Melbourne is ‘hot’ right now. International visitors are proving it by flocking to the ‘Most Liveable City in the World’ in record numbers. In fact, Victoria recorded its highest number and share of total international overnight visitors on record with a 9.1% increase to 1.74 million for the year ending September 2011.
Here are twenty of the hottest new reasons to visit Melbourne and Victoria in 2012.
1. The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2012 celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Extended to last 20 days between 2 – 21 March, 2012, the celebration will start with a Riverside Opening Weekend with activities such as city street feasts; 80 events under $50, and the world’s longest lunch. Almost 100 of the world’s top chefs and winemakers from 14 different countries will converge on Melbourne for the festival’s famous Langham Masterclass in order to share their culinary secrets and the newest gastronomic trends. Beer lovers are also in for a treat as the festival will be showcasing its very own 20th anniversary brew at the Great Melbourne Beer Breakfast. There will also be over 100 events across regional Victoria, giving visitors the chance to explore Victoria’s harvest-ready wine and river country.
2. Melbourne Airport’s $330 million expansion is almost complete. New gates 18 and 20 are now in operation and the aerobridge upgrades will be completed this month. New airside retail offerings include Little Ludlow, Dreamtime Journey, Think Sport, WH Smith, Discover Victoria and Hudsons has also launched their rebranded concept store. Opening soon will be Melbourne’s only Victoria’s Secret store, Bar Pulpo by Movida, Happy Lab, Wok on Air and Hungry Jack’s.
3. So many exciting restaurant openings in 2011 from the Shannon Bennett’s new Vue de Monde at the top of the Rialto to Donovan Cooke’s Atlantic in Crown and Andrew McConnell’s Golden Fields in St Kilda. Then there was the amazing Chin Chin by Chris Lucas of Pearl fame, not to mention Geoff Lindsay’s Dandelion in trendy Elwood – can the stomachs of food tourists cope with another year like this? We are already looking forward to seeing what Andrew McConnell does with Fitzroy stalwart, The Builders Arms, in the New Year.
4. The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, a major new exhibition showcasing stunning artefacts from one of the world’s great ancient civilisations will open at 2011 RACV Victorian Tourism Award winner, Melbourne Museum on 4 May, 2012. Presented in collaboration with The British Museum, The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia explores an era of extraordinary invention and innovation. The exhibition will focus on three of the great centres of ancient civilisation, Sumer, Assyria and Babylon, bringing their rich history to life through objects and multimedia. Themes in the exhibition include palaces and royal power, religious beliefs and rituals, burial practices and royal tombs, and the myths and legends that surround ancient Mesopotamia.
5. Music lovers visiting the Australian live music capital, Melbourne, now have a free guide to help them find venues, music stores and other music resources with the release of Melbourne Music City. The guide maps Melbourne’s main metropolitan entertainment hubs as well as venues in regional Victoria. The guide also includes a Victorian music festival timeline, a plotted history of key music events in the state plus information on gig guides, media, public transport and music-friendly accommodation. The guide is available in hard copy at various tourist hotspots around the city, and will be distributed internationally via international embassies and consulates. The guide is also available to download.
6. Victoria’s Great Ocean Walk is to be extended in 2012, allowing visitors to walk all the way to the iconic 12 Apostles. A new platform has just been completed at the finish of the walk where hikers can celebrate their achievements with the view of the 12 Apostles in the background. Works are already underway which will extend the track as far as the Gibson Steps by the end of this year. The track will then be extended further via an underpass under the Great Ocean Road which will allow walkers to access the 12 Apostles by foot.
7. One of the newest international events on the sports calendar is billed as ‘probably the toughest event on the planet’. Tough Mudder at Phillip Island, 31 March – 1 April, 2012 encourages participants to ‘get dirty’ while tackling the world’s most extreme obstacle courses. It’s a physical and mental endurance challenge designed by ex military men and Phillip Island is set to welcome some very extreme participants and amused spectators as they travel to the island for the event. Visitors will also be able to get their hands dirty in a very different way next year with the extension of Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate. The new chocolate kitchen, set to open on 26 December, 2011, will have visitors making their own chocolate in an interactive exhibition that is sure to delight chocolate lovers of all ages.
8. Renowned for being Victoria’s premier wine region, the Yarra Valley has recently seen an infiltration of a different kind of drop. A handful of brewers and cider makers are producing unique local beers and cider, giving the wine makers a run for their money. So great is the interest, that the region’s seven brewers and cider makers have joined together to launch the Yarra Valley Cider and Ale Trail. From December 2011, visitors to the Yarra Valley will be able to grab a copy of the new Cider and Ale Trail brochure and explore these innovative businesses including an eco-friendly brewery, a winery producing the golden drop and a brewery shipped in all the way from New Zealand.
9. Want to tick off wild kangaroos, wallabies, emus and wombats in one bush walk? Well now you can with Wilsons Promontory National Park’s new Woodland Walk. Located in the northern part of the park, the walk is 7.6km or two and a half hours return and will almost guarantee native wildlife spotting. Wilsons Promontory is in the Gippsland region of Victoria; about a three and a half hour drive from Melbourne. Visitors wanting to explore more of this extensive and extraordinary region will be excited to hear about Inspiring Gippsland Rides – a guide to 35 rides that take in the best of Gippsland by bike, to be launched in February 2012.
10. A new boutique hotel will open for guests visiting the stunning Mornington Peninsula region of Victoria next year. Construction has begun to turn 120-year old Flinders Hotel into a forty guestroom boutique accommodation slated for completion mid-2012. The hotel’s restaurant will be the first to open.
