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Sovereign Hill
Sovereign Hill
Drive your Mazda today!

Two hours from Melbourne

Thursday, March 20, 2003
David feels a top five coming on … and this time we give you things to do within two hours of magnificent Melbourne!

A trip to the Healesville Sanctuary is just a one-and-a-half hour drive north-east of Melbourne. It opened in 1934 and is near and dear to many Melburnians. The experience of visiting there is like immersing yourself in the Australian bush — the smell, sounds and sights are truly wonderful.

A path weaves through the sanctuary to large habitat areas where an array of wildlife enjoys the natural environment. You will see colourful birds, kangaroos, emus and hear dingoes calling. The Birds of Prey and Reptile shows are recommended, as is a visit to Wombat Gully.

The Animals of the Night exhibit allows visitors to see some fascinating animals they would not normally see. And speaking of elusive animals, there is a world-class platypus enclosure where you could see one of the shyest creatures on the planet.

Dancing brolgas, swamp wallabies, helmeted honeyeaters and magpie geese can be seen in the Billabong and Flooded Forest and the sanctuary is a great place to learn how we can all help look after endangered flora and fauna.

Geelong is Victoria's second largest city and is just an hour to Melbourne's south. It is on the south side of Corio Bay off Port Phillip, making it a very popular holiday place for Victorians. It is also the gateway to Great Ocean Road holidays, so tourism is good to the town.

Geelong is surrounded by the bay, ocean coastline and the Barwon River and its north-facing waterfront promises more sunshine than most other beaches on Australia's south coast.

A total of $150 million has been spent on a facelift for the neglected docklands area of the city, bringing more people, particularly day-trippers from Melbourne, to enjoy its cafes and restaurants and to stroll in the fresh air.

French Island is just one and-a-half hours south-east of Melbourne in Westernport Bay and is accessible only by water. The little island is 18km x 12km and its population is just 60. It has escaped development and a large section of it is state park.

The coastline is predominantly salt marsh with mangroves on mudflats and the interior is mostly heathland which is magnificent in spring. There are 10 times more plant species on French Island as there are residents, plus 234 species of bird.

While its neighbour Phillip Island has lots of penguins, French Island has such a good koala population that it sends them to zoos and sanctuaries. However, these cute creatures must not be touched or handled in any way.

From 1916 to 1975, McLeod Prison — housing 100 inmates — was on the island. The old gaol is now an accommodation centre in national parkland and has a large organic farm. Sheep and cattle graze there today but tourism is the main support for the residents.

There's lots to do for nature lovers — tours, cycling, walking, nature studies — and the island has three camping grounds. It has no local government, no sealed roads, piped water or rates and generates its own electricity.

Ballarat is one and-a-half hours west of Melbourne and was the home of Sovereign Hill, the original site of the 1851 alluvial gold rush.

To commemorate this history, the Sovereign Hill theme town was created more than 30 years ago with two hotels, post office, a blacksmith's, bakery, printery, confectioners, theatre, tin smith, foundry and fire station, all looking as though they have been there for decades.

Staff and volunteers wear the dress of the period and they wander around town ensuring everyone is amused and interested in the area's history.

Each day there is a gold pour at the smelting plant and you will see a bullion bar being melted, poured into the bar mound and quenched. Stage coaches pulled by horses are the best way to get into the feel of the town and at night you will see a sound and light re-enactment of the Eureka Stockade battle.

There are lots of reminders of the thousands of hopeful Chinese prospectors and the Ballarat Chinese community has blessed the joss house where people prayed, smoked opium and burnt incense. There is a new permanent exhibition there called Inspired by Gold.

You can be in the beautiful Dandenongs in Victoria's south-east in less than an hour from Melbourne. The Australian mountain ash, the world's largest flowering tree, grows there in profusion, as do rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, daffodils, tulips and hydrangeas.

The Puffing Billy Railway weaves its way up the mountains and no-one seems to mind if they get soot on their clothes. It is a great little train and passes through some beautiful country.

When hunger takes hold, many people head to the Cuckoo Restaurant. It was originally a refreshment stop for travellers by horse and carriage, opened in 1914 by Mrs Sarah Dorey. It was purchased by the Koeppen family in 1958 and they have worked very hard to make their smorgasbord restaurant one of most successful in Australia today.


Melbourne, the capital of Victoria.


Healesville Sanctuary entry costs $15.80 for adults and $7.80 for children.
Geelong's Eastern Beach Bathing Pavillion is free.
French Island inter island ferry services return trip costs $18 for adults and $9 for children. They run every day.
Sovereign Hill is open every day and costs $27 for adults and $13 for children.
Dandenong Puffing Billy trips start at $27.50 for adults and $12.50 for children.
The Cuckoo is open each day and their smorgasbord starts at $24.90 per person.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Healesville Sanctuary
Badger Creek Road, Healesville 3777
Ph: (03) 5957 2800
Fax: (03)5957 2870
Geelong Otway Tourism: Ph: (03) 5223 2588

French Island Inter Island Ferry Service: Ph: 03 9585 5730

Sovereign Hill
Ph: (03) 5331 1944

The Cuckoo
508 Mt Dandenong Road, Olinda 3788
Ph: (03) 9751 1003

Puffing Billy
Ph: (03) 9754 6800

Qantas: 13 13 13.

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