With SPF and Flat White in hand, join Nikita Chawla as she explores this laid-back city
“Wait! What? The next flight to Sydney is in three days? OMG, you’re kidding right? This is a disaster! Three whole days! No, you don’t understand! I have to get on a connecting flight from there…”
Having a last minute flight cancellation can send anyone into a tizzy of sorts. Somehow I was the only foreigner (and person) fretting in the long and calmqueue at the refund counter. Stranded at Melbourne airport, it felt as if I had leapt out of one of those action movies and suddenly been teleported into a slow black and white Drama. Except there was no drama other than the one in my own head.
It takes a lot more than an unexpected fight cancellation to disturb the average Aussie. When they say no worries, it is not just proverbial, they actually mean it. In fact, it is so deeply ingrained in their culture that even their animals live by this. (Don’t believe me? Just observe at the laid-back koalas and kangaroos for proof) And it slowly grows on you.
With the help of a local I checked into a Youth hostel. Being short on cash I had to budget well but thankfully Melbourne is safe, tourist-friendly and offers a free city tram that takes you all around. No wonder it is repeatedly rated as the most liveable city in the world.
I ventured off alone to St Kilda to see the smallest colony of penguins in the world. They conveniently chose the manmade barrage that flanks St Kilda pier as their home. Penguin quirks and antics are adorable. They had me hooked till long after sunset as I watched them waddle from one side of the pier to the other after a swim. There is room for everyone in Australia and these noisy little swimmers seem to instinctively know that.
A special team of environment conscious students monitor their well-being every evening. Curious onlookers, like me, were strictly organised and made to turn off the camera flash. Scores of people lined up patiently giving way to the cautions parade of entitled penguins.
The sun can be pretty harsh Down Under but with SPF and sunnies I was well prepared. Or so I thought, strolling down the graffiti laden alleys of Melbourne. Minutes later, it started pouring out of nowhere and my android informed me of the razor sharp drop in temperature.
That’s Mel for ya mate! You gotta prepare for all four seasons in a day!” An old lady with huge dogs chuckled but warmly extended her umbrella. I quickly huddle in with ‘Scoochie’ and ‘’Midnight’ thanking her spurt of generosity. As we were conversing she shared stories about the infamous Melbourne weather and how it is like a whimsical employee who switches jobs with no prior notice.
The clouds disappeared just as suddenly they descended and I swear I could have been in a different country. Double scoop Gelato or a steamy cappuccino? It’s hard to decide when the weather has a mind of its own. I spent another evening by the Kilda pier watching a grand sunset giving way to a pitch black sky sprinkled with twinkling stars. It reminded me of my grandmother’s black Zari Zardosi sari she wore on special occasions.
The next day I ventured to the 12 Apostles with a newly made backpacker friend from the hostel. We booked an excursion to the Great Ocean Road for a once in a life time experience. Deemed as one of the most scenic drives in the world this is a must do. We crossed a National Park, stopped by the Gibson steps, Lorne, Apollo Bay and London Arch. However, it was the 12 Apostles that caught my fancy.
The grass trembled, bush rats scooted but these mighty limestone stacks stood tall, unflinching in the face of evolution. With only seven of them now withstanding, I couldn’t help wonder… What halted their southward march towards the Atlantic suddenly anchoring them to this south Victorian hinterland? Do they feel the awestruck human gaze as they slowly slip into oblivion? Are they jealous guardians of this dramatic coastline or abandoned prisoners perishing at the mercy of the wind-whipped waves? The jury is still out.
An hour’s drive from the city, the lush Yarra Valley was next on the list. Although I was simply developing my palette, my Norwegian friend had ‘grape’ expectations which were too technical to fulfil. Turns out he was a sommelier in the making and on his expertise and recommendation I tasted a variety of Rose, White and Red wines. To me, they all tasted the same and I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. We later explored the humble countryside and were pleasantly surprised by a plethora of food options. Our multisensory gastronomy affair amidst beautiful landscapes was followed by more wine. The wine I realised was just like the city, best enjoyed when sipped, not gulped.
A few hours later I was the last passenger to board Tiger airlines. I wasn’t late (in fact well before time) but a part of me was hoping against all odds for a ‘disaster’.
And that’s when it dawned on me. I finally ‘got’ the Apostles. The wind and waves made for a formidable enemy battering its soul and pulverising it two cm each year yet they could never severe the umbilical cord and walk away. I don’t blame them. Melbourne does that to you.
Extra tip: Carry an umbrella and light jacket at all points.