Three of the worst places to visit in Victoria if you’re trying to give up chocolate

By Australia / Melbourne / Victoria /

WILLY Wonka and his chocolate factory started the rot for many chocaholics, and the sprouting of chocolate factories throughout Australia means there’s no escaping the lure of the cocoa bean. Let’s face it – good chocolate is worth the drive! And Victoria in Australia is as good as place as any for unforgettable chocky experiences.

So, you’ve flown into Melbourne airport and picked up a hire car but not sure where all the oompa loompas are plying their craft? Here are five destinations worth the road trip …and the sugar hit, among other reasons to stay around and explore Melbourne and surrounds.

Sweet road trip No.1: Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery.
Talk about a treat for the senses! Best of all it’s only about 45 minutes drive from the airport on a good traffic flow when you head east on the M80, Eltham Road and Old Healesville Road before you enter choc heaven for free chocolate tastings, thousands of premium chocolates and European chocolatiers at work handcrafting some sweet creations. There’s huge showroom and café nestled amongst sweeping valley vistas while you chomp into Ice creams, decadent sweet treats or lunch while the venue’s lawns, orchard and sculptures are great for kids to play and explore. Better still, spend some extra time in the Yarra Valley and go ballooning, check out some terrific cold climate wineries and even scoot over to Healesville Sanctuary to check out the Aussie wildlife.

Sweet road trip No.2:Panny’s Phillip Island Chocolate Factory. Looking to go a bit further? Head south and to the charms of a little coastal paradise known as Phillip Island. Take an exit on the West Gate Freeway and head for the South Gippsland and Bass highways for close to two hours before rolling up to the “sweetest and addictive tourist attraction” Phillip Island has to offer. Open every day, it’s difficult to leave this hotspot the minute you get a sniff of Belgian premium handmade chocolate. Then the kid in you takes control for all the activities at Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate exhibitions, sideshow alley, galleries – including a 2m tall statue of Michelangelo’s David – and a giant chocolate waterfall. Stay at the nearby Ramada Resort Phillip Island if you’re planning to discover some more of this popular tourist destination.

Sweet road trip No.3: Chocoholic Tours Melbourne is for those wanting to get into the city quickly (20 minutes from the airport), park at their city hotel, hit the footpath and get set for some of the best chocky tasting experiences on the planet. Chocoholic Tours Melbourne has  chocolate-themed walking tours, including an afternoon chocolate and historical treats walk, a chocoholic brunch walk and a chocolate treats walk. There’s a tour on Fridays and a choice of five on Saturdays, but remember to book in advance.

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Explore one of the world’s top adventures with a New Zealand car hire

By Auckland / Christchurch / New Zealand / Queenstown /

There is a common misconception that New Zealand, while being one of the world’s most beautiful and scenic countries, doesn’t actually offer a lot to do in terms of activities. The country boasts 33 of the world’s top 1,000 adventures, is home to the bungy jump, cable controlled base jumps and so much more, so grab a rental car and get your adrenaline boost today! Who says New Zealand is boring!

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Sizzling summer of Australian music festivals

By Adelaide / Australia / Brisbane / Gold Coast / Melbourne / New South Wales / Queensland / South Australia / Sydney / Victoria /

Love hanging out with your friends and listening to great music during the summer? Then why not grab a hire car or an Australian campervan rental and head for a caravan park near some of our hottest music festivals this summer.

Here are five to ponder, complete with recommended caravan parks where you can park your wheels.

SUMMADAYZE (January 5, Gold Coast)
If you have spent all winter rocking to the beats of Fedde LeGrand, Adrian Lux and Icona Pop, then don’t miss Summadayze this summer! Park your wheels: Gold Coast Holiday Park, Helensvale. Powered sites starting from $36.

BIG DAY OUT (Jan 18, Sydney)
What’s a good summer without a big day out? If you’re down for a party and a killer line up, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Bloody Beetroots, head to Sydney Olympic Park. Park your wheels: Bass Hill Tourist Park. Powered sites starting from $35.

