Melbourne: View to a thrill

By Michael Guerin

As Melbourne hosts a 007 exhibition, Guerin, Michael Guerin, lives the Bond dream.

Michael Guerin takes an Aston Martin for a spin during a James Bond-themed weekend in Melbourne. Photo / Roberto Seba
Michael Guerin takes an Aston Martin for a spin during a James Bond-themed weekend in Melbourne. Photo / Roberto Seba

The problem with James Bond movies is you can leave them feeling your own life is a little, shall we say, timid. No matter what deal you pulled off this week before meeting the boys for a few quiets on Ponsonby Rd, it isn't exactly doing heroic things in rocket-like cars with impossibly beautiful women, while wearing great suits and dropping cutting one-liners, is it?

So a trip to Melbourne to attend the opening of a James Bond exhibition comes with the caveat that afterwards your life may seem boring. Unless, of course, you decide to turn it into a Bond weekend in one of the few cities in Australasia that can come close to providing just that.

So now we have a mission, we just need a means. Enter the lovely people from Tourism Victoria, who know a lot of people in Melbourne with really cool things, like tickets to the opening of Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style.

The exhibition at the Melbourne Museum has the Q-branch gadgets, costumes, props and even cars from half a century of Bond movies.

Unlike most exhibitions you can identify quickly with much of it because you would have seen it before.

The golden gun; the attache case; the 1964 Aston Martin supposed blown up at the end of Skyfall, and an enormous range of costumes. My personal favourite, maybe because it was most recent in my mind, was the creepy suit Javier Bardem wore when he first met Daniel Craig in Skyfall. And there are wardrobes full of Bond Girl costumes, which are a great hook for guys trying to sell this to their lady as something she would enjoy, too. And she probably will.

The exhibition works, especially the room set up as a casino with monitors showing great Bond casino scenes. It's cheap to get into, close to the CBD and even has Bond Bar-themed nights on Fridays. But be warned - you could leave feeling a little Bondish. Which is when the real fun starts.

A Bond weekend requires somewhere lavish to stay and, in Melbourne, lavish means Crown. The casino-based complex is the centrepiece of the city's nightlife and has three levels of hotels.

If Crown was an airline, Crown Promenade would be a good economy class; the newest hotel, Crown Metropole, would be premium economy and Crown Towers would be business class. Except around Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix or Australian Tennis Open time, when it is more private jet material as the rich pour into town and rooms get more expensive.

Once you go down the Bond path, there is no turning back, so hire a Bond car - they can be surprisingly cheap from Sports Car Rentals Australia. Since I'd come all this way and even donned a black suit for the night, an Aston Martin seemed the way to go. Bond would approve, even if the guests at Crown didn't as we blocked up the lobby carpark for a few not-so-quick pictures. By this stage you either feel embarrassed or are in total Bond mode - I chose the latter because it was more fun.

Have car, will travel (fast) and the Mornington Peninsula is the ideal day trip for the grown-up equivalent of a pub crawl - the wine tour. The Peninsula is home to plenty of wineries with restaurants worth driving an hour for. I went to Max's, owned by a delightful guy remarkably called Max, who loves art, cars, people but mainly his restaurant. But even after warming up the brake pads on the Aston Martin on the way home, something was missing.

Bond, or Bond pretenders, are supposed to be surrounded by risk, glamour and beautiful people. The fact that the next day was Derby Day at Flemington almost felt scripted.

Derby Day, one of the world's great horse race days, is more like a giant wedding reception - if you invited 110,000 guests and asked them to pay plenty for the privilege. It launches Melbourne Cup week and sees smiley people in great suits and knock-out dresses behaving like they are rich (and many are) until the last race, when giveaway flat shoes in the marquees overtake high heels and Melbourne erupts into a giant, week-long party.

This year, the special guests included England footballer Michael Owen and seemingly every actor who has ever been on Home And Away, and a smattering of Aussie rules stars. The immaculately dressed women ranged from supermodels like Naomi Campbell to girls who had spent their last dollar to come to the races, shopping for something other than clothes.

Derby Day is loud, stylish, pretentious, expensive, enormously good fun and incredibly tiring. Which also sums up Melbourne at its best, as a city that does "big" better than anywhere else in Australasia. The James Bond in us demands we should do the city properly, at least just once.

Top Melbourne experiences

1. Experience the fun of the Australian Open.

2. Visit the largest consumer fashion event in Australia, L'OrealMelbourne Fashion Festival.

3. Enjoy adrenalin and entertainment at the Australian Grand Prix.

4. Visit the South Melbourne Market, opened in 1867,with almost 150 stalls.

5. Walk the laneways and arcades of the CBD to find the best bars and shops.

6. Take a Hidden Secret Tours, Lanes and Arcades Tour to learn about Melbourne's history and discover local designers and speciality shops.

7. Summer sees outdoor cinemas across the city including Ben & Jerry's Openair Cinema and the Moonlight Cinema in the Royal Botanical Gardens.

8. Jump on a Melbourne Bike Share hire bike from one of the CBD docking stations and cycle between bars and cafes, or cycle trails around the city.

9. Melbourne has many rooftop bars with spectacular views including Madam Brussels, Siglo, Rooftop Bar, Red Hummingbird and Transit Cocktail Lounge.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Melbourne.

Explore more: See myaustraliapassion.co.nz.

Details: Designing 007: 50 years of Bond Style is on at Melbourne Museum until February 23, 2014.

Drive and Dine: Max's at Red Hill Estate.

Fast cars: Sports Car Rentals Australia.

Accommodation: See Crownhotels.com.au.

Michael Guerin travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria and Tourism Australia.

- NZ Herald

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