Yet, after a quick flight on a Friday evening, I arrive in Melbourne at sunset and can’t help but be seduced. We head to what appears to be the theatre district, the place is buzzing with excitement as we rub shoulders with King Kong devotees and Collingwood supporters on their way to the MCG. We ease ourselves in by finding a bar (naturally) and drink boutique beer from pots after clumsily ordering schooners.
Melbourne in winter feels a little bit like London. They know how to use centralised heating for starters (Sydney is totally in denial that it even gets cold) and there is history, culture and sub-culture on every corner. From the Victorian architecture, to the second hand book stores, and even the newest culture – the city’s infamous street art hidden in every laneway and alley.
But this isn’t a tale of two cities, I’m not going to compare Sydney to Melbourne or Melbourne to London, or even south Melbourne to north Melbourne (although north is best – sorry) because the city has become an entity of its own.
After pots in a gastro pub we weave through the grid-like city discovering little bars on every corner and in every nook and cranny. We eat some ‘trendy’ Chinese food and drink some tastefully named cocktails like the Drug Mule’s Death Row at the Happy Palace on Exhibition Street before stumbling upon a bar that used to be a mental asylum. The Croft Institute, as it is still called is a three levelled bar that serves drinks with syringes instead of straws and allows you to sit at what looks like a high school science class.
It’s not hard to see why Melbourne gets a reputation for being a hipster’s paradise, the city reinvents itself like an aging pop star. When one thing has its day, another springs up. We finish up at a bar called Section 8 which is down an alleyway in bustling Chinatown. It’s a bar made from wooden pallets and described as being ‘as Melbourne as you can get’.
Which, I guess, means Melbourne is full of beautiful people who wear beanies (without irony) and skinny jeans and listen to hip-hop remixes of Marvin Gaye music while smugly aware that pop-up bars in Melbourne have permanency and having graffiti adorned walls doesn’t necessarily mean vandalism. Damn you, Melbourne! You win again.
City and colour
Funnily enough we stumble upon this bar the next day on a street art tour (yes, I am a little bit obsessed with Melbourne’s initiative with this concept). Urban Scrawl conduct daily tours of Melbourne’s CBD, showing you the latest in this ‘underground’ art. You can’t really call it an underground movement anymore, it’s as present as day and continually changing and growing as the artists populate and evolve.
Starting in Degraves Street in the heart of Melbourne’s city, and pretty much the epitome of its famous café culture, we queue up for lattes and get to know our guide, Zoe, a part-time street artist (of the stencil variety) and passionate lover of the city’s outdoor galleries. We soon learn about the different sub-cultures of street art; from stickering, to paste-ups to mosaics, to larger than life murals.
“It’s so common now,” Zoe says, “that it’s actually becoming mainstream.” She explains that it’s not uncommon for a bride and groom to shimmy down the lanes to have their wedding photographs taken.My favourite pieces are the pop-culture references, everyone from Michael Jackson to Biggie Smalls and even ex-Prime Minister John Howard and Ned Kelly.
“Street artists are the bushrangers of this century,” says Zoe. Which, if you look at a lot of the art, seems true. They have this ‘stick it to the man’ feel. Or perhaps they just all want to be like Banksy, who has famously made Melbourne walls his canvas in 2003.
We learn that there’s even a subversive rivalry between artists, Zoe tells us how disrespectful is can be to go over other’s work. Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a blank space on the walls, so naturally this happens a lot. Some of the detail is astonishing, as are the heights these artists get to, usually in the dead of the night to create their work.
Hosier Lane is one of the most famous spots for street art and it’s here that we get to see an artist at work, because (unlike other cities) it is actually legal in some areas. Armed with a permit and their paint, they go to work in front of the public, it’s like a living, breathing exhibition. Never has watching paint dry been so fascinating.
Top of the morning to you
Sometimes hipster heaven can be too much and you need a break from all the pop-up rooftop bio-dynamic vegetable gardens (yes, we found them) and pop-up caravan food trucks (spotted in Fitzroy). So, it’s a good thing that Melbourne is the gateway to so many wonderful day-trip options. There’s the Yarra Valley, Great Ocean Road and Mornington Peninsula all located within an hour of the city. We opt for the latter and join a tour bus to the boot-shaped peninsula.
Nestled between Port Phillip Bay to the west, Western Port to the east and Bass Strait to the south, it gets the best of all worlds. Rugged coastline and surf on one side, and beautiful, peaceful bays on the other.
After a brief cruise along the highway we arrive in Mornington where we check out some of the 1,300 bathing boxes and boatsheds dotted along the coast. You’ve probably seen these colourful bathing boxes (for ensuring public decorum in the1800s) on postcards, but today we take photos for ourselves while smiling about the social modesty of the 19th century.
Hot tub time machine
Throwing modesty to the wind, we take the optional trip to the Peninsula Hot Springs. These all natural thermal mineral hot springs cater to people of all budgets, for instance, $30 gets you a dip in all 25 pools, access to the sauna and also the Turkish steam rooms. Make sure you immerse yourself in the pool on top of the hill for a truly serene experience.
We unwind with a late and boozy lunch at Cups Estate Winery where we sit overlooking the beautiful vineyards with an antipasto plate and a bottle of award-winning wine. We then try them all on one of their free wine-tastings. This is where joining a bus tour comes in handy, there’s no way we could have driven out of this estate.
In summer I’ve been advised to head to Portsea Beach. It’s probably the peninsula’s most famous beach, and a regular part of the Ironman contests. It also has a dark history as it was the last site Prime Minister Harold Holt was seen before he (allegedly) drowned in 1967. So people – be careful of those rips.
If you really want to lose yourself in the Peninsula, head to Ashcombe Maze – it is Australia’s oldest hedge maze which stands over three metres high and two metres thick. It’s harder than it sounds to traverse around, so I make sure I take someone who isn’t directionally challenged or claustrophobic like myself. It’s also worth checking out the beautiful lavender labyrinth.
It’s hard to believe the city is only an hour away, it feels like I’m in another state. As much I love with Melbourne, it seems I have room in my heart for the Mornington Peninsula too. I guess I have a lot of love to give.
A therapist might not condone this, but I say channel your inner-polygamist and let your pheromones run wild in Victoria.
Damage and details: Space Hotel has rooms from $25/night or for something a bit special, the Radisson on Flagstaff Gardens Melbourne has double rooms from $160/night. Street art tours with Urban Scrawl cost $25. Mornington Peninsula tours with Bunyip Tours cost $149. To see more photos from the trip, head to our Facebook page.
Botanical gardens – Heritage Walk by Marianne Clifford
Looking for culture, a leisurely stroll and good company? Then tag along on an Aboriginal Heritage walk in Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens, located on the south bank of the Yarra River, Melbourne, Victoria.
The Gardens rest on the camping and meeting grounds of local custodians of the land- the Boonwurrung and Woiworung people, making this a very special experience.
Our Indigenous guide brought his wealth of experience to this walk, making it fun, entertaining and above all educational. This tour will make you feel like you’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s CBD for a moment of cultural enlightenment.
We experienced the traditional smoking ceremony with our guide and explored the traditional uses of plants. Our guide was more than happy to answer any question which sprung to mind and took every opportunity to get us actively involved in the walk.
We utilised our senses, smelling and tasting the various plants. After the walk you will start to look at plant life in a whole new way and leave with a new found appreciation for nature.
At the end of our tour, we enjoyed a refreshing cup of lemon myrtle tea and recounted our experiences amongst the group.
For more information on the Botanical Gardens Aboriginal Heritage walk, visit the Royal Botanical Gardens website.
Photos: Justin Steinlauf and Tourism Victoria