Australia travel: Food, fashion and fun in Melbourne on the countdown to the Cup Carnival – New Zealand Herald

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The rooftop bar at Naked for Satan, a popular hangout on Brunswick Street. Photo / Visit Victoria
Alanah Eriksen catches Melbourne Cup fever on a long-weekend getaway to one of the most stylish cities in Oz.
Months into Auckland’s third major lockdown, the thing that got me through were images of all-inclusive resorts.
Lying on a sun lounger, sipping a mojito, lapping up the rays.
But when the opportunity came to enjoy my first post-pandemic trip, going somewhere to lounge around, like we’d been doing for almost three years, didn’t have the same appeal.
But a foodie, fashionable, fun extended weekend in Melbourne – only a four-hour plane trip from Auckland – was just what the doctor ordered.
Throw in a hotel room with a king-sized bed that doesn’t have to be shared with a husband, baby, dog and cats and I’m well and truly sold.
My room on the 38th floor of the Sofitel on Collins had panoramic views of the city, including the Yarra River, the Eiffel Tower-esque Arts Centre Melbourne and the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Up too early because of the time difference and with a credit card burning a hole in my pocket, I hit the CBD only to discover most things don’t open until 10am. It meant I got to enjoy a walkabout through some of the city’s famous sites among the bustle of office workers.
The graffiti-adorned AC/DC Lane, named after the Aussie music heroes and once home to the infamous band hangout Cherry Bar, was a highlight.
A stroll through Federation Square – a venue for arts, culture and public events – and along the Yarra among the early-morning runners and bikers, before a chai latte at the historic Flinders St railway station, killed just enough time before heading to the mall.
Along the way was Chinatown on Little Bourke St – apparently the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the western world. It was too early to enjoy any Asian treats but I’d been to Melbourne 10 years earlier and reminisced about the cute little market stores with trinkets as well as the dumplings I’d enjoyed with friends.
Finally, the shops were open and the two massive downtown malls – Melbourne Central and Bourke Street Mall did well out of me. The former is more high street-style labels like Sportsgirl, while the latter houses high-end stockists and department stores such as David Jones and Myer.
Myer had started selling racewear for upcoming Melbourne Cup events, a couple of which I got to enjoy, including a 60-year anniversary black-tie event for the Myer Fashion in the Field – the competition’s renowned style competition.
Five hundred guests dressed in their best packed into a glitzy ballroom at Flemington Racecourse – a short drive from my hotel.
As we walked in, screens showed fashion looks from over the years, including Princess Diana when she attended, aged 24, in 1985. She didn’t disappoint in a navy and white suit by British designer Bruce Oldfield with a hat by Australian-born milliner Freddy Fox.
We were treated to a fashion show of Myer’s latest product lines – providing inspiration for some spring carnival wear.
A blue leather-clad Dami Im, a Korean singer who emigrated to Australia at age 9, provided the entertainment. Im represented Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Stockholm, placing second and achieving the highest Eurovision Song Contest score for Australia.
Later, the very cool Kiwi DJ/production duo Sweet Mix Kids got the crowd up dancing.
Slightly dusty the next morning but not wanting to waste a minute of the short trip, we headed to the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest and most visited art museum.
We were lucky enough to catch The Picasso Century exhibition featuring more than 80 works by the renowned Spanish artist. These days, striking images from Irish artist Richard Mosse fill the main gallery space.
From December 11, gallery-goers can enjoy Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse, which will showcase over 100 garments and accessories from the late British fashion designer, alongside more than 70 artworks.
Lunch was at the gallery’s Garden Restaurant which had partnered with Melbourne’s Bar Lourinha to provide a bespoke menu during the Picasso exhibition. Shared plates designed by executive chef Matt McConnell were inspired by tastes from the Mediterranean and Iberia.
That evening I met my sister in the very hip suburb of Fitzroy, where op shops are abundant on Brunswick St.
We sought out the nearest rooftop bar for the true Melbourne experience and found cocktails at Naked for Satan while awaiting our dinner reservation at the Asian street food-styled Rice, Paper, Scissors. The crispy pork hot pockets and suckling pig steamed buns were the most moreish things on the menu.
On our last day, we were back at a windy Flemington for some style, fun and thrilling thoroughbred racing at the Sofitel Girls’ Day Out. And food. More glorious food.
