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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Discover Melbourne--Its History, Nature, and Hidden Gems

Updated: Apr 8, 2023


Melbourne from the top of the Shrine of Remembrance

The only part that we had dreaded for our trip to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, drew to a close after 17.5 hours on Qantas Airlines. Thankfully, the trip was safe and very nice—except for the fact that my luggage went to Sydney instead of Melbourne.


(Note: My husband and I always put a change of clothes in each other’s luggage in case one gets lost. In addition, I pack an extra blouse and unmentionables in my carry on…just in case…and this was the case. The Apple Air Tags that we had recently purchased came in very handy as we watched my luggage make its way to our hotel from the Sydney airport the next day. Always remain positive! The things that go wrong often become the basis of your favorite memories.)


We took this trip with Collette Travel Company. Through my blog, you may notice that we have used tour groups and planned trips on our own. We were thankful we had used a group this time due to “acts of God” that stressed our flexibility. In spite of floods and a cyclone in New Zealand, they had arranged and rearranged flights, excursions, and transportation and, literally, walked us through every step of the way. (Our guide, Rob Lippitt, was fantastic! He kept us entertained even when plans changed at the last minute.)


And now…On to the trip!

Melbourne from the Yarra River

Our drive to the hotel was a wonderful introduction to the city’s architecture. The terrace villas, built primarily from the 1850s to the 1890s, give a sneak preview into interesting building structures in the country. Modern skyscrapers offer another point of view. No two buildings seem the same; each structure has some interesting twist to make it identifiable.


Amazingly, the Rendezvous Hotel Melbourne already had our rooms ready--even though it was only 9:00 in the morning--so we left what little we had and took a walking tour of the downtown area.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The historic hotel is in a great location just minutes from many sights and restaurants. After the requisite picture at Flinders Street Station, our first stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican church, with its beautiful stained-glass doors.

Door of St. Paul's Cathedral

Right across the street from the cathedral is Federation Square which is probably bustling on nights and weekends but is dead at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. We crossed the Yarra River to the South Beach and walked along the boardwalk accompanied by beautiful views of the river and multiple parks. (The barbecue grills by the river start easily and are free for anyone to use.)

Royal Botanical Gardens

Our destination was the Royal Botanical Gardens which are a lovely way to spend some time. We paused at the Terrace Restaurant in the gardens for a snack overlooking a lily pond and greatly enjoyed our avocado toast and the relaxing atmosphere. (By the way…people everywhere in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji were so friendly and helpful.)

Entry to Chinatown

After wandering around for a few more hours, we again crossed the Yarra and headed for Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere. Chinese immigrants began moving to the area during the 1850’s Gold Rush. We got hungry as we viewed all the wonderful menus and finally decided on another great snack at the Empress of China. (We also use these snack breaks as a chance to sit down and reenergize.)


The way back to our hotel took us by several laneways, which are narrow streets and pedestrian paths. We also peaked in several arcades. (Arcades in Europe aren’t where games are played. Instead, they are covered pedestrian shopping areas.) Many of the laneways have murals which vary greatly in the type of art they represent.

Mural-laden Laneway

We stopped in briefly at Young and Jackson Pub and Hotel which was established in 1861 and stands as one of the oldest pubs in Melbourne. The star of the show is Chloe, a painting that has hung in its place of honor on the second floor since 1909. The painting, by the French artist, Lefebvre, gained notoriety at her first Melbourne showing in 1883 which occurred on a Sunday afternoon after church. Did I mention that the painting is of a beautiful nude girl?

St. Patrick's Cathedral

We were up early the next morning for a tour of Melbourne and then to Phillip Island. We gained an overview of the CBD, aka the Central Business District which is an 8 block by 8 block area of Melbourne, before stopping at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a Catholic church and the largest church in Australia. A magnificent flowing fountain leads up to the entrance.

Shrine of Remembrance

We made our way back to the Royal Botanical Gardens but this time we stopped at the imposing Shrine of Remembrance, a tribute to the many soldiers killed in WWI. Soldiers aren’t the only ones memorialized. Over 160,000 horses were sent to WWI, and only one came back. (The movie, War Horse, is based on this horse.) The monument also boasts a museum and a great view of the city.

Cook's Cottage

Our next stop was in Fitzroy Gardens, another one of the impressive green areas in the city. Fitzroy Gardens contains one of the oldest houses in Australia, the home of Captain James Cook’s parents. Visitors to Australia hear Captain Cook’s name often as he was the explorer to claim Australia for England. (The Dutch were the first Europeans to land on the island, but they decided it was too hot and dry to worry about.) The house was built in the early 1700s in England and moved in 1934, brick by brick, to Fitzroy Gardens.


Our bus took an unexpected detour onto the Formula 1 track which was being assembled before the race. It might not have been quite the same for us as it would be in a Formula 1 race car—the squeal of the tires on the track, for example—but we still crossed the checkered finish line to cheers and applaud—from all of us on the bus.

Queen Victoria's Market

Our morning tour ended in Queen Victoria Market which has been in operation in the CBD since 1878. (Check the days it’s open on their website before visiting.) We grabbed lunch at one of the many enticing booths before hurrying back to our hotel to catch the afternoon tour. (The tram in the CBD is free and easy to get use. Of course, I always prefer to walk if there is time and we have the energy!)


The afternoon found us on our way to Phillip Island with great stops on our way. Phillip Island is a big tourist town. Most people come to see the penguins, but the island also has fur seals, snakes, spiders, kangaroos, wallabies, and Cape Barren geese which are very rare—although we saw many of them throughout our stay in Australia. (We were glad to miss seeing snakes, especially copperheads.) We even caught a glimpse of an echidna, an egg-laying mammal.

Koala

The Koala Conservation Reserve gave us the opportunity to walk along a top-of-tree level boardwalk and observe koalas up close and personal. We wandered through the multiple koala areas seeing how they had grown from peanut-sized, legless babies (joeys) to the adorable furry beings that move slowly and dine unceasingly on eucalyptus leaves.


A few koala facts: 1.) They are marsupials, not bears. 2.) Joeys stay in the mother’s pouch for 6-7 months. 3.) Mother koalas slowly wean their joeys to eucalyptus leaves by by adding their eucalyptus-infused feces into the baby’s diet. 4.) Koalas are low energy and slow moving.


Our dinner stop was in Cowes. Choices were somewhat limited since it was offseason, but the flies had not gotten the message. If the persistence and number of flies here was any indication, we were extremely glad we had brought along the suggest bug nets for our upcoming visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock).


Summerlands Penguin Parade, almost at the tip of Phillip Island, was our last stop of the day and one we all looked forward to—the nightly waddle of the fairy penguins, the smallest penguins. About 50,000 penguins live in the area. The penguins arrive around 9:00 p.m. No photography is allowed since it could cause the parent birds to regurgitate their food from fear of the flash, thus starving their babies, who are waiting not so patiently in their burrows.


From our perch in the stands, we watched as the littlest penguins started arriving from the water and making their way around the geese and wallabies to find their burrows. The fattest ones, the ones who laid down to rest every few feet, weren’t sick or old, just fat because they were ready to molt. After the initial arrival of the massive number of penguins, we walked up the dark boardwalk to the bus—-only minimal lighting is used, again, so the penguins don’t get scared.


It was a long drive back to Melbourne, but worth the trip to have all the new experiences.


And, the next morning, we were off early to the airport to catch our flight to Hobart, Tasmania. (Flights are the best way to see a great deal of Australia within a short period of time. Australia is only slightly smaller than the U.S.)


I'll be posting more information about our trip through Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji.

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For info about our foray into Tasmania, click here.

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