Soaking In The Views: Australia’s Great Victorian Bathing Trail

By Lisa Kjellsson

2 months ago

A new experience for wellness lovers


The Great Victorian Bathing Trail is a new 900-kilometre Australian tourism route that connects Victoria’s finest wellness experiences. Lisa Kjellsson takes to the waters.

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The Great Victorian Bathing Trail

A drone shot of Peninsula Hot Springs on the Great Victorian Bathing Trail

Peninsula Hot Springs

For millennia, people across the globe have sought the health benefits of bathing in hot springs, finding it both relaxing and healing. There are springs dotted across Australia and, in recent years, drilling in the southeastern state of Victoria has revealed more than previously thought. New bathhouses and spa resorts were built, and it made sense to market them alongside other well-known bathing spots by creating a tourism trail aimed at wellness seekers. Connecting hot springs, mineral springs, river and sea baths along the coastline, the newly launched Great Victorian Bathing Trail spans more than 550 miles across both sides of Melbourne.

Excited to explore a few of the highlights, I set off on a road trip through Australia’s spa country. About an hour and 30 minutes’ drive northwest of Melbourne is Daylesford, a charming little town surrounded by lush forest, lavender fields, vineyards – and mineral springs first documented by gold miners in the 1800s. I check into Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, which itself dates back to 1895 and fuses heritage with contemporary design in the bathhouse, featuring pool-to-ceiling windows facing the eucalyptus woods.

Hepburn Bathhouse on the Great Victorian Bathing Trail

Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa

The water is sourced the same way it always was: from deep below ground through volcanic rock, where it absorbs its natural goodness. Essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, sodium, sulphur and silica have myriad health benefits, from better sleep and nerve function to stronger bones and more lustrous skin, hair and nails. Immersing yourself in warm water is, of course, also deeply soothing, both for the body and soul. I feel all muscle tension dissolve as I soak in the pleasantly heated pools. In between dips, I also decompress in the steam room and mineral hammam where you can help yourself to an aroma-infused salt scrub. As if this wasn’t restorative enough, there is also a spa, where I opt for a facial that leaves me glowing, and a heavenly full-body magnesium massage. That night, ensconced in one of the retreat’s private villas, for the first time in months, I sleep like a baby.

It would take weeks to visit all the locations along the bathing trail, but I know exactly where I want to go next. South of Melbourne, between the wild waters of the Bass Strait and the calmer Port Phillip Bay, is the Mornington Peninsula, home to both sailing enthusiasts and a couple of Victoria’s stand-out wellness destinations. My first stop is Alba Thermal Springs & Spa, a recently opened carbon-neutral development in Fingal comprising 31 indoor and open-air geothermal pools, a day spa and restaurant.

A modern spa

Alba Thermal Springs & Spa

From the outside, the main building – all curved concrete and glass – looks more like a modern art museum. But, as soon as I step inside, it’s clear that I’ve arrived at a sanctuary of wellbeing. Having changed into a fluffy robe, I venture out into the garden, where the pools blend into the landscape – some submerged in a flowering meadow, others cradled in drifts of waving grasses. Not wanting to disturb couples bathing à deux, I opt for the more sociable spots favoured by friend groups. Next time, I’ll book a private pool where you can ring a bell for bubbles (the drinking kind).

Slightly prune-like, I retreat to the spa for the signature Pure Alba experience, a full-body ritual that starts with a salt scrub, followed by a mineral clay wrap, scalp therapy, and both body and Gua Sha facial massage. A couple of blissful hours later, I feel as if I am walking on clouds as I make my way to the terrace restaurant and tuck into a delicious crab crumpet. Looking out over the landscaped bushland – an oasis for both bathers and wildlife – I can’t help but wish I could stay a little longer.

A modern staircase descending into a tranquil pool

Alba Thermal Springs

Luckily, there’s more to explore just across the road. Peninsula Hot Springs is an expansive site with more than 70 different bathing experiences – like a wellness wonderland of geothermal bathing and nature therapy. More than once, I get lost meandering the trails connecting the pools. Every time, I stumble upon something new: relaxation cabanas, a meditation dome, an outdoor yoga class or a body clay workshop. In the aptly named main complex, the Spa Dreaming Centre, I try a spot of vinotherapy; the Peninsula vine massage is applied with an antioxidant-rich balm made from locally grown Shiraz grapes, said to have a rejuvenating effect on the skin.

Peninsula Hot Springs on the Great Victorian Bathing Trail

Peninsula Hot Springs

The best part is that the resort doesn’t close at night. Having watched the sunset from the vantage point of a hilltop pool, I can stay on for ‘moonlit bathing’ from 10pm until 2am. There is overnight accommodation in glamping tents kitted out with all mod cons, and a collection of eco lodges is being built, too. The development, and the idea to launch the Great Victorian Bathing Trail, is the brainchild of Charles Davidson, who was inspired by the onsen baths of Japan and wanted to popularise balneology culture in Australia. ‘The idea was to create connection,’ he says. ‘Not just to nature, but to each other. Everybody bathes: it’s a great social connector.’

A sister resort, Metung Hot Springs, is the furthest east of all the locations along the bathing trail, around four hours’ drive from the Mornington Peninsula, in Gippsland. It’s more intimate, with a fraction of the visitors due to its relative remoteness. Nestled among the serene wilderness of the Gippsland Lakes, it’s the sort of place where you can get away from it all, but also within easy reach of coastal towns such as Lakes Entrance, where I dine at hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurants.

Bathing Barrels at Metung Hot Springs

Bathing Barrels at Metung Hot Springs

I stay in one of the resort’s glamping tents with its own deck, complete with a pair of bathing barrels facing the lakes. Each morning, a breakfast hamper is delivered and I enjoy croissants and coffee al fresco before donning my swimsuit and heading for the water. On a hilltop escarpment, I find Metung’s finest pools (with the best views): a stargazing pool, barrel baths and secluded foot baths surrounded by trees, tranquil water and blue skies. Another highlight is the relaxing massage ritual inspired by ancient Aboriginal healing techniques I’m treated to in the spa tent.

Stargazing Pool and Bathing Barrels at Metung Hot Springs

Stargazing Pool and Bathing Barrels at Metung Hot Springs

It’s a glorious ending to my adventure along the Victorian bathing trail, which has left me wanting more – and I’ll have plenty of reason to return. Two exciting new additions are set to launch over the next couple of years: Phillip Island Hot Springs, which will include a swim-up bar and an apothecary workshop; and the 12 Apostles Hot Springs & Resort, opposite the iconic rock formations jutting out of the sea along the Great Ocean Road. Tempted? See you Down Under!

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To plan your trip, visit visitmelbourne.com and bathing.org

Lisa travelled from London to Melbourne by plane, emitting approximately 5,070 kg of CO2e for the round trip. ecollectivecarbon.com