PictoJournal©: Marvelous Melbourne

Text by Anu (Arundhathi) and Photos by Suchit Nanda [http://photos.suchit.in/Travel]

G'Day, Mate! These were the first words I heard as we stepped out of the Melbourne airport. As our heads turned to this cheerful voice, a cabby stood beaming at my husband greeting in distinctive Australian style. We cheered back “Hello Melbourne!” and rolled our trolleys to the car park where our dear friend Andrew was waiting in his favorite multihued car to take us to his home.

I had read that Melbourne has something for everyone: City Lovers, Romantic Couples, Beach Lovers, History Buff, Culture Aficionado.

An American friend of mine once remarked about this antipode, “Nature has done everything for Sydney, man nothing; Man has done everything for Melbourne, nature nothing.” This glib quip however captures an vital disparity between Australia’s two largest cities. Quip aside, nature has not entirely ignored Melbourne. Large part of the city luxuriates in man made verdant parks and colorful gardens and the jewel in the crown is the 88-acre Royal Botanic Gardens, an impressive model of 19th century English landscaping. Full of manicured lawns and floral displays, it is scattered with elegant gazebos, cooling fountains and theatrical statues, all within walking distance from the city. The Royal Botanic Gardens is considered to be one of the most famous botanical gardens in Australia. Its wide paths curve around sweeping lawns planted with a variety of plants, a fern gully sits under a rainforest canopy and an artificial ornamental lake sustains flocks of water birds.

The city centre is easy to navigate. Swanston Street, a pedestrian mall, considered to be the city's main haul, runs from the ornate 19th century domes of Flinders Street Station to the luminous Melbourne Central Shopping Complex. The stretch of Collins Street between Swanston and Spring Streets is more of an elite shopping strip. Known as "the Paris end" of the city, it is home to luxury boutiques, prestige offices and hotels. Running parallel is Bourke Street, the oldest and most successful pedestrian precinct where major department stores, such as David Jones and Myer, are located.

Driving down from Bourke street Melbourne’s Parliament building attracted us. Guided tours are available at Parliament House which lead us into the green-carpeted Legislative Assembly from which the party or parties with a majority form the government. We could also view Queen's Hall with a statue of Queen Victoria, two magnificent chandeliers and the outstanding Parliamentary Library with ornate design on the ceilings. From the Library we could see the beautiful gardens. A tour of Victoria's Parliament House is not to be missed.

Next day, to experience Melbourne by a hop on hop of shuttle bus, we took the Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle. We boarded opposite the Melbourne Visitors Centre at Federation Square on Flinders Street. The first stop was the Exhibition Street, a little distance away from Fitzroy Gardens and Chinatown. The entrance to Chinatown is marked by an ornate Chinese arch which is home to a fascinating variety of restaurants and stores. After Chinatown we arrived at a vast and beautifully maintained belt of parkland, containing the Fitzroy Gardens and the Melbourne Cricket Ground and to the Royal Botanical Gardens lying just across the Yarra River.

The next stop was the new Melbourne Museum located in the beautiful Carlton Gardens. First-time Australia visitors and their kids will enjoy the animal and aboriginal culture exhibits and interactive displays at the new Melbourne Museum. Next, we timed ourselves to be at the Lygon for lunch. Lygon Street, arguably the city's premier dining strip, is home to a large Italian community as well as restaurants serving cuisines of Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and even Jamaica. After Lygon, we stopped at the Queen Victoria Market which is a historic landmark. With more than 1,000 traders and spanning 17 acres, the Queen Victoria Market is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere. Whether one is looking for tasting wines, or shopping for Aboriginal art and didgeridoos, this 129-year-old market has it all.

The next major stop for the bus is at Southbank. On the southern bank of the muddy and surprisingly narrow river lies the landmark Victorian Arts Centre and the chic Southgate shopping and dining precinct. Further along is Melbourne's favorite visitor attraction. We came across the glitzy Crown Entertainment Complex offering 24-hours of entertainment, luxury stores, nightclubs, eateries and one of the world's largest gaming facilities.

The next stop is the Shrine and Royal Botanic Gardens. Continuing the circuit is the Arts Precinct stop and then the shuttle continues onto Federation Square. All stops listed above can be the point where you can either alight or depart the shuttle bus. Onboard we learnt a lot by listening to an informative commentary about the attractions of the city. The shuttle runs daily every 15-20 minutes from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

I have mentioned about tourist buses in Melbourne quite a bit but wait a minute... one gets to travel by buses in most parts of the world. Instead I have another suggestion, why not try the iconic City Circle Tram which not only takes you to some locations that are not covered by the tourist shuttle but is also free!

