I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

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Where to elope in the Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the best-laid wedding plans, elopements have moved out of the realms of star-crossed lovers (think Romeo & Juliet, Angelina Jolie & Billy Bob Thornton) and into fashion.

So, you need to dodge lockdowns and border closures, and want to get hitched? Here’s where to elope in the Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges.

While you might thing an elopement requires just two people and a celebrant, by law, you do actually have to have two witnesses. And the celebrants I spoke to for this story did tell me tales of weddings being interrupted by park rangers, checking to see if they had the correct paperwork to be married in the public gardens.

If you’re thinking of eloping, check out this piece I wrote for Off-Peak Weddings, which is published by Yarra Ranges Tourism.

Click here to read the full story.


A city sleeps: Melbourne moves into Lockdown #6

Last night, I walked through the heart of Melbourne as we went into our sixth lockdown.

The city’s laneways rang with the sound of shutters going down as the city locked itself up.

It was a pretty crazy time to be editing a guidebook for the city. But there I found myself, sitting in little Shandong Mama Mini, eating its fabulous mackerel dumplings with manager Gin, taking notes and talking optimistically about when New Yorkers are going to roam freely through our little laneways once again…maybe next June.

Walking the darkening streets, I saw a woman at the gates of Gucci, pleading, pleading to make a last purchase before lockdown – only to be turned away by staff. The cash registers are closed, she was told, night is falling and lockdown looms.

The doorman at Society, the hottest new restaurant in town, told me all the late bookings had been shunted into earlier time slots, with diners ushered back onto the streets before the stroke of 8pm.

A cheery Big Issue seller chatted about his business model falling apart: with few office workers and less city dwellers, his magazines remain unsold. But he was fully vaccinated, he told me. Was I?

“These lockdowns are killing us,” said the waiter in Pellegrini where, for the first time in living memory, I could get a seat at the bar and a chat with the black apron clad waiters. Snapping a photo of the luscious cakes of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the glittering Block Arcade – normally a false hope due to the hordes of drooling instagrammers – was but a cinch, and the Royal Arcade remains empty of its traditional shoppers, down on a day trip from the country.

Street cafes were being packed up, outdoor furniture stacked away, kitchen staff clearing the benches, glass of wine in hand. Music played in empty hotel lobbies, with no-one to listen to it.

The streets emptied so completely they could double as a setting for an apocalyptic zombie movie.

Food delivery drivers tore down empty footpaths on their scooters with impunity.

Traffic lights clicked uselessly as an ambulance careened unimpeded through a red light – lights flashing but the sirens silent in the darkening night.


Men getting married: best buck’s parties in the Yarra Ranges

You’d think it was a divergence from travel writing – writing about ideas for buck’s or bachelor parties – but this fun little story let me take a cruise through the Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges.

I found a rum distillery in Belgrave (killik.com.au), discovered a 120-meter flying fox nearby in the Tall Trees Adventures (treesadventure.com.au) and the thing I’m going to do the minute Melbourne is out of Lockdown #5, the O’Shannassy Aqueduct Trail, an easy mountain-bike trail through redwood forests in the Yarra Ranges National Park.

My story on eight great ideas for buck’s parties is in the current edition of Off-Peak Wedding Magazine, produced by Yarra Ranges Tourism – click here to download the free mag.


Reports from locked-down Melbourne

Melbourne is back in lockdown – it’s our fourth lockdown since the beginning of the global pandemic.

On 1 one of our new regime, I had a chat with ABC News Radio in a short segment ambitiously titled, “How to survive a lockdown.”

I might have snorted a little when asked whether photographer Jude van Daalen and I were going to produce a sequel to our book, Together Apart. If it means locking down for another six months, um, no thanks!

Currently, the whole of Victoria is on Stage 4 restrictions, which means working from home, all non-essential shops closed, the ability to travel no further than 5km from your front door and schools closed.

Tune in if you want a little reminder of what’s going on down here in the snap-frozen south – so far, the one-week circuit breaker has been extended for another week, let’s hope it doesn’t continue past that date.

 

The feature photograph on this post is by photographer Jude van Daalen/The Melbourne Portrait Studio, and features in Together Apart: Life in Lockdown. Click here to order your copy.


First look: new Next Hotel Melbourne

Next Hotel Melbourne. I love hotels. I love the time warp that hotels lead us into: suddenly, there’s a different view from the window, my toiletries all smell more exotic, I have far better bed linen.

It’s bizarre to think that, in the midst of a global pandemic, hotels would still be opening. But life still goes on, and here in Australia, we’re luckier than most.

Recently, I embraced the call to arms to #letsMelbourneAgain, and took a staycation in my own city, Melbourne.

