Second Cities: Destinations to add on to a trip to Melbourne, Australia

Mar 2, 2020

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Welcome to TPG’s series Second Cities. The series is designed to help travellers find smaller or less-popular-but-equally-amazing places to visit that are no more than a few hours by air or land from your original destination so you can maximize your itinerary.

Melbourne is a bit of a quiet achiever in Australia. It is not as well known as its “big sister” Sydney, doesn’t have the spectacular Sydney Harbor Bridge or Opera House or the beautiful beaches really close to the city. So it needs to work just a little bit harder to attract tourists.

What Melbourne does have in spades is culture. It’s known as the most European city in Australia, it’s also the capital of the country for sports and major events and has incredible food, coffee, fashion, architecture and nightlife scenes that can measure up to — and in many ways exceed — Sydney, where most tourists first think to visit.

There’s plenty to keep you occupied in Melbourne — I loved visiting so much I ended up living there for seven years. But if you are visiting Melbourne, there are also some great destinations all within the state of Victoria you should consider adding to your trip.

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Related: Visiting Australia — is Sydney or Melbourne better?

The CBD zone of Melbourne city, Australia. Photo by Boy_Anupong/Getty Images.
Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Boy_Anupong/Getty Images)

The coast: The Great Ocean Road

This is probably the most scenic drive in all of Australia and one of the world’s great ocean drives. If you are driving from Melbourne towards Adelaide, you can take the most direct, inland route or the spectacular ocean route.

Getting there:

There are plenty of attractions along this drive but you’ll want to focus on reaching the 12 Apostles, which are around a four-hour drive west of Melbourne. You could do it in a single (very long) day, though it will be far more pleasant to stay in the area overnight to break up the journey. You could technically do a group tour though it is preferable to hire a car so you can go at your own pace and stop off wherever you feel like.

Where to stay:

There’s plenty of small towns dotted along the drive — aim for Port Campbell, Apollo Bay and the surrounds if you want to be close to the best sights. While you won’t find any five-star hotels to redeem your points at, there is plenty of local accommodation with real country hospitality that will welcome your business following the devastating bushfires last year, as well as Airbnbs to choose from in the area.

What to see and do:

The 12 Apostles are enormous rock stacks rising up from the sea right next to the Great Ocean Road. They are described by local guides as being created by “constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland beginning 10 to 20 million years ago, the stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs. The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed rock stacks up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore”.

While the Apostles are, in my opinion, the best thing about the Great Ocean Road, there’s plenty in the area to see and do from great surf beaches like Bells Beach, hiking through the Otway Ranges rainforest or getting up close and personal with some of the local wildlife at Tower Hill Reserve.

Related: From Cyprus to Australia: 5 unusual skiing destinations

The Great Ocean Road is one of the world
The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s most scenic drives. (Photo by robynmac/Getty Images)

Wine: The Yarra Valley

Forget France. Australia makes some of the best wine in the world — full stop. Different regions of Australia specialise in different wine varieties based on their climate and growing conditions. The Yarra Valley is world-famous for two styles in particular: chardonnay (white) and pinot noir (a light red).

Getting there:

The Yarra Valley is an easy day-trip from Melbourne — only about an hours drive each way depending on where you are coming from in the city and going to in the region. If you have a car, designate a driver (drink driving laws of 0.05% BAC are no joke and are strictly enforced), and make a day of it. Otherwise, if no one wants to actually spit their wine out, group tours are plentiful.

Where to stay:

Given its proximity to Melbourne, it’s not essential to stay in the area if you are already staying in Melbourne. If you do want to stay over to avoid the drive back, look for properties around Yarra Glen, Healesville and Marysville. You will need a car to get from the hotels to the wineries or you may be able to organise tours to collect you from the hotels.

What to see and do:

Drink the wine of course! Wineries will provide tastings — some are complimentary while others will charge a small fee (about $5 or £2.50 per person) which will be deducted from the cost of any bottles you purchase at the end of the tasting. Many wineries also have spectacular, high-end restaurants. It’s best to book in advance for lunch, especially on weekends when many Melburnians also come down for the day to enjoy the wine. While a cold crisp glass of white wine will be very refreshing on a hot Australian summer day, you probably aren’t going to want red wine in the heat. I love visiting in winter instead, rugging up warmly (Melburnians wear black, black and more black in winter) and heading out there for the day for a warming glass of pinot noir.

