Melbourne and the state of Victoria boomed in the 1850s after an influx of people from around the world entered the region to try their hand at winning big in the gold rush. In fact, in 1852 more immigrants leaving Britain purchased tickets to Melbourne than to any other destination around the world. While the capital and its surrounds have changed dramatically since then, there are still remnants of the era existing in the state that visitors can explore. If you want to visit Victoria to experience sites of the gold rush past, then read on for some of the top tourist attractions on offer.
Arrive in Melbourne by ship
You can start your journey like so many goldminers did in the 1850s – by ship. However, unlike the gold rush prospectors of the past who battled appalling conditions, scurvy and other diseases on the journey, today’s tourists can instead visit Victoria on the Spirit of Tasmania, a stylish and comfortable cruise liner operating twice daily between Tasmania and Victoria. You can put your car on board in Tasmania and then enjoy a pleasant journey across the Tasman to Melbourne. Once there you have your vehicle on hand to tour around the best historical sites in and near Melbourne.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Victoria is Sovereign Hill, an outdoor museum in Ballarat that tells the story of the region during the gold rush. Visitors to Sovereign Hill can enjoy feeling like they have stepped back in time on Main Street, where costumed actors parade up and down, or try their luck panning for gold. Children will love visiting the on-site theatre to watch a show or watching steam-driven machinery in action, as well as the multi-million dollar sound and light show that is presented at night. Adults are sure to enjoy the fully-guided gold mine tour, a horse-drawn coach tour of the town, or getting a glimpse of the many gold nuggets in the museum. Family tickets are available for around $117.
Located in inner-city Carlton, the Melbourne Museum provides an affordable day out for families. With tickets just $10 for adults and free for children, parents don’t need to spend a lot to take their family to this museum for an exploration of life in Victoria over the ages. The museum covers a wide array of subjects in its eight galleries, from the state’s culture and history to its natural environment. The Melbourne Story exhibition features over 1200 objects from Museum Victoria’s vast collection, including a Cobb & Co Coach and a gold mining model from 1858.
The Old Melbourne Gaol
Built in the mid-1800s, the Old Melbourne Gaol housed criminals, petty offenders, the mentally ill and the homeless during the peak Gold Rush period. At the oldest prison in Melbourne families can explore the three levels of the gaol and see Ned Kelly’s death mask; take a tour of the cells and visit the Police City Watch House; take part in a trial recreation at the old Magistrate’s Court; or take an evening tour of the facilities…if they dare! Family passes cost around $55 for the day.
Melbourne Walks is a company that operates walking tours throughout Melbourne. For tourists who would like to learn some more about the Gold Rush period, they can embark on a cottage tour of the city’s oldest residence and its surrounds. The gold rush cottage is owned by George and Lola Russell and was built in 1850. Tours cost around $70 per person, last for approximately 2 and a half hours and include morning or afternoon tea.
Melbourne is a magic city for a fun and family friendly holiday. It’s easy to get around, there are loads to see and do and the kids will be delighted by the novelty of travelling around on the vintage trams. There’s also lots of budget accommodation and fantastic cheap eats, so a holiday in Melbourne needn’t break the family budget.
Here are six must see attractions in Melbourne and surrounds that all the family will enjoy.
1. Watch the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island
Take a waddle on the wild side at the famous Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, a 90 minute drive from Melbourne. Every evening at sunset thousands of little penguins (the world’s smallest and cutest) cross the beach and settle into their burrows for the night. A family ticket for two adults and two children costs from $56.50. While at Phillip Island, be sure to stop by the Koala Conservation Centre and Churchill Heritage Farm.
Located in Carlton, the award-winning Melbourne Museum explores the nature, culture and history of Victoria. Highlights include a complete skeleton of a blue whale, the famous race horse Phar Lap, a living rainforest, the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre and an IMAX theatre. Entry is around $10 for adults, while children up to 16 years of age are free.
3. Old Melbourne Gaol
Located in Russell Street in Melbourne’s CBD, the Old Melbourne Gaol precinct includes Melbourne’s oldest gaol, the historic Magistrate’s Court and former Police City Watch House. A day tour ticket for two adults and two children costs around $55, or thrill children over 12 by taking The Hangman’s tour or an evening ghost tour by candlelight.
4. Travel on the Spirit of Tasmania
Take the kids ‘overseas’ on a side trip to Tasmania cruising across Bass Strait with the Spirit of Tasmania. Choose from day or night sailings between Melbourne and Devonport and enjoy a range of facilities on board including dining and bars, a playroom, games arcade and cinema. Adult day tickets start from around $79 and children $5. Take your car along with you from around $89.
