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Melbourne

Melbourne

People have described Melbourne to me as being like ‘Wellington on steroids’ and after visiting there myself, I can’t really disagree. Think fashion, coffee, culture and sport; it is a continual hub of activity and a foodie’s dream. The public transport system is excellent (a possible point of difference to Wellington), there are so many beaches just a stones throw away, and it also serves as a gateway to the Yarra Valley. It is so easy to escape the big city life in Melbourne.

Despite being in Australia (which therefore means it should be tropical), Melbourne has weather not dissimilar to that of Wellington, although on average it would be a few degrees warmer and lacking the wind. Easily one of the most livable cities I have ever been to, I have a number of friends that are spread across the city and all absolutely love it. On my most recent visit I managed to scrape in about ten days; long enough to really get a feel for the place, but which has left me wanting so much more.

 

Getting around

The most efficient way to get around in Melbourne is to buy and top up your ‘Myki’ card at the first possible opportunity, and then swipe it on and off when you use the trains, trams and buses around the city. Fares differ depending on what zones you travel through, but there is a daily cap, and travel within the inner city is completely free.

Getting to and from the airport

Despite the extensive train network Melbourne has, there is no train line that gets you to the airport. Not the end of the world, but a slight inconvenience because the airport is about 25km from the city – which can create quite an expensive taxi ride. The best way to and from the airport is via the SkyBus which costs $36 for a return trip. It takes you from the airport to the Southern Cross train station, which is basically a depot for a huge number of trains, trams and buses. There is also a free hotel transfer available, for if you caught the SkyBus. The trip takes about thirty minutes, but I would allow slightly longer if you have a flight to catch.

Sleeping

My family stayed at an Air BnB in Southbank which proved to be an absolutely ideal location for both access to the CBD, and also for the Australian Open (our real purpose for visiting Melbourne). Anywhere in the CBD is going to be super convenient, but probably also expensive – so we felt Southbank was a good compromise.

We almost stayed in St Kilda, which is only a short tram ride away and has the added benefit of the beach. Proximity to the tennis won out, but I suspect that had we not been going to the Australian Open we may have ended up staying out there.

Activities

Obviously the longer you can spend in a place, the better the feel you will get for it. I do think that based on my recent 10 days there (admittedly a lot of that was spent at the tennis) you could get a pretty decent taste of Melbourne over just a long weekend. Here’s some ideas on what you could do:

  • Melbourne CBD: Eat, drink, shop is the easy answer. For me to suggest eateries is an absolutely ridiculous idea as there are just so many and I didn’t have time to visit more than a few (but the few I did visit I have reviewed here). But we can go beyond that. If you are heading up north, make sure you visit Chinatown in addition to the nearby Greek and Italian Quarters. There is also the museum up this end of town and a bunch of shops. Walking back towards Flinders Station, pay heed to the numerous laneways that are dotted about the place, the most famous of which is Hosier’s Lane. If you’re lucky you may even catch an artist at work. Captain Cook’s Cottage is an interesting visit, and you can picnic in the beautiful Fitzroy Gardens afterwards. St Pauls Cathedral is not far from Federation Square, both of which are essentially across the road from Flinders Station. By night, visit the Crown casino complex (it is massive) and Southbank in general for some great bars and restaurants.

 

  • South of the Yarra River: Get your walking shoes on and go for a wander. Visit the Shrine of Remembrance (to commiserate the soldiers who lost their lives at war) and meander through the Botanical Gardens, which plays home to the Government House as well as a venue for the Bowl, a venue for many a concert in Melbourne. While you are out this way, if you’re sporty you may be interested in doing a tour of the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) which I have to admit that I actually found really interesting despite not being the biggest cricket fan. Finish up this journey by going for a stroll along the river, where you will end up back in town.

 

  • Beaches: I had no idea Brighton Beach was so close to Melbourne. Growing up I had always been very aware that somewhere in Australia these adorable little boat sheds existed, but had no idea where until very recently. Thankfully I found out about Brighton before I left. It’s pretty easy to get to as well – just jump on the Sandringham line from Flinders Station – although you will have to walk for a wee bit when you get there (well worth it though). Another great day trip is to Williamstown. Also a beach, you can actually catch a ferry there and you’ll get some amazing views. It’s a cute little seaside village, with lots of cafes and boutique style shops.

