Post Author: Rachel
Our next stop in Australia was Melbourne! In case you missed the first few stops on our tour down under, I wrote about our adventures in Sydney and in Cairns earlier this month.
We arrived in Melbourne around 2 p.m. We took the SkyBus, which is much more affordable than a taxi. The bus dropped off in the heart of Melbourne at the Southern Cross station, which was right across the street from our Aribnb. We just dropped our bags and started exploring the city.
We were so hungry after traveling all day, we immediately went looking for a good restaurant. Get this - we went to multiple restaurants and bars, but found that most places do not serve food until 5 p.m. What?! They all serve alcohol, but no food. We finally found a place called Nando's, which is an Australian chain, but it was new to us and was the only place with food so we grabbed a table and chowed down!
After lunch, our next stop was at the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, basically a giant enclosed ferris wheel that slowly takes you up and around so you get a view of the entire city. We couldn't have picked a better time to do this because it was not busy and only a handful of other people were in line. We got our own pod to take in the city together! It's a huge pod with an in-cabin audio recording, in English, talking about the city, it's history and pointing out landmarks.
After seeing the magnificent city of Melbourne from above, we walked through the city to take in all the details of the architecture and the sights and the sounds of the culture. We discovered a really delicious gelato and ice cream shop across from the Star and tried as many flavors as they’d let us. They were all so incredible!
Walking off the abundance of gelato was imperative, so we strolled down to the water front to check out the amazing views of the city and the yachts docked nearby. We also stopped by a local market for some snacks, a few items for dinner and a couple bottles of wine before heading back to our Airbnb to get some laundry started.
At this point in the trip, we had already worn everything we packed, so we needed some fresh clothes...desperately! We made sure to book Airbnbs with washers and dryers specifically because we had chosen to limit our packing to what fit in two easy to carry backpacks and knew we'd need to do laundry every few days.
But if you have to spend an evening doing laundry, do it while sipping a glass of wine and overlooking the lights of Melbourne! Stunning!
We booked an all day bus tour on Melbourne Boutique Tours through Wildlife Tours and it was phenomenal from start to finish! We were picked up in the morning on a 15 passenger van and our driver was an absolute pro. He was super friendly, made a point of learning our names within the first few minutes, was professional and shared tons of information about every place we visited.
We started with a scenic tour along the Great Ocean Road. This is one of the most famous stretches of highway in the world - very similar to Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in California. Thousands of tourists flock to this route each year, and after experiencing it for ourselves, we completely understand what all the fuss is about.
Tip - Be sure to take some Dramamine before the start of this trip because these are very windy roads!
We spent about 90 minutes driving southwest of Melbourne, but on the way we stopped in a small town for coffee at a general store that houses some world class baristas and one of the best cups of coffee we had all trip. Delicious! We then enjoyed about two hours driving along the coastline and stopping here and there along the way for photo opportunities, to stretch our legs and take in the spectacular views.
During the next stop, our driver took us up the hill in this town called Lorne to an overlook where we caught the most breathtaking sight of the ocean and coastline. The water was an intense shade of blue and the waves were crashing along the coast - it felt like a scene from a movie; almost unreal, but remarkably beautiful.
Our small group piled back into the van and pressed on. Our next stop was in a small town where we were able to go on a short nature walk a few meters from the road. We saw a couple koalas and some cockatoos in the trees! A true Australian experience!
Next stop, the small seaside town of Apollo Bay. It was named after the ship Apollo that used to deliver goods to the port. We grabbed some lunch at the Bay Leaf Cafe, hit the restrooms, and kept rolling. At this point, we were about halfway through the journey with all the best stops still to come!
Next up, driving on mountain roads through the Great Otway National Park. We stopped for a 30 minute hike through the luscious rainforest that led to a dazzling waterfall and our guide was happy to share lots of history about the area. This section of the rainforest dates back over 300 million years and scientists say this was what Antarctica looked like prior to the Ice Age. Australia broke off from Antarctica and headed north - this piece of the forest is all that remains from those days. According to our guide, only about 5% of the original rain forest still remains as the rest has either burned via wildfires or been developed. This area is now a protected national park in hopes of conserving it for years to come.
