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Find Gold in Victoria: Australia’s Cultural State

6 min read
Published on Feb 27, 2024
Globetrotting
Christian Baines
By Christian BainesGlobetrotting Contributing Editor

When gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851, it wasn’t long before its capital city, Melbourne, became the richest city in the world. In 2023, little has changed. While the precious metals have dwindled, today’s Melbourne finds new riches every day in its thriving art, food, and theatre scenes, an innovative approach to fashion and architecture, a serious devotion to recreation and good living, and a genuine lack of pretentiousness that preserves its laid-back appeal.

Those who’ve chosen to make Melbourne their destination of choice can enjoy a taste of everything Australia has to offer right on their doorstep. For delicious cool climate wines, the Yarra Valley is Victoria’s premier wine region. The Mornington Peninsula remains a plum spot for alluring beachside wellness escapes, while wildlife lovers shouldn’t miss Phillip Island with its nightly Little Penguin parade. There’s the Great Ocean Road for dramatic coastal beauty, Ballarat for gold rush lore, or the adventure playground of the Grampians region.

Melbourne Street Art, Laneways & More

A group of people standing at the end of Melbourne's Hoser Lane, completely covered in street art

Melbourne is your ideal gateway to Victoria, and possibly Australia as a whole, so it makes sense to start things there. Give the capital at least three days, then devote two or three more to an extended trip to one of Victoria’s other highlights.

While getting lost in a foreign city might not sound appealing, we highly recommend it when it comes to Melbourne’s city centre…or art galleries…or restaurants…or the legendary Queen Victoria Market. Simply put, this is a great city in which to follow your instincts and keep your eyes open for new discoveries in its walkable, compact core. Every surface is a potential canvass, every café or restaurant, someone’s local favourite, every suburb, a neighborhood with its own character and stories. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a little guidance.

A Lanes and Arcades Walking Tour is a great way to start your itinerary, exploring two things essential to Melbourne’s identity. The city’s narrow arcades and lanes are ever changing with new places to shop, dine, and create. If you can tear yourself away from the all-Australian art highlights of the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, Hosier Lane is Melbourne’s DIY street-art centrepiece. A block away is AC/DC Lane, once the centre of Australia’s rock and grunge scene (these days, catch a show at The Tote in the borough of Collingwood). Things get much more upscale in the boutiques of Royal Arcade, watched over by its famous timekeepers, Gog and Magog. The contrast is pure Melbourne.

The Best Day Trips from Melbourne

A vineyard in Yarra Valley

It’s hard to not read Melbourne’s day trip options off like a list of Australia’s greatest hits. Great wine? Check. Unforgettable wildlife experiences? Got it. Awesome geological formations? Okay, we’ll come back to that one. For now, head only one hour east from the city and immerse yourself in the flavours of the Yarra Valley. This is Victoria’s wine country, famous for light Chardonnays, and arguably Australia’s best sparkling wines and Pinot Noir. With complex, nuanced wines and award-winning distilleries, it’s the perfect drinks pairing after you’ve tasted your way through Melbourne (they don’t call it Australia’s culinary capital for nothing), but non-drinkers and families will also find wildlife encounters and historic steam trains just beyond the Dandenong Ranges. 

Phillip Island has been a Melbourne day trip staple for decades thanks to the nightly Little Penguin parade. Each night, thousands of these adorable birds waddle in from the waters of Bass Strait, heading up to burrows dotting the spectacular Nobbies. But don’t just come for the penguins. Phillip Island is also home to some great wildlife cruises and reserves that showcase Australia’s creatures in their natural habitat. 

Gold Awaits in Victoria’s West

A man wearing a hat teaching two children to pan for gold

Follow the coast west of Melbourne, and it won’t take you long to reach some of Victoria’s golden treasures. No, not the goldfields (yet), but the golden sands of some of Australia’s most popular surfing beaches, including Bells Beach, Victoria’s spiritual home of surfing. Nowhere is the Southern Ocean’s dynamic nature more evident than at the Great Ocean Road’s main attraction, the Twelve Apostles. Brought to life each night by a golden sunset, each of these majestic sandstone stacks was once part of the mainland, torn away by the wild winds and waters of the Southern Ocean. Before you leave, don’t miss Loch Ard Gorge, a great photo spot with a tragic history, or Gibson Steps for a beach-level view at the awesome Apostles.

Head north toward Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park to discover rugged mountain ranges, world-class hiking trails and Australian native wildlife spotting. Home to the Gariwerd people, one of Victoria’s many first nations, this is an ideal place to take a tour and discover just a glimpse of the region’s long Aboriginal history. You can continue this journey when you return to Melbourne, but for now, explore the delightful townships that dot the Grampians region and give it its modern-day character.

For all Victoria’s natural wonders, the only one of interest to prospectors in the 1850s was gold, and Ballarat had lots of it. Colonial Australia’s gold fever brought massive wealth plus big changes and social upheavals to the colony of Victoria as the scramble for gold reached its height. You can learn about these at Sovereign Hill today, before sating your appetite for art at the Art Gallery of Ballarat is the largest in regional Australia, and is well worth a few hours before your drive back to Melbourne. 

More to Do in Marvellous Melbourne

People walking through and dinning outside of Melbourne laneway

From the Australian Open and Midsumma Festival (Melbourne’s Pride) in January, to Melbourne Cup horse racing carnival, “footy” season (Australian Rules football) and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, to a year-round arts, theatre, and music festival calendar. The National Gallery of Victoria is one of Australia’s premier art museums, while the Australian National Sports Museum at the Melbourne Cricket Ground explores the nation’s competitive obsession. Alternatively, Melbourne (or Naarm as it’s called in the Aboriginal language) offers its own rich Indigenous history. Take an Aboriginal Heritage Walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens, or visit the Koorie Heritage Trust art gallery at Federation Square.

After dark, head to Melbourne’s city fringe-boroughs of Fitzroy for alternative and Bohemian vibes, trendy Prahran for upscale lounges and clubs, Carlton for great Italian fare. Or explore those hidden corners of the city, with specialty rooftop or speak-easy bars that keep Melbourne’s laneways and rooftops alive long after the sun goes down. There’s always something happening in Melbourne.

Related Topics
History & Culture
Australia
Australia & New Zealand
Christian Baines
Christian Baines
Goway - Globetrotting Contributing Editor

Christian’s first globetrotting adventure saw him get lost exploring the streets of Saigon. Following his nose to Asia’s best coffee, two lifelong addictions were born. A freelance writer and novelist, Christian’s travels have since taken him around his native Australia, Asia, Europe, and much of North America. His favourite trips have been through Japan, Spain, and Brazil, though with a love of off-beat, artsy cities, he’ll seize any opportunity to return to Paris, New York, or Berlin.

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