Roads to leisure

OZ getaway

Roads to leisure

The winding roads take me on a nostalgic trip to a journey that is over two decades old. I was just a gawky teenager then, flying overseas for the first time from India. It was the shores of Victoria in Australia that had beckoned me.

Sitting in the open gallery, shivering in the cold, listening to the sound of the waves in silence and watching the stars gazing down at me, I was as excited as a kid in a candy store. I was then with a group of other tourists in Phillip Island, near Melbourne, and all our eyes were glued to the sea. And then it arrived, the moment we were all waiting for. From the waves emerged a handful of tiny penguins, aptly titled the Fairy Penguins, waddling away in their little fur coat, pausing by the shores to catch their breath, before wandering into the bushes. They were followed by huge colonies that came in batches. It was a moment I could never forget.

That was then... this is now

Twenty years later, I am on my way again  to Phillip Island with my travel companion, Maree Martin, to meet these little fairies. “Would you like another strawberry?” she asks, thrusting an entire packet of fresh strawberries. I am, however, lost in the scenery in front of me — turquoise waters filled with pelicans. Maree and I are exploring Victoria beyond Melbourne. On the agenda are Phillip Island, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley.

My itinerary reads cruises and beaches, chocolates and wine, strawberries and cheese, ciders and gins.

“There is more to Phillip Island than just penguins,” remarks Maree, and I see a handsome horse and a mare of the Clydesdale breed greeting me at the entrance of Churchill Farm.
Loud geese wander around. The Highland cattle are grazing and the sheep are all set for a new haircut. Churchill Island is our first halt as we stop by to eat a sumptuous salad, with local produce served straight from the farm. The farm gives you a glimpse of the agrarian life of the old Victorians, while time stands still here. Petite cottages, antique furniture, pretty gardens create picture postcards. We saunter around, lost in the quaint world, as the windmills lazily move to the tune of the breeze.

Life lessons

If you want to appreciate a languid lifestyle, then you must look at the koalas for inspiration. They are not just the epitome of cuteness, but they glorify laziness. Walking around the Koala Conservation  Centre with naturalists, Maree and I are on a koala-spotting spree as they sleep snugly, clinging to the branches of the trees. “They sleep for almost 20 hours a day,” says one of the naturalists. As he says it, one of them wakes up and looks at us a bit dazed, and then goes back to sleep.

We continue driving and I see a wallaby posing for us in the grasslands. The sun is almost calling it a day,  and that is our cue to head to the Penguin Parade. There are several viewing platforms,  and I choose the one that is enclosed, where we can get a close-up of these penguins as they totter towards us. Their tiny bodies are bathed by the oceans as they emerge from it, waddling around in groups and looking for their homes in the burrows by the bushes. I watch them silently, in complete awe,  and my memories take me back to my first ever international trip.

As morning dawns, Maree and I are back on the road. We are now headed to Mornington Peninsula. The sea is a constant companion, but am fascinated by the colourful beach cabins, looking like pretty boxes arranged on the beaches. Maree tells me that these are iconic in a way, and I laze around, talking to some of the people who own these pretty cabins. As we drive, we are surrounded by lush green fields, mostly strawberry farms. It’s a bright sunny day and the birds beckon me while Maree and I work very hard picking the ripe strawberries and wolfing them down. And then we reward ourselves with some wine tasting. I’m feeling very heady after sipping glasses of home- made strawberry and raspberry wines.

Mornington Peninsula, I realise, is for those who love to take life easy and slow. Yet, if you like a dash of adventure, you could go to vineyards on horsebacks and try some wines there as well, or climb cliffs, or enjoy some water sports.

We, however, decide to go on a cruise to look for dolphins, fur seals and marine birds. A group of Japanese students are on board and they squeal with joy as we sight dolphins playing in the waters. The sea is a gorgeous blue and the craggy cliffs with jagged outlines surround us. The adventurous are attempting to walk along the cliffs, while the birdwatcher in me is content to laze in my little dinghy, spotting colonies of gannets.

We are back on the road again. The vineyards in Yarra Valley call. A heady cocktail of tasting sessions greet me — besides wine, there is beer, cider and even gin. Sitting in the green environs of Melba Estate in Coome Valley, I am sipping gourmet wine and listening to the story of how the dessert peach melba was first introduced to the world. Home to the diva and opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, it is believed that her friend and famous French chef Escoffier created the recipe of peach melba in her honour, and hence the name.

We walk around in the gardens, feel like Alice slipping through a rabbit hole, and let time pass us by. Maree and I are in a mood for cheese and chocolates. So we stop by at a cheesery and a chocolate factory before heading to another farm filled with peaches and berries.
Finally, it is time to leave this idyllic world and head to the big bustling city. For one last moment, we drive once more to the beaches, just to listen to the roaring waves and feel the breeze in our faces. Sitting there I remember Lord Byron’s words:

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,   There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar...”

FACT FILE Singapore Airlines is one of the recommended airlines to reach Melbourne.
Phillip Island is located 140 km from Melbourne, while Mornington Peninsula is about 76 km, and you can club the destinations if you are planning a short getaway from the city.
Yarra Valley is about 60 km away from the city.

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