First Stop – Melbourne

So we arrived in Melbourne following a 21 hour flight from London Heathrow with a 3 hour stop over at Guangzhou, China. We flew with China Southern and booked through Omega Flight Store. Although we had read some terrible reviews about Omega, everything went as planned and was exactly what was sold to us by the company. The flight cost us £518 and we were all impressed by the service and comfort on China Southern as we had read very mixed reviews. The food catered to both Chinese and Western taste, the cabin crew were attentive and there was a good choice of inflight entertainment. However, the worst part of our journey was undoubtedly the stopover in Guangzhou; the airport was dull and appeared dirty, even though it had apparently  been recently ‘refurbished’. There was a very limited choice of shops and places to eat (literally two restaraunts) and people didn’t seem bothered about coughing in our faces.

When we finally touched down in Melbourne everything was quick and easy; passport control can be done electronically via a number of machines which airport staff directed us to. We filled out our landing cards on the plane and just handed these in as we entered Australia. The airport was easy to get around and our bags came out quite quickly. We then made our way through to the arrivals where we found a pay phone to call Base hostel in St Kilda in order for them to provide us with a code for our transfer bus. Everything went smoothly and Base directed us to the bus stop (although we did end up walking 10 minutes in the wrong direction), the main bus stops are directly in front of the Arrivals- just across the road from the terminal.

As we had paid STA Travel £250 for our travel starter package which included our first week of accommodation, transfers, wifi, breakfast, tax file number, Australian bank account and Australian SIM card, there was little for us to worry about when we arrived at Base. The transfer took about 45 minutes and we couldn’t check in our room until 2pm; so we left our backpacks in Base’s luggage storage and headed for McDonald’s (or in Australian ‘maccas’). After sampling the local cuisine – cheese and bacon fries with a frozen Coke – which cost about $7, we took the short stroll back to Base.

Base Melbourne was a great hostel, pretty clean and spacious, our room had an ensuite bathroom and all bunk beds came with a large drawer underneath which we were able to lock with our backpack padlocks. Although we attempted St Kilda beach for a couple of hours after checking in, the jet lag soon slapped us in the face and we were off to bed for a 12 hour nap. Waking up at 5am wasn’t too bad at Base as we were able to grab a drink and a snack from the vending machines and wander downstairs to the chill out area which is equipped with large comfy sofas and a TV. After a couple of hours down there and having used our wifi to FaceTime our families, we made our way up to the bar around 7ish for breakfast. We were impressed. On the first morning I ate probably about 6 pieces of toast with butter and marmalade, 2 bowls of cereal (one with yoghurt), saw off 2 or 3 coffees and 4 orange juices.  Although there is no hot food included in the breakfast, it is all you can eat and mainly carb based so a good way to bloat yourself out and save some money on food if you’re on a budget.

I wont go through our activities day by day while in St Kilda but I will try to mention everything that may not be necessarily interesting but definitely helpful for fellow backpackers. The main theme of our first week in Melbourne was jet lag! We just assumed that we would be over it within 3 or 4 days, but looking back on our time in St Kilda, I’m pretty sure we were some sort of jet lagged for the whole 2 weeks that we were there. However, it didn’t stop us from exploring as much of Melbourne as we could on our budget. Just to make this easier to read I’ll break the next parts down into sections…

St Kilda

St Kilda is a vibrant beachside town which thrives on it’s ever growing backpacking community. There’s plenty to see and do on a backpacking budget, however, what I will tell you is only of my own short stay in St Kilda. Having spoken to a few of the locals we learned that St Kilda used to be quite a rough place to live; although it doesn’t appear so anymore; you can still see the remnants of what it used to be like near to St Kilda Junction leading off Fitrozy Street.

The first thing you’ll notice when arriving in St Kilda is how different their way of life is compared to ours back home. Almost everyone seems to be into their fitness, whether its using one of the outdoor gyms in the parks, running, cycling (everyone in Melbourne seems to cycle EVERYWHERE), swimming, paddle boarding (SUP) or kite surfing. To accompany this healthy lifestyle are a number of smoothie bars, sushi bars, vegan cafes and general takeaway joints offering various salad boxes for around $10. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to be fat and unhealthy St Kilda will cater for that too. There’s a Maccas (Mc Donald’s) just a 5 minute walk from the beach, a number of patisseries selling amazing but calorie filled cakes and pastries; along with a number of fast food takeaways on Fitzroy street; usually offering a burger, chips and a drink for $10 or $12. To accompany the food, St Kilda boasts a number of bars and restaurants which are reasonably priced – probably around $20 for a meal on special and glass of house wine or beer. Happy hours are usually from around 3pm to 6pm with most pubs and bars offering $5/$6 wine and house beers; or a bucket of Corona (usually 5 bottles of Corona in an ice bucket) for $20. Finally on the subject of notable things about St Kilda and Melbourne is that they LOVE their coffee, and it is good! Most cafes will sell a great coffee for around $3, however my personal favourite is the $1 coffee from 7/11 (7/11 is like an Aussy version of our Spar).

