7 must-try experiences beyond Melbourne’s hipster cafes

Melbourne is known for its cool café culture, but that’s not the only reason to visit one of the world’s most liveable cities

Winter Festival, Melbourne, Australia
Watch the city of Melbourne come alive during the colder months at the Winter Festival. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

It’s no secret that Melbourne, the undisputed coffee capital of Australia, is a haven for caffeine lovers and hipsters. Yet, the state capital of Victoria and one of the world’s most liveable cities has more to offer than cold brews and cafés.

Here are seven unforgettable experiences that Melbourne offers.

Wander through a winter wonderland

Join Aussie specialist Chan Brothers Travel’s 7D Melbourne & Snow Holidays Tour to experience a magical winter vacation at Mount Buller. Skiing season at the premier alpine resort usually runs from early June to September, or for as long as the snow lasts.

Winter holidays in Mount Buller, Victoria, Australia
Explore the winter wonderland that is Mount Buller in Victoria, Australia. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

An easy three-hour drive out of Melbourne, Mount Buller has more than 300ha of skiable terrain. These range from gentle slopes for novices to steep chutes for ski professionals. Take up residence in a ski-in/ski-out accommodation in the heart of the alpine village to fulfil your dream winter holiday. Most chalets and lodges in Mount Buller are situated just off the slopes, providing unparalleled ski access at your doorstep.

The resort also offers plenty of family-friendly activities. Zip across snow-covered fields in a tobogganing park, embark on a snow tubing adventure or join a sled dog tour in the spectacular Alpine National Park.

Skiing in Mount Buller, Victoria, Australia
'Tis the ski-son! Enjoy everything from skiing to toboggan rides on Mount Buller's snowfields and ski slopes. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

There are many off-snow adventures here too. Bring the kids on the Gnome Roam, a self-guided tour that challenges the little ones to hunt for gnome statues hidden around the Mount Buller village. Or catch a movie in Australia’s highest cinema, the Mount Buller Cinema.

Continue your winter adventures with Aussie specialist Chan Brothers Travel in Melbourne. From Aug 22 to 24, watch the city come alive in the Winter Festival, a three-day event of light installations, music, art and open-air ice skating. Don’t miss the Winter Night Market at Queen Victoria Market for its street food, mulled wine, local entertainment and Christmas-themed gifts. The market is open on Wednesday nights from now till Aug 28.

Go on the road

Great Ocean Road Walk, Victoria, Australia
Explore landscapes beyond the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Few experiences can rival the magic of driving along the Great Ocean Road. Witness the Twelve Apostles rising out of the Southern Ocean as you glide past the south-eastern coastline of Australia. To view these towering rock pillars from another perspective, park your vehicle at the Twelve Apostles’ car park and walk to Gibson Steps via a 1.1km section of the Great Ocean Walk. Descend a stairway, composed of 86 steps carved into a cliff, to take in humbling views of the giant limestone stacks from beach level.

The Great Ocean Road route also takes you past lush rainforests and charming seaside towns. Pull up at the city of Geelong, just under a 1.5-hour drive from Melbourne, to see its iconic Bollard Trail. As you walk along its waterfront, gaze at more than 100 pier pylons that have been painted and modelled after characters in Geelong’s rich history.

Then, take your road trip to new heights at Live Wire Park in Lorne. Just over an hour’s drive from Geelong, the adventure park gives families the chance to take on Australia’s most extreme zip line, thrilling rope courses and a canopy walk among the treetops.

Meet the natives

Love animals? Love Phillip Island. Just 90 minutes from Melbourne by car, the seaside haven is home to a nightly penguin parade, a colony of fur seals, sleepy koalas and migrating birds.

Seal watching, Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia
Score an up-close encounter with Australia’s largest fur seal colony just off Phillip Island. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

As the sun sets, keep your eyes peeled for Little Penguins that waddle up to the beach to the safety of their homes. The Little Penguin is the world’s smallest penguin species, measuring just about 33cm tall and weighing approximately 1kg. For 180-degree views of these adorable creatures, watch the penguin parade unfold from the main viewing area at Summerland Beach.

For more wildlife encounters, come face-to-face with koalas at the Koala Reserve; set sail on a spectacular cruise to witness thousands of fur seals in their natural habitat, just off the coast of Phillip Island; and join a whale-watching cruise to catch sight of humpback whales, southern right whales and orcas breaking the surface of the water during the winter migration season between May and October.

