Category: Melbourne

On not being a hipster

I am currently residing in Melbourne, most liveable city, hipster central and coffee capital of the world.

I have a latte daily as I cannot take the flat white nor the espresso (although I let the barista choose the beans).

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In my head I am 25*. And this silly quiz agrees.

It has been raining rather a lot. I have had to find something to occupy my mind while grounded by the weather. Cabin fever has set in.

We Know Your Age Based On Your Hipster Choices

You got: 25

You’re a young, chill hipster who dreams of Portland and free cold brew coffee. Just remember to water your succulent, because you have a lot of hipster years ahead of you!

My body keeps telling me otherwise and it is bloody shit.

Anyways – I did the quiz again today and got this:

We Know Your Age Based On Your Hipster Choices

You got: 39

You’re 39, so you’re not a baby hipster anymore. You know how to make all the right hipster decisions when it comes to food and travel (WHEN IN DOUBT TAKE A LYFT), so you should be proud!

Probably a more accurate picture of what I would like to be. I thought I had answered the questions the same but I think what swung it was I chose beer not coffee. I thought I chose beer the first time. I definitely chose Portland as my city despite not having been there because Melbourne wasn’t a choice. Sydney was. Sorry not sorry. Indeed the only questions I understood were the ones about the cities and the refreshments. I have no idea who or what Warby Parkers are and the quiz is clearly an ad for a designer soda drink I have also never heard of and am unlikely to buy.

Intellectually challenged/trying to find something to fill the endless days of rain….

I had to look up what ‘lyft‘ is. This is the second word this week I have had to look up aka Google – the other one was ‘plebiscite‘. This is because, despite not watching the news, you would have to live in a hole in the ground to not know that there will be a plebiscite for Australians to decide on legalising same sex marriage.

Whether being old/not Australian or just plain thick – anyway hands up I didn’t know what these words were – so I did some research.

What I am sure of is that more Australians seem to know about plebiscite than they did the Census. There is certainly more media cover about it.

Let us talk about Brexit

If the UK had called for a plebiscite and not a referendum over membership of the EU maybe the UK would not be in such a mess as it is now.

It is worth me mentioning here that I know very little about politics and political processes but I voted Remain because I did my research. That research convinced me that the UK is stronger in the EU. I also want to live in Greece. Which may have swayed my decision somewhat, but at least I know what I want. Unlike the Brexiteers.

The census

I also took part in the Australian Census because, having done my research on that too, I was legally obliged to. As one who thinks voting in the UK ought to be compulsory, I was happy to comply with a country that has compulsory voting. The fact that it was shambolic is beside the point. To ask a tourist how many children they had given birth to was absolutely pointless. No, still haven’t worked that one out.

Anyway, as ever this ageing hipster has meandered off topic. As I do. Attention span of a flea.

Brunch in Australia – the good the bad and the ugly

Brunch figures a lot in my eating out in Australia. I have written before about my love affair with brunch – a meal that Brits, IMHO, still haven’t got right.*

In the UK, a cooked breakfast is usually a fry up be it the English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or even regional breakfast. You will see all day breakfasts on some menus, often dressed up as brunch. My local pub in the UK, The Dog, has recently added brunch to the menu – yet finishes serving it at 12 noon and only offers it on a weekend. That is not brunch. Brunch needs perfectly poached eggs, sourdough, good bacon and excellent coffee. And served at least till 3pm if not all day. A full English and bacon sandwiches is not brunch. That is breakfast. I like breakfast, I do, but I like brunch better.

In Australia they know brunch. Smashed avo, corn fritters, beetroot and spinach with free range poached eggs. This is one of my favourite brunches offered at Coin Laundry only a few minutes walk away from where we are currently housesitting in Melbourne. Available from 7am to 3pm. For two of us, with a latte each, the bill is Aus$42.

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Seven Seeds. A Good Morning Breakfast Burger and Eggs and Waffle Benedict, two items from their current, all day menu. Proper Brunch. With speciality coffee. Aus$45. Great atmosphere, great staff, excellent food, awesome coffee. We have got to go back as our table companions had the Brioche French Toast and it looked, and they said it tasted, amazing.

And then there is Triim.

Phil and I were hungry, we had just been in a hot, dusty substation, looking at ACDC things. (It was Open House Weekend). We needed brunch. Seven Seeds seemed too far to walk to. It was Sunday and would probably be a line. Instead we wandered up Little Bourke street, looking for its sister cafe, couldn’t find it and then saw Triim on Hardware Lane, a studenty/backpacker district of the city and chose to brunch there.

Oh dear. At first it seemed ok, it was busy, all ages, shoppers and students, backpackers and families. Efficient staff. But. You knew there would be a but.

We ordered a Big Breakfast and a Morning Glory. Yes they can poach eggs. However the mushrooms were slimy and the sausage, I can only assume it was a chicken sausage, was horrible. The bread was poor quality. Butter is served in plastic pouches. We left feeling bloated and later felt quite headachey as if we had eaten poor quality food. Bill came to Aus$42.40. Hardware Lane is an interesting place to people watch. Go watch them from someplace else.

Was this the worst breakfast we had in Melbourne?

