How does a couple of hours spent eating, shopping and wandering through lush green native plants sound? Kuranga Nursery, located in tranquil bushland at the base of Mt Dandenong, is equal parts cafe, gift shop and plant nursery all based around Australian products and produce.

When you arrive make your way to the Paperbark Cafe and, weather permitting, take a seat outside where you will enjoy views of the nursery and Olinda Creek. If you're visiting in cooler weather inside is cosy and spacious with noise levels tolerable. Make sure you stop and peek in the cake cabinet before you're seated as you simply cannot leave Kuranga without a sweet treat to finish off your meal.

The menu ranges from light fare - soup of the day with crusty sourdough - to those that are a little more filling - risotto of black tiger prawns, green peas, spinach with preserved finger lime and parmesan. Almost every meal comes with a delicious subtle Aussie twist - native bush relish, native lime caesar dressing, lemon myrtle syrup, bush honey to name a few.

You won't know where to look when you wander through the gift shop. Homewares, cards, bush spices, relishes, jams, honey, windchimes, body products, candles, pure essential oils, macadamia nut, gifts for children plus lots more can be found. A large range of native plant books and a selective of 'Aussie' bush cookery books are also available.Browsing through one of the books, I noticed the recipe for the yummy Lemon Myrtle Syrup cake I'd lovingly polished off in the cafe only moments before.

If plants are your thing head outside where you will stumble across native plants you never knew existed. With our temperamental weather and hot summers it makes sense to buy plants you know can survive in our local climate. Kuranga Nursery also has an array of stunning garden and patio ornaments and terracotta pots. 

How to get there
118 York Road
Mount Evelyn VIC 3796
(03) 9760 8100


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Image © Suzanne Trew
If magazines are your thing then Mag Nation is where you should be heading to get your fix. Best described as a newsagent on steroids you can find over 4000 titles in this three storey shop in the heart of Melbourne. From niche to mainstream this place has a magazine to suit even the most eclectic taste.

But wait, there's more. Mag Nation is so much more than just a magazine shop. You, the general public, are actually encouraged to stay as long as you want and browse the mags for sale. Yes! That's right. A sprinkling of couches and nooks to take the weight off while you peruse the offerings is proof of this. You will not be frowned upon if you grab a magazine and curl up in the nearest recliner. Add to that free wifi, a coffee bar, irresistible stationary and you could easily lose half a day here. Make that a whole day. Especially one of those rainy-nothing-else-to-do kinda days.

Next time you're in Melbourne make sure this little gem packed full of glossies in on your must do list!

Hours
Mon-Thu 7:30am-7:30pm
Fri 7:30am-8:30pm
Sat 9am-7pm
Sun 10am-6pm

How to get there:
88 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne Vic


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Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/micurs/8625795674/

No trip to the city of Melbourne is complete until you have see the stunning Block Arcade. The arcade was built between 1891 and 1893 and is truly a living monument to the Victorian era with its mosaic tiled flooring, glass canopy, wrought iron and carved stone finishings.

If you book one of the chocolate tours mentioned in a previous post you will most likely visit the Haighs Chocolate store situated down the end of the arcade. Pictured above is the very popular Hopetoun Tea Rooms. Yes, you will have to queue up but judging by the cakes, tarts and sweets in the window the wait will be more than worth it. I opted for coffee and lemon tart at Caffee D’Uomo as the coffee looked great as I wandered past and there was no queue. The service was top notch and I was able to snag a table outside the shop which enabled me to gaze upon the passing foot traffic.

The arcade is home to 28 shops, one of which is a rather interesting spice shop for those who love to experiment with their cooking. Put this one on your list if you're visiting Melbourne and if you're a home grown Aussie and haven't been here before...what are you waiting for?

How to get there
Shop 23/282 Collins St
Melbourne VIC 3000


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Image: © Suzanne Trew

Given my last post was about chocolate walking tours you could be forgiven for thinking I have a one track mind. The chocolate walking tour I did some time back but the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is where I've come from just a few short hours ago.

