By DOM GALEON
Images by JOROS RAZON
Melbournians are a proud people. Proud because their city has always been among the most livable places in the world, jockeying over the top spot with Vienna and Vancouver each year. Melbourne, a city where shops close at 6 p.m. and where most people are done with work by 5 p.m., is indeed an ideal place to live in.
But that could be quite frustrating for a tourist looking to spend some latenight shopping, as I experienced during a five-day stay in Melbourne, courtesy of Cebu Pacific, which now has direct flights from Manila to Melbourne and then Melbourne to Manila every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Apparently, as our bus driver Nigel, an immigrant from East Timor who moved to Australia 40 years ago, explained, Melbournians do their shopping only on Fridays because most of them get paid every Thursday. And yes, a lot of them get their salaries on a weekly basis.
While you can’t go on a shopping spree after dark, Melbourne has a lively enough nightlife. With help from the concierge at the Holiday Inn on Flinders, Google Maps, and a bit of the adventurous spirit to walk around the city at night with temperatures that went as low as 5° C, we always found our way to a good restaurant or a local bar. Right in the same block where our hotel was, there was one such place called UBar—with a witty tagline that goes “We’re just a regular bar without you.” UBar, which serves local Australian ales, foreign beers, and every kind of spirits, became our go-to nightly hangout place, for a nightcap or two.
More than the alcohol, what’s interesting about this pub is that it tries to cater to every Melbournian and tourist in the city, with gimmicks that vary every night, including quiz nights on Tuesdays, karaoke every Wednesday, and a live performance on Fridays. And it really did have all sorts of guests—from tourists like us to construction workers still wearing their neon green jackets, to a group of college friends or workmates looking for a quick R&R. For me, this crowd that gathers every night at UBar represents what Melbourne is like.
Koalas, Penguins, and Wallabies
Melbourne is a city full of immigrants. There are Chinese and Indians and Koreans and, of course, Filipinos, much like the multicultural crowd at UBar. Just like how Ubar’s music changes one “season” to the next—from the ‘80s to the ‘90s to the present, all in one night—Melbourne is a city where you get to experience the four seasons in five minutes, one local storeowner told me. It rains a bit and then it gets sunny a minute later, only to rain again the next. One day, we even experienced hale. But this “typical Melbourne weather,” as the locals call it, was no reason for us not to enjoy the tour prepared for us by Melbourne-based Filipino travel agent Gina Gaw.
During our first day, we visited a popular tourist place outside the city proper. Connected to the main continent by bridge, just off the southern coast of Australia and a good two hours by bus from Melbourne, Phillip Island and the adjacent Churchill Island are among the greatest examples of Australian love for the wild outdoors. We started our tour at Churchill Island, where we had lunch at the historic Churchill Island Heritage Farm, which has stood there since the early 19th century. Apart from offering a breathtaking view of the sea and the city, the farm is home to a host of animals, including cowes (which are duck-looking birds), bisons, cows, sheep, goats, horses, a peacock, and a free-roaming chicken named Penny (the farm’s live mascot of sorts). Activities here include sheep shearing, cow milking, and whip cracking—yes, they teach visitors how to whip it like Indiana Jones.
From there, we drove back to Phillip Island to catch the famous Penguin Parade, where little Australian penguins swim back from the open waters after a day of hunting and feeding to return to their homes by Summerland Beach. It was quite an experience, and the Australian rangers don’t allow you to take photos of the penguins, so you really learn how to just live in the moment, admiring the cute little penguins march home. Occasionally, they would stop near the walkways and just stare at the throngs of tourists watching. Even if some of us weren’t dressed for the cold night, we braved the sharp, freezing winds just to see these little beauties.
Aside from the penguins, we also visited a koala sanctuary on Phillip Island. It was my first time to see the famous Australian marsupial, but we weren’t so lucky because we found them asleep. It turns out, these fluffy creatures spend up to 22 hours a day sleeping. We also saw a good number of wallabies, another kind of marsupial found in the Australian wild. They look like a cross between kangaroos and rabbits due to their shorter stature.
Whether you want to go to Melbourne to try out the coffee or to have a taste of the locally brewed beers, or to watch the little penguins and see the koalas and wallabies on Phillip Island, or to take a hipster selfie at Hozier Lane, now you can catch a low-cost, direct flight from Manila through Cebu Pacific.
From the Grapevines
The second day brought us 90 kilometers east of Melbourne, about an hour and a half drive, to a sprawling region surrounding the Yarra River. Home to many of the best vineyards and wineries in Victoria, the Yarra Valley bathes in the occasional Victoria winter sun. Everywhere you look, you see grape plantations, miles and miles of them, belonging to the 160 wineries and their 300 vineyards that occupy over 6,000 acres of land at the Yarra Valley. These grapes produce Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Cabernet Suavignon, and Shiraz, all of which we were able to try during a wine tasting and cheese pairing at the De Bortoli Winery and Restaurant.
