By Cathy Anderson
Do yourself a favour and take the Werribee exit off the Princes Highway to discover a thriving mini city offering foodie delights, a luxury 19th Century mansion and even a meerkat or two.
From its world-class open range zoo, Victorian heritage buildings, the state’s finest rose gardens and tempting foodie delights, Werribee is an undiscovered gem well worth taking a few days to explore.
Located along the well-trodden path on the western side of Melbourne en route to Geelong, Werribee is often overshadowed by the brighter lights of its busier metropolis neighbours. But there is so much to occupy travellers in this thriving hub, just 25 minutes from Avalon Airport, that it’s a mistake to bypass it.
A DASH OF HISTORY
Originally named Wyndham in the early 1830s after Scottish soldier Sir Henry Wyndham, the town was renamed Werribee in the early 1900s. It’s the local Wathaurong Indigenous word for the ‘spine’ shape of the winding Werribee River that flows through its centre.
Its pastoralist heritage has bequeathed one of the state’s most magnificent buildings and gardens: Werribee Mansion at Werribee Park. The 60-room mansion, set among 10 hectares of beautiful formal gardens and open space park land, was built by brothers Thomas and Andrew Chirnside in 1877. The pair emigrated from Scotland and made their fortune through sheep and cattle grazing.
The mansion sure is a grand old dame, and she scrubs up well on the big screen too, starring in films and TV shows such as Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Underbelly: Squizzy and 1982 cult film The Pirate Movie.
You can tour the Mansion, which has been extensively restored, to see many of the family’s personal items including their clothes and furniture.
The brothers bought all of the surrounding properties, including the neighbouring Point Cook Homestead. This series of old bluestone buildings and stables, now part of Parks Victoria, is best seen via a spooky ghost tour at night. (https://lanternghosttours.rezdy.com)
Hidden behind a screen of trees from the Mansion’s carpark is the most beautiful rose garden you are ever likely to see. Set on five hectares and designed in the shape of a rose is the Victoria State Rose Garden (www.vicstaterosegarden.com.au). Featuring 5000 roses, it’s an idyllic setting best appreciated in autumn and spring. See the Gardens at their finest this year from November 8-9 at the State Rose & Garden Show (www.wyndham.vic.gov.au/whats-on/).
ROARING GOOD TIMES
Lions and meerkats and hippos, oh my! Undoubtedly, one of the biggest attractions of Werribee is the Werribee Open Range Zoo (www.zoo.org.au/werribee). It’s part of Zoos Victoria and animals here have room to move across the 200-hectare property that is host to African animals including giraffes, zebras, hippos, lions and gorillas. Admission includes a free safari tour through the zoo’s numerous ‘regions’ showcasing some of the world’s most iconic grasslands animals. For an up close and personal view, book a private safari tour or take part in a behind-the-scenes ‘encounter’ experience. There are also regular keeper talks and feeding times, plus Sunset Safaris starting from early November.
Just south of the Werribee CBD is Werribee South Beach, located at the mouth of the Werribee River. There’s great fishing and picture perfect spots for a waterfront picnic. A scenic 2km stretch of sandy beaches which takes in the Wyndham Bay Trail, a superb location for walkers and cyclists.
GREAT AUSSIE BITE
For a top notch meal, head to the amazing Italian-inspired Shadowfax Winery at Werribee Park (www.shadowfax.com.au). The pizzas here are simply to die for as Shadowfax’s resident chef Ben D’Arcy has a knack for wood fired fare (and the rose here isn’t too shabby either).
Also within the Park’s grounds and part of the Lancemore Mansion Hotel is Joseph’s Restaurant and Bar (www.lancemore.com.au). In June, David Green of Lake House Daylesford fame was announced as Executive Chef, and promises to continue the traditions of grand European hotels by using game and wild foods, and pickling, bottling and preserving in-house.
If you’re after something a little quirky, Truck Stop Deluxe (www.truckstopdeluxe.com.au) is a US-style truck-stop diner offering gourmet burgers, loaded ‘trucker’ fries and waffle and ice-cream sandwiches. Enjoy at a table parked right next to a big rig — inside the restaurant.
If it’s a frothy one you’re craving, grab your designated driver and head straight to The Park Werribee (www.theparkwerribee.com.au). With a list of 250 beers thanks to 23 rotating taps, and a passion for finding the best brews across the globe, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Vietnamese restaurant District 3030 (http://districtgroupau.com/) has only just opened, and to great reviews. The second restaurant for the group, which takes its moniker from its location’s postcode (the first one in Sunbury is called District 3429), offers a variety of dumplings, pho and salads.
GET THE ROYAL TREATMENT
Feel the need to spoil yourself? The luxurious 5-star Lancemore Mansion Hotel & Spa at Werribee Park is ‘the business’ (www.lancemore.com.au). Choose from modern superior rooms and junior suites, or Heritage rooms with original period features which once housed students from the neighbouring St Joseph’s Seminary built in 1923.
Of course the hotel’s spa offers a whole new level of indulgence with everything from signature body massages, Payot facials, specialised men’s treatments, and a private Hammam steam chamber and rain shower.
For those who prefer service apartment-style accommodation, Quest Werribee offers 49 apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom configurations (www.questapartments.com.au). The studio has a kitchenette, while the larger rooms offer a fully-equipped laundry and kitchen — ideal for those saving money on dining out, or those feeding a family.
Ideal for both short and long-term stays, the apartments are central to picturesque Watton St where you can find many cafes or a leisurely brunch, and it’s just a short drive to Werribee’s main attractions.
This article originally appeared Avalon Inbound I Outbound magazine.