The Twelve Apostles aren’t the only natural wonder near the world’s most liveable city

It might be the memories of June holidays past—or our desire to carve out our own kind of summer even if Singapore’s actual seasons are hot and hot-and-rainy—but this is the time of year where just a little more of each day is spent dreaming about that next big trip. If you, like us, have already been doing a bit of travel-related arithmetic in your head, there’s a good chance that Melbourne has popped up on your list of potential destinations.

There’s much to love about Australia’s fastest-growing city: the passion for good food and drinks; the arts, cultural and live music scenes; the sport; the markets; and the fact that it’s a relatively short and affordable flight away. But like any of Australia’s ports of call, you’ll miss out if you don’t hit the road. In Melbourne, that road is, more often than not, the Great Ocean Road, past the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge and half a dozen charming coastal towns. As spectacular as it is, Melbourne is close to many other natural wonders that can be uncovered on daytrips out of town. To give you some extra inspiration for your next visit, we joined travel experience specialists Klook and Visit Victoria to uncover five easy trips you can take from Melbourne.

Capital City Trail

One of the reasons Melbourne consistently ranks among the world’s most liveable cities is its proximity to nature, and the Capital City Trail is the perfect way to take it all in. The full trail runs for 29km and can be traversed in about four hours on a bike (there are plenty of familiar oBikes around), but if you’re out and about on foot, some of its highlights are right in the heart of the city.

Join the trail in Birrarung Marr, a park just behind Federation Square, and walk along the Yarra River towards the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. Stop for a bite—and some of that famous Melbourne coffee—at Top Paddock on Church Street or Kanteen, across the Church Street Bridge, and soak up idyllic scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in a painting by Monet or Seurat.

Puffing Billy

Train travel is making a comeback—it’s hard to say no to the timeless romance of riding the rails and the serenity of being able to kick back and do nothing but watch the countryside zip past your window—but there aren’t many places in the world where you can travel back in time aboard a steam train.

Opened in 1900, the Puffing Billy Railway’s original purpose was to connect towns in the Dandenong Ranges, then a key area for farming and the timber industry. The railway closed in 1954, but thanks to the efforts of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, it became operational again in 1962. Run by a colourful cast of volunteers, Puffing Billy is today regarded as one of the world’s best-preserved steam railways, and takes passengers on trips of up to 24km through temperate rainforest.

Before you hop aboard, make a stop at Grants Picnic Ground where you can feed the local cockatoos and rosellas.

The Grampians

The story of the Grampians begins around 400 million years ago, when the region’s distinct sandstone landscape was formed. Indigenous Australians—who call the land Gariwerd—arrived here at least 10,000 years ago, evidenced by ancient rock art that has survived to the present day. Somewhat more recently, about 160 years ago, a gold rush began here. One could easily spend a week up in Grampians National Park, exploring the nooks and crannies of the 36km Grampians Peak Trail, charting the area’s history and having a taste of its wines, but it’s just about possible to see its main draws on a daytrip.

Located about four hours west of Melbourne, a popular first stop in the park is Boroka Lookout, which gives you a view further west. Before you, you’ll see the town of Halls Gap and the picturesque Lake Bellfield.

Continuing up the road, and after a leisurely 1km walk, you’ll come to one of the Grampians’ signature vistas. Known as the Balconies, the two ledges jutting out precariously over Victoria Valley are nothing short of mesmerizing, particularly on a cloudy day when the light changes constantly.

You can head the other way from the carpark to Reeds Lookout for another vantage point, or continue on to MacKenzie Falls, among the most spectacular in the state of Victoria. Getting down to the falls is a bit of a trek on a steep path, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. A gentler path to the MacKenzie Falls Lookout is another option. Keep an eye out for kookaburras whichever route you take.

Halls Gap itself is worth a visit, particularly for Brambuk, the National Park and Cultural Centre. Its Aboriginal Cultural Centre invites you to enter the world of the Grampians’ Indigenous peoples, discover bush foods and buy one-of-a-kind Aboriginal artworks.

Phillip Island

Undoubtedly the most famous entry on this list, Phillip Island has long been an essential Melbourne attraction for its Penguin Parade, a nightly spectacle that sees thousands of little penguins—known locally as fairy penguins—return home after a day at sea. If you want the best seats in the house for the show, go for the Penguin Plus upgrade, which places you mere feet from the penguins’ path up into the hills.

While waiting for the penguins to come back to shore, be sure to make a detour to the Nobbies, a spectacular headland at the southwestern tip of the island. Follow the boardwalk and use the on-site binoculars to look out to the aptly named Seal Rocks, where Australia’s biggest fur seal colony resides.

Apart from penguins and seals, Phillip Island also has a thriving wallaby population; they can be seen grazing along the dramatic coastline of Summerlands, on the way to the Penguin Parade and the Nobbies.

Mornington Peninsula

The Mornington Peninsula is often spoken of in the context of Melbourne’s geography—it forms the eastern and southern portions of Port Phillip Bay, and Phillip Island sits to its east in Western Port (got to love the contradiction)—but it’s very much an undiscovered treasure for travellers. Before venturing out into the peninsula proper, you can stop at Brighton Beach, home to the colourful beach boxes that make their way into just about every social media post of a Melbourne holiday. If you’ve got A$300,000 or so to spare, you could have a beach box to call your own.

Heading south from Brighton, an unmissable stop at the start of the peninsula is Moonlit Sanctuary in Pearcedale. If you’re a veteran of a few Australian holidays, you’ve probably been to a wildlife sanctuary and have a photo with a koala to prove it. Moonlit Sanctuary is a little different. It has wide open spaces and has a strong focus on education and conservation. Best of all, a whole mob of wallabies and kangaroos roams the grounds freely, waiting to be fed by visitors. If you weren’t an aspiring zoologist before, you’ll leave here confident in your ability to tell the difference between swamp wallabies, red-necked wallabies and red-bellied pademelons.

Continuing down along the Mornington Peninsula Freeway, you’ll find yourself at the foot of Arthurs Seat, perhaps the most breathtaking lookout point on the peninsula. It’s a short, albeit winding, drive to the top, but to get there in style, you can ride one of the gondolas at the Arthurs Seat Eagle. Look out for kangaroos down below. If you haven’t collected enough beach box photos, nearby Dromana offers a quieter but just as colourful alternative to Brighton.

There’s all that to see in the Mornington Peninsula and we haven’t even mentioned its main highlights: wine, cider, cheese and strawberries. But you’ll have to wait for part two of our Melbourne coverage to hear about that.

Tour information at a glance:

Ride Puffing Billy on the Puffing Billy Steam Train & Wine Country Day Tour
Explore the Grampians on the Grampians Day Tour
Visit Phillip Island, Brighton Beach and Moonlit Sanctuary on the Phillip Island Day Tour
See Arthurs Seat and Dromana on the Marvellous Mornington Peninsula Tour