A Victorian country road trip for a couple of food-and-wine-obsessed city slickers, with kids in tow.
Going on a three-week road trip with a four-year-old and one-year-old sounds like pain to some people, but not to us. Here are a few tips and a great itinerary for a truly memorable experience in rural Victoria.
Getting the simple stuff right...
Strike a balance. Plan your holiday around the kids, but make sure you strike a balance. It's time for them, but it's also time for you.
Self-contained accommodation. We love self-contained accommodation, preferably holiday houses. Cabins in caravan parks are also great, especially as the kids get older. Houses may seem more expensive than hotels at first; however you can save a heap of cash with self-contained accommodation by cooking for yourself and keeping food for picnics. They're also far more personal and spacious, often with games and toys for the kids. Not to mention the open log fires for lazy nights-in.
Pace yourself. It's a great idea to stay in places for at least three or four nights. That way you don't feel you're constantly packing and unpacking and always on the go. It gives a chance for the little ones to get settled.
Involve kids in planning. Invite your kids to have their say in the itinerary. Show them the websites of places you like and get their feedback. They'll feel part of the holiday right from the start and will begin to imagine what it's going to be like.
The Grampians: wildlife, walks and wine
Secret jewels in Victoria's crown, the Grampians are a striking sight from the grassy paddocks of north-west Victoria. Those familiar with the terrain of Scotland will be astonished by the similarities and realise why Sir Thomas Mitchell named them after a place dear to his heart.
There are places that allow you to discover kangaroos and emus grazing outside your door when you wake in the morning. For a place that's got it all, stay at Takaru Bush Resort. You can hand-feed crimson rosellas and sulphur-crested cockatoos. It's your personal wildlife park.
The region makes it easy for you to enjoy some gentle strolls to magnificent views. And for the hardier, exhilarating climbs find you on top of the world at The Pinnacle. Bring your winter woollies in winter it can be freezing up there! Check out the waterfalls as well. Despite the drought, these are flowing and are spectacular.
Home to some of Australia's finest shiraz, you'll be pleasantly surprised by both the Grampians and the nearby Pyrenees. Mount Langi Ghiran, Summerfield and Dalwhinnie were a treat, and for the kids when they're over it, The Gap winery near Halls Gap is equipped with a playground. Mum and dad, sit back and enjoy the view.
Out of the wilderness, Ballarat is Victoria's biggest regional centre, boasting a population of more than 90,000. The cool cafe scene of Melbourne seems to run in its veins, and great coffees abound. The opulence of days gone by when the gold rush was in its hey-day is evident in the stunning architecture and gaping-wide streets.
You can't go to Ballarat without visiting one of Australia's iconic tourist attractions, Sovereign Hill, which is a great day out for the whole family. Go panning for gold, ride in a stage coach, watch sweets being made the old-fashioned way or take in a pantomime. A living museum, you will not only experience life as it used to be but also walk away more in touch with your country's history.
The Great Ocean Road: rugged coastline, tree tops and one of the world's greatest drives
This is one of Australia's most famous strips of tarmac, and there is a reason for that. It is breathtaking. After meandering through the pretty township of Port Campbell, you are suddenly confronted by the expanse of the Southern Ocean and its rugged coastline. The first time you glimpse the Twelve Apostles you feel suspended in time, held ransom to nature's beauty. Moving around the coast to Apollo Bay, Lorne and Torquay, the coast is charmingly peppered with serene beaches and townships and huge commanding surf.
Stay at Johanna Seaside Cottages for a truly memorable stay. Tucked away between the Twelve Apostles and Cape Otway, the tiny community of Johanna (which boasts no shops) is home to more dairy cows than people. We were lucky enough to witness calving season, with a calf being born in front of our very eyes. Not bad for a family of city slickers. Here you can also collect your eggs from the chooks, walk the rugged coastline or take a dip in the 20m indoor swimming pool. For those surfing buffs, this is where the Rip Curl Classic is held when the swell is not so swell at Bells.
