Melbourne doesn’t have the drama of Sydney’s Port Jackson but as a city I’d plump for it over the capital of New South Wales. But it’s a close-run thing.
We arrived on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, fresh from the Yarra Valley, and parked ourselves in our funky hotel, the Ovolo. It’s situated in the Laneways, a district famous for its Victorian nooks and crannies, alleys and lanes, just yards from Chinatown. After unpacking, we went out for a walk before a night celebrating the arrival of 2018.
The Laneways is fascinating, a mix of old and new, stylish bars, restaurants and shops, colourful street art, Melbourne’s famous coffee places and theatres. Chinatown was as chaotic, colourful, smelly and crude as Chinatowns the world over, while beyond the Laneways were the bigger streets with their street corner pubs, stores and crowds. Trams trundled past and large numbers of homeless men lay sprawled on the pavements.
We walked down to the Yarra River, to Flinders Street Station, a handsome Victorian edifice, and the modern but ugly Federation Square.
The crowds were out in force down by the river later in the evening, when we walked to the Eureka Tower in the modern South Bank development. We stopped en route for a drink in a funky bar set up in an alleyway, called Chuckle Park.
The Eureka is a giant of a tower and our New Year’s Eve party was on the 89th floor, designed to give us great views of the city, the sunset and the fireworks at midnight. For a substantial fee, we also got ‘free’ booze, generous canapés and a couple of good bands. I got quietly drunk during the countdown to midnight, when the fireworks were let off from the roofs of the skyscrapers, and we spent an hour or two dancing.
We both felt a bit rough next day, which dawned hot and sunny, and the streets were very quiet. It took us quite a while to pull ourselves together and catch the tram down to St Kilda and its beach.
An attractive suburb, it was already swarming with people enjoying their public holiday and a couple of bars were heaving. We took a walk along the pier and stopped for tea at the recently rebuilt pavilion at its far end. Just beyond is a long breakwater famous for hosting a small penguin colony but we only managed to spot one of the said birds hiding in the rocks, sadly being pestered by photographers.
The sun was too intense for lazing on the beach so we walked along the shore and then diverted inland to find the botanic gardens, past some particularly beautiful homes. The botanic gardens, however, were really a glorified park. Still, St Kilda was fantastic and somewhere I could easily park myself for the rest of my life. It still has something of the bohemian and cosmopolitan about it that made St Kilda famous, although gentrification is evident too.
Acland Street is a highlight, notable for its cool bars, restaurants and shops – especially a string of selling the most fantastic cakes. We stopped for lunch and cooling beers and watched the world go by. Ironically for what was meant to be a quiet day, we ended up walking for miles before getting the tram back to town via a diversion into the rapidly changing Docklands district.
St Kilda was cool. But then so is Fitzroy, a district to the north of our hotel. It had been recommended to us as a place to go out for the evening so we went for a wander.
En route we passed the grand Hotel Windsor, the government district and St Patrick’s Cathedral. Away from the CBD, the streets were largely low-rise and many still boasted their original Victorian and early 20th century buildings.
Brunswick Street is Fitzroy’s main drag, a long road that has its fair share of quality bars and eateries. Many were closed for new year but the ones that were open were achingly trendy, hipster and funky. Exposed brick was clearly the essential design element.
With our dining options limited, we eventually plumped for Mario’s, a wonderful old Italian. We followed that with more drinks at a small bar where the music was excellent and the pale ale glorious.