Things were starting to get hectic at work so I was really stressed out and yearning for a break, maybe take a week off and travel somewhere. Initially I mulled over the idea of going to Margaret River, but having been there before, it didn’t seem like the kind of place to go by myself. Ever since I watched David Attenborough’s “The Life of Birds“, I had wanted to one day see the penguins at Phillip Island. So I decided to take a week off work in October, spending a few days in Melbourne and a few days on Phillip Island, my first time traveling interstate!
When it comes to traveling, I think part of the fun is the planning before the actual trip. I spent many hours browsing online for hotels, flights, attractions, restaurants, etc. While I usually don’t end up seeing or doing everything that I look up online, it’s still fun to read and think about it. I had initially planned to travel alone, but after telling my mum about my plans, she decided to come along too.
Firstly, I had to book flights. No point booking accommodation without locking in what dates I will be in Melbourne. After much browsing, TigerAir consistently had the cheapest flights. TigerAir usually had sales on airfares every Tuesday and sometimes on Saturday, so over a few weeks, I would check TigerAir’s website on those days to see if they had any cheap fares for Perth-Melbourne flights. Eventually there was an offer for flights from Perth to Melbourne departing Perth at 11:45pm, but it was only $10 cheaper than the usual price, and at the time there was no offer for flights from Melbourne to Perth, picking the afternoon flight. Ended up paying $796 for two return flights with 20kg checked luggage and seat selection.
With the flights locked in, next was accommodation. I wanted to spend a few days in Melbourne, and a few days in Phillip Island. I first checked Agoda, since I had used them before to book accommodation in Thailand, and had some points from my previous bookings, or so I thought… When I logged into Agoda to check my points, I found that the points expired and my points balance was 0. So screw that, I decided not to let the promise of useless expiring points determine where I book.
For the Melbourne part of my trip, I wanted to book a hotel in the CBD so that we would be within walking distance of attractions and public transport. I focused my search on the area near Southern Cross station. My initial pick was Travelodge Docklands because it is right next to Southern Cross station, rated 4-stars, the rooms looked awesome, and when I first checked the prices, it was still ‘affordable’ at around $150-$160 per night. Breakfast is not included, and while the pictures made the breakfast look deliciously tempting, but if I recall correctly, breakfast cost like $40 per person. I figured, since we’re in the CBD, there would be plenty of alternative breakfast options available.
But after booking my flights, I found that prices for Travelodge Docklands had shot up to $180-$190 per night (that’s for the early booking rate), so I looked into alternatives. I ended up booking a room at Best Western Atlantis Hotel. The hotel is very close to Southern Cross station, breakfast included (if booking direct), and has a swimming pool and gym (which I did not end up using), rated 3.5-stars but still looks very nice. The confusing thing was that the hotel has two websites: Atlantis Hotel and Best Western. The curious thing is that the two websites offered slightly different rates for what seems to be the exact same room types. Since the Best Western website had cheaper rates, I booked through them and got the “city view stay 2 nights” room for $129 per night.
The last thing I needed to book was the Phillip Island penguin tour. I wanted to go on the Ultimate Adventure tour, which needs to be booked in advance and is limited to 10 people per tour, so I didn’t want to miss out. I combined it with the 3 Parks Pass, which includes entry to the Koala Conservation Park and Churchill Island Heritage Farm, coming to $103.50 per person. I was tempted to thrown in a boat tour too, but I had already spent a lot on flights, hotels, and the penguin tour, so I decided to leave it at that. I also did a lot of research into other attractions in Melbourne and Phillip Island, making notes on location, opening hours and entry ticket prices.
Day 1 – Melbourne
The flight I booked departed Perth 11:45pm on Sunday night. The flight itself took a little over 3 hours, but due to the time difference, it would be 6am Monday morning when we arrived in Melbourne. I booked seats just in front of the emergency exit row thinking that the extra space behind me meant less chance of getting into an argument about reclining my seat, but I failed to realise that because the row behind was an emergency exit row, the seats do not recline at all, silly me.
