DecRiverland0090-575Fed Square Pty LtdBy Stephen Fountaine

“There is an absolute smorgasbord of regional produce reflecting Australia’s clean environment, multicultural population and climatic diversity,” said Geoff Buckley, Tourism Australia managing Director, discussing the growing prominence of Australia’s food and wine attractions.

And how right he is. We had a small taste of the plentiful offerings around Melbourne on a three-day tour of the surrounding area after attending the Australian Tourism Exchange June 13 to 19.
Melbourne is renowned for its style and is home to some of the best shopping and nightlife in the country. The city is known as the “events capital of Australia” and is home to five of the largest annual sporting events in the country: the Australian Open Tennis; Australian Football League Grand Final Week; Australian Formula One Grand Prix; The Boxing Day Test; and the Spring Racing Carnival. In 2008 it was named the UNESCO City of Literature, a tip of the hat to its rich literary culture, history and creative talent.

The “Cultural Corridor” runs from Southbank through the city to Carlton Gardens and is lined with the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, NGV International, the Arts Centre, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, the Melbourne Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building.

And then there is the dining. Melbourne boasts more than 3,000 restaurants cafés, bistros and bars dishing up 75 different ethnic cuisines. Dining hot spots include Little Bourke Street, Federation Square and the Southgate & Crown Entertainment Complex in the City, Fitzroy and Acland streets in St Kilda, Lygon Street in Carlton, Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, Victoria Street in Richmond, Chapel Street and Toorak Road in South Yarra and NewQuay in Docklands.

Up, Up & Away
One of the highlights of my trip was a ride with the folks at Heli Experiences over Melbourne. Our trip started with a pass down the Melbourne Cup home straight and continued on to all of the city’s great sporting venues, and other city and coastal sights including Williamstown, St Kilda, Docklands, Albert Park and Rod Laver Arena. We ended by circling the world famous MCG finishing with a scenic loop around the city. Complimentary return limo transfers from city hotels and Eureka Tower to the heliport are included in their tour prices. Other tours include The Great Ocean Road Sights, Yarra Valley and the company also offers golf, spa and horseback riding packages.

Montalto_Cellar doorMontalto Vineyards & Golive GroveSay Yes To Yarra
After our week in Melbourne it was time to head out to the country and see the sites. There are 100 wineries within 100 kilometres of the city and 55 of them lie within the Yarra Valley, bottling chardonnay, pino noir, cabernet sauvignon and methode champenoise sparkling wine.

Aside from wineries Valley highlights include 200 species of indigenous birds and animals at the Healsville Sanctuary, the artists’ colony of Montsalvat and the TarraWarra Museum of Art.

But it was the wineries we were interested in.

Forty cellar doors offer tastings including the stunning tasting room at Domaine Chandon, one of only five Chandon wineries outside France.
Our stops that day included Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander Winery in Healesville. The winery includes a pizzeria, an artisan bakery and a cheese room. It also roasts two blends of coffee every day and has produced a personal list of the world’s greatest beers. (Hint: try the Little Creatures Pale, produced on site.)

valley view 1Balgownie Estate vineyard Resort & Spa

At the end of the day we checked into the Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa. Part of the Mercure chain, the 4.5-star property offers 65 studio rooms and spa suites, cellar door tastings, and Natskin Spa Retreat.

Grand Dandenongs
As the guide book says “the Dandenong Ranges are grand, green and very accessible”. Grand and green are evident at Olinda’s National Rhododendron Gardens and the region is accessible aboard Puffing Billy, Australia’s favourite steam train that chugs between Belgrave and Gemrook. We toured by car and stopped at the William Ricketts Sanctuary.

William Ricketts was a sculptor who settled in the Dandenongs in the 1930s and began decorating his property with his large sculptures that were influenced by the time he spent with the Aboriginal people of Central Australia. The Victoria State government bought the property in the 1960s and Mr. Ricketts continued to live and create his art there until his death in 1993. There are now 92 ceramic sculptures of people and animals set in garden surroundings.

108109-574Tourism AustraliaAfter lunch in Sassafras, a village renowned for arts and craft shops, galleries, antique shops, collectible stores and Devonshire teas, we headed south to Phillip Island to see one of the country’s most popular wildlife events – the parade of Little Penguins from the sea to their burrows in the sand dunes every evening. The Island is also home to koalas and a colony of almost 16,000 fur seals that take up residence on the western tip of the island between October and December. Other attractions include the boardwalk at the Nobbies, historic buildings, heritage gardens and two international motorcycle events, the Superbike World Championship in March and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in October.

At the end of the day we checked into the five-star All Seasons Eco Resort. The 211 villas offer studio spas and two- and three-bedroom accommodations, near the Grand Prix circuit and the Penguin Parade.

Ah, The Spa
We ended our tour on the Mornington Peninsula. A popular destination for golfers, the Peninsula is also home to 52 different wineries. We stopped for lunch at Montalto, a 20-hectare property with nine hectares of premium vines, 1,500 olive trees, a fruit and nut grove and kitchen gardens for the restaurant.

The Peninsula is also home to a collection of highly regarded spas. We visited Peninsula Hot Springs and were treated to a Kodo treatment – a rhythmic body massage inspired by traditional Australian aboriginal techniques – and a soothing soak in the hot springs.

At dusk the Moonlit Sanctuary offers a bushland tour that is an introduction to the country’s nocturnal animals. Look for animals like the Eastern Quoll, the Red-bellied Pademelon and the Eastern Bettong, all of which have become extinct on the Australian mainland.

The Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) 2009 welcomed 1,700 Australian delegates from 630 companies in meetings with around 600 overseas buyers from over 40 countries, at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, June 13 to 19.

Tourism Australia Managing Director, Geoff Buckley said this year’s event had been a resounding success and had proved to be resilient against the backdrop of global economic factors.

“Despite the current economic climate for tourism globally, ATE has continued to attract strong support from our international tourism buyers who are responsible for selling Australian holidays to the rest of the world,” Mr. Buckley said.

Despite a slow start to 2009, Canadian arrivals are expected to grow .5per cent according to Tourism Australia officials. In 2008, total visitor numbers were 124,700, an increase of nine per cent relative to 2007, but April 2009 arrivals were 8,500, a decrease of three per cent relative to April 2008. In the year ending April 2009, there were 122,200 arrivals, an increase of two per cent relative to the previous twelve months.

And although arrivals to date (January to April 2009) from Canada were 47,500, a decrease of five per cent relative to the same period in 2008, the Tourism Forecasting Council is forecasting year-end growth of .5 per cent for Canada (125,000) in 2009. The new forecasts re-enforce the strong market potential and importance in both the short and long term with an expected strong future annual growth of 4.3 per cent for Canada over the 2012 to 2017 projection period.

One reason for the optimism is the airline competition on the Australia route, which remains strong with unprecedented air deals available. Air New Zealand continues its service from Vancouver via Auckland two days a week. Qantas services the market with code-share partners Alaskan and American and there are new aviation options with Emirates and Etihad out of the Eastern Canadian markets especially Toronto. Air Canada continues to report a good performance on its daily Vancouver-Sydney non-stop service. And finally, Canadians continue to benefit from increased US options as many use Los Angeles as a hub for Australia.

More Australia
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