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.
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.
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.
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.
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.