Swim with a platypus and discover a gold mine
Melbourne might have a reputation as a mecca for performing and visual arts, but the beautiful state of Victoria has so much more to offer those with a passion for getting off the beaten track.
St Kilda Beach
It’s this simple; you can’t come to Melbourne and not visit St Kilda Beach. And there’s one man in particular to thank for that — Carlo Catani. A civil engineer from Italy, Catani was responsible for overseeing the reclamation of what was then a simple beachfront used for occasional bathing by local people. The master plan for the beautification of the area was drawn up and made a reality over the next 30 years, long after Catani passed away. Landmarks worth looking out for include the beautiful clock tower, St Kilda Sea Baths and of course the Luna amusement park — still open to the public.
If strapping yourself in to a 70-year-old rollercoaster doesn’t excite you, there’s plenty else to keep you occupied. The beach is notable for having been awarded the highest possible hygiene rating and a Miami-like boardwalk with a lovely selection of restaurants that are perfect for popping into and getting out of the sun for a while.
If you’ve ever dreamed of swimming with a platypus, it’s time to make that dream come true. Yes, the Healesville Sanctuary is one of the few places in the world where you can frolic in the water with the little duckbilled delights. Located in rural Victoria, the sanctuary is a haven for native Australian wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies. Make sure not to miss the lyrebird, David Attenborough’s favourite mimic that appears on the Australian 10 cent coin.
The zoo has something for everyone; wildlife enthusiasts can meet the keepers, find out about the animals and watch the shows. Those with a taste for the finer things in life can enjoy the “Wine & Wildlife” tour, which includes a two course lunch, a tasting of local wines and the chance to admire the unique and iconic animals of Oz.
A city as fun to say out loud as it is to visit, Geelong is Victoria’s second biggest hub after Melbourne. And after a recent makeover, it’s hot on the heels of its bigger and better-known neighbour. What was once the centre of Victoria’s wool industry has been converted into upscale wine bars and highly rated restaurants, perfect for a late evening meal on the waterfront. If you’re here in summer, head down to Eastern Beach, a small sandy part of Corio Bay, which has a bathing pavilion, diving boards and a sunbathing area. There is also a smaller pool that is perfect for kids.
If locally sourced produce, craft beers and live music is more your thing (and if it is, you’re our kind of person) then head to Jack & Jill on Moorabool Street. The menu consists of a stomach-rumbling selection of tasting dishes, including pepper crusted Winchelsea ostrich, grilled barramundi and prawn dumplings.
Central Deborah Gold Mine
Gold was discovered in Bendigo in September 1851, and the gold rush that ensued turned what was a sleepy sheep station into a prospecting boomtown. The population jumped from a mere 800 people to a staggering 20,000 by the following June. Between 1851 and 1954, Bendigo produced 700,000 kg of the shiny stuff, which equates to almost $30 billion Australian in today’s prices. The area was literally showered with gold; accounts from the 1940s tell how, after heavy rainfall, opportunistic locals could pan for gold in the gutters of the streets. The town’s more enterprising children would use it to buy sweets and toys from the small collection of shops.
Central Deborah Mine is the only mine still open to the public and has a variety of tours taking visitors through the dark and damp passages. The Underground Adventure tour takes you 85 metres below ground while the Mine Experience tour allows you to also explore the surface of the mine, including vintage mining machinery, gold panning equipment and a museum.
Port Campbell National Park
Sometimes the obvious destinations are obvious because you simply can’t overlook them. Port Campbell National Park and its natural spectacles fit perfectly in this category. Its main attraction, the Twelve Apostles, rise out of the surf and spray of the Southern Ocean like remnants of a fantasy film set. Should you be lucky enough to drive down the Ocean Road, you’ll get the best possible view. Driving in the heat can be strenuous, but many hidden creeks along the way are perfect for cooling off, taking a dip and escaping the sizzling summer.
Publications and well-travelled writers will consistently describe places as spectacular and breathtaking, sure to leave you full of wonder. But the Southern Ocean’s coastal landscape is so unique, so powerful that all that hyperbole just isn’t necessary. We recommend simply heading there, parking and taking it all in.