Melbourne and a li’l more

An exhibition at Federation Square, a walk down the vivid Hosier Lane, or a sip of Australia’s best wine in the Yarra Valley… Rishad Saam Mehta lists some of the most memorable experiences of this vibrant region

My body clock is ticking in synchronisation with a land 8,000 km from India. The clock on my bedside table shows 11.30 am but according to my wristwatch, it’s still 6 am in India. I am in the stunning Yarra Valley in the state of Victoria, Australia, and the last few hours here have been amazing.

My journey began from Melbourne, the capital of Victoria. The vibrance of the city had dissolved my travel weariness and infused instead a desire to satiate the tourist in me.

Having grown up watching Bollywood movies, my first stop was the Webb Bridge, where a song from the Hindi movie Salaam Namaste was shot. It is one of the many public artworks that dot the cityscape and, when illuminated at night, it is a stunning sight. I walked past the historic Sandridge Bridge, admiring the art installations en route to Flinders Street Railway Station, one of Melbourne’s iconic structures.

Federation Square, a melting pot of the country’s most impressive art shows and cultural events, was next. Surrounded by an array of restaurants and home to The Ian Potter Centre: NGV (National Gallery Victoria) Australia, the area is undoubtedly one of the city’s most visited places.

Once here, you should not miss Hosier Lane to admire the street art that has made the Melbourne urban art scene famous across the globe. Take in the dizzying array of colours, characters and shapes created by local and international artists alike.

After an eventful day in the city, I took an hour’s drive down the Eastern Freeway, following the Yarra river to the Yarra Valley – which is a part of Melbourne – stopping along the way to capture breathtaking views of rolling hills and sloping vineyards. The valley derives its name from the river that runs through it. And a must-do here is a hot air balloon ride over the valley. The next day’s dawn saw me riding a hot air balloon 2,000 feet up in the air. Below me, illuminated by the hue of the rising sun, were immaculately planted vineyards, fields where cattle blissfully grazed and streams that looked like silver ribbons from the sky. With over 80 wineries, ranging from family-owned operations to large estates, the valley is renowned for producing Australia’s finest Pinot Noir and sparkling wine, along with a range of other cool-climate wines. After breakfast, I spent a couple of hours visiting some of the valley’s vineyards to see how premium wine is made and even tasted maturing wines straight from the barrel!

The region is more than just wine and beer, however, and I realised this at the Healesville Sanctuary, where I met cuddly koalas, playful kangaroos and majestic birds of prey. The sanctuary is home to the Australian Wildlife Centre and is also an important training centre for wildlife veterinarians. My love for wildlife took me to the Dandenong Ranges National Park, where I heard the call of the endangered crested bellbird. On rare days, one can even catch a glimpse of the lyrebird either in the fern gullies or the misty mountain ash forests of the national park.

The Yarra Valley also boasts some of Melbourne’s greatest gardens. It was a treat to explore the Alowyn Gardens, home to a magnificent 100-m-long wisteria and rose-covered arbor. Close by, the Blue Lotus Water Garden draws hundreds of visitors, who come to see Australia’s biggest water lily – the giant Amazon lily. I retired for the night to the tunes of native Australian music, emanating from somewhere in the valley, awaiting the adventures I would embark upon the following day.

The next day began with a scenic trail that took me from Chum Creek to Toolangi. As I made my way through the native gum trees and fern-filledpaths, I was told that this is one of the most visually impressive climbs the area offers. Tourists can also opt for one of the several extensive networks of bushwalking and cycling trails.

The beauty of the region’s changing seasons has inspired many of Australia’s early landscape painters, and the Yarra Valley is today home to Australia’s oldest artists’ colony. I spent the afternoon at the Healesville Glass Blowing Studio, watching glass artists Tim Basset and Tali Dalton create sculptures such as a horse, vase and snake from blown glass. I then wandered through the exhibits at the TarraWarra Museum of Art in the TarraWarra Estate (famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), boasting an impressive collection of Australian art from the 1950s to the present day. The museum’s founders, philanthropists Eva and Marc Besen AO , were kind enough to show me some of the many works by significant local artists who have been instrumental in the development of modern art in the country. The rest of my day was spent amid local artisans, who displayed their work in their nooks. They told me stories of the valley and of the colours that inspire them.

That night, as I packed for my return to Melbourne, I realised how the city has so many facets – from bustling urban neighbourhoods to serene nature trails. I was taking back not just the souvenirs I had picked up, but also the joy of experiencing a vibrant land full of life, colours, history and some of the best-crafted wine I have had.

With inputs from

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