01 September 2014

The Grand Aussie Tour

With some (okay, a lot) of time on our hands, Ed and I thought we would take a not-so-short trip to unwind, recharge and reflect. We contemplated numerous options - we ruled out Europe since we'll be heading in that direction next year for some work; we considered Alaska but got freaked out when we read that we'd have difficulty booking accommodation and especially renting a car if we hadn't already done so at least three months in advance; and we would have done a Grand South-East Asia trip if our friends did not remind us that we could always visit various parts of our neighbouring countries over many short trips given how accessible they were from Singapore. 

After much contemplation, and fighting our inner desire to go to the less travelled path, we chose Australia. Neither of us had been there much in our adult years. We thought we had plenty of time, but it turns out the two months was just enough to scrape the surface of the huge and beautiful country. We went there with certain expectations but had them surpassed and lapped, and achieved more than what we thought we would.

There are plenty of guide books and internet resources for places to spend the night in, things to see and food to eat in Australia. We found ourselves visiting Urbanspoon very often when deciding where to eat (nearby) for crowd-sourced reviews and ratings, and were recommended Beanhunter for the coffee-joint equivalent. They gave more up-to-date information such as the opening/closing hours or whether the standard of the food dropped. 

There were still a few things that really stood out to us. These were places we would certain return to in future when we visit Australia again. 

Perth - City

Eat: The Mushroom Pesto Papardelle at Cantina 663 (663 Beaufort Street) was sublime. It was packed full of flavour from the generous serving of mushrooms and pesto, which had plenty of flat-leaf parsley (one of my favourite herbs). I licked the plate clean. It helped that the restaurant had a really cool, laid-back vibe. We saw lots of pate going to other tables, which we would probably have ordered if the portion was not so gigantic. But what a happy problem.

Adelaide - Kangaroo Island and Barossa Valley

Clockwise from top left: Koala at Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Snake skin and Kookaburra at Radical Raptors, and Seals at Seal Bay Conservation Park

See: Kangaroo Island isn't teaming with kangaroos but there are plenty of wildlife to occupy your time. Just a short 45 minute ferry ride away from a jetty south of the city, it was definitely worth a journey down. 

Eat: There's something particularly gamey about the pork in Australia that made us avoid it. But when we were told that the pork belly at Cafe Y (Barossa Valley) was wood-fired and cooked over two days, Ed was intrigued and ordered it. I'm so glad he did because it was divinely tender with a delicately sweet glaze, and none of that gaminess. The manager, Elias, was also beyond hospitable and entertained us with stories of the resident geese and chicken. He also recommended getting some of the 20 year-old muscat from the Yaldara Estate just next door. We couldn't be happier with our purchase.

Melbourne - Phillip Island

See and Eat: Having had very little luck in previous fishing trips, we were slightly hesitant about going fishing for trout albeit at a farm (Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm). But they couldn't have made it easier with their indoor pond. We succumbed to the indoor experience after braving the winds (since this was in winter) for about half an hour with nary a bite. They helped with everything, even casting the line which was easier said than done. We couldn't even hook the live bait of earthworms! Overall, the experience was seamless, and the fish tasted incredibly sweet. But I couldn't help thinking how unlucky those two specific trout were that morning. 

Tasmania - Hobart and Launceston

Eat: On our first night in Tasmania, we decided to treat ourselves to a meal at Garagistes. We were incredibly fortunate to have entered early as the restaurant was almost fully booked. Sitting at the bar, we had a great view of the entire food preparation area. We could fully appreciate the precision required in the plating of each dish, and the effort put into ensuring the flavour of each component of the dish was exactly as intended. The service staff were also particularly attentive and hospitable.

See: The photo says it all. Just a short car ride away from the town, a breathtaking view awaits. If you're lucky, you may even see snow!

Stay: Relbia Lodge was a lucky find. While we usually stayed in the heart of town, I decided to take a risk with Relbia Lodge after seeing the stunning photos on their website. It turned out to be just a relaxing 15 minute relaxing drive away from town and a really stunning piece of property. The interior was very tastefully done and more importantly, had an incredibly well-equipped kitchenette. Our hosts, who stayed just up the road, also made sure we were comfortable while still respecting our privacy. 


See: The Queen Victoria Building (QVB) is hard to miss amidst all the tall and cold buildings. It was such a great respite from the noise and rush of the streets; and a treasure trove of cafes and boutiques to browse at your own pace. The detail in the architecture is also worth a few moments of awe.  

Eat: With an incredibly high rating on Urbanspoon, and just a hop and a skip away from where we stayed, Buffalo Dining Club was an easy decision to make. We ordered their gnocchi and cacio e pepe. Both were flawless and left us both full but wanting more. This was definitely a place I would return to, despite the slightly curt service. 
We definitely enjoyed our time in Australia thoroughly, but after two months away from home and our two lovely cats, we were eager to stop living out of a luggage. And now we're home, and I could not be happier.  

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