Birthday Weekend in Bendigo, November 2016

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this entry.

The best getaways are the ones that coincide with special occasions – both planned and unplanned. In this case, booking a weekend getaway to the country town of Bendigo for my 30th birthday was planned. However, booking it for the same weekend as the annual Blues & Roots Festival was an unplanned but a highly pleasant surprise.

Bendigo is close enough to Melbourne to be accessible for a weekend away with no need to take any extra annual leave, small enough to be traversable without a car, and large enough to have plenty to offer those looking for a diverting weekend. We took the Vline train up to Bendigo on the Friday evening after work (and after dinner at Dumpling World), arriving at Bendigo station around 9pm. We jumped into a taxi for the eight minute trip to our Art Series Hotel The Schaller Studio, and were treated to the first of many friendly encounters with locals that weekend.

Is it just me, or are country people naturally friendlier? Where most Melbourne taxi drivers will ignore you, we had a good chat with our taxi driver, then with hotel staff who checked us in, with bartenders and waitresses, and with the owner at 5ifty boutique where I bought my first organic bamboo cotton clothing items (I’m teaching myself about ethical clothing). In fact, they’re so friendly that the boutique owner even gave us her own copy of the Blues & Roots Festival program, marked up with her recommendations of where to go and which acts to see. 

That was another highlight of our trip – the Blues & Roots Festival. It’s not normally my preferred genre of music, but to having the twang of guitars constantly playing in the background of a stroll through the city is quite soothing. It was all about the slower pace of life – things like stopping for a half hour in Rosalind Park in the city centre and finding a patch of grass to join all the locals in listening to a free public concert.

In the same vein, we also enjoyed a Sunday afternoon stroll around Lake Weeroona, joining all the family and friends groups having picnics and barbecues. It honestly felt like we were back in Munich Germany, with the forced Sunday closure of shops and businesses creating a cosier community atmosphere. Spending time outside in nature with family on a Sunday definitely beats spending your time in a crowded shopping centre. Ban Sunday trading I say!

The main reason I chose Bendigo for our getaway? I wanted to visit the Bendigo Art Gallery which is renowned for its remarkable exhibitions. At the time of our visit, they were showing items from the personal archive of Australian haute couture designer Toni Maticevski. His creations are beautiful – structural but ethereal, and altogether other-worldly. However, they’re the type of creations that look best on a mannequin. I tried to envision myself wearing even one of the creations, and I just couldn’t visualise it. My life is rather too mundane for Maticevski to be in my wardrobe, I simply don’t have any red carpet events to attend.

Food-wise, Bendigo has a lot going for it. It’s only a small town, but with cool cafes like Percy and Percy, laneway bars like The Dispensary and innovative local hatted eateries like Masons of Bendigo, there’s more than enough great dining spaces for a weekend away.

With our big Europe trip behind us, we’re mainly going to be concentrating on local and domestic travel over the coming years. Part of it is financial – we’re saving for big ticket items like house deposits! – but the other part is pragmatic – we’re also saving our annual leave for things like eventual maternity leave. Short weekend getaways to places like Bendigo are what we have to look forward to…lucky there is so much to look forward to with great art, music and dining!

Review: Crown Metropole Hotel, Melbourne

In the years that K and I have been together, I think we’ve paid for a particularly well-appointed hotel room exactly three times. Once in Beijing, when we were stuck without cheaper hostel accommodation at the last minute. Once when we were in Kuala Lumpur and I was feeling ill. And once when we booked our honeymoon retreat. Other than that, we’ve stuck mostly to cheaper accommodation options like hostels, B-grade hotel/motels, or in recent times, private Airbnb apartments. After all, every dollar that we save by staying in more frugal accommodation, we can spend on an experience, or a museum entry, or a nicer dinner, right?


Given that we were going to be spending nearly $1000 each on our meal at the Fat Duck though, we decided that we might as well splurge a little bit more on a night at the fancy Crown Promenade hotel in Southbank. Most of the time when we’re in Melbourne, we don’t bother booking accommodation as we just stay with my dad. Knowing that the Fat Duck dinner would run late though, it made more sense to stay at the Crown complex that right rather than making a late night post-dinner trip back out to my dad’s suburban home.


When checking in to the hotel in the afternoon before our fancy Fat Duck dinner, we had a bit of a chat to the lady from Guest Services. Apparently, the hotel has seen quite a spike in holiday visitor numbers over the past few months as they accommodate locals, interstate visitors, and even some international visitors who have all been visiting the Fat Duck as well. Most of their guests are still business people attending meetings and conferences at the nearby Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, but there’s an increasing number of holiday travellers now as well.