  • Yarra Valley: You can either hire a car or do an organised tour – because there was six of us my family opted to do an organised tour. For AUD$130, we got taken to 5 different wineries in the Yarra Valley (one of which we had the most delicious sit-down lunch at), as well as a dairy farm and a chocolate shop. It was such a great day out, and if you go there with the intention of drinking all the wine that they offer you, you’ll come away thinking it was well worth your money (although you mayn’t remember all the events of the day…).

 

  • St Kilda: In my opinion St Kilda is one of the coolest suburbs of Melbourne (and I think it’s a common opinion to have). With the beach right there, St Kilda is super outdoorsy, with people swimming and kite-surfing and doing all sorts of other exercises. It is a young, hip area – you see people of all sorts wandering around – it’s really great. There are heaps of funky cafes, bars and restaurants and lots of interesting shops. It is also the home of Luna Park; which is somewhere you have to visit once, but I think the novelty wears off with age!

Tokyo Tina

Tokyo Tina

Tokyo Tina (66a Chapel Street, Windsor)

Wow. This was a dining experience like nothing else I had in Melbourne; it was hands and shoulders above the rest. Hats off the chef, George Proudfoot, who absolutely blew my family away with some of the intricacies that he served us. From the moment we arrived we were treated like royalty and essentially had our choice of seating. Another one of those restaurants that doesn’t take bookings unless you have at least six people, we opted to get there early to ensure we wouldn’t have to wait. It paid off, and we picked a cute little table in the window front.

First things first, cocktails. The cocktail menu was very quirky, but also quite expensive. We all picked different drinks so that we could have a wee taste of a few; they were all very exotic – mostly classic cocktail mixes, with some crazy modern twists. After drinks came food. Here we ran into trouble, for a few reasons. There were so many options, each sounding better than the last. But, we had a vegetarian on board, as well as me – who couldn’t eat beef. We ended up mostly taking what the chef served to us; which resulted in a mixture of beef, non-beef, vegetarian and non-veg dishes. We took our waitor’s recommendation a lot too; he was great at knowing how much food we should get, and which dishes would go well with others. Lastly, dessert was a real treat. We were all so stuffed that we very nearly couldn’t eat it. But, everyone who knows me well knows that I can never say no to lemon meringue pie, and who was I to say no to yuzu meringue pie!? I had heard of this exotic Japanese citrus fruit only on Masterchef, so was keen to give it a try. And it was so yummy; we ended up polishing off every last mouthful.

Tokyo Tina has sister restaurants in Saigon Sally and Hanoi Hannah; both of which also sound delicious, but unfortunately we ran out of time to get there too. It was such an enjoyable dining experience. I would definitely recommend sharing the food there, but keep in mind it can be kind of pricey.

 

 

Amigos

Amigos

Amigos (Hardware Lane)

Hardware Lane plays host to a few different restaurants, and a number of different cuisines. Amigos is located nearer the Lonsdale Street end of Hardware Lane, basically opposite Max on Hardware (see earlier post). Our waitress was lovely, she was always there when we needed her, but she wasn’t one of those waitresses who overserved. The menu was Mexican with a modern twist – for example kale in the tacos, and the most bizarre one-dish nacho arrangement I have ever seen. The sangria jugs were great value for money – get in on happy hour and make the most of it. Hardware Lane in general is extremely vibrant so I would take the opportunity to sit outside if you can.

Abbey Road Cafe

Abbey Road Cafe

Abbey Road Café (129 – 131 Acland Street, St Kilda)

Not really my kind of place, especially when visiting Australia (somewhere I perceive as having an abundance of fresh, tropical fruit) but it does what it does well. Combining generations of music (both in decoration on the walls, as well as blaring across the speakers) with hearty, home-style food it has a menu that has basically everything on it. We sat inside, and it was pretty dark and hard to hear each other over the music, but the service was pretty good and the food tasted nice as well. There is the option to sit outside, which would have been far nicer except that there was no table big enough to take us. I was impressed by the array of musical collection that they did have on the walls, but it just isn’t somewhere I would have chosen to go in sunny St Kilda.

Rochford Winery

Rochford Winery

Rochford Winery (880 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream, Yarra Valley)

I love eating at wineries. The food is always presented so beautifully, and it is rare that it is not of the highest quality as well. I was extremely excited to be visiting the Yarra Valley, and excited to sit down for a meal at one of it’s most established wineries. Rochford was especially cute; with it’s Cellar Door and gift shop right as you walk in, and then a winding stair case leading up to a viewing gallery which literally gives you a three-sixty degree view of your surroundings. There was nothing on the day that we were there, but Rochford frequently plays host to a number of winery concerts and festivals – and it had a great set-up for it. The food was as delicious as I’d hoped; all of the elements intricately arranged on the plate for maximum presentation points as well.

