Want true country atmosphere a short drive from Melbourne. Take a tour to Whittlesea, where the area’s history is in full view.
How’s the serenity? It’s only 40km from Melbourne’s CBD, and a few kilometres from the fringes of the city, but Whittlesea feels like it could be on another planet — or at least a lot further away. This town — and it is that, rather than a suburb — is bordered by countryside, providing a fun, rural daytrip for visitors.
First stop? The historic courthouse building. It was built in 1864, and now houses the Whittlesea Visitor Information Service. Drop in and you can check out the old police lock-up, stroll through the rose garden and get more advice on what to visit in the surrounding area from the friendly volunteers.
Cheerful murals on the walls and bunches of fresh flowers create a welcoming atmosphere at Moxie Cafe. Produce from the Kinglake area is used on the menu that includes pumpkin and veg savoury slice, bbq pulled pork rolls and Swedish meatballs served on buttery mash. There’s great fair-trade coffee, too. Hankering for old-school pies and sweet treats? Head to Whittlesea Bakehouse, where you won’t be able to help but be tempted by the trays of home-baked goodness.
One of Whittlesea’s best-known attractions is Funfields (open from end September through summer). This huge water and theme park has 23 attractions. Some of them, like the cup and saucer ride and Birdy Cover toddler paddle pool, are great for the youngest members of the family, while the daredevils will want to take on the toboggan slide or the Wipe Out slide that plunges 130m down taking on twists and turns on the way.
There’s more damp fun at Whittlesea Park. While the large outdoor area has playgrounds, a skate park, a BMX track, walking trails and, to the south, an off-leash dog area, it’s also where you’ll find the Whittlesea Swim Centre. It has a 25m outdoor pool, as well as separate ones for learners and toddlers. There is plenty of shade available too.
If you want to check out an odd slice of the neighbourhood’s history, take a drive to Bear’s Castle. This small, two-storey structure, complete with turrets, was built in about 1846 and, according to the Heritage Council of Victoria, is a rare remaining example of a cob-constructed (using clay, straw, gravel and sand) building. The Bears were pioneering pastoralists in this area, and their estate manager John Duffy lived here with his family for a time.
Whether you’re after a fresh bunch of blooms or a thoughtful gift, drop into Whittlesea Flowers and Bears. This florist has an adorable range of stuffed animals, as well as hampers, books, cards, skincare products and presents for a new baby. If you’re around at the beginning of the week, make a beeline for Whittlesea Monday Market. There are more than 120 stalls at this country community market selling everything from fresh produce to live chickens and collectables.
Be sure to save an hour or two to enjoy the hospitality at the Royal Mail Hotel. This is the ultimate country pub with an art deco facade and pretty rose garden. Take a seat near the window and tuck into hearty fare. If you’ve just been to the market, you’ll be pleased to know all bowls of pasta are $10 on Mondays.