Melbourne

We’re home from 10 days spent in Melbourne, tired but happy, and pleasantly surprised with how it all went down.

This was our first proper holiday as a family that didn’t entail us throwing a bag and some food into the car and driving down to the Northern Rivers as we’ve done so often in the past two years. Don’t get me wrong, I love those beach getaways. They’re relaxed and allow us to recharge with plenty of downtime, but the desire to jump on a plane and head to somewhere new and exciting is never far off.

We had been talking about taking a proper holiday for more than a year but something always came up to prevent it, so when a friend’s wedding coincided with two family birthdays we decided it was time to go for it. We booked the flights, thought through a rough plan – when it comes to travel we’re more fly by the seat of our pants kinda people – and started to talk through the flight and trip with Jasper so it wouldn’t be a total shock to him. I wasn’t overly concerned as he’s generally pretty good with travelling to new places as long as we’re there to touch base with throughout the day, normally when things become overwhelming and he needs to retreat for a moment, or to cuddle during the night.

The day arrived, excitement reached full toddler level and the hour before boarding our plane was spent spotting planes, talking about big white planes, and trying to stop a small human from running onto the wrong plane. You get the idea. He was excited to fly, and we were excited, if also a little scared, to be doing this with him. We shouldn’t have been. He watched out the window as we took off, settled back in his seat for a few episodes of The Wiggles and dinner, and watched the lights of Melbourne draw closer as we came in to land.

The first few days were spent with family, playing finska in the backyard, drinking coffee, eating good food, playing on the beach, celebrating birthdays and just generally sitting back and relaxing while watching Jasper dote on his cousins. It was adorable. He would wake each morning and immediately ask to go downstairs to “play toys” with them and I’d have to coax him up to bed each night, well after his bedtime.

As part of our loose planning, we decided to rent a car. As exciting as trams are, we have both been to Melbourne numerous times and wanted to widen our travels a bit and explore Mornington Peninsula and the Great Ocean Road, before heading back to town for the wedding festivities. I should add here that Steve and I are possibly the most annoying people to travel with. We’re big on booking tickets to a destination and then just winging it as we go along. This attitude has seen us jump in the back of a beat up car being marketed as a private taxi to head up into the mountains of Montenegro all the while wondering if we were actually about to be robbed, or contemplate pulling all-nighters rather than sleep in a park when we discovered the small Vietnamese town we were in was totally booked out due to a national holiday. Something basic research would have shown us. But then we wouldn’t have these stories, would we?

But back to the point. Travelling in such a haphazard way isn’t really possible with a toddler in tow, so we organised accommodation for each night and left the days wide open for adventure. The semblance of routine at the end of the day – family dinner, bath, books and bed – seemed to keep most of the toddler behaviour in check.

I was going to do a day-by-day recount, but frankly that would make this long already post even longer, so instead here’s a basic run-down of where we went and what we ate.
Places to see

Mornington Peninsula: home to great food and wine options and a combination of ocean and mountains, this was possibly my favourite destination from our trip. A hot tip from my brother-in-law (whose family’s foodie tendancies rival Steve’s) saw us head to Sorrento first for fish and chips on the water, a walk along the waterfront and through town, a climb on the epic playground and a beer at Hotel Sorrento. From there we drove to Portsea, passing an echidna on the road, through St Andrews and up into Red Hill to visit the Port Phillip Estate winery for a wine tasting. I had big plans of stocking upon Jonny Ripe doughnuts or at the very least buying some local produce, but time was short and we had to head back to the city. Next time! Red Hill stole my heart. So close to the water, but such beautiful countryside. I could imagine spending the days bushwalking and snuggling next to the fire at night with a book.

Torquay/Bells Beach/Aireys Inlet/Apollo Bay: Driving from Melbourne to Lorne we decided to stop when and where we felt like it. It may have extended the three-hour drive, but it also made it so much more enjoyable. We walked across the beach at Bells Beach (spying another echidna on the way) and pictured the crazy crowds that gather the surfing world tour is there.

We walked up to the lighthouse at Aireys Inlet aka the lighthouse from Round the Twist. I’d actually been there when I was 16, but remember very little other than being excited about the lighthouse, so this time it took my breath away. The area was like English countryside meets surf town.This was also when we realised Jasper may be more accepting of how we travel than we’d originally expected. After spotting the lighthouse as we drove into the town, he was the one who demanded we stop the car and walk up for a better look.

Apollo Bay was another stop partway through our road trip to the 12 Apostles. To be honest, I thought it was too heavily geared to tourists and could take it or leave it, although the yellow daisies spotting the grass around the playground was pretty special.

12 Apostles: The scenery! So windswept, so rustic, so full of tourists. And yet something that rightfully lines the must see lists in Australia. We drove there ourselves, spent about half an hour admiring the coastline and then another 30 minutes watching the helicopters take off and land at the request of the toddler. If it had just been the two of us, we probably would have tried to make our way onto the sand or walk along the cliffs but the wind and cold was too much for Jasper.

Lorne: I can only imagine how busy this little town must get in the middle of summer. Meeting somewhere between tiny coastal town and tourist haven – one of our friends described it as the Byron Bay of the area, and he was right – we found good food and coffee here, walked on the beach each day, drove to nearby Erskine Falls for a bushwalk and leaf races, and just generally had a good, if relaxed, time during our two-night stay.

Melbourne Museum: Steve and I have both been to Melbourne a few times, so our list of things to see and do has dwindled. But we thought a tram trip to the zoo or the museum would be exciting for Jasper. Cold rain set in for the day though, so museum and dinosaur bones it was. Fun for everyone, and the indoor play area for kids was also great for when our caffeine wore off and we started to tire.
Eats

True South at Black Rock. The bonus of staying with family that also appreciates excellent food is they take you to the best places. South American food served tapas-style, which I normally detest, but these plates were generous. Get the calamari, you won’t be sorry.

Mark’s Restaurant. We decided to base ourselves in Lorne so we could easily access the 12 Apostles, as well as all the funky little coastal towns in the region. A friend told us to go to Ipsos, but we didn’t think to make a booking as Lorne was still semi-closed for the season. Big mistake, as it was booked out and instead we just got tantalising whiffs of the food as we walked past. However, Marks turned out to be perfect. Slightly quieter and more than happy to accommodate an overtired, over-excited toddler who screamed for “just juice” when his pasta arrived. I gorged on ricotta and silverbeet gnocchi with a pumpkin puree while Steve went face first into the lamb pasta. A never-ending bread basket and beautiful salted butter made us happy dance (and helped us defrost from a sunset walk on the beach in gale force winds and 12 degree weather. It was cold folks!)

Swing Bridge Cafe This was a true discovery. On our last morning in Lorne, before heading back to the big smoke we went for a pre-breakfast walk to stretch our legs before the long car ride, spot ducklings and enjoy the warmer weather that had finally arrived. A walk out of town and over the swing bridge meant we stumbled across this little shack that served amazing breakfast and coffee to match. Don’t make my mistake – get the shakshuka.

And, in perhaps the most forehead slapping moment of our trip, we discovered an amazing hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese takeaway joint in Camberwell but didn’t take note of the name. I had wandered into a store in search of cold pressed juice only to turn around and realise Steve was nowhere to be seen. He’d walked further up Burke Street to check out a long line of people waiting to order banh mi, so we joined them. I had lemongrass tofu with lots of chilli, while Steve went the traditional pork and we stuffed our faces in the car on the way to Torquay.

Other than that, we embraced our general habit of fruit and snacks thrown in our bags for mid-drive hunger, and cooked dinner at home. And coffee. We bought lots of coffee. It was Melbourne after all.

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