Pacinos

Pacinos

Pacinos Italian Family Restaurant (300 Epsom Road, Flemington)

The main reason we visted Pacinos was because it was in Flemington, close to the race course, which was convenient for us because that was where Cirque De Soleil was on – and we were going to it! The circus started relatively early, so we wanted to find somewhere nearby so that we could enjoy an early dinner with the comfort of knowing that the circus was just down the road. A bit of online searching found us this place, and with outstanding reviews we booked ourselves in for a 6pm dinner. It didn’t take us long to see why they had such good reviews; it excelled in almost every regard. The place was massive and crammed, which gave rise to a buzzing atmosphere. The menu had heaps of options; and rather than being traditional Italian meals, there was a mixture of modern Italian combined with Australian food – which I think served to make the restaurant extremely family friendly. The staff were so incredibly attentive that it was almost scary, our food came super quickly (so we didn’t need to worry about being late for the circus) and everything was reasonably priced. Although it ticked all of the ‘good restaurant’ boxes, I would say that there was nothing particularly special about it to make it worth the trip to visit the restaurant especially – however if you are out that way I would definitely recommend.

International Cakes

International Cakes

International Cakes (185 Lonsdale Street)

Despite its low review on TripAdvisor, this place was better than I expected. Admittedly, the atmosphere was a bit dry and the coffee highly unexciting – but the massive selection of goodies lining the windows and internal cabinet meant that we struggled to turn it down. I always struggle to go past baklava, and there were so many different kinds it took me ages to decide what to get. Because the pieces were so large, mum and I just ended up sharing the traditional baklava, and it was super yummy! Also to be had was the cannoli, and this didn’t quite meet the expectation I had after living in Italy (but maybe my standards are consequently too high, I don’t know). There were hardly any people when we went there, which made it ideal for a quick stop off during our sight-seeing.

Max on Hardware

Max on Hardware

Max on Hardware (54 – 58 Hardware Lane)

We had been wandering the streets for way too long; a group of six looking for dinner in Melbourne can be quite a difficult task! Most places don’t seem to accept bookings, but six people usually means a decent wait at most places too. And then when you mix in different people’s preferences, budgets etc – it can get tricky, quickly! We were starting to get very hungry by the time we stumbled on Hardware Lane and we could tell immediately that we had hit the jackpot. This ridiculously extensive restaurant Max, had a number of ‘conversationalists’ out on the street, trying to entice people into their restaurant, which literally ran half the length of Hardware Lane. It didn’t take much convincing for us – we were like bees to honey, especially when someone mentioned ‘Italian’!

The menu was massive, it took us quite a while to comb through all the different options (especially in our hungry states, everything sounded delicious). While the staff were super charismatic, they also seemed more interested in turning the tables over then just letting us sit and soak up the atmosphere – I definitely felt hurried as I made my order for drinks and then food. My cousin and I decided to share a halloumi salad as well as a pizza and both were delicious. My aunty ordered the chicken parmigiana, and I can see now why Australia has the claims to the best parmies – it was so ridiculously enormous.

The atmosphere was great, the food good and the prices reasonable. It is a safe option for a family with small kids or for a larger group, as you are sure to find something that will please everyone.

 

Australian Open

Australian Open

The Australian Open is a tennis tournament like no other. The first grand-slam of the calendar year, most of the players are back at it for yet another gruelling season. The park is located smack bang in the middle of the city, which is fantastically convenient for both spectators and players alike. It is walking distance from the city (about 5 – 10 minutes from Flinders Station) and there are pop-up stalls with food and activities all the way to the entrance. There are also trams and trains that run to the man entrance, where you can go to buy tickets on the day – but personally, I would recommend that you pre-purchase and avoid this entrance if possible because it gets so much more crowded.

Unsurprisingly there is a bag search as you enter the park – the main points to note are that GoPros are not allowed, nor are camera lenses over a certain size, and lastly, unsealed water bottles are prohibited. However, if you can freeze your water in advance (which is a great idea anyway considering how hot it can get during the day) then it shows that it isn’t alcohol and you will probably be allowed to take it in. There are heaps of places to fill up your bottle inside, so it’s always an option to just bring an empty bottle if you don’t want to have to buy on the inside. The last useful tip is that it is entirely acceptable to BYO food. Of course, there are a number of awesome food trucks and pop-up stalls around, but bringing some snacks is a great way to save money as everything is pretty expensive. When you are in need of food though there are so many different options. There are a bunch of areas that are divided up into different areas of the world, and the food that you can buy from that area corresponds. For example, in the French section there is a patisserie food truck, where you can buy baguettes, croissants and macarons and in the English section they serve strawberries and cream – so delicious!