5. Eureka Sky Deck 88
Located atop the Eureka Tower in Southbank, the Eureka Sky Deck 88 offers awe-inspiring 360 degree views from the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere. For a real thrill seeker experience try The Edge, a glass cube that projects three metres out from the building. Family tickets for two adults and two children cost around $42. The Edge experience is extra.
6. Fairy Park
A one-hour drive from Melbourne, Fairy Park at Anakie is a wonderland for the whole family. Kids can become a knight, a princess, a hero or a villain for the day and enter a world dedicated to storytelling, fairy tales, myths and legends. Tickets are from around $16 per adult and $8 per child, children under three years free.
These six must-see attractions are just the beginning of the many family-friendly activities on offer in Melbourne. So take the family to Melbourne for a fun-packed holiday of a lifetime.
If you’re in Melbourne, you may decide that for a hassle-free and non-stop drive into regional Victoria for a day out or extended stay, you’d like to travel to the end of one of the city’s several freeways. Let’s see where you can go.
M1 – MONASH FREEWAY / PRINCES FREEWAY – to YARRAGON
Follow the Monash Freeway through Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, then eastwards from Berwick towards Gippsland where it changes its name to the Princes Freeway. Exercise caution when driving along the section between Nar Nar Goon and Longwarry North – the freeway drops to a lower standard and includes several busy level road crossings, but you won’t have to stop at those. Eastwards from Longwarry North, the freeway returns to a high standard again, and the speed limit rises to 110 km/h.
If you’re hungry along the way or need fuel, service centres with direct access to both sides of the freeway are located at Officer and Longwarry North.
The freeway ends at the charming town of Yarragon where you’ll stop at your first set of traffic lights since leaving Melbourne. This tourist village features an attractive strip of shops which overlook an extensive garden with manicured lawns, colourful flowers, a rotunda and lots of seating. Browse through antique and craft shops, drop into the Town & Country Gallery, or treat yourself to some refreshments or a meal at the local hotel or one of Yarragon’s cafes or restaurants. Yarragon is set against the backdrop of the Strzelecki Ranges, so you can take a scenic drive southwards from the town up into the hills.
M11 – PENINSULA LINK / MORNINGTON PENINSULA FREEWAY – to ROSEBUD
Depending where you are in Melbourne, you can access Peninsula Link and the Mornington Peninsula Freeway by starting off on either the Monash or Eastern Freeways, then using EastLink (a toll road) to reach the start of Peninsula Link at Seaford.
The high-standard Peninsula Link and Mornington Peninsula Freeway heads inland through the rolling countryside of the Mornington Peninsula, squeezes between the towering peak of Arthurs Seat and the beach-side suburb of Dromana, then arrives at the Jetty Road roundabout in the residential area of Rosebud. Head northwards along Jetty Road for just over one kilometre and you’ll reach the commercial centre of Rosebud, which is separated from the beach by a bushy foreshore.
Rosebud is one of the largest centres on the Mornington Peninsula, with an extensive array of shops fronting Point Nepean Road, the Rosebud Plaza Shopping Centre and several major supermarkets. One of Rosebud’s interesting features is the extensive foreshore reserve which acts as a thick buffer along the beach. This reserve is home to picnic areas, community facilities and designated camping areas in some of the bushy sections. Rosebud is excellent for swimming with the calm and shallow waters of the bay making it ideal for children and families. For surfers, the ocean beaches fronting Bass Strait on the other side of the Mornington Peninsula, such as Gunnamatta and St Andrews, are a short drive away.
M1 – WEST GATE FREEWAY / PRINCES FREEWAY – to GEELONG
Head westwards along the West Gate Freeway, crossing the iconic West Gate Bridge which spans the Yarra River and surrounding industrial areas. The road then becomes known as the Princes Freeway as it heads south-west towards Geelong.
Service centres are located on both sides of the freeway between Little River and Avalon Airport, providing a convenient location for topping up with fuel or grabbing a coffee to keep you going.
The Princes Freeway skirts around the edge of Geelong’s sprawling suburbs and reverts to standard highway conditions in Geelong’s outer south-western suburb of Waurn Ponds, with several freeway exits providing access to Victoria’s second largest city.
The city centre of Geelong fronts the waters of Corio Bay where there is an attractive waterfront precinct, a sandy beach, safe swimming enclosure and plenty of boating activity. Attractions galore can be found within Geelong including the National Wool Museum, Geelong Performing Arts Centre, several galleries, botanic gardens and the beautiful parkland along the Barwon River. Shopaholics will be right at home in Geelong, with its extensive collection of retail stores on the streets of the city centre, plus a selection of undercover shopping centres. Further afield, Geelong is the gateway to the emerging Bellarine Peninsula and of course Victoria’s internationally famous coastal drive, the Great Ocean Road.
