GPK Erina Fair

GPK (Gourmet Pizza Kitchen) is, as the name suggests, a pizzeria located in the Hive at Erina Fair. GPK also serves pastas and alcoholic beverages; and is conveniently located near Hoyts, if one wishes to follow food with a trip to the movies.

Food

I ordered the Bacon & Mushroom pasta. I thought the meal was average. While it wasn’t bad, the pasta lacked the oomph that would have made it delicious.

My friends, who ordered a variety of pizzas and pastas, also found their meals to be bland.

2.5/5.

Drinks

I ordered a piña colada.

I thought the drink was thicker than other piña coladas I’ve had in the past, however I still enjoyed the taste of it. Despite the piña colada containing white rum and myself being a bit of a light weight, I never felt even the slightest bit tipsy, which does make me wonder if they forgot to add the alcohol… but, hey, maybe I was just having a heavy weight kind of day *shrug*.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine, who considers herself a piña colada connoisseur found the drink lacked the pineapple-y taste that usually characterises piña coladas, and she agreed that it was a bit thick.

2.5/5.

Service

We were served by the owner and we found the service exceptional!

My friend had a voucher for two free pizzas… and we somehow ended up with four free pizzas! One of these extra pizzas was due to kitchen forgetting to leave off an ingredient. They caught the mistake themselves, so the pizza wasn’t brought out to us before they offered to give it to us anyway. A friend that joined us later in the evening ended up eating this pizza rather than buying one for herself. The other extra free pizza was because a friend went home sick… His leaving had nothing to do with GPK, yet they offered us a free pizza anyway!

On top of this, the owner was funny (or as funny as you may find some lame dad jokes). He made the night enjoyable for our group.

5/5.

Overall

While we found the food and drinks to be very average, GPK’s service was some of the best I have seen. Altogether, I rate GPK 6.6/10.

The Grounds of Alexandria

The Grounds of Alexandria are a beautiful floral themed space, located in a 1920s Industrial area. This history has been absorbed into the design of the Grounds, creating a unique, rustic, and quaint space. The Grounds include The Café, open for breakfast and lunch; The Potting Shed, open from 11:30am until late; and, The Garden, a variety of takeaway style eateries, namely The Garden Bar, The BBQ, and The Pizza Silo. 

The Grounds are well known for featuring a changing theme. The current theme is Disney’s Maleficent. 

“As a beautiful young woman of pure heart, Maleficent has an idyllic life in a forest kingdom…”

One way in which The Grounds have incorporated the dark beauty of Maleficent into their garden is as you walk down the main walkway, you are flanked by hedges decorated with black roses, crow feathers, and wispy dead leaves. These additions stick out haphazardly yet in perfect harmony. This pathway is truly stunning, if not dark. The effect is that you feel as though you really are entering the horned fairy’s dominion.

Halfway down the walkway, there is an opening to the right where you can enter into the courtyard of The Grounds; the centrepiece of which is a beautiful water fountain. The backdrop, an archway of fairy lights, looks as though it continues eternally in an ethereal fashion. This area is particularly picturesque at night. I felt as though this space would be perfect for hosting a wedding reception.

There is also plenty to do here, with a kid’s play corner containing a rocking horse, both a cow and a pig seat, a large connect four game, and more… All to keep the little ones entertained while you browse the gardens. There’s a pig pen for The Grounds’ resident pig Harry Trotter, as well as a pen of hens + Russel Crow the Rooster. All of these areas keep to a farmyard theme and are ultra fun additions to the venue.

The rear side of the courtyard connects to The Garden, where the aforementioned takeaway shops are located. This too is beautiful to walk down, and if you take a left here it also loops back to the main walkway.

Design 5/5.

The Potting Shed

Luke and I had a dinner reservation at The Potting Shed for our third anniversary. We arrived half an hour early, yet the staff were willing to seat us and begin service upon our arrival. There was a line up, however, to get a seat and only one lady on host, so in saying this, we did have to wait about five minutes in line before we were eventually seated. We also found the service throughout the night a bit slow.

We were seated directly under a large industrial heater. Our waitress offered to turn the heater off for us if it became too hot, but we found it comfortable in light of a slight chilly breeze.

We were handed a drink menu and two food menus. The food menus came on a heavy metal clipboard, once again tying in to that industrial history of The Grounds.