PYRAMID ROCK FESTIVAL (December 29 – January 1, Phillip Island, Vic)
Party your way into the new year with the annual Pyramid Rock Festival at Phillip Island. You and your mates are sure to have a blast and cool down at the nearby beach when you’re not tuning into an incredibly good line-up that includes Kate Miller-Heidke, Pnau and Tame Impala. Park your wheels: Big4 Phillip Island Caravan Park. Powered sites starting from $32.

A DAY ON THE GREEN (Nov 24 – Dec 1, Coldstream, Vic)
A one hour drive from Melbourne along the M3 and Maroondah Hwy. A day on the green under the sun in the country is all you need for the perfect day of summer fun. Daryl Braithwaite, Lisa Mitchell, and Simple Minds are some of the big names starring in this festival running throughout the country from November through to March. Park your wheels: Big4 Badger Creek Holiday Park, Healesville. Powered sites starting from $45.

WoMAD (March 8 – 11, Adelaide, SA)

Here’s one that you have a bit of time to plan for. If you’re looking for a friendly family atmosphere in a lovely setting, then the WoMAD festival in Adelaide’s Botanical Gardens in early March is the place to be. Catch a glimpse of some street theatre, browse some charity stalls and enjoy some of the world’s best traditional and contemporary musicians and dancers. Park your wheels: Adelaide Caravan Park. Powered sites starting from $36.



Girls just wanna have fun: 5 great Aussie road trips

By Adelaide / Australia / Brisbane / Hobart / Melbourne / New South Wales / Queensland / South Australia / Sydney / Tasmania / Victoria /


CYNDI Lauper made the call back in 1983 and there’s no doubt one of the best ways for girls who wanna have fun Down Under is to head off on the great Aussie road trip. But where to go?

With Spring in the air and Summer just around the corner, I called upon five friends from five different Australian states and asked the question: What’s your ultimate girls’ weekend road trip getaway after you grab a car hire at the airport? Here are their answers …


Daylesford. A 90 minute drive from Melbourne along Western Hwy/C141 (115km).

“No question, has to be Daylesford, the perfect road trip for girls as it’s not to far and once you get there it’s heaven. In this former gold mining town surrounded by mountains you will find Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. Wow. It’s definitely a treat. Hepburn is known for its natural spring mineral spas, where you can treat yourselves to well-deserved massages and body treatments. It’s also great to take in the thick forest scenery from your window as you sit back and relax. You also have to dine out at Frangos & Frangos.” – Amy, 36, Bentleigh.


Byron Bay. A 2 hour drive from Brisbane along M1/Pacific Hwy/National Route 1 (165km).

“It’s becoming a little bit more commercialised every year, but it still doesn’t mean Byron Bay is any less appealing. In fact, it’s still as amazing as ever with a really relaxed vibe. Byron has several spas to choose from, including the Kiva Spa and Bathhouse, which has a Southeast Asian atmosphere. Spend some time in Kiva’s spas, sauna and plunge pool before pampering yourselves with massages and skin treatment. After that, relax at Byron Bay’s world famous beaches, only 15 minutes away.” – Renee, 51, Brisbane.


Hunter Valley. A 3 hour drive north of Sydney along Tourist Drive 33 (220km).

“You’ve got to visit Chateau Elan, a $40 million spa retreat, which has an extensive spa menu where you and the girls can choose from a range of different massages, including Balinese Palming. With its French inspired café, a golf course and a hair salon, the girls are in for a treat!” – Sheree, 45, Pagewood.


Barossa Valley Wine Region. A 1 hour drive from Adelaide along Princes Hwy and Sturt Hwy (70km).

“If you feel like some delicious wine and a relaxing weekend away then then Barossa Valley is the place to go! Most definitely without question. Sample some wine at one of the several vineyards on the way to the Endota Spa, an award-winning franchise. Relax with the girls and enjoy all kinds of treatments fit for a princess.” – Lisa, 29, Glenelg.


Freycinet National Park. A 3 hour drive north of Hobart along A3 (200km).