No. Because we went to McDonald’s. I know, I know. Phil and I had an early start, we were off out on a tour and had to be at Fed Square for 8.55am. Macca’s is nearby the pick up point. We had not had a Macca breakfast for over a year. Indeed it was at this Macca’s and for the very same reason. We do not learn.

Aus$18 for two sausage and egg muffins, with a hash brown and a latte. Not half a good as Triim, but nearly as good people watching as commuters dash from Flinders Street Station. Not anyway near the quality, ambiance or service levels of either Seven Seeds or Coin Laundry.

I know, it is McDonalds, I don’t expect silver service. Yet, at just under half the price of the other brunches Phil and I have had in Melbourne, this is an expensive and insubstantial breakfast. The only good thing I can say is that they have baristas in McDonalds in Australia (at least at this branch) so the coffee is not awful. It is not awesome, better than coffee in an English McDonalds. Not hard to beat that. Oh and surprisingly I didn’t get headaches like I did with the breakfast from Triim.

What really concerns me that this is the everyday breakfast for many commuters and school students. Melbourne has the best coffee in the world and Melburnians are now buying coffee here. And adding a McMuffin to their order. I don’t see any struggling indie coffee shops in Melbourne, somehow there are enough coffee addicts to keep the good ones going. I do see more coffee shop chains in Melbourne though. And that is not a good thing.

So, if you are in Melbourne, find a good brunch spot. It is not hard.

To help you, here is a list to help you out.

*There are exceptions. Birmingham Breakfast Club occasionally arranges special breakfast events in the city. Only I would call them brunch because there is usually alcohol involved and they don’t start at the crack of dawn.

If you want to know more about these wonderful Breakfasts in Birmingham here are some links. I include these only because I am fed up of people Bashing Birmingham. We have good food in Birmingham. We have good other things too. Such as the two towers that inspired Tolkien.

Full to the Brum  – an award winning Brummie Blogger

Eat with Ellen  – one of my dining companions at Nomad now re born as The Wilderness

Breakfast at Simpsons

Waiter there’s a bug in my brunch

Birmingham Breakfast Club 


Don’t rain on my (penguin) parade – Phillip Island and The Mornington Peninsula

Phillip Island and The Mornington Peninsular

Last year Phil and I were lucky and had glorious weather when we visited The Mornington Peninsula with Melbourne Coastal Touring. This year, let us say, the weather was varied.  We are pretty much used to the unpredictability of Melbourne weather – after all this is the city that has four seasons in one day. We had booked again with Melbourne Coastal Touring, this time to extend the trip to Phillip Island, to see The Penguin Parade.

Penguin Parade on Phillip Island

The forecast was not good. Maximum of 12 degrees and lots of rain. Rug up we were told.

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We looked like this before….                and like this afterwards.

We took a rug. Did not/could not use it. Sitting down was not an option. It was cold, windy, dark and raining stair rods. What use would a rug be?

Most people wisely bought these plastic rain covers, they still got soaked.

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However penguin parade was worth getting drenched for.

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OK. These are not real penguins. You are not allowed to take photos of the penguins. But you are allowed to take photos of toy penguins. So we did.

While the penguins were a joy to observe, I would recommend you do the trip in the summer or spring. Or choose a clear, dry autumn or winter day (and rug up). Check that weather forecast folks. It was cold and wet and the maximum anyone held out was fifteen minutes. A long way to go to see penguins in a squall.

Phillip Island

Before we went to the Penguin Parade, Campbell took us to see a few other highlights of Phillip Island, including a blustery walk at The Nobbies to see some nest boxes and Woolamai Beach.

English visitors may find some of the place names familiar on this island. Many places are named after towns on the Isle of Wight.

We visited the restricted area of Phillip Island Nature Park next to where you visit Penguins Parade. This area is closed at dusk to protect the wildlife. Once a residential area, eventually the beachfront residences were demolished in order to restore a habitat where the penguins and other wildlife would thrive.

More than penguins

The Penguin Parade is the last visit you make on this full day tour. I started with it at the top of this post as it is the highlight of the tour and the main reason people take this trip. However, before the penguins, there is a lot more to do and see on the way to Phillip Island.

Moonlit Sanctuary

The highlight of the day, for me, was the visit to the Moonlit Sanctuary. Sorry penguins. You are cute. I have wanted to see you ever since I watched a documentary about you but not in Force Ten weather conditions. I enjoyed the visit to the sanctuary more. Sorry not sorry.

Happily, the sun was shining when we arrived at Moonlit Sanctuary. Phil and I have visited similar places before, the first one while traveling along The Great Ocean Road. The owner of this private sanctuary shoved a  scruffy teddy bear with a koala perched upon it in front of us for photo opportunities. The wallabies and kangaroos were in pens. It was all a bit scruffy and run down. Not so Moonlit Sanctuary.

At Moonlit Sanctuary, the visit to the koalas are strictly monitored and limited.

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The wallabies and kangaroos are free to roam.

Only the dangerous and endangered are restricted.

Except the geese. They roam free. They were scary – they had chicks – and daddy goose was not letting anyone near his family. One even took a chunk out of a wallaby.

It is in a beautiful setting, there is a cafe and rest room there and it would make a good family day out in the summer. Everyone on our tour thoroughly enjoyed their time here. Including the tour leader, Campbell. I think he loves his job.

