An hour and a half drive from Melbourne, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range of Victoria, is the small town of Daylesford. With its picturesque Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, natural springs, eccentric goods at Mill Markets and spectacular lake, there is loads to see and do during a day trip to this charming and lesser-known area of Australia.
After driving up from Melbourne, start your day by stretching your legs on Daylesford’s Peace Mile walk, a path that takes you along a gentle 40-minute loop around the lake. Along the way, you will come across the Lake House – a renowned restaurant and a perfect spot for an early lunch or special dinner.
Head up towards the Convent Gallery in Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens. Originally a private residence, the building was later turned into a local convent. Today, the impressive building and pretty gardens have been transformed into a fantastic art gallery, stretched over four stories, including a museum and various gallery rooms that are dotted across the entire building. The different rooms are as impressive as the art work they house. Look out for the nun’s chapel, the veranda – offering great views across Daylesford – and the tower.
The Wombat Hill House cafe next door offers drinks, snacks and even picnic baskets to take into the Botanical Gardens, as an alternative to sitting in a restaurant.
Daylesford town centre is small but generously populated with an intriguing mix of residence, retail, art, history, and countryside delights. Explore the knick-knack and antiques shops; roam the bookshop and treat yourself at one of the town’s several cafes. If you are in Daylesford on a Sunday, make sure you also catch the Daylesford Sunday Market by the train station.
One interesting way to explore is to follow the town’s ‘treasure hunt’, which can be found on the Daylesford Delights website. From a pretty wooden door, to a monument, to the spot where the first gold was found in the area, this treasure hunt opens your eyes to Daylesford’s alluring secret details so you don’t miss a thing.
Captain John Stewart Hepburn, a local landowner and sheep farmer, discovered the value of Daylesford’s fresh springs back in 1835 when he realised the healing properties of the water. These springs, along with the gold that was also discovered in the area in the 1850s, resulted in a huge influx of people and money into the region.
While gold mining in the area has long since past, Daylesford still has many springs today with plenty of day spas to choose from. Be sure to take an hour or two to fully appreciate them. Whether you take a dip in the healing waters or enjoy a soothing massage, Daylesford is the spot to sample the historic mineral waters and indulge in some spa treatments.
Before heading back to the lively surroundings of Melbourne, make sure to stop at the Mill Markets at the town’s edge. This enormous, hangar-like space has been completely taken over with antiques and vintage treasures. Take your time to explore all the old books and pick up countless unusual items, old fairground games, vintage clothes and unique decor items.
Daylesford may not be on the tourist map of Australia, but that makes it all the more special. A secret little town that’s well worth a detour from the usual tourist trail.