One of the first things you should do when you arrive is check out the practice courts, or even better the practice schedule for the day. An easy way to see some of the big names close up (and if you’re lucky you may even steal a signature or a selfie!), there are a few courts set aside for the players to practise on, on a rotating schedule. Depending on who is scheduled in for the day, it may be a pretty popular spot. There is a concrete bridge which actually looks down over the courts and is usually slightly less crowded – but obviously your chances of getting a signature are obviously reduced.

The two courts you pay for (on top of buying a ground pass) are the Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court. These require separate tickets and are usually where the top-dogs play. Hisense Arena is a pretty impressive sight; and all that is required for entry is your ground pass. It also attracts relatively big names (for example I watched Tsonga play Evans here) so you should look at the schedule in advance to see what’s on – although you may have to queue/arrive early if it is expected to be a cracker of a game. If you don’t make it into the Hisense Arena, watching the tennis on the big screen outside the main courts is a pretty fabulous experience as well. The atmosphere is almost as good as being there… almost. Another pretty great place to view the tennis (with the added bonus of being free) is Federation Square. Day session or night session the atmosphere there can become pretty electric, pretty darn quickly.

Night sessions vs. day sessions is an interesting argument that my family has every year. I love the night sessions: the crowd is pumped, longer games creates adrenaline rushes, and there is nothing like finishing a day exploring Melbourne knowing that you can then sit the night away and enjoy some world class tennis, live. Not everyone agrees though; games can go late (like, really late), which can leave you feeling groggy the next day. Or, the opposite can happen and the games are over super quickly. When this happens, because it is night, the other courts are empty, meaning a pretty disappointingly early night can be had.

All in all, I an see why the players claim to love the Australian Open so much, and I’m not even playing. It is so much fun, I would highly recommending enjoying a day out there, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a tennis fan.

 

Bondi to Coogee Walk

Bondi to Coogee Walk

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On a weekend away that was otherwise designated to eating and drinking, I was extremely excited to walk the Bondi to Coogee trail. Approximately 6 km long and estimated to take about 2 – 3 hours (depending on the length of any stops made) we went prepared. Although it probably doesn’t matter which direction you do it in, it seemed easier logistically to catch the bus/train to Bondi Junction and then a further bus onto Bondi Beach.

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There is a few good brunching spots out in Bondi (we opted for Brown Sugar, but another option that is supposed to be good is Icebergs and if the day is warm you might opt for something cooler at Gelato Messina instead) which is a great way to energise before the walk. The beach is sprawling and had rolling blue waves with golden sand – I can see why the beach is packed during summer. (Despite being sunny, it was only spring when we were there and extremely windy – leaving the beach relatively deserted.)

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The first leg is from Bondi to Tamarama. It’s only about 1.2 km and the first part is along the beach. Make sure you stop near Icebergs to appreciate the sensational panoramic view, and to take in the wonder that is Sydney’s very own world famous ocean-side pool. It was fascinating to watch people attempt to swim lengths; they’d succeed until a massive wave would come and throw everyone massively off course.

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Next up is Tamarama to Bronte and then onto Clovelly. The track gets more and more rugged, and (thankfully) the people get more and more sparse. We were fortunate enough to be there at the same time as the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition; essentially a series of open air sculptures lining the walk way. There were some that seemed incredibly clever and others that felt entirely abstract and beyond any comprehendible meaning. We were actually lucky to see them when we did; massive winds and waves caused serious destruction the following week. The last leg of the walk is supposed to be a boardwalk, but other recent bad weather had caused it to be closed to the public. The current alternative route is through a very extensive graveyard, which had incredible panoramic views (making it a prime piece of real estate and therefore an interesting place for a graveyard!).

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The current weather situation meant that the final leg from Covelly to Coogee was incredibly gnarly and exposed. The wind was blowing sea spray all over the path and creating some pretty monstrous waves. The wind strength probably didn’t help, but we were all feeling pretty tired by the end of it and were looking forward to climbing back onto the bus for the ride home.

If you are in Sydney for even just a few days I would definitely suggest you add this to your itinerary. It need only take half a day and Bondi beach is probably one of the most beautiful spots Sydney has to offer. All you need to remember is a pair of comfortable shoes, some sunblock (even through the wind we still managed to get burnt) and some money for transport and snacks. Have fun!

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