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Lunch and wine tasting at Montalto

On this tour lunch was a shared selection of three stone baked pizzas.  Broccolini, quattro formaggi pizza;Napoli, buffalo mozzarella & basil pizza;Roast pork, garlic, stracciatella, pickled chilli, chives pizza served with Chargrilled kale and broccolini with miso and sunflower at the Piazza Cafe at Montalto.

Lunch was preceded by a wine tasting and a stroll around the sculpture garden. The weather was still on our side.

I am assuming that Melbourne Coastal Touring are trying out various eateries for their tours. For a lunch this was a beautiful location. The wines we tasted were all very good. While I prefered the food I had last year at Red Hill Epicurean I can see why Montalto, with the sculpture garden, is a good location to stop off at on this tour. It offers the opportunity for a much needed stroll in the sunshine after being on a bus for over an hour.

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And as this tour naturally appeals to families with young children (cute penguins, koalas and kangaroos) it is a perfect place for a good quality pizza lunch for families, offering a relaxed environment for parents and children to explore the sculptures. Yet it is grown up enough for adults who enjoy wine tasting and a good lunch in pleasant surroundings.

It is worth noting that Montalto also has a fine dining option (12 Chefs Hats in The Age Good Food Guide since 2002). Pizza in the Piazza cafe offers good food for tour groups or those who want a more relaxed dining experience in a stunning location.

Beach Huts and Arthur’s seat

No visit to The Mornington Peninsula would be complete without the obligatory stops at the beach huts and Arthur’s Seat.

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Even on a cold day, as it was clear (for now) the views are stunning. The beach has been eroded considerably since our last visit in 2015.

Flinders and Chocolate

As we had made good time on the journey to Mornington, we were offered an optional visit to the chocolate shop at Flinders.

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Phil and I had been before and so decided to wander around Flinders instead of taste chocolate. Delicious and quirky as it is, we are not big chocolate fans.

Flinders is a small town with some charming shops selling designer kitchenware, clothes and art with a General Store and Post Office. And interesting birds.

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Why use a tour company?

One of the reasons Phil and I choose to go on tours is to meet new people. On this tour there was a family from Jakarta and a young couple from Singapore. Interesting conversations over the dining table (every one asks us about Brexit) learning about other cultures, exchanging stories of travel and tours.

Expert knowledge

Another reason to use a tour is that you get the knowledge of your tour guide. If you use a really good company (check them out on TripAdvisor and Viator) the guides can make the day. Jason, who owns Melbourne Coastal Touring, was brought up and still lives in Mornington. It is a small family run company. Repeat business and recommendations are important to them. Quality matters. This is not always the case with all operators, so do your research.

Why not drive yourself?

I like to be driven. By a competent driver who knows the roads. I can vouch for both Jason and Campbell. If you did this trip yourself, it is almost a two hour drive to Melbourne from Phillip Island. And in wind and rain and the dark, not a drive I would want to do. Also the driver doesn’t get to appreciate the views so much along the way and there would be no tipples at the vineyard. Another reason to use a good tour operator.


Melbourne Coastal Touring are now under new management and trading as Melbourne Boutique Tours. I am sure they are just as good as they were and would continue to recommend them. I will try them out next time I go Down Under.





Unclutter my life – letting go of the vinyl Part 2

While other buy vinyl we sell ours

It is Record Store Day on April 16th. While others will be clamouring over special releases on vinyl, we will be hoping people may want to take ours off our hands.

As part of the downsizing and reducing clutter, we are letting go of the vinyl. We have bought a Sonos sound system and Phil is currently downloading his CD collection on to his laptop. Personally I think he needs to cherry pick them and upload them on an external hard drive or invest in Spotify. It is his choice.

However, I think it is his way of saying goodbye. When he let go of the tapes he did this.

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And listed them all so that he could cross reference them with his CD collection and see where the gaps were. Not sure where the list is now, post move.

Most of the singles went a while ago.

Before we decided to downsize we were reorganizing the music. While this worked in the big house, it doesn’t work in the small house.

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The thing he said he will miss the most is the physical connection, holding the sleeve, looking at the art work and the reading of the sleevenotes. Apparently this is a thing and Phil seems to know who produced what album and who played the bass on every record that has ever been made.

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I have suggested he keeps a few using the Marie Kondo method. If it sparks joy, it will stay.

Ikea make picture frames for record sleeves, so we can enjoy the artwork while listening to the album digitally.

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The other solution is make visiting record stores part of our travels. This way he can touch the sleeves and read the notes, and even listen to them.

Indeed this is what we already do. Our Melbourne friend for whom we house sit for, runs the media marketing for Record Store Day Australia. On her recommendation we visited a few stores in Melbourne last year.

Doing this combines three of our favourite things to do in Melbourne. Ride the trams, visit record stores, eat good food and drink great coffee at quirky cafes and burger joints.

Every suburb has a plethora of cafes, many have record stores,  and are all on a tram route.

There is also usually some great vintage shops to visit too. And graffiti.

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Back to the vinyl.

