When it comes to family holidays, there are places we all know and love and to which many of us flock – think Gold Coast, Coffs Harbour or the Great Ocean Road.
But what about the hidden treasures? Those places we stumble on that make us go WOW. Those attractions that make us wonder why more people don’t know about them?
In this 8-part series, we will look at some of Australia’s lesser known destinations – and attractions – you can put on your family holiday bucket list, starting with Victoria.
Nelson is a small coastal town between Portland and Mt Gambier. What makes this place special is not the ocean, but the beautiful Glenelg River, which separates the two states.
Do not visit here and expect to find a bustling main street – there is a roadhouse, hotel and general store.
But you will discover a beautiful waterway, even if you don’t have your own boat.
We visited here when my daughter was just 3 years old, staying for 3 nights on an extended January holiday that also took in Robe and Naracoorte in South Australia.
Fishing is an activity of choice and there are plenty of land-based options. But even if you don’t have a boat, you can take to the river through local boat and canoe hire companies.
There is also a river cruise company based in Nelson and you have the option to incorporate a visit to the Princess Margaret Rose Cave, which is in the Lower Glenelg National Park, and can also be accessed by car.
Although the ocean here is not safe for swimming, you can still wander the unspoiled beaches. The small historic South Australian town of Port MacDonnnell is about a half hour drive away and has playgrounds and a safe wading beach.
We visited Port Albert at a busy holiday time, but as we headed east from Melbourne, the traffic started tailing off, with most people heading towards Phillip Island, Inverloch and Wilsons Prom.
But we kept going and discovered the coastal hamlet of Port Albert. Nestled on the waters of Corner Inlet, this is the type of place where a boat will increase your options of discovery. But that’s not to say it is necessary.
Settled in 1841 as Gippsland’s first port, Port Albert was the entry point for migrants seeking their fortunes in the goldfields. Its waters also claimed many ships. Today, a lot of that history remains through its old buildings, including the old Bank of Gippsland, which houses the Gippsland Regional Maritime Museum.
But Port Albert is not just about history. It is also about nature.
The town is located within the Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park and although there is no beach here as such, there is a wharf that older kids love jumping from and we discovered a great outdoor heated pool at nearby Toora.
Port Albert is also great for exploring the local area, including the beautiful Tarra Bulga National Park and a day trip can take you into Wilsons Prom – even closer if you have your own boat.
The Werribee region is well worth a day trip. About 40 minutes from the Melbourne city centre, this area can be accessed by public transport or you can take scenic coastal drive via Williamstown and Altona.
Werribee can be written off by Melbournians due to its western suburbs location and historical negative references to its sewage farm, but it well worth a visit. You could even stay the night, there is so much to explore.
Werribee is best known for the Werribee Open Range Zoo (always worth a visit, especially now with new attractions including the just-opened Hippo Beach and water play area), as well as Werribee Mansion – an Italianate mansion built by the wealthy Chirnside family in 1877.
The Mansion is also home to the Victorian State Rose Garden, which is spectacular when in full bloom (November to April).
While in this area, take the scenic drive through the market gardens down to South Werribee Beach, with its play area and walkways along Port Phillip Bay through to the Werribee River mouth.
You can also visit the Point Cook Homestead, which was also part of the Chirnside family and home to some early Melbourne and Caulfield Cup winners. Today you can visit the homestead and grounds, eat in the café and even stay the night
While here, explore the Point Cook Coastal Park and the shoreline of the Point Cooke Marine Sanctuary, as well as the RAAF museum with its restored aircraft. Amazingly entry is free (with donations accepted).
And if all this is not reason enough to visit, the current re-development of the local Wyndham Leisure & Event Centre will include the addition of two giant waterslides – one of them said to be the largest in Victoria.
Just under two hours’ drive from Melbourne, it is well worth a weekend away to visit Nagambie.
Now on the map as the birthplace of the Melbourne Cup winner Black Caviar, which is celebrated with a large statue on the picturesque Lake Nagambie foreshore, Nagambie has long been popular with the water skiing crowd and today it plays host to school rowing competitions.
If you want to explore the waterways, you can hire canoes and small boats from Nagambie Lakes Boat Hire.
On land, a walking track takes you from the town centre, along the lake to a new housing estate, where you will find a small man-made beach, with bbq facilities, perfect for a swim on a hot country Victorian day.
Just out of town, you will find the historic Tahbilk Winery, which dates back to 1860. This place is well worth a visit, with its historic buildings and scenic billabongs and wetlands you can explore on a boat tour or on foot. There is also a café on site.
Just over half an hour up the road you can visit Shepparton, with its large Kidstown Adventure Playground. Meanwhile, mum and dad can stock up on groceries at the SPC Ardmona Factory outlet.
Other family friendly activities close-by include the Avenel Maze, the Rockery Gemstone Museum and the Goulburn Weir.
Have you got a hidden treasure destination or attraction in Victoria? Share them in the comments below and let us – and other mums – know.