“Head straight to Tassie’s Freycinet region, home to Wineglass Bay, and you will find the Saffire Freycinet – it’s perfect for a girls weekend away in Australia. With the Freycinet National Park Campground not far away, the Saffire overlooks Great Oyster Bay’s pristine coast. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, venture out to the surrounding white sandy beaches to soak up the sun after your luxurious spa treatment.” Fiona, 41, Hobart.



The road to fun and friendship drives a girls’ weekend away

By Australia / Cairns / Melbourne / New South Wales / Perth / Queensland / Sydney / Victoria / Western Australia /

A weekend away with the girls is a great way to take some time out to recharge the batteries. Whether you want to get away from the kids for a while, have some fun with your bridesmaids before the big day, or catch up with old school friends you haven’t seen in ages, there are some fabulous packages around that are designed to spoil you rotten.

When it comes to choosing a Australian hire car, find a vehicle that is roomy and comfortable enough for several adults. You might even decide to stay in a holiday park, so a campervan may be the way to go.

So if girls just want to have fun, where do they go?

In your Melbourne car rental head for Daylesford. This beautiful town in Spa Country in Victoria has an excellent reputation for accommodation, restaurants and relaxing spa treatments. It’s a 110km (one and a half hour) drive from Melbourne taking the Western Freeway (M8) and getting off at the Daylesford exit at Ballan. On the way home you could take the Calder Freeway and explore Hanging Rock and Mt Macedon along the way. Park the car, have a relaxing walk around Lake Daylesford and then make your way to the Lake House, where you can enjoy a one night indulgence retreat package for up to four people, which includes wining and dining with your own personal butler services and magnificent spa treatments.

Margaret River, WA is 267km (just over 3 hours drive in your Western Australia car rental) south of Perth – State Route 2 and Bussell Hwy/State Route 10. You will find Yelverton Brook Luxury spa eco-chalets nestled in the area’s wine region. The “Girls Only Pamper Retreat” for four includes two nights in a two bedroom chalet, a large private “spa under the stars”, gourmet food, spa treatments and a five-star stretch limo winery tour.

In NSW, for a beautiful coastal drive and unique experience, Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay (197.5 km, almost three hours from Sydney – Princes Hwy/National Route 1) is on the banks of the Currambene Creek, ideal for those who love being close to nature, but appreciate life’s little luxuries – accommodation is a safari style tent and freshly prepared food is provided.

For those up North, picking up a Cairns campervan rental and taking the short, half-hour drive to Kuranda Rainforest Accomodation Park, would allow you to set up camp in an ancient rainforest, be a 20-minute walk away from the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway, and get in some shopping at the renowned market precinct.


48 hours in Tasmania

By Australia / Hobart / Tasmania /

SO, you’ve picked up your car rental or campervan and are wondering how to best spend the next 48 hours in Tasmania? Well, it really depends on the season.

If you’re on a winter break, perhaps check out the state’s eclectic west coast. On the way, be sure to explore Cradle Mountain. If your timing’s right, you might get in a good afternoon of skiing or, at the very least, a scenic walk around Dove Lake. Spend a night tucked up in the Cradle Mountain Lodge or one of the varieties of self-contained cabins available. After a hearty brekky, keep travelling west and visit the mining town of Rosebery, its neighbour Zeehan (the whole town is a virtual museum of courthouse, theatre and old locomotives) and consider scenic waterside village Strahan as your final overnight destination.

Also, try to squeeze in either the Gordon River Cruise or West Coast Wilderness Railway journey before you hit the long and winding road back to Hobart the next day.

In summer, if you are coming from Hobart, head straight up the east coast to the Freycinet Peninsula. If you have money to burn, spend it on the award-winning boutique hotel Sapphire Resort. Otherwise, there are plenty of lower cost accommodation options in and around Coles Bay, especially if you’re doing a campervan road trip Down Under. Be sure to trek over the saddle – or take the longer route up Mt Amos if you’re feeling energetic – and spend some time at one of the most dazzling beaches you’ll ever see, Wine Glass Bay.