After another 90-minute drive, we arrived to one of Australia’s most famous landmarks, The Twelve Apostles. It was an all day journey to get to Port Campbell National Park, home to the Twelve Apostles, but it was totally worth every minute. These “Apostles” are large limestone stacks that sit out in the ocean. Wind, rain, and the ocean tides have eroded away a lot of the coastline over the last 18,000 years, but these stacks still remain and, simply put, it was SUPERB seeing these awe-inspiring structures!
We also climbed down Gibson’s Steps, 94 hand carved steps in the side of a sheer cliff, that take you from the street level down to the beach below. We slipped off our shoes, put our toes in the sand and walked through the water admiring the incredible sights.
Fun fact - the Twelve Apostles were initially called the Sow and Piglets, but some marketing folks felt like a name change would increase tourism, and they were correct! This was supposed to be the tourism “off-season”, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the parking lots. There was hardly an empty space to be found and bus after bus lined the roads with everyone trying to capture the perfect picture as the sunlight reflected off these amazing natural landscapes.
Just past the Twelve Apostles are more natural rock formations that we honestly thought were more impressive than the headline-stealing Apostles. A short distance further is the Loch Ard Gorge, which is potentially the most amazing area of nature we've ever seen. Two horseshoe shaped beaches are met by the ocean that has worked it’s way into this small bay with towering cliffs on both sides.
This area is named after a ship, the Loch Ard, that wrecked during a storm and was slammed into the side of one of these massive cliffs. Only two people survived, a 15 year old boy named Tom and a 17 year old girl named Eva. They were washed ashore and sought shelter until the next morning when Tom was able to go for help in the nearest town. He was able to lead help back to the beach to save the girl and was deemed a hero. The British government rewarded him with various accolades. As the story goes, both he and the girl went their separate ways and ended up back in the UK. Thirty or forty years later, the woman had become a doctor and, get this, was reunited with the man that saved her life, by saving his! He had become very sick and she was able to return the favor of saving his life. How there’s not a movie about this story baffles me!
By the time we loaded up and were headed back to Melbourne, it was about 6 p.m. Keep in mind, we started the day’s journey at 7 a.m.! It was a full day and we still had a 3-hour trek back to Melbourne. We got back to the city around 9 p.m. and were on a mission to find some dinner. Similar to our other struggles to find food in Melbourne, apparently most kitchens close at 8 p.m...so apparently you need to eat between 5 & 8 p.m. or you miss your chance at most places! After striking out a few times, we finally found a pub that was open and grabbed some food and a couple glasses of wine to cap off the night. A full day of driving, sight seeing and adventure, but some of the most rewarding views!
We woke up to a rainy Saturday morning and decided to venture out to find a breakfast hot spot. Taking the recommendation of some locals, we walked a few blocks in our rain jackets to a place called White Mojo, a hipster cafe in a side alley.
Side note - Melbourne has a lot of alleyways and each is filled with cute boutique shops and restaurants. The locals say it’s one of the few cities where you’re encouraged to venture down alleys!
We ordered some caffeinated artwork, or coffee as it’s commonly known, and the Big Breakfast - mac n’ cheese with bacon, cauliflower, mushrooms and a sunny side up egg, all served open face on a croissant. Could be one of the best meals we ate in Australia!
Having devoured our meal, we decided walking and burning off some calories was in order. We headed to the Queen Victoria Market, which is the largest open market in the country. It was lined with vendors selling everything from produce, to Uggs, to boomerangs and kangaroo leather hats.
This particular day there was an Indian Festival, so they had street performers teaching patrons local Indian dances, bands playing Indian music, and several food trucks and vendors selling Indian food, clothes and other products. A really cool experience to see many cultures come together at this event.
After the market, and continuing our day trying to do what the locals do, we grabbed some tickets for the Aussie Rules Football game that was at the nearby Etihad Stadium. It was the home opener for St. Kilda, the home team, and they faced the Brisbane Lions. The game is played a lot like rugby, but with a few twists. We sat by some locals who had a lot of patience answering our many questions as we tried to get up to speed on the rules of the game. By about the second quarter we started to get the hang of it. The game was a great way to get a little taste of the local culture!
Afterwards, we walked over to the market and purchased some sushi for dinner. There is a large Asian population in Melbourne and their food is incredible! We paired our sushi with a nice bottle of wine and took it back to the apartment where we ate, drank and packed our bags to prepare for a very early morning flight the next day over to New Zealand. Be on the lookout for that post next!
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