If you don’t know anything about wine, don’t worry at all. You will find laid-back, welcoming Australian winemakers passionate about their products and very happy for you to get to know them, too.

Domaine Chandon is one of the biggest and most well-known wineries in the region, founded by the world-famous champagne house, Moet & Chandon. I also love Montalto and Yering Farm.

Related: 10 reasons you should visit Australia

Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges
(Photo courtesy of Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges/Facebook)

The countryside: Daylesford and Hepburn Springs

Keen for a spa day and a quiet cup of tea? You don’t need to be in a five-star hotel to experience this. Daylesford is a legendary “tree-change” destination, where people escape the city for peace, quiet and tranquillity.

Getting there:

Daylesford is an hour easy drive north-west of Melbourne and a favourite weekender retreat for busy, stressed city folk. You’ll want a car to explore at your own pace as organised tour groups are unlikely to be so relaxing.

Where to stay:

After a day of chilled out bliss, you won’t feel like navigating the traffic back to Melbourne so it’s a great place to stay for a night or two. Mid-week will be quieter before the weekend visitors arrive on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. There’s plenty of accommodation in the area but small, luxury, boutique spa hotels are a great choice — they will fit well into your quiet, peaceful mood and you can take advantage of the naturally occurring mineral springs as part of your spa treatment.

What to see and do:

Relax. The number one attraction in the area is the Hepburn Mineral Hot Springs, where you can soak in outdoor naturally heated pools of therapeutic mineral water which is especially lovely during the cold Melbourne winters from June to August. It is critical to book your visit in advance though, especially if you are visiting on a weekend. I know of several people who have organised a visit to Hepburn Springs without booking the hot springs and arrived to find the day completely booked out.

Related: Which airports are the best to connect in when flying to Australia?

Daylesford Lake to the west of Melbourne is a small town area popular with city visitors at the weekend.
Daylesford Lake to the west of Melbourne is a small town area popular with city visitors at the weekend. (Photo by jax10289/Getty Images)

The bush: Wilsons Promontory

Australia is a huge country — larger than Europe with millions of square miles of bushland. Fortunately, if you want to experience the Australian outback you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to do so. “Wilsons Prom” as it’s known by Victorians provides wonderful scenery with plenty of hiking and camping options for those who love being outdoors.

Getting there:

Though public transport in regional Victoria isn’t great, it is possible to get a V/line bus from Melbourne to Fish Creek. You can then get a taxi or organise a private transfer the last 30 or so miles to Tidal River as there is no public transport all the way to Wilsons Prom. Note that taxis in Australia are expensive — you’ll be looking at a fare of least £50 one-way from Fish Creek to Wilsons Prom. There are group tours but these may just be day trips from Melbourne, and for the full outback experience, you’ll want to stay overnight.

You can also drive all the way there yourself in around three hours from Melbourne, depending on traffic.

Where to stay:

Under the stars! You can take your own tents to camp in the great outdoors, or there’s the option of glamping at Tidal River — these permanent safari-style tents have wooden floors, proper queen size beds and communal bathrooms.

What to see and do:

Enjoy the great outdoors. Pick a hiking trail and take the time to witness the spectacular scenery. You can see mountains, rainforest and beaches all within the same day. Keep your eye out for some cute local animals like wallabies and echidnas though it’s important not to try and feed them. Make sure you also take all your rubbish with you to ensure the wilderness stays pristine.

Research the expected weather for the time you are visiting — the summers can be searingly hot (not great for camping), while in winter the temperatures can really drop overnight.

Bottom line

There’s plenty to see and do in Melbourne itself — you could easily spend a week there and not get bored. Australia is a huge country, so this list provides some options you can reach without needing to jump on a plane and experience more that this fantastic country has to offer.

Featured photo by Australian Scenics/Getty Images

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