WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR KIDS ON WEEKENDS AND SCHOOL HOLIDAYS
20+ PLACES in Victoria TO TAKE KIDS
Weekends and school holidays can be a grind for parents and kids - but there are plenty of things to get the kids – and you – out of the house for a day or two or more. While you might think the best places are expensive, that's not necessarily so. Here's a range of terrific family holiday spots and outings around Victoria.
AROUND THE CITY, on a budget:
SCIENCEWORKS & MELBOURNE PLANETARIUM, Spotswood
Somehow they always come up with something new here – especially around holiday time. Exhibits change every few months, with something new for Christmas. Science shows, some hands-on craft activities. Entry: children free, adults $6. Even younger children will get a kick out of the Lightning Room and Planetarium shows which are an extra charge. Be sure to get your tickets early for these during holidays. Open from 10am-4pm. Phone 9392 4800.
MELBOURNE MUSEUM, Carlton Gardens
Dinosaurs from China were a recent holiday exhibition, but there's usually something big and new each December in time for the holidays. There is a fairly good kids hands-on area too; staff are there to help young ones’ creativity. Phone 13 11 02
BY BOAT TO WILLIAMSTOWN
Hop aboard a ferry at Berth 7, Southbank, and it will eventually arrive at Gem Pier, Willianstown. A terrific cruise down the Yarra, under Westgate Bridge and across Hobsons Bay. At Williamstown you can inspect the WWII ex-navy ship HMS Castlemaine. Ferry operates every 30mins in fine weather, but don't ride at the back of the boat because it can be a bit smokey. The Railway Museum (9397 7412) in Champion Road is a bit too far to walk, and not open every day unfortunately: kids might prefer to play in the park and have a fish ‘n chip lunch before the ferry ride back. Ferry info ph 9397 2255
ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS
It’s free. Despite the drought and fruit bats, the Gardens are looking their best for many years. A great place to while away some hours in peaceful surroundings, so take a picnic (or join the queues at the café) and let the kids tempt the ducks and swans. Open every day; Birdwood Ave, South Yarra.
FORESHORE BIKE TRACK
Another freebie. Pack the bikes (or hire at St Kilda pier) and take a gentle ride along the track that skirts the bay between Port Melbourne and Brighton. Stop at any of the numerous cafés and ice-cream vans en route, take a quick dip in the Bay, stroll St Kilda market on Sundays or a thrill ride at Luna Park (not free!).
NOT FREE, BUT GOOD VALUE:
EUREKA TOWER, at Southbank, Melbourne. Probably the best views of Melbourne without being airborne. Try "The Edge" for extra thrills. You'll end up spending about $100 for a family by the time you include snacks from the kiosk, but there's no time limit on your stay. Take a camera.
DAY TRIPS FROM THE SUBURBS
PUFFING BILLY, Belgrave, and other tourist railways
A long time favourite with kids, especially those into Thomas the Tank Engine (ph 9754-6800). From Belgrave Station, the shorter trip to Lakeside is suggested for younger kids. Take a picnic lunch as kiosks have limited food, and be sure to see the model railway just up from Lakeside station. Other tourist railways operating at various times over the holidays are: Yarra Valley from Healesville Station (5962 2490 for times), Spa Country from Daylesford Station (5348 1759), Bellarine Peninsula at Queenscliff (5258 2069), South Gippsland at Leongatha (1800 630 704).
Walking through native animal and bird enclosures will hold the kids’ attention for a while. But if you time it right for regular reptile encounter and birds of prey presentations there’ll be lasting memories. Healesville Sanctuary has a natural bushland setting and it’s surprising how close you can get to normally shy Australian native species. The old favourites, kangaroos and koalas are there but you’ll see platypuses, dingoes, Tasmanian devils and lyrebirds close-up, so take a camera. Picnic and café facilities on site. Family entry around $60 (2 adults and 4 children). Phone 5957 2800.