Melbourne is a city of neighborhoods, and it is only by exploring them the visitors get a feel for the underlying beauty of this vivacious multicultural city. Italian or Chinese, groovy or chic, bohemian or beachside… Melbourne has them all. Each has its own spirit instilled by the émigrés from all over the world who have brought their customs, beliefs, businesses, food, art and style to the city. Melbourne’s successive waves of immigrants have influenced the city’s kitchens than any other field. We came to know that one could dine out each night for a month without repeating the same cuisine twice. Food hubs include Chinatown (Little Bourke Street in Central Melbourne) and Little Italy (Lygon Street in the suburb of Carlton), as well as Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street, renowned for its wide range of “multi-culti” fare. Distinctive cafés dot streets and alleys all through the city.

This multicultural city of almost three-and-a-half-million people is bisected by the Yarra river near the point where it empties into the vast Port Phillip Bay, along Australia’s southeastern coast. Melbourne reveals its soul at street level. Pick up a self-guided heritage walking tour brochure, or join one of the many guided walking tours, with themes ranging from pubs to Aboriginal traditions. World-class art hangs on the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria. Check out Underwater World, in the form of sharks, coral, and other marine life at the Melbourne Aquarium.

St Kilda, a popular place for tourists also boasts of Luna Park, an ornate and historic funfair along the waterfront, weekend craft market and a lovely pier. This beach is quite wide and after a nice swim in summer or a quick winter peek, one can stroll down the tram tracks for a treat of European cake from Monarch Cake Shop.

In the recent years, the number hotels in Melbourne have increased considerably. Prominent among them is the boutique Hotel Lindrum; the large, the deluxe Quay West Suites and The Prince, which has 40 rooms with contemporary decor in a landmark art-deco complex at the beachfront suburb of St. Kilda. The echoes of a Victorian era resonates at The Windsor, Melbourne’s last remaining grand Victorian hotel.

Melbourne is a great city for meandering around too and seeing whatever comes on the way. We got to see so much – historic swimming holes, Aboriginal meeting places and old boathouses. For those who like bike riding Melbourne's bike tracks are excellent. Melbourne’s distinctive electric trams, stately Victorian buildings, and stylish wrought iron designs every where evoke a European ambience. Immigrants, on their part, introduced some continental pastimes as well. Yet, this being Australia, the city’s sophistication is offset by a refreshingly relaxed attitude.

If one is an avid sports enthusiast and wants to relive some immense sporting memories then I suggest a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Don’t miss this city’s obsession at the Australian Gallery of Sport, housed within the country’s most hallowed sporting venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Being acknowledged as Australia’s undeniable style capital, all major sporting events are organized with a touch of style and glamour. Home to Australian Rules football, F1 Grand Prix and the only horse race on Earth that literally stops a nation, Melbourne exudes an easy yet sophisticated charm which makes visit to this great city exhilarating.

Within a few hours of driving from the city of Melbourne, a visitor can explore nature and get some phenomenal views along the most picturesque Great Ocean Road. On the way back one can stop to savor places like the amazing Twelve Apostles rock formations, Apollo Bay and Loch Ard Gorge (where they did "The Tempest" on the beach) and so much more.

Words can’t express the joy Melbourne gave on my first holiday to Australia. I instantly fell in love with this city as everything in Melbourne made me feel at home. It is charming yet sophisticated, it is casual yet chic. I loved Melbourne most for its thriving arts scene and its tantalizing variety of ethnic cuisines. Last but not the least, Melbournians were exceptionally nice. I would never imagine visiting Australia without reserving few days for Melbourne.


~ Anu & Suchit Nanda,
Many more pictures can be seen at: Melbourne, Australia, Travel Images
Official website: http://www.visitvictoria.com/ and http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/

Fact File:
Getting there:
There are direct flights from major cities in India to Melbourne. One can also fly via Hong Kong or Singapore.

A wide range of hotels from the most elegant Victorian Hotels down to budget backpackers hostels are available in the heart of the town.
Although Melbourne’s weather remains notoriously unpredictable, the climate rarely hits extremes: Average temperatures in winter (June-Aug.) is 15°C and in summer (Dec.-Feb.) 30°C.
• On Sundays, buy the cheap A$2.90 all day 'Sunday Savers' travel pass from any 7-11s, newsagents and chemists with the blue and white Metcard sign.
• The hop-on-hop-off Tram is free and a good way to see the major city attractions.
• One can get reasonable priced vegetarian food at the Iskon centre near the City Centre.

All images shot on Nikon D70 with Nikkor 18-70 mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX, Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED VR, Cokin P-filters and Gitzo basalt tripod.

This article has been printed in Asian Photography Magazine June 2008 issue and can be seen here.