We read through the drinks menu and I immediately fell in love with the description of a cocktail The Casual Encounter at first sight. “Save a dance for this belle of the highball – the glassiest drink in the gin joint. A thirst-quenching kiss of elderflower, Tanqueray Gin, peach and rose syrup.” The drink itself looked better than the water-colour illustration in the menu and it tasted equally as satisfying.

We ordered a Grounds Garlic & Herb Baguette to start. We found it quite bland. There was a twig of rosemary on the side; while this appeared aesthetically pleasing on the side of our bread board, it would’ve added more to the taste of the baguette if it had been baked into the bread.

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On its arrival, I ordered my second cocktail, The Fluffy-tiki. “Dedicated to our feathered friend, Fluffy. Delightful Captain Morgan Spiced Rum with pineapple and chased by citrus. Cheers Fluffy.” The Fluffy-tiki is served in a parrot mug. No, I’m not joking… Yes, it looked awesome. I didn’t realise this on the night, but you have the option of buying the mug from the restaurant for an extra $17.

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Our food arrived next:

1x The Shed Cheeseburger for Luke

ground brisket, onion rings, house sauce, pickles and melted cheese with chips; and

1x The Potting Shed Game Sausages for me

with colcannon mash, burnt onion and thyme gravy (gf) 

While the dinner could have been ever so slightly more tasteful, particularly for how much it costs, I otherwise couldn’t fault it.

Drinks 5/5.

Food 3/5. (-1 not as tasteful as it could be; -0.5 price; -0.5 understaffed).

Amenities

I have never seen bathrooms that look as nice as the ones at The Grounds. So much thought and effort has gone behind the design of these bathrooms and I loved it. To sum up how pretty they are, I have to point out: How often do you have the urge to take a picture of a bathroom?

5/5.

Overall

The Grounds of Alexandria have, within me, inspired a love for nature, beauty, and the rustic. I will definitely be going back in the future.

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My overall rating for The Grounds of Alexandria is 9/10!

St Kilda’s Pier

A hidden gem in the heart of Melbourne, St Kilda’s Pier is lovely for an evening or night-time stroll. The pier is, in my opinion, one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets.

Why?

Because it is the home of a Little Penguin colony as well as the Rakali (water rats). To boot, entry is free of charge!

About 1,400 penguins live on the breakwater at any given time. The breakwater is located on the pier, if you continue to the left of the kiosk. The best time to view the penguins is 30 minutes after sunset, however, in saying this, we strolled down the pier around 10pm and we still saw plenty of penguins and one Rakali (who scared the heck out of us since we didn’t realise that there were water rats living in the rocks here).

When planning your visit, consider that you will see the greatest number of penguins between October and April, and if you visit between November and December you will also see some baby chicks. We went at the end of July, which was beneficial for us as there weren’t many other tourists to compete with and, as aforementioned, we still encountered much of the wildlife.

Most tourists will travel to nearby Phillip Island to see the Little Penguins for their nightly march back to their burrows. We did both encounters. Our experience was that both viewings were unique and we would recommend everyone do both if possible. Our favourite aspect of the St Kilda Pier experience was that we were able to get up close to the wildlife (yet keeping more than three metres away) – and it was free. To think that a colony of penguins chooses to live on an inner-city beach is truly mind-blowing; for such a shy species to willingly live so close to humans inspires me to consider that perhaps humans aren’t so bad after all. 

The Little Penguin colony located here is managed and cared for by Earthcare St Kilda. A volunteer penguin guide is present every night to ensure tourists don’t harm the penguins by abiding by the rules they have set up to protect the penguins. These are:

  • No handling or feeding of the penguins
  • No flash photography of the penguins
  • No torches to be shone on the penguins without a red filter over the front
  • No dogs past the entry gate into the penguin viewing area, trained assistance dogs excepted
  • No climbing or sitting on the rocks
  • No littering, please take your litter with you
  • Keep at least 3m away from penguins moving around the viewing area

While people are generally respectful and mindful of the penguins’ welfare, unfortunately a fence was erected over the breakwater in July 2017 to protect the colony due to some harmful behaviour.

Seeing the penguins up close was honestly a treat I will never forget and an experience I highly recommend! 

In lieu of the free encounter, I would advocate making a small donation to Earthcare St Kilda for their work at St Kilda Pier. There is a donation pole at the kiosk on the pier or you can alternatively donate here.

