Done and dusted with Melbourne city? The state of Victoria has so much more to offer with cool underrated destinations for food, wine, and coastal city vibes.
Eight hours and fifty eight minutes into the flight, the red-eye AirAsiaX airplane enters the bright and beautiful sky at Tullamarine Airport. It is exactly 6.30 when we finally alight the plane and breath in some fresh air.
“Welcome to Melbourne!” the amicable airport staffs greet, ever-so bubbly.
From the airport, it is easy to gravitate your attention to Melbourne city — the bustling city, shopping, Lune Croissant and the Crown Melbourne, obvs. But is that all Victoria has to offer?
Victoria, located southernmost of mainland Australia, is equal parts vibrant and beautiful when it comes to its natural landscapes, culture and heritage. Its capital city, Melbourne, is loud and proud of its bourgeoning art scene, food, music and festivals.
Melbourne is a city of contrasts, where old meets new and multiculturalism reigns supreme. It is a city that offers a little bit of something for everyone, from world-class restaurants and cafes to hidden lanes and its vibrant street art. Creativity thrives and innovation is celebrated.
But what has captured our attention the most is the rise of indigenous cuisine in Melbourne city. For this alone, head over to Mabu Mabu (outside Federation Square) for its scrumptious spread of indigenous cooking. Saltbush and Pepperberry Fried Crocodile is readily available but if you’re not feeling too adventurous, the Fried Artichoke Flower, Kebi Ebur (wattle seed crumbed spatchcock), and Kangaroo Tartare with Pickled Watermelon and Yam Crisps are great items to sample.
While Melbourne may be stealing the spotlight, there is more to Victoria than just the capital city itself. Beyond Melbourne, Victoria is a beautiful state to explore especially if you’re seeking a good mix of tranquility amidst nature and the joy of being around people — meet the farmers and winemakers for a start!
Here are five under-the-radar destinations to experience Victoria off the beaten track.
Just an hour’s drive away from Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is a popular weekend getaway for locals and tourists alike. With its pristine beaches, rolling hills, vineyards and hot springs, this region is a paradise for nature-loving people, foodies, and wine enthusiasts.
One of the best things to do here is to visit the hot springs. While the Peninsula Hot Springs is well known for its natural thermal spa, you should definitely check out the new ALBA Thermal Springs — let your worries and tense muscles relax and melt away in the hot springs.
Along the way, drive to Cape Schanck Lighthouse Reserve for the perfect vantage point of the sweeping coastal views. It is also part of an aboriginal cultural landscape in the traditional country of the Bunurong People. Perched atop dramatic cliffs, the Cape Schanck Lighthouse has been around since 1859. Take part in guided tours and enjoy fascinating stories of the light keepers while stepping into the still-functioning lamp room for vistas of the Southern Peninsula and Bass Strait.
If you’re here on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to hop over to Red Hill Market. There are over 300 stalls selling handmade crafts, fresh local produce, and gourmet treats await. While you’re at it, stop by Pt. Leo Estate for some wine and dine experience before heading back to the city.
Enter Geelong, just an hour’s drive west of Melbourne and venture into the Bellarine Peninsula for its bourgeoning wineries, breweries, farms and dining establishments. While you gallivant around the coastal city of Geelong, famous for its rich maritime history and vibrant arts scene, take some time to check out Geelong Waterfront. Here, stroll along the Bollards Trail where a public art installation featuring over 100 painted bollards awaits, as you learn about Geelong’s history and culture.
Then, book your time for the Bellarine Taste Trail. With over 50 food and wine destinations here, this experience is for ardent foodies who want a taste of everything this region has to offer — farm gate producers, provedores, unique wineries, beer and ciders, as well as award-winning eateries. You can also book yourself a seat on the Q Train, Australia’s premier rail restaurant.
For a piece of nature, swim with the seals and dolphins at the Pope’s Eye marine park. Book this experience with Sea All Dolphins Swim — then choose if you’d like to go underwater or stay on the boat for some wildlife sightseeing tour.
