Check out our trip in 3 minutes or less in the video below:
Check out the full story (so you know what is actually going on in our photos):
Australia has been looming on my (Morgan) horizon for a while. Every time I visit the West Coast of New Zealand I think, “It’s only just a jump across the big ditch.” Evan and I also have a scratch map of the world on which I am feverishly trying to reveal as many countries as I possibly can. The only trick is that Evan and I must visit the country together in order to scratch off a location (a self-imposed rule to spur us on towards experiencing the world together). So, despite the amazing memories of the trip I took to Europe with my family, or the wonderful tours of Central America Evan has completed with his family, we do not have much of our world tackled yet on our map. Obviously, big countries like Australia are exciting to tackle because they scratch off a larger portion of the map.
We had planned to mountain bike the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds over New Zealand’s Labour Day weekend. Our friends Russ and Colton were meant to join us as well. We were meant to leave work on Thursday afternoon to travel to Picton. Russ had “volunteered” to drive, and Colton had “volunteered” to grab all the food we needed for the weekend. On our way out of town, Russ mentioned he needed to grab some cleats for biking from a friend who worked at the airport. So we stopped by the airport to supposedly pick up Russ’ shoes. And then this happened…
Needless to say, the Queen Charlotte track plan was all a giant hoax. I quickly unpacked all my liquids and food items in my overnight bag, and Evan whisked me into the airport! A few hours later, we arrived in Melbourne!
After landing late at night and going straight to our hotel, we woke up eager to hit the town. First, we travelled to the heart of the CBD (central business district) at Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.
We toured the Filming exhibits inside the ACMI building, which Evan of course loved. We learned all about the history of videography and how movies of today made special effects. Check out the link below on our own “bullet time video”:
We decided to take a walking tour of the laneways and alleyways-one of the many things that gives Melbourne character! Squeezed between large high rise skyscrapers are cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and confectionaries. These are jam-packed with people and tables, all inside maybe 20 feet?
After receiving a recommendation from a friend, we ate lunch at a nice place called MoVida. Great tapas bar, but we didn’t realise what we were in for! We ordered the Steak Tartare, which we thought was steak with some sort of tartar sauce. Well, imagine our surprise when RAW beef arrived to our table! I took one bite, haunted by the memories of my mother’s warning about raw meat. Ev muscled through half of the plate, but claims he felt something alive in his stomach for the rest of the day. So, we are now $44 AUD poorer, but all the wiser!
Upon finishing our walking tour, we explored the many gardens surroundings the city by jumping on board the free city tram! Melbourne has an awesome network of tram cars that get you pretty much where ever you need to go within the central part of the city. One of the trams, called the “city tram,” travels in a rectangular loop around the CBD, and the best part is that it’s free to use! First we walked through Fitzroy Gardens and toured Captain Cook’s House. James Cook discovered both New Zealand and Australia in the late 1700s. The house was pretty small for the British explorer of 6’3, to say the least.
We continued exploring along the Yarra River, which runs through Melbourne City, and the Royal Botanical Gardens. Within the King’s Domain is also the Shrine of Remembrance, a giant Monument dedicated to the fallen Australian soldiers who fought in World War 1. Unfortunately, the Shrine had already closed for the day, but we decided to come back later when it was open.
By this time, our feet were aching and our tummies were grumbling. We headed back into the CBD for dinner. We ate along the Yarra River in the Crown Plaza at a delicious burger joint called Merrywell. After our rather unfortunate lunch experience, we were all too happy to sink our teeth into cooked meat! The Yarra River esplanade lights up at night. The fairy lights (Christmas lights), city lights, lit bridges, and even fire torches make this part of the city well worth visiting after sunset.
We didn’t realise how tired we were…until we slept over ten hours! We quickly headed out the door to the Victoria Street Market. This was heaven for a Flea Market lover (aka, Evan). Rows and rows of anything and everything you could think of…and at much better prices than what we find in New Zealand.
We dined like kings and queens for breakfast. One of my favourite things about being an adult is making decisions like this with no shame…Ice Cream for breakfast!
We took the city tram to Federation Square and browsed the alleyways until we had to meet our tour group at St. Paul’s Cathedral at 12:30. We decided to spend the rest of the day on Phillip Island-about 1.5 hours outside the city.
Our first stop on the tour was at Grundy Winery for some wine tasting alongside a fruit and cheese platter.
Our next stop was the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory. We took a tour through the factory to see how chocolate is made, and we even tried some genuine cocoa beans. The remaining factory was much like Willy Wonka-full of games and interactive chocolate tasting. Each wooden ball you received for winning a game gave you a free chocolate drop at the end of the tour. Evan and I of course each got the maximum number per person: 6.
Next, we stopped at a Wildlife Sanctuary to get a real slice of Australia-the iconic animals!
We had an interesting encounter with the emus. It turns out they are a little more cheeky than we anticipated. This emu was supposed to eat from Evan’s hand. Turns out, it had other plans…
We of course also saw bats, snakes, lizards, and every other poisonous creature known to man. We still can’t get over the irony that Australia and New Zealand are right next to each other in the world. One has most of the top ten animals that can kill you, and the other has mostly sheep.
Before the climax of our evening (the Little Penguin Parade), we stopped at the Nobbies at the western most part of Phillip Island. These rocks are home to penguins and thousands of Australian fur seals. To say, “It was windy,” is an understatement…as seen in the award winning photo of Evan below
And for the grande finale of our evening, we watched the Little Penguin Parade. The Little Penguin is the smallest penguin in the world. It is found in the southern most regions of New Zealand and Australia, and it stands only 33 cm (about 1 foot) tall. It has a blue back and white belly. It spends all day out at sea fishing and comes home to its burrows on the shore at dusk, shielded by the night. Hundreds of penguins parade out of the ocean in large groups, and march towards the rocks and dunes. You could hear the excited mates greeting with a loud homecoming. It was awesome!
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take video or pictures because the lights could cause damage to the penguins’ sensitive eyes, so you’ll just have to look at these stock photos (which look almost the exact same to what we saw).
Our final day in Melbourne…
After checking out of our hotel, we hopped on a tram heading towards St. Kilda beach. What a little gem outside the city! It has beautiful beaches, a fun pier for strolling, Luna Park (much like a carnival or a permanent Gwinnett County Fair), and multiple cafes, boutiques, and shops. After two days of mostly cloudy weather, the sun shone its beautiful face on us for most of our last day.
After a delicious brunch at La Roche, and a few near shopping sprees, we headed back into the city to make the most of our last day. If you ever tour Melbourne, be sure to take advantage of the Bike Share. There are bike racks all around the city, and for $2.70 AUD, you can hire (rent) a bike. As long as you check into a bike rack every 30 minutes, you can keep the bikes all day! We wished we had discovered this sooner-especially on our first day when we walked 15-20kms! We rode all around the Docklands and Wharf, up to the outlet shops in Harbour Town, around the Yarra River and over multiple bridges, back to the Shrine of Remembrance for a great bird’s eye view of the city, and to China Town (all in about 3 hours!)
We watched the sunset while enjoying a cold drink atop a rooftop bar, overlooking the city. We ate our final meal at a small Italian restaurant in an alleyway, before walking along the River and riding bikes back to the Southern Crossing, where we left for the airport.
Looks like we got one more country “ticked” off our country map! Having that said, we are nowhere near done exploring the great land of OZ!
What an incredible weekend retreat. Thanks Ev for your constant surprises, and for keeping our life together adventurous!