Our flight from Queenstown to Melbourne was uneventful, no diversions as the weather in Melbourne was ideal. Our time in Melbourne is more unstructured than anywhere else on our trip. We had originally planned to stay with friends of friends but that didn’t pan out. I booked our three nights at the Oaks on Collins on the recommendation of our friend William. We didn’t have transportation arranged either so we grabbed a cab from the airport. Sigh. The cabbie got lost going to downtown Melbourne. His GPS wasn’t working, nor was his phone. We ended up having to show him how to get to the hotel. Not impressed.

Exploring Melbourne

Once getting checked in we went in search for something to eat. It’s Saturday night in downtown Melbourne and the streets are very alive with folks heading to various places. Traffic is crazy too. We didn’t need anything large and ended up finding a little Greek place that served souvlaki, just what we needed.

Transportation to the Penguin Parade

The one activity we have booked is an outing to Phillip Island Wildlife Park for the viewing of the nightly parade of the penguins. The one thing we didn’t take into account when planning this trip is that Phillip Island is two hours away. We don’t have any way of getting there. A quick enquiry while checking in resulted in a quote for over $400.00 for a taxi/ride out there. That wasn’t going to happen. On Sunday morning we walked down to the Tourist Information Centre for some suggestions. The ladies there suggested finding a tour group and connecting with them. Based on some suspect directions we eventually found Gray Line Melbourne Day Tours where a helpful gal was able to book us on the day trip to Phillip Island that left at 1:00 P.M. that day. It included a general admission to see the penguins (which we already had) but it was substantially cheaper than other options we considered. There was a brief discussion about renting a car for the day, but the prospect of navigating downtown Melbourne on the right side of the road and coming home in the dark didn’t appeal to either of us. That sorted, we went in search for some breakfast.

Alleyways and Arcades in Melbourne

Melbourne is an older city, being founded in 1835. The downtown area (also referred to as the Central Business District - CBD), is a fascinating collection of old buildings and huge skyscrapers. There are four lane roads and tiny pedestrian alleyways. One recommendation we had in hand was a suggestion to find Degraves street for interesting dining options. Being Sunday morning, everyone was out for breakfast and this little pedestrian street was packed. We located a place to eat at the Euro Lane Cafe which served very tasty breakfasts. I had an herbed mushroom dish with two poached eggs on sourdough toast. Deanna had an Avocado and egg dish. Both very tasty.

We had a couple of hours before the bus left. We explored a few streets and enjoyed the warm (25 degrees C) weather.

We were warned that it could be cold watching the Penguins so we headed back to the hotel to pick up a couple more layers.

Trip to Phillip Island

The trip to Phillip Island included a couple of stops. One at Warrook Farm which was basically a petting zoo and gift shop. Not really inspiring. The second stop was at the Phillip Island Koala Reserve.

The Koala Reserve is well worth a visit. There are boardwalks built into the trees that make for an opportunity to see (likely sleeping) Koalas in quite close proximity. There are other animals in the reserve including a large number of wallabies and birds. We only had an hour to explore but it was enough to see seven of the ten Koalas that were out that day.

Penguin Parade

Our two hour trip to Phillip Island concluded at the Penguin Parade. It’s a large facility that has seen visitors for well over one hundred years. In recent (last 30 years) years they’ve gone to great lengths to construct a facility to protect the habitat and still provide a means for seeing this nightly procession. The ticket that we had (the one that was booked before leaving home, not the one with he bus tour), entitled us to see the penguins from an underground viewing area. Most folks had to sit on bleachers to see the penguins where we were in an underground (and out of the weather), viewing area with a front row seat to see the penguins walk by at eye level as they made their way to their burrows.

This is a nightly event that’s been going on at this location for who knows how long. The penguins come in when the sun goes down and their arrival is very predictable. Our viewing area was great as we got to observe these little penguins make their way home after a long day (or perhaps many days) of looking for food in the ocean.

We then had an opportunity to walk along the boardwalks and see (and hear) the penguins as they settled in for the night.

It’s a popular attraction and we would recommend looking into the upgraded experiences they offer. The Penguins Underground was well worth it.

Botanical Gardens

We started Monday with doing a load of laundry at the hotel and a walk to the Royal Botanical Gardens. We’ve seen a number of gardens and parks over the years but this one is quite spectacular. Huge trees, some which date back to the 1800s are interspersed with native and imported fauna from all over the world. It’s a huge park with a number of pathways and areas to explore. There is a tea house and other facilities. It would be easy to spend half a day wandering around enjoying this oasis in the middle of the city.

Janet and Mac

Our neighbor Anne connected us with her friends Janet and Mac who live in Melbourne. They generously offered to meet us and spend the afternoon showing us a bit of their city. We traded photos of each other and met up at the park. After some introductions we were off to the Shrine of Remembrance that is located in the park. It’s a war memorial that serves as a place for the people of Melbourne to come and reflect on the sacrifices of their war veterans. It also provides a spectacular viewing spot for the city of Melbourne.

We jumped in their car for a short drive to St. Kilda Beach which is a popular spot in Melbourne. It has an esplanade with a number of restaurants and bars with views out to Port Phillip Bay. A tasty lunch of fish and chips for me; pizza for Deanna included discussion of travelling and our respective countries. Janet and Mac just got back (the day before) from a trip to Japan, so their taking time to play tour guide back was really appreciated.

We spent the afternoon with them, had a break at their beautiful home (built in the 1920s) and got to meet their daughter. We also met Hazel their dog that allowed us to get a bit of puppy snuggle time as we’re missing our crazy pooches back home.

We stopped in the Greek area of Melbourne for dinner. We continue to be amazed with the number of people that are out and about, particularly on a Monday night. Mac was saying that Melbourne has the third highest concentration of Greek expatriates outside of Athens in the world. In the small area we were in, there were at least 10 Greek restaurants and bakeries.

Janet and Mac dropped us off at our hotel where we said our goodbyes. It was great to meet them and to spend a bit of time with some local folks. We got to experience a slice of Melbourne that we wouldn’t have known about without their generous offer to spend time with us.

Things to do next time

With this, our short visit to Melbourne comes to an end. As is true for a few of our stops so far on this trip, it wasn’t enough time. It’s an interesting city, with lots of culture and energy. There were a few things we didn’t get to that would have to make the list for ‘next time’.

They include more exploration of the little alleyways and arcades in the city centre. We got a bit of taste of that but there are a bunch more we didn’t get to see.

As I mentioned above, Melbourne is one of Australia’s cultural hubs. There were a number of concerts, plays and musical venues that would have been interesting to explore.

The Victoria Market was also something we missed. Timing with our Penguin parade tickets and the fact it’s closed on Mondays conspired to keep us away from this world famous market.

Perhaps we’ll find ourselves back here one day.