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Photo credit: Pictures taken by Synchronous Photography & Editing

Breakout Bar and Escape Rooms

Luke and I recently visited Breakout Bar and Escape Rooms in Wollongong because they were closing down their Ancient Egypt -themed room The Tomb (to make way for a new room!).

Décor

The escape rooms are designed around the story of the mad Professor B, and this theme is reflected in the unique décor of the bar. As both a nerd and a romantic, as well as someone who just generally appreciates good art, I felt like I was right in my element.

5/5.

Drinks

Of course, I had their Cleopatra cocktail. Concocted from Four Pillars, lemon, and Pimms, it was one of the nicest cocktails I’ve ever had.

Luke had their Lava Lava beer. Despite the sheer force of lava (and its sourness), he somehow survived!

5/5.

The Escape Room

You can read all about the escape room here. In summary, we loved it.

5/5.

Board Games

In the corner of the bar, we found some board games stacked on top of a piano. After many years, we decided to ignite some childhood nostalgia by versing each other at the notorious game of Guess Who?. I’d like to say I won, but I’m fairly sure he bested me 3/3.

I love that Breakout Bar & Escape Rooms have board games available. I feel like it’s something that sets them apart from other bars we’ve been to.

5/5.

Overall

An outstanding bar with an ingenious concept. Definitely worth visiting!

10/10.

Sweet Surprises Terrigal

There’s a new sweet shop in Terrigal called Sweet Surprises (and it was actually a surprise for me since I didn’t know about its arrival!)

They have an amazing range of international foods and otherwise interesting lollies… I felt like I was in heaven visiting!

I bought some pickle-flavoured Pringles (honestly, who knew that was a thing?!) and some Lucky Charms, which I’ve wanted to try my whole life.

The shop is set out nicely, it’s neat and well-faced (apart from the boxes in the above photo lol), and the staff are friendly. The location is convenient: located right on the esplanade of the beach; making the shop a great stop for some cheeky snacks on your day out.

I would definitely recommend visiting if you are on the Central Coast!

5/5 stars.

The Tomb

Travel back in time to save Professor B’s fiancé, who is trapped in an Ancient Egyptian tomb.

The Tomb is one of five escape rooms at Breakout Bar and Escape Rooms in Wollongong. As the escape room is unfortunately closing on the 15th of September, we decided to give it a crack for ourselves before it would be too late.

Upon arrival, we were handed a decorative scarab beetle, graffitied with hieroglyphs on its underside; the artistic style of the small offering a nod to traditional Egyptian art.

Our mission was then read out to us from a scroll written by Professor B himself. (Professor B, for those who do not know, is the mad scientist responsible for the invention of the time machine. Stereotypically, this invention came at the price of the love of his life becoming stuck in time…) It was up to us to save the conventional damsel in distress.

The escape room is rated at a difficulty of 2/5. In other words, it’s easy without being basic. Luke and I, as a team of two who have only ever ‘escaped’ from similar rooms due to luck, were able to overcome this room with 17 minutes to spare. There were a few clues we got stuck on; but this is where the trusty iPad (*ahem* journal) came in handy, pointing us in the right direction so we wouldn’t rot away in some dusty old tomb like mummified corpses.

Though the room was dark (and I’m terrified of the dark), we found the room quite fun. It was very well-researched, accurate (albeit with one anachronism), fun, and the clues were all relevant.

This was one of the best escape rooms we have tried. I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you’re down in Wollongong before the room closes mid-September!

Looking for somewhere to stay in Wollongong? Book your accommodation with Airbnb and receive $55 AUD off your booking!

Albury Railway Station

Our Albury Airbnb host recommended we visit the Albury Railway Station before leaving the area.

The heritage-listed station, built 1880-1, is well-known for the length of its platform. As the terminus for trains at the NSW/ Vic border, the length of the platform is due to incompatible track/ train designs between the two Australian states, wherein commuters were required to transfer trains at the station.

Still in use, the station’s historic design makes you feel as though you are boarding a train through time.

Complete with waiting rooms, the station is truly stunning. The inclusion of a modern TV screen, an anachronism that blends the past with the now.

Here’s an interesting read: A newspaper article on the opening of the station, published on the 5th February 1881.

Looking for things to do around Albury-Wodonga? View Days 2-3 of my itinerary here for ideas!

