As an immigrant to the world’s most ‘liveable’ city it is my pleasure to share a couple ideas for things to do before, after or during the conference that might give you a sense of where you have landed. Here are a couple of personal suggestions, maybe one will take your fancy.
Wominjeka, you are on Boonwurung and Wurundjeri Land…
Australia is home to the world’s oldest continuous human cultures. Taking the time to engage with the many facets of indigenous culture will provide the most distinctive and satisfyingly Australian experience of Melbourne. One of the best ways to do this as a tourist is to take a walk led by an indigenous guide, this will change the way you see the city, the faces around you and Australia’s flora and fauna. The Koorie Heritage Trust offers several walks, and I can recommend the Birrarung Falls Walk. Also The Royal Botanical Gardens offers an Aboriginal Heritage Walk through one of the finest parks in the world. If you don’t have time to book into a walk, or Melbourne’s winter is keeping you indoors, visit the First Peoples exhibition at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum, it’s brilliant.
Botanical Gardens and Shrine of Remembrance (free)
After a long flight it is good to get outside. If it is not raining head to Royal Botanical Gardens and wander until you get lost amongst the plants that are often kept in greenhouses in other countries. It is a brilliant park with trees from around the world. The Shrine of Remembrance on the edge of the park offers stunning FREE viewing platform with arguably the city’s best vista. Almost all the trams from the university go there directly: 3, 5, 6, 8, 16, 64, 67, 72. Get off at ‘Shrine of Remberance’ or ‘Domain Interchange’. Couldn’t be easier.
Penguins and St Kilda (free)
Few Melbournians are aware that penguins can be seen in at the end of St Kilda pier at dusk. Yet somehow every new visitor and tourist knows to make the pilgrimage to encounter the Little penguins The sunset in the water and the view back to the city is particularly impressive at dusk and you are 90% guaranteed to see a penguin. Have a walk along the wintery beach and into Claypots St Kilda for a seafood dinner afterwards. Take tram 3a, 16 and 96 to St Kilda Beach.
Flinders Lane Cocktail Crawl
What better way to see Melbourne than through a martini glass? For a true night on the tiles you only need to come to my street, Flinders Lane where I’ve lived for the last five years. Follow these simple instructions. Arrive at the 55th floor Lui Bar at 5:30pm, order a house-infused macadamia nut vodka cocktail and take your seats for sunset and the breathtaking view. Once the sun and second cocktail have gone down, so should you. Head along Flinders Lane (or catch the tram on Collins 3 stops) and attempt to find Eau De Vie a speak easy with no sign on the door, no windows and only a Narnia-esque street lamp to indicate passage to higher spirited world. It is worth searching out their brilliant flaming cocktails to shake off your winter chill. Once warmed keep going past all the tempting eateries to the very end of the Flinders Lane, and find another secret door into Hihou a brilliant, small Japanese bar, and ask for a booth. Hihou overlooks Treasury Gardens, a prime possum hangout (see Possums). Three amazing award-winning cocktail joints on one straightforward crawl.
Ever met a marsupial? This is your time. You can’t come all this way without seeing one. Koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats all live wild nearby Melbourne and can be easily spotted if you hire a car. But even in the city you can see a possum, which are loathed by Australians but beloved by visitors. More feline than their American cousins, and far cuter, just head out to a park at dusk and you will see them on the ground and in the trees.
Markets and Brunch
The Queen Victoria Markets sprawl between the edge of the CBD and North Melbourne. It’s huge and worth visiting to see the amazing fresh produce and to pick up a bargain from the clothes and ambient goods section, which includes souvenir stalls. There is A LOT to eat there and is an easy walk from campus. At least once in your visit you should go for a good brunch. Australians take brunch to another level with some seriously innovative thinking going into mid-day concoctions. See the separate food guide we put together for you, or search out a few of the top spots. My rank order would be The Grain Store, Hardware Societe, Auction Rooms and Proud Mary (the last two also particularly good for coffee too).
Day Trips or Longer
If you are thinking about bigger trips I would suggest the following. The best thing to do is hire a car with some friends and take your time. But there are also organised day trips with Gray Line.
Healesville Sanctuary and Yarra Valley (animals and wine in the countryside)
See the animals at the sanctuary and then travel round the vineyards sampling as you go. Easily done in a day with one sober driver, even better to stay over somewhere with an open fire.
Great Ocean Road (animals, rainforests and beaches)
One of the finest stretches of road in the world. Get out to some unspoilt beaches, rugged cliffs, rainforest and maybe even the Twelve Apostles. It is possible to get to the Apostles and back in one long day, but better to stay over. Or just go to Cape Otway and then come back. There are a few places where you can almost always see kangaroos, koalas and platypus. Just ask if you are going.