M8 – WESTERN FREEWAY – to BALLARAT
Access to the start of the Western Freeway is via the West Gate Freeway (M1) and/or the Western Ring Road (M80). The high-standard roadway heads through Melbourne’s western suburbs on its journey westwards. Take care when driving on the section between Rockbank and Melton as there are several local roads which have direct level crossing junctions with the freeway. You’ll travel through the scenic valleys and farmland surrounding Bacchus Marsh, then on the eastern outskirts of Ballarat, the freeway standard drops again at Warrenheip with several local road crossings near a group of service stations.
The Western Freeway skirts around to the north of Ballarat, and there are several freeway exists which lead into the city centre and suburbs. The freeway ends to the west of Ballarat and becomes the Western Highway.
Ballarat is a city of grand architecture and many attractions due to its rich gold mining heritage back in those “gold rush” days of the 1850s. Re-live those days by visiting Sovereign Hill – a recreated gold township with activities for everyone of all ages. Visit the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka which commemorates the miners’ rebellion which is regarded as the birth of democracy is Australia. Other attractions include the Ballarat Aviation Museum, Bird World, the Ballarat Wildlife Park, Kryal Castle and Her Majesty’s – one of Australia’s historic theatres. There’s plenty of shopping in Ballarat, and if you want some time out, head to the beautiful botanic gardens and the parkland which surrounds Lake Wendouree.
M79 – CALDER FREEWAY – to BENDIGO
The Calder Freeway commences in Melbourne’s northern suburb of Essendon, and drivers can enter it either via the CityLink section of the Tullamarine Freeway (a toll road) or the Western Ring Road (M80). As the freeway reaches Melbourne’s outskirts, take care around the Calder Park area as there are several level road crossings which intersect the freeway.
The Calder Freeway heads north-west from Melbourne and crosses the Great Dividing Range at Macedon. It doesn’t quite make it to Bendigo, dropping down to highway standard north of Harcourt, however it’s still a non-stop journey along the Calder Highway through the Greater Bendigo National Park and to Bendigo’s far southern suburb of Kangaroo Flat where you’ll stop at your first traffic light since Melbourne.
Bendigo, like Ballarat, is a city of grand architecture and wealth thanks to its rich gold mining history. Bendigo and its suburbs are ringed on most sides by bushland, creating the impression of a city within a forest. Within this city you can go underground into a real mine at the Central Deborah Gold Mine, take a trip through the city on its famous “talking tram”, get hands-on at the Discovery & Technology Centre and connect with the heritage of Bendigo’s Chinese people at the Golden Dragon Museum. Beautiful gardens are a feature of Bendigo and highlights including Rosalind Park with its lookout tower, Lake Weeroona and the White Hills Botanical Gardens.
M39 – GOULBURN VALLEY FREEWAY – to SHEPPARTON
The Goulburn Valley Freeway starts 100 kilometres north of Melbourne, just outside of Seymour. Access from Melbourne is via the CityLink section of the Tullamarine Freeway (a toll road) and/or the Western Ring Road (M80), then head north along the Hume Freeway (M31) until you reach the exit to the Goulburn Valley Freeway.
The Goulburn Valley Freeway continues its journey northwards, roughly following the Goulburn River and drops down to highway standard on the southern outskirts of Shepparton as it makes its way into the city centre.
Shepparton is located within one of Victoria’s richest fruit-growing districts and is home to SPC Ardmona which has a factory direct sales outlet which is open to the public. Shepparton has a strong cultural background and the city is home to museums, galleries and festivals. There’s an extensive shopping precinct in Shepparton with its heart being the Maude Street Mall. If you’ve got kids, take them to Kids Town – one of Australia’s best community playgrounds. Natural attractions in Shepparton include Victoria Park Lake, on the highway just south of the city centre, the Goulburn River and the reserves and forests which line this iconic waterway.
What about the Hume Freeway (M31), you may ask? This freeway-standard roadway continues non-stop from Melbourne’s northern suburbs and across the Murray River into the neighbouring state of New South Wales, thus there is no end point for this freeway in Victoria. When the Holbrook bypass opens later in 2013, you’ll be able to drive from Melbourne to Sydney without stopping, although you should stop regularly for rest breaks of course.
Thoughts from us at Travel Victoria. A range of content for either travellers or visitors to Victoria and Melbourne, and for those working in the tourism industry.