We were right up on the twenty-sixth floor, and mere doors away from the in-house hotel spa and salon. I was tempted to call and book myself in for a massage that afternoon but after looking at the prices decided to give it a miss. I like massages as much as the next person, but I’m much more comfortable with the $60-$80/hr range, rather than $160/hr. Call me cheap if you will!


I was a bit alarmed when I first walked into the room and saw the open bathroom – one of my most hated features of modern hotel rooms. I understand why they do it as it does open up the whole space rather than having tight closed-in spaces. I just don’t like it – while K and I share a lot in our marriage, there are certain things I hold sacred. Privacy on the toilet is one of them – some things should just be kept private! Luckily, there’s several sliding screens that essentially ‘close off’ the bathroom and offer a bit more privacy.


I have no complaints about the bed though – it was super comfortable, the pillows were a perfect height and softness for me, and what felt like 100% Egyptian cotton high thread count sheets. Pure luxury – the type that reminds me that going to bed every night would be a lot more appealing if I made a real investment in a high-quality sheet set. The $50 sheets from Kmart from my student days simply don’t cut the mustard any more!


Each room comes supplied with a great range of current magazines, with enough variety to suit most tastes. I spent some time catching up on the latest issues of Gourmet Traveller and Marie Claire, and reading about the latest bar and restaurant openings in the Time Out Melbourne magazine. For those of a more serious mind, there’s a number of current affairs journals as well, or magazines like Mens Health for the men in the room.


As a tea fiend who drinks at least five cups a day, having a good selection of tea is very important to me. It was great to see the variety of teas from Madame Flavour available. I loved the Green Jasmine & Pear, and the Mint Lavender Tisane was just delightful as well.

The only downside of our stay was a mix-up with the room service. We ordered a simple serve of toast for our in-room breakfast, to be delivered between 10am and 10.30am. Imagine our surprise when we were woken from our slumber at 7am with persistent knocking on the door and took delivery of two slices of cold toast. Unfortunately, I found it hard to get back to sleep after that which quite spoiled the morning as I felt tired and lethargic. The hotel did end up apologising when I gave them the feedback and refunded the cost of the breakfast – but the damage was done.

Minor room service hiccups aside, our stay at the Crown Promenade was absolutely delightful. It’s nice to be able to splurge like that on nice accommodation every once in a while, and it reminds me to indulge a little bit while we travel through Europe later this year on our seven month honeymoon. Yes, we may only be able to afford tiny studio apartments off Airbnb in the more-expensive Western Europe…but imagine how we can splurge in places like Croatia or Serbia where our dollar will go a lot further!

Review: Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat, Murwillumbah (Tweed Valley) NSW

Look, I’ll be the first to say it – I’m not an easygoing person. I can be quite highly strung and demanding, I’m a person of action rather than reaction, and it wouldn’t be untrue to say that I have unnecessary high expectations. Generally what this means is that I expect my holidays to be action-packed, with a different activity or place to explore every day. Simply sitting around a pool or on a beach at a resort really isn’t my scene.

Luckily, K is the opposite of me. He’s very easygoing, laidback, and has a general attitude that it’s okay to simply sit back and relax – and his attitude really does help me take things a bit slower than I normally would. At the same time, I help him take things a bit more seriously…and it was interesting how many of the speeches at our wedding made reference to this dynamic in our relationship.

Despite these differences, we’ve always managed to travel well together, if more in my preferred style than his. We’ve always taken jam-packed holidays where we do something every day, but still take time to relax by going for massages or getting back to our rented apartments earlier at night for a lazy night in.

In recognition that we would probably need something a bit more relaxing than our usual break-neck pace of travelling for our honeymoon post-wedding, we decided to book ourselves a short five-night honeymoon at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat, inland halfway between Ballina and the Gold Coast. It was a perfect compromise – it was secluded enough to provide a relaxing break, while not so remote that we couldn’t go out for short day trips.


After flying into Ballina Airport two days after our wedding, we jumped into our rental car (free upgrade, thanks Budget Car Rental!) and drove one and a half hours up the coast to Crystal Creek. Greeted by Mark, one of the hosts at Crystal Creek, we were taken to Carabeen, our Creekside Spa Cabin. With only 10 cabins set discreetly away from each other on their 250 acres of rainforest, you’re guaranteed complete privacy in the off chance that you decide to walk around your cabin naked…the floor to ceiling windows hardly matter as no one can see in!


