Take the Scenic Route from Melbourne
While Sydney boasts Australia’s most recognisable cityscape, Melbourne has quietly fostered its most sophisticated cultural scene, with a vibrant lifestyle that has seen it being named ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ by The Economist Group for the past six years.
According to Rupert Mellor, the best way to experience it is as the locals do. Take in downtown’s eclectic mix of historic architecture and modern cutting-edge design, the banks of the Yarra river, and the many public gardens. Then turn your focus to the bustling streets. All the attractions you’d expect from the buzzing metropolis are here – the Melbourne Museum, National Gallery of Victoria, Royal Botanic Gardens and Eureka Skydeck 88 – but to discover its inimitable personality, dig deeper to explore its mosaic of characterful, contrasting laneways, arcades and neighbourhoods.
Travel the streets with know-how
Getting around is a breeze. Take the free City Circle Tram, which loops around the centre, then master the efficient networks of more trams, buses and bike-hire schemes, which put everything within easy reach. Avid explorers can discover insider trails led by Walk this Way Melbourne, or Hidden Secrets Tours – both are a great way of getting your bearings.
The city’s maze of quirky laneways – more than 230 of them – are a delight. Here you’ll stumble upon artsy boutiques, cool coffee shops, stylish bars and every kind of eatery, from fine-dining temples to cheap-as-chips chow houses. Go high-end at IGNI, Embla or Flower Drum, or low-key at Middle Eastern diners in Brunswick and Carlton’s authentic trattorias. Rooftops are another place that those in the know retreat to for drinking and dining – Campari House and Spanish bar Bomba serve outstanding cocktails alongside eye-popping views. But don’t limit yourself to the city centre. Neighbourhoods like funky Fitzroy, Richmond – for authentic Vietnamese food – and swanky South Yarra each reveal a different side to Melbourne.
Lose yourself in the local lifestyle
Whenever you visit, you’ll find a packed calendar of world-class events. Sport is almost a religion and the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, the Ashes Test cricket series and horse-racing’s famed Melbourne Cup whip up a heady vibe. Comedy and music are headliners, too – the annual Melbourne International Comedy Festival and International Jazz Festival are big hitters, while the Melbourne Music Week arrives citywide in November.
When it comes to fashion, Melburnians are a sharply dressed bunch, with shopping elevated to an art form. Charming arcades deliver top brands, with more Melbourne-specific finds at local fashion hero Gorman, kitsch-cool Chapel Street Bazaar, lively Queen Victoria Market and Rose St Artists’ Market.
Melbourne’s climate enjoys four seasons with warm to hot summers and the city has a multitude of relaxing outdoor spaces where you can comfortably enjoy life alfresco. Cook up a barbie at Alexandra Avenue, with the downtown skyline as your backdrop; add fine art into the mix at Banksia Park, part of the Heidelberg School Artists Trail; and soak up a perfect sunset at the chic beach ’burb of St Kilda.
When you’ve explored the gems of Melbourne’s many neighbourhoods, jump in the car, wind down the windows and hit the highway for a road trip that can either loop you back to the city or take you to adventures beyond. Here are just two routes to get you started…
Weave your way west
Soaring cliffs, sweeping surf beaches, wildlife-rich rainforest and quaint coastal towns are among the treasures you’ll discover when you drive out of Melbourne, towards the sunset. The Great Ocean Road is Australia’s number-one coastal drive, and with good reason. Offering heart-stopping view after heart-stopping view, it links hippy surfer towns and ancient rainforest with the colossal offshore rock stacks of the 12 Apostles – and is a road trip like no other.
Two hours from Melbourne, Lorne’s boho vibe and rugged surf beach make for a stunning lunch stop – its fish and chips fresh from the ocean are legendary. Another essential stop is Kennett River, whose most famous residents are its koalas, with hundreds of colonies living in the dense forests.
From there, nip off-coast to weave through the towering rainforest trees of Great Otway National Park. Want to ramp up your adrenaline levels? Reach for the sky on the world’s longest and tallest steel treetop canopy walkway – or chase thrills on the heart-pumping zip-line.
Maxing out your camera’s memory card on the coastline’s famous and dramatic rock formations, press on to Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, where koalas, emus and kangaroos roam freely, and then to a series of charming seaside towns. Port Fairy’s manicured streets and historic civic buildings ooze post-British character and the Merrijig, Victoria’s oldest inn, is its classic dinner destination.
If you can’t bear to let go of the Pacific panoramas, turn around and visit different towns on your return. Otherwise, venture inland to complete the Great Southern Touring Route via the majestic mountains of the Grampians National Park. Here, unbothered ’roos lounge, hikers pepper the hills and Aboriginal rock art reveals the country’s cultural roots. In the gold-rush boomtown of Ballarat, open-air museum Sovereign Hill traces the town’s first decade following the discovery of gold in 1851, and is a must for history buffs.
Explore eastern promise
Starting at Melbourne again, set your compass east. Drive inland and you’ll traverse the scenic Dandenong Ranges with their lush fern glades and inviting villages. The Yarra Valley is a soothing stop, offering rolling subtropical landscapes and world-famous vineyards – a cellar-door tour here is a must. Nearby Healesville Sanctuary is a treat for animal lovers, with platypus, lyrebirds, emus and dingoes all getting the help they need to return to the wild.
At the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, watched over by granite mountains, Wilsons Promontory National Park offers an astonishing range of natural vistas and rewards hikers who’ve anything from an hour to many days to dedicate to its wilderness. It’s also a diver’s paradise, with deep reefs full of red velvetfish, perch, leafy seadragons, seastars and anemones. More eccentric attractions include ghost tours and Puffing Billy, Australia’s oldest surviving steam railway.
Heading up towards Melbourne, add Phillip Island to your itinerary for wildlife watching – and to get a view of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix circuit. Attracting more than half a million visitors each year, this diminutive island is a beautiful spot to come nose-to-nose with koalas, dolphins, wallabies and Eudyptula minor – the smallest penguin species on Earth.
The southern beaches are also alluring, and you can make the most of the island’s extraordinary habitat, history and conservation efforts with a 4 Parks Pass. This will give you access to the Penguin Parade – when the penguins return to shore after a day’s fishing – Koala Conservation Centre, Churchill Island Heritage Farm and Antarctic Journey.