Continue up the east coast on Day 2 of your summer adventure through the beachside communities of Bicheno, Scamander and St Helens – and take your pick for another overnight stay. Or, if you’re not done driving, head north-west towards Bridport and treat yourself to a round on the world-famous Barnbougle Lost Farm golf course. They also have a health spa if you want to end your trip on an indulgent note.



Tastes of Rutherglen – a road trip for the senses

By Victoria /

EVERY Autumn, there’s a road trip in Victoria that every lover of food and wine must experience. Tastes of Rutherglen is a festival every long weekend in March when two worlds collide – an explosion of taste sensations, where the best chefs unite with old and new wineries in the region to match up food with the glorious liquid gold on off
er. Best of all, if you can’t make it on the long weekend don’t despair – they double up again the following weekend!

People flock from everywhere, whether it’s coming from the north in your Sydney car rental (500km, along the Hume Highway) or from the south  in your Melbourne hire car (300km, mainly along the Hume). A then there are plenty who head to the north east Victorian hamlet from Canberra (400km). Whatever the direction, the sights and tourist destinations along the way are well worth a stop-off or two.

Rutherglen offers a world of contrasts. A winemaker’s dream region steeped in history, glistening with its mix of vintage and modern tastes as generations of family farmers embrace the fresh ideas and creative vision of newcomers now plying the trade; youngsters learning tried-and-true formulas from the veterans, but at the same time teaching some new tricks themselves.

“We’re very down to earth here in Rutherglen,” says Scion Winery’s 28-year-old owner Rowland Milhinch. “You find some of the world’s best wines, bloody good wines, but you also find value for money.”

Every March, this elegantly understated but famous Australian wine region comes alive for two consecutive weekends for Tastes of Rutherglen, a tantalizing showcase for gourmands and wine lovers.

Milhinch, a stylish and well spoken young man, is a former city graphic designer whose “tree change” with his mother Jan means in theory he’s a relative newcomer to Rutherglen’s winemaking scene, however, it’s definitely in his blood. His great great great grandfather G.F. Morris, of Fairfield Vineyard, was one of the founders of the area’s wine industry in the late 1800s.

That blend of old and new is indicative of the region’s infectious history and character.

“There are family vineyards here since the 1870s like Campbells Wines and guys like me who have been here for five,” Milhinch says. “You can slip down the road and see them rolling an 1800s basket press at All Saints or go over to Michael Murtagh’s at Vintara Wines for a stunning vista and also to experience a lovely modern establishment.”

Tastes Of Rutherglen draws more than 10,000 people to the town and Winemakers of Rutherglen executive officer Julia Brown says this year’s event also features ample forms of entertainment, starting off with a long table dinner along Rutherglen’s Main Street to showcase “hero dishes” on Friday, March 11. This year one of the big bonuses for visitors is the fact you can leave your car rental or campervan back in the park or accommodation venue as shuttle buses will be operating every hour from all directions in the town and those nearby where you may be staying.

“We want to kick off the festival on a high note,” Brown says. “We also have a farmers market (March 13) and in addition to various music acts, special dinners at restaurants and wineries, and an art exhibition at the town’s memorial hall, we are putting on hourly shuttle bus services on both weekends.”

The main event over two weekends essentially promises delicately crafted dishes to complement the specially selected wines ranging from the region’s famous fortifieds (Muscats and Tokays) to Shiraz and Durifs, to sparklings, Cinsauts and Chardonnays. Put simply, it’s a smorgasbord of wine and food combos. To whet your appetite, think Anderson Winery 2000 Sparkling Shiraz partnered with a sumptuous gourmet BBQ Peking Duck, or perhaps your thing may be mouth-watering barbecued medallions of  Millewa Free Range Chicken on a preserved lemon risotto cake from the glorious Pickled Sisters Café to be washed down with a Cofield Wines 2008 Pinot Noir Chardonnay.

Like Scion Wines’ Milhinch, Jen Pfeiffer, a second-generation winemaker from Pfeiffer Wines, says often winemakers from other regions can be fiercely independent of each other, but it’s the Winemakers of Rutherglen’s willingness to work as a team that sets it apart and makes Tastes of Rutherglen such a relaxed event.

