Australia – Magical Melbourne

I arrived in Melbourne feeling like a sack of something nasty. I was tired and desperately wanted to shower. Luckily I had a place to stay and a short trip out of the centre took me to a house with a bathroom and a bed. Score!

To get around in Melbourne you need a ‘Myki’ card. This card will cost you $6 AUD (non-refundable). You tap on and off transport as you use it and your pre-loaded credit gets deducted. There’s train, buses and trams in Melbourne. I gave in trying to work out the fare system and daily cap as it seemed to change every time I got on something. The Myki system is confusing and doesn’t work very well most of the time. Also, you cannot claim back any cash left on your card when you’re ready to leave so plan how much you top up carefully.

Australia is currently in the middle of winter so Melbourne was not the tropical temperatures you would expect. It was between about 10-17 degrees whilst I was there and it rained a bit too. This didn’t really affect me however as, being British, my breeding makes me mostly impervious to bad weather. I replaced my lost coat rather quickly (I’m not that hardy) and got on with seeing the City.

The architecture in Melbourne is glorious. There’s plenty of well preserved buildings to enjoy within very short walking distance of one another. The State Library of Victoria is an imposing example.

Library

Looks a bit Greek with those columns doesn’t it? Inside the library there was an exhibition on other public buildings in Melbourne. It covered who designed them, how they have been added to over time and the origins of why they were commissioned. Pretty interesting really. I walked around it for a bit.

The closest station to the Library is Melbourne Central. It’s a bit of an architectural triumph in itself as the station is built around this very tall tower.

Melbourne Central

That’s right, around the tower. The council said “No, no. You can’t knock that down and develop there, no way.” so a clever architect said, “how about I build around it then?”. The council said “Well yes, that works, off you go.” and so they did! Now, there’s a mall and a train station all snuggled up to the tower. How lovely.

My personal ‘wow factor’ building was Flinders Street train station and I don’t believe further explanation will be required after you see the photo:

Flinders St Station

Another impressive, but somber, building is the Shrine of Remembrance. It was built after the end of the First World War in order to commemorate the sacrifice of Victorians.

Shrine of remberance

The shrine has a visitors centre beneath it with information on how the war affected Australia. The shrine itself is cleverly designed so that at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, the sun shines directly onto a plaque set at the heart of the building which reads “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The word ‘Love’ is illuminated by the sunlight for a few minutes before the sun passes by. Every 30 minutes, they have a ‘fake’ sunlight moment for visitors to enjoy. There’s also a balcony area which provides you with excellent views of Melbourne if you wander around it. There’s guided tours each day too at 11am and 2pm. I missed the 2pm one but was lucky enough to find a spare volunteer who didn’t mind taking me around. Free to enter and well worth a visit.

Right next to the Shrine of Remembrance you will find the Observatory and the Botanic Gardens. The Observatory has a few information boards dotted about but you can’t go inside or see anything really. The gardens are as you would expect, beautiful. It felt distinctly autumnal in certain sections of the gardens though. I really felt like this could have been a scene from anywhere in Britain.

Botanic gardens

Again, you can take a free tour at 11am or 2pm around the gardens but I missed both of them. The gardens are free and make for a joyous stroll. You can get a good view over the river Yarra from the far North East side of the gardens too. Worth going for a look.

Melbourne has ample shopping. There’s modern malls and boutique shops to be found around every corner. My personal favourite, if not tacky, shopping spot was the Queen Victoria Markets.

Victoria Market

Here, you can buy anything from fresh meat and veg to some really rather dubious ‘authentic’ Australian souvenirs. My personal best buy were 6 doughnuts from an American style caravan thing between the vegetables and tat sections.

Another less tacky place I enjoyed was the Block Arcade.

Block Arcade

There’s mostly more independent shops in here which will sell you everything from cake to greetings cards. The building itself is really rather lovely and the shops have been fitted into it very respectfully.

Away from the older buildings now and into the new, the central business district (CBD). As you would expect, the buildings are tall and shiny. They light up at night too.

night time cbd

Amongst the CBD you can find many things to do. There’s the arts centre (which looks rather like an odd Eiffel Tower) and the gallery to look around. The Gallery is wonderful and I visited on two separate occasions so as to make sure I didn’t miss anything in the exhibitions. There’s the iconic Federation Square where Melbourne holds most of it’s big parties (New Years Eve etc) and a casino set right on the river. You have theatres, bars with live music, street performers and amazing street art all just right there. Truly brilliant! The CBD looks impressive from further away too. Here’s a shot taken from the jetty at Williamstown (a smaller ‘township’ about 20 minutes outside Melbourne).

CBD from williamstown

Williamstown itself is adorable and I bet the fish and chips/ice cream combo there during summer rivals the best of the best.

