When the mercury begins to climb, lazy beach days beckon, but the rolling landscapes of country Victoria are just as ripe for a spring staycation or day trip.
Head inland to these postcard-perfect spots, all located within a few hours of Melbourne and discover bushland waterfalls, sweeping vineyards and historic streets with charm in spades.
Distance from Melbourne: 65km (1 hour by car)
This dining and wine hub should be top of the list for any food lover worth their salt. Some of the state’s most acclaimed vineyards – Domaine Chandon, Rochford Wines and Coldstream Hills – offer cellar door tours that are ideal for both seasoned sommeliers and novice connoisseurs alike. And if after all that quaffing you’ve worked up an appetite, the multi-award-winning Healesville Grand Hotel, which has recently undergone a major renovation, remains the go-to gastro pub in the region, serving Italian-leaning fare in rustic surrounds.
Don’t miss: Healesville Sanctuary, a rehabilitation centre and wildlife park that’s home to more than 200 species of native animals and birdlife, including Tasmanian devils, platypuses, dingos and that most iconic of Aussie critters, the koala.
Distance from Melbourne: 150km (2 hours by car)
When fossickers found gold along the banks of a quiet creek north-west of Melbourne in 1851 , there were only a few hundred settlers dwelling in tents in the area. Within six months, Bendigo’s population had swelled to more than 20,000 prospectors. The legacy of the gold rush can be seen on just about every street and square in this town, where lavish Victorian buildings echo the tremendous wealth pulled from the ground more than 170 years ago. Today, there are still riches to discover, such the Bendigo and Heathcote wine regions – famed for their world-class shiraz (be sure to visit the Balgownie Estate cellar door overlooking the gorgeous Myer’s Creek ) – or the dining delights of the multi-hatted Masons of Bendigo or The Woodhouse in the town centre.
Don’t miss: the Golden Dragon Museum. Through its collection of 30,000 artefacts, learn the stories of the Chinese diaspora in Australia and the migrants who came to seek their fortune in the gold rush era. The museum precinct also features a serene Chinese garden and a traditional temple.
Distance from Melbourne: 120km (under 2 hours by car)
On the main streets of this historic town you’ll find charming reminders of its gold rush heydays. But alongside the handsome facades raised here in the 19th century, there are equally impressive natural wonders surrounding Creswick, chief among them the piercing turquoise hues of the aptly named Blue Waters Lake. As the birthplace of the reforestation movement and former home of the Victorian School of Forestry, founded in 1910 , there are dense groves of pines and eucalypts crisscrossed with walking trails in the Creswick Regional Park. As you wend your way through the bush, be sure to keep an eye out for wild koalas dozing amongst the boughs above you.
Don’t miss: the truffle hunts at Black Cat Truffles. Located just a few kilometres south of Creswick , this eight-hectare farm produces some of the finest black perigord truffles in the land. During the winter and summer truffle seasons, seek out these coveted tubers on one of Black Cat’s weekend hunts. Visiting between seasons? Experience a five- or eight-course degustation at the farm’s popular restaurant, where fresh produce from the kitchen garden is paired with locally produced wines.
Distance from Melbourne: 125km (1.5 hours by car)
History courses through the veins of this goldfields town and not just the mid-19th-century mining heritage that dominates this part of Victoria. There’s also a thriving community of hot-rod enthusiasts in the area, channelling the rockabilly cool of the 1940s and ’50s. Perhaps it’s this yen for the countercultures of yesteryear that has attracted creatives of all kinds to Castlemaine. Along with the town’s gold rush splendour, exemplified in the Buda Historic Home and Garden (an authentic period villa from the 1860s), you’ll find hipster baristas in cool cafés, galleries hung with contemporary artworks, tattoo parlours and cideries turning out craft brews – it’s not for nothing that Castlemaine is known as Victoria’s “apple capital”.
Don’t miss: The Mill, Castlemaine’s creative epicentre. At this restored woollen mill you can peruse vintage stalls and upcycled goods, buy local produce, and enjoy the tasty wares of a bakery, coffee roaster, ice-cream bar, and Shedshaker Brewing’s taproom.
