It's not often that a print journalist will favour the camera over the pen. But Victoria, Australia, defies definition as it throws up contradictions at every turn. The state offers you the best of urban chic alongside raw, natural beauty. It proposes a myriad of ways to get your adrenalin pumping, and just as many opportunities to sit by calm waters.
Off Melbourne's posh main streets, discreetly tucked away, lies a network of little lanes. These lanes do a lot more than simply connect you from one point to another; they entice you with their unique personas ranging from chic-and-sleek to gritty grunge. My favourites were Bourke Road, Collins, and Little Collins Street where street art in the form of loud and colourful graffiti add a youthful, almost rebellious air to the lanes. The arcades within these alleys are just as quirky with spell shops for witches, doll shops featuring Babushkas and retro music stores that transport you to another era.
Whizzing past the city
One look at the pictures of Harley Davidson Chauffeur Ride's site, and I was sold on the bike tour. After being taken for a ride, I assure you that the white-knuckled thrill of discovering Melbourne on a 1600cc Harley is priceless.
My tour started with a tough, tattooed biker handing me a helmet and a leather jacket. We whizzed across the city -- the beach-front, the Westgate Bridge, and many iconic structures. But I'll never forget the ride that made me feel like I belonged to an exclusive rider's club, if only for a bit.
Phillip Island is home to cuddly koalas, fur seals and other enchanting marine life. But its most popular attractions are penguins since it houses one of the largest colonies of the smallest penguins in the world. This petite one grows to a foot, and weighs less than a kilogram.
At sunset I watched these cuties come back to shore after a day at sea. At first, I saw little heads bobbing in and out the water, then on their tiny feet they waddled to the shore. Walking in groups, they stopped regularly to scan their surroundings. And after what's probably a long walk for them, they made it to their burrows. While they are adorable, resist the urge to coo or you'll scare them away!
View from the top
A natural piece of art, the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road came into being due to erosion. The harsh weather played havoc on the soft limestone cliffs, creating caves in the cliffs that were eventually reduced to rock stacks, today referred to as the 'apostles'.
As I took a helicopter ride, I saw infinite stretches of blue waters rushing against the cliffs and the apostles. The aerial view was mesmerising. I was counting the apostles, and that's when my pilot-guide informed that 'there never were 12 to begin with. Only nine, and one stack collapsed, leaving only eight apostles'.
Healesville Sanctuary, Yarra Valley region, is packed with wild dingoes, rare Tasmanian devils, slithery snakes, scary reptiles and other beautiful beasts. I spent hours cruising through the park; witnessed a 'birds of prey' show with intimidating eagles and owls soaring above me; caught a glimpse of playful platypuses, and other such wild adventures.
My best memories are those of petting a furry koala and a not-as-cute wombat.