In recent years, the idea of taking a wellness-focused vacation involving relaxing soaks in thermal waters—naturally hot water bubbling up from geothermally heated springs—has been commandeered by Japanese onsen culture. Change, however, is afoot in the Australian state of Victoria. A 900km-long bathing trail tracing the dotted line of Victoria’s mineral-rich hot springs has begun to distinguish itself as an unmissable wellness pilgrimage that relaxes, rejuvenates and heals travellers.
The springs themselves, of course, are hardly new; their discovery even predates the famous gold rush of the 1850s. There are more than 100 known mineral springs within Victoria, with most of them located around the Central Highlands, and concentrated mainly around Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. Pastoralist and landowner Captain John Hepburn found Hepburn Mineral Spring in 1836, and after the water was tested for mineral properties, it was pronounced to be “of great medicinal benefit in hepatic, gouty rheumatic and similar afflictions”.
The demand for Victorian mineral water and its therapeutic benefits outlasted the lifespan of the gold mining industry, and by the 1880s, Daylesford and Hepburn Springs had become wildly popular as health and holiday destinations. Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, an easy one-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne Airport, is one of the oldest bathhouses in the area, having been established in 1895 to serve visitors looking to ‘take the waters’ brimming over with essential minerals including magnesium, calcium and sulphur.
Today, the original bathhouse stands as the Hepburn Pavilion cafe (keep an eye out for the original taps on display), complemented with a modern bathhouse that offers a variety of social and private mineral bathing experiences. A 90-minute session in the adults-only Sanctuary Mineral Bathing section grants access to facilities such as an open-air Creekside Pool that looks out onto the surrounding greenery, a salt and magnesium room, a mineral hammam and an aromatic steam room. Top that off with a Hepburn Wellness massage, performed by a therapist well-versed in Swedish techniques and passive stretching, to wring out any remaining tension from a long-distance flight.
The briefest of drives takes a newly decompressed traveller to Dairy Flat Lodge & Farm in Daylesford. This magnificently outfitted country lodge has six King Suites, which can be booked individually or together for the exclusive use of the Lodge. Situated on 40 acres of land (with most of it dedicated to regenerative farming), this is Australian country living at its finest: slow-fermented sourdough supplied by the on-site bakehouse, a vineyard replete with pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, and resident alpacas to greet.
The impossibly stylish Hotel Vera, for those who prefer a more urban setting, offers seven exquisite suites within a 19th-century historic mansion at the heart of Ballarat’s lively centre. Owners David Cook-Doulton and Martin Shew—who possess flawless taste in interior design and a flair for restoring heritage buildings—have painted their suites summer sky blue, canola gold and blushing roseate, and filled them with Claybrook bathtubs and striking pieces by contemporary Australian artists.
Both properties are ideal launchpads from which to spring out onto Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, which continues to live up to its reputation as one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives. Pause beside the gold-flecked sands of Port Campbell to view The Twelve Apostles, an iconic collection of limestone stacks sculpted by the unrelenting waves of Australia’s Southern Ocean. They’re even better viewed from above via a helicopter flight piloted by 12 Apostles Helicopters, which, over a thrilling 16 minutes, flies past Loch Ard Gorge, Sentinel Rock and the London Arch, hovering so close that it’s possible to spot tiny penguins below.
The siren call of numerous luxurious hot springs in the Mornington Peninsula is impossible to ignore, so it’s out of the helicopter and onto one of Searoad Ferries’ hourly shuttles between Queenscliff Harbour and Sorrento Pier. Travellers weary from the adrenaline rush of their aerial tour can head straight up the road to InterContinental Sorrento Mornington Peninsula (which opened just last year) and sink into the waters of the hotel’s subterranean Aurora Spa & Bathhouse. Heritage European bathing techniques form the backbone of the spa’s philosophy, which offers a selection of mineral salt hydrotherapy pools, a magnesium float room, a Nordic sauna and an alpine glacial mist igloo.
In nearby Fingal, the award-winning geothermal hot springs and day spa Peninsula Hot Springs is still at the top of its game ever since it was established in 1997 by brothers Charles and Richard Davidson. The first of its kind in Victoria, its mineral waters (packed with boron, magnesium, potassium and sodium—brilliant for improving sleep and blood circulation) flow from 637m below ground into Peninsula Hot Springs’ pools and private baths. Night owls will appreciate the Spa Dreaming Centre’s moonlight bathing hours, where they can sit beneath the stars and soak in multiple thermal mineral pools until 2am before drifting off to the sound of croaking frogs in their glamping tent.
Bathers seeking an ultra-sophisticated wellness experience can, and should, spend several hours at Alba Thermal Springs & Spa. This architecturally stunning day spa boasts 22 geothermal pools filled with water naturally heated to a maximum of 43 degrees Centigrade. Wandering through the windswept coastal Moonah woodlands, guests dip into secluded and social pools, forest pools, tranquil botanical pools and The Eve, a sunset pool created to bask in the day’s final rays. Consider booking a private bath on The Terrace, which looks out onto the elegant expanse of Alba’s grounds. It also has a button to press if immediate rehydration with a bottle of bubbly is required—Robb Report’s interpretation of the time-honoured tradition of taking the waters.