With its laid-back bars, world-class street art and full roster of galleries, museums and markets, Melbourne has enough to keep visitors entertained for weeks on end. However, if you find yourself wanting to escape the city for a few days, it also makes an excellent base for road trips into the Australian state of Victoria, where visitors can uncover mountain ranges, wildlife reserves and former gold mining towns. Here are seven of the best road trips from Melbourne.
Distance – approx 325km/200 miles
On the roughly three-and-a-half-hour drive to Bright, you’ll pass through King Valley, Victoria’s little version of Tuscany. Here, a wave of Italian migrants set up post during the 1930s, noting an ideal climate for winemaking. Driving through the valley is a pleasure in itself, but it’s worth taking a few pit stops: Brown Brothers Vineyard, Pizzini and the Milawa Cheese Company are all notable options. Further east sits the humble town of Bright, championing local produce to create a gastronomic hub.
Bright Brewery in the heart of town is bustling on weekends, Reed & Co serves as the local gin house and Sixpence is the coffee roaster next door. Locals will tell you to visit Tomahawks, one of the town’s most innovative and exciting restaurants. Kiwi founder, Kurt Adam, does a great job of flaunting Aussie produce with the help of head chef Dave Weston, a local who grew up in neighbouring Harrietville.
As well as the happening dining scene, Bright boasts an alluring riverside position, with a free public water park where kids (and big kids alike) can frolic. There's also the multi-coloured tree tunnel that warmly welcomes people into town – particularly stunning in autumn. Grab a cottage for a few nights for some laid back rejuvenation in the countryside.
Cathedral Range State Park
Distance – approx 115km/71 miles
Calling all adventurers, campers and hikers; two hours north east of Melbourne, the Cathedral Range State Park awaits, offering a series of epic hiking trails. Moderate to difficult trails meander through the rolling Australian bush. The most difficult route (Wells Cave Tracks) demands that hikers squeeze through the narrow wedge that is Wells Cave and scramble up the mountain’s rocky cliff face to reach the ridge.
The sweet spot, aptly named Sugarloaf Peak, awards spectacular views, where you can enjoy the park’s grandeur and sublime verdancy from above. Once you’ve worn yourself out, retreat to a lodge or motel in one of the surrounding towns such as Marysville, though the closest option would be to camp in the park itself – be sure to book in advance. You’ll wake up to the sound of birds and maybe a wombat strutting through the bush.
Distance – approx 130km/80 miles
Exploring the history of Victoria’s Goldfield Towns yields treasures such as the world’s largest alluvial nugget, a 72kg whopper known as ‘Welcome Stranger’. Yep, pack your bags now, there’s gold in them hills! Well, there used to be anyway, and people rushed here from far and wide, hoping to score their nugget of fortune back in the late 1800s.
This history is still prevalent in country towns like Castlemaine which, though still a humble town and by no means gentrified, has certainly moved onto the cool radar.
The Mill is an 1870s woollen mill that’s been converted into a complex featuring drinking spots such as Taproom, Boomtown Wine and Viennese cafe Das Kaffeehaus, alongside a vintage bazaar, art studios, workshops and more. Head back to the charming town centre for boutiques selling high quality items including garments made from Australian wool, locally made jewellery, furniture and gifts. When the munchies come calling, head to Bistro Lola for some dinner before catching a movie at the art deco cinema Theatre Royal.
Distance – approx 142km/88 miles
Roughly 140km from Melbourne’s CBD is a quintessentially Aussie island escape, where wildlife and adventure awaits. Undoubtedly, the main animal attraction is the fairy penguin parade, where the tiny birds return from the sea to one of the largest penguin colonies in Australia, 30 minutes after sunset. The viewing platform is ticketed, so be sure to book in advance.
For animal adventures during the day, the Koala Reserve features a boardwalk that starts in the bush and heads up into the treetops, to reveal the fluffy creatures – spotting them is half the fun.
If you’re looking for more adrenaline, guided hot laps around the island’s Grand Prix circuit is sure to get your heart racing. Or head for majestic Cape Woolamai Beach, a popular spot to shred some waves.
Distance – approx 110km/68 miles
Not too far from Phillip Island is the Mornington Peninsula. It's a perfect option for those craving a seaside escape not too far from the city, where wine region meets the sea. As the peninsula nears its end, Sorrento appears – a suburb on the water with an air of coastal chic.
The cafes and restaurants along Ocean Beach Road highlight the peninsula’s local wine, meat, fruit and vegetables. Don’t miss the award-winning vanilla slices from Just Fine Food; they’re pricey, but worth it.
After you’ve selected your bounty, why not take it beachside and spot Queencliff across the water on the Bellarine Peninsula. Ferries leave Sorrento for Queenscliff about 12 times a day, for those looking to cross the sea. There’s plenty to do on Sorrento’s side of the water, though, including a walk at Point Nepean National Park; a tip of Victoria so isolated, it’s sure to clear your thoughts.
Distance – approx 270km/168 miles
Known as some of the country’s most impressive mountain ranges, the Grampians are somewhere to reconnect with nature. Hike up challenging terrain to admire a series of Aboriginal stories painted and etched into rockfaces, alongside some epic panoramic views. Once you’ve summited the Grampians, you should acquaint yourself with the petite base town, Dunkeld, and its surroundings on a bike.
When it comes to accommodation, camping is a popular option, as is staying in the town’s retro cottages. If you’re feeling a little fancy you can try securing accommodation at the Royal Mail Hotel, which also plays host to one of Victoria’s most esteemed country restaurants. Oh, and by the way, Dunkeld has a population of just 678 people – serenity is a given.
Distance – approx 141km/88 miles
Perched on the Great Ocean Road, it’s easy to see why this coastal delight attracts plenty of visitors. Summertime in Lorne sees busy beaches, boardwalks and piers pounded by walkers. People watchers devour fish and chips, while surfers give the swell their best shot.
A visit to mystical Erskine Falls during the colder months is a must. You can spot Southern Right and Humpback whales from the beach or the road from June to October. To eat, Bottle of Milk serves top burgers. For something a little more sophisticated, Greek diner Ipsos makes great use of the local seafood. Overall, Lorne is a winner for those really looking to relax and take a few days at a leisurely pace.
This article was first published in September 2019 and last updated in June 2021.