The 8 Best Winter Weekend Getaways From Melbourne
How do hot springs, vintage markets and waterfalls sound to you?
Mid-way through the winter months, it’s hard not to be bummed by the ceaseless cold winds and sniffly noses – especially in Melbourne in winter. The desire to crawl beneath the bed covers and hibernate is strong but isn’t entirely practical. Instead, it’s better to have something to look forward to and break up being chilly at home by being chilly somewhere new.
To inspire your frozen limbs into action, here are a few places near Melbourne guaranteeing an ace winter weekend getaway.
#1 Halls Gap
In Halls Gap you can go five stars or choose to stay under the stars thanks to the tourist village of the Grampians National Park. You can take advantage of all the small town necessities while deep in the mountain ranges – fishing for trout in the lakes and rivers, mastering the mountain trails on bike or foot (where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views), visiting waterfalls (Silverband Falls is a must) and Indigenous rock paintings, and even abseiling and rock climbing.
If you like looking at nature without muddying your boots, there are scenic drives, miniature golf and – believe it or not – a zoo in Halls Gap (which last became home to some dingo pups). For foodies, the region is known for its olives. Check out Mount Zero Olives, Red Rock Olives and Laharum Grove. Coola’s Ice Creamery is a Halls Gap institution worth visiting because there’s nothing quite like having some gelato when it’s so cold you’re wearing gloves and a beanie.
An hour’s drive from Melbourne, Geelong is no longer the one-football-team town it once was. Like the kid next door, the Geelong region is all grown up and has come into its own in the last couple of years. Though the traditional industry is shutting down, the creative side of its inhabitants is leading a bit of a re-emergence as a tourist destination.
Geelong has long been a game-player in the winery business, but now it’s revealing itself to be a brewers’ magnet too; most notably with Little Creatures operating in the old wool mill by the Barwon River. Other Melbourne businesses see Geelong as the next frontier, with Blue Bonnet and the Workers’ Club slated to head south soon.
It would be easy to spend an entire day vintage shopping around Geelong. The Mill Markets are famed throughout the region, but it’s also worth making a stop on your way into to town at the Geelong Vintage Market on Melbourne Road. You’ll find vintage clothing, industrial finds, collectables, furniture and at least something fun to put on your shelf. While you’re there, pop around the corner and check out the Powerhouse, a power station remade into Australia’s largest legal street art space.
#3 Wilson’s Promontory National Park
Wilson’s Prom has it all. Pristine beaches, rainforests, mountains, offshore islands, across over 50,000 hectares – the Planeteers would be all over this place. The Prom is the place for scenery fiends and hikers of all levels with plenty of trails throughout the Prom, including overnight hikes, all starting from Tidal River. Visitor favourites are Great Prom Walk, which spans the changing landscape, and the Mt Oberon Summit Walk – the view from the top is better than a cash prize for your upward labour.
The Prom caters to all comfort levels with the opportunity to camp, caravan or book a stay in one of the huts, cabins or group lodges (up to 30 people can stay in one lodge if you want to get a tribe of your mates together). You can even stay in the historic residences of former lighthouse keepers. But there’s nothing like a stormy beach-scape – artists do tend to paint a great deal of them. And Wilson’s Prom has got plenty of those with Squeaky Beach (its finely crushed quartz crystal sand providing the squeaking sound), Norman Beach and Whisky Bay Beach.
The park is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. You can follow updates here.
#4 Port Fairy
If any coastal town were to convince you of a sea change it would be Port Fairy. The place was made to feature on a postcard. There’s something to satisfy everyone’s check boxes on what the perfect weekend away should entail. Visitors can take in panoramic views of the coastline’s Crags with the chance to spot migrating southern right whales during the winter. Or catch a ferry out to Lady Julia Percy Island to watch fur seals as they return to their burrows at sunset. Back in town stay in period cottages, take advantage of the various day spas and get boiled lollies from the Port Fairy Confectionary store.
