Melbourne – Exploring Australia’s Most Liveable City

Melbourne was voted most liveable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit for seven years in a row, a record breaking length (until it recently lost out to Vienna) and out of everyone I had spoken to about Melbourne I had only found two people who weren’t too keen. It was why we chose Melbourne as our starting point, to suss it out as a potential place to live later in the trip. Yet a week into arriving in this magnificent city and we hadn’t seen anything more interesting than the VICSRoad office, the bank and our caravan park. With life admin squared away we decided it was high time we checked out what Melbourne had to offer.

Melbourne Sea Life Centre

Just down the road from our hostel (also a short walk from Flinder’s street Station) is Melbourne Sea Life Centre, so after passing it so many times we decided to kill an afternoon while waiting for van repairs to take a look around. It was fun to check out, especially when trying to spot and name the fish we had seen on recent dives, but it was definitely more of a family activity. With the ticket price at per person $42 (or $32.50 if you have student discount) it probably isn’t worth it for a backpacker on a budget. That being said I did enjoy the talk by the big tank which features several types of shark, giant rays and a massive grouper called Mr G. When they first bought Mr G to the aquarium they decided to make sure he was well fed so that when he was introduced into his new tank he wouldn’t eat any of the other fish. They stuffed him full of 12kg of fish and figured that was more than enough. Oh no. Not for Mr G! He had been in the tank only a short while before he swam up to one of the sharks, almost the same size as him, and swallowed him whole. Yep. A grouper ate a shark whole. I never thought I would be more scared of a grouper than a shark! Apparently if you had blinked you missed it, his huge mouth opened and just gulped the shark whole. As unbelievable as it sounds, watching Mr G contentedly swimming around his tank, huge mouth gaping, it actually wasn’t too hard to believe.

Melbourne Zoo

I love a good zoo! I know a lot of people question the ethics of zoos but I believe as long as you are selective about going to legit zoos with a good reputation and outstanding conservation efforts, you can support something worthwhile. Melbourne Zoo was super easy to get to with tram, bus and train routes that stop directly outside the zoo. It’s a reasonable size too that if you want to see the whole park you can fi it into a full day without feeling rushed. The enclosures are broken down into groups and paths lead you on loops around each section. There are plenty of eating options but like most zoos it is all overpriced so best to bring a picnic. The only downside was the animal talks were quite short, less than ten minute run downs on the animals main attributes and background. It was one of my favourite things to do in Melbourne because it is always a joy to me to watch animals just being animals.

Free Walking Tour

After an incredible free walking tour in Berlin that set the bar high, we always keep a lookout for free walking tours wherever we travel. They are a great way to get a feel for a city and know your way around while getting an interesting history and side stories about the place. At the end you tip what you feel the tour was worth, or what your budget will allow. We took this tour with walkingtours101 which we heard about through the YHA hostel as they do pick ups there. He told us many interesting facts about the city, including that it was originally designed without any town squares as they didn’t want places where people could gather. Our guide explained the rebellion against the gold mining licences at the Eureka stockade and how the Eureka tower represents this with the red representing the blood shed, the blue the flag they flew and of course the gold top for the gold. Another interesting fact is that the city was originally called Batmania after one of the founding fathers called John Batman. Personally I think they should have kept the name, imagine telling people you were just off to Batmania for the weekend! The highlight for me was ending. At the Melbourne gaol where Ned Kelly was hung. Our guide told us the story of Ned Kelly’s final showdown and it sounded epic and made me interested to know more.

Secret bars – Berlin’s Bar

There are loads of secret bars in Melbourne. They have adopted the prohibition style without ever having had a prohibition in Australia. I wanted to check out a few more than just Berlin Bar but being a bit far out from the city centre this was the only one we made it to. It is above a bar called House of Maximon, which holds a free comedy night (again tip what you like) every Wednesday night. The bar is designed with one half like east Berlin and the other half like West Berlin, though we heard that strangely most people choose to sit by Stalin’s portrait in West Berlin than to enjoy the glam of the East Berlin decor.

Laneways

As part of our walking tour we passed through Hosier Lane, well known for its ever-changing street art. We were recommended to go more than once as you’ll see something different every time; this was definitely true as some of the art had already changed only a few days later when we passed through again. Most of the best stuff in Melbourne happens down these laneways, there are quirky shops, cute cafes and hidden gems of restaurants waiting to be found. We also met a friend for drinks at Chuckles Park Bar, right near Flinders Street, that turned out not to be down an alleyway but the bar was the alleyway itself! Heaters gave the place a warming glow, lanterns hung above us and the little shed at the end served up cocktails, wines and beers. Perfect place to spend an evening after a day exploring the city’s backstreets.

Immigration Museum

We walked past this museum over and over again and what caught my eye was the exhibition on tattoos in different cultures that sounded interesting. On a rainy day we decided it was a good time to mooch about the museum. Students get in for free, otherwise an adult ticket is $15, and it is worth checking out. The exhibitions are detailed and thought provoking. I’ll admit I found the tattoo exhibition the most interesting but it was a great rainy day activity.

St Kilda

I had heard lots of good things about St Kilda – basically if you like cafes, good food and markets this is the place to go. We went on the weekend and there were definitely Sunday vibes in the air. Everyone was eating outside in the sun and it reminded of pub lunches back home. The other great thing about Sunday is the St Kilda Esplanade Market that runs every Sunday and sells all sorts of trinkets, home-made soaps and tasty oils, spices and other foods with plenty of tasters on hand. Another must do is to try one of the cake shops in St Kilda. Europa has windows lined with chunky cheesecakes, thick wedges of cakes and fruity tarts – just about every treat you could want! We grabbed a chocolate cheesecake for me and a lemon meringue pie for Joey and headed to the Botanical Gardens for a mini picnic.

