Enjoying the best of winter in Victoria when it gets hot here
Upset that you have to forego your year-end skiing holiday because of work or other commitment?
Be patient for several months, and you will finally get to enjoy your run on snow-capped peaks near Melbourne in Australia's Victoria state when skiing season starts again in May. And just timely too, to escape the sweltering heat here.
One great location is Mount Buller, which offers satisfying ski runs and other fun activities in winter which falls in the middle of the year. Conveniently located, it's only a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
But don't be too quick to charge into the snow if you're flying in from the tropics.
Get acclimatised to the cold first - in the city or the Yarra wine country - before making your alpine ascent. It can get bitterly cold on snow mountain especially when the wind blows.
With good preparation and a schedule of varied activities, your sojourn can turn out to be a far more enriching experience. The wide array of attractions within easy reach in Victoria will ensure that there will always be things to please everyone along the tour.
Here are 15 things you can do to make it happen:
1) Warm up in Melbourne
If your chosen cold destination is Mount Buller or a nearby mountain, you have to fly to Melbourne first.
Spend a day or two in this multi-cultural city to get used to the cold before moving to colder climes.
Regarded as one of the world's most livable cities, it's not bitingly cold here. The long walks in crisp cold air will prepare you for the trudges in the snow later.
2) Get high on caffeine
Experience the dynamic cafe culture, which has transformed Melbourne into a coffee capital of Australia, if not one of the best in the world for a cuppa.
Instead of a milk-drowned cappuccino or latte, go for the more characterful single-estate or specialty brews like Ethiopia or Columbia.
Who brews a better cuppa? St Ali, Brother Baba Budan, Patricia or Cup of Truth? Check them all out, and their brunch fare and pastries too.
3) Gorge yourself silly
This is meat-and-seafood country. So treat yourself generously at the food stores in the big markets such as the popular Queen Victoria Market.
Load up on freshly shucked oysters, scallops and sea urchins that are as affordable as candy.
If have cash to splash, book a table at a top fine-dining restaurant. It's like striking a lottery to indulge in haute cuisine for those who managed to get a table at The Fat Duck.
4) Shop at South Melbourne Market
If you want to avoid the hordes at touristy Queen Victoria Market, the South Melbourne Market is a good alternative.
Neatly laid out, it's a shopping haunt popular with locals, so you won't find many busloads of visitors. You'll get everything here - from great coffee, gourmet fare from all over the world and organic products to household items, jewellery and clothes at knocked-down prices towards the end of a season.
Steaming hot Asian dumplings, simmering Spanish paella and all manner of seafood compete for your attention as you're wondering what to eat - next.
5) Bury yourself in books
Check out rare books or delve deeper into your favourite subject at the State Library of Victoria in the heart of Melbourne.
Be awed by the domed reading room before you dog-ear the tomes.
Take a breather with a reasonably priced lunch at its Mr Tulk cafe, which is famous for its coffee too. Or grab a bag of freshly-roasted macadamias from a cart outside before you dive into the next book adventure.
6) Have soul moments
Melbourne's dizzying array of architectural styles, from seemingly crumbling Chinatown and heritage Victorian buildings to imposing eclectic and modernist structures is fascinating.
Church-goers will be drawn to the magnificent Anglican churches, like the St Paul's Cathedral. Step inside for an inviting atmosphere of peace and a warm respite from the cold.
There are choral even-songs on most weekdays.
7) Ride the tram for free
Hop onto a heritage tram for a free and convenient way to explore central Melbourne. The City Circle Tram takes you to major attractions, shopping and dining neighbourhoods.
An audio commentary provides information of city landmarks and attractions such as the City Museum, Parliament House and Federation Square.
If you're unsure of the right stop, just ask a local - Melbourne is voted of the friendliest cities in the world.
8) Meet me under the clocks
Meeting a date under the row of round clocks on the facade of Flinders Street Station has been a century-old tradition in Melbourne.
If you don't have a date, just admire your pearlies as you take a selfie. It's a perfect place to people-watch as visitors fan out from tourist landmark Federation Square and other directions.
You might want to compare scenes at the clocks now and then at the State Library which keeps a good collection of quirky old photos.
9) Taste wines in Yarra Valley
Go vineyard hopping to sniff out signature wines and vintages in Yarra Valley, a two-hour drive from Melbourne. Admire picturesque scenes of rolling hills and fields as you journey to the vineyards.
Pair award-winning wines with food at Coombe, The Melba Estate, where you can view old-world belongings and clips of celebrated opera star Nellie Melba.
Another estate that takes its wine and food seriously is nearly century-old De Bortoli, where the Noble One is justifiably one of the best dessert wines in the world.
Relatively new boutique winery Dominique Portret manages to produce exemplary Bordeaux-like wines on the Yarra valley. Not surprising as the Portet family has been crafting reds for the gods at Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux for generations.
10) Indulge in chocolates and ice creams
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery will make any child happy...anyone in fact. From exquisite Begian-style pralines to chunky Rocky Road, there are over 250 products to choose from.
The chocolate festival held during winter is a good time to visit this factory shop. Slurp all manner of hot chocolate - with toppings from chilli to bacon - surprisingly, that's yum too!
And don't miss the rich ice creams here - or at shops and eateries in the valley. After all, this is dairy country - you'll see more cows than kangaroos lolling around.
11) Keep snug and cosy
Book good accommodation to retreat to for warmth as you might get chilled to the bone in the evening. A fireplace roaring with log fire in the lobby is so welcoming as you dash in from the cold outside.
The upscale Yarra Valley Lodge in Chirnside Park offers that, and heated comfortable rooms with plush sofas. Kangaroo sightings from your balcony and on the beautiful grounds are guaranteed.
Dinner at its Bella restaurant was superb, and more fun with sharing platters of modern Australian fare prepared with regional farm-fresh produce and matched with Yarra wines.
12) Eat a hot breakfast
If you're heading for Mount Buller early in the morning, fortify with a hearty brekkie apart from piling on the layers.
You would be glad you brought along a flask of hot beverage and a helmet too. Otherwise, find hot drinks and food in one of the eateries in the ski resort before hitting for the snow.
Hot from the fryer, the fish and chips did wonders as I was able to brace the cold with a smile after that.
13) Choose your winter sport
Mount Buller offers various fun activities in winter but skiing remains very popular. Try snowboarding for a change, with beginner lessons with a trainer.
Or go skating or snow-shoeing for something less strenuous. The staff at the ski rental shops will pick the right clothes and shoes for your chosen activity
Arrive early to avoid jams and queues at the carparks and ski shops. And leave not too late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds heading back for Melbourne.
14) Go dog-sledding
Enjoy a thrilling ride through the snow, pulled by a pack of trained huskies. Your attention will be divided between the cute doggies racing ahead and the incredible mountain scenery.
Ignore ice crystals flying into your eyes as you get high on what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Australian Sleddog Tours on the mountain offers a range of sled dog tours, including a meet-and-greet with the huskies, and photo session. Book in advance as the tours are getting very popular.
15) Savour an 'Austrian' lifestyle
The Alpine experience at Mount Buller can be enjoyed indoors too. Stay at the homely chalet rooms or apartments of Hotel Pension Grimus, which are designed to look like those in the European Alps.
Tuck into Austrian fare - like a generously portioned veal schnitzel and spiced apple strudel for dessert.
Then step outside to admire the frosted scenery as you take in a breath of Alpine air.