It's been too long since I was last in Melbourne. I'm loving being back to check out things like the World's Longest Lunch, Dinner at Heston, some foodie walking tours and a spot of shopping at the new Emporium megalopolis!
Dinner by Heston
From the moment you walk up the sloped dark hall to this incognito door and smell the cedar floors, you begin to feel excited. A black reflective door slides open and you step into a whirl of activity. Walk past the pineapples turning on the rotisserie and along the tables with window views over the Yarra River. Heston's menu is based on recipes from old (really old!) recipe books but with his spin on them. We started with the acclaimed meat fruit, circa 13-15th century, which is a whipped liver parfait filled into an orange ball to look like a mandarin. His entrees are so delicious you might just want a couple of them instead of mains! I ordered 'rice and flesh', a macabre sounding dish from one of the cookbooks of King Richard II's reign. We also tried roast marrowbone, smoked trout and grilled octopus. I then chose the safe rib-eye, which was cooked to medium-rare perfection, along with desserts that were fab. We also had a cone of ice cream made with fresh custard cream and frozen at our table with liquid nitrogen. Exceptional!
Melbourne Cocktail and Bar Tour
Award-winning cocktail Sebastian Reaburn took us for a walk and a sip around the hidden bars of Melbourne's laneways and Chinatown. Seb's tour is full of interesting tidbits. We visited five bars, and saw many more to return to later, we tried some unique cocktails including the sugar dripped absinthe, and enjoyed lots of tasty small plates of food.
Melbourne Food Tour
Former chef Allan Campion took us on trams and walks through Melbourne's laneways to the best chocolate shop in Melbourne – or even Australia. We ended in the basement of a cheese maker's tasting the best and freshest. Come hungry to this tour, because there's macarons, chocolate milk, goodies from Phillippa's patisserie, and an egg tart in Chinatown plus a coffee or two along the way.
Shop at Emporium
Expect to get lost in here for several hours of shopping in the heart of Melbourne. The food hall is not your usual food hall, instead featuring small offerings from some of Melbourne's dining institutions. You'll find local and international designers, concept stores and trusty flagships, plus Australia's first Uniqlo in this architecturally stunning building.
Where on earth is Mildura?
A one-hour flight or six-hour drive from Melbourne, the remote on-the-edge-of-the-outback town of Mildura sits near the north-west border of Victoria and southern New South Wales on the upper Murray River where the river converges with the Darling. Mildura is popular for several reasons. Let's go!
The upper reaches of the Murray River are lined with plenty of trees to tie a houseboat up to and dotted with a few lovely restaurants, wineries and pubs that make good stops to chart on your map as you tootle upstream for a few days with your besties. All Seasons Houseboats have boats that can sleep up to 12 people with a spa pool on the top deck, a barbecue downstairs and a full kitchen for indoor dining. (Here's my post on how to drive a houseboat)
A houseboating holiday is about getting away from it all. It's about relaxing and all about the people you're with – though The All Seasons boats are also luxurious.
2. Mungo National Park
World Heritage listed Mungo National Park is arguably the main reason tourists travel up here. It's about a two-hour drive from Mildura through ancient dry riverbeds and you can take a couple of different tours, depending on whether you want to go posh or not. I went with local Aboriginal guide, Graham Clarke of Harry Nanya Tours, who tells stories of his grandmother's memories and her own grandmother's stories. A trip with Graham includes a simple picnic of cold meats, cheese, salad and bread rolls with his homemade relishes under a gazebo at the visitor centre where you can read about some of the animals that used to live here.
The reason the national park is such a hit with archaeologists, palaeontologists, geologists and those of us who are intrigued by such things, is because of the finding of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. The former was discovered in 1968 when a young archaeologist, Jim Bowler, unearthed a jawbone that was dated to 45,000 years ago. Then in 1974 he came upon a white object in the sand, which turned out to be a human skull – Mungo Man.
3. Wineries and oil farms
This region is a huge exporter of bulk-produced wine into the global markets. There are also small boutique wineries up here, like Trentham Estate, which sits right on the edge of the Murray River. Come by car (about 15 minutes from town) or tootle up for two hours in your houseboat. Over at Oak Valley Estate, Ferdinando, or Fred, makes a mighty fine port as well as unique wines like grenache, muscat and sangiovese as well as olive oils and dried fruits.
I liked the range of legal-sounding splashes from Shinas Estate – The Executioner, The Guilty, The Verdict, The Innocent and Sweet Justice. As my husband is a police officer, I had to make room for a couple of bottles in my luggage! If you can't get to all the wineries (and many don't have cellar doors anyway) Sunraysia Cellar in town has tastes and bottles for purchase from all the wineries – bar two. The reason? It's in a former funeral parlour and some wine makers find that too spooky!
I also visited Varapodio Estate oil farm and tasted their range of olive oils. Their early harvest cold pressed oil is so fresh it smells like grass and needs fresh bread and salt immediately!
4. Pink salt
I love salt. If I were a cow I would spend my day wandering between my salt lick and the water trough and be happy in my work. So to visit this huge salt mine from a massive underground lake where they make everything from salt licks to epsom salts to salt for industrial use and pink salt that we grind over our food, was fascinating – not to mention the incredible pink colour which is actually an algae and not the pink of the salt. You can even see the salt crystalising on the edges.
5. Motor and water sports
Petrol heads are well catered for in Mildura with the region boasting champions in V8 Supercars, Australian Superbikes, Australian Top Fuel Drag Racing, World Solo Speedway, Australian Solo Speedway and the Hattah Desert Race, as well as numerous national and world title winning water speedsters.
Mildura is also famous for hosting events, like the Mildura 100 Ski Race at Easter, the Mildura 'Slamfest' Top Doorslammer drag racing event, and the Hattah Desert Race in July. You'll also find state and national titles throughout the year. Spectators can watch ski racing from the banks of the Murray River, or watch Australia's best off-road riders race through the Mallee scrub.
You'll also find the world's only monument to a tractor – the Ferguson – after it saved the nearby town of Wentworth from the devastating 1956 floods when they built a levee to keep the river out.
6. Dining out
There's no shortage of great places to eat around Mildura. I was pleasantly surprised with the beautiful cuisine I tasted in cafes and restaurants around town.
Try Stefano's for brunch in their light and airy restaurant (they also have a deli for takeaways). I also tried Wooden Door in their eclectic cafe surrounded by homewares I wanted to put in my luggage, and Rendezvous for a tasting platter of meats, pate and other antipasti. Try Mildura Brewery for a craft beer and a steak or a burger. And for a winery lunch I really enjoyed Trentham Estate.
Where to stay in Mildura
I stayed in the beautifully decorated Indulge Apartments, right in the heart of town within walking distance of the river, plenty of cafes and restaurants and the main pedestrianised shopping precinct.
If you want a taste of everything this region has to offer, book a day tour with Alison and Phill Stone from Discover Mildura. They will tailor your day to your interests or give you an overview of everything that is so fascinating about this part of Victoria.