This place is new. Brand new and there has been much hype about it in the local media. It's not the easiest place to find if you aren't familiar with the Yarra Valley area and by the time you spot the large sign you have gone past it. Look for a large modern, unusual looking building on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. I literally mean nowhere...this place is in a paddock.

The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is both a cafe and a chocolate shop. Although there is some cafe seating inside, the majority of it is outside, albeit undercover, which might be a tad unpleasant on a windy cold weather day. My trip to the chocolaterie was for afternoon tea, something I came to regret when I saw some yummy looking pumpkin, spinach and fetta pizzas waft past my table. Still, my berry tart was pretty good and came served with a small cup of chocolate pouring sauce. My companion opted for an ice cream sundae which came in a glass large enough to house a goldfish.

You can't leave this place without purchasing something from the chocolate shop. Aside from some good old favourites like rocky road, chocolate drops and giant freckles there are some unusual flavoured chocolate blocks, bottles of delectable chocolate sauce, fancy chocolate nougats and so much more. This place is a chocolate lovers heaven!

Be warned, this place isn't cheap and the wait to order can be lengthy. Although there was plenty of staff on hand to serve and clean tables there were two registers with only one running most of the time which resulted in a wait in the queue of over 15 minutes. (The ice cream counter is manned separately). Aside from its shortfalls the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery is worth visiting at least once and you will be surprised by just how large it is.

Website
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice Creamery

Address
35 Old Healesville Road (cnr Melba Highway)
Yarra Glen Victoria
03 9730 2777

Hours
Monday to Sunday 9am-5pm
(except Christmas day)

How to get there

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Image: © Suzanne Trew

If there's one thing I'm never giving up it's chocolate. Make that two things. Chocolate and coffee. Would there really be any point to living without them? A couple of years back I joined an English girlfriend on a delectable chocolate walking tour of Melbourne.

We chose one of the Chocoholics tours. The company seems to offer the widest range of times and days. Our chocolate journey began at Lindt where were given a melt-in-your-mouth macaroon to taste (Lindt call them Delice). The range of flavours on offer make it almost impossible to choose. We opted to 'come back later' and buy some rather than carry them around. Big mistake. We never got back there. So my advice is to buy on a whim!

Our tour continued on to The Chocolate Box, Haighs and Koko Black where we ended our gooey, rich journey by sitting down and enjoying a choice of a few different items covered by the tour cost. If memory serves the chocolate brownie smothered in chocolate sauce won hands down. If you wanted to buy extra you could as the tour ended here and you could stay as long as you liked. The chocolate highlight of the tour for me was the dark orange slice I bought at Haighs. Real orange slices dipped in chocolate. Sheer, utter, bliss. I didn't blink an eye at the $100+ per kilo price. After all you can't put a price on happiness!

If you're not a chocolatey person but know someone who is this would be a great gift idea as it's something you can easily turn up to alone.

Website
Chocoholic Tours

Hours
Tours run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are various times.

Price
$39 per person (plus a $2 per booking fee)

How to get there
Tours start at different chocolate shops so please check Google maps once you have booked your tour.

Image: © Suzanne Trew


Over four decades of living in Melbourne and I'd never heard of The Briars until a friend mentioned she would like to go. With the new Peninsula Link road freshly opened and a forecast of very pleasant 27° celsius it was the perfect time to investigate this place called 'The Briars'.

The Briars is a rural property consisting of a visitors centre, kiosk, picnic grounds, bbq facilities, bush walking tracks, wetlands, homestead complete with out-buildings, a restaurant and more. Entry to the Homestead is quite reasonable at $5.60 however be prepared to be 'escorted' through the house by a volunteer and given an in-depth history of the family. I left a tad confused and none the wiser as to the history of the actual house that was established by Dame Mabel Brookes to mark the relationship between her Grandfather William Balcombe and the Emperor Napoleon during the latter's exile on St Helena. There are plenty of photographs, furniture and Napoleonic memorabilia to peruse if you are 'allowed' time on your own to let it all sink in.