Northside Records in Fitzroy

Rathbone Records in Northcote

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Basement Discs 2 Block Place, Melbourne

They seem to have a no photo policy, but I took these anyway. While we were there there were some students making a film there. This is tucked away in one of the arcades, in a basement as the name suggests, so you have to keep a look out for it as it is easy to miss. Nearby there are lots of cafes and a great arcade to explore with mainly up market shops and a visually amazing cake shop, Hopetoun Tea Rooms, that there is almost always a queue for.

Rediscovery in Ballarat

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This one was not on the list we were given, we discovered it all by ourselves. It was up for sale on our last visit, so it may no longer be there.

Next door to it is a café selling vinyl. Perfect.

Of course we don’t just browse record stores in Melbourne.

One of my favourite in the UK is Carnival Records in Malvern.

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The excuses that I, Phil and other people give, when struggling to let go of stuff, are numerous.

We will miss it when it has gone

It may come in useful someday

I need to keep it just incase

It cost a lot of money it seems a shame to get rid of them

It may be valuable

I hoarded everything. I had hundreds of dust gathering books, thousands of photos, and duplicate kitchen gadgets. Because I had the space.

Add to those dozens of duvets, pillows, towels and sets of bed linen. All neatly organised and labelled in storage bags. And never used.

The vinyl and the CD’s are taking too much space in this small house. The sound system, amps, decks and speakers, overwhelm the small rooms. To find a CD would involve me going through 8 storage units. To find an album on vinyl would take forever. With Sonos I can click and play.

And Phil can get his touchy feely time with album sleeves at record stores around the world.

Because we cannot lose sight of why we did all this. Declutter, downsize, to pursue a life of more travel and less cleaning.

Update December 2016

Around 500 LP’s are boxed up, together with hi fi and speakers, to go to Carnival Records tomorrow. A couple of friends have been around and cherry picked 30 each. They have gone to where they will be loved and played. We have kept about 20 that we love (well 5 I quite like and 15 I have no interest in At All) to play and or adorn our walls of the small house.






Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

Housesitting is the lifestyle plan for me and Phil, my husband, going forward

Eventually we will sign up with an agency, probably Trusted Housesitters. We have not needed to as yet as we were fortunate enough to land our first housesitting assignment through a uni friend.

I hadn’t seen my old uni friend for over 20 years and as part of the round the world trip Phil and I  did in 2011/2 the plan was to go visit her in Melbourne. Our dates clashed with her planned visit to England, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing her again. Then she mentioned that all they needed to organise was a house and dog sitter and I proposed that we could be those sitters. Surprisingly she said yes, having only met my husband at our wedding. I had never met hers. However they entrusted us to look after Mac and Poppy while they were away.

And so it was in November 2011 we got to Melbourne and panicked when questioned by passport control about where we were staying in Melbourne.

‘I don’t know.’

Having since watched Border Control I now realise this was not a good answer to give.

‘My friend is meeting us’

I had realised by then to say ‘a friend I have not seen in over 25 years and just recently got back in touch with through Facebook’ would not have been a good idea.

‘Do you have a phone number for her?’

‘No, I don’t and I don’t have a phone that will work in this country yet.’

‘What if she doesn’t meet you?’

‘She will.’

I don’t think they checked if we were met, but I guess they could see that we had a flight booked out of the country so we reckoned they did not consider there was a big risk of us overstaying our visa. We were let into Australia. Also as it was incredibly busy in the arrivals hall, I think they just needed to get us out of there.

My friend was there at the gate.

And I got to spend two weeks with her as she had to change her dates due to some big music awards thing (Aria is pretty big) she had to attend. It was great because it gave us the opportunity to reconnect, and she and her husband got to show off their city. And we got to see Dolly Parton in concert, for free.

The next time we went in 2015 I had the addresses, emails, phone numbers all ready if I got questioned. Although we had no idea where we were staying in Sydney.  As one of our hosts was a barrister I reckoned she would get us out of the airport if detained.

‘Don’t mention housesitting, I have heard they have a dim view on housesitting.’

I must have said this to Phil a dozen times.

The arrivals hall was empty and we were made to use the retina recognition machines (always a challenge to those of us who wear specs) and sailed through border control in a matter of minutes.

Up until that moment I was convinced we would get the same questions, especially as I had a different visa than I had in 2011. But that is another story. I really must stop watching Border Control.

And now Phil and I are going back for the third housesit at the same house with the same dogs and I am getting all panicky about the visas again. This time it is because we will be in Australia for just under 3 months, the maximum time the e visa allows us to stay.

The reason for the longer stay is that we have two house sits booked now, both in Melbourne, with a gap between them.

Travel plans

The plan was to zoom in, get over jet lag, dump excess luggage in Melbourne and then fly to Darwin, travel over land to Alice and see Uluru. In 2 days, since beginning to write this post, plans have changed. We will now be arriving in Melbourne the day before the sit begins.

This is because Carole King is playing in Hyde Park, London. To make the most of the three-month visa restriction I have had to change our plans. Do you see how complicated and random my life is? Fortunately nothing was booked.

I have three itineraries in front of me and numerous tabs open on the desktop.  Australian Border Control, Viator, Tripadvisor,  tour companies to help decide on tours we can make in-between and after sits. I want to use an Australian based company to tour with, not some big multinational company based in Canada. It is hard to tell with some of them and if you book via Viator I have yet to find out if you can see who the tour operator is.

