Thursday, August 25, 2011

5 Free Days Out with the Kids in Melbourne!

With 4 little boys under the age of 8 I am always looking for ways to entertain them on the weekends.  I love to get the boys out of house and let them run around and get rid of some energy.  But taking a family of 6 out for the day can be an expensive exercise.

So here are 5 days out in the Melbourne area that my family have enjoyed that have cost hardly anything (other than fuel, tram fares and parking/or the odd $10 here and there).  All the places are within an hour of Melbourne city centre and are a fun day for adults and kids of all ages.  Pack a picnic lunch or BBQ (I have listed where BBQ's are available) and you can have a full day out without spending a fortune.

1. Bacchus Marsh Adventure Playground and Strawberry Picking

Bacchus Marsh is a very pretty historic town about 55km north west of Melbourne.  You can reach Bacchus Marsh by taking the Western Freeway (the Western Freeway comes off the Western Ring Road). Its about a 50 minute drive from the centre of Melbourne.

If you drive into Bacchus Marsh along the Avenue of Honour (take the first exit - Bacchus Marsh Road - off the freeway) there are lots of strawberry fields, cherry and fruit orchards.  The strawberries at Bacchus Marsh are huge and delicious and my kids loved picking their own.  Last year it cost around $9 to fill a large plastic tub and boy did we enjoy those strawberries.  Strawberry season is from November to April but other fruits are in season all year round.  If you want to find out more about fruit picking, call Naturipe Fruits on 0419 340 363.

The Adventure Playground at Bacchus Marsh is very cool.  Its a large timber fort with slides and swings and buildings and stairs and all kinds of things to keep the kids interested.  The playground is fenced apart from the opening archway, so its reasonably easy to keep an eye on the kids.  There are toilets and picnic tables close nearby and lots of shady trees on hot days.
The Adventure Playground is located in Maddingley Park.  To find the Adventure Playground, drive down Bacchus Marsh Road which ends up becoming Main Street once you get into town.  At the intersection of Main Street and Gisborne Road turn left into Grant Street which then becomes Maddingley Boulevard (confusing, I know!).  Drive all the way down the end and turn left into Station Street (this is where the Bacchus Marsh railway station terminus is).  Drive past the park and turn left into Bond Street and down the end of  Bond Street you will see the Adventure Playground (parking is free).

2. Brighton Beach and St Kilda Pier 

If you love taking happy snaps of the kids there is no better place in Melbourne than in front of the colourful bathing houses on Brighton Beach.  We have taken some great photos of our kids there, even on a cold grey windy day!  The kids love the little houses and will have heaps of fun running in between them and picking out their favourites.  
The best way to get to Brighton Beach from the city (about a 20 minute drive depending on traffic) is to drive south down the Nepean Highway, then turn right into Dendy Street.  Take Dendy Street all the way to the end and turn right onto the Esplanade.  Just up the road on the left hand side is the car park for Brighton Surf Life Saving Club.  The beach huts start here and there toilets next to the Life Saving Club.

You probably knew there were penguins at Phillip Island but did you know there is a colony of penguins at St Kilda Pier?  Its a really nice walk out to the Rotunda on the pier - you can get some really pretty skyline shots of Melbourne from here.  Behind the Rotunda is a rock wall that juts out into the ocean to protect the marina.  A wooden stairway follows the rock wall and in amongst the rocks is a little penguin colony.  You have to look very carefully to see them hiding in the rocks and you aren't allowed to use flash photography.  We were there at dusk and saw quite a few.  Even without the penguins the kids had heaps of fun on the beach, the pier and the rocks.
You can get to St Kilda by driving north up the Esplanade from Brighton Beach which becomes St Kilda Street, then veer left into Ormond Esplanade which eventually becomes Marine Parade.  We parked in the car park near Luna Park and walked up the beach to the Pier.  There is a small playground just across the road from the car park and toilets at the Pier complex.  According to ParksVIC there are BBQ facilities near the Pier but I am not sure exactly where they are.

3. RAAF Museum and Historic Homestead at Point Cook

Visiting the RAAF Museum is completely free for the family and it's a fantastic experience for mum, dad and the kids - definitely one of Melbourne's best kept secrets!  There are lots of airforce exhibits and planes on display in a very modern museum setting.  The best day to go is on a Sunday.  At 1pm they have an aerial flying display which is fantastic. The pilot will perform several aerial stunts in one of the museum's vintage planes while talking to the crowd and later on the kids can meet and ask the pilot questions.
There is plenty of parking, toilets are located inside the museum and there are a couple of picnic tables outside.  

The RAAF Museum is about 25 minutes from the centre of Melbourne.  Take the Princes Freeway and exit at the Point Cook Road exit, basically drive all the way to the end (its seems as though the road will never end) until you come to the RAAF base.  When you enter the base you will be required to stop at the guard house and sign for a visitor badge which you must wear while at the museum.

On the other side of the Point Cook airfield is the historic Point Cook homestead.  The homestead is not open to the public but you are able to walk around the grounds.  There is a big set of blue stone stables you can explore - several of the first Melbourne Cup winners where stabled here - and lots of old farm equipment to climb on.  There are lots of chooks, ducks and geese to chase after too.  Just past the homestead is the beach with some nice views of Melbourne in the distance.  There is a cafe at the Homestead if you want to sneak a coffee and cake while the kids are running around.
The homestead is situated at the end of Point Cook Homestead Road which is just up on the right as you leave the RAAF Museum.