Transport

Getting around St Kilda and Melbourne is pretty easy although it takes a while to adjust to the various routes; the good thing about Melbourne and Sydney is that most of the streets are set out in a grid form, which makes it much easier to navigate. So the main point on travel is… the MYKI card; it’s pronounced like ‘Mikey’ just so you know. The MYKI card costs $8 to buy and can be topped up at various shops (including 7/11 which is EVERYWHERE). There is an $8 per day limit on the myki card and as far as I’m aware if you use more than that in a day, the myki card will stop charging you. The myki card works on a ‘tap on and tap off’ basis; so you board a train, bus or tram, tap your myki card on the reader and then tap it off again when you exit…pretty simple. Also, once you enter Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District) so ‘city centre’, there is a free tram called the city link which you can ride around the entire CBD and not get charged. The tram stops also clearly state when you’re in and leaving a free tram zone.

From St Kilda to Melbourne the tram is the easiest form of transport and takes about 20 minutes and costs around $4; you can catch either the number 16, 3 or 3A from Luna Park or Fitzroy Street and a number of stops in between. Balaclava train station is also accessible by bus or tram and provides links to suburbs such as Brighton and Hampton (for if you want a more ‘Australian’ experience). Finally if your feeling fit, Melbourne has it’s own version of London’s Boris Bikes. There are various bike stands costing $3 to hire a pushbike and helmet for the day, it will charge slightly more if you ride further than 30 minutes from where you hired the bike. The bikes can either be returned to the same place that you hired them from or docked in any free spaces near your destination. I would recommend hiring a bike from Luna Park and riding the approx. 8km into Melbourne; it’s a great way to see the City and find your way around the surrounding areas.

Accommodation

As we were only in Melbourne for 2 weeks I only have 2 hostels to give my thoughts on. First off Base, which I mentioned earlier; this is a great hostel for meeting people and I would definitely recommend it if traveling alone. The hostel puts on entertainment every night such as trivia, beer pong, live music and a free bbq. There is also a travel and work rep present most days if you need help with anything or would like to book any day trips. However the hostel is quite expensive – averaging around $35 a night for a 8 bed ensuite. For our second week in St Kilda we moved to The Ritz for Backpackers located on Fitzroy Street, about a 10 minute walk from the kite surfing beach.  This hostel was slightly cheaper, working out around $210 for the week in a 6 bed dorm. The Ritz was good value for money with free self-serve pancakes every morning and certain nights offering a free bbq and free wine and cheese. However The Ritz is definitely a hostel for long stay/ working backpackers and I maybe wouldn’t recommend it if travelling alone. Although the location is pretty good, with Woolworths (not the wooly’s we know, its a supermarket) just across the road and various shops, bars and restaurants along the way to the beach.

Things not to be missed…

  • St Kilda’s graffiti – take a walk around the town with your camera and pap some great art.
  • SUP -(stand up paddle board) – $25-$30 an hour, make sure it’s not windy.
  • Eureka Tower – tallest building in Melbourne offering great views of the entire city – $20 admission.
  • Federation Square – rooftop bar, free live music and various events.
  • ACMI – Australian Centre for Moving Image – admission and galleries are free – definitely worth a visit if you’re into films or art!
  • PHILLIP ISLAND TOUR – roughly $115 will get you admission to Moonlit Sanctuary, Koala Sanctuary, The Nobbies, a bbq lunch, Churchill Island, Smith’s Beach and finally the Penguine Parade where you can watch 100’s of wild penguins returning to the beach and follow them up the boardwalk to their hides.
  • St Kilda Festival – free music festival all along the beachfront with great food, drink and a range of market stalls – something for everyone.
  • Brighton Beach – A short train ride, the beach huts are a must-see and the beach is pretty nice too.
  • Royal Botanical Gardens – located next to Federation Square the gardens are a great way to pass time on a  budget.

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