The 7 best stops on a Calder Highway road trip

Mildura main street

Zoe Macfarlane

Posted January 19, 2024


Using this handy guide, take in the best historical, geological, and cultural stops along the Calder Highway to Melbourne.

For a road trip from the heart of Victoria to cosmopolitan Melbourne, a journey along the 558-kilometre Calder Highway (including the Calder Freeway) reveals a fascinating blend of natural beauty, historic sites of interest, and culinary treats.

While not Victoria’s most well-known road trip route – that goes to the Great Ocean Road – the Calder Highway showcases a different side of the Garden State. As you drive from Mildura to Melbourne, the landscape shifts from Northern Victoria’s arid plains to lush undulating hills to the urban streets of our state capital.

As with any road trip, a little planning goes a long way for a happy journey. Before you depart, ensure that you’ve packed an emergency car kit, and that your emergency roadside assistance is up to date.

 

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farmers market

Mildura's Farmers Market is a great place to find local produce. Image: Visit Victoria


 

Best attractions and places to stop along the Calder Highway

Mildura

Called the Food Bowl of Australia thanks to its fertile land and Mediterranean-like climate, Mildura is on the banks of the mighty Murray River and is the starting point of the Calder Highway. This established rural route connects Mildura and the Victoria/New South Wales border to Bendigo, with the Calder Freeway extension taking you into Melbourne proper.  

Mildura hosts an array of fascinating attractions, many on the Murray River. Paddle steamer cruises reveal the picturesque riverside scenery and Mildura’s maritime history. For adventure activities, go kayaking, wakeboarding, or waterskiing. You can even rent a houseboat for a leisurely stay on the Murray River.

The Mildura Arts Centre presents a rich cultural scene with a top-rated art gallery, performing arts theatre, and sculpture park. To see nature’s creativity, discover the diverse flora at the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens.

Dining in Mildura is as much a top attraction as the town’s activities and vibrant arts scene. Grab picnic treats at the Sunraysia Farmer’s Market and local artisanal stores, feast at a paddock-to-plate restaurant, or head to one of the region’s 250 wineries and cellar doors. Wherever you go, your tastebuds will thank you in this underrated travel destination.

 

pink lake

The Pink Lakes are a strange but wonderful sight. Image: Visit Victoria


 

Murray-Sunset National Park & Ouyen

To reach one of Northern Victoria’s most impressive natural wonders, drive 3.5 hours southwest to the Murray-Sunset National Park. Victoria’s largest national park, it’s traditional country of the Latji Latji, Ngintait, and Nyeri Nyeri peoples.

Here, discover the phenomenon of the Pink Lakes (weather and water conditions dependent). Thanks to the unique algae present, these four salt lakes can turn shades of pink, from baby pink to flamingo. Visit at sunrise, sunset, or under a moonlit sky for the best photographs. The Pink Lakes are also home to native kangaroos, emus, reptiles, and birds, plus hundreds of salt-tolerant plant species.

Murray-Sunset National Park has plenty of camping areas; however, if you’d prefer to book accommodation, use Ouyen as your base. Ouyen Pioneer’s Park is a great recreational space, and the impressive Mallee Bull statue is the town’s most famous landmark.

Side note: if you’re interested in WWII history, detour northeast to Lake Boga to discover the history and artefacts of the old Catalina Flying Boat base at the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum.

 

Group standing on rock on Mt Korong

Enjoy a hike and explore the giant boulders within Mount Korong Nature Conservation Reserve. Image: Loddon Shire Council


 

Mount Korong

Mount Korong is a place of geological interest. As you drive the Calder Highway south, you won’t be able to miss this distinctive volcanic hill rising in the distance. Giant boulders surrounding this now-dormant volcano remind you of the power it once had.

Within Mount Korong Nature Conservation Reserve, a walk to the summit is relatively easy. Your reward is broad panoramic views of the rock-strewn landscape. Kangaroos and wallabies may join you on the path, with swooping native birds overhead.

For another minor detour, nearby Mount Moliagul is the birthplace of the world’s largest alluvial gold nugget, the Welcome Stranger. While the 72 kilogram nugget is no longer here, it can still be strangely satisfying to walk a trail in the place where two Cornish miners struck gold big time in 1869.

