With Christmas done and dusted, it’s time to kick back and enjoy some summer family holiday fun.
For such a small state, Victoria has so many great places for families to explore. From calm water beaches to alpine bush and everything in between, how many of the following Victorian family holiday destinations have you visited?
I asked Amanda Woodward, a passionate Victorian mum and owner of the family holiday website, Family Friendly Accommodation, to share some of her favourite places with you.
PHILLIP ISLAND It may be famous for its charming fairy penguins, but as so many families already know, this diverse Westernport Bay island has much more to offer, not least its choice of bay and surf beach waters catering to children of all ages.
Enjoy: daily farming activities at Churchill Island Heritage Farm, the new Antarctic Journey experience at the Nobbies, fishing at the Ryhll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm, experiencing the thrill of the Grand Prix circuit or learning to surf or stand-up paddle board.
We love that Phillip Island has it all. Spend as much or as little money as you like by enjoying one of the many activities available, or just chilling out and enjoying island life that is so close to Melbourne yet seems a lifetime away from the suburbs.
Summer tip: Experience a real rural agricultural show at the Bass Coast Summer Agricultural Show on Saturday 14 January at the Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve, about a 40 minute drive from Cowes.
BALLARAT Home to Sovereign Hill, one of Victoria’s best known tourist attractions. Ballarat is perfect for families. You can spend a whole day (or 2) at Sovereign Hill, but there are many other things to occupy your time both in the town and the wider region.
Enjoy: visiting Ballarat Wildlife Park (home to Patrick the Wombat), experiencing medieval life at Kryal Castle, getting lost at the Tangled Maze, wandering through the parklands around Lake Wendouree, meandering through the Mill Markets and playing Gold Rush mini golf.
We love that Ballarat is a welcoming regional centre with historic buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. It has enough attractions to leave you feeling like you’ve had a proper holiday, but in reality is a short drive from Melbourne.
Summer tip - One of Ballarat’s most popular summer events – Summer Sundays – returns, with free music in the Botanic Gardens from 3 to 7pm on 8 and 22 January. The music will be complemented by food vendors.
PORTLAND It’s known as an industrial centre and with its deep water port, is not as renowned as its more glamorous coastal neighbours. But don’t overlook Portland – the site of Victoria’s first settlement - for a family holiday.
Enjoy: one of the family friendly beaches both in town or further afield at Cape Bridgewater, discover another world at the Petrified Forest, ride the historic cable train or discover Victoria’s volcanic past and cage dive with seals.
We love that it’s actually an historic town, with beautiful old buildings and what is on offer both in town and the surrounding area is a bit unexpected. Less popular with holidaymakers than other coastal towns, you can also escape the crowds.
Summer tip: Grab the kids and head down to the Bentinck Street foreshore lawns on New Year’s Eve for a night of free live entertainment and children’s amusements, including the Australian Robbie Williams Show, plus fireworks at 10pm and midnight.
YARRA VALLEY So close to Melbourne, yet a world away, this popular wine region has been shifting from its ‘grown-ups’ vibe to be more inclusive of families. A recent drawcard is the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, a must-stop shop for many visiting families.
Enjoy: a local drop at one of the family friendly wineries, be amazed by the flowers at the Blue Lotus water garden, spend some time with local wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary, pick your own fruit at an orchard or berry farm or just brighten your day at the Big Bouquet gerbera farm.
We love that you can do a day trip or choose to spend a night or two. As the valley comes into view, it’s hard to believe you are so close to Melbourne. The Yarra Valley truly offers a special country retreat for everyone in the family.
Summer tip – why not experience the country races at Yarra Glen with the Kids Summer of Country Racing at the January 10 Chill Out Race Day. With games, rides and activities for the children. Gates open at 11am.
Diamond Bay Sorrento
MORNINGTON PENINSULA It is close to Melbourne, although you may beg to differ during the traffic delays of peak periods. Not that it puts off so many families who call this region a second home. It’s a place you can holiday, yet still commute into Melbourne’s CBD.
Enjoy: beaches, beaches and more beaches, learn about Victoria’s pioneering past at an historic homestead, go for a coastal walk at Point Nepean, take the Mornington Railway scenic train ride, find your way out of a maze and don’t miss the re-opened Arthurs Seat chairlift.
We love that the Mornington Peninsula is a true holiday playground. Many families have been camping in the same spot for generations and it is easy to see why they return. Food, wine and family fun. What else can you ask for?
Summer tip: Don’t miss checking out a movie with a spectacular backdrop at Barefoot Cinema in Point Nepean National Park.
