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© Tourism Australia/Time Out Australia

Victoria's top family-friendly scenic spots

Beyond Melbourne's city sights and urban delights, Victoria is awash with kid-friendly fun, writes Aleney de Winter.

Melbourne – with its cool cafe culture, amazing museums and galleries, sports stadiums and live entertainment – is such a great destination for families that most don’t think to venture beyond the city limits. But step outside and you will find a world of undiscovered gems, from historical villages to beautiful beaches, wildlife wonders to exhilarating outdoor adventures, regional Victoria is simply fantastic for families wanting to experience a different side of the Garden State or simply escape the hustle and bustle.

Home on the range
Follow the winding Mount Dandenong Tourist Road through towering forests and cool gullies to the spectacular Dandenong Ranges National Park – just half an hour east of Melbourne – to enjoy the great outdoors at its most beautiful best. Take a leisurely trek through the National Park to the pretty Sherbrooke Falls or get active on the flying foxes, tight-ropes and ropes courses for all ages at Trees Adventure Glen Harrow Park. Got a little Thomas the Tank Engine fan on your hands? One of the area’s most popular attractions is Puffing Billy, a century-old steam train that runs on its original mountain track through forest and farmland from Belgrave to Gembrook. The picturesque suburb of Olinda and village of Sassafras are the spots to stop for some Devonshire tea and the enchanting Geppetto’s Workshop, a beautiful toyshop full of traditional wooden knickknacks.

On the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia's most iconic drives and, with its abundance of natural attractions, it's packed full of fun for families and sights that will stop you in your tracks in wonder. Its most famous attraction is the dramatic limestone stacks of the Twelve Apostles, which are not only the perfect selfie backdrop, but one of the most famous landscapes in the country. Take advantage of the free binocular and telescope hire and set your kids off on a digital detective or scavenger hunt programme. At nearby Cape Otway Lightstation, the oldest surviving lighthouse in Australia, climb to the observation deck for amazing views before exploring the heritage precinct and its year-round Whale Interpretive Area. Though you can spot migrating whales from the lightstation between May and October, the best way to get a glimpse of the gentle giants is to get out on the water on an organised tour.

© Tourism Victoria/Robert Blackburn 

Admire the stunning coastline on the Great Ocean Walk, get up close to native creatures at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve or make like a bird and take to the trees on Otway Fly Treetop Adventures’ Zipline Eco-Tour through the canopy of the rainforest. And if you want to take a dip in that gloriously beckoning ocean, the Great Ocean Road is home to some of Victoria’s best beaches with kids’ surf lessons readily available at some of the smaller, safer breaks near Torquay, Lorne and Warrnambool. And if you have a mini Kelly Slater-in-training, be sure to stop by the Surfworld Museum in Torquay.

Explore the historic Goldfiels
At the heart of Victoria’s historic Goldfields, Ballarat and its surrounding villages offer stunning scenery, history and loads of kid-friendly activities, just one-and-a-half hour’s drive from Melbourne. Challenge the kids to a round of mini-golf or find your way through The Tangled Maze and mystery trail at Springmount. Go panning for gold at Slaty Creek or enjoy close encounters with the free-roaming native animals at Ballarat Wildlife Park. Take in the pretty scenery and abundant birdlife at Lake Wendouree as vintage trams rattle along nearby streets. There’s also a fantastic adventure playground at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens and, on weekends and school holidays, a historic horse-drawn tram ride around the lake.

Ballarat’s biggest attraction for families is, of course, Sovereign Hill, a historic village that offers a glimpse of what life was like during Victoria’s gold rush era. During the day, visitors can explore the underground mine, watch historic re-enactments, take a horse-drawn coach tour or get gold panning tips at the river. At night Sovereign Hill transforms with a spectacular sound and light show that tells the story of the 1854 Eureka Stockade. If your little knights and damsels want to step further back in time, head to the awesome Kryal Castle, Australia’s only medieval adventure park where they can witness live jousting, jesters, jugglers and fire eaters.

Let Gippsland coast charm your family
Around two hours from Melbourne, the Gippsland region is a beacon for families wanting to enjoy some country charm. From the gentle surf of the beaches of Inverloch and Lakes Entrance, to the quiet calm of Gippsland Lakes, kids can splash, surf, swim, fish and try out water sports galore. Get the family together for a ride down one of Gippsland's popular 'rail trails' and cycle between towns, taking in the region's historic sites, Indigenous heritage, natural attractions and delicious local flavours as you go. Adventurous families can head into an underground wonderland of limestone stalagmites and stalactites at Buchan Caves, or explore the winding underground paths of the State Coal Mine in Wonthaggi. For those who prefer their action packed with flavour, Jacican Food Studio opens its doors every school holidays to aspiring master chefs. At the popular Cafe Class, primary-aged kids get to turn Jacican into their very own pop-up cafe and are responsible for everything from writing the menu and setting the tables to making food, taking orders and serving guests.

Penguins on parade
Linked to mainland South Gippsland via a bridge at San Remo, Phillip Island is almost as famous for producing the Hemsworth brothers as it is for its other cute celebrity residents, the little penguins. While there are few opportunities for Hemsworth spotting, more than 20,000 little penguins, the world’s smallest, live on the island and every evening visitors flock to watch them parade from the sea to the dunes with Phillip Island Nature Parks. Fans of fur and feathers will also enjoy nearby Churchill Island, a historic working farm that offers a glimpse at the lives of the early settlers in the region as well as the chance to play with the farm animals in the animal nursery.

© Tourism Victoria/Mark Chew

Visitors can also indulge in an afternoon of sugar-fuelled fun at The Phillip Island Chocolate Factory, ride the waves and enjoy some watery fun at one of the many great surfing beaches, get lost in a maze, try their hand at trout fishing or play I-spy with Phillip Island’s spectacular coastline and natural beauty from the air on a helicopter tour.

This article appeared in volume 49 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.

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