Birthday Getaway to Yarra Valley

To celebrate my 26th birthday, my boyfriend Steve and I went on a quick getaway to the Yarra Valley – a region about an hour’s drive east from Melbourne, which surrounds the Yarra River and is renowned for its numerous wineries and vineyards. It is a picturesque part of Victoria, and its sprawling green hills would make for the perfect backdrop for a stunning outdoorsy wedding or quick weekend getaway. If you ever find yourself in the area, here is a rundown of what we did to inspire your trip planning.

Drinking away my sorrows as I’m no longer in my ‘early twenties’… I am #old. (Photography: Steve Lewer, the ever-patient Instagram boyfriend)

Zonzo Estate

We left our home around 11:45am on Saturday, driving an hour down winding country roads before arriving at Zonzo Estate. This venue specialises in authentic Italian food and pairs it with their own wine made on the estate.

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Pizza del porcini and pizza con melanzane at Zonzo Estate.

Steve and I shared two pizzas at $24 each: pizza del porcini (porcini mushrooms and panchetta on a bed of creamy milk-like cheese with tomato) and pizza con melanzane (featuring the two best vegetables, zucchini and eggplant). The pizzas were divine, made with just bases at that perfect thickness, thin but still sturdy to never collapse under the weight of the generous toppings, but still quite filling and the smoky, earthy flavours dissolved into heavenly perfection. I had to pair this with a glass of their moscato, which was sweet and refreshing.

AirBnB in Yarra Glen

Our stay for the night was a lovely AirBnB, the nicest home in the heart of the region. Our host Tracy was very accommodating and friendly, with two yellow canaries Fred and Barnaby who loved to twitter. Steve and I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening here on Saturday. It was relaxing taking it easy; I planned our itinerary for Sunday, read a magazine, walked down to the local IGA five minutes away and cooked a scrumptious pasta with vegetable and chicken sausages. I also had numerous glasses of cabernet merlot from our host Tracy, who is a red wine lover. Breakfast was laid out for us the next morning, which set us up for a good start.

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Dinner cooked with love.

I highly recommend Tracy’s place if you’re looking for lovely yet affordable accommodation in the area! She has two rooms (hosting up to five people), a really lovely living area with big windows that let in the afternoon sun (good for a read!), and a bathtub (I love treating myself to a bath on a trip).

I tend to prefer AirBnBs over hotels for their wallet-friendly price point (vineyard stays ranged in the hundreds of dollars, which was much too scary for my bank account to comprehend) and their personal touch – usually you’re sharing the home with the owner themselves, and it’s nice meeting a new friend for the night where you can share tips of what to do in the area, stories and sometimes food (and wine, in our case here!). I’ve personally had amazing stays at AirBnBs in both Australia and the United States, with only one being a utter disappointment (in New York City… but that’s another story!)

Yarra Valley Chocolaterie

After breakfast at Tracy’s AirBnB, we hopped on over to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie for our morning sugar fix. I ordered the ‘real hot chocolate’ which includes an extra shot of chocolate – I opted for milk chocolate. In my head, I was expecting something revolutionary, but I found the hot chocolate fairly standard for a chocolate cafe… much like the what I can find in the Lindt Cafes and Max Brenners in Melbourne. The chocolate merchandise section was very big and bursting with loads of gift options though, perfect for picking up souvenirs for yourself, friends and family.

The view in the outdoor seated patio area was gorgeous though – lots of rolling green hills. Definitely sit outdoors if you can.

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The view from Yarra Valley Chocolaterie.

Healesville Sanctuary

A twenty minute drive from the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, the Healesville Sanctuary was next on our itinerary. It was a manic drive as we were keen to make the keeper talks, all of which are free and most happen daily. I highly recommend planning which keeper talks and shows you are most interested in beforehand, so you can time your visit appropriately.

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Pelicans!

Spirits of the Sky was the highlight of our visit – a half hour spectacle where birds of prey literally swoop over and even through the audience, showing off their skills and talents. All the birds were pretty well-behaved, except for the cheeky Kevin (the parrot?), who refused to show up when called by the keeper (I’m lying if I said I was disappointed).

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Rainbow lorikeets!

Another highlight was the Fighting Extinction Aviary, where the birds were quite friendly and weren’t afraid as we got up close. You can even feed the birds with a liquidy mix from the keepers if you were so inclined. The birds were so pretty and colourful – we saw Rainbow Lorikeets, Regent Parrots and other species that I can’t remember the name of.

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Regent parrots!
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Hello!
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Not the best photo of the bird, but I really liked this tree trunk… wavy pattern is so mesmerizing.

Yarra Valley Dairy

We finally moseyed our way over to the Yarra Valley Dairy for a late lunch, tucking into their cheese platter and antipasto side. I remember feeling very hungry and looking at the rather average-sized plate with four cheeses (each the size of half my fist… and I have small hands!), and thinking it wouldn’t be enough to fill both Steve and I up… but it was surprisingly filling! We ended up taking away the leftovers (it isn’t quite a Michelle meal unless I bring home leftovers; restaurants love me), which was enjoyed later that night. I do recommend the cheese platter which features four of their own cheeses – a mixture of hard and soft, spreadable varieties – and sharing that between 3 people (the perfect amount, in my opinion) or 2 (like us, if you’re feeling indulgent!). Other than that, food options are pretty limited, so be sure you’re keen on cheese before you go.

