Three Weeks in Australia

By Natalia Ketaren

image1The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia. Photo credit: Natalia Ketaren

After almost three years of being away, I was returning home for a summer Christmas. The last time I visited, my days were spent lazing in parks and beaches along Port Phillip Bay, dinners at trendy Melbourne joints with balconies where we could smoke and drink and of course, I did plenty of shopping. Coming home was all about catching up with friends and family, just… hanging out. However, this trip would be different. My American boyfriend was coming with me and he had never been to Oz. So this time around, it was fewer everyday indulgences and more sightseeing. Here’s a little of what we did and saw.

Week 1 Victoria

Melbourne is the most populous city in the State of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia, behind Sydney. Melbourne is Australia’s business epicenter. It’s the fashion capital and the music capital of Australia. It is a sporting city, home to major tennis tournaments, the home of cricket Australia and the birthplace of Australian Rules football. Australia was declared a Federation under a tree in Melbourne’s botanical gardens. Five of the country’s most prestigious universities are located here, not to mention numerous others. Thus, it’s not surprising that the birthplace of Gough Whitlam carries a great worth in Australia and its citizens harbor abundant city pride. Whenever I visit my hometown, here are a few things I reacquaint myself with:

Food and Drink

Melbourne is known for its rich food culture, thanks to years of global immigration. My staples every time I visit are:

A good parma at Mrs. Parmas on Lt. Bourke Street or the Leveson Hotel in North Melbourne. Pho on Victoria Street, just after Hoddle Street in Richmond. It doesn’t really matter where you go, this street is lined with Vietnamese restaurants and you’re sure to get good pho and spring rolls when you’re here. Crispy pork at China bar near the corner of Exhibition Street. A souvlaki and chunky fries cooked in olive oil at Stalactites on Exhibition Street. Pizza at D.O.C pizza on the corner of Drummond and Faraday Street serves authentic Roman style pizza. Fish and chips down Acland Street in St. Kilda. Be sure to go to the shop closer to the Barkly Street end. Chips with gravy, dim sum, chunky spring rolls and potato cakes, available at Charcoal chicken chain stores all over Melbourne and coffee.

Coffee is a Melbourne institution, which serves some of the best coffee in Australia. The city is packed with little lane ways strewn with cafes and coffee houses, serving alongside coffee and tea, amazing desserts and delicious sausage rolls and meat pies.

Melbourne nightlife is forever changing. Drinks in Australia are expensive, where, on average, it’s $10/pint of beer and $20/cocktail. No tips required in the service industry, but the going is still quite dear. Rooftop bars in Melbourne can be quite fun. Our go to on the trip is Rooftop Bar on Swanston Street in the city center. They do very nice Pimm’s cups and champagne cocktails in the summertime.


Melbourne is home to some amazing local designers. I always venture down Brunswick Street, Gertrude Street and Smith Street, in the neighborhoods of Collingwood and Fitzroy where many local designers and vintage wares can be found. Flinders Lane and the little arcades off Flinders Ln, in the city are also home to some great shopping.

Yarra Valley Wine Region

Taking a trip down the Yarra valley wine region is a favorite pastime of mine. The grounds of the larger estates such as TarraWarra, Chandon and Dominic Portet are breathtaking and I always pick up a nice Sauvignon, Rose and of course Reserve Shiraz when I’m down here. I recommend renting a car or taking a tour when exploring this region.

Ferntree Gully and The Dandenong Ranges

The Australian bush is a beautiful wonder. The air smells of eucalyptus and the sounds of native wildlife provide an amazing soundtrack to a day hike or walk through the bush land. You might even spot a few kangaroos or wallabies amongst the rich native flora. Birdlife is abundant when walking through these parts, spreading their colors across the backdrop of dense gum trees.

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is a breathtaking, scenic drive along the southwestern coastline of Victoria. The Road begins at the famous Torquay beach and winds its way across some of the most picturesque coastline in Southern Australia. You travel right along the cliff at times and then all of a sudden are surrounded by silvery eucalyptus trees. We saw a few native fauna along the way: a sleepy koala plonked in the center of the road, some curious wallabies and a light-footed echidna trotting across the road. A lot of the beaches that dot the coastline are made famous by Australia’s surfing culture. At times the ocean can be too rough or too cold to swim. But just looking out onto the turquoise waters is enough to fill your senses with the beauty and wonder of the Victorian coast. The end point of this drive, in Port Campbell National Park, is two of the most breathtaking sites in Southern Australia. The first of the two is The Gibson Steps. The steps are a set of stairs along the cliff-wall that take you down to the stretch of beach at the base of the cliffs. Once you reach the beach, you feel the full force of the wind and hear the roar of the waves crashing and smashing about. It’s a frightening yet exhilarating experience. The views are magical. Two limestone rock formations sit a short distance from the shoreline amongst the blue-green waves. Their size and the glow of the limestone is heart-stopping. We could have stayed for hours. A few minutes’ drive from the Gibson Steps is the crown of the Great Ocean Road, the Twelve Apostles, limestone rock formations that jut away from the jagged coastline and rest in the ocean. There aren’t 12 apostles. Years of erosion have seen many fall, but several still stand and the view from the numerous vantage points stretching along the cliff-face are wondrous.