WALHALLA GOLDMINE & RAILWAY
Deep in a hidden valley in Gippsland lies a historic gold mining town that only got mains electricity a couple of years back. The old disused railway track was ripped up decades ago, but now it’s back for tourists to take a delightful journey through tall timbered forests from Thomson Station to Walhalla: three return journeys every day to Jan 26. Phone 9513 3969 for timetable info. Spend some time in the tiny town, have lunch, and perhaps head underground on a tour of the Long Tunnel Extended mine. Allow 2½ hours for the drive to Walhalla.
FORT NEPEAN, Mornington Peninsula
Just beyond Portsea lies the old fortress at Point Nepean. A maximum of 600 can go at any one time, the small visitor centre offers maps of the area, and you can elect to take the tractor train the few kilometres or park and walk, or ride a bike; some are available for hire at the centre. Soak up a bit of Victorian history, explore lengthy underground passageways, lookouts and gun emplacements, or admire the great views of The Heads. Go early, when it’s not too hot, and take some snacks plus fly repellent (!).Visitor centre ph 5984 4276.
CAPE SCHANCK LIGHTHOUSE
Not far from Fort Nepean, this functioning lighthouse is open for tours. Views from the top are awesome, and there's a little museum too. Probably not good for really young kids but older ones will approve. Take a picnic lunch and trek to the beach and rocky foreshore (fine weather). Lightstation cottages can be rented for hoidays, but get in early. Ph 03 5988 6184. Other lighthouses are Cape Otway (03 5237 9240), Aireys Inlet, Portland - Cape Nelson (not currently open for inspection).
MORE THAN A DAY TRIP ALONG THE COAST:
Deserves more than a day. Feathered participants of the Penguin Parade emerge from the sea at dusk, but during the day, Cowes has a terrific beach for kids, alongside the jetty where fish occasionally bite and there’s a playground here too. Surprisingly entertaining is A Maze’N Things with puzzles, anti-gravity room, maze and mini-golf, café. Phillip Island Wildlife Park, just before Cowes, is another must-do for kids; get there early, watch as wallabies nibble feed (included with entry) from your excited kids’ hands, then stroll to snakes, koalas, native animals and birds. Don’t miss boat trip to the Nobbies where a large seal colony lives; tickets at the Rotunda in Cowes. Churchill Island, a bridge away from Phillip Island, has settler heritage, horse-powered reapers, picnic areas, good café. At San Remo pelicans gather for a feed at about 10am; it’s free.
INFO CENTRE: ph 5956 7447 Phillip Island is less than two hours drive from Melbourne via the South Gippsland/Bass Hwy. You could stop at the Giant Earthworm, at Bass, on the way.
Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum (family entry $35) has themed displays and an open-air museum replicates a colonial coastal village and port. For families, the best thing is the two-day unlimited entry ticket, plus kids’ craft-making activities and other programs to keep them happy; “Shipwrecked” light and sound show will interest school-age kids. See the fairy penguin colony on Middle Island, set the kids free at Lake Pertobe adventure park, go fishing from the breakwater or swimming at Lady Bay. Hillside Market operates second Sunday of the month. INFO: ph 5564 7837 Warrnambool is three hours drive west of Melbourne along Princes Hwy.
Perennially popular, especially during the Moyneyana Festrival in January. Recent years have seen a revamp of the village but the colonial heritage is largely intact. Go fishing on the tranquil Moyne River or from the beach, take a seal-watching boat ride, a lighthouse walk on Griffith Island, bike rides, or swim at East Beach. The 1860s cannon emplacement at Battery Hill is worth a look, and Tower Hill - an extinct volcano - has a crater reserve with walking tracks where you’ll encounter abundant wildlife including koalas, emus and kangaroos. INFO: ph 5568 2682 Port Fairy is 30 mins drive west of Warrnambool, above.
Portland has a long history, but the vintage cable tram along the foreshore (get on/off at any stop) is bound to be a hit with younger kids. Restored Battery Point 1889 cannons, Maritime Discovery Centre (next to the info centre on harbour foreshore), Powerhouse motor and car museum are interesting, or you can try horse riding (5529 2303), canoeing, caving and biking trips (5523 3175). Further out at Cape Bridgewater is the Petrified Forest, blowhole, clifftop walks, or try a boat trip (5526 7247) to view the odorous seal colony; surf beach swimming between the flags in the bay. INFO: Ph 5523 2671 Portland is 4-5 hours drive west of Melbourne along Princes Hwy - further west of Port Fairy, above.
