Melbourne: land of the fairy penguins


Australia has always had a fascination for me, and I remember how amazed I was the first time I went. The cities are pristine, the countryside spectacular and the people, as friendly as you can imagine. In fact, a great deal about the country is similar to Canada. It was, after all, settled around the same time by the same people.

Of all the cities in Australia, I have to admit Melbourne is my favourite. Located on the southern tip of the continent, the city is robust with art, culture and history. Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, boasts the second highest population of the country, next to Sidney.

Located on the Port Phillip Bay, one of the must see attractions is Phillips Island. A popular day trip, which most visitors make at sunset, for that is when the magic happens. Each night at sunset, Little Penguins return ashore after a day of fishing. Special observation stands have been set up to view the world’s smallest penguin in its natural habitat.

Visitors can also arrange to view them from underground as they return from the sea to feed their young. It seems this touristic event has little or no effect on the flightless birds, as it has been happening for many years. The only part that really bothered me was when they made an announcement not to use flash, and suddenly hundreds of flash photos were launched almost simultaneously. I should mention that Little Penguin is the official name for these birds.

Melbourne was officially declared a city by Queen Victoria in 1847. The name was chosen because Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister of England, was very close to the Queen. A few years later gold was discovered in Victoria, and a mad dash of prospectors set upon the region. Melbourne prospered as the main port of the area, and by 1865 it had surpassed Sydney as the largest city in Australia.

The climate in Melbourne is oceanic, which means the winters are cool (10-15 degrees) and the summers are warm (high 20s). Keep in mind the winter months in Australia are from June to August, while summer is from December to February.

The city of Melbourne has some fantastic things to do, for all ages and interests. One such thing is a Colonial Tramcar Restaurant tour. While cruising through the city aboard a historical tramcar, patrons dine on a 3, 4 or 5 course meal in an elegant, period-style setting. The 1948 tram car is outfitted in velvet and brass, like vintage European Pullman-style trains, complete with climate control and music.

For the wine connoisseurs there is the famous Yarra Valley wine region, which features dozens of wineries. Guides are available to take visitors on a great day trip throughout some very picturesque country, along the Yarra River Region.

Scenery plays a major part in things to do in the Melbourne area. For photographers, there is a twelve hour tour that wows visitors with breathtaking scenery of sites such as the Twelve Apostles, the tragic history of Loch Ard Gorge, and a stop in historic Port Campbell.

For the botanists in the crowd, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Melbourne are well worth the visit. I was planning on spending a few hours, but took the better part of a day to see and explore the vast variety of more than 8,500 species of flora, native to Australia.

Another interesting sight is Captain Cook’s Cottage. Built in 1755 in England, the home of Captain Cooke’s parents was purchased and brought to Melbourne in 1934, by Sir Russell Grimwade. It is a point of conjecture among historians whether James Cook, the famous navigator, ever lived in the house, but almost certainly he visited his parents there.

If you do nothing else while visiting the Melbourne area, you must make time to take in the bustling Queen Victoria Market, the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. The Market occupies two city blocks, and was opened in the 1860s. It is a major Melbourne tourist destination, adding to its social and cultural significance. Many of the original market structures remain intact, presenting visitors with nineteenth century streetscapes and a working market place. The Meat Hall, constructed in 1869, remains largely intact, and is the oldest of the original buildings. I purchased a sturdy pair of hiking boots for a reasonable price, but shied away from the fish market, as it was a hot day and…, enough said.

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