The sparkling, new Next Hotel Melbourne is located in the hottest piece of real estate in town, 80 Collins Street, “up the Paris end of Collins St,” as we say. Not just because that’s where all the boutiques are (Dior, Chanel, Vuitton etc), but also because that’s where you’ll find a lot of the glamorous, turn-of-the-century architecture built with the flush of gold-rush money. In between the ornate street lights and those funny old-fashioned bathrooms that were built beneath the pavements, rise the glossiest skyscrapers – all cunning angles and unexpected entrances.

Compressed tomato

Compressed tomato in white soy stuffed with stracciatella with basil. Photo supplied.

The entrance to Next is next-level discreet. Entered from Little Collins Street, you’ll first see Ingresso, a little coffee and Campari bar, with little fixed stools inside and out, for a touch of laneway chic. (Ingresso means ‘entrance’ – see what they did there?)

The Clef d’Or concierge at the door is a hint of things to come – the hotel is embedded in the DNA of the CBD (if you fancy a few acronyms), with a restaurant and cocktail bar worthy of a visit in their own right, not just as accoutrements to your guest room.  Sicily meets Hong Kong as chefs Daniel Natoli and Adrian Li rule La Madonna, which set the pace with a fabulous compressed tomato with white soy, stracciatella and basil entree, and ended admirably with a cannoli spiked with Fernet-Branca bitters and pistachio.

Follow me to the bedroom: firstly, there are 255 of them, each looking out to a cityscape, be it a cafe-filled laneway you never knew existed, or bigger views across the tops of skyscrapers. From my eyrie, I spy champagne bars, Mexican restaurants, jewellers and designer sneaker shops all tucked into the angled architecture of the 80 Collins St precinct.

Back in the room, toiletries are supplied by Melbourne brand Hunter – the body wash blends grapefruit, tangerine peel and rum, for a spicy scent, and the hairdryers are top-of-the-line Dyson which cost more than a room night, for top marks in the bathroom. There’s also a Bose sound system, if you’re going to order a cocktail made with the hotel’s own barrel-aged spirits. Otherwise, pull a stool up at the bar for a romp through Negroni nirvana, and listen to Phil, the Master of Spirits, wax lyrical about the spirit world.

Next Hotel Melbourne guestroom. Photo supplied.

The next morning, I did pop into the gym for a little stretch, but really, the whole point is to hit the city streets again. So an early jog down quiet Little Collins is an easy heartstarter, and will make you feel better about ordering the black pudding for breakfast (chef Adrian’s special recommendation).

What it is not: it’s not splashy. You won’t find here is a signature rooftop pool or a pair of neon angel wings in which to photograph yourself in front of.

What it is: tricky to find, with a dark and moody palette and serious food and drink credentials – Next fits this city like a glove.

From $289 a night. 103 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, nexthotelmelbourne.com


In the pink: nine of Australia’s best pink lakes

What’s hot right now? Pink gin. Pink salt. Pink hair. Pink lakes. Yep, pink lakes, of which Australia has plenty.

From champagne to candy, with rose and bubblegum in between, is it any wonder we love them? The natural phenomenon occurs only with the right balance of salt, sun and some hardworking micro-organisms.

In this piece, I rounded up nine lovely pink lakes around Australia with the hottest hues, for your pink perusal. Some, like the pink lake that occasionally lives beneath Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge, are easy to find. Others, such as Western Australia’s Lake Hillier, are our most iconic, but also the hardest to reach.

Click here to read my story in Traveller about nine of Australia’s best pink lakes.


Roadtripping on the Anti-Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

Do you remember what the Great Ocean Road was, pre-COVID? Bumper-to-bumper cars ogling the 12 (or so) Apostles, the crashing surf and the koalas.

You can rail against the international travel ban (and god knows, we’ve all suffered as a result of it), or you can look for the rainbows: no more foreign tourists bogging up the scenic spots, we’ve got it all for ourselves.

Alternatively, you could try what I’ve dubbed the Anti-Great-Ocean-Road, the Hamilton Highway, which runs from Melbourne to the pearl of the Road, Port Fairy. Green fields, stone walls, historic pubs and a great dollop of indigenous and Irish history.

I wrote a piece for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, take a look here for some Victorian travel love.

 


Rise of the phoenix: Melbourne in lockdown

It’s been a tough week for us Melburnians. Banned from every other state, curfews from 8pm, corralled to just 5km from our homes. This week, the city has been divided between sadness and anger. Friends have sobbed – in privacy or in public – mourning the loss of their former lives, while others – me included – are hot balls of rage at the stupidity of a few who have refused to listen to our doctors telling us to stop mingling, or more people will die.

I wrote this piece because I’m oddly patriotic about this city, because I need to voice how gutted I am about these restrictions on our lives, and also to reinforce my belief that they’re necessary to preserve our people. I also I know we’ll come out of this stronger, and that we will find unexpected reserves of creativity and beauty, that we will ensnare those dreams and ideas that, in our usual frantic lives, dance on the fringes of our peripheral vision, forgotten in the grind of the commute and clock punching.