Distance from Melbourne: 95km (1.5 hours by car)
Mother Nature outdid herself with the beautiful bushland of Marysville and its surrounds. Located in the heart of the Yarra Ranges, there are hectares of lush forests teeming with native wildlife including lyrebirds, wallabies and wombats, to explore. Journey to the 85-metre-tall Big Tree, which has towered above the leafy canopy for centuries or Steavenson Falls, one of Victoria's highest cascades. Wander through the gum trees and giant ferns on one of the area's many walking trails or challenge yourself with a more ambitious hike through the Cathedral Ranges State Park .
Don’t miss: the Granite Grind mountain biking trail. Get your pulse racing on this 15-kilometre loop track near Lake Mountain. Ride to a peak of 1432 metres and take in the panoramic views before dropping 200 metres down the mountain – a must for any adrenaline seekers.
Distance from Melbourne: 110km (1.5 hours by car)
The Dja Dja Wurrung people, who have called these lands home for millennia, have long known Daylesford as a place of rejuvenation and healing. Its famed mineral waters were also popular with the area’s gold-rush migrants in the mid-1800s, as well as the turn-of-the-century holidaymakers who once flocked here more than 100 years ago. To this day, it continues to be a must-visit wellness destination for those in search of R&R. Feel your stress melting away at the Daylesford Day Spa or The Spa at Lake House, or book in for a relaxing treatment at Daylesford Healing Massage. Neighbouring Hepburn Springs offers even more pampering, courtesy of the Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa and Peppers Mineral Springs.
Don’t miss: Lake House Restaurant, a multi-hatted fine diner that has raised the bar for regional cuisine in Victoria. Expect stellar service, a sophisticated atmosphere and a seasonally focused menu that celebrates local produce.
Distance from Melbourne: 70km (1 hour by car)
Located on the foothills of Mount Macedon, this 19th-century resort town was once a pleasant country retreat where the great and good of Melbourne could escape the city and enjoy rural pursuits. Today, you’ll still find that quintessential village feel, and outdoor pastimes remain just as popular, whether it’s a stroll along the peaceful Five Mile Creek Track or a more challenging ramble in Wombat State Forest. After all that exertion you’ll no doubt be in need of refreshments and Woodend’s thriving pub scene is at the ready. If beer is your tipple of choice, the Holgate Brewhouse’s taproom offers 16 core and limited-edition beers, tasting paddles and hearty pub eats.
Don’t miss: Hanging Rock, a natural landmark steeped in mystery, made infamous by Joan Lindsay’s gothic thriller Picnic at Hanging Rock and Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaptation. Its fictional reputation aside, Hanging Rock Reserve (located just seven kilometres from Woodend) is a fascinating geological monument, a sacred place of gathering for the Dja Dja Wurrung, Woi Wurrung and Taungurung peoples, and the host of several major events including the popular Hanging Rock Craft Market, ranger-guided night walks, the Macedon Ranges Music Festival and the New Year’s Day horse races.
Distance from Melbourne: 250km (2.5 hours by car)
With all the natural splendour of the Grampians on its doorstep, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Halls Gap is well worth the journey from Melbourne, particularly if you’re partial to the great outdoors. MacKenzie Falls and Beehive Falls are both less than a 30-minute drive from town, and the nearby Bellfield, Lonsdale, Fyans and Wartook lakes are ideal for canoeing, fishing and spotting native wildlife. Be sure to stretch your legs on one of the area’s many walking tracks – with more than 160 kilometres of routes to choose from across a broad spectrum of terrains, there’s a stroll to suit every visitor. If it’s views you seek, you can find incredible vistas of Western Victoria from The Pinnacle, an epic lookout perched on sheer sandstone cliffs .
Don’t miss: Venus Baths. These tranquil rock pools are the perfect place to cool off on hot days and are easily accessed via a scenic loop walking track along Stony Creek, just a stone’s throw from town.
Distance from Melbourne: 85km (1 hour by car)
If you’re struck by a spontaneous urge for a drive to the country, a jaunt to the heart of the Mornington Peninsula and this hidden gem of a wine region is an easy fix. What was once an orchard farming region has shifted its focus in recent decades from apples to grapes. There are now more than 60 wineries, 50 cellar doors and 200 vineyards to explore, including smaller boutique outfits like Ten Minutes by Tractor and big hitters such as Port Phillip and Paringa estates.
Don’t miss: Main Ridge Dairy, where you can sample paddock-to-plate grazing boards heroing local seasonal produce and organic goat’s cheese made on the premises.