Established in 1928 at Griffith, New South Wales, De Bortoli is a relatively young winery compared to Australia’s other older winemakers. Their wines are named after Giacomo Puccini’s four-act 1896 opera La Bohème, explained Joseph, our Australian wine connoisseur for that day. But what put De Bortoli at the Australian wine map is their dessert wine ingeniously named Noble One. Developed in 1982, Noble One is a Botrytis style wine inspired by French Sauternes. Its complex flavor, marked by a refreshing acidity and a sweet finish, paired perfectly with the blue cheese Joseph prepared for us. Noble One was so good I decided to bring home a 2010 bottle of it, which I was told has a stronger and fuller flavor than the 2015 bottle we sampled. De Bortoli Noble One is currently the most awarded wine in Australia.
But wines aren’t the only thing you can find at Yarra Valley. There’s also a chocolate factory. The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie
and Ice Creamery offers some of the finest chocolates I’ve ever tasted.
Our Yarra Valley tour left us with some time to spare before having dinner at a restaurant inside Melbourne’s Chinatown. We decided to spend our free time walking around Federation Square, a hub of business and tourism at the heart of Melbourne and at the edge of the city’s central business district. There, we got to see inside the Anglican St. Paul’s Cathedral, the graffiti-filled Hozier Lane, and the iconic Flinders Street Station, where Melbournians traditionally meet their dates under the clocks that have been there by the doors to the station since the 1860s.
All Things Brighton Beautiful
On our third day, we again went outside the main city into Brighton, a residential area Nigel describes as home to the more affluent Melbournians. Fronting Brighton is a beach where some of the residents have neatly put up colorful little huts that serve as storage houses for their surfboards and other swimming equipment. These Brighton Beach huts can cost up to $280,000 AUD, with the record highest sold for $285,000 AUD. A part of me wondered why they spend so much for storage, but that concern was drowned by the beautiful designs of each hut. Brighton Beach is one of the most Instagrammable places in Melbourne.
We didn’t do any swimming, of course. It was too cold for a dip in the sea. So before heading to our scheduled buffet lunch at the New Quay, we passed by the Shrine of Remembrance, a museum dedicated to Australia’s soldiers. Some decided to check out the Royal Botanical Gardens Victoria or the Melbourne Gardens, an 89-acre piece of land that’s home to 50,000 different plants from 8,500 species.
Being a student of history, I found the Shrine of Remembrance more interesting. I decided to check out the Sanctuary inside, where I was lucky enough to witness a short ceremony honoring the fallen Australian soldiers. In the middle of this hall is a slab of marble with the words “Greater Love Hath no Man” carved on it. Directly above it—past the entablature carried by 16 iconic columns with a 12-panel relief depicting Australian soldiers at work, sculptured by Lyndon Dadswell—is an aperture that lets the sun shine on top of the marble slab. The ceremony recreated the sunlight shining down on the slab, with a voiceover asking people not to forget the heroic deeds of soldiers.
After lunch, it was time to do some shopping. Depending on what you’re after, there are two places that you must check out. For groceries and pasalubong, there’s Coles, where we bought Tim Tams, cheese, and vegemite. For fashion finds, we spent time at the DFO South Wharf by the Docklands.DFO stands for “Direct Factory Outlets,” and the complex at South Wharf had dozens of brands selling discounted products. It didn’t come as a surprise that there were lots of tourists there, and a good number of them were Filipinos, some of whom I recognize to have been with us aboard Cebu Pacific’s maiden flight to Melbourne.
For reasons beyond our control, our stay in Melbourne was extended for another day. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t like it. After all, it’s an entire day to spend exploring the city. We rode the tram to the Queen Victoria Market, a flea market for ridiculously cheap finds. I bought some shirts for only $4 AUD each, which is about P150!
But I guess a tour of Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without talking about the cuisine. Naturally, everything that’s served in Melbourne is served in sizes which for us Filipinos would be a tad too big. Their steaks are huge, their lobsters equally so, and a single serving of pasta can work for sharing. Plus, almost every meal comes with chips, which are really fries.
One thing I found confusing is how many of my friends, and even the internet, say that one of the best things to try out in Melbourne is their coffee. So we did. In fact, we tried lots of coffee from various places. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t really find anything different with their coffee. Sure, they’re really good, don’t get me wrong. To add to my confusion, I spoke with an Australian cab driver named Kyle, and even he didn’t understand why people recommend coffee from Melbourne. “We get our coffee beans from South America,” he told me, while driving back to the DFO from the Southern Cross Station along Spencer. “What we grow here in Melbourne are hops and malt and all those other things you use to make beer. If you really want something that we grow and make here, try our beers!”
So, try the beers I did, particularly one that’s called Victoria Bitter, which is served in a bottle that doesn’t look like your typical beer bottle. Victoria Bitter has a strong but refined taste, bitter yes, but not so much that it’s painful to swallow. After all, most Filipinos aren’t used to drinking bitter beer.
But whether you want to go to Melbourne to try out their coffee or to have a taste of their locally brewed beers, or to watch the little penguins and see the koalas and wallabies on Phillip Island, or to take a hipster selfie at Hozier Lane, now you can catch a low-cost, direct flight from Manila through Cebu Pacific. Just make sure that you bring the right clothes, and remember that Melbourne’s wet winters happen around June to August, with summers from December to February.