“Rutherglen has wonderful character and as a team we understand the importance of marketing the region as a whole,” Pfeiffer says.  “Tastes Of Rutherglen is all inclusive of everyone and held at a great time of the year. Leaves are changing colour, so you have the beautiful vistas of the vineyards, and there’s that unmistakable energy in the air because it’s also the peak of our harvest and ‘Tastes’ is timely to celebrate that.

“People who attend Tastes of Rutherglen become friends of Rutherglen for life.”

Such earnest words, indeed, which are certainly endorsed by the late Isabel Campbell, mother of veteran winemakers Colin and Malcolm who drive the five generations-strong Campbells Wines. Mrs Campbell once eloquently articulated: “A family winery is not just the wine in the bottle, it’s the soil under your fingernails, it’s storms and sunshine, tears and laughter, and customers who become family friends.”

FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: You cannot miss Pickled Sisters Cafe at Cofield Wines for spectacular home-grown and regional produce (check out the Cauliflower Steaks! A vegetarian’s dream dish!), or the amazing Tiuleries Restaurant in Drummond St, Rutherglen, possibly the finest restaurant to be found in any country town in Australia. The wine list is extraordinary, too, boasting the finest on offer from the region.

WINE HIGHLIGHTS: Bullers Wines, Anderson’s Winery, Lake Moodemere (check out the hole in one competition where you can win $1000 for popping the ball in the hole on a flaoting green on a lake), Campbells Wines, Scion, Valhalla, Pfeiffer.

Tastes of Rutherglen, March 12-13, 19-20, Visit or phone 1300 787 929. Accommodation and visitor information: 1800 622 871.


Driving holiday – Sydney to Melbourne (NSW/Vic)

By Australia / Sydney /

I’ve always preferred to drive to Melbourne than fly – I just like my independence, the freedom of the road and the convenience once I get there.

The direct route down the Hume (highway) can be a little tedious, just as well I’m comfortable behind the wheel! A new touring route has officially opened, however – the Sydney to Melbourne Touring Route. It’s not a new road, just a new slant on familiar territory, opening tourists’ eyes to what’s special in the states of NSW and Victoria.

Keen to try out the multi-day ‘Mega Drive’, I arranged campervan hire through DriveNow, picking up my camper in Sydney. After meandering through Sydney’s southern suburbs, we diverted through the gorgeous Royal National Park, emerging at Stanwell Tops and the start of the spectacular Grand Pacific Drive. This new road skirts the spectacular Wollongong escarpment, with a bridge hovering above the pounding ocean and offering spectacular views down the coastline.

I’m always blown away by the beauty of the south coast beaches, particularly where the emerald green countryside edges onto cliffs and beaches. Gerringong and Gerroa are particular favourites; and further south, I’m totally in love with the villages of Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba, famed for antiques, history and, of course, cheese!

As you edge towards the border, the beaches keep getting more and more enticing – Narooma, Merimbula and Pambula.

Eden, once centre of the whaling industry, is now a great place to spot these marine giants; and make sure you stop off at Ben Boyd pub for a real blast from the past.

Over the border, Lakes Entrance is a great place for boating, fishing and beachside recreation. After this, the drive heads inland, emerging onto the Great Alpine Road at Bairnsdale. As much enamoured with mountain scenery as we are with beaches, we deviated a little for the Alpine villages of Dinner Plain and Mt Hothambefore heading to Anglers Rest for a stop off at our favourite pub, the Blue Duck. Up the road from there is The Willows, a lovely rural property featuring historic cottages and brilliant horse riding through spectacular High Country scenery.

The touring route then scouts north again, reaching the mighty Murray River and the historic towns of Echuca-Moama. Here we jumped on board a paddlesteamer, reliving the romance of colonial days.

Then it was south again through Bendigo, where more gold was found between 1850 and 1900 than anywhere else in the world. This history is all showcased at a family favourite, Sovereign Hill, our final stop before hitting the road to Melbourne.

