Melbourne was founded in 1835 in the era of Victorian colonial expansion, and served as a major extension for the largely unexplored southern portion of Australia. The city’s first period of growth came in the 1850s when gold was discovered in the surrounding area, and then continued to grow for the second half of the 19th Century, until Melbourne became Australia’s most populous city. Melbourne has also become a hub of culture and sport within Australia. It has played host to the Summer Olympic Games and is the annual site for the Australian Open in Tennis and the Australian Grand Prix in Formula One. Today, the city is vibrant and youthful, blending its Victorian origins with contemporary architecture and amenities - with such a variety of landmarks and sites there truly is something for everyone.
Australia adores sport and one of the best places to witness this is at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, known locally as the G. The ovoid stadium is the home of Australian cricket and the primary host of the AFL Grand Final since the early 20th Century. Full capacity is over 100,000 and when the stadium is full, the atmosphere is indescribable. The AFL Grand Final, taking place in late September, is consistently one of the most attended sporting events in the world. The stadium has stood the test of time, being the centrepiece of the 1956 Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games, as well as the 1982 and 2015 Cricket World Cups. Within the same sporting complex is the National Sports Museum, currently undergoing a 17 million AUD redevelopment which, when it reopens in February 2020, will be more interactive and have a wider variety of displays. It will also feature a new gallery dedicated to Australia’s sporting culture - a true testament to the nation’s deep sporting history.
Bordering the Yarra River, on the opposite bank to the National Sports Museum, are the Royal Botanic Gardens which cover 38 hectares and provide a breath-taking horticultural experience. Most of the Australian flora is unique to the country and much of it is proudly displayed across the Gardens which, with its sweeping lawns and numerous placid lakes is a breath of tranquillity mere kilometres from the heart of Melbourne’s urban sprawl. There are around 50,000 plants from 8,500 different species, meaning that with each visit you are likely to see something new. The Gardens also maintain a second site at nearby Cranbourne. which is wilder and is dedicated to maintaining the biodiversity of native Australian plant life.
The other half of the natural world is represented at Melbourne Zoo, home to 320 different species of Australian and international fauna. One of the zoo’s best-known attractions are the “Trails of the Elephants” where six Asian elephants spend their days moving between three large paddocks. With a mind towards conservation, the zoo maintains two rainforest exhibits, one Asian and one African, as well as an Australian Outback habitat and there is also Wild Sea, a 20 million AUD sea life exhibit that houses seals, penguins, pelicans and rays, along with projectors, ambient noise and viewing areas at different elevations. The zoo is designed to be truly family-friendly and provides plenty of education and excitement for all visitors to the city.
As you near the waters of Port Phillip Bay, your eyes will more than likely be drawn to St Kilda Pier. The public pier was originally built in 1855 and was fully renovated in 2017. A popular activity is to simply stroll to the end of the pier and back to the shore. There is also the picturesque St Kilda Pavilion, whose white and blue wooden building is perfect for pictures commemorating your visit whilst another draw of the pier is the active colony of fairy penguins that have made it their home. Fairy penguins are the smallest species of penguin and are native to Australia. The colony at the pier numbers around 1,200 and is definitely something you want to keep an eye out for.
Towards the centre of Melbourne is one of its most culturally significant districts, Chinatown, which was initially founded in the 1850s when Chinese immigrants came to the city as part of the Victorian Gold Rush. It serves as the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World and is the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere. The establishment of a permanent Chinatown in a major settlement was vital to the growth of Australia’s Chinese population and Melbourne’s Chinatown stands as a monument to the culture and architecture of the Chinese. Many traditional restaurants, stores and buildings can be seen and visited within the area and Melbourne hosts large-scale and vibrant Chinese New Year celebrations, as well as a world-renowned Asian Food Festival. For a deeper look into the history of the Chinese community in Melbourne, look no further than the Chinese Museum located in the area.
