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First Trip To Melbourne

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Okay, so the title is of this post not quite true. I’ve been to Melbourne before, but only on business, and it was just for a few hours… so that doesn’t count.

Aside from Canberra, Melbourne is the nearest major city to Sydney and so we thought it a great place to begin our exploration of other places in Australia. Plus, Natalie hates flying – so as Melbourne is only an hour away by plane, it seemed a good place to start with to get her used to domestic flights!

As schools are on their summer holidays, Natalie is off work until February, so it just needed me to take some time off. As all we had heard about Melbourne was that it paled in comparison to Sydney in all respects, we decided to make our first trip just 5 days, just to be on the safe side.

It actually turned out though that I liked Melbourne much more than I thought I would and we both would have happily stayed for longer.

Day 1

We landed in Melbourne shortly before 10am. As we couldn’t check-in at the hotel until the afternoon, we left our bags with the receptionist and ventured out for breakfast.

We found a little cafe called Brother Thomas opposite Flagstaff Gardens which was really good but absolutely dead. It seems the cafe culture isn’t as thriving in Melbourne as it is in Sydney – had this cafe been in Bondi, you would have been queuing up for a table!

We got back to the hotel around midday and they had a room ready for us. We were staying at the Atlantis Hotel. It’s a budget hotel, but we figured that as we’d be out sightseeing and only needed the room for somewhere to sleep, we wouldn’t splash out on anything more luxurious.

The room did it’s job though and it’s location in the city was absolutely perfect – just a stone’s throw from the main bus & train station, opposite the Etihad Stadium, 5 minute walk to the Docklands, and 2 minute walk into the CBD.

Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park

Feeding a baby wallaby at Moonlit Wildlife Park

We just had time for a quick change of clothes before we headed back out to jump on a minibus to go and witness the Penguin parade on Phillip Island.

The Penguin Parade tour we went on was operated by Bunyip Tours and is a very personal tour with only 14 people allowed on each trip.

The tour culminated in seeing the penguins, but first stopped off at loads of other locations along the way. The first stop was at the Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park where we were lucky enough to have an inquisitive baby wallaby come over to see us, as well as get up close and personal with a family of koalas.

The second stop was supposed to be the Philip Island Chocolate Factory, but we all decided to veto that stop as it seemed a little out-of-place on the trip, and our guide happily took us to Cape Woolamai instead where we could chill out on the huge empty beach.

The tour then reached a beautiful headland, with the slightly less beautiful name of The Nobbies. This is part of the penguin reserve and has a few nesting penguins along the spectacular coastal walkway.

Penguin Parade on Phillip IslandAfter grabbing some food and taking in the view, we headed down the road to the Penguin Parade on the coast of the Phillip Island Nature Park, arriving just before sunset.

As soon as the sun went down the penguins started emerging from the sea in their 1,000s and began waddling up the beach to feed their awaiting chicks in the nests. It was an utterly amazing sight and one that I felt very privileged to be a part of.

It’s definitely not something I’ll forget anytime soon!

Day 2

The alarm went off at 6am as we had to get up to jump on another tour bus, this time taking us along the Great Ocean Road. The only issue with this was that we didn’t get back to the hotel from the Penguin Parade tour until 1am, so we were both very sleep deprived!

Great Ocean Road tour

Top: A taste of the stunning views along the Great Ocean Road. Left: At the start of the Great Ocean Road. Right: Cape Otway Lighthouse.

Looking out of the hotel window, it was cloudy and quite chilly, so I started off wearing a thick fleece jacket and jeans. By the end of the day however I’d be in a t-shirt and sunglasses – this was out first taste of the rapidly changing Melbourne weather!

The Great Ocean Road tour took us along 170km of the 243km coastal road with several stops along the way, finishing up at one of Australia’s most famous natural wonders, the Twelve Apostles.

Some of the stop-offs before lunch included Lorne, Cape Patton, Apollo Bay and the rainforest at Great Otway National Park where we were lucky enough to see loads of koalas in the wild!

Lunch was a BBQ set up on our behalf at the Cape Otway Lighthouse. After a few sausages and a climb to the top of the lighthouse to look out over the Bass Straight, we jumped back on the minibus.

Beach at Gibson Steps

Panorama of the beach at the foot of the Gibson Steps

The next stop was at the Gibson Steps, before finally arriving at the main event, the Twelve Apostles.

Twelve Apostles tour

Clockwise: Start of the Twelve Apostles trail, Me & Nat, Looking West, Looking East.

While the views here were breathtaking, I’m not sure what got on my nerves the most; the swarms of annoying flies, or the swarms of rude Chinese tourists…?

