Few things test a relationship more than a road trip. Especially if it’s somewhere you haven’t been before. But to float the idea as a date when you’re still in the courting phase? It’s a bold move, to say the least. For interdisciplinary artist Evi O and her photographer partner Andrew Grune, it was tinged with destiny.
The Sydney-based couple have just launched the third book in their adventure-seeking series Day Trip Melbourne: 52 Nature Adventures, with a fourth, Dog Trip Melbourne, to be published October 31. Inside the former is a detail-rich collection of maps, destinations, insights and photography inviting you to step outside the boundaries of your familiar street and discover one of 52 bushwalks located within a 130-kilometre radius of the Victorian capital.
“I met Andrew on Tinder,” explains Evi as she, Grune and their whippet Henri settle into a library-slash-meeting room inside the renovated office space in Marrickville that Evi shares with fellow creatives. “He dog-fished me: in his profile photo there was a really cute poodle. And when we met, the poodle wasn’t there anymore. He was this cool art director in all black, but the dog was gone.”
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Grune had just arrived back in Australia from London where he had been carving out a career as an art director. The plan, says the 38-year-old, was to stay in Sydney long enough to have a break, sharpen his skills as a photographer so he could do more of his own shoots, and get back to London as fast as possible. “Back in London I was working in fashion,” explains Grune. “I had my own store and I was always telling filmmakers or photographers what I needed, but I wanted that skill myself. Then Covid happened and I met Evi.”
Mystery of the missing dog aside, the pair were keen to pursue something more serious. Lockdowns meant traditional date ideas – movies, dinner – were forbidden, so Grune suggested they head west, past the Blue Mountains into the state forests surrounding the town of Oberon. It became clear during that car ride, explains Evi, that the pair were a good match. “You know when you’re first dating, you’re normally awkward with each other?” asks Evi. “We got into a car and drove for three hours and we got over that really quick. Plus, his taste in music is good so that’s a tick.”
While trekking down one track, Evi recalls how she and Grune came across a red car that had been abandoned in the forest. ‘We both wanted to explore it more. And in a lot of ways, that red car symbolises the Day Trip series. We realised we were out seeing things that excited us and it doesn’t matter if it was a red car or a plant. Being out in your own backyard still had a sense of adventure and that is really refreshing. I mean, we were also in love so that was mixed in, but it was still so beautiful.”
Love is just one part of the process that transformed the experience from a romantic getaway into a publishing deal. At the start, says Grune, their pitch was entirely different. “I wanted to shoot hotels. Evi wanted to shoot the big things: the Big Prawn, the Big Banana. We’ve visited a few of these already. But our publisher said, ‘It’s been done’. Then she suggested daytrips.”
Fifty-two of them, specifically. Where they should lead and what they should look like took a few turns, but ultimately it was exploring the natural world that inspired them. Growing up in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, Evi says she was surrounded by concrete. So when she moved to Australia, she was excited to see how abundant nature was. “But I also didn’t have Australian friends who would take me on bushwalks,” she adds. “My first bushwalk experience came after a friend gave me a bushwalking book she had written. I then went on that Wedding Cake Rock walk (south of Sydney) and I just loved it. The endorphins, being out in nature, the animals – even the bugs.”
Grune says the daytrip concept perfectly balanced the diametrically opposed elements of his and Evi’s personalities. In his own words, he is “the world’s biggest homebody. Evi is the biggest extrovert I’ve ever met and I’m probably the biggest introvert she has ever met. It’s a good mix.”
When it came to tracing out the trails for their Melbourne book, the pair relocated south for three months, staying in various locations including Marysville and Chewton before settling in Fitzroy. The most impressive detail they discovered was Victoria’s diversity of landscape. Everything from the coastline to alpine regions, goldfields and volcanic plains.
Their advice for a successful daytrip? “Good company,” says Grune. “And a reward at the end, like a view that makes you go ‘Ooh’.”
“And good food,” adds Evi. “That’s important.”
Day Trip Melbourne: 52 Nature Adventures, $34.99 from Thames & Hudson.
Read more in our Creative Couples series.