Melbourne is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the world. With a booming art, music and food culture – it sounded like our kind of place too!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at an AirBnB in Yarra. Our apartment was perfect for our weekend use. It was 7 minutes from the subway, and just minutes from restaurants and cafes. The only challenge was finding a grocery store, which was about a 20-minute walk from the apartment. It didn’t seem long, but carrying bags of groceries, it felt longer on our return trip back.
How We Got Around
We had purchased a Myki card at the airport, and right away learned the system easily. Our apartment was near the subway, so we often used that. We did use the light rail, and public bus too. The public transportation system was for the most part easy to understand, clean and cheap. On our last day in Melbourne, we were flying out of Avalon, which is over an hour outside the city. We decided to take the Skybus to the airport, which costs $22 AUS(~$17 USD) each. To get to the Skybus, we had to take the subway to Southern Cross. We were in such a rush, that we took the subway the wrong direction which resulted in a 15-minute delay. Southern Cross is a huge station and when arriving, we had to run across the station to make it to our bus on time. We made it just as the driver was closing the doors, but he was nice enough to open them (begrudgingly) and let us on.
On one of our days, we rented a car from Hertz. The Hertz location was a 13-minute walk from our apartment. Our apartment included a parking space, which made the decision to get the car even easier. You may be wondering why we got a car. It is true, driving in the city of Melbourne is a nightmare – public transportation is the way to go. One of the things I had wanted to do was see the Penguin Parade, 90 minutes outside of Melbourne, on Phillip Island. I searched everywhere for a cheap bus tour to get us there, and the cheapest one I found was $95 AUS(~$72 USD) each. We found that Hertz had a car for $75 AUS(~$57 USD) with fees/taxes so we booked it. I also had a coupon for Philip Island activities which included 4 nature parks – Penguin Parade, Koala Conservation Center, Antarctic Journey and Churchill Island Farm (which we didn’t go to) for half the admission price. We paid $85.50 AUS(~$65 USD) for the tickets total. In our view, we felt we made the better choice of skipping a guided tour and going rogue. Plus, Steve really enjoyed the car and had “fun” driving it. (Note from Steve: After driving vans and terrible economy cars for our whole trip, it was a pleasant surprise to be upgraded to a Renault Mégane Renault Sport 6 speed. This was a lot of fun to drive, and I wish Andi had chosen a day trip that had more “twisty” roads to drive on. Needless to say, she wasn’t too impressed with the car or my “spirited” driving.)
What We Did
We spent a day touring downtown Melbourne and a day visiting Philip Island – both offering incredible experiences:
Victoria State Library – You may think this is an odd place to go, but if you know me, you know I LOVE libraries. Most often, State libraries are free, beautiful and offer FREE exhibits! It is like getting into a cool museum for FREE. Plus, I really enjoy the smell of books. Steve and I walked around admiring the beauty of the library. We then visited the exhibits which was all about Victoria history. We learned about the settlement, mining, outlaws like Ned Kelly and sports history. It was fascinating.
Chinatown – We didn’t shop or eat here, but going through it was still a sight.
St. Paul’s Cathedral – We gawked at the gothic architecture, and the beauty inside (no photos inside unless you buy a “photo pass”).
Royal Botanical Gardens – The gardens here are massive, and reminded us of Central Park in NYC. We spent hours here roaming around.
Shrine of Remembrance – We were disappointed we arrived at 6PM, to realize the inside of the shrine closes at 5PM. We still marveled at the massive memorial to WWI and WWII soldiers and the eternal flame monument.
Koala Conservation Center – We spent a few hours roaming around. Not only did we see Koalas, but a Wallaby and plenty of birds.
Antarctic Journey – This was cool. It was an interactive museum to Antarctic wildlife. It took us only 45 minutes to get through all of it, which was the only disappointing part. The only exhibit looks relatively new, so perhaps they will be adding more displays. If you get it as part of the “4 park pass” then it is worth checking out, don’t pay extra to see it.
The Nobbies – We walked around here and checked out beautiful cliffs. They also had burrows dedicated to Blue Penguins (Little Penguins). They close this area at night since that is when the penguins are most active. They hide and sleep during the day (if they are not out at sea fishing) because they can be easily preyed upon. We did catch two little guys outside their burrow, hiding under a bridge.
The Penguin Parade – This is by far the main reason people travel to Philip Island. The Penguin Parade is a non-profit organization caring for Blue Penguins, sometimes called Little Penguins. Little Penguins spend sunrise to sunset out at sea, eating fish. They do not return home to their burrows until after sunset, when the risk of being attacked by prey is much lower. The organization has a bandstand setup where hundreds of people can watch the penguins return home from sea. We were advised we weren’t allowed to take any photos or videos. The penguins have extremely sensitive eyes, and even light from your phone can bother them. Did people still take photos – yes. Did we – no. We were allowed to take photos up until the moment it hit sunset, then we were advised to stop. Steve was able to capture some photos of the penguins, but not up close. The whole experience is just amazing. The penguins are in groups of 10-20. They all hang out near the water, looking everywhere for any sign of danger. If one guy flees back to the water, they all do. It is basically just a waiting game, for one guy to have the courage to move forward to the next rock or spot and then they all go for it. This whole thing can last 50 minutes, as 1,000 penguins do this on a nightly basis. We watched for 20 minutes, and then moved on to the boardwalks, where you can watch more closely the penguins “commute” back home. We saw their “partners” calling for them, and some of the penguins had eaten way too much and stopped to take a quick nap before making their journey home. Some of the penguins walk as much as 2KM to get home. Watching them was the highlight of Melbourne for me, we spent over an hour watching them walk home. They advised us to check our cars for any rogue penguins.
**Crazy truth moment – I had fantasized that maybe there would be a penguin under our car, and they after many attempts to shoo him away, the penguin decided that he really likes me and gives me a hug. I decide it’s for the best that we take him home, and before you know it, we have a penguin in the back seat with a seatbelt on, and I am googling, “Penguin Travel” and wondering if Sparky would get along with him. Then my senses take over, duh, Sparky would love him like a brother no doubt. And then we live a magical life with Sparky, Brady, Tachy, and Wally (yes, I named him Wally), the end. **
There weren’t any penguins under the car, so Steve and I took off to head back home for the night.
Blue Mountains National Park, Australia