When we arrived at Melbourne airport, since TigerAir uses the new terminal 4, we had a short walk to terminal 3 where we bought tickets and boarded the SkyBus which departs the airport every 10 minutes and goes straight to Southern Cross station. The SkyBus also offers free transfers between Southern Cross station and certain hotels in the CBD, but since Atlantis Hotel was just a short walk from Southern Cross station, my mum and I dragged our luggage over to the hotel. Hotel check in time is usually in the afternoon, so I initially planned to leave our luggage at the hotel, then wander around Melbourne until check in time. Since I could not find information about when check in time was for the hotel from the websites, I asked the gentleman at the front desk who said check in is 2pm, but they had rooms ready and allowed us to check in early, much to my mum’s relief as she was very tired and wanted to take a nap. We dropped our luggage off in the hotel room, then went to a nearby cafe for breakfast, and afterwards we went back to the hotel room for a nap.
We didn’t wake up until later in the afternoon. We went for a walk through the CBD (which I thought looked a lot like a bigger version of Perth’s CBD), ending up in Chinatown where we bought wonton noodles for lunch at Grand BBQ in Target Centre, and washing it down with a bubble tea from a nearby Easy Way Tea. Next, I wanted to go to Federation Square and head to the visitor information centre to get information about how to go to and from Phillip Island.
When I did my research on things to do in Melbourne’s CBD, it looked like Federation Square had a lot going on, but it wasn’t as exciting or interesting as I thought it would be. I suppose it is different when there are events happening, but the day we went, there was nothing going on. We first went to the information centre and got some advice on taking the coach to Phillip Island. Next we visited the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which was free entry and had some interesting exhibits about the history of media, movies and TV. Afterwards we crossed the road to Flinders Street train station to purchase tickets for the coach to Phillip Island, then hopped onto the city loop tram which took us to the Docklands area before turning back to our hotel.
Back at the hotel, my mum called a friend who lives in Melbourne and she gave us some recommendations for places to eat nearby. She recommended two nearby places: Gami and Suda. My mum didn’t feel like having oily fried food, so we decided to go to Suda, which is located on Healeys Lane, a short walking distance from Atlantis Hotel. There were several other restaurants in the same lane, including the aforementioned Gami Chicken. While we waited for our food, we were given a small plate of appetizers, including kimchi, bean sprouts and a sweet pasta salad. I ordered the bulgogi beef, and my mum ordered a beef stew. I thought it tasted good, but my mum found the food to be too sweet for her taste. For dessert we both had some light and refreshing green tea ice cream.
After dinner, we went for a walk around the Docklands area. Since it was a Monday night, there weren’t as many people around, and the few restaurants and bars that were open were relatively quiet. Still, it was nice to see the city lights and feel the cool breeze by the harbour. We took a few photos, including one which seemed to show a brilliant full moon in the sky… but there was no full moon that night! Nor were there any background lights that would explain what that large white round light in the photo would be, mysterious~
My mum took this blurry photo of me with the bridge in the background positioned awkwardly…
I took this photo of my mum. Seriously, there was no full moon in the sky that day, spooky~ Most likely explanation is that it’s a speck of dust floating near the camera.
Day 2 – More Melbourne
Although the hotel is right next to several tram stops, the Queen Victoria Market is just a short walk away, so we set off on foot through Flagstaff Gardens. We arrived around 9am so many of the stallholders were still setting up their wares. It was essentially a much larger version of the Wanneroo markets. There were stalls selling a variety of items: clothing, souvenirs, books, phone accessories. There was also a section of the market full of fresh food stalls, and an indoor section selling seafood, meat and cheese. I enjoyed seeing all the different things on sale. I bought myself a jumper (one that has real pockets and actually buttons up at the front!), and my mum bought some crystal ornaments as gifts for friends.
We took a break at a cafe and sipped on hot chocolate while waiting for my mum’s friend. After having trouble finding each other, we finally met up with my mum’s friend who had brought along her baby daughter. My mum’s friend gave us a guided tour through Melbourne Central and Emporium before heading to Din Tai Fung for lunch.