It’s a four-hour drive to the lakes but for thousands who visit over the holidays, it’s worth it. Of course the fishing is pretty good: to prove it, watch as commercial fishing boats unload the catch of the day. Hire paddle boats and other watercraft on placid Cunningham Arm waters, however the Ninety Mile Beach’s surf can be dangerous. There are cruises on the lakes, a seashell museum, mini-golf, and fast-food outlets to die for. Buchan Caves are a fascinating day tour. Try for accommodation with pool. INFO: ph 1800 637 060 Lakes Entrance is 4 hours drive east of Melbourne along Princes Hwy.
Undoubtedly the most exciting things for kids here are the Central Deborah Gold Mine and the Talking Tram. Descend 30 stories down the main shaft to mine workings to see real gold, operate equipment and imagine a miner’s life as it was. The vintage Talking Trams, with taped travelogue, grinds its merry way from the mine to the terminus museum. Bendigo is full of beautiful heritage buildings, but kids won’t care much – the world’s longest Imperial dragon is more exciting. Around Lake Weeroona are parks and good playground equipment; the Science and Technology Centre has hands-on exhibits and a vertical slide. INFO: ph 1800 813 153 - 2 hours drive from Merlbourne
ECHUCA (and its NSW twin, Moama)
The historic port area on the Murray is the focal point here, so grab a ticket and head off for a leisurely paddlesteamer ride. Horse-drawn coach rides are another favourite, but kids will also enjoy Sharp’s Magic Movie House and Penny Arcade - where fudge is made daily. A canoe tour (downsteam all the way) on the Murray shouldn’t be missed (canoe hire 5480 6208). Raverty’s, and the Holden motor museums will be a hit with older kids, boys anyway, and for younger ones the adventure playground on Perricoota Road or indoor play centre in Anstruther Street. Miniature train rides by the bridge in Moama. INFO: ph1800 804 446 - 3 hours drive from Melbourne
SOVEREIGN HILL, Ballarat.
Bound to be busy over the holidays - go early so the kids can get a Cobb & Co coach ride, take the excellent mine tour, see gold being poured, the stamper battery operate, and a host of other things. Pan for real gold in the creek, check out tents and slab huts, shops and stables. Entry $29 adult, $14 children. Blood on the Southern Cross is a sound and light show run each night by Sovereign Hill. Entry is around $35 adult, $20 children. - 2 hours drive from Melbourne via Western Fwy.
In summer, visiting the High Country behind Mansfield should include a trip to Craig’s Hut, the location of many awe-inspiring scenes from the Man from Snowy River movies. The picturesque slab hut is built in the Clear Hills beyond Mt Stirling, and you need a 4WD to get there, as well as a good map. No 4WD? Fear not - tour operators in Mansfield will take you there. Some good places to camp in surrounding mountains. Want comfort? The Mercure Grand Chalet on Mt Buller is open through summer, with optional scenic walks, bike riding, swimming. Local info ph 5775 2518 - a little over 3 hours from Melbourne via Mansfield.
Aim to stay for a couple of days at Halls Gap, Dunkeld, Stawell or Ararat: it’s four hours drive. Younger kids will enjoy a visit to Zumsteins with its kangaroos, and perhaps a walk (an hour return) to McKenzie Falls, Victoria’s largest. There are plenty of scenic locations near main roads through the Grampians, and walks of varying lengths so take a picnic day pack and take your time – and get a map. Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Halls Gap will give an insight into the original inhabitants of the region. Halls Gap info ph: 5356 4616. 3-4 hours drive from Melbourne via Western Hwy
Buchan is a tiny town north of Lakes Entrance, on Victoria's east coast. The two "show caves" here are open year round for guided tours, and there are other more adventurous caves too. Beautiful locale in Victoria, but a long, boring drive so let the kids watch a DVD in the car. You can stay in the camping grounds or fairly average log cabins in Buchan - or base yourselves in comfort at Lakes Entrance and do a day trip from there. 4 hours east of Melbourne via Princes Hwy.
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