 

red Bendigo Talking Tram

Bendigo's Talking Tram is a popular attraction. Image: Getty


 

Bendigo

Charming Bendigo is famous for its significance during Victoria’s Gold Rush era, and learning about the city’s gold mining heritage is a must. Take a self-guided walk or gain historical insights aboard the vintage Talking Tram. Go deeper – literally - at the Central Deborah Gold Mine, where you can don a miner’s hat and delve 61 metres underground on a guided tour. Bendigo’s gold rush period attracted 4,000 Chinese pioneers to the area; the Golden Dragon Museum delves into why and the impact it had then and today.  

Did you know that UNESCO has designated the Bendigo region as a Creative City and Region of Gastronomy? This Australian-first designation is a testament to the region’s inspiring arts, food and wine scenes. Top picks include Masons of Bendigo, The Woodhouse, and Sanguine Estate in the nearby Heathcote wine region. 

Bendigo’s deep creative well comes as a surprise for many road trippers. The Bendigo Art Gallery’s extensive collection and performances at the 1873 Capital Theatre and contemporary Ulumbarra Theatre – on the grounds of the notorious Sandhurst Gaol - all impress.

 

woman hanging a piece of art in an art gallery

The Cascades Gallery in Maldon is well worth a visit. Image: Visit Victoria


 

Maldon

A slight branch off the typical Calder road trip route takes you to Maldon, renowned as one of Australia’s best-preserved gold rush towns. The narrow streets lined with heritage-listed buildings get you closer – in imagination at least – to the days when gold nuggets the size of a fist could catapult a lucky prospector to riches.

Besides strolling the quaint boutiques, antique shops, and cosy cafés, hop aboard the Victorian Goldfields Railway. This vintage steam train tours the nearby countryside. See the bucolic landscape from a different vantage point atop Mt Tarrengower Lookout Tower.

Much like its neighbours Bendigo and Castlemaine, Maldon also has a thriving artistic community worth celebrating. The wealth of the gold rush era allowed these communities to pursue creative endeavours, and they continue to be of focus today. Cascade Gallery is a highlight. If you’re road-tripping in November, the Maldon Folk Festival’s vibrant atmosphere is also sure to delight.

Keen to try your luck as those 19th-century prospectors once did? Maldon is still considered one of the best places in Victoria to fossick for gold.

 

The Mill at Castlemaine

The Mill is a bustling vintage and artisanal precinct in an old woollen mill. Image: Visit Victoria


 

Castlemaine

For eclectic artwork, antique treasures, and one of the region’s up-and-coming foodie destinations, add Castlemaine to your road trip itinerary.

The Mill – a 19th-century woollen mill - is now a bustling precinct housing local artwork, artisanal goods, and curious vintage finds. Art lovers will enjoy the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum and the town’s studio galleries.

With a growing focus on quality produce, Castlemaine’s cafés, restaurants, and pubs reveal why it’s a top road trip stop for foodies. If you’re travelling in a campervan or RV, store fresh local goodies, including rich cheeses, homemade preserves and spoils from the region’s breweries, cideries, and wineries in your fridge.

To walk off those sumptuous treats, take in the panoramic views and native wildlife at Mount Alexander Regional Park or wander the grounds of the heritage-listed Buda Historic Home and Garden.

 

brick sign of Kyneton's Piper Street

Piper Street in Kyneton is bursting with boutiques and antiques. Image: Visit Victoria


 

Kyneton

Kyneton is a picturesque town in the Macedon Ranges with its well-preserved bluestone buildings presenting a slice of the region’s history. Take the self-guided Historic Town Walk or peruse the boutiques, art galleries, and antique stores on Piper Street. The Kyneton Museum adds further insights into the town’s gold-laden past.

Experience tranquillity in nature at the Kyneton Botanic Gardens or on a bush walk at Black Hill Reserve. See Black Hill’s colossal granite rock, The Monolith, on the gentle four-kilometre Circuit Track.

Besides rich heritage experiences and scenic beauty, Kyneton has more art galleries than any other Macedon Ranges village. The Old Auction House Gallery, the Golden Dog, and Lauriston Press Art Gallery are just a few artsy locations to check out.

From Kyneton, it’s around an hour’s drive to reach Melbourne. Discover the top 11 tourist attractions in the state capital here, along with a guide to Melbourne’s best beach spots and the best free things to do in Melbourne.

 


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