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Go Beyond Melbourne

301 km/187 miles, about 3.5 hours

Take the difficulty out of choosing between an urban adventure in Melbourne's laneways, the wines and beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, and Yarra Valley's vineyards and wildlife – and do the lot.

Astonishingly, you can have it all. These distinct attractions are all just an hour from Melbourne and each other. In four days and with a series of short drives you can tick all your sightseeing boxes.

Take in rolling hills laced with vines and dense forests of towering mountain ash and fern trees. Encounter quirky Australian animals, dive into warm coastal waters and taste wines so good you'll be renegotiating your baggage allowance.


Day one

Go Beyond Melbourne

Day 1: Melbourne to Yarra Valley

56 km/35 miles, about 1 hour

Farewell Melbourne's rooftops and subterranean drinking dens, boutiques, galleries and coffee culture. It's time to hit the road for the Yarra Valley, an easy drive less than an hour east of the city, where life's great pleasures of food, wine and nature are justly revered.

Rolling hills laced with grape vines whet the appetite for vineyard visiting and wine tasting. Check in to your accommodation and get started. Accommodation options range anywhere from Yering Gorge Farm Cottages on the banks of the Yarra River, to Balgownie Estate with its sleek rooms, day spa and cellar door.

Head to Healesville Sanctuary, stopping at farm gates to buy local produce for a picnic in the sanctuary's Aussie bush setting. Before you know it you'll be staring into the snarling jaws of a Tasmanian Devil, peering at a joey in its mother's pouch, or frolicking with the monotremes at Tales From Platypus Creek. The photographic opportunities are endless.

It's time to make tough decisions. Choose between an afternoon sipping cider made from local apples at Punt Road Wines and experiencing a real Aussie sausage sizzle with an ale at White Rabbit Brewery, or visiting vineyards to taste wines and meet the winemakers.

The Yarra Valley kick-started Victoria's wine industry in 1838, and today there are over 70 wineries. Celebrated names like De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon also feature cellar door restaurants with breathtaking views, where talented chefs showcase the region's bountiful local produce to match the vineyard's lauded wines. Extend your indulgence beyond your tastebuds with a visit to historic hotel Chateau Yering.


Day two

Go Beyond Melbourne

Day 2: Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges to Phillip Island

140 km/87 miles, about 1.5 hours

A tranquil hot air balloon ride over the Yarra Valley at dawn followed by a sublime breakfast of sparkling wine and gourmet local produce at a winery is an unforgettable way to leave the region. It also ensures you'll be on the road early for the drive to Phillip Island, about an hour-and-a-half by car from the Yarra Valley, or longer if you weave your way through the lush Dandenong Ranges.

Pass through the verdant realm of fern glades, towering trees and eclectic and artistic villages, admiring the seasonal displays in the Dandenong Ranges' many public and private gardens. Take a ride back in time aboard Puffing Billy, Australia's much-loved historic steam train, to and from Gembrook.

Get back on the road for your chance to meet all creatures great and small on Phillip Island, a wildlife wonderland with quiet sandy beaches and swathes of Australian bushland.

Jump aboard a wildlife cruise out to the Seal Rocks fur seal colony and greet the inquisitive creatures as they approach the boat or zoom in on the seals using the state-of-the-art cameras at Nobbies marine centre. Alternatively, fly in a helicopter over the majestic coastal scenery and get a bird's eye view of the famed Phillip Island Grand Prix racing circuit.

Laze a while on Cowes Beach before a seaside meal of fresh seafood at Harry's On the Esplanade. Eat early and eat fast; you don't want to miss a moment of the dusk penguin parade.

Talk about a grand finale. Phillip Island is home to over 26,000 little penguins that swim up to 100 kilometres out to sea each day. The sight of the little creatures emerging from the water and waddling to their burrows as the sun sets is a great Victorian experience. The Penguin Parade Visitor Centre gives greater insight into these island icons.

