Ben Lerwill savors the urban delights of Melbourne, one of many Holland America Line cruise ports on a Australia sailing.
I’ve been in Melbourne for less than 24 hours, but I’m already learning that one of the city’s greatest dangers is to walk through the Queen Victoria Market while hungry. It’s the biggest open-air market in the southern hemisphere, and sends out wave after wave of serious enticement to anyone on a casual wander – from artisan bread-makers to bratwurst stalls, from doughnut vans to cake shops, from gourmet noodle joints to fresh seafood stands. The choice is almost overwhelming.
As well as providing plenty of mealtime ideas, however, the city’s showpiece market also does a good job at summing up the myriad nationalities that make Melbourne what it is.
“They say there are around 140 different cultures represented in the city these days,” says Dave, my guide. “Greeks, Vietnamese, Chinese, Italians – they all play a big part in the story.”
It’s not hard to see why travelers rave about Melbourne. It’s a very easy place to love, and for all its multiculturalism it’s a thoroughly Australian city. From the Yarra Valley wines lining the shelves of the bars to the citywide infatuation with Aussie Rules football, this is somewhere very much defined by its location. Sydney and its residents might dispute the fact, but Melbourne has strong claim to being the country’s capital when it comes to art, sport, food and culture.
The city’s dynamic, diverse personality becomes apparent the next day, when Dave leads me on a walk taking us from the open-air public spaces of Federation Square – where a classical orchestra is playing a free set between modernist buildings and fusion restaurants – to the regenerated laneways of the commercial district, where funky bars and independent workshops now occupy what were once storerooms and warehouses. There’s some beautiful period architecture to be seen around the city, but Melbourne itself beats to a decidedly modern drum these days.
When we ride a tram out to the beach suburb of St Kilda, meanwhile, it reveals another face to the city. A palm-lined boardwalk runs alongside the sands, giving great views over the coastline, and its spread of cafes, gardens and seaside stalls feels far removed from the polished towers and high-end hotels of the city center.
It’s a natural spot for a lazy sunset dinner, and our meal at Republica Restaurant is a 21st-century twist on a classic – beer-battered Cone Bay barramundi turning good old fish n’ chips into far more than a seafront snack. A glass of local pinot gris seems a fitting accompaniment.
The city has a population of more than four million people and fizzes with life. The countryside on its outskirts, however, feels anything but crowded.
When you’re ready to explore beyond the city, Holland America Line has the perfect down under tour ready and waiting. You’ll experience the thrill of seeing majestic, native Australian animals in the wild with a knowledgeable guide and experienced wildlife scouts who ensure you have the best possible sightings of wildlife in the wild.
You’ll venture into the You Yang Ranges National Park to walk among the gum trees and search for koalas in a natural eucalyptus forest. Spend time on the savannah grasslands and in the bush around billabongs (waterways) in the company of wild kangaroos, emus and many species of birds.
Visit a wild koala study area, where research is being carried out into the behavior of these beautiful, charismatic marsupials. Part of your tour cost supports this important research. On short, easy strolls, your guide will share with you the habits and habitats of Australia’s gentle wildlife in the unique Australian bush. You’ll witness these famous Australian animals going about their daily lives in the wild — a world away from zoos.
So much of Australia’s appeal as a vacation spot is down to the fact it gives you genuine variety. Here in Melbourne, as elsewhere in the country, travelers can immerse themselves in a big city then strap on their boots and head for the great outdoors.