—–

Once upon a time, Melbourne was a dag. You may love our laneways, live music, literature and lavish tables, but this town’s definitely been shabby around the edges in its past.

Born in Melbourne to parents who later fled north for the warmth of the tropics, my return visits to Melbourne as a child were nothing short of Alice arriving in a multicultural wonderland. Traipsing behind my gruff great-aunt, in her fur-lined coat perfumed with Alpine menthol cigarettes, she’d let me purchase our tickets from the (quite frankly, terrifying) conductor on the tram into the city, where we’d walk Swanston Street.

We’d slow down past the delights of the Arthur Daley-styled London con man selling kangaroo-shaped opal necklaces on the way to the Coles Cafeteria on Bourke Street. Six floors up in a lift! She’d treat me to braised steak and onions, and dessert I didn’t have to share with a sibling. Walking through the city, I’d smell the rich scent of Greek souvlaki, taste lemony Italian gelato, hear sales pitches called in heavily accented English at the Queen Vic and South Melbourne fruit markets, where freshly skinned rabbits hung beside salamis of obscene lengths.

Later, I would wash my hands in the water wall and stare up into the looming interiors of the NGV, pausing especially for Tom Roberts’ and Frederick McCubbin’s Australian idylls painted in the wilderness of Box Hill nearly a century before I was born there.

What my great-aunt didn’t dwell on were the wee-washed laneways or the abandoned factories whose brick walls we’d hit our tennis balls against for hours, the rough band rooms with beer-washed floors and a mullet-topped clientele, and a railway depot in the city’s centre.

The city weathered the scorn poured on it from its northern rival, the Emerald City, with its greed-is-good suits and aerobics classes in front of the Opera House. Truth be told, Sydney just did a far better PR job on itself in the 80s and 90s, with its waterfront beauty, money worship and bicentennial bluster.

In retaliation, the Melbourne scene crawled out from its underground lair and laid itself bare to the world. Cheap rents, laid-back laws and low expectations fuelled the spawning of tiny specialist cafes, the 10-person bars, the curious design shops, the wee art spaces wedged into street corners.  It’s a truism that if you walk down a darkened lane in Sydney, you expect to be mugged. Walk down a darkened lane in Melbourne and find…the hottest bar that everyone’s talking about: if you can’t find it, it must be sensational.

Those lanes, places and arcades are empty right now, as we push through what fees like a never-ending lockdown.

But we’re a resilient people, an artistic people. We know our talents and if we can flip from a backwater to become internationally renowned for our food, music, art and literature, then we’ll flip again from this virus. We’ll write, we’ll paint, we’ll act and we’ll sing. And we’ll do it all bloody well, because that’s what we’re good at.

I’ve written this piece as much for myself as for my fellow Melburnians in the face of rising coronavirus numbers, locked borders, closed airports and nasty memes. There have been tears, there have been rages, but there’s also been rationality and there is also hope.

I’ll see you under the clocks again soon.


Together Apart: life in self-isolation

We have a cover!

Finally,  I’m ready to start talking about the project (and the person) that has kept me a little bit sane in this whole COVID catastrophe.

Way back in March, my neighbour Jude at The Melbourne Portrait Studio and I were gasbagging over the back fence about her idea of photographing people’s lives in self-isolation.

I offered to look over the stories that her subjects were sending in to accompany their portraits, and now it’s become a book, a brand and a firm friendship.

We have a cover, a printer and a website for pre-sales (www.vanjude.com) for this wholly Melbourne project, of which I am so proud.  Check it out, perhaps even order a copy?

And you can check Jude’s work out here @themelbourneportraitstudio


State of escape: busting out for the goodness of Gippsland, Australia

Victoria, can you feel the chains falling from your shoulders? We are free! Well, we are almost free.

As of Monday June 1, we can now do sleepovers, which means it’s time to hit the road again and start exploring! I’ve got plans to poke around central Victoria and returning to my old hunting ground in Gippsland – the vast region that covers most of the east of the state.

I and am a huge fan of its pocket-sized villages and their little secrets: gin distillers in century-old buildings, little cafes selling locally made cheeses and smallgoods, a green field garnished with a few luxuriously fitted Bell tents, overlooking the wild seas that separate mainland Australia from Tasmania.

Have I sold you yet?

Hot off the presses, Eat. Drink Gippsland sees food writer Richard Cornish share all his detailed knowledge of the foodie spots in the region (pack an esky in the car boot), you can grab a copy while pootling around, or download it here.

Check out whale trails, truffle hunts, empty beaches and the best views of rolling green hills on Visit Gippsland’s website. It also has some great driving itineraries, for the forward planners out there. we

 

www.lochbrewery.com.au

theinverlochglampingco.com.au

www.moosatmeeniyan.com.au


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