Located about two hours’ drive southeast of Melbourne, Phillip Island is a great destination for a day trip. Experience the rugged beauty of Victoria’s coastline and witness some of Australia’s most iconic wildlife up close when you go on the many walking trails here. At Phillip Island, it is impossible not to hit those steps on your Apple Watch!
One of the main attractions on Phillip Island is the Penguin Parade, a nightly event where visitors can watch hundreds of little penguins waddle up the beach to their burrows. Go for walking trails with plenty of routes and options to choose from. Check out Phillip Island Wildlife Park to see kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and other native Australian animals.
If you’re thinking of putting a night here, book a stay at Five Acres for a luxurious coastal experience or be intrigued at SAULT Phillip Island, a unique coastal bungalow that is just steps away from the beach. The bushland and wind-swept coastlines, ancient rock formations and wide-open skies, wildlife, and tussock-lined tracks are perfect remedies for the senses.
Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges
This one is for the oenophiles and boozeheads. Located just an hour’s drive northeast of Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is home to the picturesque wine region known for its cool-climate wines, gourmet food, and stunning natural beauty. One of the best ways to explore Yarra Valley is by taking a wine tour, which will take you to some of the region’s best wineries and cellar doors including St Hubert’s Estate, as well as Helen and Joe Estate. For gin lovers, the Four Pillars distillery is also located here.
Blessed with nature’s best, you can also find Victoria’s most iconic landmarks here at the Yarra Valley including the Yarra River, the Dandenong Ranges, and Healesville Sanctuary. Take the adventurous route and go on a hot air balloon experience over the valley or get on a scenic drive through the Dandenong Ranges. Other attractions include the Cherry Hill Orchards, Puffing Billy, and the Tesselaar Tulip Festival happening between mid-September to mid-October every year.
If you’re looking to channel your inner ‘Bindi Irwin’, check out Healesville Sanctuary which is home to over 200 species of Australian wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and platypuses.
Great Ocean Road
Complete your trip to Victoria with a visit to the Twelve Apostles, one of the most iconic landmarks to tick off your travel bucket list. If you can spare four days, explore the Great Ocean Road coastline on the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk.
This popular four-day walk itinerary goes across 46km, graded overall as moderate with easy and challenging sections along the way. Here, you get to explore the Great Otway National Park and the Port Campbell National Park while perusing through the forests of grass trees, listening to stories of shipwrecks and settlements, and visit remote untouched beaches. The walking groups are no larger than 10 hikers at a time, making this an intimate way to experience one of the great coastlines of the world up close and personal.
What we personally would recommend is to venture to Lake Elizabeth for a sunset canoeing session while spotting cute playful platypuses. Don’t miss out on the food trails to experience the best this region has to offer. 12 Apostles Food Artisans purveys some of the country’s best cheeses, cured meats, chocolates, wines and beers.
If you’re looking to spend a few days here, head over to Otway Harvest Trail. You can find the best produce from the region — food, wine, gourmet products and so much more — but at the same time, you can dine and stay while exploring the many cafes, estates and eateries peppering the Otway Ranges. Want some suggestions? Breakfast at Schulz Organic Creamery and Cafe; lunch at Brae Restaurant (Thursdays to Saturdays only); have a sweet treat at Timboon Ice Creamery; and drink your life away at Forrest Brewing Company.
All of that being said, Victoria is full of surprises and delights. Whether you’re a foodie, a wine lover or an adventure seeker, Victoria is a place that you will never forget. So pack your bags and let’s go!
Check out Visit Victoria to find out more about the beautiful state and to book your experiences when visiting Victoria. And ICYMI, AirAsia X is offering four to and fro flights per week and by April 2023, there will be seven to and fro flights per week when you’re planning your trip to Melbourne via AirAsia X.
(All images by Visit Victoria)