Suhas is Delighted With His First Trip ‘Down Under’

Singapore Airlines and Visit Victoria@Beautiful Planet had planned a FAMIL to Melbourne, Australia, in May 2023, and Suhas Shetty, Vice-President-Leisure Travel, was among those identified for it. Before their departure, the group was provided with a well – curated, well presented customised Itinerary, that covered some of Victoria’s iconic regions and experiences. They were accompanied by Nancy Kao from Singapore Airlines – Chennai and Tara Borges from Visit Victoria – Mumbai office.

We asked Suhas to tell you aabout it in his own words:

“The SQ-VV Joint familiarisation trip landed in Melbourne with 8 leading Travel Professionals from across key markets such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Cochin and Chennai. The 6-day customised tour was designed to provide a first-hand immersive experience to the leading travel consultants about Melbourne’s unique local and cultural experiences.

Melbourne was a blend of lively laneways, quiet cafes, renowned dining, captivating arts, with an endless calendar of festivals, sports and events. It is a sophisticated, intriguing, gritty, creative and romantic city, and with eclectic inner-city neighbourhoods. It has an  international reputation for its unrivalled love of coffee, culture, sports, urban art, and live music. It is the gateway to Victoria’s world-class wineries, natural springs, peninsulas, spectacular coastline, and alpine villages.

During this trip, I was fortunate to visit some of the renowned attractions of Victoria, such as Philip Island, Mornington Peninsular, Sovereign Hill and Melbourne City. The focus and objective of the FAM was for a premium experience that could be incorporated in well balanced itineraries, as well as to promote MICE offerings for the Indian market.

A few highlights on what was covered in the trip are detailed below:

Puffing Billy Railway
This is a genuine relic of Victoria’s early rail days. It is Australia’s oldest steam railway and one of the finest preserved steam railways in the world. The vintage steam train hauls passenger carriages through the Dandenong Ranges from Belgrave to Lakeside Station, via Menzies Creek and Emerald, a distance of 13km. A round trip takes just over two hours.

This is a MUST DO for our Holiday Travellers, who can experience the chug of the well-maintained steam railway. You can put your legs out of the train (unique!) and enjoy the scenic journey

Philip Island
Over the bridge, and you reach Victoria’s Island sanctuary – Phillip Island, which is just around 1½ hours from Melbourne, famous for the cute little penguins, untouched nature, and its compact abundance of one-of-a-kind attractions.  We got to visit the Penguin Parade and end our day by watching the little penguins waddle home from the underground viewing.

I would suggest that to have a closer encounter of the penguins , please do the underground viewing (glass windows) of the penguin parade, as they walk in an amazing rhythmic parade.

The Nobbies is a spectacular coastal area with viewing from boardwalks, and lookout points, set amongst natural sea bird gardens. This area has high conservation significance and supports the largest remaining penguin colony on the Victorian coast, and the second largest Australian Fur Seal colony based one and half kilometres offshore from The Nobbies at Seal Rocks (accessible only by organised boat tours).

Mornington Peninsular
We got to explore the Enchanted Adventure Garden, which is an award-winning natural fun park, featuring four hedge mazes, five giant tube slides, 20 themed gardens, an outdoor sculpture park and an indoor three-dimensional maze, this beautiful outdoor adventure park has something for everyone.

While this long walk for immersing oneself in the Garden , was little exhaustive on me, however all that was forgotten, as I was mesmerised with the maze garden and the upkeep of this private garden.

A visit to the PT Leo Estate Winery, a multifaceted family-owned Estate boasts a two-chef’s hat fine dining restaurant ‘Laura’, named one of four Australian appointments to Relais & Châteaux, and awarded Best New Restaurant (Good Food Guide). This culinary destination is set in Australia’s foremost privately-owned Sculpture Park, housing an ever-evolving outdoor gallery of over 60 Australian and international exhibits delineated by indigenous flora, set against an immense backdrop of rolling vineyards and ocean views encapsulating glimpses of Phillip Island and Western Port.

I must say, this place is a resplendent experience for us Indians and was attractive, I kept taking pictures of the sculptures and loved the array of food & wine they served, with top notch services.

Moonlit Sanctuary
We got a chance to get up-close and personal with iconic kangaroos and wallabies as they could be hand-fed, cuddled adorable koalas and took part in captivating encounters with a variety of colourful birds and endangered species all in a beautiful bushland setting. Winner of the Victorian Tourism Awards in Ecotourism, Moonlit Sanctuary is inspired by the work of famous British conservationist Gerald Durrell, now houses 50 Australian species.

This overall welfare experience and hand feeding / interacting in close quarters with “Arnold” kangaroos, Wallabies, laughing Kookaburra, Tasmanian Devils, Koalas, and Dingoes made us feel good .