It may have taken a little longer than the usual 10-hour haul, but the drive gave us new appreciation of some of the most fantastic parts of two great eastern states.



Girls weekend – Margaret River (WA)

By Australia / Western Australia /

For those looking for a short getaway, this five-day experience has to be experienced first hand to be believed. After some to-ing and fro-ing between several destinations for our escape from the daily grind, Margaret River ticked all the boxes: beautiful scenery, some premier Australian wineries and great food for five long-standing friends to catch up, recharge and reconnect. […]

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Driving holidays – north east coast (Tasmania)

By Australia / Tasmania /


The brochure promised pristine beaches, wide open skies and the dream of forgetting civilization for four days – an ideal getaway for two busy mums. In reality, the Bay of Fires Walk in Tasmania ticked all those boxes and more: no meal preparation for four days while exploring one of Tasmania’s remote coastlines, kayaking along beautiful Anson’s River and enjoying gourmet food soon proved why this is one of the world’s most popular holidays.

For us, this was a chance to experience the best of both worlds. Firstly, a beautiful drive in one of Australia’s best states for breathtaking views for a couple of days, and, secondly, to experience one of the world’s great walks.

Our week started the moment we landed at Launceston airport. After a swift collection of cases sans little folk, we hopped in our Hyundai Getz thanks to DriveNow with Avis offering the best deal this time around.

Some great short drives

As a precursor to our walking adventure, we decided to spend a couple of days relaxing at historic Ashton Gate with a couple of short drives out of Launceston for some R&R before our hard work by foot. An easy drive south of Launceston led us into the heart of the northern Midlands where the first settlers built their country residences and nurtured wonderful plants, hedges and farmed the land. Next day another short drive took us to Devil’s Heaven Wildlife Park home to native and exotic animals including, Tassie Devils, wombats, eagles, alpacas, roos and emus.

A walk to remember

Day 1 of the Bay of Fires Walk was part preparation of our gear and backpacks and then travelling by mini bus to our starting point at Stumpy’s Bay. The adventure started off with a relatively easy four hour walk along Cod Bay and around the coves off George’s Rocks to the Forester Beach camp for the first night’s accommodation in twin share floored tents. The camp was clean, well organized and environmentally sound: clever Australian made-composting toilets by Clivus Multrum, rainwater tanks and carrying out any rubbish means minimal impact on local ecosystems. Day 2 started early and was the hiking highlight of the trip – with a mix of rocky headlands, ridge lines and sand dunes the day’s sightseeing was diverse and a joy. After seven hours we arrived at the Bay of Fires Lodge. The warm shower on arrival was heavenly and the three course meal prepared by our guides was welcomed with open arms… and mighty apetites! Day 3 started with a sumptuous hot breakfast before hiking out to a collection point for a day of kayaking along Anson’s River. The day was capped off with a leisurely walk back to the lodge from the South along Abbotsbury Peninsula before enjoying another beautiful meal at the lodge. Day 4 commenced with a gentle walk away from the Lodge through a gorgeous forest of Peppermint Eucalypts before enjoying our last picnic lunch before returning to Launceston.

Returning to civilization

After unpacking at the Bay of Fires Walk base at Quamby Estate and sharing a bottle of bubbly with our guides and the rest of our group, we hopped back on the mini bus to return to Launceston and this time put ourselves up at Kurrajong House. Hosts Julie and Graeme showed us to our room and suggested some local eateries – well aware that we may be seeking some basic fare after our gastronomical adventure.

The choice for eateries in Launceston on a Monday night surprised us. After a bit of a scout around we settled on Toro’s on York – a Spanish restaurant with a beaut offering from tapas to light entrees and more substantial mains. After a good graze and few sangrias we hiked back up York Street to Kurrajong for our last night in Tassie. After returning our DriveNow hire car back to Avis at the airport, we hopped on our on-time Virgin Blue flight and were greeted at Tullamarine by two happy husbands and the young ones.

In short, this escape is ideal for busy people. 10 out of 10. Just beautiful.