Don't miss Cape Otway. Nestled in a national park, the Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in mainland Australia. The views are spectacular, and the cafe boasts a great coffee and even better fresh scones with jam and cream. Just up the road, pull over and gaze up into the gum trees you are sure to spot a koala or two!
Mornington Peninsula: tastes like heaven
Renowned for some of the best wineries in Australia, a trip to Victoria just wouldn't be complete without a visit to Mornington Peninsula, a foodie and winey heaven (not to mention the awesome beer brewed at Red Hill Brewery). We caught the ferry across from Queenscliff to Sorrento, a huge thrill for the kids as the car came too. Meander the country roads and pop in through a cellar door or five. Chardonnay and pinot noir rule the varieties, and it is very hard to be disappointed by any drop tasted.
To complement the wine, the Peninsular boasts gourmet food, dine-in and takeaway. Our favourite restaurants were at the Box Stallion winery, where the restaurant is a converted stable, the kids can draw on the table cloths, the food is rustic Mediterranean and the wine sensational. T'Gallant impresses with its simple Italian food to complement their vast wine selection, and Red Hill Brewery is perfect for that Sunday lunch. For a tasty brownie and great coffee, try Merrick's General Store you can also pick up a few homemade jams and relishes for the grandparents.
And let's not forget the kids! There are some 'amazing' mazes, such as The Enchanted Maze, where you can get lost in a ye olde English hedge maze, or challenge yourself in a game maze. Or for something a bit more chilled out, stroll out on the boardwalk at Cape Schanck, where you can go shell seeking on the empty, rocky beaches, and watch the sun set over the water.
Phillip Island: the penguin parade
Home to one of Australia's most recognised tourist attractions, the penguin parade is a must for any family holiday. Get there before sunset, and watch the cute little penguins arrive home to the beach after a long day at sea. Be warned however, with the littlies, it can get very cold waiting for the parade, and in winter there are far fewer penguins that make the trip.
The Dandenongs: legs out the window on Puffing Billy
Take a trip back in time and journey on a 100-year-old Australian icon, Puffing Billy. Kids who love Thomas the Tank Engine
are sure to be thrilled to be riding in a real-life steam train, and older kids will love the thrill of dangling their legs out the window. Be sure to pack a picnic for the hour-or-so-stop.
The Black Spur: tall trees, snowy mountains and that final sip of wine
Home to some of the tallest trees in the world, The Black Spur is a stunning drive just outside Healesville, in the Yarra Ranges. We stayed in the divine Chestnut Glade
, a chestnut farm at the foot of Mount Dom Dom, boasting two self-contained cottages with all the luxuries and extra touches. Relax on the huge sofa in front of the open log fire, listen to the kookaburras and sip a glass or two from the Yarra Valley wineries down the road.
Our take on the Yarra Valley Wineries is you should try Oakridge for stunning chardonnay and a delicious cheese plate (and a babycino for the kids), and TarraWarra Estate for the scenery and art museum. But by far the funkiest of all places is Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander. The cellar door is in Healesville proper, and is the brainchild of Phil Sexton, the same guy who started Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle, WA.
Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander is possibly the most fabulous restaurant/cellar door/bar/pizza bar ever created walk into to cool jazz playing amongst lounges and booths, chat to the friendly staff and taste some wines while choosing from fresh pizza or a gourmet cheese plate. And on your way to the bathroom, catch a glimpse of the cheese room, enough to entice any foodie back again and again.
A trip to this part of the world in winter wouldn't be complete without a trip to Lake Mountain. Touting itself as the closest ski resort to Melbourne is probably stretching the truth there is only cross-country skiing and tobogganing, and the facilities are dire however it is worth a day trip. Toboggan hire is cheap at about $10/day, and ski clothes and boots not much more. Don't hang around for cold chips and bad coffee, however. Get in the car and get straight back to Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander.
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