Our 4-day trip as I remember it.
DAY 1 - SUNDAY
• Arrived at Tullamarine airport at 10.15am. Purchased Skybus return tickets ($28pp) at ticket booth outside the arrivals terminal.
• Short walk to hotel from Skybus terminal at Southern Cross Station. Harbourview Apartment Hotel, 585 Latrobe St., advanced purchase - $104/nt for 1 bedroom Apt (pls. see separate review).
• Took the free tram (tram 35 - City Circle, 10a-6p Sun-W, 10a-9p Thu-Sat) to FLINDERS STATION.
• ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
• FEDERATION SQUARE. There were a few activities going on and it was a festive atmosphere. We watched acrobats entertaining the crowd at the Swanston St forecourt, listened brieifly to a Greek choir (Melbourne-Thessaloniki sister cities annual festival) performing at The Square, and browsed through the Markit@Fed Square, located at Fed Square Atrium. Lots of people at this design market which is on only twice a year. Lunch was at a taco stand called Tacos Dos near the Russell St carpark entrance. They were tacos with a gourmet twist, creative combination of ingredients that you don’t usually associate with taco filling. The corn chips that came with it tasted delicious. Serving portions may be too small if you have a hearty appetite.
• VISITORS CENTRE 9a-6p daily, got maps and brochures. TIP: Various discount vouchers in the Official Visitors Guide, also in the ‘This week in Melbourne’ guide - 10% off Eureka Skydeck entry, 20% off Melbourne Aquarium entry, etc.
• SOUTH BANK ARTS PRECINCT
• SHRINE OF REMEMBRANCE. Free tour 11a & 2p daily. We joined the 2pm guided tour. Our guide, John, was a walking WW1 & 2 encyclopedia. The guided tour enhanced our visit. Highly recommended if interested in war history. TIP: If not joining the guided tour, make your way to the balcony for views of the Shrine gardens and the Melbourne bay areas.
• Walked to CROWN CASINO ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX via SOUTHBANK. Took pictures of EUREKA TOWER.
• Walked along Yarra River promenade
• Caught city circle tram to CHINATOWN PRECINCT. Stopped by Maxims Cakes & Pastry, 173 Little Bourke St, for its famous egg tarts and pastries for early breakfast the next day. Dinner at SAMBAL KAMPUNG, Malaysian cuisine (separate review soon).
• 6pm – caught the last free tram back to hotel.
DAY 2 - MONDAY
• 7am - walked to Fed Sq. via Collins St for GREAT OCEAN ROAD day tour with Down Under Day Tours/APT, cor Flinders & Russel Sts. TIP: sit on the left side of the bus, opposite side of the driver to see the coastline.
• Our tour guide/driver John had a calm & pleasant demeanour, spoke clearly and provided interesting and excellent commentary. Also did a magnificent job driving along the windy road.
• Despite taking 2 ginger pills in the morning and being seated in the front section, I still felt sick from the very windy road. We were told that the windiest section was the stretch between Cumberland River and Mt. Defiance so the driver needed full concentration (no commentary).
• FOOD - Stopped for morning tea at TAPAS café, Torquay (included in price). Best scones we have ever tasted – crusty outside and soft inside, served warm with fresh cream and delicious strawberry jam. Lunch (own expense) at Apollo Bay. No shortage of restaurants here. We settled on Georges Foodcourt for quick service. Didn’t eat much because I was still feeling queasy. Only 1 restroom for the ladies – be prepared for a long wait. Had time to browse through a couple of shops after lunch before returning to the coach.
• On to 12 APOSTLES (WOW!), Lord Arch Gorge, Razor Back, and London Bridge. Back to Melbourne via Colac. Thank goodness I didn’t have to go through the windy GOR again.
• Got back to Melbourne about 8.30pm and was dropped across the road from our hotel. After a brief stop in our room, we ventured out to look for a place nearby to have dinner. Came across KANAZAWA Japanese Restaurant in King St. (separate review soon) which opened until 10pm.
DAY 3 – TUESDAY
• A rainy morning. Took the free tram to HARBOUR TOWN Shopping Centre, Docklands. Stopped by the Tourism Lounge to pick up free Tourism Club Card for extra discounts on purchases.
• Lunch at GREAT TASTE KITCHEN, Chinese food. I love churros and always have one when they are available. Bought one from Costco, it was the worst churro I’ve ever eaten – tasted stale.
• Tram to hotel – caught the right tram, wrong direction. We got off as soon as we realised this, then walked the rest of the way to the hotel. By then, the rain had stopped and the sun was starting to come out.