11. Victoria’s Goldfields region, a mere hour’s drive away from Melbourne, is becoming known as much for its major art exhibitions as for its gold rush history and architecture. This year, the Art Gallery of Ballarat has secured the rights to host Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration from 25 February – 15 April, 2012. It’s an exhibition of vintage prints from London’s V&A Museum taken by royal photographer, Sir Cecil Beaton. And just down the road in Bendigo, there is a celebration of another Queen, the Queen of the screen. Grace Kelly: Style Icon will be drawing visitors far and wide to Bendigo Art Gallery from 11 March – 17 June 2012.
12. New accommodation options are a welcome addition for outdoor adventurers visiting the Grampians, North West Victoria, in 2012. DULC cabins in Halls Gap is building new cabin, Boroka Downs luxury accommodation now has a two bedroom villa available, and Hamilton Apartments in the Southern Grampians has range of self contained houses available for holiday rentals. And after working up a hunger exploring the region’s many mountain ranges and natural wonders, visitors can stop by Three Troupers Brewery provedore / café which has recently opened in Beaufort.
13. The biggest shark and stingray feeding experience in the world opened near Melbourne this month. The Australian Shark and Ray Centre (ASRC) is the world’s largest combined shark and ray feeding experience located just 20 minutes from Melbourne on route to Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula. Visitors can opt to stay dry in waterproof pants, or get waste deep in the water with a wetsuit, and hand feed, pat and play with nearly 20 species of sharks and stingray. Sharks range from 10cm to 3m giants, and rays from 15cm to the world’s largest species of stingray (the Black Stingray) at 300kg. Children and adults of any age can enjoy the experience and there are shallow pools and viewing bridges for those wanting to keep their distance.
14. Aqua Orbs water zorbing is the hottest new family fun activity in Victoria’s second biggest city, Geelong. On the Eastern Beach of the beautiful Geelong foreshore, Aqua Orbs is a safe, fun addition to any day on the Corio bay. Another new family attraction nearby is Geelong’s Saddle On Riding School. It’s been operating as a horse riding school for several years but is now open as a tourism experience with horse camps, pony parties, BMX, buggy, archery and track hire available, plus an animal farm for the little ones.
15. The second and final stage of the Royal Botanic Gardens’ 18-hectare Australian Garden in Victoria is anticipated to open in spring 2012 and will complete one of the most significant landscape projects in Australia. The multi award-winning Australian Garden tells the story of the metaphorical journey of water through Australia’s arid outback eastward to the urbanised coast and will offer visitors a unique landscape experience and the chance to immerse themselves in the stories, colours, textures, sounds and scents of Australia. The garden is located just 45 minutes from Melbourne at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne, a division of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Since it opened in 2006, it has received over 17 international, national and regional awards for landscape design, tourism and sustainability. The garden was also recreated at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 and won a prestigious gold medal.
16. King Valley Prosecco Road is a new wine and food trail attracting a lot of attention to north east Victoria. The King Valley is the first region in Australia to commercially grow and produce the Italian celebratory sparkling white wine, prosecco. Each year the region produces over 10,000 cases for the Australian market. In 2011, the King Valley prosecco wine making pioneers developed the food and wine trail with a dedicated King Valley Prosecco Road website and travel booklet enabling visitors to discover a new way of experiencing the warmth and hospitality of Victoria’s beautiful King Valley. The King Valley is easily accessible by car, train or air. Albury Airport has daily flights between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney and from the airport it’s an approx 90 minute drive to the King Valley.
17. Historic property, Perricoota Station, has been carefully restored in a makeover that will be ready for those visiting the Murray River town of Echuca Moama in early January 2012. The property, which has previously been associated with pursuits including Merino Sheep, Cobb and Co Horse Transport, Short Horn Cattle, Orange and Grapefruit Orchards, has been brought back to life as a grand visitor destination. Surrounded by over 3 ½ Km’s of Murray River frontage it will be available for accommodation, functions, weddings and conferences.
18. In Daylesford, one hour drive from Melbourne in the wonderful Spa Country, the owners of the recently renovated Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat announced the purchase of the historic Club Hotel in Clunes. Clunes is notable as the site of Victoria’s first gold strike and the Club Hotel is one of the many features that stand to this day. Plans are already underway to transform the 1870′s Hotel into a stylish bistro restaurant, café and wedding venue under the new moniker Birch Club. It is planned that almost all of the produce used in the bistro will be sourced from the Birch Estate Farm nearby.
19. Experienced Murray River captain, Greg Evans, and his singer/entertainer wife, Julia, have this month launched Wentworth River Cruises. Heading off from the historic port of Wentworth, near the tranquil desert town of Mildura, a four hour drive from Melbourne, this new scenic cruise is the only one that takes visitors to the junction of Australia’s two largest rivers, the Murray and the Darling. The new fully catered, licensed and air conditioned motor vessel can carry more than 50 passengers who can relax on either the lower indoor or upper outdoor decks.
20. The Barmah Forest Heritage and Education Centre has opened its doors to the public. Located in picturesque, Nathalia, in north central Victoria, the centre provides visitors with the chance to discover and explore the colourful history associated with the Barmah National Park. Interpretive boards show key time-frames dating back to pre 1830 and information on the Indigenous community; the timber industry; past industries; cattlemen and ecology is brought to life for visitors as they walk through the centre. Situated on the doorstep of one of largest River Red Gum wetlands in the world, the centre will act as the perfect starting point or stopping point for those visiting the Barmah National Park.
Written by Zoe Shurgold on behalf of Tourism Victoria.