down on Melbourne in all its sprawling glory from the summit of Mount Dandenong. While you’re there, visit William Ricketts Sanctuary on the east face, where the late artist spent decades merging the creative and natural landscape by seeding the old growth eucalyptus forest with 92 ceramic sculptures. Elsewhere in the Dandenong Ranges there’s the venerable steam train Puffing Billy (Puffing Billy Place, Emerald, 9757 0700, puffingbilly.com.au), the quaint and delightful Miss Marple’s Tea Rooms (382 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Sassafras, 9755 1610), and the National Rhododendron Gardens (The Georgian Road, Olinda, 131 963), where much is in bloom. As well as the comparatively short journey there, the Dandenongs offer a different experience throughout the seasons, from welcome coolness during the summer to light snow falls in winter.
Distance from CBD: 85 kilometres
Nestled in the Macedon Ranges north-west of Melbourne and now bypassed by through-traffic, Kyneton is a relaxed day trip that can start with an appreciation of the gold rush town’s history thanks to the bluestone Kyneton Museum (67 Piper Street, Kyneton, 5422 1228). Stay on Piper Street for something more contemporary: retail browsing. As a tree-change destination, there’s a plethora of artists and craftspeople whose work is available through local shops. For fine food, the Royal George Hotel (24 Piper Street, Kyneton, 5422 1390) does lunch from Thursday to Sunday, while Annie Smithers’ Bistrot & Produce (72 Piper Street, Kyneton, 5422 2039) updates classic European concepts with a contemporary twist, and provides lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. If you want a different Spring Carnival experience, consider the Kyneton Cup, held on the first Wednesday in November at NMIT Kyneton Park (Campaspe Place, Kyneton, 5422 1866).
Distance from CBD: 138 kilometres
Lorne is the tiny town that could, swelling in population many times over during the holiday season, as everything from the Falls Music Festival to the Pier to Pub swim brings in visitors. Getting to the seaside setting is a pleasure in itself, with the Great Ocean Road, beginning at Torquay. Erskine Falls (the end of Erskine Falls Road), 10 kilometres north-east of Lorne, is a natural wonder that introductes the rugged beauty of the Otways. If staying in Lorne, take the cliff-walk along the foreshore and check out Lorne Pier – the fishermen’s co-op sells fresh seafood from that morning’s catch. If you want to go that extra mile, check out Chris’s Beacon Point Restaurant (280 Skenes Creek Road, Apollo Bay, 5237 6411) for a great dining experience.
Distance from CBD: 150 kilometres
Leave the car at home and take the train – not only is the V/Line service between Melbourne and Bendigo frequent (vline.com.au), but the period railway station at the latter sets the tone for the regional city’s Victorian-era architecture. By contrast, the Bendigo Art Gallery (42 View Street, Bendigo, 5434 6088) has rightfully gained a reputation as one of the most forward-thinking regional art spaces in the country, with American Dreams, a storied photography exhibition running from April 16 to July 10, the pick of the numerous upcoming shows. Mix up your day by taking in nearby Castlemaine, a quiet town with a selection of cafes and restaurants: consider The Good Table (233 Barker Street, Castlemaine, 5472 4400) and its six-course taste menu before exploring the various artisans’ outlets.
Distance from CBD: 284 kilometres
The longest journey of the 10 listed here, the trip to this town in the state’s north-east is worthwhile simply for a visit to the celebrated Beechworth Bakery (27 Camp Street, Beechworth, 1300 233 784) for one of their trademark bee-sting cakes. For a substantial meal head to Provenance (86 Ford Street, Beechworth, 5728 1786), where you can enjoy chef and owner Michael Ryan’s contemporary food in what was once a 19th-century bank (the vault is now the wine cellar); you’ll soon understand why Ryan has consistently won multiple hats in various Age Good Food Guides. If sedate is the go, simply stay on Ford Street for shops such as Frances Pilley’s handcrafts (45 Ford Street, Beechworth, 5728 2550) and the Beechworth Antique & Wine Centre (87 Ford Street, Beechworth, 5728 1855). The more daring will enjoy the Mountain Bike Park (Alma Road, Beechworth), an extensive and free collection of tracks and trails in a sustainable environment.