COVID-19: Socially distanced winter school holidays guide

Living Well | Clare Barry | Posted on 23 June 2020

The disorganised family’s guide to what to do in Victoria over the winter school break.

Welcome to winter school holidays – like we’ve never seen them before. No escaping to Bali or Queensland, and no spur-of-the-moment boredom busters, as cinemas, museums and zoos instigate booking systems to manage social distancing and attendance restrictions.

But despair not – even the most spontaneous (or disorganised) family can get the kids off the couch with these fresh-air-friendly, fun, and mostly free activities. Before you embark on your next adventure though, take a moment to call ahead to make sure your chosen activity is open and welcoming visitors. And whatever you're up to, don't forget to maintain social distancing and good hand hygiene to keep your loved ones and others safe.

Two children walking in the bush

Boredom busters to keep the kids entertained this winter

Play all day

There are playgrounds… and then there are the bells-and-whistles wonder worlds that wow kids and delight parents simply by being way more fun than a smartphone screen.

Regional Victoria is dotted with them: Warrnambool’s Lake Pertobe Adventure Playground is a grassy eight hectares with flying foxes, giant slides, a maze and pedal boats on the lake, while Bollygum in Kinglake has a Bower Bird’s Nest, Platypus House, tunnels, musical instruments and a skate park on the side. Bendigo’s Eaglehawk Playspace is an all-ages zone of silliness referencing the Banjo Paterson poem Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.

Our guide to country playgrounds highlights seven of the best in regional Victoria.

Hunt for gold

They say there’s more gold still in the ground in Victoria than was ever taken from it in our gold-rush days. Prospectors have never stopped fossicking, and have found plenty of success, particularly in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ cornered roughly by Ballarat, Bendigo and Wedderburn. A two-kilogram nugget was found near Ballarat last July, and a half-kilo lump worth $35,000 outside Bendigo two months earlier. 

So pick up a 10-year Miner’s Right licence, hire a metal detector, download a goldfields map, then pack up the kids and head for central Victoria to try your luck. If you want to learn the basics, book a tour with Gold and Relics Gold Prospecting Adventures which offers RACV members 20 per cent off full and half-day tours. 

Even if you don’t find gold you’ll bring home treasure – little nuggets of history, a carful of country air … and plenty of gold-rush bakeries and toy and lolly shops could do with your business right now. You could easily spend several days exploring the area, basing yourself at RACV Goldfields Resort in Creswick. 

Read more about gold prospecting in Victoria.

Catch a fish

There’s gold in them thar rivers and lakes too, as anglers scramble to hook a golden-tagged fish, worth $2000 each, in the state’s east. Devised to support bushfire-affected communities, the Victorian Fisheries Authority’s Golden Tag program has resumed after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, and the cash incentive is a terrific hook to get the kids to try fishing. 

If the east of the state is too far for you, cast a line (without the cash lure) at one of the top beginner fishing spots in Nine of the best places to go fishing in Victoria.

Boy and father fishing
Dad carrying son on a bushwalk

Get on your bike

Exploring your neighbourhood on two wheels is a fabulous way to warm up and get your kids’ recommended 60 minutes of physical exercise in, along with a lesson in self-sufficiency. Coax them out with a simple picnic or some snacks, and pack binoculars for a spot of bird or wildlife spotting.

Cycling is a great way to get around on holiday too, and makes a perfect excuse for a day-trip to the coast or country.

Check out our guide to family-friendly bike rides for a range of fun routes, including a cosmic trip through the solar system along Port Phillip Bay, a sculpture-studded freeway trail, and a riverside wander through a hidden valley so pretty it’s classified by the National Trust.  

Take a hike

Get the kids moving with a family-friendly walk. It’s a great way to keep connected and if you play your cards right it can serve as an environmental or history lesson as well as totting up the wellbeing and social benefits. 

Take for example the 7.7-kilometre You Yangs loop walk, which has views over the western plains dotted with cone-shaped hills that are dormant volcanoes, plus a good chance of spotting lizards. Below the eastern path is a 100-metre-wide stone geoglyph of Bunjil, the eagle of Wathaurong mythology.

Forest bathing – the practice of communing with trees to make oneself feel better – is nothing new in the Dandenongs. There are magnificent mountain ash, beautiful ferns and enormous logs for littlies to climb on the hour-long Sherbrooke Falls loop walk, along with lyrebirds and kookaburras to be spotted. 

Read about these walks and more in our Five of the best family-friendly walks in Victoria.

Go wild 

With the bigger city-based wildlife experiences selling out fast for school-holiday bookings, it could pay to look further afield for your animal encounters.

Ballarat Wildlife Park runs the gamut of Australian creatures from Tasmanian devils to free-ranging kangaroos and a colony of little penguins you can view through an underwater window. A pair of Sumatran tigers and a troupe of meerkats draw the crowds too.

RACV members save 10 per cent on admission to Ballarat Wildlife Park, and also at Moonlit Sanctuary in Pearcedale, where the residents include potoroos, quolls, pademelons, dingos and owls, and you can get up close and nocturnal on a night tour.

Heading west, Halls Gap Zoo has a mix of native and exotic species, including bison, cheetahs, white rhinos, red pandas, giraffes and ring-tailed lemurs.