Our Travel Experts Share Their Best Kept Local Secrets: Victoria
With travel restrictions in Melbourne and greater Victoria finally over, and locals soon to be eligible for $200 travel vouchers to help boost tourism in regional communities, it’s time to get out and about and explore the Garden State beyond the capital city.
Our Melbourne-based Travel Experts have been cooped up indoors throughout one of the world’s longest lockdowns, and they’re all excited to be heading out of the city and into the great outdoors to enjoy their freedom.
Read on to hear some of their top tips to experience arts, culture, history and some R&R outside the city!
Why not get in touch with us and let one of our Travel Experts to plan and book your next local COVIDsafe getaway? Be it a weekend away or regional road trip - we've got you covered!
On of our most experienced Team Leaders, Catherine Tschaepe (pictured left), can’t stop raving about her all-time favourite getaway. Here’s what she had to say!
“A couple of my good mates live in the Rye area so when we weren't in lockdown we headed at least once a month for the weekend. I love it because it's a short drive away yet you feel like you're on holiday as it has a slow pace surf life feel to it. The minute we get there the shoes kick off and don't get worn again until we head home!”
Where to Stay: “RACV Cape Schanck; recently renovated – the hotel and rooms are looking modern and very slick! The hotel boasts a beautiful day spa and the onsite restaurants have excellent bespoke menus focused on local produce. The Cape Schanck lighthouse walk is also accessible from the hotel.”
Must dos: “It's hard to narrow this down! For first timers en route go via the Arthurs Seat Eagle for a gondola ride which will give you amazing views of the coastline and local area. A visit to the Peninsula Hot Springs also never disappoints. I personally prefer the low key local stuff such as a good bushwalk. Bushrangers Bay Trail from the Cape Schanck lighthouse car park has a stunning wild coastline to admire. For water babies the surf is always up at Gunnamatta or if you prefer a slow pace paddleboard head to Blairgowrie beach. At the end of the day before sunset head to St Andrews back beach where you will find all the locals. Remember to bring a warm jacket, cold beers and good tunes - kick back and watch the sunset over the ocean with good company.”
Where to Eat & Drink: “For a no fuss hearty local breakfast, you can't go past Freaky Tiki's - a fave staple of mine is their Bikini Blow out. For Lunch head to St Andrew's Brewery - this place used to be a horse training facility and they've converted the stables into outdoor dining booths. Great brews and good times! For evening drinks the Portsea Hotel is a short uber ride away - it finished renovations in early 2019 and has a huge outdoor area overlooking the bay.”
Great Otway National Park
Stretching from Torquay all the way up into the Hinterland, a drive through 'The Otways' is a little known but spectacular detour to tourist-fave the Great Ocean Road, according to Paul Isabella, one of our Travel Experts in Melbourne. A nature-lover’s paradise, there are multitudes of walks and mountain bike trails to experience the fern-laden valleys, and ancient giant beech tree forests, dotted with picturesque waterfalls.
Take a walk at Maits Rest, near Apollo Bay, to gaze up at towering Californian Redwoods and keep your eyes peeled for many of the native mammal inhabitants, or have yourself a well-earned picnic after walking the trail up to Sheoak Falls. An absolute must, though, is a visit to the mossy forest of Melba Gully - the ‘Jewel of The Otways’ - after dusk to spot the lantern-like glow worms.
Where to stay: The national park has a number of camping grounds in different locations, whether you prefer the beach to a forest setting. If you’re looking to stay somewhere with a solid four walls, The Otways connect with The Great Ocean Road so you have numerous hotel options along that stretch.
Paul recommends staying at the Mantra in Lorne, right opposite the Lorne Hotel, offering a vibrant atmosphere especially in the summer months. His other hot tip is the Deep Blue Hotel & Hot Springs in Warrnambool where you can enjoy the restorative properties of the geothermal pools after a day’s hiking, and which offers a much quicker drive back to Melbourne once you’re done exploring the region.
