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Tale of two cities: Melbourne has something for everyone

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Benefiting from its North-South divide, mighty Melbourne has something for everyone. It’s the perfect place to step off the beaten track and experience the good life down under. Andrew Buykx-Smith reports.

Situated on the banks of the Yarra River in south-eastern Australia, Melbourne has truly cemented itself as a world-class city, being named ‘most liveable’ in 2016 by the Economist Intelligence Unit for the sixth consecutive year. While the Central Business District (CBD) grid and landmarks such as Federation Square and Flinders Street Station are an Instagram lovers’ paradise, the inner suburbs and city fringe are what truly give Victoria’s capital its heart and soul. 

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Speak to a Melbournian, and they will tell you about the uber-cool inner north, where the smell of fresh coffee lingers in the air, or the sophisticated south, home to high-end shopping, the botanical gardens and picturesque Port Phillip Bay. Each side offers a distinctively different experience, so let’s take a look at both. 

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Northern buzz 

Just 10 minutes by tram from the CBD, in Fitzroy, you find yourself in the middle of Brunswick Street, home to hip cafés, vibrant street art and some great vintage shopping. You can liken the area to downtown Berlin or Seattle. After spending  the afternoon visiting the many  boutiques and consuming multiple lattes, a visit to Bimbo’s (a local institution) should be at the top of your list. In the north, they like to keep things casual, so it’s AU$4 (HK$24) pizzas washed down with a pint of boutique beer or mulled wine. 

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A stone’s throw from Fitzroy is the gentrified suburb of Richmond. There are hidden pubs, laneway cafés and some great clearance outlets along Bridge Road, with Gorman, Country Road and Kathmandu all boasting flagship stores. Richmond is also renowned for its live music scene. The Corner is a first-rate venue, famous for hosting big-name bands, such as Pink Floyd, The White Stripes and Midnight  Oil, as well as an ever-growing list of local Melbournian legends. 

Northern Melbourne also homes Australia’s biggest sporting complex ‘The G’ as it is affectionately known. A Mecca for cricket and Australian Rules Football (AFL), it can house over 100,000 sports fans. Every September, tens of thousands of AFL fans descend on The G during grand final week, in the hopes that their team wins the ‘holy grail’. 

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Rod Laver Arena, in Melbourne Park, is the main venue for the annual Australian Open. Taking place in the last two weeks of January, the Glam Slam event brings the city to life, hosting stars and tennis fans from around the globe. The festival-like atmosphere, mixed with truly smashing tennis, gives the feel of Coachella meets Wimbledon, definitely worth working into your travel itinerary. 

Southern sophistication 

Cross Church Street Bridge and you find yourself on Melbourne’s south-side, South Yarra to be precise. Home to Melbourne’s rich and famous, this chic suburb stretches 4 kilometres to the outskirts of St Kilda, where the land meets the sea. 

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Lined with designer boutiques and not a few Ferraris, South Yarra’s Chapel Street also houses some of Melbourne’s best bars and clubs. Whether it’s swanky cocktails in The Emerson, a pint of beer and posh pub grub at Temperance Hotel, or house-music until late at Pawn & Co, there’s plenty of fun to be had. 

One thing South Yarra does particularly well is brunch, though not the free-flow kind Hong Kong specialises in. Two Birds One Stone comes highly recommended – its seasonal menu of organic produce paired with a steamy hot macchiato fuels you up for the day ahead. Smashed ‘avo’ has become the local standard, so bring your appetite! 

In St Kilda, bang on the shoreline, there’s only one thing to do, and that’s get lost! Paired with the soundtrack of Melbourne’s busking community, it’s the perfect spot for a – the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or Sunday stroll. The sprawling streets are dotted with shops of all kinds, plus interesting cafés and bars. Luna Park is the most iconic landmark, with its magnificent entranceway and scenic rollercoaster providing a panorama of Port Phillip Bay and beyond. 

In February, the annual St Kilda Fest transforms the southern shoreline. Multiple bands, DJs, comedians and dancers invade the foreshore to entertain tens of thousands of visitors. Coupled with the new trend of food trucks, offering everything from candy floss to jambalaya, St Kilda Fest is one of Melbourne’s great events. 

If shopping, eating and rockin’ the suburbs isn’t your cup of tea (or rather coffee – this is Melbourne), you can take a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, also in South Yarra. Its 38 hectares house exotic plants and animals, a beautiful lake and even gondolas – a taste of Italy down under! Visit the gardens on any day of the week and you find people hidden in every nook and cranny; the peace and quiet soothes the soul.

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Flight Centre Hong Kong specialises in tailor-made travel experiences, the widest choice of airfares and unique products, and 24-hour emergency assistance. To book your getaway, call 2830 2776, visit www.flightcentre.com.hk, or drop by the retail stores in Central, Happy Valley or Wanchai. For a consultation locally, call Flight Centre’s DB-based rep Natalie Flyazhenkova on 2829 2006.

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