Monday, 2 November 2009

Barbecue at Hanging Rock

Partaking in a barbecue at Hanging Rock, was I in any danger of vanishing into the ether like those poor schoolgirls in Peter Weir's classic film? Or would I be safe as long as I avoided pan pipe music, and didn't wear Victorian petticoats?

With all the exotic overseas travel I do, it's easy to overlook the attractions of domestic travel.

Even easier, perhaps, to overlook what I think of as ultra-domestic travel, ie a short trip only an hour or two away from one's home. The weekend break in a cottage somewhere near wineries is glamorous enough, but in a low-key, relaxed sort of way.

Narrelle and I have needed a holiday for a while - she's been flitting between contract jobs that don't allow for leave days, and I've been busy taking notes, photos and interviews while on the road.

The answer last weekend was to rent a place called Bella Loft in Woodend, an hour or so's train ride northwest of Melbourne. Comfortably lodged in this lace-free, non-cottagey apartment just behind the High Street shops, we set about the weekend.

Did I explore magnificent art galleries, pore over museum collections, wield exotic languages or hike to mountaintops? No. But here's what I modestly achieved:

Read a book. Though not all of it (yet). I've just switched to an iPhone but there's an e-book I paid for on the old Palm which can't be switched to the new device. So I slaved away dutifully on Revelation Space by British science fiction author Alastair Reynolds, and found it was rather good. Hard to describe; absorbing to read.

Read some comic books. The monthly DC title Justice Society of America, about a team which comprises both the surviving 1940s superheroes and present-day heroes inspired by their legends, is the one I always read first after collecting a pile of comics from Minotaur in Melbourne. Devoured issues 29-31 in which Obsidian is transformed, Mr Terrific is stabbed, and we're introduced to a new Doctor Fate. All good stuff.

Ate a sticky date pudding. I had thought this dessert to be lost back in the 1990s, but here it was on the menu of Zarby's, where we had dinner on Saturday night. Narrelle had a crème brûlée, another retro touch. Both were excellent. Zarby's had that distinctive vibe of country restaurants in popular treechange commuter towns - a broad enough menu for family groups and locals, and classy decor and high-end choices for foodie city types. Oh, and early arrivals and departures: the place was near-full when we arrived at 7.30pm, and almost empty by 9pm.

Drank a boutique beer. Specifically The Hopinator, a product of the Holgate Brewhouse in the old Keatings Hotel in the middle of town. As the name suggests, it's insanely full of hops and very bitter - I suggested Narrelle take a sip just so I could see the look on her face (she's not a "bitter" sort of person). She had a Temptress, a porter beer brewed with a dash of cocoa.

Saw a kangaroo. We were sitting at a barbecue table beneath Hanging Rock, sampling various meat products we'd just charred, when I looked up to see a kangaroo casually hopping past toward the lawn below the cafe. I suspect it's a tame roo that hangs around cadging scraps from visitors, but it seemed a positive omen - there would be no malign mystic powers wreaking havoc here today (though admittedly I couldn't get any reception on my mobile phone).

Drank bubbly. On a hilltop just south of Woodend, along a gravel road on the slopes of Mount Macedon, is the the Mt Macedon Winery. The cellar door's verandah is a very ambient place to sit on a warm Sunday afternoon, looking out over the spreading view of the Black Forest below, and sipping a little of the winery's Brut Cuvée. And so we did.

I can't say our achievements over the weekend set new benchmarks for daredevil travellers everywhere; but it was just the break we needed. Sometimes there's no place like somewhere other than home.

Disclosure time... on this trip I received complimentary accommodation at Bella Loft, Woodend.