4. Federation Square & Birrarung Marr

Federation Square is Melbourne's meeting place and there is always something happening at Fed Square on any given weekend - exhibitions, performances, buskers, free concerts.   You can visit the Federation Square website to view a list of upcoming events.  I love going there on Saturday mornings when the secondhand book market is open inside.  Although most of the books are for adults there are 1 or 2 children's book sellers.

My kids love the higgledy piggledy-ness of Fed Square - there are walls to sit on, stairs to climb down, weird things to look at, public art pieces - its a real feast for the senses.  [My kids love going there at night time too when city is all lit up and there are lights everywhere].

After we have spent some time at Fed Square we will take the stairs down the to the River Walk and walk east to the Birrarung Marr playground which is nearby.  This is a really fun playground for the kids and gets packed with little tackers and their parents.
You can walk further east along the river and there is plenty of parkland for a picnic, or walk across the Princes Bridge next to Fed Square and have lunch in the pretty Alexandra Gardens by the rowing sheds.There are toilets inside Federation Square (near BMW Edge) and there are BBQ's in the park at Birrarung Marr but Im not sure where they are exactly.

I have recently discovered a very handy car park right next to Federation Square which isnt too expensive on weekends.  If you are driving up Flinders Street towards the MCG, turn right at the lights immediately after Fed Square (cnr of Russell St & Flinders Street).  The car park is just up on the left and was about $12 for the day.

Alternatively, because we live in outer Melbourne, we don't get the chance to ride on trams very often so sometimes if we plan on spending a day in the city we will drive to Moonee Ponds and catch the No. 59 into the city.  It stops right at the end of Elizabeth Street just across from the Flinders Street Railway Station which is just across from Fed Square.

5. A Day Out at Mt Macedon

I live quite close to Mt Macedon and it is one of my favourite spots in Melbourne and I would have to say one of the prettiest!  Spending a day in Mt Macedon is a great chance to be in the outdoors and just enjoy everything nature has to offer.

To get to Mt Macedon, take the Calder Highway and take the C322 exit to Mt Macedon which is the next exit after Gisborne.  Its about 60 kms from Melbourne City Centre and will take about an hour to get there.

We generally start our visit by visiting the waterfall at Stanley Park.  The waterfall generally runs year round but is best to see when its been raining.  There is a lookout platform at the top but the best view is from the gully below.  There are steps on the right hand side of the platform leading down into the gully.  Its an easy climb down and back up if you have little ones.  Warning,  if you have boys you might have to restrain them from wanting to climb back up the rocks to the top!
To visit the waterfall, drive down Mt Macedon Road and turn left into Salisbury Road which is on the left after the golf course.  Drive down Salisbury Road and park in the second car park over the stream.  There are BBQ's at Stanley Park.  You may have to check the Fire Warnings for the day if it is in summer though.

After we visit the waterfall, we like to visit the Memorial Cross on top of Mount Macedon.  Simply drive up Mount Macedon road towards the summit and you will see the signs at the turn off to the Memorial Cross.  It can be very cold here in winter (you will definitely need winter jackets) but the mist and fog on the mountain top in winter time is awesome to see!  They do get snow on Mount Macedon but I haven't been lucky enough to see it yet.

The Memorial Cross stands 21 metres high on the summit of Mount Macedon and has amazing views of the region.  It was built in the 1930s to honour those who were killed in WW1.  By the way, if you ever get a chance to attend an Anzac Day dawn service here, you will never forget it.  The cross rising out of the mist with the Last Post breaking the silence is an incredible experience.
There is a tearooms located in the Memorial Cross car park which makes very nice hot chocolate!

One of my favourite places in Mt Macedon is the gardens at Tieve Tara.  These are located half way up the mountain on the left hand side of Mt Macedon Road, just past the shops.  The gardens are open from September to the end of November and again from mid March to the end of May.

Tieve Tara has lakes, bridges, streams, and a fantastic Peter Pan style cubby house at the bottom of the garden with toys and things for the kids to play with.  Its a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.  Entry for children is free with adults charged at $7 each.

Well that's my first 5 Free Days Out this week, I'll have another 5 for you next week!


  1. Great suggestions Eloise! We rarely get family time and tend to spend it dagging round the house. I live about 30 mins away from Bacchus Marsh, didn't even know that playground was there! We go to the one at Jacksons Hill (Sunbury) a lot, but will give this one a try!

  2. I go to the one at Jackson's Hill alot too - I live in Sunbury :)))

  3. great suggestions. Always wanted to do strawberry picking :)

  4. Hi Eloise, thanks for these! I'm new to your blog (live in Melbourne) and you've taught me a couple of new things. Penguins! At St Kilda! I love your penguins at the pier photo. Just gorgeous.

  5. I love all the free events they have in Melbourne. Ben and I were both born in Victoria and alot of our family is still in town. I used to love the Maddingley Park playground- such an awesome day out! I think if the weather wasn't so odd down there, we would move back! ;)

  6. Great tips. I knew there was a playground near Fed Square, but not the finer details ... looks fab. Will bookmark these for the upcoming school hols. :)


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