Text and photos by Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter
WITH its beautiful architecture, its efficient tram system, and a countryside which is a source of both good wine and chocolates, it is very easy to see why Melbourne, the second-most populous city in Australia with almost five million people, was named the “world’s most liveable city” for seven consecutive years by The Economist.
If there’s anything that works against Melbourne’s favor it’s the fickle weather. During Cebu Pacific’s media tour in the middle of August — held to inaugurate its newest Manila-to-Melbourne route — sunny yet chilly winter days would turn into rain showers and (occasionally) hail storms at the drop of a hat. But armed with a good hat and a good coat, one should push through the changeable weather because Melbourne has so much to offer for those looking for adventure, culture or both.
Perfect for travellers who prefer to create their own itineraries, Melbourne has a free tram zone within its central business districts which allows commuters and tourists to move around the city and see the sights. One can ride a tram and get down at Flinders St. where one can view the main station building which was completed in 1909.
The Flinders Street Station — with its prominent dome, arched entrance, towers and clocks — is considered a cultural icon. It is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and has spawned the Melburnian saying, “I’ll meet you under the clocks,” referring to the clocks above the main entrance which indicate the time of departure of trains on each line.
Right across Flinders Street Station is the perfect example of the co-existence of old architecture with the new — Federation Square.
Federation Square is a large — 3.2 hectares — public space housing cultural institutions such as the Ian Potter Centre, an art gallery that houses the Australian part of the art collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).
Compared to the Edwardian Baroque architecture of the Flinders Street Station, the buildings which surround the square feature a deconstructivist style sans any harmony, continuity, or symmetry. Our tour driver, Nigel, remarked that people would either think the buildings are “the most beautiful in the world or the ugliest.”
As far as this writer is concerned, the square has a certain charm, with the concrete buildings (clad in several different materials including frosted glass and sandstone) going here and there with angles clearly created with the thought of breaking the rules of traditional geometry. It was a perfect complement to the Old World charm of the main station.
Walk a little bit more and you come to St. Paul’s Cathedral fronting Federation Square. Created in 1891 on the site where the first public Christian service was held in the city in 1935, the cathedral serves as marked contrast to the post-modernist square with its Gothic Revival architecture interpreted by English architect William Butterfield.
A few blocks away from the cathedral is Hosier Lane where one finds representations of the city’s urban art scene. It is but one of several little lanes covered in graffiti created by local and international artists. Beside it is the Forum Theatre, a Moorish Revival building that functions as a cinema, live music venue, and a theater.
Graffiti covers all the nooks and crannies of Hosier Lane, some professionally done, some not so, but the vibrant colors scrawled on the walls of even the small restaurants that had the fortune (or misfortune) to rent a space near the lane makes it a perfect photo spot or a perfect canvas for people who love urban art and would like to leave their signature behind.
Take the tram once again and get off at the Docklands to see the modernist and post-modernist architecture of Melbourne while taking a walk along the New Quay Promenade, enjoying some coffee or watching dragon boat racers on the water.
Along St. Kilda St., also on the free tram line, is the Shrine of Remembrance, a war memorial honoring all the Australians who served in war including the First World War and the Second World War.
Fashioned after the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus and the Parthenon in Athens, the Grecian-style building features a step pyramid whose upper floors provide an unobstructed view of the city below while the basement crypt serves as the shrine for those who had fallen while doing their duty to their country.
Those visitors who are into shopping and seeing local products, the tram also goes to the Queen Victoria Market, a seven-hectare open-air market (the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere), featuring everything from cheap fire opals and T-shirts to local produce.
The market opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m., and can get crowded during weekends, so locals advise that tourists visit in the early morning or just before closing.
But don’t end the city tour without visiting one of Melbourne’s top attractions, the beach houses along St. Kilda St. in Brighton. The 60-odd beach houses worth at least AUS$260,000 each (according to Nigel) are used as storage for beach essentials including surfboards and boats and are brightly decorated with everything from pastel confections to the odd tributes to kangaroos. If you think the price of these storage spaces is hefty, well, it is, but it is quite understandable as the beach houses are located in one of Melbourne’s priciest neighborhoods, Brighton.
After spending a few days in the city and if one to see nature and the animals Australia is known for, take a two-hour ride outside the city to Phillip Island, located 140 kilometers from city center.
The island, named after the first governor of New South Wales Arthur Phillip, is home to several indigenous animals including wallabies, penguins and Pacific gulls.
There one finds the Churchill Heritage Farm, the site of the first European agricultural pursuits in Victoria — the island has been farmed since the 1850s.
The 57-hectare farm features the usual farm animals and historic buildings such as the Amess house, the former residence of Samuel Amess who was once a mayor of Melbourne and who purchased the farm in 1872.
A few minutes away from the farm sits the Koala Conservation Center which features a koala boardwalk where visitors can view — but not touch — koalas in their natural habitat, though it is a bit challenging to see koalas awake as they need to sleep for 20 hours a day.
Driving around Phillip Island, one will see views of its shoreline whose the grasslands are home to hundreds of wallabies — the animals are often seen observing the passing cars and crossing the streets without care.
The island is also where one can see the smallest penguins in existence, aptly called Little Penguins. They only grow up to a foot in height.
The Penguin Parade is a nightly attraction where visitors can see the penguins return from the sea and make their way to their land abodes. And since it is a nightly attraction, do be sensible and visit during more reasonable seasons, like spring and summer, unless you enjoy freezing your face off.
There are stands on the beach which provide a view of the penguins as they rise from the waves, but for an up-close and personal experience, go to the boardwalks where the penguins waddle along to find their homes. Don’t take photos or videos of the penguins, flash or no flash, because they might get disoriented and get lost.
Another countryside treat is the Yarra Valley, located 90 kilometers from the city. The valley is home to many of Victoria, Australia’s wine makers including De Bortoli which has been in the business since 1928. De Bortoli’s Yarra Valley vineyards encompass several hills and offer wine and cheese tasting tours (it has a cheese shop).
What else pairs well with wine? Chocolates, of course, so take a trip a few minutes away to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie where you can get gourmet chocolates (the beans come from Belgium) and other sweet chocolate treats. One can also watch how the treats are made thanks to the open kitchen setup inside the store.
GETTING TO MELBOURNE
Melbourne is roughly eight hours away from Manila and currently, both local airlines — Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific — are serving the Manila to Melbourne route, with Cebu Pacific introducing flights starting Aug. 14, making it the “only low-cost carrier to fly the route.” Cebu Pacific flies to Melbourne thrice weekly every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday while Philippine Airlines flies five time weekly.
Do note that those without existing Australian visas must plan at least a month ahead before booking their tickets as visa processing can take anywhere from 21 to 24 days for first time applicants.