I wore an off-the-shoulder purple dress by Australian designer Rebecca Vallance, shoes by Kiwi shoemaker Kathryn Wilson and a headband I had lying around. It gave us a little taste of what’s to come on Melbourne’s racing calendar.
Flemington’s Club Stand has several restaurants and bars overlooking the racecourse, some for members only, like the Dining Room with a menu by the executive chef at Flemington, Josh Pelham, or The Byerley with a menu designed by French-born Guillaume Brahimi, who previously run the Sydney Opera House’s flagship restaurant, Bennelong. The Terrace restaurant caters to non-members and guests.. We enjoyed a six-course lunch at The Byerley, which included lobster, crab, pork belly, rack of lamb, a Pyengana cheese platter and a pistachio gateau.
I know nothing about horse racing but I thought I’d support a Kiwi in the feature race and put $10 on I’m Thunderstruck – a 4-year-old bay Gelding from New Zealand trained by Mick Price & Michael Kent (jnr), who is based at Warrnambool. It won!
I’d also put $10 on Alligator Blood, a 6-year-old bay Gelding from Australia trained by Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott, which came second.
The $26 I won wasn’t enough to replace what I’d spent at the shops a few days earlier but it was a nice little sweetener on our last day and gave us a taste of the thrills to come at the upcoming Melbourne Cup Carnival.
With Covid-19 disrupting the event over the past two years – crowds were absent in 2020 and minimal in 2021 – you can already feel the excitement for a return to the bustling event of pre-pandemic days. Although racing is at the event’s core, the four-day event – between October 29 and November 5 – also combines the very best of Melbourne – fashion, food and wine, sport, celebrity, business, and social interaction.
In 2019, under no restrictions, more than 37 per cent of attendees were out-of-state visitors to Victoria, with the carnival injecting more than NZ$409 million into the local economy.
It’s become ingrained in New Zealand culture too, probably because of the success our Kiwi-bred horses have enjoyed in the race. Since its inception in 1861, 43 have won the Melbourne Cup, including 33 of the past 55 winners. It’s also New Zealand’s single biggest betting event.
In 1962, the Victoria Racing Club Committee introduced a competition designed to “woo more women to the races” during the carnival. Today, it’s known as the Myer Fashions on the Field and is Australia’s largest outdoor fashion event.
Some of the world’s most fashionable people have graced the lawns of Flemington including Princess Diana, Nicole Kidman, Sarah-Jessica Parker, Elizabeth
Hurley, Kim Cattrall, Kate Bosworth, Jerry Hall, Stevie Nicks, Eva Longoria, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Gigi Hadid, Elle Macpherson and Delta Goodrem.
This year, the women’s and men’s categories have been tossed out for the more gender-inclusive best-dressed and best-suited awards. People are being encouraged to enter either category based on their personal style.
The competition is also open to Kiwis for the first time, from afar. They can upload photos of their most eye-catching racewear look to the competition’s website.
A suite of prizes includes a new Lexus.
Penfolds Victoria Derby Day – October 29
It is one of the most prestigious days of racing in Australasia but the fashion stakes are equally high with the start of Fashions on the Field.
Traditionally, black and white has been the prominent colour scheme, while many men choose to wear a grey morning suit, peacock vest and pin-stripe trousers. The official flower for the meeting is the cornflower.
Lexus Melbourne Cup Day – November 1
The $9.1m, 162-year-old race that stops the nation again (and the nation across the Tasman) is the focal point of the carnival.
While most of Australia and much of New Zealand stop to watch or listen to the race from afar, I’m told there’s nothing like being there among the 100,000 racegoers, waiting for that electric roar as the gates crash back and the greatest three minutes in Australian sport begin.
The 3200m race is run at 3pm (6pm NZT) on the first Tuesday of November and is one of the richest prizes in sport.
It is the day to make your strongest fashion statement with a colourful or outrageous ensemble. Hats are essential and so is a yellow rose on the lapel.
Kennedy Oaks Day – November 3
Traditionally known as Ladies Day, Flemington is awash with colour as the winners of Fashions on the Field are announced.
Visitors should remember to wear a pink rose, the official flower of the day.
VRC Champions Stakes Day – November 5
The grand finale race day also features Myer Fashions on the Field Alpha Edit for teens aged 14–18 and a family racewear category.
The official flower is the red rose.
For more city travel tips, see, and for Melbourne Cup details, check out
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