Where Melbourne - - Contents - By Jenny Burns

WHILE MEL­BOURNE OF­FERS plenty to keep lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike amused for weeks, we are also blessed with a num­ber of fas­ci­nat­ing vil­lages and towns all within an hour or so drive from the heart of the city.

Some, such as the vil­lages of the Yarra Val­ley and the Dan­de­nongs, have been pop­u­lar for many years, whilst oth­ers are now just be­ing recog­nised for their great restau­rants, in­ter­est­ing shops and, in many cases, fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal build­ings. As an added bonus many are eas­ily ac­cessed by ei­ther car, pub­lic trans­port or on a guided coach tour.

Head north of the city and you’ll dis­cover such de­lights as Castle­maine and Dayles­ford. Like their ‘big­ger city cousins’—bal­larat and Bendigo—these vil­lages owe their ex­is­tence to the dis­cov­ery of gold in the 1850s.

Castle­maine’s his­tory and her­itage is vis­i­ble in its fine pub­lic build­ings, wide streets, or­nate ho­tels and cen­tury-old shops sell­ing ev­ery­thing from gourmet food to an­tiques and art.

Castle­maine also has a thriv­ing arts and cul­tural com­mu­nity and has made its mark as a lead­ing re­gional arts cen­tre. Its gar­dens are an­other fea­ture. The gar­dens at Buda His­toric Home and Gar­den date back to the 19th-cen­tury.

‘Tak­ing the wa­ters’ has long been a favourite pas­time of vis­i­tors to Dayles­ford and Hep­burn Springs. Given the towns and sur­round­ing ar­eas have Aus­tralia’s rich­est con­cen­tra­tion of min­eral springs, it’s easy to see why.

Each week­end hun­dreds of Mel­bur­ni­ans head to the twin towns for a healthy re­lax­ing week­end. Many can be found ex­plor­ing the min­eral springs. Around 70 springs bub­ble freely through the ground. Spa treat­ments are an­other favourite pas­time for vis­i­tors, as is walk­ing the his­toric streets lined with cafés, restau­rants, gal­leries, an­tique and spe­cial­ity stores.

Gee­long is in the midst of rein­ven­tion with in­dus­trial spa­ces trans­formed into creative hubs. Cool cafés and gal­leries are pop­ping up all the time.

Cen­tral and West Gipp­s­land has long been a favourite des­ti­na­tion for Mel­bur­ni­ans search­ing for great cheese, meat, fruit and wine. And now the rest of the world is dis­cov­er­ing the re­gion’s great gourmet de­lights.

If the beach is more your scene then con­sider a trip to some of the vil­lages on our two Penin­su­las—morn­ing­ton and Bel­lar­ine. Sor­rento on the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula can lay claim to be­ing the old­est part of the state as in 1803 a short-lived small con­vict set­tle­ment was es­tab­lished here.

Queen­scliff, on the Bel­lar­ine Penin­sula, also has a long and colour­ful his­tory. Many re­minders of its his­tory can be seen in im­pos­ing Vic­to­rian-era build­ings and a huge mil­i­tary fortress guard­ing the en­trance to Port Phillip Bay. You can visit both in a day by tak­ing the Queen­scliff to Sor­rento car and pas­sen­ger ferry.

Of course no trip to Vic­to­ria is com­plete with­out a visit to Phillip Is­land to see our very cute lit­tle pen­guins that each night come in from the ocean and wad­dle across the sand to their bur­rows.

Phillip Is­land is also home to the Koala Con­ser­va­tion Cen­tre which of­fers the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment to see koalas close up and, im­por­tantly, in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Also look­out for wal­la­bies, echid­nas and na­tive birds. Seal lovers flock to Seal Rocks where there’s an Aus­tralian fur seal colony which is thought to be one of the largest in the coun­try.

On your way to Phillip Is­land you’ll pass an­other of our well-known at­trac­tions—the Royal Botanic Gar­dens Cran­bourne. Here you will dis­cover more than 100,000 Aus­tralian plants and land­scapes, set in 363 hectares of nat­u­ral bush­land. High­lights in­clude the Aus­tralian Gar­den, which fol­lows a jour­ney of wa­ter from the arid in­land land­scapes of cen­tral Aus­tralia down to the coastal fringes of the con­ti­nent.

Sor­rento Long Pier, Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula. Photo: Visit Vic­to­ria.

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