As a child, the biggest struggle at a sleepover was trying to squeeze your sleeping bag back into its incredibly small carrying case the next morning. As an adult, the biggest struggle arguably still involves the morning after, though not for the same reasons.
It has recently come to our attention that a bunch of Melbourne’s coolest and most history-soaked places will let you stay overnight, or get up to after-dark antics on their premises. From night tours at Melbourne Gaol to bunking down at Kryal Castle, these are the coolest inner-city sleepovers and after-dark antics in town.
Roar 'n' Snore at Melbourne Zoo
Rise and shine with the wild animals at Melbourne Zoo – during summer, the zookeepers will allow you to camp out in the old elephant enclosure and awake to the screech of gibbons and the cackle of kookaburras. The timber-floored tents sleep two to four people, but you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow. We suggest a dressing gown, too, for any dashes to the toilet during the night, lest a lion catch you in the nuddy.
The package includes a buffet dinner and a guided tour of the zoo, where you will get the chance to feed some of the animals. As the sun begins to set, the nocturnal birds and reptiles will come out to play, and your guides will lead you back to the campsite where you can cosy up with a hot chocolate and listen to the incredible orchestra of animal sounds. Be warned that you might not catch much kip through all the big-cat growls and rhinoceros grumbles – but it’s worth it to experience the ‘roar’ emotion. The next morning, breakfast is provided, and your zoo admission is covered for the whole day.
Old Melbourne Gaol
Go HANG (ha!) with your friends at the Hangman’s Night Tour at the Old Melbourne Gaol. The enigmatic executioner will tell you gruesome stories dating back to when he first got loose with a noose, and lead you down to the gallows by the light of a single candleflame. During its heyday, the prison was the setting for 133 hangings, with executed prisoners buried sans heads in unmarked graves in the on-site burial ground. That means you could be stepping over the bones of bushranger Ned Kelly or serial killer Frederick Bailey Deeming as you follow the master of the rope around his ‘office’.
The grim history of the gaol doesn’t stop in the gallows, though. There are also ghost tours several nights a week with varying degrees of scare factor. The ghoulish tales are given extra clout by the gaol’s history of hauntings – in 2003, British parapsychologist Darren Done claimed that he heard voices and detected evidence of an electrical interference to suggest paranormal activity after spending a sleepless night there. If you’re easily rattled or slightly claustrophobic, you’ll be glad you’re going home to your nice, safe bed and not bunking down with former inmates. After all, it’s impossible to sleep if you keep hearing a voice saying, ‘Get out.’
Eynesbury Homestead Dinner and Ghost Tour
Speaking of ghost tours, the Eynesbury Homestead Ghost Tour takes place on a 20,000 acre heritage property only 40 minutes from Melbourne and includes a lavish two-course dinner. The stately country home once belonged to the Staughton family who, on the surface of it, seemed to enjoy polo, ponies and Pimms. But that was only on the surface of it.
After dining on chicken roulade or duck confit, your qualified paranormal investigative guide will escort you into the inky-black night to discover what secrets lie beneath the grand old bluestone building. The mystery and history of this place is filled with a macabre mixture of murder and betrayal, and the tourguides truly believe in the ghosts that linger in the estate’s hidden nooks and crannies. You’ll never look at a water tank (cursed), a butcher’s shed (also cursed) or a blacksmith’s workshop (you guessed it – cursed) the same way again.
Just a short ride northwest from Melbourne by train, Kryal Castle is Australia’s only medieval adventure park – a real-life fortress with an actual drawbridge where you can spend the night in luxury suites fit for a king or a queen. The rooms are spacious chambers with free wifi and electric blankets to keep out the chill of the stone walls. During the day, you can lose yourself in a labyrinth, witness jousting tournaments and sword fights, try your hand at wizardry and brush up on your archery skills. There’s an on-site café, as well as a tooth fairy-themed lolly shop and coin-operated barbeques.
If you find yourself feeling enamored with the romance and chivalry of the medieval age, you can even book to have your wedding at the gothic chapel. Conversely, if you’re enthralled by the darker side of the dark ages, there’s a pretty cool torture museum and special effects dungeon. Last year, Kryal Castle won best regional attraction at Tourism Victoria's annual awards, and we can’t think of many other places which combine swords and sorcery with sweet sleeping digs. If you’re catching the train down, VLine trains to Melbourne roughly run on the hourly.
Plus, we even have an experience at Kryal Castle to give away - check out the entry form below!
‘Mirror mirror on the wall, where’s the weirdest accommodation of them all?’ Just outside of Melbourne in the Gippsland region, Mira Mira boasts a trio of two-bedroom ‘fantasy retreats’ set in native bushland. The first, ‘Cave House’, is an underground cabin lit by fire lanterns which you enter via a vast yawning mouth carved into the hill. Huge stalactites and stalagmites divide the space in half and the sound of dripping water mimics the feel of a real cave. Guests have a choice of two bedrooms: a ‘bedwomb’ and a ‘naughty room’, where handcuffs, pulleys and chains dangle from the king-sized bed.
The second house is called ‘Tanglewood’, and resembles something out of a Grimm’s fairytale. Shaped like a funny hat, the building’s structure shuns straight lines and features windows shaped like spiderwebs and teardrops. It has its very own medieval-style staircase and small coloured up-lights that give the rounded walls a beautiful patterned glow.
The third house, ‘Japanese Zen Retreat’, sits atop a tranquil pond at the base of a gully. Modelled after the 17th century Katsura Palace in Kyoto, it features a spa bath surrounded by stone and sliding shoju screens in the bedrooms. The best part of all is that the reception building of Mira Mira is actually a castle with a big dragon guarding the entry gate.
Image credit: Adelaide Zoo
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