Don’t forget to check out Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate at the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory. The attraction features a 2m chocolate statue of Michelangelo’s David, a chocolate village with working trains and a chocolate waterfall, which flows with 400kg of molten chocolate every three minutes. This might be as close as you’ll ever get to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Sleep in the wild

Glamping in Iluka Retreat & Camp, Victoria, Australia
Camping has never been this glamp-orous. Iluka Retreat & Camp, Mornington Peninsula. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

If a bespoke glamping experience speaks to your soul, then Iluka Retreat & Camp on the Mornington Peninsula is a must-visit. An 80-minute drive from Melbourne, the private property offers a camping experience with all the comforts of home. Turn up with an overnight bag and enjoy your escape to nature in spacious glamping tents, furnished with fresh linen and warm bedding.

The campsites overlook a lake and rolling hills and are accompanied by a camp kitchen and bathrooms with hot showers. While here, take the opportunity to disconnect from your digital devices and reconnect with family or friends under the stars.

Cosy up in the arms of nature

Need a break from the maddening rush of city life? Escape the crowds for the Grampians, a series of sandstone mountain ranges and wildlife-rich forests three hours’ west of Melbourne by car.

Take on the Venus Baths Loop Walk or Balconies Walk at the Grampians National Park. These walks are easily accessible, flat and just about 2km long. Embark on the Balconies Walk at sunrise or sunset. The trail leads to a lookout, where you can soak up panoramic views of the Victoria Valley and the surrounding ranges washed in shifting orange-pink and red-brown hues.

The Grampians, Victoria, Australia
Escape the city crowds for the mountain vistas of the Grampians. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

In the warmer months, cool off in the freshwater rock pools along the Venus Baths Loop Walk. Keep a lookout for kangaroos, wallabies and other native animals that wander the mountain ranges too.

Beyond towering natural landscapes, the Grampians also offers a gateway to towering works of art. In between lofty rock escarpments and ridges, you’ll find the Silo Art Trail — a 200km stretch of historical wheat silos that have been turned into giant murals by renowned street artists. Extend your trip in the Grampians to view this art trail, which is accessible via Horsham in the west of the Grampians.

Escape to wine country

Less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley yields a wide array of world-class cool-climate wines. Go on behind-the-scenes tours of vineyards and wineries to learn about the making of Australia’s finest pinot noir and chardonnay.

Wine tasting at Yarra Valley
Some of Australia's finest pinot noir and chardonnay can be found in the Yarra Valley. PHOTO: VISIT VICTORIA

Beer and cider lovers can join a cider and ale trail to sample tasting paddles at renowned breweries. If gin and tonic is your tipple of choice, then the Four Pillars Gin Distillery needs to be on your radar. Learn about gin botanicals and sample small-batch gins in their tasting room. Then, head down the road to Alchemy Distillers for unique craft spirits such as chamomile gin and quinoa vodka.

The Yarra Valley is also celebrated for its fresh produce. Tuck into freshwater salmon and trout at Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm, and sample award-winning salmon caviar harvested by Australian producer Yarra Valley Caviar. The delicacy is served at various local restaurants and providores. If you are after local and seasonal fruit, visit the region’s orchards and farm gates and fill your baskets with fresh cherries and blueberries.

Make every moment Instagrammable

Sorrento Pier, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
Sorrento Pier on the Mornington Peninsula offers delicious views of the beach and ferries in the distance.

Need some inspiration for your Instagram feed?

Snap a shot of the famous multi-coloured bathing boxes on Brighton Beach, less than a 30-minute drive from Melbourne. Built more than 100 years ago, these boxes were used by women who wanted privacy while changing into their swimwear.

Another photogenic landmark that should make your list: Sorrento Pier on the Mornington Peninsula. Built in 1870, the pier is just a short walk from the town of Sorrento, one of Victoria’s oldest seaside communities and just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Climb up the cliff face behind the esplanade for picturesque views of ferries and the beach.

You know what they say: you can take a hipster out of Melbourne, but you can’t take Melbourne out of a hipster. The cultural capital of Australia has plenty of spots that will help you take your Instagram game to the next level. Explore AC/DC Lane in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) to view renowned street artist Banksy’s last remaining works in the city.

Beyond the CBD, wander the streets and laneways of Collingwood and Fitzroy. These two vibrant neighbourhoods are filled with stencil graffiti, paste-ups and significant murals, including Melbourne’s oldest street art mural by popular artist Keith Haring along Johnson Street in Collingwood.

With a diverse range of experiences and landscapes, Melbourne and its surrounds offer a travel adventure like no other. Undiscover Melbourne and its surrounds with Chan Brothers Travel today.