Photo credit: Pictures not taken by me were taken by Synchronous Photography & Editing

Grease Monkey, Canberra

My partner and I were told the Braddon precinct was the best place for food in Canberra. We had a quick look around and decided to eat at Grease Monkey as it looked enticing, busy, and came recommended by locals online.

Atmosphere

Busy but not noisy.

Great music.

Great set-up with plenty of seating and heaters, as well as bottles of sauce and paper towels across the establishment.

5/5.

Drinks

My partner ordered a beer, which I (of course) had a sip of. It was their equivalent of a house beer and on their menu was called the Greasy Lager. It was cheap, costing only $5. I thought it tasted a lot like a Great Northern. We both loved it!

My partner also bought me a cocktail. He couldn’t remember the name of it and I was unable to find the drink on their website, but it was made up of rum, passionfruit, pomegranate, and came garnished with a lemon slice. I don’t usually drink rum but I really loved this drink!

My drink also came with a paper straw. I’ve always loved the idea of supporting the environment by using straws alternative to plastic, however I find that I don’t like paper straws much as they break easily and their texture feels gross… What I really loved about this particular straw is it stayed solid and was pleasant to drink from.

5/5.

Food

I ordered the Grease Burger (below, left). It’s a typical beef burger with pickles, lettuce, mayo, cheese, and onion. For $15, it was incredibly disappointed. It seemed basic with not a lot on it, and tasted as plain as it looked.

My partner ordered the Parma Burger (above, right). It was a fried chicken burger and was just as lacklustre as my Grease Burger. I even managed to find a bone when I took a bite into his burger, which could’ve been potentially dangerous had I swallowed it.

The chips were also disappointing. They looked and tasted flat and had a strong peppery taste. If this peppery seasoning had more flavour to it, the chips could have potentially tasted great. The tastelessness of these chips weren’t helped by the fact that the only sauce available was self-serve bottled tomato sauce. Having a great side of sauce may have made these chips amazing.

1/5.

Amenities

Toilets were clean.

I wasn’t a fan of the hand wash basin as it was open to the bar and eatery and I felt exposed as I washed and dried my hands. It also seemed like the noise of the hand drier was super distracting for other patrons because a few people did look over when I used it.

2/5.

Overall

I would highly recommend the Grease Monkey for their bar.

However, I would definitely not recommend eating here.

It was a nice establishment, but the bathroom section should be separated from the rest of the bar/ restaurant for privacy and sound management reasons.

6.5/10.

Looking for other activities near Canberra? View Days 1-2 of my itinerary here for ideas!

Accommodation in Albury-Wodonga

We chose to stay at David’s Airbnb in East Albury due to its convenient location close to the centre of Albury. Only a five minute drive to the main boulevard, we felt staying here gave us more options for things to do in the short space of time we had to do these.

Dave’s Airbnb is a recently renovated standalone unit attached to the bottom of his house. It is incredibly modern with beautiful decor. We were ‘wow-ed’ the moment we stepped into the room. If I could describe the unit in three words, they’d be: luxurious, spacey, and warm.

From the way the bed was made to the placement of the ladder, the decor really blew us away. We also really loved some of the artworks on the wall- one of the first things you’ll notice as you step into the room. Our favourite facet of David’s place, however, was the heated floor! Such a small detail really improved our mid-winter stay.

From the beginning, Dave was very helpful with giving tips for things to do and even offering to lend us his bike if we decided to go cycling (there’s a beautiful cycleway in the area called the 6km Wagirra Trail, a must-see in the region, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to ride the path!). One tip that Dave gave us that we did take on-board was to visit the Albury Railway Station. It’s a historic station, still in use, known for its extra long platform, with the length due to the station being the interchange between Victorian and NSW trains.

We enjoyed our time staying at David’s Airbnb and would definitely go back if we pass through the area again. Next time we’ll leave more time to explore though!

Book your Airbnb accommodation here and receive $55 AUD off your booking! If you want to stay with David, search ‘Albury, New South Wales’ and then select Modern, private, and close to town.

Looking for things to do around Albury-Wodonga? View Days 2-3 of my itinerary here for ideas!