APOLLO BAY Constantly growing in popularity, this charming seaside town on the Great Ocean Road is still less crowded than some of its counterparts. Surrounded by rolling hills and national park, this laidback location is a perfect family holiday destination.
Enjoy: patrolled and protected waters at the southern end of the beach near the Harbour wall, spotting a koala or two on the way to the historic Cape Otway Lightstation, strolling into the rainforest at Maits Rest (perfect for little feet) or just enjoying the popular playground and surrounds on the foreshore reserve.
We love that Apollo Bay still reminds us of the laidback family summer holidays we enjoyed as children. Fun family days spent swimming and playing beach cricket, before returning home exhausted at the end of the day. This place just has a great vibe.
Summer tip: Missing your suburban caffeine shot? Find your way into the town’s industrial estate to find the hidden Hello Coffee, speciality coffee roasters and café – with free WIFI and kids play area, the kids will stay happy while you relax and enjoy a local blend.
THE MURRAY RIVER The Murray River stretches from the mountains of north-east Victoria to the sea in South Australia and for a large part, forms the Victorian/NSW border. Its historic form of river transport, the paddlesteamer, remains a strong tourist drawcard for many river townships.
Enjoy: riding on a paddlesteamer, making a giant chocolate freckle at Corowa, hiring a canoe and drifting down the river, discovering the ancient landscape of Mungo National park, experiencing early Australia at the Pioneer Settlement in Swan Hill and visiting the Bonegilla Migrant Experience outside Wodonga.
We love that the Murray River is a Victorian icon, offering a range of holiday experiences from the mountains and rolling wine country of the east, to the desert-like conditions of the far West. Why not do a round trip along the river?
Summer tip: The Heartbeat of the Murray Laser Spectacular has returned for summer. Set on the banks of the Little Murray River, the 9pm show incorporates laser, water, light and special effects to tell the story of the Murray.
BRIGHT This delightful country town offers something for every season – from the Autumn leaves, to a base for skiing adventures, but it is also lovely in summer with the Oven River providing respite from the heat.
Enjoy: the splash park at Centenary Park, swimming in a river pool, hiring a bike and exploring the rail trail, discovering Mt Buffalo & hiring a kayak on Lake Catani, all the while enjoying the local produce including fresh berries and chocolate.
We love that this is a pretty location brimming with iconic Australian scenery.
Surrounded by alpine mountains, with the Ovens River trickling by, this is a place that reminds you just how beautiful Victoria is.
Summer tip: The Rotary Club of Bright will help you enjoy the balmy summer evenings (on a Sunday at least) with it season of free family friendly summer concerts. Held in Howitt Park, on the banks of the Ovens River, bring a rug and relax in this picturesque location.
SHEPPARTON The heart of Australia’s fruit bowl, this region may not immediately come to mind as a holiday destination. But if you visit for a few days, you won’t get bored and you can return home with boxes of tomatoes and tinned fruit from SPC Ardmona.
Enjoy: watching the kids let loose at SPC Kidstown Adventure Playground or cool down at the Aquamoves splash park and water slide, picking your own strawberries, visiting the world-class Shepparton Motor Museum and other activities on offer at Emerald Bank Leisure Land.
We love that Shepparton is an unassuming regional centre, but when you dig deeper, is a great place for families to visit. Spread your wings a bit further afield and discover even more treasures in the surrounding area.
Summer tip: Glimpse into the life of Victoria’s wealthy pastoral past at the stunning, privately-owned and fully restored mansion, Noorilim Estate, which recently opened its doors to the public on Sundays. Located between Nagambie and Shepparton.
GIPPSLAND LAKES Another perennial family favourite, the Gippsland Lakes are a network of inland waterways, with Lake Wellington, Victoria and King fed by the Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo rivers. The lakes meet the ocean at the popular tourist town of Lakes Entrance.
Enjoy: water activities including sailing, kayaking and fishing, fossicking on the beach, strolling along the Metung boardwalk, riding the ferry to Raymond Island and going underground into the majestic Buchan Caves.
We love that we have this amazing natural water system in our state! The size and beauty of the lake and river system are best appreciated by boat, but if you haven’t got your own, charters, boat hire and tours are available.
Summer tip: Discover Lakes Entrance beach a different way – by camel hump. From November to April, 40 minute camel rides are available from Eastern beach.
Enjoy a happy and safe summer!
Remember, many of Victoria’s favourite family holiday destinations are in areas of increased fire risk over summer. Before you travel, make you download the VicEmergency app to keep track of emergency warnings, including bush and grass fires.
To find out more about affordable holiday accommodation suitable for all the family, visit http://www.familyfriendlyaccommodation.com.au/.