We boarded our plane in Christchurch, New Zealand in the afternoon and arrived Melbourne, Australia after a 9-hour flight. We had a brief layover in Sydney. Our hotel in Melbourne was again centrally located in the downtown area.
In the morning, our travel group boarded a tour bus and visit the major attractions of the city. We visited the surrounding downtown area. As we passed the main streets we noticed a group of older teens all dressed up and looked like they had partied continuously all night long. Most were in formal clothing and they looked exhausted. Some were sitting on the sidewalk leaning on each other and sleeping. We learned that their nightclubs can remain open all night. Since the legal drinking age in Australia is 18-years of age, it explains why night clubbing can be such a big deal. It seems that in some parts of Australia a 16-year old can drink at a bar if they are accompanied by an 18-year old. The drinking laws are different throughout the country.
Our tour bus continued through City Centre on the wide Victoria Street. It was built quite open because in the early years large herds of sheep and cattle were herded down the street toward the harbor for shipping. Now the street is lined up with high fashion expensive shops known worldwide. This commercial area reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. It was early in the morning so many shops had not yet opened.
Like most cities in the world, Melbourne was built on the banks of a river. The Yarra River flows through the center and it adds to the charm and beauty of the urban setting.
We continued sightseeing and we quickly arrived to St. Patrick's Cathedral. It's a Catholic Church built in the 1800s with Gothic architecture and the ornamental stained glass throughout the building was impressive. The main settlers to Melbourne back then was primarily Irish so the cathedral was named for its patron saint.
The history of Melbourne is very interesting. Unlike Sydney, it did not start as a penal colony. The settlers essentially pushed out the aborigines from the area. Gold was discovered in 1850. It is referred to as the Victorian Gold Rush. Melbourne became, at that time, one of the world's largest and wealthiest cities. They built many large beautiful buildings at the time and they are well preserved and in use. Today, they are surrounded by modern skyscrapers and they still hold their open area and charm. Melbourne is now the second most populated city in the country. It has grown to a population size of 4.4 million.
We continued our bus tour and our next stop was a quick and short visit at the Olympic Park. The main attention in the stadium was that in two days it would host the cricket World Cup championship and Australia and New Zealand were the finalist. As I mentioned in my previous article while visiting New Zealand, I still haven't been able to get two people to agree on the rules of the game. I have never watched a game and I was surprised to learn that approximately 1 billion persons watch the cricket match between India and Pakistan in 2015. We took many pictures and proceed to our final stop which was the Shrine of Remembrance. It's a major landmark in the city. It's a war memorial dedicated to Australian veterans from WWI to the present. One can walk up to the main display area -the Sanctuary- and proceed to walk up unto the roof. The view of the city from the ceiling is spectacular. As I looked into the city from the vantage point I began to wonder why we don't have a main veterans memorial in Los Angeles and other major U.S. cities.
As I think about what we have seen so far of this seemingly modern and vibrant city, I could now understand why the city was selected to host the 1956 Summer Olympics and provided satellite sport venues for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The city is lined with many trees. We passed by many parks and it seems the people use them to exercise, jogging and for playing sports.
As the afternoon approached, our tour bus took us back to our hotel and a few of us decided to take the free city transportation back to the area where the Yarra River flows through the city center. The public areas and the small restaurants adds to the charm and delight of the urban setting. There are many quaint shops and relaxing places to eat along the river. During the evening hours the street light up and street musicians, singers and minstrels line up along the pathways.
We strolled leisurely while taking in the city lights and musical sounds of this memorable city. We returned to our temporary home and decided to rest. The schedule for the next day was that we would take an all-day group tour and travel a portion of the Great Ocean Road until we reached the area they refer to as the Twelve Apostles. It's an area where there is a group of limestone stack formations just off the shore. Some stacks have fallen and new ones have formed so it's not precisely a description of only 12 stacks. It was a very scenic drive along the coastline. There are areas, along the road, that have major vantage points from the cliffs. Throughout the drive the sky was clear and the outside temperatures were comfortable. We stopped along the way to get a light lunch and we got to see a few koala bears in the wild. We also saw a bird called the Kookaburra. These birds can grow to be more than a foot tall and they say they make a sound that resembles human laughter. I think the one we saw was on strike and didn't make any sounds.
As we continued along the coastline, we arrived at a monument dedicated to the Builders of the highway. We learned that it was built with public funds to provide the returning soldiers with jobs and provide them with time to readjust back into civilian life between 1919-1932.
We walked throughout the Twelve Apostles scenic area and enjoyed the panorama.
From this famous site, we were then scheduled to travel inland in order to take a shorter route back to Melbourne. Our arrival time to our hotel was 9 pm which meant that this trip was almost twelve hours long.
As we were traveling back I looked at the travel brochure describes today's tour. The pamphlet stated that we would be visiting what it referred to as one of the world's most scenic drives. I've thought about it and I started to take issue with that statement. I think the drive in California on Highway 1 from Morro Bay up to San Francisco is just as good if not perhaps even better. I thought there were many similarities between this southern area of Australia and the shoreline of central California, but it soon dawn on me that I was in fact somewhere completely different from back home. Here in the land of the Aussies, we were looking into the Tasman Sea and looking out toward Antarctica. As one standing on these high cliffs, we are reminded that we are standing in the Southern Hemisphere. The animal life is uniquely different, the historical background is unique and Australia is a vast and underpopulated continent. Thus far, we have visited and seen very little of this huge continent and it's interesting to learn about a distinctly new area of our world.
As we drove back we would come across road signs reminding the drivers to beware of kangaroos on the road. It seems that kangaroos are considered a nuisance to the drivers at night. In the States the street signs highlight the danger of running into deers and here it's crashing into kangaroos that can weight up to 200 pounds.
We arrived to Melbourne and found the Sunday evening traffic to be heavy. We arrived as the final World Cricket Match had ended and Australia had beaten New Zealand.
It was late by the time we arrived to our traveling dorm. Although we were very tired we had to prepare and pack our luggage because we would be flying north the next day to visit the upper part of the continent. Our upcoming 4-hour flight was going to be to go north up to the small city of Cairns. The weather there would be tropical so it's time to use our light shirts, shorts and bathing suits.
We finally settled into bed I began to think about how fortunate it was to have visited many fascinating and lovely cities throughout the world. Paris, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Milan, St. Petersburg, Rome, New York, Buenos Aires, Rome, London are a few that come to mind. Now I'm adding Melbourne to that list of grand cities that we should all visit soon.