Mark quickly took us through the cabin, introducing us to the various features. I liked the little kitchenette, especially as we chose a honeymoon package that included ingredients for breakfasts each morning as well as two dinners, to be cooked at our own leisure.


The soft cushy couch was also large enough for us both to lie down head to head as we watched a selection of the 1000-strong DVD library available at Crystal Creek.


The outside deck had a BBQ that we made ample use of, BBQing up some steaks and chicken wings from the local butcher on the nights that dinner wasn’t provided. Unfortunately the season meant that there were so many bugs about that we couldn’t really sit outside and eat our meals without getting eaten alive ourselves.


Though I did brave the bugs once or twice and sat out on the lounges on the deck with a inch-thick coat of insect repellant spray to read in peace.


The bedroom…again, the eight pillows on the bed. I don’t know how many heads fancy hotels seem to think their guests have, but I never need more than two pillows myself! I did like the soft fluffy robes provided for our comfort, as well as the soft slippers and eye masks for a good night’s sleep.


Not to mention the amazing view out to the rainforest as we had long lazy mornings in bed!


The open plan bathroom was a little confronting at first, until you realise that you truly are in a secluded cabin – without a walking track in sight, it is impossible for anyone to see you as you soak in the two person spa. You really begin to lose any inhibitions that you may have had on arrival, as you get really accustomed to wandering around the cabin naked just because you can.

Included in our five night honeymoon package was five breakfast baskets (normally $38 per couple) and two delicious dinners (normally $88 per couple). Given that we only paid $2250 for their whole package, it was really very good value!


One of first dinners was the Lamb Tagine with Cous Cous, described as:

  • A Moroccan stew with prime tender lamb, red onion, tomato, red pepper, zucchini, garlic, herbs and spices.
  • Served with cous cous, peas & broccoli.
  • Ciabatta, harissa, chilli and yogurt on the side.

The meals are delivered ready-made to your cabin, and all you need to do is to heat them up according to instructions in the microwave. It’s extremely simple and the large quantity means that you actually have a full serve left over for lunch the next day.


And when served with the complimentary bottle of Moet on your first night at the cabin…well it’s a bit of a special experience especially if you don’t normally go in for indulgences like tealight candles on the table.


And when you finish it off with a slice of chocolate mousse cake, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about!


The Healthy Breakfast Basket was a hit for me – though again, the serves were very generous. It came with muesli, yoghurt, multigrain toast and fruit, though I ended up just having the muesli and yoghurt, and saving the toast for an afternoon snack.


Another favourite breakfast was the Vegetarian Basket with haloumi. I did a bit of a sneaky thing, and as they deliver two days worth of food to the cabin at a time, I actually mixed and matched the breakfasts a bit by having elements of one basket, and elements of another basket. The mangoes we bought on one of our expeditions out into the local area – there’s so many honesty stalls along the road in the area!

crystalcreek-14Our last dinner was the Chicken and Mushroom Stroganoff:

  • Tender chicken breast, caramelized leeks with pure cream and sautéed mushrooms in a butter, olive, white wine, parsley, shallots and garlic sauce.
  • Rice, fresh broccoli and peas with garlic butter.
  • Ciabatta.
  • Dessert cake of the day.

Delicious, creamy stroganoff and rice made for a simple but hearty dinner on our last night at Crystal Creek.


We finished off our stay with the Crumpets and Cream Cheese breakfast hamper on our last morning. With a bowl of delicious stewed rhubarb and a glass of mango nectar, it was a simple country-style breakfast that really hit the spot.

All in all, I really couldn’t fault our stay at Crystal Creek. The accommodation, although we chose the ‘cheapest’ cabin, was impeccable, and the food was amazing. Its location is incredible – set in from the coast so it’s secluded, but at the same time, still within easy reach of larger centres in the North Coast/Gold Coast area.

We had a few lazy days where we just lay around the cabin reading and watching movies, but also had days where we went out and explored the local area. We even went to Dreamworld on the Gold Coast one day with all the 18-year-olds on their Schoolies trips for a more ‘action-packed’ day to satisfy my need to do things.

It’s absolutely the perfect retreat for a honeymoon couple, and offers everything you could want and more. We’re talking about going back to Crystal Creek every couple of years to celebrate our wedding anniversary – five year anniversary, ten year anniversary, etc. How special would that be?!