Our flight from Singapore to Melbourne was an uneventful one. SQ237 departed from Singapore at 0020 hrs on 3 December, and landed in Melbourne at 1050 hrs on the same day. We were able to catch some sleep on board, so were raring to start our exploration of the city upon arrival.
Skybus Southbank Docklands Express deposited us outside the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. We dragged our suitcases the remaining 270m to our hotel, the Novotel Melbourne South Wharf. The hotel was new, modern and the staff efficient. Our rooms were ready for check-in by the time we arrived.
We dropped our bags off and headed straight to DFO South Wharf, the mall directly opposite the hotel. Food court prices were certainly higher in Melbourne than in Singapore, and when you tried to pay with a credit card, many stalls imposed a surcharge. We enjoyed shopping at DFO though. The girls found lots to buy.
Before travelling to Melbourne, we had downloaded GooglePay and clicked on Passes to pre-load our online Myki cards so we could readily use the city trams. However, my in-laws had trouble downloading GooglePay to their iPhones and we had to search for a place to purchase their Myki cards. Our hotel concierge suggested that we purchase them from a convenience store. We approached several convenience stores in the neighbourhood but none sold them. We eventually located a 7Eleven near a tram station which sold them; only to realise a short time later that there were machines at the tram station which dispensed those cards!
We took Tram No. 96 to St Kilda's Pier. St Kilda's beach was very windy, and as we walked along the pier, we could see dozens of kite-surfers with their colourful gear doing all sorts of acrobatic tricks in the air. At the breakwater at the end of the pier, little penguins could be spotted every day at sundown. At first, we had to peer between the rocks to look for them, but as the sun went down, more and more of them appeared. We even heard them "bickering" as they jostled for their choice of rocks to rest on.
We had a sweet reunion with my sister's family who had moved to Melbourne at the pier, chatting as we looked for penguins together. But soon it was time to head back. As night fell, the temperature dropped very quickly. Even in the summer, a windproof jacket is a must in Melbourne, as weather changes are sudden and rapid.
Buffet breakfast at the hotel was lovely. Although not explicitly stated in the made-to-order egg slip, the chef was happy to indulge me when I requested for eggs benedict. We took our time at breakfast as GoWest Tours were only picking us up for our sunset tour of The Great Ocean Road at 1100 hrs.
When the bus pulled up, we were a little dismayed because all the couple seats on the right hand side of the bus had been filled, leaving only a single file of seats on the left for our family. We were the last to be picked up by GoWest. However, as the tour progressed, everyone realised that the seats on the left were actually the best, as the ocean was on our left during the daylight hours of our trip!
Our first stop was at Anglesea, a small seaside town with a very pretty river. A flock of seagulls danced about the crystal clear blue water.
Next was Airey's Inlet, where we saw the famous Pole House (house built on a pole) and were given a few minutes on the beach.
At Lorne, we grabbed some tasty pies, cheeseburgers, donuts and gelato for lunch and relaxed on the beach.
After lunch, we arrived at a very special place called Kennet River. Up a hill were eucalyptus trees where wild koalas inhabited. We were fortunate to spot a couple of koalas high up on the trees, but what stole the show in this coastal town was the large population of king parrots, cockatoos and other wild exotic birds which flew about freely. The moment we stepped out of the bus, king parrots started landing on us, sitting comfortably on our heads and shoulders. It was out of this world!
There was a brief stop at Cape Patton lookout point, followed by a longer stop at Gibson Steps, which offered one of the most breathtaking views on the Great Ocean Road.
When we got to Loch Ard Gorge, we had just enough time to visit the gorge and complete both the Razorback walk and the Shipwreck Walk, the former being much more scenic than the latter.
We really appreciated our driver's efforts to be strict on time as it was no easy feat making sure that we had sufficient time to have dinner and arrive at the piece de resistance, the Twelve Apostles, just when the sun was going down. Sadly, it was cloudy with a slight drizzle when we arrived at the Twelve Apostles. With the sun hiding behind thick clouds, we didn't get to see the sky turn crimson, which was a disappointment. Nevertheless, the Twelve Apostles were still an impressive sight, and having arrived after most of the tourists had left for the day, we had the place to ourselves.
By the time we were dropped off at our hotel, it was midnight. We had booked the tour from Klook via Shopback. At S$100.00 per person, it was really a steal, considering the amount we saw and the length of the trip. Had we not joined the tour, it would not have been possible to enjoy the best of the The Great Ocean Road at sunset and make it back to Melbourne within a day. Two thumbs up, a must-do tour.
After breakfast at the hotel, we went on a self-guided walking tour of Melbourne. One can easily join free guided walks of the city, but we chose to do it on our own as the elderly members in our group found it difficult to keep pace with the guides on those walks. We strolled along the Yarra Promenade and Southbank Promenade to soak in the laid-back atmosphere of the city and take in the sights of the charming waterfront.
We darted into Crown Casino for a look-around and climbed up the side of Hamer Hall for a bird's eye view of the Melbourne CBD.
We crossed Princes Bridge, wandered past Flinders Street Railway Station and Federation Square, and entered St Paul's Cathedral to observe a service briefly. Further down the street, we found the street art mecca of Hosier Lane, Higson Lane, AC/DC Lane and Duckboard Place. The burst of eye-catching colours and lifelike murals drew throngs of tourists to these laneways like magnets. Our favourite laneway for street art was lesser known Croft Alley in Chinatown. We had the alley to ourselves and were trigger happy with our cameras.
We wandered around Bourke Street Mall for a while until we ran into a tourism ambassador wearing an "i" jacket. We asked for directions to a food court for lunch and he pointed us towards Emporium Melbourne. Surprisingly, the Indonesian food in the food court was exceedingly good. Hubby praised the sambal to high heavens.
After lunch, we found our way to ornate Block Arcade, before checking out Melbourne's famed coffee culture at Centre Place and Degraves Street.
It is easy to understand why Melbourne consistently ranks as one of the most livable cities in the world. It is safe, bustling yet laid-back, cosmopolitan, thriving in art and culture, and has great food. As a bonus, taking the tram within the city centre was free. We were beginning to fall in love with the place.
We spent the evening visiting my sister's family in the suburbs, watching my niece and nephew perform in a school play and having dinner at their house. A heartwarming way to spend an evening indeed. Tears flowed freely when it was time to part.
Our final day in Melbourne saw us visiting the iconic Queen Victoria Market. Really glad we managed to squeeze this into our itinerary because it was by far one of the best markets I'd ever come across. Period. A fascinating array of fresh seafood, meats, fruits, cheese, fruits, pasta, baked goods, and everything in between and more were on display. Prices were reasonable and locals were doing the purchasing. It was an authentic, working fresh food market; and not just a tourist trap.
That afternoon, we returned to Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport by Skybus. We had a flight to catch to Christchurch, to begin the next leg of our journey - our road trip of New Zealand.