There are other things to consider.

Do we drive from Sydney to Brisbane? Wait, didn’t I just say we were going to Darwin, Uluru and Alice? Yes I did. That is still the plan between house sits.

We have to go to Sydney as Yum Cha is a must with our friends there.  I wanted to go to Tassie to but no time to fit it in and it will be cold in August. Darwin and Brisbane will be warmer, although the tour operators warn that temperatures drop at night in the NT. I am taking thermals.

So far the itinerary looks like this

10 July Birmingham to Melbourne via Dubai

13 July arrive Melbourne

14 July house sit until  22 August

23 August fly to Darwin

24 August 10 day Kakadu to Uluru tour

3 September fly from Alice Springs to Melbourne

4 to 21 September house sit in Melbourne

22 September fly to Sydney

22 to 25 stay at Rocks YHA Sydney – may do a Bridge climb, will go for Yum Cha

26 September drive to Brisbane using this itinerary

1 or 5 October  Five day Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island tour (dates to be confirmed by operator) the trip gets great reviews although it is expensive

11 October fly Brisbane to New Zealand (tbk) or home or……..

With just two days left on the visa.

I am panicking that something will go wrong and we will overstay the visa and be banned from entering Australia for 3 years (Border Control again).

The other issue I have is packing. What to pack and what in? I still have my back pack but my back is not good. On tours you need to take minimum, yet in Melbourne we will be city slickers and need at least one good outfit. My Dubarry boots with a dress sufficed for Melbourne casual dining but those boots will not be suitable for hiking around Uluru and scuba diving at Lady Musgrave Island. They will not fit in a back pack.

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And if we go to New Zealand, do we get a camper van again? We had a love hate relationship with our camper in 2011. Do we fly into Christchurch and see more of the South Island? Will it be too cold? It is often cheaper to hire cars and campers in Christchurch if going to Auckland as the companies want the main stock on the North Island.

After New Zealand I would quite like to visit The Cook Islands. Those Dubarry boots will be of no use there either. Men don’t have these problems.

Oh, did I mention we have a friend working in LA ? We would like to go see him too, and maybe drive to Las Vegas, maybe San Francisco and we always said we wished we had spent more time in Pismo Beach.

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Maybe one big road trip across America?

Decisions, decisions.

And then there is the insurance to sort out….. our annual policy will not suffice. The to do list is getting longer.

Where do you think we could go?








New Zealand in a campervan – Havelock and happenstance

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Havelock was not our planned destination. Phil and I had lingered in  the vineyards of Blenheim and were on our way to Nelson. The roads were windy and the driving challenging, we were tired so decided to stop and stretch our legs and get a coffee.

Havelock was the first town we came to. We parked up the camper and went to look for a cafe. Most of them were offering Green Lipped Mussels. Had no idea what they were, or that they were a delicacy of the area.

As we wandered toward the marina area, we found a small camping site, and our fate was sealed. We were tired, it was late afternoon, Nelson was a long, windy road away and they had one vacancy so we checked in.

I went to check out the wi-fi. In the laundry room there were computers to use and that is where I met Barb. We got chatting she lost her $2 worth of internet time and I found out where they were eating that night. Barb was with her husband Pete and they had been to Havelock before, it was one of their favourite places to stay. The pub they were eating at did great steaks and green lipped mussels. They didn’t stand a chance. I had already decided to gatecrash their dinner.

We were only staying the one night, had very little cash on us and the only cashpoint, in the only supermarket,  was broken. We found a cafe that took card payment, had some tea and then wandered around this tiny town.

We had stumbled upon a gem of place, once a gold mining settlement now the green lipped mussel capital of the world,  Havelock has a selection of galleries and small independent shops. The town has a slightly arty feel to it. It is the base for the Pelorus Mail Boat which serves the remote communities in the Marlborough Sounds. Day tours can be booked for NZ $128 or you can use it to be dropped off at one of the communities and be picked up a week later. Something I would quite like to do.

And so to dinner at the Havelock Hotel.  We had popped in for a drink in the early evening to check out the pub recommended by Barb. It was as if we had walked into a bar in the 1970’s.  Time seemed to have stood still in this pub. They did take cards (we had no cash) but only for over a certain amount so they put our drinks on a tab (without taking the card) because we told them we would be back later to have dinner. That is trust for you. And of course we went back, asked Barb and Pete if we could join them, they said yes.

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Green lipped mussels and a steak cooked on a stone.

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In a proper Kiwi pub.

It turned out the Barb and Pete were from Melbourne and were on the same flight as we were a few days later. They had travelled around New Zealand frequently in a camper van and gave us some good suggestions where to visit on the South Island. We got on so well we went back to their van for drinks and that is when they invited us to spend Christmas with them.

Being English we thought they were just being polite. We had only just met. Why would you invite us for Christmas? We were planning to skip Christmas. We didn’t say this of course, instead we politely said oh, yes, I am not sure what our plans are. Thankyou for asking. We hadn’t yet understood that Aussies don’t say anything they don’t mean.

We knew we would see them at the airport, and the next day said our goodbyes and headed off to Nelson to loop the top of the South Island before travelling south to Christchurch. I gave no more thought about Christmas until we met them again, in Kaikoura.

