The Australian Garden

The Australian Garden, situated in Cranbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, must be one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets. It’s a long way away from the CBD and I wouldn’t think that it’s on the radar of most tourists, unless they come on some kind of organised garden-oriented tour. As for me, I’ve been driving past it pretty much every year on the way to Phillip Island, thinking that we should really make an effort to see it one day. After finally visiting last year, we were impressed enough to come back for another stroll.

The Australian Garden is all about celebrating the native Australian plants and landscapes, with plenty of photo opportunities. It doesn’t waste time and sets out to impress just as you walk in, with its most spectacular Red Sand Garden. Just like the last time, I wished I had a jet pack to get an aerial view of this stunning spot.

This is no pretty manicured garden, but it blends nature, art and architecture in its own unique and beautiful way, with exhibition gardens, waterways and imaginative displays inspired by the natural cycles. It was wonderful to visit again on a Sunday morning, before it became too hot and crowded.

Hampton Beach 2 Brighton Beach

Six Melbourne lockdowns later, there’s finally a cautious hope that The Most Locked Down City in the World is putting those times behind it. So to mark the occasion of eased restrictions, I thought I’d do a photo tribute to my favourite beach walk that helped me keep my sanity in 2020 and 2021.

If there’s any silver lining to the Covid era, it’s the fact that it got me walking outside in almost any weather, on an almost daily basis. There are a few nice parks and green areas around where I live, but nothing has done more for my mental health during lockdown than a brisk walk by the beach, and a chance to look out on that infinite horizon, breathe in the salty air and feel less boxed in. I loved watching the beach change from day to day, and couldn’t resist taking photos.

One of the most pleasant things about this walk is getting rewarded with a view of the city and the famous colourful Brighton Beach cabins from the top of a small hill; on occasions I would extend the walk and check them out.

South Australia – Kangaroo Island

I’ve been to Kangaroo Island almost ten years ago, and in the meantime I forgot just how enormous it really is. Once we got off the ferry, it came as a shock to realise that it would take us about an hour and a half to get to the Flinders Chase National Park on the other end of the island. You also have to plan your meals carefully, as you very well may be stuck an hour’s drive away from the nearest cafe with a growling stomach.

The drive is worth it though, since Kangaroo Island is home to some of the most amazing landmarks in Australia. The absolute star attraction is Remarkable Rocks, a group of giant granite boulders that look like abstract sculptures artfully scattered by nature atop the granite base. I was prepared to enjoy them rain or shine, but the day’s random weather played into our hands; the minute we got to the rocks the showers cleared and the orange lichen looked even more stunning against the blue sky.

In the late afternoon, we just made it to a guided tour of the Seal Bay, where you can see the Australian fur seals. We were lucky to catch them during the season when young seal pups frolic around excitedly and annoy the grown-ups who just want to have a nap.

The next day, we headed to Little Sahara, which is exactly what the name suggests: a mini sand dune area about two square kilometres in size. More active travellers go there for sandboarding, but we were content to just go for a stroll.

South Australia – Barossa Valley and Hahndorf

Mum and I spent three days in South Australia, and as always we managed to pack a lot into the long weekend at our disposal. Though I still didn’t get a proper look at Adelaide, I at least managed to see more of the city than the time I flew in for a U2 concert years ago, when I pretty much only saw the airport, the stadium, and the interior of the all-night internet cafe. I wouldn’t mind coming back for a third time and exploring it better.

After a brief stop at the Glenelg Beach, we spent time driving around Barossa Valley, stopping at a couple of wineries.

Then we drove to Hahndorf, an obscenely picturesque and quaint small town originally founded by German Lutheran settlers in 1839. It was packed with tourists, but as the day was drawing to a close the streets got a bit more nice and quiet. The main tree-lined street, with old sandstone architecture and flowers everywhere, is very pretty. Of course we just had to have German sausages and sauerkraut for dinner, topped with non-alcoholic beer.

Sydney – Vivid Festival

Sydney is always great to visit, and this time I got to attend the annual Vivid Festival, when Sydney is illuminated by some amazing light shows. We were also lucky to catch the Archibald Prize portrait exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, spend some time at the Manly Beach, and enjoy some great food. I tried non-alcoholic beer for the first time, which was surprisingly nice (real beer still gets a no from me though).