The wonderland for kids only a train ride from Melbourne

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Penguins, pancakes and flying foxes … what’s not to love? 

At Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, my kids and I stock up on Bean Boozled jelly beans from the Sugar Shack on the platform. We are excited to be going on our first rail journey to Warrnambool, on the south west coast of Victoria.

Raw fish flavour is the first one out of the packet. My youngest son screws up his face at the taste and mentions that it was similar for Harry Potter on his first train ride to Hogwarts. Although disappointed that the trains are from a normal platform and not the secret, invisible Platform 9 ½ from which Harry and his friends depart, we find our carriage and settle ourselves in seats facing each other, with plenty of space in between for wriggling around. It’s not flash, but it’s not shabby either. It’s cosy and comforting and we can play cards and read together as we travel.

The train pulls out of Southern Cross Station, and the kids are at the windows pointing out the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel and the Westgate Bridge.

Seen from a new perspective, these sights are exciting and interesting again. Another flutter of excitement ensues when they spot a flock of sheep in the green paddocks, but soon enough they settle into the familiarity of their books and devices for the duration of the journey. Only the novelty of the on board cafe jolts them from their screens when they realise they can buy a snack instead of being limited to the healthy picnic I prepared earlier. The journey takes three and a half hours so it’s a good distraction when we need to stretch our legs.

Arriving in Warrnambool, we are picked up by the world’s friendliest taxi driver. He takes us to our accommodation then turns off the meter and proceeds to give us a tour around the town for free. Warrnambool was once a shipping town with a wild and rocky coastline that has been the site of over 630 shipwrecks. Now it is famous for its Maremma Dogs, a 20 hectare Adventure playground, its beaches and the historical Maritime Village.

Middle Island

Any child (or adult) who has seen the 2015 movie Oddball will be desperate to visit the penguins and their furry protectors, the Maremma dogs. Tours, which teach visitors about the penguins and the importance of protecting their natural environment, are only available in summer from December to March.

Check out the website for more information.

Adventure Playground

The Lake Pertobe is a 20 hectare wonderland for kids. There are extensive flying foxes, giant slides, walking tracks, a maze and play equipment galore. The kids run about laughing and happy, enjoying the freedom of a huge open space.

Read more about it here on the Warrnambool website.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum

At this Maritime museum and village our tour is led by Dr Ron Spronston, local historian and volunteer guide. Dressed in a robes, he plays the part of Irish priest to perfection. He has the gift of the gab and captivates the audience, relaying stories about the most famous shipwreck of the area, The Lochard, in 1878. Of the 54 crew and passengers there were only two survivors; Eva Carmichael and Tom Pearce. The light and sound show in the evenings is a wonderful way to learn about a different way of life.

Check it out here on the Flagstaff Hill website.


The beaches around Lady Bay are stunning, like their neighbours along the Great Ocean Road. They are great for swimming and fishing in summer and whale watching in the winter months. Southern Right Whale females return to Logan’s Beach to calve and they can often be seen just 100m offshore. Horse riding lessons and trail rides through the sand dunes are also available all throughout the year.

For times and more information, click here.

Where to eat with the kids

The Pavilion Cafe has an excellent view of the ocean and the breakwater where the fishing boats enter the bay. Its large space and outdoor dining area give families the space to spread out and even make a little noise. The food is delicious, (pancakes, sausages, milkshakes) and the coffee strong enough to fortify parents as they prepare to brave the nearby skate park with the kids or challenge them to a game of mini golf back in town.

Check it out by clicking here.

Discovery Holiday park

We stayed in a Deluxe Cabin which was quite basic but it was clean and neat. It had a great heater which kept me happy, and a swimming pool with spa which kept the kids entertained. Added to this was the pure joy of finding a free Space Invaders/Pac-Man arcade machine in the communal games room.

For prices or bookings, check out the Discovery Holiday Parks website.

The Shipwreck Coast has miles and miles of rugged cliffs with ferocious ocean waves crashing against them, highlighting how this coast earned its name. Where once tourists could explore the ruins of ancient ships that had run aground and remained in the shallows, now there is no sign. As mysterious as a mariner’s tale on a dark and stormy night, the shipwrecks have disappeared.

We board our Sunday afternoon train bound for Melbourne feeling energised by our experience in this town. We didn’t encounter Harry Potter and his friends but we certainly loved the magic of Warrnambool.