We arrived at The Briars around midday expecting to be able to purchase lunch but this wasn't to be. The kiosk apparently stocked coffee and cake but we didn't lay eyes on the cake and in fact on entering thought we were in a gift shop. The kiosk happens to predominantly be a gift shop with coffee and a few snacks on offer. I was slightly horrified at the $5 price tag for a mug of coffee but as my friend paid for them I can hardly complain. The property boasts a restaurant and I'm unsure if it was even open for lunch as we didn't happen to cross it's path, however a glimpse at the menu (and prices) at the visitor centre was enough to ensure we went hungry.

The walks were very enjoyable and had we been better prepared (I left my sneakers at home) we could have happily walked more of the tracks than we did. If you're looking for a nice day out complete with fresh air this property is definitely worth a visit so long as you come prepared. My advice is to pack a tasty home prepared picnic basket complete with your own thermos of coffee (or a bottle of wine if that's your thing) and don't forget the walking shoes.

Find out more
www.mornpen.vic.gov.au
seemelbournepass.iventurecard.com/attraction/the-briars-historic-park/
www.virtualsorrento.com.au/trust-properties/the-briars

Cost
Free if you don't visit the Homestead
Homestead: $5.60 per adult

How to get there


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Image © Suzanne Trew


Camera enthusiasts take note: if you haven't visited Michaels Camera Museum you're missing out. It's equally as impressive as the Spy Camera Museum situated in Herberton QLD, if not more so due to the sheer amount of cameras they have in their collection.

Michaels started back in 1928 as a pharmacy with a small selection of photography equipment. It was during the 50s that the camera collection began. By 1975 Michaels was only selling cameras and photography equipment. The website boasts there are 2000 cameras on display with a total of 8000 in the entire collection. Well I'm suitably jealous. My own meager vintage camera collection totals eleven cameras.

The cameras in Michaels museum date from the 1880's to recent times including early digital cameras. There are some really unique pieces in the museum including a compass camera, a neat collection of spy cameras, a ladies vanity camera complete with lipstick and mirror, a talking camera, the machine gun camera, cutaway lenses and clear demo cameras so you can see all the working parts inside.

Th collection also includes lenses, darkroom equipment, books, film and plates, still projectors and lots more. Michaels Camera Museum is located on the second level of the Elizabeth street and its free to enter and browse for as long as you like.

Website
Michaels Camera Museum

Opening Hours
Mon-Thur 9am-6pm
Frid 9am-9pm
Sat 9am-5pm
Sun 11am-5pm

How to get there
Cnr Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets, Melbourne Vic


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Image by M. Christian
Step back in time to the 1860s and you would have seen the Sisters of the Good Shepherd provide shelter, food and work for thousands of vulnerable and poor women and girls at The Abbotsford Convent. Not so today. After The Sisters moved out in 1975 the convent sat empty for some time until its resurrection as an artist's space.

In stark contrast to the drab daily routine strictly enforced by the nuns, The Abbotsford Convent is now a space like no other in Melbourne. It serves as a creative space for writers and designers, art organisations, rehearsal and development, and includes indoor and outdoor function spaces, a school, a radio station, a bakery, cafes, restaurants, bars and more.

There is lots to see and do at the convent which boasts ten different buildings. For $15 you can take the 2pm guided tour on Sundays (find the store and pay when you get there) to hear all about the history of the site and what it's used for today. If you're looking for a cheap day out browse the store which includes a gallery or visit during one of the many markets or events held here.

If you're after a bit of evening action the outdoor Shadow Electric Cinema runs during the warmer months and is within the Shadow Electric bar so you won't have to venture far for your refreshments. If you're looking for something a bit more substantial (and unusual) stop by Lentil as Anything where there is always a yummy range of vegetarian meals on offer. The 'unusual' in this restaurant is you pay what you feel the meal was worth. There is no menu or set prices here! If you've only got time for coffee and cake take your sweet tooth along to the Convent Bakery.

Website
www.abbotsfordconvent.com.au/

How to get there
1 St Heliers Street
Abbotsford VIC 3067



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Image by Nick Carson