MONDAY 10th APRIL 2017
Melbourne, the quirky capital of Victoria state, has been high on my agenda since moving out to Australia, and over a year and a half later I’ve finally set foot on its European inspired streets. Bustling lane ways boast coffee culture with buskers and graffiti art, while the river is lined with trendy bars and an electric atmosphere. They say you either fall for Sydney or Melbourne, and after my short lived city break here, I definitely feel it deserves more exploration and a place in my heart. Not being the city type I can appreciate it is a place of culture and class; Melbourne appears to have a soul which I feel is uncommon of a lot of big cities I have visited. The CBD itself is not too extensive, however suburbia stretches far and wide with beautiful beaches and vineyards lining vibrant towns of local communities. That is what makes Melbourne so special: a vibrant arty centre, with outskirts of some of the most spectacular scenery Australia has to offer. Sampling the city lights has been a far cry from my current cyclone torn home of Airlie Beach, but with four days to spare, I managed to sweep the area for the best it’s got.
Day one in the infamous St. Kilda, Melbourne suburb, and it lived up to it’s highly regarded reputation. Although a little shabby around the edges, St Kilda is home to a beautiful beach setting only 15 minutes tram ride away from the city centre. Around the heart of this small shabby chic suburb, Fitzroy and Acland Street host the quirkiest restaurants and cafe’s, whilst the boardwalk that lines the city beach (very much like that in Barcelona) has an alfresco nightlife with spectacular sunsets across the city. Kite-surfers ride the winds with the dramatic city backdrop; its an unusual but beguiling place. Smack bang in the centre is Luna Park, the fun-fair with the dramatic clown faced entrance. During the evening, having spent the afternoon exploring this compact suburb of shops and esplanade market stalls, I watched the sun set at the restaurant on the end of St Kilda pier. It was then that the most magical thing about St. Kilda became apparent; as the sun is setting on the small man-made beach tucked inside the marina, the local penguins appear for an evening show. Completely gobsmacked by their presence, it made for a memorable first night in Melbourne.
St Kilda is a small area, with not a lot to do beyond sampling the local shops, restaurants and bars. Although it is home to the well known city beach, I did not entirely rate this in comparison to all of the other beaches Australia has to offer. In terms of visiting here as a tourist I would suggest only a day or two; alternatively this could be your base for your whole Melbourne trip, with the efficient tram service running very regularly.
Jumping onto the tram network of inner city Melbourne, I arrived at Flinders Street in the CBD, home to Federation square, the beautiful Flinders street station, St Paul’s cathedral and a burst of small lane-ways brimming with cafe’s and restaurants. It was here that I felt like I was back in Europe, drinking my morning coffee on the cobbled streets with people going about their daily business. I had already got a feel for the colourful city life, although it is maybe still a little too much for my taste. Known for it’s street art, Melbourne has a prominent art and music scene; Hosier lane is most famous for it’s graffiti, with an impressive display of art, even on the street itself. Moving further into the high rise buildings, I found myself at the centre of shopping heaven on Bourke street mall; although all large chain stores rather than unique boutiques, I still appreciated a little civilisation. Amongst it’s standard city architecture, stood snippets of beauty with the mosaic floors of The Block Arcade, and the dramatic interior tower of Melbourne Central. After a little retail therapy, and gawping look at the Lindt chocolate cafe, I made for the famous Queen Victoria market. This huge undercover market operates every day but Monday, with everything you could imagine up for grabs. The food market has delicious deli counters of fresh food galore! On the Yarra River lies Southbank, the riverside scene bubbling with the after work drinkers and buskers. Ponyfish Island is a quirky bar set on the waters level around the pillar of the bridge. You could not find a cooler location to have an afternoon city drink in the sun. Further out of the CBD is where I finished my long day of exploring. Fitzroy is the hipster/bohemian suburb of Melbourne, with shabby chic streets of more art and vintage clothing. With $1 tapas, I spent the evening at rooftop bar Naked for Satan. All in all, the city centre has provided me with a long day of indulgences.
Melbourne CBD, although attractive for someone who has craved a little more civilisation, is still a city centre and like every other large city. Although I enjoyed my time exploring, I was expecting a little more of a European vibe like i’ve heard prior to my visit; maybe it deserves some more exploration. I would have liked to visit the Botanical Gardens whilst in the city and also spent a little more time in the area of Southbank.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD
The Great Ocean Road, one of the main attractions of southern Australian coast, and I can now see why. This spectacular road carved into the cliff faces of the coast of Victoria, has beach after beach of surf and dramatic displays of rock formations, whilst in land roll fields of forest and beautiful open landscapes. This drive is truly stunning and we were lucky to pick a day of perfect blue skies. Beginning in the surf capital of Australia, Torquay is home to the Rip Curl Pro and all of the best surf shops you can find in the country. For me, Torquay displays the ultimate Australian lifestyle of coastal living and sport. Looking out across Bells beach were countless black dots riding in the swell, as they started setting up Australia’s largest surf competition coming the following weekend. This place exceeded my expectations, and the journey has only just begun. Continuing onto the Great Ocean Road, we stumbled across the chocolaterie, bursting with Easter treats. Then in the distance sat the lighthouse from childhood Australian TV programme, ‘Around the Twist’. The coastal towns of the Great Ocean road are what makes this place really special. Driving on through Lorne and Apollo Bay, another few coastal towns, we finally made it to the famous Twelve Apostles rock formations and Loch Ard Gorge. Although they lived up to my expectations, with great views as the sun started to drop, I could not get over how very touristy this place actually is.
The Great Ocean Road is spectacular, and definitely needs longer than a day to explore. With a few short stops along the way, we drove for over 12 hours from Melbourne, along the Great Ocean Road. Ideally I would like to do the trip over a few days in a camper van and stop along the way to explore the beaches and smaller towns. Beyond our final destination of the Twelve Apostles, there is still a lot more to see. There are tours that run day trips, however I would recommend hiring a car and doing it your own way.
The final day on my sweep of the city of Melbourne, and I decided to spend it exploring a good friends home suburb, the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. Mornington Peninsula is home to a surprising amount of vineyards/wineries, that lay up in the hills above the town, so we decided it would be rude not to sample as many as we could. Driving up through the woods beyond suburbia, we made our first stop at ’T’Gallant’ winery, which was my favourite by far. Overlooking the small vineyard was a bustling restaurant, bar and winery which appeared very popular. We were ushered into the winery and given a courtesy wine tasting session with a lovely local man who ran through 10 different wines that they make in the area. Not only were the wines stunning, but the atmosphere was warm and inviting, enough for us to keep drinking. Moving on, we visited another few vineyards, one being a beautiful quiet retreat with a little more relaxed approach. We finally found Red Hill cheese farm, at which we obviously sampled their finest cheeses. Having had enough of eating and drinking, I was given a tour of the beautiful area of Mornington. Far enough away from the city life, yet close enough to be accessible, this lovely suburb has a lot to offer in my opinion, and has probably been my favourite of the days spent here. Beautiful quiet beaches and a great high street of cafes were the decider for me. A great area to explore if you had a little more time beyond visiting Melbourne itself.