IN Melbourne, the old adage "Go west, young man" is taking on new meaning.
Old. New. Urban. Rural. Established. Contemporary. Raw. Edgy. Natural. These are just some of the words being used to describe Melbourne's west.
So rather than pointing the car towards already popular areas like the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula, why not head directly west from Melbourne's city centre and follow the coastline, taking in eclectic Spotswood and Newport, through to Williamstown with its maritime history and on to Werribee where it's all about wine, wetlands and wildlife. Here's just some of the things you'll find.
Surprise 1: A collection of urban wineries all within 45 minutes of Melbourne's city centre: It's no secret that Victoria has many of Australia's finest boutique wineries, and Melbourne's west is home to a collection of undiscovered urban wineries. One can easily spend a day sipping on wines and getting lost among the vines without even leaving the urban fringe.
Surprise 2: One of Australia's best birdwatching sites in a place you might not expect: Most Melburnians know where their sewage goes but many don't realise the historic Western Treatment Plant in Werribee not only sustainably treats half of Melbourne's output, it's also home to an internationally recognised bird habitat. More than 280 bird species have been recorded at the plant, including migratory shorebirds that travel from Siberia each year.
Surprise 3: A genuine castle and other Grand Designs: Werribee Mansion could be straight from Downton Abbey. The Victorian-era building is a shining example of the Italianate architecture style, while its grounds are coloured with bursts of flowers. Completed by wealthy pastoralists the Chirnside family in 1877, the mansion boasts 60 rooms in several wings, with many of the family's items, including clothing and furniture, on display.
Nearby, bluestone-crafted Point Cook Homestead and its stables is one of the earliest examples of a pastoral home in Victoria, as is Eynesbury Homestead in Eynesbury. Keilor is home to Overnewton Castle, which replicates a miniature Scottish baronial castle in Victorian Tudor style - its charming setting is perfect for high tea.
Surprise 4: Urban villages that aren't "too cool for school": Locals and hipsters of all ages unite in the eclectic villages of Melbourne's West, which are still to be discovered by the masses. Boutiques, bespoke goods, independent bookshops, arts and crafts and the finest produce stores are all concentrated in charming shopping strips - not to mention cafés and restaurants with a rich variety of international cuisines, wine bars and other cool evening spots.
Surprise 5: Cuddlesome dingoes and a slice of Africa: The Dingo Discovery Research Centre in Melton provides a rare opportunity to meet, cuddle and photograph adorable dingo cubs on weekend open days (subject to season). Or head to Werribee Open Range Zoo and experience an African adventure with off-road safaris and encounters with lions or gorillas.
Surprise 6: Australia's first female-owned brewing company: Connoisseurs of craft beer will find some refreshing surprises in Melbourne's west including Two Birds Brewing in Spotswood - Australia's first female-owned brewery - and its venue The Nest, where visitors can enjoy fresh beer on tap, great food and good company. Fury & Son in Keilor Park is a family-run brewery, where its speciality beers can be sampled along with an American-style barbecue each Friday. Or try Hop Nation in Footscray, housed in a former whale fat candle and wax factory with uber-cool architectural features.
Surprise 7: A multicultural food scene that's attracting big name chefs: Sunshine serves up a delicious offering of Vietnamese restaurants boasting flavoursome pho and banh mi, and Chinese yum cha venues like Gold Leaf, where the queues can wind out the door. Sri Lankan and Afghan dishes are also easy to find in this under-appreciated suburb only 13km from the city.
Surprise 8: The second oldest air force in the world began in Point Cook: The RAAF Museum in Point Cook tells the story of the birthplace of the Australian Flying Corps and its successor, the Royal Australian Air Force. Flying displays featuring heritage aircraft take place three times a week - sometimes with an aerobatic display. The Newport Railway Museum houses the largest collection of Victorian Railways steam locomotives.
For those who prefer to take to the water, HMAS Castlemaine is a museum ship docked at Gem Pier in Williamstown. Round the corner, the recently refurbished Seaworks Maritime Precinct is a working waterfront with a diverse calendar of cultural, food and boating events. Then discover the heritage-listed Black Powder Mill in Cairnlea and learn about the history of gunpowder, or head to Truganina Explosives Reserve in Altona and its historic homestead.
Surprise 9: Where life is all roses (5000 of them, give or take): Stop and smell the roses with over five hectares of the flowers in Werribee Park. The Victoria State Rose Garden is just one of the extensive gardens, wetlands, reserves and parks scattered throughout Melbourne's West.
Melton Botanic Gardens is an evolving exhibition of mainly native plants, while the Maribyrnong River winding down from Keilor to Footscray and beyond provides a tranquil spot to walk, bike ride, canoe or picnic. Organ Pipes National Park in Keilor North is named for its set of basalt columns formed by the cooling and cracking of molten lava. Point Cook Marine Sanctuary is fantastic for snorkelling and diving, while the nearby Cheetham Wetlands are a natural bird haven. For an educational hike, Point Gellibrand Heritage Park in Williamstown provides an insight into Australia's colonial past, highlighting the area's links with Ned Kelly. You can relax or swim at the picturesque, pinetree-lined Altona Beach.
WHERE TO STAY
Quest Hotel Apartments offers a multitude of options in Melbourne's west, with modern accommodation and maximum comfort. Locations include Caroline Springs, Maribyrnong, Moonee Valley, Williamstown, Williamstown North and Sanctuary Lakes.
Werribee Mansion Hotel & Spa melds heritage with luxury, while to the north-west, the city's first Hyatt Place Melbourne can be found at Essendon Fields.
B&B and cottage accommodation are spread throughout the region. Many are bookable via platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway.
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