To Melbourne And Beyond
Melbourne the capital, commercial and cultural centre of Victoria is a city founded on gold. It owed its existence to the discovery of gold that triggered a gold rush in 1850 when a surge of mass migration descended on the settlement. European first settled on this traditional land of the Aboriginal nation of Kulin in 1835 and the gold rush shaped the city to what it is today with its multicultural population. Against this boom time notably in the 1950s and 1960s, the city became prosperous and many of the glorious Victorian buildings are testimony to its old wealth.
Today the city is an affluent metropolis with swanky buildings of glass and steel sprouting up among period buildings that lends a European touch to its character. It has gained a reputation as the cultural and cuisine centre of Australia.
Homage To Heritage
Accompanied by our private guide Greg Esnouf, a local historian, we explore the heritage of the city. Old Melbourne is a labyrinth of laneways and alleys teeming with cafes, restaurants, galleries, beautiful Victorian arcades, eateries, quirky bars and shops. We strolled through Hosier Lane, an alleyway famous for its mural. Its walls are awash with street art painted by local and visiting artists and is one of the major attractions in the city.
At Degraves Street, outdoor cafes spilled onto the streets packed with lunchtime crowd. The smell of coffee and toasted sandwiches wafted through the air. Melbourne is a city of coffee snobs and if you are a coffee addict, you can be sure the coffee here would be great with their “flat white and long black”.
The pulsating heart of Melbourne is Collins Street, the commercial centre and upscale retail hub with wall-to-wall designer stores in heritage buildings; plush bars and restaurants; grand arcades and luxury hotels. At 220 Collins St stands the iconic Manchester Unity Building built in 1932 in a modern Gothic style with a nod towards art deco with copper plated lift doors and beautiful wood panelling interior. It boasts of having the first escalators in Melbourne.
Today this building still retains an air of old world charm with offices, retailers, diamond jewellers and cafés on the arcade. We stopped for coffee at the Switchboard Café on the ground floor, reputedly the smallest café in the world, as it is virtually a tiny nook with low benches that can only accommodate about six people at a squeeze. Rich aromatic coffee, cakes and toasties are prepared in a hole-in-the-wall across the narrow corridor where it once housed the switchboard of the building.
Queen Victoria Market is another famous attraction, which was opened in 1878. It was built on an old settlement cemetery and in its chequered history, it had been a livestock market and wholesale fruit and vegetable market. It is the only surviving 19th century market in central Melbourne. Today the massive market covers an area of 13 acres selling fresh produce, meat, delicatessen, non-food products and eateries of many ethnic origins reflecting the diverse community of the city. We had a delicious Turkish lunch of flat bread and mince lamb freshly cooked while we waited. Visiting the market is a great way to observe the local lifestyle.
A Stroll In Chinatown
Melbourne Chinatown dates back to the gold rush days in the 1850s, which attracted large number of Chinese immigrants in search of work in the gold mines. The Chinese community started in Little Bourke Street to cater for the labourers en route to the gold mines by providing lodgings, food and medical care. It is the oldest continuous Chinese settlement in the western world. Five ornate arches handmade by artisans from China mark the entrances into Chinatown. It is the social and economic centre for the Chinese community to trade, celebrate the various festivals and dine at the many restaurants from fine dining to traditional noodle houses and “yam cha” dim sum places and shop at Asian grocery stores. It feels like little Hong Kong as we strolled along the laneways flanked by low-rise heritage buildings.
The beauty of Melbourne is its perfect juxtaposition between heritage and modernity that gives the city a multi-faceted edge. We stepped outside our heritage zone to visit Federation Square, the happening place of the city. Opened in 2002, it is a commodious piazza with a plethora of cafes, restaurants, speciality shops and the centre for cultural events, forums, fashions shows and exhibitions. Its vibrant atmosphere attracts both locals and tourists to enjoy the many activities happening there.
Living On The Edge
Across the Yarra River that runs through the city is Southbank. This is the modern part of Melbourne with its dazzling skyscrapers, trendy restaurants and the Crown Casino with its gambling dens, restaurants, hotels and entertainment hub.