While my relationship with the van with the bed in the back (as the camper eventually became known) was not always an easy one, travelling this way gave us an opportunity to meet people.

In Bay of Islands we met Tim and Jo Ann while admiring a sunset. We then stayed with them in Wellington and got to see Oscars in the WETA boardroom and a film at The Roxy.

They suggested we visit to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and go whale watching in Kaikoura, which is where we met Barb and Pete for a second time. It turned out that we had also been in Tauranga, on the North Island at the same time. We were meant to meet.

We met Barb and Pete because of the unplanned stop in Havelock . That is what I like about having no particular itinerary, just going with the flow. When you allow people into your life you gain experiences you could not have imagined.  When you open your life and let in whatever the universe has planned for you, amazing things happen.


And yes, we did spend Christmas with Barb and Pete.



Melbourne for free – The ANZ Bank on Collins

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You must visit the bank, we were told, on our first tip to Melbourne in 2011. Not any bank, but the ANZ on Collins Street. It is amazing inside.

On that occasion I managed to pop in for a quick look, but Phil missed out (I think he was looking at vinyl somewhere and I wandered off). So on the trip in 2015, after visiting Huxtaburger on Collins, (as part of out mission to try every burger in Melbourne) I said to him that I needed to pop to the bank, and took him to see this. He had no idea what to expect and was suitably impressed. Especially when I told him he could take photos as they are used to it.

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It is a working bank, with tellers sitting behind beautiful wooden counters and event the cash point is encased in wood. And they have display cases with old banking paraphernalia dotted around the main banking hall.

You can pick up a self guided tour leaflet and wander around at will while employees go about their business. At the rear of the building in the modern atrium there is a cafe. There is also free wifi which is a precious commodity in Melbourne.

This is a bank that is beautiful as well as functional, so just go visit.  A great way to spend an hour on a rainy day. Or a rainy hour on a sunny day in Melbourne, the city that will tell you that if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.

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Labassa and the Iron Houses – more free things to do in Melbourne

The National Trust has reciprocal arrangements with other heritage organisations around the world and on my first trip to Australia in 2011 I was advised to bring my membership card.

Phil and I visited The Polly Woodside, The Old Melbourne Gaol, Rippon Lea and Como House and Gardens. properties managed by the National Trust of Victoria.

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Labassa was a short walk from where we were house sitting and had limited opening times (the third Sunday of each month). We turned up on the right day but, because it was Christmas week, it was closed. We did however manage to get a good look around the exterior.

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The National Trust describes Labassa as

one of Victoria’s most lavish 19th Century mansions

yet the approach to the property is via a residential road and is surrounded by housing. The stunning house looks almost out of place. When it was built there was a long sweeping drive, now all this and the surrounding land is residential housing.

At one point this was built in the front garden. When the National Trust acquired Labassa it was demolished.

For a house that in the 60’s and 70’s was occupied by artists and  bohemians it is amazingly well preserved. The occupants knew they were living in a once beautiful house and did their best to preserve it. Those hippies eh, preserving a historic building while everything else got knocked down in the name of progress.

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On the  2015 trip to Melbourne, I made it a priority to visit Labassa when it was open and booked us a slot as soon as I could. Unlike many properties we visited in 2011, when we were often the only guests there, this was busy. As in there were two groups touring the house at the same time. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is filmed here and at other National Trust properties and this has possibly created an interest in the houses. Good.

The tour started with a brief presentation. It was interesting, yet a bit too formal for my liking. The guide was extremely knowledgable. However. I was restless to get to see the house.

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There is still some evidence of the house having been converted to flats and of the hippy occupation.

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Yet the grandeur of the building is still evident.

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If shabby. Which adds to its charm. A lovely place for a wedding.

I love to capture the old patterns. Still inspiring modern tiles yet the design influence of tiles from Morocco are clearly there. Victorian artists brought these back from their Grand Tour I think.

Labassa is worth a visit, so if you live in Melbourne and haven’t been, go. If you are visiting Melbourne, schedule it in. There is also a café there. In true National Trust tradition they did seem to have homemade cake which sadly I didn’t get to taste. Next time then…

The other National Trust property Phil and I visited were The Portable Iron Houses in South Melbourne. They are open on the first Sunday of each month (except January). Again this property was relatively busy, so perhaps the winter is the most likely time for visits to National Trust Properties, or they are marketing them better now.

I still remain baffled at the limited opening times of many of the properties in Victoria. If this were the case in England there would be outrage. Can you imagine if you could only visit Corfe Castle on the third Sunday of each month and Snowshill Manor on the first Sunday? There would be petitions to parliament and placard holding pensioners protesting in Trafalgar Square.

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These iron houses are the original flat pack houses, ordered from a catalogue, to house the migrants moving to Victoria during the goldrush in 1851. Built in England and then shipped to Australia, each component was labelled and put in crates to be re assembled following the instructions that came with them. Just like Ikea furniture. But built to last.

The visit begins with a short film, giving the history of the iron houses and the families that lived in them. There are very few remaining, yet at one point there were over 100 in South Melbourne. Churches were also constructed this way.

Some of the rooms have been made over to represent what they would have looked like, but mostly the buildings have been kept as they were found, with peeling wallpaper and old wiring.