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I couldn’t think of a grate cheese pun…

Let me know if you found this itinerary useful in the comments. If you have any other recommendations in the Yarra Valley area, feel free to share below, would love to hear your thoughts and perhaps check out more on our next visit!

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Lessons from University

To commemorate my graduation from my postgraduate university studies, I decided to compile a list of lessons I’ve learnt along the way – some are practical and acutely relevant to the university experience, while others are mindsets I hope to apply beyond university life. Enjoy and let me know if any lessons resonate with you!

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Obligatory hat throwing… about two years overdue. (My university only granted hats to those who have completed postgraduate studies.)

Extracurriculars are a great way to develop experiences (in lieu of paid work) and make friends. This is something I wish I had taken heed in my undergrad years… I was rather shy and rarely ventured outside of my comfort zone; the thought of putting myself out there petrified me and was a self-imposed barrier to getting involved in the student community in high school and early university. I decided to bite the bullet when I started my postgrad, and applied to join the faculty’s student committee after hearing the then-president speak about it during orientation week. I remember feeling very nervous during the interview for the role, but somehow I was chosen to join as a supporting role in the marketing team, and I have never regretted it. Being a part of the student committee made me feel more connected to the university community, and I felt a sense of pride and ownership getting involved in creating events for my peers. Being a part of the student committee became an integral part of my postgrad life – a lot of the friends I made was from the committee, and it gave me something more than lectures and assignments to look forward to. My university experience would have been very different without the extracurriculars I was involved in! Even after my time on the student committee was formally finished, I used the experiences I gained as a stepping stone to apply for other extracurriculars and eventually paid opportunities. If you’re at university now, I highly recommend you get involved with student clubs. I understand that for some, it may be totally nerve-wracking to gather the courage to apply as I found it previously, but I’m so glad I did – for the sense of purpose I felt and for the amazing people I got to know.

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It is important to recognise when you’re burning out, and don’t overload. After my stint on the student committee, I was hungry to try out other student clubs. I had severe FOMO and applied for many other student clubs, to the point I was balancing two to three extracurriculars at any given time, alongside a full study load. It was crazy! My attention ended up being divided across so many competing things, and it was hard to determine which actions were priorities. My actual university studying was often neglected in favour of these activities. I would be tired and always be distracted by incoming emails on my phone. Looking back now, I definitely had overcommitted, and should have focused on one or two things to do really well, instead of half-assing several. This is a learning I’m reminding myself even now, post-university, when I finally do have an abundance of spare time… the allure of short classes and hobbies I want to do can be hard to resist and I could easily write a novel on all the things I wish I could do (learn French, sew my own clothes, learn salsa properly… among other things), but I made myself focus on a select few (this blog being one of them), and taking on more when I feel I can manage it. If you’re struggling with your workload and wondering if you’ve taken on too much, remind yourself you’re aiming for a ‘healthy challenge’ and not an ‘unhealthy overload’.

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Tackle lectures in-person straightaway and don’t put it off. This may be painfully obvious and simple, but this is how I learnt best at university. From experience, if I missed a lecture, finding the time and having the motivation to catch up was a big barrier throughout semester where I always felt like I had ‘more urgent’ things to do. As a result, catching up on missed lectures ended up being reshuffled down my list of priorities until the end of semester when exams were nipping at my heels, where I would have a stress breakdown upon realising the 20 hours of lectures for each subject I had to listen to in the space of one week… NOT FUN. I’ve since learnt to be kind to my future self where possible, and tackle things as they happen, a trait which I’ve carried into my current job where I constantly have several projects on the go, and it’s too much of a mental strain to ‘not do something’ as opposed to actually do it then and there where possible.

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To celebrate, I was treated to a very fancy afternoon tea at the Hotel Windsor! Thanks Mum for spoiling me.

Completely own your decisions and realise success is unique to everyone. Sometimes the jealousy bug bites me harder than I would like, and sometimes my first thought upon hearing other’s great news is a selfish ‘Oh my god, I am so envious of their new job/holiday/house they’ve recently bought’. I don’t always have perfect rein on my emotions, and sometimes the occasional Facebook post from an acquaintance has me reeling over my life decisions and questioning whether I am ‘doing enough’ at my current stage of life. However, I’ve come to realise that such thoughts are not productive at all and don’t add any value to my current mindset. If anything, I should be looking at other’s successes as proof that it is possible and something I can aspire to myself. One thing I’ve taken from my university experience is that I’m responsible for my own learning, and that if I want something to happen, I was in charge of making that happen. For example, I was keen to gain some real-life marketing experience to complement my academic studies in the field, and this led me to applying to all sorts of opportunities (mostly voluntary but eventually paid). It’s not enough for students to trust that one institution will guarantee everything you need to know for you – the most accomplished people I know have done things of their own accord and have been pro-active in their learning. Knowing that I own my decisions is empowering, and stops me from wallowing in a hole of self-pity.

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The iconic Old Quad at the University of Melbourne. I low-key regret not bothering to use my proper camera for these photos, but you live and learn.

Here wraps up wisdom that I will definitely carry with me beyond the sandstone walls of my university. What are learnings you’ve taken away from university/high school?

STARS OF THE SHOW

Grey-blue speckled dress, French Connection
Navy jacket, Marcs
Black heels, ECCO
Sleep debt, neverending assignment stress and two university degrees in architecture and marketing, The University of Melbourne