It is something of a shock to arrive in either Melbourne or Sydney from New Zealand. The main reason is because the entire population of New Zealand will fit into either of these cities. This is quite a hard concept to grasp really. While Auckland holds around 1/3 of the NZ population, it is still dwarfed by other cities in our world.
These two main Australian population centres can therefore be quite intimidating, when you are not used to it, because of these huge crowds – especially in rush hour. Canberra is somewhat smaller (thankfully). So let us take a look at the 3 biggest stops on my trip.
My first impression of Melbourne was quite a good one, although our hotel was close to the business district and therefore things felt a tad deserted. I did think it smelled a bit (apparently it was referred to as Smellbourne back in the day – maybe the NZ air is truly much fresher!). Once we located other people, we discovered a large shopping centre, some lovely older buildings (note, I say older in the context of true age in Europe). There is an extensive tram system here (with a free circular route around the centre), lots of varied restaurants, some lovely arcades and the enormous MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) which holds over 100,000 people. We took in an Aussie Rules match while there with 55,000 others which was a real treat. The Queen Victoria Market is superb. The only thing really missing from the city is spectacular natural views – head for Canberra or Sydney for that.
Canberra divides opinion. Formed as a solution to Sydney and Melbourne arguing over who should be capital, it is a purpose-built capital city. It is unlike anywhere else I have ever been in the world. Some people dislike it and this seems rather ignorant if you haven’t been. It has a large man-made lake as the centre piece and is situated in beautiful mountainous surrounds. There are actually two houses of parliament (as the old one, which sits in front of the new one, was too small), with the new one being constructed into a hill, and a lot of embassies which are worth a tour to view. I really like it here because it is so different and there are a lot of free attractions. Give it a chance.
While here, I met a man called Pat who is part of a peaceful Aboriginal protest which has been near the old houses of parliament for around 43 years. He took the time to chat about the difficulties they face in ensuring the native population receive a fair deal and how things change as governments change. He was a really interesting man and it was easy to sympathise with how hard it must be for Australia to step positively forward as one people – especially as there are genuine historical (and it must also be said, current) racism issues against the Aboriginal people which stretch back to the original British occupation.
Sydney must have one of the most famous skylines of any city in the world. In many ways it is a crowning glory of Australia on the world stage. The tourist zones are lovely…but I wouldn’t say I like it a lot outside of these areas…like so many large centres, it is noisy and smelly (from the cars). There are some great shopping areas and arcades which include a lovely Victoria centre which takes up a whole city block. We climbed the bridge and watched opera at the opera house – both great but more on them in separate posts.
A Chinatown Question
I have to ask but has anyone ever been to a Chinatown that isn’t just a pretty gate and a load of restaurants and shops selling apparently cheap knock-offs? I ask out of curiosity as I really don’t understand the appeal of such areas for tourists. I’d be interested in any thoughts. They never really feel like they are worth spending much time in to me.