By Jennifer N. Dienst, Contributing Editor
Motor coach, motorcycle, helicopter, airplane, hot-air balloon, boat, and Segway. There are many ways to explore Melbourne - Australia’s cultural and entertainment capital, and its second most-populous city - and in just four days in mid-February I did seven of them.
Entering its Indian summer, the perfectly temperate city was teeming with international visitors for the annual Asia-Pacific Incentives & Meetings Expo (AIME), which was celebrating its 20th anniversary at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. In addition to taking in AIME’s well-attended networking events, education sessions, and bustling trade-show floor - which drew 500 hosted buyers from 27 countries - our group of media representatives and meeting planners explored Melbourne during a flawlessly executed fam trip hosted by the Melbourne Convention + Visitors Bureau (MCVB).
On day one, fresh off a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles, our group checked in at the 658-room Crowne Metropol, the newest addition to the expansive Crowne complex that includes a casino, three hotels, a cornucopia of restaurants and nightclubs, and a (very) high-end shopping promenade. After a relaxing lunch at Donovans, serving fresh, locally caught seafood right on St. Kilda Beach, we left to find our first surprise of the fam - instead of our motor coach, a pack of leather-vested bikers with sidecar-equipped Harleys were waiting for us.
We spent the afternoon zipping through the city, stopping for a few site visits, and returned to the Crowne Metropol for a quick indulgence at the hotel’s Isika Day Spa before dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill, the centerpiece of the complex’s many dining offerings.
The highly anticipated second day of the trip &emdash; which included an aerial tour of the Great Ocean Road and a stop to see the magnificent Twelve Apostles rock stacks &emdash brought the destination’s eclectic bounty of offerings into focus. Even though Melbourne is a thumping metropolis full of hip dining, hotels, and other cosmopolitan amenities, some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders are just an hour or two away, such as the penguins at Phillip Island and the rolling hills of Yarra Valley, where we spent days three and four.
Our third day began with a guided tour of Melbourne’s boutique- and café-filled alleyways. Then from a city park helipad we boarded helicopters for a 30-minute flight to Yarra Valley &emdash the Napa Valley of Victoria, you might say. We landed at Rochford Wines, a sprawling estate with plenty of space for groups, and were promptly greeted with champagne and lunch. The owners, just as ebullient as the sauvignon blanc we sampled, treated our group to an educational wine tasting. And yet another round of surprises awaited on the winery grounds &emdash Segway races, followed by a private petting-zoo-like experience with some of Australia’s most popular critters, including a baby wombat, crocodile, and wallaby.
After a night at the nearby five-star Chateau Yering, it was back to Melbourne for AIME’s opening festivities &emdash but not before a 5 a.m. wake-up call for a sunrise hot-air-balloon ride. Surprisingly serene, the experience was fun for even the most heights-challenged members of our group, and the “cleanup,” where participants were required to help take down and fold up the balloon, made for a fun team-building activity.
Back in Melbourne for our last afternoon of site visits, we explored event spaces along the waterfront. I learned that the city has been voted the world’s most livable multiple times during the past several years, and I could easily see why. Melbourne has a safe, walkable downtown filled with myriad green spaces, restaurants, and attractions. And, as I’d already learned, getting around is quite easy. Although next time, I may opt for the (free) City Circle tram instead of the Harley to keep helmet hair at a minimum.
For more information visit mcvb.com.au