With its varied surroundings and architecture spreading out in every direction, Melbourne is a cityscape to behold and what better way to see the view than via a hot air balloon? There are numerous companies that offer balloon rides and floating aerial views with many of the flights also crossing into the Yarra Valley wine region providing breath-taking views of the landscape around the city. There are few things more idyllic than a hot air balloon ride - just imagine getting up early and watching the sunrise as you float above the city. Also, of note is the annual Balloon Festival in July when the sky fills with balloons of every design imaginable - something you will not forget.
As mentioned previously, the Yarra River, whose 150-mile waterway can be enjoyed via river tour, splits the city. Many of the city’s most famous landmarks can be seen along the way, including the MCG and Royal Botanic Gardens whilst to the south of the river you’ll find the neighbourhood of Southbank which, whilst a major financial centre and location of high-end accommodation within the city, is also home to the Arts Centre. With its iconic architecture – the work of Sir Roy Grounds – this building is home to the performing arts in Melbourne. The four theatres are located on the banks of the river and regularly play host to the Australian Ballet, the Melbourne Symphony and Opera Australia. If an evening of culture is on your itinerary, look no further than this beautiful location.
As you leave the city, Australia opens before you. Travelling south will bring you to the Great Ocean Road. This 243-kilometre highway is the world’s largest war memorial, having been built by veterans between 1919 and 1932, and dedicated to the war dead of World War One. The road, running between Torquay and Allansford, hugs the coast and is the perfect way to experience the Victorian coastline with Bells Beach, often referred to as the home of Australia surfing, and places like the Shipwreck Coast, the Twelve Apostles rock formation and Phillip Island. The latter, accessible by bridge and boat, has a wildlife reserve and an important bird area located towards the southern tip. It is also the home of Australian motorsport where the Grand Prix circuit was the original host of the Australian Grand Prix and is now the home of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
To the east, the city quickly gives way to the rolling hills and weathered valleys of the Dandenong Ranges. The whole area is covered in temperate rainforest and gently elevates to a peak of 655m in the town of Mount Dandenong, which provides beautiful views of Melbourne itself. The area has been popular with day-trippers and travellers since the start of European settlement in the 1850s and has plenty of B&Bs and other travel-oriented business. A favourite fixture of trips to the area is the Puffing Billy railway which is to be found in the southern part of the Dandenong Ranges. Puffing Billy is a narrow-gauge steam railway that runs between the towns of Belgrave and Gembrook and the stations, maintained in the style of the early 20th Century, are staffed by volunteers who are eager to help immerse you in the railway’s heyday. Aside from the railway, the area is full of hiking trails and plenty of scenic views.
Travelling west for about an hour, brings you to Lerderderg State Park. This natural expanse covers over 14,000 hectares of land and allows camping and provides many well-maintained hiking routes - Parks Victoria maintains six official trials including a 20km overnight trail. The park is named after the Lerderderg River, which almost bisects the park as it winds its way through an impressive 300-metre gorge. For the adventurous, the park is home to a leg of the Great Dividing Trail, a long and popular hike within the state of Victoria. As opposed to the forests of Dandenong, Lerderderg is largely bush and scrubland, providing a beautiful contrast and example of the diversity the Australian terrain has to offer.
However, it would be remiss not to include some of the city’s other beautiful sights such as Flinders Street Station, the hub of Melbourne rail travel and an iconic building that spans two city blocks, the Eureka Skydeck which provides beautiful views of the city from the 88th floor of the striking Eureka Tower, and Cook’s Cottage which is a quaint brick cottage that showcases a snapshot of life in the 18th Century. The Victoria Market is one of the oldest open-air markets in the Southern Hemisphere and offers tourists a glimpse of what Melbourne would have looked like in its infancy, and the National Gallery contains thousands of works of art – a must-visit for any museum fan.
Be it history, zoology, hiking or pure aesthetics, Melbourne is a city that caters to any interests you may have - let Fixture Travel help plan your visit to this wonderful city.
Photos by Denise Jans, MCG, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne Zoo, Jamie Davies, Madeline Ong
Written on 1st November 2019 by Benjamin Mock