Where to eat: It's strictly BYO food if you're camping in the national park, so pick up supplies on your way in, otherwise you can visit one of the local towns and hotels along the Great Ocean Road if you don't mind a drive.
Locally-born Courtney McKay thinks a long weekend break in Bendigo is the perfect antidote to months of lockdown. Full of historic heritage spaces, and with a big focus on arts and culture, this small town has restaurant service equal to some of Melbourne’s best. Smaller than Ballarat or Geelong, the local community feel adds to the charm. The locals are friendly and ready to help, and everyone knows everyone!
Coutrney’s suggestions to fill in your long weekend include taking in some history and culture at the Central Deborah Gold Mine or the Golden Dragon Museum, and taking time to admire one of the ever-changing exhibits and installations at the Bendigo Art Gallery. After you’ve finished exploring the gallery, have a wander through the grounds of Rosalind Park all the way up to Poppet Head Lookout with the best views in town over the park and the town.
"Round out your weekend with a stroll around Lake Weeroona before tucking into a well-deserved meal!"
Where to eat: Courtney’s pick for breakfast or lunch is Percy & Percy which has a great outdoor area, an excellent menu, and perfectly situated close to the centre of town before you head out for adventure. Another great option to enjoy the fresh air with a view is the Boardwalk Cafe on Lake Weeroona. Plus it’s dog friendly so your four-legged friends are welcome too!
Dinner options abound with something for every taste and budget. Mason’s Of Bendigo is one of Courtney’s favourite go-to’s when she’s home for a visit, with their share plates and tasty cocktails perfect for catching up with friends and family. For good value no fuss fun, Courntey suggests Cantina Bendigo, and for top notch steaks you can’t go past The Woodhouse.
Where to stay: Mercure Bendigo Schaller (previously part of the Art Series chain) offers bright rooms featuring original works by it’s namesake, Mark Schaller, in every Workspace (room), and is walking distance to both the lake and town.
After the year that Melburnians have had, Sarah Licastro highly recommends escaping to Daylesford. Just an hour and a half drive from metro Melbourne, allow yourself to truly indulge in local experiences and culinary delights in the region known as ‘the Haven of Relaxation'.
To get the most of your time there, Sarah suggests spending an extra long weekend to give your body and mind plenty of time to pamper and unwind. With plentiful walking trails, art galleries, boutiques, eateries, antique & vintage stores, farmers markets and most importantly, free flowing spring water, Daylesford is perfect to visit anytime of the year.
To balance out the many months of being stuck indoors due to lockdown, Sarah suggests you start by exploring the area on foot. Take a stroll around Lake Daylesford to admire the beautiful views of the town, or for the more adventurous explore the Tipperary Walking Track where you will pass by relics of the mining era - and don't forget to take a drink bottle with you to sample the mineral springs along the way!
For those seeking some pampering, check out the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa where you can enjoy a well deserved massage or soak all of your troubles away in the warm mineral waters in the bathhouse. To top off a relaxing weekend with the comforting aroma of lavender, The Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm is not to be missed, with over 100 acres of gardens to explore, farm animals to visit and perfectly handcrafted aromatherapy products to buy, all made on the farm.
Where to eat & drink: For good coffee and tasty brunch, check out Pancho Cafe. If cider is more your drop, order yourself a tasting flight you won't regret from the Daylesford Cider Co. And if you are after award-winning cuisine in an historic setting, Lake House is the place for you!
Hidden Gem: Sarah insists “You must eat at the Bad Habits Café Daylesford! This very unique cafe boasts high atrium ceilings, art-filled walls and yummy food, including the best scones. And while you are there, make time to walk through the Convent Gallery.”
Where to stay: For a truly Daylesford experience, Hotel Frangos checks the box as it's centrally located and smartly styled rooms. If you are after some bespoke charm, Holyrood House is a beautifully restored elegant country house, within walking distance to Daylesford’s highlights.