AS I sunk my fork and knife into the delightfully cool and creamy vanilla bean ice cream sitting happily atop strips of savoury bacon layered on a single handsome waffle, my heart skipped a beat.
Was this love at first bite?
I should mention the Casterton waffle was studded with chopped walnuts and drizzled with maple syrup.
The charming converted-roadhouse interior at Piknik in Swan Bay – the cafe where you can also find fresh-made jam and other hot, hearty meals sourced from the Bellarine Peninsula – certainly upped the feel-good factor.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My journey of discovering the Great Ocean Road, and its surrounding Geelong and Bellarine areas, began in Victoria’s state capital Melbourne the day before.
This Australian adventure was courtesy of VisitVictoria together with AirAsia X, before the Malaysian low-cost carrier transitions its Melbourne services from Tullamarine Airport to Avalon Airport on Dec 5.
The Australian domestic airport is set to provide the same ease and comfort to travellers in its brand-new international terminal when it commences later this year.
AirAsia X’s transition to Avalon Airport means that the one-flavour candy pack that is Melbourne for many travellers to Victoria, will soon transform into a fun assortment of unforgettable experiences.
The airport is located roughly 50km away from the state capital and 15km from Geelong with easy access to the beautiful Bellarine region, all the way to The Twelve Apostles and Gibson’s Steps in Port Campbell without missing Melbourne’s CBD.
Before the impressive sweet treat for breakfast at Piknik, checking out from Mantra on Russell (don’t miss its Meat Lover’s pizza!) came with a sense of wide-eyed excitement of what I would soon experience.
The chilly October morning wind didn’t stop me from practically sprinting to the Meerkat Bistro with camera in hand when I saw the little creatures from afar at Werribee Open Range Zoo.
One part of Zoos Victoria, this African-themed zoo in Werribee houses many endangered or critically-endangered animals.
It offers two trails – African River Trail and Australian Trail – focusing on different animals.
Having only seen giraffes and zebras in action on Nat Geo, the Off Road Safari tour at the zoo-based conservation effort in Werribee put a wide smile on my face.
The vast 225-hectare land that stretched as far as I could see served as a natural canvas for the ostriches, rhinos, and zebras.
I was so in awe of the sight that I found myself taking mental pictures of the animals – the curious giraffes especially – pausing occasionally just to let the wonderful moments sink in.
Dinner that night was a whirlwind six-course meal onboard The Q Train, a travelling restaurant that departs from Drysdale Railway Station, a quick 15-minute drive from Geelong.
The beach-view balcony at Novotel Geelong afforded me the view of the city still getting ready for its first-ever White Night – an all-night series of art installations, which happened on Oct 13.
Melbourne was the first Australian city to hold the event back in 2013.
Walking around the area at night was truly an experience to be treasured.
Local bands and musicians could be heard from different corners of the city, while I admired the creative light projections on buildings and landmarks.
There are some things I never thought I would cross off of my bucket list.
Swimming with seals and dolphins is one of them.
Even though the dolphins didn’t come out to play that day, Sea All Dolphin Swims in Queenscliff made sure everyone on the boat was relaxed and had fun.
The thick wetsuits made sure I kept warm in the water, while also providing slight buoyancy as dozens of seals lay lazily on a cabana-like structure sticking out in the middle of the ocean.
A few baby seals were curious enough to come at arm’s length away from my face, and a stingray was even swimming below. It was truly a magical experience.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get better, the friendly instructors said we could jump off the top of the boat!
Victoria has certainly captured my heart by then. But when I got to Port Campbell National Park, the place took my breath away.
The Twelve Apostles is a collection of limestone stacks that I was privileged to experience from a birds-eye view in a helicopter, with the 12 Apostles Helicopters.
After the 15-minute ride, I got to see parts of the structure again from Gibson’s Steps.
Like a painting brought to life, the cool colours of the water matched perfectly with the shades of sand and stone.
What was most intriguing and fascinating was Loch Ard Gorge, named after the ship that wrecked in the area in 1878.
Only two survivors emerged from the tragedy, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, who were both only in their late teens.
The 1,750-hectare coastal strip of Port Campbell National Park and the Great Ocean Road are destinations that definitely deserve a second visit, but next time, I’ll make it a road trip with my favourite people.
AirAsia X currently flies twice daily from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Tullamarine Airport (MEL) in Melbourne, Victoria, until Dec 4, and will commence twice-daily flights from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Avalon Airport (AVV) from Dec 5.