Port Fairy prides itself as a festival town and unlike many of their coastal counterparts, they festival on all through winter. On every second weekend in June and July, Port Fairy is hosts Winter Weekends, a cultural series boasting food, wine, innovation, interactive exhibits and music.
#5 French Island National Park
This trip is for those who believe true luxury is escaping the trappings of modern city living and shedding the majority of 21st Century comforts. The French Island National Park, while being the largest coastal island to Victoria, is a bit of a mystery to most Melburnians. Around 60 people live on French Island permanently, but with 70 percent of the land preserved as National Park lands, the island is largely underdeveloped. You can camp at the Fairhaven Camping Grounds or enjoy a homestay at one of the local farms, such as McLeod Eco Farm.
You’ll be fully submerged in the island’s wild landscape as there are no water or electricity mains on the island. The campsite has only basic toilet facilities and water supplies (it’s recommended you boil or purify the water first). Places like McLeod’s have a few more creature comforts like an open fireplace in winter.
Catch a ferry from the mainland at Stony Point and walk, bike or bus around the island. Witness Victoria’s largest and densest koala population (all Chlamydia-free!) and 260 bird species nestled among unspoiled bushland, from mangrove salt marshes to open woodlands featuring a hundred kinds of orchids.
The park is open, however you’ll need to be aware of and follow COVID-19 restriction guidelines set out by Parks Victoria.
In the autumn, Bright’s alpine hills become speckled with varying reds, browns and yellows as the trees transition into the colder months. In winter, its proximity to skiing destinations Mt Buffalo, Falls Creek and Mt Hotham means the town gets a snowy frosting and is an excellent base for those who want to take advantage of all three mountains.
You don’t have to get your socks wet in all that snow if you don’t want to though because there’s plenty more to do around Bright. the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail is an exciting and beautiful way to see the area.
Stretching from Wangaratta to Bright, the 100km bike trail along the old railway line is sealed almost the entire way (you can hire a bike locally), with nearby stops in Beechworth and Myrtleford. For a bird’s eye view of the Ovens Valley, why not try paragliding or hang gliding from the top of Mystic Hill? You can also visit emu, alpaca and deer farms, local breweries and wineries, and the monthly Bright Markets on the third Saturday that act like a pantry for the Great Alpine Valleys local produce.
#7 Hepburn Springs
Wake up to fields dusted with frost and treat yourself to a day (or two) of luxuriousness. A short drive from Daylesford, Hepburn Springs is day spa central with the largest concentration of hot springs in Australia. The mineral-rich water is courtesy of its location in the Wombat State Forest between the former volcanoes Mt Franklin and Wombat Hill.
Hepburn Springs is the trip you take if you’re seeking maximum self-indulgence with spa, beauty and relaxation therapies available at a number of resorts in the area. We recommend the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa, which houses spa couches, aroma steam rooms and salt therapy pools. Other highlights in the area include the heritage listed Italian Macaroni Factory turned restaurant (it was in a movie with Andy Garcia and Giovanni Ribisi!) and the walking trail to the Hepburn Springs Blowhole.
They’re officially back open, but at a limited capacity, so be sure to book ahead.
Like a few of the towns on this list, Castlemaine sprouted during the gold rush in Western Victoria. The city is home to many historic buildings and spaces; the majority have been around since the 1850s. One of the buildings worth visiting is the fully restored art deco-style Theatre Royal built during the gold rush; it’s now a cinema and live music venue where you can catch bands like the Drones and the Preatures.
Known for its collectables and antiques, Castlemaine will give plenty of joy to those wanting to burn some cash. The Restorer’s Barn is internet-lauded as the go-to if you’re in search of a missing piece of crockery or looking to restore an antique. Even if you’re not after a particular item, it’s the type of place you’ll easily lose 45 minutes.
(Lead image: Herpburn Bathouse and Spa)