When I tell anyone overseas I'm from Melbourne, there's an 82 percent chance they'll reply enthusiastically with a comment about how much they love MasterChef Australia. It seems to be the only reason they've heard of the city at all. But while I must confess I've never watched a single episode, I can attest to the innovative culinary culture of the city. If you're a foodie, Melbourne is definitely worth a visit.
The incredible dining scene isn't the only reason to head south when Down Under. The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, contains such a selection of natural wonders and breathtaking sites that you can go on road trips for days... and days.
Here are just a few of the best.
The Great Ocean Road
The Twelve Apostles rock formation. Photo: Tania Braukamper.
Stop at a town called Warrnambool between May and October you can watch majestic Southern Right Whales leaping out of the ocean. Oh, and remember that dramatic final scene in Point Break where Patrick Swayze goes up against a suicidal monster wave at a famous surf spot called Bell's Beach? Yep, that's on the Great Ocean Road, too.
The Victorian Alps
Victoria may be the smallest of Australia's mainland states, but it's hardly lacking in variety. One side is a bliss of sunlit beaches. The other side is a snow-covered alpine dreamland. That Australia has ski resorts at all comes as a surprise to many people, and while it may not be the most dramatic alpine range in the world, it's still ideal for skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
There's something else, too. That foodie culture you've heard about? Find it in the wineries, craft breweries and country-town cafés that dot the region in towns like Bright and Beechworth.
Falls Creek, Victoria. Photo: visitvictoria.com.
Two words: Fairy Penguins. These guys are cute. Like, melt-your-heart-faster-than-a-marshmallow-in-a-bonfire kind of cute. The smallest breed of penguin in the world, they flock out of the water and waddle ashore in an adorable nightly event called the Penguin Parade. Visitors can stay and watch (from a special viewing platform — the nature park is dedicated to wildlife conservation). There's other stuff on the island too, but if I didn't have you at the penguins — well, forget it because you have a heart of solid ice.
The Penguin Parade at Phillip Island. Photo: visitmelbourne.com
Grampians National Park
You climb and climb, with tired legs and air-filled lungs, with nothing around you but dense trees and wildflowers and a medley of birdsong playing in your ears. All at once you crest the top of a rocky peak, the trees drop away and you’re standing in a sunlit space with a bird’s eye view of the breathtaking sweep of terrain on all sides.
I’m not sure if there’s a word for the exact feeling that comes over you in that moment. There should be. But regardless of what you call it, if you love that feeling (and why wouldn’t you?) you’ll love hiking in The Grampians. As well as its natural beauty, it’s also known for being incredible rich in indigenous culture, with numerous ancient rock art sites.
The Grampians. Photo by Gav Owen on Wikimedia Commons.
Daylesford itself is a picturesque gold-rush town that was settled in 1852. Here you’ll find quaint gardens, cosy bed and breakfasts, boutique shops, wineries, restaurants and art galleries. But most famous of all are the spas and hot springs in the area (also check out neighboring Hepburn Springs, which is the source of over 80 percent of Australia's effervescent mineral water reserve). Experience the healing power of natural mineral-rich springs. Oh yeah, and the healing power of wine. The region also houses some award-winning wine estates, so… bottoms up!
Café in Daylesford. Photo from visitmelbourne.com.