Phillip Island, 142 kilometers south of Melbourne, is known for its penguin parade. Dubbed as the world's smallest parade, this event allows visitors to catch a glimpse of the smallest species of penguins in their natural habitat. These penguins waddle up to the beach and into their burrows after a day of fishing at the sea. Phillip Island is also known for seals and koalas.
The Great Ocean Road or the B100 is Victoria's defining drive and in no small part thanks to the 12 Apostles (though there are only seven standing now). These are rock stacks formed by erosion along this fantastic coastal drive. While the Great Ocean Road drive can be done in a day, it is best to take two days to explore this road. A helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles is highly recommended. Start at Torquay (105 kilometers from Melbourne) and end at Port Campbell. Torquay to Port Campbell is 187 kilometers along the B100.
The Kinglake National Park is 74 kilometers north of Melbourne nestled on the slopes of the Great Dividing Range. The 232 square kilometer park is a popular place for hiking and camping. The Mason Falls attracts the most visitors because of the fern forests around the falls and its nice picnic area. Wildlife, though elusive, is present in the form of wallabies, kangaroos, wombats and echidna. Affected by the 2009 wildfires, many plants that adapted to fire are now flourishing. Spring (September to November) is best for wildflowers and winter (December to February) is when mosses, fungi and lichen crop up.
The Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton and the surrounding gardens are in the heart of Melbourne. The building became the first in Australia to be put on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Built for the Great International Exhibitions in Melbourne in 1880 and 1888, the building and gardens were later chosen as the venue for the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament of Australia on May 9, 1901. Today there are ongoing exhibitions held inside the building and daily tours starting at 2 p.m. if the building is not specifically being used for an event. The Carlton Gardens are also on the World Heritage List. Take time to explore the beautiful Victorian style landscaping and the profusion of trees and plant species present within, some of which are extremely rare.
Best Day Trip
Located just 50 kilometers from Melbourne, Yarra Valley is a popular wine region with more than 50 cellar doors. Besides sampling wine, the cafes attached to the cellar doors often have fresh seasonal produce on their menus. Popular activities to partake in are a hot air balloon ride over Yarra Valley's scenic landscape during sunrise, cruising down the country lanes in a classic convertible and enjoying a relaxed luncheon in the wineries' restaurants. A visit to Yarra Valley can be combined with a ride on the famous Puffing Billy steam train that takes visitors through the magnificent Dandenong Ranges.
Most Iconic Place
The Flinders Street Station is an iconic Melbourne landmark. Completed in 1910, it is constructed in the French Renaissance style of architecture and stands out amongst the glass and steel skyscrapers that today surround it. An urban myth is that the designs for the Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in Mumbai and the Flinders Street Station in Melbourne were switched. Another legend is that a ghost named George roams around the station.
The Central Business District (CBD) in Melbourne doesn't really shut down after business hours as many restaurants and bars stay open late into the night. Usually 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. are closing times but the Loch and Key on Franklin Street stays open until 5 a.m. It is a little tricky to find because it is a pub that is hidden inside a bar called the Captain Melville, the city's oldest pub. Access to Loch and Key is via a rickety staircase behind a bookcase in the Captain Melville.
Sovereign Hill, 116 kilometers to the west of Melbourne, can be called a "dynamic" museum. Set in what used to be a gold prospecting area, this open-air community museum is deeply entrenched in gold-rush history. Here one can interact with the dressed-up actors, pan for gold in the Red Hill Gully Creek—which is peppered with fine alluvial gold—or take a horse drawn carriage around town.
Check out the action and the crowds every Friday and Saturday night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during the Australian Foot Ball (AFL) Australian Rules football season. Locally called "footy," this is a Melbourne highlight and is often played during winter so it pays to dress in layers. The fans put on as much of a show as the game itself. Because it can get boisterous at times, only low strength alcohol is on sale at the MCG.
Shop Like the Locals
It is exciting to delve into the hustle and bustle of the Queen Victoria Market—the Southern Hemisphere's biggest open-air market. Within the market are stores and stalls selling fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, artisan cheeses and meats including kangaroo and crocodile. There are speciality cafes and coffee shops. It is a place to eat, shop, explore as one discovers iconic food halls and heritage sheds where the banter is as fresh as the produce.