As the sun started to set we headed to the Pier for the other reason we had come to St Kilda. Every evening the little Fairy Penguins that call the rocks surrounding the pier home come back to their nests to fee their young and rest up before heading back out into the bay at dawn to fish again. Get there early as it gets very crowded but once the penguins start coming in people tend to disperse and stay a little later to see many of these cute penguins up close. The little penguins are kept an eye on by volunteers from Earthcare St Kilda, a non-profit organisation that work to protect the penguins and their home, making sure a safe distance is kept and their habitat isn’t disturbed.

I could see why Melbourne had won the award for most liveable city. I imagined myself living here, heading to the markets for fresh veg, hopping on the free inner city trams, spending lazy weekends in St Kilda and discovering all the secret bars with friends of an evening. At the same time the cold and the rain was off-putting and with so much more to explore of this vast country we were excited to move on. It was the perfect start place and I look forward to visiting again in the summer, whether we will settle here or not is still a long way off, for now we have some road tripping to do.

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How to Make the Most of Your Trip to Singapore Zoo

I’m a sucker for zoos so when I heard Singapore had not just one amazing zoo but a whole complex of zoos in the same area, I was so excited! I mean who doesn’t love spending your day looking at cute animals? And Singapore Zoo even manages to stretch the fun out into the evening with their Night Safari Park. 

It turned out to be one of my favourite things in Singapore and maybe even the trip as a whole. I managed to see tigers leaping out of the water to catch scraps of meat, I saw Barusa warthogs with tusks growing out of their heads (yes they actually exist) and watched bats flit by me to nibble on sweet fruit. Still, there were some things I wished I had known before-hand to make my visit even better, so here are some tips for you to get the most out of your visit to Singapore Zoo.

Do Your Research – First things first, do your research into what the parks have to offer. This may sound like an obvious one but I made a few assumptions about the parks, such as believing that the River Safari and Night Safari were more like attractions when actually they are full parks in their own right, and this messed up my timings for the day. Simply check out the website and really take note of what shows, feeding times and other attractions you want to hit and have a rough plan for your day. The website even offers a pretty intensive itinerary that you can try out if you want but the main thing is to have an idea of how much time you will spend in the park. People will tell you 3 hours is enough but I think you are looking at more like 4-5 hours if you really want to take your time and enjoy it. Get there in the morning and you’ll have plenty of time to fit it all in. 



Choose the right ticket for you– There are several ticket options for you to choose from:

1. Single Park Admission from S$24-45

2. Two Park Entry S$49

3. Four Park Entry S$69

4. Park hopper (four parks plus shuttle bus and boat within the parks) S$79

I would definiely advise getting one of the combo tickets, not only because price wise you get excellent savings, but also they are just so good you’ll want to see more than one! You can do any combination of the four parks, Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari or Jurong Bird Park in the two park entry; my recommendation would be Singapore Zoo as it has the most animals and then the Night Safari because it is such a unique experience. What I wouldn’t recommend is the Park Hopper ticket. The only added perk to this is you can use the tram to take you around the park and on the river safari you can catch the boat ride. Unless you have mobility issues it is not too hard to walk around the park and if you change your mind you can buy tickets there (S$5 for tram and same for boat). I ended up using it just for the sake of it and because of timings I didn’t make it to the boat ride at all so even though it is just S$10 extra it wasn’t worth it for me.



Bring Your Own Food – This almost goes without saying for zoos, the price of food is always going to be astronomical so it makes much more sense to grab some snacks and have a picnic. Also, the food I did have was terrible. Stop at one of the bread shops in the metro stations and buy some cheeses rolls, crisps and fruit and you will be all set!



Don’t Miss The Feeding Times – The shows at zoos are always good fun but I find mostly they are aimed at kids, if you want a more interesting experience try to catch the feeding times. I was at the tiger enclosure in time to see them being fed and it was the best part of the day. The two white bengal tigers swam in figures of eight below the keeper, leaping up into the air to catch their food and sometimes swiping at each other too. You are also more likely to hear some cool facts about the animal and get a chance to question the zoo keeper, something you can’t do at a show.



Know What To Expect For the Night Safari – I thought this one of a kind experience was brilliant! The idea behind it is that a lot of animals are more active at night so why not go see them then? While I would say this is still true, don’t expect them all to be running about everywhere, animals have lazy days (or nights) as much as we do. Yet hearing their calls to each other was like being out in the African bush. The fact that the park was a lot quieter at night (many people seemed to do the included safari ride and skip the walking section – which is still worth doing as you see things you don’t on the ride) meant I could enjoy a peaceful moment just watching the animals be. What I want to warn you about though is, again, maybe an obvious point but still worth noting: It gets dark at night. There is low lighting for you to be able to see the animals but it is designed not to disturb the animals too much so is not the best for viewing them. If you have difficulty seeing in low light then maybe this isn’t the park for you, that being said, peering into the darkness to figure out whether that shadow is a sleeping lion or just a big rock is all part of the fun! There is also no flash photography so if you fancy yourself the next National Geographic photographer then don’t expect perfect conditions.


There is so much to see and do there you could easily spend a couple of days visiting two parks each day and have a great time. Singapore Zoo and the other parks were a highlight for me in Singapore and hopefully with these tips to help you along it will be for you too.