Saturday, July 20, 2013

24 Hours in Grampians National Park

Barely three hours from Melbourne, there's a National Park I'd never heard of until I looked at a map to work out what there was to do on the drive from Adelaide. And it turns out, Grampians National Park has startling beauty that deserves to be better known.

These are the highlights of my 24 hours in the Grampians...

MacKenzie Falls

Boroka Lookout

This poor young kangaroo tripped over his long feet and tumbled right in front of us!

But he was fine - here's the same kangaroo an hour later peering in at people dining at our motel restaurant

The amazing view from Mt William - my favourite lookout in Grampians

Bunjil's Shelter - one of the most important Aboriginal rock paintings

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Great Ocean Roadtrip

British people all seem to dream of going to Australia. And there's one item sure to feature on their itinerary. A highlight of Aussie travel marketing in Europe that somehow few Kiwis have ever heard of: Victoria's Great Ocean Road. After hearing about it non-stop when I lived in the UK, I decided to pop over the ditch to discover it for myself.

Driving the Great Ocean Road, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a tad overrated - dreamed up by some marketers at Tourism Australia as another lure for tourists from the landlocked capitals of Europe.

Growing up in New Zealand, I have seen more than my fair share of beautiful coastal drives, and this 250km stretch of the journey between Melbourne and Adelaide didn't feel much more notable than the decidedly less-hyped routes along the Far North, Coromandel, or Nelson. But it does have a very marketable name, and I can't deny that there were a few truly beautiful spots.

Split Point lighthouse

The view from Split Point

Erskine Falls, a short detour from the Great Ocean Road

The view from one of many well-placed lookout spots

And the highlight of every Great Ocean Roadtrip: the majestic Twelve Apostles
(time it for sunset if you want to recreate this gorgeous photo)
We made other (less photogenic) stops in Port Fairy and Mount Gambier. Most roadtrippers head back to Melbourne after completing the Great Ocean Road, but we chose to continue along the Coorong to Adelaide.

And, interestingly enough, we stumbled across one of the most magnificent sights of our trip by accident, several hours after concluding the Great Ocean Road: pelicans chilling out by the gum trees in Meningie at sunset.

But we had a very special reason for being in Meningie en route to Adelaide, and it had nothing to do with pelicans. Kat and Mikey, our best friends from London, who we also had epic trips to Copenhagen and Ireland with, had moved back home a few months earlier.

And a little while after they arrived back in South Australia, Mia turned up.

So, for me, the Great Ocean Road itself was a little underwhelming (except for the Twelve Apostles). And I haven't even mentioned the $900 worth of speeding fine we managed to accumulate unawares in a single 24 hour period! But, our journey across the Tasman was completely worth it when we were reunited with the Pullman clan.

We're at an interesting point in our lives where people are coming home from their OEs and settling into families, careers and mortgages. And Kat and Mikey are the first of my friends to have a baby - a fact that made me a pathetic combination of proud and excited. We instantly assumed the titles of surrogate uncles. And the time we spent hanging out together, just the five of us in Mount Barker, was as memorable as any day we ever spent in London.

Life is good.

Friday, July 12, 2013

5 Indie Things to Do in Melbourne

Melbourne is the cultural heart of Australia. And for a country with not much history to speak of (compared with Europe), that makes it without a doubt the most interesting city in Australia to visit. It also means it's crawling with hipsters.

You have to love them or hate them, hipsters.
And I have to admit, I kind of love them.
Ironic hats and all.

One of the most hipster moments of my life - with Ally and Adam in New Zealand

We had the pleasure of being hosted in Melbourne by Ally, the green-voting Damien Rice-loving vegetarian who I instantly fell in friendlove with on the Busabout Ottoman Trek. She hates the term hipster, but she fits it so effortlessly it's like it was created for her (minus the snobby side). She has flawless taste in music and second-hand clothing, and her Grandma is one of her best friends. Plus, she moonlights as one of those unpaid tour leaders showing travelling bohemians all the coolest places in her hometown.

So, who better to show us the indie side of Melbourne? This is the top five - so you can retrace our doc marten footsteps:

1.  Drink mulled wine at Section 8
A shipping container on Tattersalls Lane where you can drink mulled wine surrounded by lanterns. What could be more Melbourne?

2.  Find a killer piece of street art down a nondescript alleyway
Melbourne wants to be a street art capital. And it's starting to pull it off. Don't be content just walking down the tourist-friendly graffiti alleyways near Flinders Street station (cool though they are), walk a bit further afield and you'll be amazed at the scale and beauty of some of the imaginative designs. If you're the planning type, there are websites where you can work out where the best pieces are. But I'm not going to link to them because a true hipster would befriend a local to find the best street art. Or better still - follow a stray cat and get lost.

3.  Go meatless at Lord of the Fries
Ok so, full disclosure, Lord of the Fries is a deep-fried Melbourne institution, with its main location at the bottom of Elizabeth Street. It isn't nearly underground or hidden enough to be considered indie. But what puts Lord of the Fries on this list is that everything is vegetarian. From the gravy on the (delicious) Canadian fries, to the hamburger patties to the hot dogs. On Friday nights, the drunk hipsters flock.

4.  Visit the Heide
Melbourne is spoiled for choice when it comes to art galleries. Ally's pick of the bunch is the Heide Museum of Modern Art. 20 minutes from the CBD, with gorgeous grounds and well curated exhibitions featuring a wide range of Australian artists, this was a great place to spend an afternoon.

5.  Pay what you want at Lentil as Anything
Abbotsford Convent is an unusually menacing building for a young city like Melbourne. It's instantly fascinating. Enter the grounds and it just gets better. Lentil as Anything, one of a few resident restaurants, is one of those bohemian restaurants everyone's heard of but few have tried. There's an absolutely delicious vegetarian buffet, and payment is by donation. It's a woefully unprofitable business model, but one which makes Lentil as Anything a delightful place to visit. Almost a sanctuary from the consumerism-fueled rat race outside. Of all Ally's amazing indie recommendations in Melbourne, this was comfortably my favourite.

When your pose is way too dramatic to look hipster suave, fake it with a black and white filter
(Ally and I mucking around on the grounds of the Abbotsford convent)