I also made a short trip to St Kilda which I didn’t see a great deal of. What I did see was a rather attractive water side ‘town’ that I wanted to spend more time in. I also saw live music in Fitzroy, enjoyed a giant monkey in King Kong and rode the city circle tram. It was also Melbourne Open House weekend whilst I was there so I got to see inside City Hall and stand exactly where Her Royal Highness The Queen stood and waved to crowds form the City Hall balcony in the 50’s. Smashing! I did a fair old bit really.

Apart from the City itself, a ‘must do’ if you’re going to be in Melbourne is the Great Ocean Road. This road does exactly what is says on the tin. It’s great to drive on and it’s by the ocean. You can’t go wrong.

There’s lots of towns and view points to stop at once you get on the road and I would suggest a minimum 1 night stop over. We stopped for the night at Apollo Bay on our trip at a place called Angela’s Guesthouse. As it’s off season, we paid $150 AUD for 4 people to share a ‘suite’. There were beds, a bathroom and a lounge area with tea and coffee provided. Not bad at all for the price.

Anyway, why should you go on the Great Ocean Road? ‘Cause it’s beautiful, that’s why. My favourite beach was probably this one and I believe it’s Bell’s Beach.

Great Ocean Road Bells Beach

The lookout points at all the stops are pretty good but this one, I found, was spectacular. We had a bit of fun writing in the sand and generally being mischievous.

Great Ocean Road

The weather was pretty changeable. It was consistently cold but the wind and rain attacked intermittently. The afternoons were definitely the worst for weather. We were soaked through to the bone on the afternoon of our first day because we’d been caught in a deluge. If you’re visiting in summer time you won’t have to worry but a winter visit resulted in drying a lot of clothes on radiators and broken umbrellas.

The first real ‘landmark’ we saw were the Erskine falls. There’s two view points, the upper and lower. You’ll get this view from the lower:

Erskine Falls

Once you’re at the bottom, there is a trail you can follow further down the cascades. I chickened out due to my clumsy nature and Converse All Stars unsuitable shoes. One of the girls I went with did venture down and got some stunning photos of the cascades. She said the path seemed to go on and on so experienced ramblers could probably go for a decent trek.

A world famous stop is the 12 Apostles. There’s a little visitors centre with bathroom and caffeine facilities. When you get down onto the walkway, there’s a few paths you can take for views. Just take them all one at a time. Here’s my personal favourite (now with extra blowy hair).

12 apostles

You can take a helicopter tour over the apostles if you so desire but none of us did, so we didn’t.

Past the 12 apostles is Loc Ard Gorge and Hunters cave. This is the site of a famous shipwreck but, as I’m not into all that stuff, I didn’t pay attention to the information boards. I stood and watched waves career into rocks and wondered how they’d withstood erosion for so long.

Hunter's cave

The section of road after the 12 apostles is apparently a big ship wreck buffs dream as there were loads of sinkings and what not. It was easy to understand how ships had gotten wrecked as the waves were enormous and vicious. There’s a few light houses on the way too with the most famous being the Otway lighthouse (but it was closed).

Down the road from the 12 apostles you can make several stops on what is called the ‘gourmet’ trail. There’s cheese and wine places to go but we went to the chocolate place. I’d been treated to some pretty amazing hot chocolate in Melbourne at Koko Black’s (in the Royal Arcade) but this hot chocolate just pipped it to the post.

Gorge Chocolate

Gorge chocolates is run by a a couple who hand temper all their goods. They sell almost everything you can imagine but my personal favourite was raspberry liquorice coated in white chocolate. Absolutely divine!

Back on the sightseeing trail, we headed to another icon of the Ocean Road, London Bridge. It’s not the London Bridge I know and love, it’s something completely different and stunning.

London Bridge on Great Ocean Road

Honestly, when I say every view point is worth stopping at on the Great Ocean Road, I mean it. There’s something unique on offer at every station. It’s a crying shame we had wet weather. If it had been bitterly cold and windy we would have been happy to see much more but, with rain pouring in from all directions, we had to abandon some stops in favour of not catching pneumonia. You can see from my final picture just how much the weather closed in towards the end of the second day. We raced against the rain for as long as we could but conceded at about 4pm and headed back to Melbourne.

20130804_135112

A quick stop in Geelong to fill our bellies full of Indian food was a good move! We arrived back in Melbourne at about 9pm after a stunning 2 days driving. I can only imagine how beautiful the trip is in summer.

I will conclude with the fact that Melbourne is an anomaly which I was not expecting. It’s a city striving to be all things cultural and it’s not doing a bad job. By British standards, Melbourne is a tiny baby of a City but, despite that, it’s really got some good stuff going on! The plucky young thing knows what it wants to be when it grows up and that’s helping it to be a pretty exciting place whilst it develops. Well done Melbourne, you managed to bewitch me.

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