The drive along the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles is about five hours from Melbourne. We made a journey of it, stopping at a few beach towns and national parks along the way. The lighthouse at Cape Otway is a nice stop and so is Erskine Falls in Lorne. We chose to camp as we travelled and campsites are abundant. The app WikiCamps Australia was an invaluable tool, as we booked no campsites in advance. Camping in Australia in the summertime is expensive. It can be about sixty dollars per day for an unpowered site.

Weeks 2 & 3 – Sydney to Melbourne

When you’re visiting the Eastern board of Australia for the first time, your visit would be lacking if you didn’t visit Sydney. Arriving early morning in Sydney, we were still quite jetlagged. By the time we made it to the hotel, we accidentally slept till late into the afternoon. We spent one night in Sydney city, one night in Bondi and then a couple of nights with an old friend of mine in Stanmore before we made the long drive back to Melbourne. Here’s a little of what we saw and did.

Circular Quay

Circular Quay is the postcard shot of Australia. Facing the harbour, to your right, you have the majestic Sydney Opera House, and to your left you have the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Ferry terminals sit at the base of the harbour, where you can take a ferry to many different coastal points in Sydney’s outer suburbs. The hype is real. The Opera House and the Bridge are truly beautiful works of architecture.

Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk

The famous Bondi beach. The water is a perfect turquoise and the water is warm. The waves were rather choppy, but it was still fun being tossed about. The neighborhood of Bondi is super trendy, especially North Bondi and the people are from all across the globe. Aside from sitting on the beach and swimming, we decided to do the Bondi to Coogee walk. The walk begins at Bondi beach, and we walked along the coastline crossing beautiful rock formations, a cliff-side cemetery, and numerous smaller, equally beautiful beaches to Bondi. It was a great way to spend a day and we were thankful to carry plenty of sunscreen to combat the harsh Australian sun.

Manly and Pebbly Beach

Taking a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly beach is a great way to view circular quay. You get views, right from the bay, of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The beautiful beach was packed to the brim with beachgoers, but the waves that day were quite large and unforgiving. On advice from my Sydney-dwelling friends, we skipped the hustle and bustle of Manly beach, and walked a short distance to Pebbly beach. As the name suggests, the beach is covered in pebbles. The water was gentle and crystal clear that day. You could even see the fish swimming amongst the rocks and seaweed. Pebbly beach was one of my favorite swimming holes on the trip.

Sydney to Melbourne

With New Year commitments in Melbourne approaching, it was time to make our way back South. We decided to rent a car and drive back along the New South Wales (NSW) coast. We had a day and a half to accomplish this feat and the non-stop drive was estimated to take 12 hours. Once we had driven out of Sydney, we crossed many picturesque beach towns. One such town was Durras, just north of Bateman’s Bay. South Durras beach was one of the most beautiful beaches on the trip. The waves collapse into a stream of bubbles at the shoreline. The glistening blue-green water laps gently at your body as you walk into the surf. The water was so clear that you could see the movement of sand at your feet even as you went deeper into the water. As we continued on, we travelled through beautiful bush land. The bush land was so dense, the smell of eucalyptus filled the car. We travelled through beautifully farmed land, the cheese region of NSW and by nightfall we had reached the state line of Victoria. After almost 14 hours on the road we decided to set up camp in the town of Orbost, a snowy river town in far Eastern Victoria. This is where WikiCamps came to the rescue; without it, it would have been much more troublesome finding a campsite in the tiny town at 11 pm. At our campsite, we fell asleep under a giant eucalyptus tree to the sound of the wind and bush life. The following day, in less than three hours we were back in Melbourne and our last few days were spent with friends and family. There was so much more I wanted to see and do. There is never enough time. But what we saw and experienced in the three weeks there was enough to carry us through until our next visit to Oz. Whenever that may be.

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