Apparently Din Tai Fung is famous for their dumplings and really popular, so we arrived as early as we could to secure a table. I thought it was a nice touch that the staff provided us with a cloth basket next to our table to store our bags, covering them with a fabric sheet to keep them safe. To be honest, I felt a little out of place because the attentive service from the staff made me feel like the place was too posh for me. We ordered different types of dumplings, which were all delicious and surprisingly filling for their size. When we left the restaurant, there was a long queue of people outside waiting for a table.
After lunch, we headed to the Melbourne aquarium, on our way there my mum’s friend gave us a tip that the tourist information booths have brochures for the aquarium which also give a discount on the entry price, so we grabbed two. My mum’s friend didn’t join us inside the aquarium as her baby daughter was tired and needed to go home to nap.
As we entered inside the aquarium, the first section had a photographer taking everyone’s photo in front of a blue screen, which would later be photoshopped onto images of sea animals and printed in a booklet that can be purchased at the gift shop. I always felt guilty about these things, they are especially common in Thailand (and overseas in general) where they would take your photo, usually without asking first, and print them on a souvenir plate or frame them on a decorative card. As you exit the attraction/location, these photos are put on display to encourage you to buy them. Knowing that these photos would be destroyed if you didn’t buy them made be feel bad because it’s a waste of effort and resources, especially when printed on things like souvenir plates. Knowing this, I found it hard to smile for the camera, but I tried my best anyway.
The aquarium layout is designed so that you generally follow one path and get to see every section, with the sea animals grouped according to habitat or animal type. We saw a large variety of fish, crustaceans and other sea animals, pretty much what you would expect from an aquarium. They had a crocodile which seemed too big to be real, but apparently it is, a little hard to tell when it doesn’t move much. Some of the tanks had little glass domes where children could crawl underneath and get an extra close look at the fish.
At the very end of the path was my favourite part of the aquarium: the Penguin Playground. They had some young King Penguins which still had their fluffy brown down feathers, I thought they were really cute, my mum didn’t even know they were penguins! There were several King Penguins sharing an enclosure with Gentoo Penguins. The enclosure also had several nesting sites, with the Gentoo Penguins sitting on eggs. While we were watching the penguins, the aquarium staff came out to check the eggs by removing the eggs from the nest, and placing a fake egg in its place while they took the real egg away to be examined, before putting it back under the nesting penguins. At one end of the enclosure was a ramp leading to a tank of water where the penguins were swimming. I could have sat there all day just watching the penguins~
I couldn’t stay there forever watching the penguins, my mum wanted to head back to the hotel and rest, so we caught the city loop tram, which again took us to Docklands. I thought the tram would then turn in the direction of our hotel like it did the day before, but it actually took us in the opposite direction and back towards the aquarium. Since it was the city loop train, I figured it would eventually stop near our hotel, but it ended up stopping at the parliament stop, and the tram driver said it would be another 10 or 15 minutes before the tram got going again. It was a hot day and I didn’t feel like waiting, so we hopped off the city loop tram and crossed the intersection to catch another tram which eventually got us back to the hotel.
My mum felt like having mussels or seafood for dinner, so while she took a nap, I Googled for local seafood restaurants. Unfortunately, they were either too expensive, too far, or closed on Tuesdays. So I looked for any restaurants nearby that would be open on a Tuesday night, and decided to go for New Quay International Buffet which is located in the Docklands area. It was kind of on the expensive side, but given the variety of food and gorgeous little desserts, I think it was well worth it. They also had mussels, which my mum had plenty of (I’m not into mussels). I started with prawns, raw sliced salmon, and salmon salad. For mains I grabbed a little bit of everything: roast duck, lamb steak, fried prawns, steamed fish, BBQ pork. For dessert I had green tea ice cream, fruit, and tried a few of the pretty little cakes and pastries.
We returned to the hotel very full and satisfied, and started to pack my things for our trip to Phillip Island. While it was warm and sunny during our stay in Melbourne, we had some light rain that evening, and the next morning would bring a heavier downpour…