Peninsula Hot Springs
A site visit to the Peninsula Hot Springs which was spread across an expansive 15-hectare space, overflowing with luxury bathing experiences, spa treatments and wellness rituals was truly an eye opener for Agents who felt they could include this for honeymooners to pamper themselves with the numerous treatments available.

I felt really pampered during this visit to the Hot Springs and would have loved to stay back there for enjoying the Hot Springs, while we all did click pics in the customised tents that are created for travellers to relax and absorb the environment.

Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road drive along the world’s most scenic coastal touring routes, spanning 243 kilometres along the stunning coastline of Victoria’s south-west offers panoramic views as the road winds along cliff tops, up to breath-taking headlands, down onto the edge of beaches, across river estuaries and through lush rainforests.

It is perceived to be a long drive (4 hours), however with the wonderful company of the co-travellers, Our Cool & Calm Host – Maree Martin & Our witty Coach driver- Matt Dunston this journey was fun filled and the best bonding period for all of us, leading to creating camaraderie and friends.

Helicopter Ride over the 12 Apostles
The highlight of the entire trip was the exhilarating helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles which provided an awe-inspiring & breath-taking experience over the fantastic rock formations that make up the Twelve Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, and as far as the Bay of Islands. This was an unforgettable opportunity to see the Great Ocean Road from a spectacularly different perspective. Wow, what an experience from the top, this one is legendary stuff for our travellers, this 18 minute ride keeps you intrigued about this country and its landscape.

What remained with me is also the way the 12 Apostles Helicopter Company team managed, with minimal staff, the large number of travellers that were undertaking the Helicopter ride. They were working with pride, passion and a smile-on-the-face service orientation that’s rarely seen. Kudos to this team  and the Australian attitude!

Step back in time and experience Australia’s exciting goldrush days at Sovereign Hill which is set on a 25-acre former gold mining site, this award-winning outdoor museum recreates in fascinating detail the adventure and excitement of life in the 1850s, complete with costumed local characters and regular scene performances. From gold digging to joining an underground gold mining tour – there is so much to do and see! It was a breath-taking ride in the dark tunnel i.e. underground gold mines, for even travellers who have claustrophobia. I did end up buying the Gold Plated Coins / Souvenirs for loved ones back home. It’s a MUST DO in your Itinerary.

  Melbourne cricket stadium (MCG)
Being a Cricket fanatic, a highlight for me was visiting the MCG, the Mecca of Cricket along with Lords & Eden Gardens. A guided tour at the MCG was a mind-blowing experience. This must-see tour included the famous MCC Long Room, MCC Library (founded in 1873), MCG tapestry, player change rooms, cricketers’ viewing room, Ron Casey media centre, portrait of Sir Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, a walk on the arena, Cricket Victoria Bill Lawry Centre, City Terrace with views of Melbourne’s skyline.  I walked across the Long Room and was served with some delectable Samosa’s made by our Indian Origin Chef at MCG

We even got to checkout Kohli’s favourite seat in the dressing room!

Melbourne Skydeck, at Level 88 is the highest public vantage point in Melbourne. It is a state-of-the-art Observation Deck offering unparalleled views of the city and surrounds. Visitors can get magnificent 360- degree views and test their courage at the ‘The Edge’ – a glass cube which projects 3 metres out from the building – with you in it – suspended almost 300 metres above the ground!

I have fear of heights- Acrophobia. However, the group, by this time, had bonded so well, that they made sure, I didn’t feel the fear, and I enjoyed it, even taking selfies when the Glass Cube was hanging 300 meters above!

While the experience provided in terms of hotels stays, was simply outstanding – We got an array of hotels to stay in single occupancy, i.e. from business class hotels like Vibe & Crown Metropol in Melbourne City, to large villas such as the Southern Ocean Villas in Port Campbell, that were large enough to accommodate 7/8 people, Lovely Quaint Hotel – Flinders Hotel in Flinders,  and Waves Apartment – beachside which was an apartment style hotel, that can accommodate a family of 7/8 .

The Business Class upgrades that we received on the India – Singapore sector and on returning on the Melbourne – Singapore – India were a lovely surprise. We were delighted to experience the Silver Kris Lounges at both SIN and MEL, which allowed us to experience the top notch service on ground as well as on board our flights.

I must call it out a truly a memorable experience all the way, a great opportunity for creating memories, making new friends, and enjoying experiences that we all can cherish for a lifetime.

My heartfelt gratitude to all who made this trip so memorable i.e. the Visit Victoria team – Mumbai & Australia, and Singapore Airlines in Mumbai, Singapore and Australia. Special mention of Nancy Kao from Singapore Airlines – Chennai and Tara Borges from Visit Victoria – Mumbai office.