Eureka Tower, the tallest building in Melbourne towers over the other buildings at 297.3metre high, of which the top ten levels are 24 carat gold plated. On the 88th floor at 285metre high is the Eureka Skydeck 88, the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere. It takes only 38 seconds to whizz to the Skydeck in the lift to enjoy a 360 degrees panoramic view of the city skyline and beyond from the floor to ceiling glass walls. There are 30 viewfinders to pinpoint major places of interest. The main attraction here is The Edge, a thrilling experience where a glass cube including a glass floor (yikes!) measuring 3m by 3m in size is extended 3m away from the Skydeck simulating a sensation of floating nearly 300metres over the city.
I am nervous with heights at the best of times but this escapade will really test my limit. Not one to chicken out, I boldly stepped into the glass cube in a heart thumping moment and as the door clunked shut and the cube slide into the abyss of nothingness, I took a deep breath and channelled my inner Zen to face my fear. To my surprise I actually enjoyed the beautiful city lights as I chose to visit it at night. Far below, the twinkling lights of the cityscape and the streaks of gold and red car lights streaming through the streets were magical. All my fear of height evaporated at the sight of the light fantastic below. It is not for the faint hearted but if I can do it, anyone can.
Things To Do Beyond Melbourne
Melbourne is a great base to explore other parts of Victoria. We took a few jaunts with Go West!, a company that takes small groups on tours with fun young guides. We went to The Grampian National Park to explore the rugged natural beauty of the Wonderland Area, visited the Silverband and McKenzie Falls and trekked through a mini “Grand Canyon”. The weather was foul that day but our first encounters with large mops of kangaroos and emus in the wild made my day.
The Great Ocean Road was another great day out to see the stretch of 243km of scenic coastal road built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I, making the road the world’s largest war memorial. A memorial arch with a sculpture of two soldiers at work marks the start of the ocean road.
Along the way, we stopped at the Otway National Park and spotted a couple of koalas sitting drowsily on a eucalyptus tree. Apparently they sleep 22 hours a day intoxicated by the eucalyptus leaves they feed on. Orange-bellied parrots dive-bombed and perched on our group to feed on sunflower seeds offered by visitors.
Then we strolled through a cool temperate rainforest in the Otway Ranges among myrtle beech and giant fern trees in primeval rainforest that dates back 140 million years when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Indeed walking through the forest is reminiscent of scenes from Jurassic Park.
The highlight of the tour is the iconic Twelve Apostles, although only eight are left. These limestone stacks and the Loch Ard Gorge at Port Campbell National Park form the gorgeous coastal scenery. The gorge is named after the ship Loch Ard, which ran ground in 1878 with only two survivors. A flight of steps leads down to the beach with a close up view of the gorge.
Pitter Patter of Little Feet
A must-see for animal and nature lovers is the Penguin Parade at the Nature Parks on Phillip Island. On the way to Phillip Island we called at Brighton Beach in one of Melbourne’s most exclusive suburbs. It is famous for its colourful beach boxes at Dendy Street Beach where the owners could use them to relax on the beach. It is one of the famous iconic sights outside Melbourne.
Every night at sunset hundreds of Little Penguins (also known as fairy penguins) waddle across Summerland Beach after a hard day’s out at sea foraging for food to come home to roost in their burrows. There are approximately 32,000 breeding pairs in this colony. They are the smallest penguins in their species measuring at 33cm tall and the only penguins with blue and white feathers instead of black and white like all the other species. Visitors are seated on wooden tiered platform to watch them every night.
No photography is allowed so as not to frighten them with the flash and to avoid disturbance in the audience. It is a joy to watch them waddling up the path to their burrows while making a racket with their squeaky calls. The Nature Parks were created by the state government in 1996 over 1,805 hectares of Crown Land with the aim of protecting the flora and fauna in the wild. The Penguin Foundation was established in 2006 to protect the Little Penguins.
Where To Stay
We were ensconced at the lovely Melbourne Marriott Hotel at the corner of Lonsdale & Exhibition Street in the heart of the business district next to Chinatown. It is a superb location to explore the city and is only a few minutes’ walk to the Free Tram Zone stop that provides free tram ride round the CBD area.
Excursion With The Experts
Related Posts – Other Cultural Cities in MyFacesAndPlaces.co.uk