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As this property does not open until 1pm, the perfect plan is to have brunch in South Melbourne (avoid the hipster coffee shops with queues) and have a paleo breakfast or breakfast burger at Bunyip just across from the market. When you pay, please buy a suspended coffee. Sunday brunch in South Melbourne is the thing to do and the street cafes are packed. If this is too hipster for you, jump on the 96 tram from the city toward St Kilda and get off at Mart 96 for brunch there. The South Melbourne tram stop is five minutes walk from both the markets and the houses.

Take time to wander around the streets nearby the Iron Houses. I love the architecture, reflecting the history of this city.

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And stop off for supplies at the market before you head home.

So there you go,  two free days out in Melbourne. Don’t you just love this city?


Note: I regard my National Trust Membership as a charitable donation with a bonus of having access to beautiful and historically interesting properties for free.  It you are not a member the entrance to Labassa is $15 and $6 for the Iron Houses.









The Mornington Peninsula Wine Tour

The Mornington Peninsula is in the top 20 must see places as voted for by The National Geographic in 2015.

Our friends, who we were house sitting for, had given us a list of suggested places to visit and we were gradually working through it. Some were based in central Melbourne, others involved taking tours (when wine is involved this is wise). The Mornington Peninsula was on the list. I did a bit of research on the companies that offered tours here and based on excellent reviews, booked to go on the Mornington Peninsula Wine Tour with Melbourne Coastal Touring. (Now Melbourne Boutique Tours).

After an enjoyable day in the Yarra Valley, on a gourmet food and wine tour, Phil and I were looking forward seeing a different region and sampling the wine and food it had to offer. We were not disappointed.

We were picked up at promptly from St Paul’s, just opposite Federation Square, at around 8 am. Jason, our driver, tour guide and owner of the company, waited while we finished our McDees breakfast (classy I know, but it was an early start) as we did not want to mess up the clean minivan with our trashy breakfast. Although the rest of the group asked where there coffee was. Then it was time to hit the road and we headed out of the city. Jason used the drive time to get to know the group, who we were, where we were from, and gave us a rundown of the itinerary for the day. After a drive of just over an hour, we reached our first stop for the day.

The Colourful Beach Boxes of Mornington

First stop was to see some colourful beach boxes and a stroll along the beach. After an early start and an hours drive on mostly freeways, the opportunity to stretch our legs and wake us up was just what we needed.

This was July 2015 and winter in Melbourne. We were so lucky with the weather.

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Arthurs Seat

As we drove up to the hills from the beach we stopped at Murrays Look Out to admire the views from Arthurs Seat.

2 Macs Farm

We had a quick diversion to 2 Macs Farm as one couple on the tour had requested this stop for a talk about permaculture. This gave us the opportunity for a look around the place.

This is somewhere that I would have liked to have been able to spend more time at. Jason said their Slow Sunday Lunch was renowned in the area. What a shame it wasn’t Sunday.

T’Gallant Vineyard

And so on to the real reason we were here, the wine. (Obligatory picture of vineyard cat included).

First stop was T’ Gallant vineyard. The slightly quirky host had some interesting stories to tell about wine and vineyards.  The one about winning a vintage bottle of wine worth thousands in a raffle, that some eccentric professor had bequeathed to a university in Leicester was a bit far-fetched (and I have not found anything on Google to back up this story) yet she was fun and told us after she did this for fun as she was minted. Yes, that’s what she said.

Phil and I indulged in a couple of bottles to take home to celebrate his upcoming 60th birthday. Then we were off to the next stop, to do some wine and cheese tasting.

Green Olive

Next on the tour was Green Olive for some cheese and wine tasting as their neighbours, the  Main Ridge Dairy that is usually included on this itinerary, were closed for a holiday.

Beautiful setting, lovely creamy cheese and some good wine, and an interesting range of goods in the shop. We chose a bottle from their Kelpie range of wines to take to our friends in Sydney. They liked it.

Montalto Estate

The first thing you notice here is the sculpture collection.Since 2003 they have hosted the Montalto Sculpture Prize, the winning sculpture wins its creator $30,000 and Montalto acquires the work.

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Of course it would be rude not to taste some wine.

As well as cats I am also good at finding Moggies aka vintage Morris Minors. I learned to drive in a car like this….

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Red Hill Epicurean

And so to lunch. Which was excellent. Phil had the Piccantosa pizza cooked in the woodfire oven and I had the gnocchi di pollo washed down with a glass of wine. Lunch is included in the tour. The setting is just lovely, not too formal, in a former warehouse they call The Shed.

There is also a small shop at the front and photos showing what the building looked like in the past and recording the refurbishment to what it is now.

The Epicurean is housed in what was once a warehouse and has an interesting history. It is next door to a hardware store with this painted on the side. Did I say I was a train geek too?

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Red Hill Estate

Our last vineyard of the day. I got one shot of Jason, our brilliant guide for the day, that’s him propping up the bar, not drinking. The group was really bonding by now (that would be the wine then)  we all got on well and had some interesting conversations. Makes the day even better when you have a good group of people to share it with.

There was some interesting artwork, and comfy sofas and more wine.

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The Red Hill Estate had magnificent views of Western Port Bay.