The final stop of the tour was the captivating Loch Ard Gorge. Not only is this hidden cove an absolutely gorgeous beach, it also has a fascinating story to go along with it (I’ll write it up in a separate post when I get the chance).

We got back in time to try out a Malaysian restaurant near our hotel that our tour guide recommended we go to, but we soon had to retire to bed before I nodded off into my curry.

Day 3

Today was Natalie’s birthday and also one of the main reasons we were in Melbourne – to visit the set of the Aussie TV soap, Neighbours!

Neighbours Ramsey Street Tour

Neighbours Ramsey Street tour

Neighbours set tour

Neighbours set backstage tour

After a much needed lie-in and breakfast at the hotel, we spent the morning exploring Melbourne’s CBD in search of a new handbag and shoes for Nat’s birthday.

As far as shopping goes, Sydney clearly has the edge over Melbourne. All of the shops are really disjointed and the range of stores was limited. That said, the lucky birthday girl ended up getting a new bag and high heels from David Jones.

We then headed off to jump aboard the Neighbours tour minibus to visit Pin Oak Court aka Ramsey Street!

The cul-de-sac is much smaller than it appears on TV, but having been an avid fan of the show while at university, it was like visiting a place that I already knew well.

After posing for some photos with a Ramsey Street road sign we were then lucky enough to also be allowed to visit the TV studios where the rest of the show is filmed.

This isn’t usually a part of this tour, however as it was still the holidays and the actors weren’t at work, the studio was empty and so we could go and have a look around!

On the way back from the tour we met up with Ben Nicholas, a past actor from the show who played Scott “Stingray” Timmins, and grabbed some photos with him.

Then to continue our Neighbours fan fest for Natalie’s birthday, we went out to the Elephant & Wheelbarrow pub in St Kilda for the famous Neighbours Trivia Night.

Neighbours Trivia Night - meeting the actors

Clockwise: Stingray (Ben Nicholas), Chris Pappas (James Mason), Madge Bishop (Anne Charleston), Malcolm Kennedy (Benjamin McNair), Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis)

Not only did we get meet Neighbours legends such as Malcolm Kennedy (Benjamin McNair), Chris Pappas (James Mason) and THE Madge Bishop (Anne Charleston), but Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis) and his band also played for an hour to finish the night off…

…which was AMAZING!

When he’d finished, Stefan actually rushed off stage, however after a bit of expert blagging from Nat we were allowed backstage to meet him for a chat and some photos – much to the dismay of everyone else!

Day 4

The weather while we had been in Melbourne so far had been really nice, averaging around 30°C in the afternoons, however Tuesday was incredibly hot. It just so happened that we had foolishly planned to spend the whole day at the beach!

At 11am, before we left the hotel, we checked the temperature and it was already 34°C. When we arrived at St Kilda beach, after stopping for some breakfast, it was around 1:30pm and the temperature had reached 42°C!

St. Kilda beach

Day in St. Kilda in 43 degree heat!

We just stripped off and headed straight into the sea, where we spent most of our time to try and cool down.

It was hard, but we did manage to drag ourselves out of the water and explored St Kilda a little. After grabbing some lunch we had a few cocktails at a bar called 29th Apartment before heading home.

We decided to get a taxi back to make the most of the air conditioned car, but it was a good job we did as the taxi driver told us that the heat had warped all of Melbourne’s tram and train tracks and as a result both had been shut down!

For our last night in Melbourne we booked a table at the Wharf restaurant on Melbourne docks. The view out over the water was awesome as the sun set while we were eating – a great way to spend an evening saying farewell to Melbourne.

Melbourne Docks at sunset

The stunning view of Melbourne Docks at sunset

Day 5

For our final day we headed up to Carlton Gardens to visit the hugely impressive Melbourne Museum. As well as their usual exhibits they also had a James Bond exhibit called “Designing 007“.

The Bond exhibition itself was worth the money, with 10 rooms packed with original props, vehicles, set designs, costumes and tones of other stuff from all of the James Bond movies. After stopping for an obligatory Martini (shaken, not stirred) in the Bond Cocktail Bar, we went around the rest of the museum – FYI the hall called “Wild: Amazing Animals in a Changing World” is absolutely breathtaking. From floor to ceiling, this huge room is full of 1,000s of species of taxidermy animal, both alive and extinct. You really have to be there to experience it in all it’s glory!

Well, Melbourne, you have been fun. It’s a city that gets lots of bad press from Sydney-siders, I think mainly for it’s weather more than anything. We were seemingly lucky with 5 exceptional days of sunshine and had a great time. It has a totally different feel to Sydney, and while I still much prefer Sydney over Melbourne, it’s definitely a city that I’d return to to continue exploring.