Photo credit: Pictures not taken by me were taken by Synchronous Photography & Editing

Hanging Rock

You may or may not have heard the mysterious story of Miranda, Edith, Irma, Marion and Miss McCraw and want to explore the haunted scenes from the novel and movie for yourself…

Or, perhaps, you want to explore Ngannelong, a place of Indigenous spiritual significance as a border territory and meeting place between different tribes for their Corrobborees, Initiation Ceremonies, Songline Ceremonies, trade, relationship building, and a place where laws were passed…

Or, even, to just admire the beautiful landscape and the unique mamelon volcanic rocks formed by about six million years ago by a stiff magma pouring from a geologic vent and congealing in its place, creating that jutty appearance the rocks are famous for…

Whatever your reason, Hanging Rock is one of the most beautiful landscapes Australia has to offer and, conveniently located only an hour away from Melbourne, it is a must-see in Victoria!

Because we arrived at about 4:15pm, with the park closing at 5pm, our walk felt incredibly rushed. I would definitely recommend leaving a few hours to garner the full experience from Hanging Rock! The return walk to the summit takes about an hour, but there is also the Base Walk, a small museum, and a cafe.

The view of rural Victoria and the Macedon ranges from the summit of Hanging Rock is truly breathtaking, while the Base Walk offers an easier but no-less-enjoyable circuit around the mountain. What’s more is that certain points of interest on the track are marked for full enjoyment. There is a brochure with a detailed map available to pick up from the Visitor’s Centre.

Summit Walk

The maximum elevation at hanging rock is 718m, to be explored in a 1.8km return trip that, as aforementioned, takes about 50 minutes to complete. The path forks as you near the top and there are two options for how you complete the track: a more gradual climb up to the summit (if you veer left) or stairs (to the right). The Hanging Rock itself is located on the track with the stairs, so if you are keen to see this but unsure how you will cope with the slope, take the stairs on your way back.

There are 10 points of interest, starting with 1. The Visitor’s Centre, a small museum (so to speak) explaining the rock formation and depicting the fictitious history of Hanging Rock.

2. The Forest. Admire the natural beauty of the national park along your walk.

3. Edge of the Rock. The track splits here and, if you are on the summit walk, this is where you begin to walk along the edge of the cliff face.

4. Hanging Rock. The ‘hanging rock’ itself, for which the park is named, as well as the title of the original novel Picnic at Hanging Rock.

5. Natural Amphitheatre. Here, I sat on one of the rocks as if I were in back row of an amphitheatre watching nature as a play. This spot is imaginatively named.

6. Check Out the Views. This is the point where you think you’re finally at the top, but you’re not… There’s some room to explore (sort of off-track) if you take a right here. The path to the summit continues on the left.

(I love how I look semi-aesthetic in this image when in reality I was dying from running up the mountain!)

7. The Top! You’ve finally reached the top. Take in a deep breath- you’ve earned it!

8. Views of Mount Macedon. Hanging Rock is located on one of the mountains of the Mount Macedon ranges, which were (re)named by explorer Major Thomas Michell after Phillip of Macedon since he was able to see Port Phillip from the summit of Mt Macedon. At the 8th point of interest, you are able to view Mt Macedon, which rises to an impressive 1010 meters above sea-level.

9. Rock Pillar. Pillars of rock overhang the cliffs. They look like they have faces making it easy to see how the site may be sacred.

10. Wildlife. Glimpse popular wildlife like grey kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas and hundreds of species of birds.

Base Walk

The Base Walking Track takes you in a clockwise direction around the base of the formation.  It is a wide, easy path, with some undulations, that enables you to experience to beauty of the park with ease.  The 2km track is clearly signposted with arrows. This track is perfect for the eldery, those with children, and those who want an easier walk.

Post-scriptum

The summit walk isn’t appropriate for young kids as there are no barriers on the cliffs. The base walk is, however, just as beautiful as the summit walk and completely safe for children.

Dogs are permitted on leash in the picnic areas but not on the walking track due to the presence of native animals.

The entry fee is $10 per car or $4 for pedestrians. There is a ticket machine just outside the cafe. You produce the ticket when you exit the park.

The park strictly closes at 5pm. If you’re late, your car (and you) will be locked in! Beware that with the creepy history of this forest, you’re in for a haunted night should you be locked in!

The North Gate is closed. However, if you do drive over to the North Gate it is possible to see kangaroo’s up close (or are they wallabies? I can never tell the difference!…)

Looking for things to do near Hanging Rock? View Day 3 of my itinerary here for ideas!

Photo credit: Pictures taken by Synchronous Photography & Editing

Featured image credit: Scene from film Picnic at Hanging Rock with credit to BBC and Fremantle Media.