Find a comfortable place to rest your head before the next leg of your journey. Accommodation options range from unique to boutique, like Ramada Resort with its sprawling grounds, Quest's self-contained apartments, and The Waves apartments' beachfront location.


Day three

Go Beyond Melbourne

Day 3: Phillip Island to Mornington Peninsula

105 km/65 miles, about 1 hour

Firstly, farewell Phillip Island's koalas face-to-face from the treetop boardwalk at the Koala Conservation Sanctuary and journey out to tiny Churchill Island for a taste of local history and local delicacies from the thriving farmers' market.

Then you're on your way, ready to wind around the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay through seaside villages with vast ocean views and sheltered beaches with colourful bathing boxes. You can travel from top to toe of the Mornington Peninsula in around 30 minutes, or longer if you stop at every winery, farm gate, gallery, garden, day spa and golf course that takes your fancy.

Follow the rolling hills of the hinterland to Red Hill and Main Ridge's boutique wineries, where you can chat with passionate winemakers about their famed regional pinot noir, cool-climate chardonnay, pinot grigio and pinot gris.

Lunch is a serious decision on the peninsula. Winery restaurants tucked among the vines serve homegrown wines matched with mouth-watering creations made from local harvests. Settle in for a long lunch at Montalto, Port Phillip Estate, T'Gallant or Ten Minutes by Tractor for gastronomic enlightenment.

Await sunset on the beaches of Dromana, Rosebud or Rye, then set off for a lantern-lit tour of Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park. See owls, endangered gliders, quolls, bettongs and even wallabies frolic in the night. Ask about the Mornington Peninsula Attractions Pass for discounted entry into Moonlit Sanctuary and a host of other peninsula sights.

From beachfront campsites to luxury cliff top villas, there's accommodation to suit your style and budget. Consider the Big Blue Backyard beach hideaway, the cosy fireplaces at Blue Moon Cottages, the plush facilities at Woodman Estate, the vineyard lodge at Tussie Mussie Vineyard Retreat, or the excellent value of the Best Western Plus Brooklands of Mornington.


Day four

Go Beyond Melbourne

Day 4: Mornington Peninsula to Melbourne

85 km/53 miles, about 1 hour

Enjoy a relaxed start to your second day in the Mornington Peninsula by lolling in the naturally heated mineral waters of Peninsula Hot Springs. The energising waters at Australia's first geothermal resort bubble up from 637 metres below the peninsula. Use your Mornington Peninsula Attractions Pass for discounted entry.

After a lazy brunch to make the most of the tasty local produce and artisan coffee, you can choose between a few hours on a golf course or diving into the peninsula's enticing waters.

The Mornington Peninsula boasts eight of Australia's top fifty golf courses, with excellent public options. Moonah Links features the Australian Open 'Championship Course', The Dunes' rolling sand dunes and St Andrews Beach are in the heart of the 'Cups' region, and Portsea Golf Club consistently rates in the national top 50.

Portsea's position at the tip of the peninsula means you can cool off at a safe bay beach and surf the waves at the ocean beach just minutes later. Scuba diving lessons are held around Portsea Pier where sea dragons and rays roam.

Nearby Sorrento is the departure point for dolphin and seal swimming expeditions. Imagine snorkelling in the blue waters of Port Phillip Bay alongside friendly fur seals and diving into the domain of bottlenose dolphins. It's worth saving the best for last.

With a camera full of once-in-a-lifetime water, wine and wildlife photos, it's time for the hour-long drive back to Melbourne. There's bound to be a coffee waiting for you at your favourite local cafe and a laneway you're yet to discover.

If you're inspired to extend your road trip, consider setting off on the Great Southern Touring Route along the iconic Great Ocean Road and into the rugged wilderness of the Grampians. From Sorrento you can board the car and passenger ferry to Queenscliff and head towards the famous 12 Apostles and beyond.