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Twelve Apostles from Gibson Beach
Photograph: Ben Savage

The best carless day trips from Melbourne

No car, no problem: these excursions are all accessible by our state's regional train, ferry and coach system

Written by
Saffron Swire
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Melbourne may be chock-full of things to do and see, but sometimes you crave a break from the hubbub of city life. From national parksworld-class wineries, gold rush towns to sandy beaches, the state of Victoria teems with things to escape to – all within a short distance of the CBD.  

While most will drive to these hotspots for a day-long sojourn, only some of us have the wheels (and license) to do so. So no car? No problem. The city's backyard is no longer out of bounds thanks to the state's regional train, ferry and coach system. 

So avoid traffic, reduce your carbon footprint and be more carfree with these five driverless trips from Melbourne. 

Have access to four wheels? Pack the car for these road trips instead.

Five carless road trips to try in Victoria

Time travel back to Australia's great 1850s Gold Rush and to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. Crowned Australia's best "Major Tourist Attraction" four times, the open-air museum portrays Ballarat's first decade after the discovery of gold in 1851, when it was considered the wealthiest city in the world. Relive the sights, sounds and smells of this mining heyday and even pan for gold in an underground mine, make sweets, or take the horse-drawn carriage through the streets. 

Before it was dammed during the gold rush, Lake Wendouree in Ballarat used to be a swamp. Now a popular spot for boating, kayaking and fishing, Lake Wendouree is well worth the six-kilometre-long gander. On the lake's western shore, there is also the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, which boasts a remarkable 16 hectares of seasonal flower displays, mature trees and marble statues. 

Ballarat may no longer be the wealthiest city in the world, but it offers a fruitful range of restaurants and cafés that are well worth the salt. Head for a breakfast of chilli scrambled eggs at Yellow Espresso, try Nonna's traditional meatballs at Carboni's Italian Kitchen or toast to the fact you can drink and not drive with a tipple or two at Mitchell Harris Wines. 

How to get there

Grab your Myki, hop on the V/Line train, and arrive in less than 90 minutes at the historic Ballarat Railway Station. 

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Catch a Port Phillip Ferry and set sail southwest of Melbourne to discover the wonders of Geelong. Victoria's second-largest city, Geelong, is often seen as the "gateway city" owing to its proximity to Ballarat, Torquay, the Great Ocean Road and Hamilton. While Geelong may be known for its prime location and AFL-winning football team, it is also worth visiting for its scenic coastline and thriving arts, culture and dining scene. 

To gain a sense of Geelong's rich history, you can walk the three-kilometre Geelong Baywalk Bollards Trail. Artist Jan Mitchell created the bollards in the 1990s, and now over 103 bollards are installed right around the Waterfront from Limeburner's Point to Rippleside Park. Each bollard charts a story about the cast and characters who added to the making of Geelong, such as its Indigenous inhabitants, opera singers, to footballers. 

As Australia's first (and only) UNESCO City of Design, Geelong is bursting with art and culture. Head to Geelong Gallery, one of the oldest regional galleries in Australia, to see more than 6000 works of art. Stumble upon The Gallery's outstanding collection, which boasts many works of national significance, such as Eugène von Guérard's View of Geelong (1856) and Frederick McCubbin's A Bush Burial (1890). If museum fatigue starts settling in and you find yourself longing for fresh air, stroll through central Geelong's streets and laneways to view the countless murals and stencils that enliven the urban space. 

As well as a thriving arts scene, Geelong is also home to a smorgasbord of places to eat, drink and be merry. For that special celebration, visit award-winning IGNI, where chef-patron Aaron Turner steers you on a six-course dining journey where fire and smoke sculpt the menu. If you're after something more low-key, head for lunch at eddy and wills café or to microbrewery Valhalla Brewing and Taproom to listen to some records and neck back a few craft beers setting sail (Viking-style) back for Melbourne. 

How to get there

Port Phillip Ferries operate a twice-daily catamaran service from Melbourne Docklands to Geelong. 

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Escape the clamour of the city and take the time to recharge the body and mind with the forests, natural mineral waters and gastronomy of Daylesford. Only around 100 kilometres northwest of Melbourne's CBD, this bohemian spa town is tucked into the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and is home to more than 80 per cent of the natural mineral springs in Victoria. 