• WONDERBAO, 8a-5p, M-F. Literature Lane. Caters mostly for takeaway. The place is compact with only 4 seats for dine-in. Seats with a view of the back doors of several eateries, their industrial sized rubbish bins and staff coming out to empty rubbish. Not a pleasant sight while eating. Their braised pork gua bao was yummy but one would need a few to fill up. The pork bun tasted good but it was much more expensive than what you get in other equally good Chinese restaurants.
• STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA to check out its interior and exhibits.
• Bourke St. Mall - MYER CHRISTMAS WINDOWS – magical, enchanting, captivating window displays. Wished we had the time and energy to return and view them at night too.
• Walked through THE ROYAL ARCADE and Block Place to THE BLOCK ARCADE. Beautiful heritage buildings and interiors.
• Walked along SWANSTON ST towards Flinders St. Got hot from all the walking, stopped by McDonalds on Flinders to have soft serve ice cream.
• PHILLIP ISLAND PENGUIN EXPRESS TOUR with Gray Line – departed at 5pm at Fed Sq. Driver/tour guide was David - patient and excellent driver, provided interesting and informative commentary on the way to Phillip Island. It was freezing cold while we were waiting for it to get dark and for the little penguins to come ashore. Thanks to TA we went prepared and weren’t cold at all. Saw a few tourists shivering and a couple placing umbrellas in front of them to shield them from the cold wind. Watching the little penguins waddle to shore one group after another was a fascinating experience. We followed them along the boardwalk and watched them go to their burrows. Many of the rookeries were far from the shore. It’s amazing how far the little penguins had to walk to reach them. TIP: Pay extra and get the Penguin Plus tickets – well worth it. Best seats are the corner sections of the second and third row bleachers closest to the boardwalk.
• Arrived back in Melbourne about 11.30pm. As the coach traversed the CBD dropping people off at different hotels, we got to see the grand buildings from a night time perspective which was a bonus. It was 12.15am by the time we got back to the hotel. We were one of the few who were let off last.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY
• Planned to sleep-in but the loud construction noise from the building site across the hotel woke me up (guests staying at the adjacent Atlantis Hotel would have had the same noise problem). Walked to the neighbouring William Angliss Institute Café for breakfast, but they only had takeaway and no seating, so we ended up having breakfast at Hungry Jacks at Southern Cross Station. Had a window seat with a view of the magnificent Mail Exchange Building.
• Walked to WORLD TRADE CENTRE, admiring the architecture of the grand VICTORIAN RAILWAYS ADMINISTRATIVE BUILDING on the way.
• VICTORIA POLICE MUSEUM in WTC – thought this would be a boring museum. Nothing to lose with free admission. Turned out to be excellent. It was surprisingly interesting. The exhibits were very well presented and displayed. There was a section of 9/11 photographs exhibit – very moving, almost got teary. Highly recommended if you are interested in Australian policing and crime history.
• DFO SOUTH WHARF, Convention Centre Place. Lunch at the food court.
• WEBB BRIDGE – Yarra river next to Charles Grimes Bridge, Docklands. Fascinating footbridge. Loved the design - looked like a futuristic giant fish.
• Tried to take the free shuttle bus but couldn’t find the bus stop. Ended up walking to Spring St. to take the tram to the hotel for some respite from the heat.
• Pleasant stroll through Flagstaff Gardens to Queen Victoria Market night market – every Wed in summer, 5p-10p. Food galore – a feast for the taste buds. Cuisine from all over the world, including Afghanistan, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago. We chose Vietnamese pork skewers for starters and Spanish seafood paella for mains. It was very busy and crowded. Vacant dining seats were hard to come by, many ate while standing. Enjoyed the experience despite the heat and the big crowd.
• Stopped by FLAGSTAFF GARDENS to see the Pioneers Memorial and the Separation Monument on the way back to our hotel.
Day 5 – THURSDAY
• Melbourne weather was going to be 38C. Since it was our day of departure, we escaped the scorching heat.
- Impressed with Skybus rides. It ran every 10 minutes, was air-conditioned, clean and comfortable, there were racks in front for big luggage and enough space in front of your seat for handcarry bags. Whoever thought of Skybus deserves an award.
- As for the free city circle tram, can’t complain. It’s free, frequent and does get you from A to B. Instead of a tape recording on a PA, some of the trams were manned to announce the stops but their voices were too soft and their announcements were often drowned out by the excited, loud chattering of passengers. However, it’s good to have the staff around since you are able to ask for directions. NOTE: The free trams are not air-conditioned and do get quite crowded.