Beautiful setting, but by then even I was a little wine weary. Next stop, chocolate.

Mornington Chocolate

I have included it here as it was part of the tour I was on. After visiting the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie this was underwhelming. The itineraries may vary by season and I expect they also take into account reviews of customers when tweaking the tours. The stop at this chocolate shop is not now on the itinerary. It has now been replaced by a visit to Merricks General Store, which seems much more in keeping with the other venues we visited.

Mock Red Hill

The wine tasting may have finished, yet Jason persuaded us that trying  Mock Red Hill local cider would be a good idea. Well he was driving….

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Me, being the geek that I am was more interested in the old machinery.

And the fire.

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Oh, and the cider. That was good too. Mock Red Hill is a family run Demeter certified Bio-dynamic apple orchard. Had to look what that meant of course. Organic then.

Bio-dynamics is an advanced organic farming method based on the research and teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

And so back to Melbourne

Everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed the day.It was well paced and good value for money. It is a perfect taster day to explore the Mornington Peninsular and made me want to spend more time there. We went in the winter and the weather was perfect. The next day it rained. Would that have spoiled it? No, as most of the places you visit are inside, yet it was lovely to have a stroll in the sunshine on the beach.

About Melbourne Coastal Touring

Melbourne Coastal Touring is a family run business. Jason and Athena, the company owners, have been in the travel industry since 2004. This is what they say on their website.

We started as travel agents in 2004 and were inspired to start our tour company after failing to meet the needs of our clients with the tour product available

Jason was born, raised and still lives on The Mornington Peninsular and you can tell he loves introducing this area to his customers. His commentary during the day was informative and he answered all our questions as only a local, in touch with his community, could. He even showed us where he plays cricket and his old school. That is truly the personal touch.

He was greeted with warmth at all the places we visited, and not just because he was bringing a van load of tourists. I reckon he has the best job, driving around, chatting to his clients and visiting his mates all day.

The customer service is excellent.  It is easy to book on their website and Athena responds swiftly to email enquiries. I would certainly recommend Melbourne Coastal Touring for this tour. I am back in Melbourne in July 2016 and will definitely join them on another tour. Probably Phillip Island to see the penguins.

Disclaimer: I paid for this tour and I was not asked to review it (apart from on Trip Advisor which I now have).


Eating my way around Melbourne – vegetarian and vegan

First off I am not a vegetarian. Don’t think I could be, but every so often I come across really good vegetarian cafes and don’t miss meat at all. And so far my favourites have been in Melbourne.

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The one place I ate at many times in Melbourne was Lentil as Anything. a not for profit organisation. Back in 2011 my husband and I volunteered at Lentil in St Kilda. Enjoyed every moment working there and even ate there on our days off.

St Kilda is one of my favourite places to hang out in Melbourne, as it is near the sea, has my favorite allotment in the world and is a glorious meld of backpackers and the well heeled. Sitting outside Lentil is a great place to people watch.

The other Lentil we also went to was the one at Abbotsford Convent. We spent Christmas Eve here in 2011, happy memories of the Farmers Market, lunch at lentil then listening to the band at the bar around the corner.

This year we took the dogs to the Farmers Market at Abbotsford, which in retrospect wasn’t a good idea. Neither of them like crowded places, so after eating we found a quiet place to sit with the dogs and took it in turns to go around the market.

That said, Mac was so funny, when he saw anyone with food in their hand he sat straight away in front of them and gave them his ‘feed me look’.

The dogs were always a hit at all the cafes we took them to. they came to brunch with us at  by the dog park regularly (on our non veggie days) And Lentil St Kilda was our post beach or Botanic Garden walk visits.

Lentil as Anything has a Pay as you Feel policy. There are no prices on the menu, just suggested donations. If you can’t afford to pay the suggested donation, pay what you can afford, as all donations are anonymous, made via the Magic Box. Also you can pay by giving your time as a volunteer.

The clientele are eclectic, there is a little bit more of the hipster vibe at Abbotsford while it is more backpackers at St Kilda, along with anyone else who goes there for the amazing food. I always remember my last shift as a volunteer when a family donated $80 for their meal (we only knew because he paid by card). The manager had actually keyed in $18 and was shocked when the customer said to him that he was paying $80 not $18. That is how Lentil works.

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The other vegetarian cafe  I visited with Phil was in the city on Swanston Street. Crossways is a Hare Krishna restaurant, a few steps away from Flinders Street Station just past McDonalds.

Seriously why anyone would eat at a fast food place when you can get two courses and a drink for $7.95 or $5.95 for concessions is beyond me.The menu changes daily and there is a lounge area and a yoga studio on the top floor.SAM 4504 1024x576 - Eating my way around Melbourne - vegetarian and vegan


It is basic, you share tables, the portions are generous and you can go back for seconds. Here you are as likely to share a table with an office worker as you are a backpacker.

Melbourne is a food lovers paradise. The markets have amazing food to take home, or take a walk along Lonsdale Street and  you can choose from Burgers, Italian, Greek and South East Asian food within a minute of each other.

The amazing burgers and brunches make me want me to book a ticket to Melbourne right now. Yet for value for money, for the planet, to be part of the community and to give your body a break from all the animal protein go visit Lentil and Crossways . You won’t regret it.