With tickets to the Boxing Day Ashes Test purchased immediately upon their release (Rachael’s idea obviously), we had long known that we would be spending our first Australian Christmas in Victoria.
We decided to book some time off work and fly down to Melbourne a few days before Christmas, giving us time for a second visit to one of our favourite places from travelling – The Great Ocean Road.
We picked up a rental car on arrival, and immediately headed west out of the city towards Torquay, situated at the eastern end of the coastal drive.
Unfortunately we were met with thick grey clouds on our first day, which was a bit of a change from the almost constant sunshine in Sydney. However, if anything, the stormy skies only increased the beauty of the rugged, exposed coastline.
After a very enjoyable lunch at the Pond Cafe in Torquay, we stopped for some free tastings at the Great Ocean Road Chocolate Factory, before continuing on to Aireys Inlet. We took a break from driving here to stretch our legs, and made the steep climb around the headland and up to the lighthouse at the summit, and were rewarded with panoramic views along the coastline.
After a great day driving along the coast, we reached our base for the next two nights, the Grand Pacific Hotel in Lorne. The Victorian era hotel dates all the way back to 1875, and situated directly across from the Lorne Pier, has incredible ocean views from the upper floor balconies.
Our Christmas Eve started early with a drive further west to the famous Twelve Apostles, the Road’s most popular attraction. We walked along the blustery clifftops, admiring the views of the eight remaining limestone columns.
After this it was time for an early Christmas present, a scenic helicopter flight along the coastline. The 15 minute flight, which we had booked with 12 Apostles Helicopters, took us west along the coastline, flying over the Apostles and continuing to London Bridge before returning to land.
It was the first time either of us had been in a helicopter and we loved every minute of it. Unfortunately it was over far too quick, but what an amazing experience and definitely one of the highlights of our trip!
Back on solid ground, we continued along the Road and stopped for short walks at both Loch Ard and London Bridge. The rock formations and coastline all now seemed even more impressive, having also seen them from above.
After a day full of excitement we returned to Lorne and relaxed with a few drinks before enjoying some excellent Greek food at Ipsos.
Our first Christmas Day in Australia and immediately it was completely different to any previous one. We were up at sunrise, taking the short drive to the beach before going for a swim in the freezing water. After warming up it was back to the hotel, for coffee and croissants on the balcony.
After checking out we began our journey back to Melbourne, although we soon stopped at the nearby Erskine falls for a short walk.
We had decided before our trip that the only way to make up for the lack of a home-cooked Christmas Dinner would be to have a BBQ on the beach, so that is what we did!
We stopped in Torquay, where the beach and surrounding park was packed with families enjoying the sunshine and festivities. Now, obviously cooking a whole turkey and all the trimmings on a BBQ would present some difficulties, and we therefore had to make do with turkey burgers and pigs in blankets, which were delicious nonetheless!
We arrived back into Melbourne in late afternoon, with the Christmas decorations on Bourke Street Mall seeming out of place in the summer heat.
We checked into our hotel in St Kilda, in the south of the City, and walked down to the foreshore, where what seemed like thousands of people were enjoying a spontaneous Christmas party. We decided not to join in, and after watching the sunset returned to our hotel to FaceTime everyone back home.
It was finally time for the main event – the Boxing Day Ashes Test, possibly the biggest day in the Australian sporting calender. Despite the series having already been decided (thanks to England’s dismal showing), you could feel the excitement as we joined the crowds making their way to the vast 100,000 capacity MCG.
The atmosphere in the ground was electric, with the large contingent of England fans showing no signs of being outdone, despite being heavily outnumbered. Although our seats were high up, we still had a great view as play got underway.
Whilst it was a brilliant experience, it wasn’t the best day for an England fan, as Australia slowly accumulating 244/3 with little in the way of drama. The England players seemed to struggle in the stifling heat, with this coming as no surprise given we had to move seats several times during the day in search of shade!
The final day of our trip was another scorcher, with the temperature nearing 40 degrees. Given this, we decided to stay close to the beach in the hope of a cooling sea breeze. We took the bus to Brighton, an affluent suburb situated 11km south of the city.
The beach in Brighton isn’t the best (especially when you’re used to Sydney), but it is home to a collection of very colourful, and Instagram friendly beach huts. The huts are highly sought after, with one recently selling for a ridiculous $330,000 (£206,000)! We walked along the narrow beach, admiring both the impressive designs and the Melbourne skyline in the distance.
Although it was difficult to be away from friends and family for Christmas, it was great to do something completely different and we had a great few days in Victoria. However we were excited to return to Sydney in time for New Year’s Eve, and the cities famous firework display.