A day trip to Victoria's "spa country" would not be complete without a visit to Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. Discovered by Captain Hepburn at the dawn of the 19th century and first used by the local Dja Dja Wurrung people, many have bathed in these healing waters. Drawing mineral-rich waters directly from the natural source, this iconic bathhouse offers a chance to experience the purest form of mineral wellness and spa treatments for those in need of greater reprieve. 

While Daylesford may be revered for its mineral waters, its gastronomic scene is just as rich. Kick off the day with some brunch of Turkish Eggs with smoked chilli butter and fried halloumi at Cliffy's Emporium. Make sure to also fill your boots (and bag) with fresh, seasonal and local produce from the local farmers' markets and provedores. Every Sunday, there is Daylesford Sunday Market which holds up to 110 stalls every week and offers everything from local honey, gourmet chutneys and cheeses, free-range meat, to freshly-baked sourdough. 

Head for an early dinner at Sault, a restaurant set on a 125-acre estate against the backdrop of the Wombat State Forest with views of the Lake and rolling lavender fields. With an emphasis on seasonal farm-to-plate cooking and magnificent scenery, what better way to see off the day? 

How to get there

Catch a V/Line train from Southern Cross station in central Melbourne to Daylesford: Bridport Street via Woodend. 

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Venture northwest of Melbourne and visit Bendigo – regional Victoria's premier arts and cultural destination. Explore Bendigo's rich Chinese heritage and discover how the customs of 4,000 Chinese miners and merchants who arrived in the 1850s gold rush became an integral part of Bendigo. Visit the Golden Dragon Museum to learn more about how these traditions and stories have been kept alive and to see the ornate dragons Sun Loong, Loong and Dai Gum Loong (thought to be the longest Golden Dragon in the world). As well as the museum and its dragons, you can visit the Yi Yuan Gardens for a peaceful stroll amongst the grounds.

See why Bendigo is regional Victoria's premier arts and cultural destination with a visit to Bendigo Art Gallery - one of Australia's oldest and largest regional galleries. Expect an impressive permanent collection of Australian artists such as works by photographer Bill Henson and artists Patricia Piccinini and Emily Kame Kngwarreye. 

If all this sightseeing has left you feeling famished, you've come to the right place. Roll up your sleeves and see why Bendigo was crowned a UNESCO City of Gastronomy with a meal at one of the region's top restaurants, such as Masons of Bendigo or the steakhouse The Woodhouse. The Bendigo and Heathcote region also has over 80 local wineries where you can dine with a vantage of the vines, sample local varieties and learn how the area put the pizazz into its shiraz. 

How to get there

Take the V/Line service from Melbourne's Southern Cross Station to Bendigo station. The station is just a few minutes' walk from the city centre, and from there, you can get the Bendigo Talking Tram to see many more of their attractions. 

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Hop on a bus and embark on a 4.5-hour ride from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. Take a day off to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and experience the raw and rugged beauty of Victoria's windswept coastline, towering rainforests and charming seaside towns. 

There are several guided bus tours available and most stop off first at the historic Memorial Arch, the gateway to the Great Ocean Road that was built in honour of the 3,000 returned soldiers who worked on the road and its creation during World War I. Pass through the quaint coastal towns of Lorne and Wye River before stopping at Apollo Bay for lunch. The Birdhouse Apollo Bay promises spectacular views alongside flavour-packed seafood dishes, such as scallop agnolotti with burnt butter and Reggiano cheese or steamed mussels with tomato, garlic and chilli. 

Once satiated, there is the guided walk through the Otway Ranges, where you can roam amongst some of the tallest eucalyptus trees in Australia and discover waterfalls, flora, and fauna. From there, the bus will meander through Port Campbell National Park to arrive at the Shipwreck Coast to learn more about Australian maritime history and see where 700 cargo and passenger vessels met their end in the 18th century.

Finish up at the jewel in the crown of the Great Ocean Road, the world-famous 12 Apostles and see the rocks in all their jagged glory rising up out of the Southern Ocean. Aim to try and see the 12 Apostles at sunset, where the limestone rocks radiate with an awe-inspiring orange as the sun slips below the waves. 

How to get there 

Book the 1-day-long Great Ocean Road & 12 Apostles bus tour with Sightseeing Tours Australia, leaving at 7.00 am from several spots in Melbourne and returning at 9.00 pm.

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