Deciphering the Land of Oz
Come explore the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, and Cairns on the eastern side of this country/continent. We’ll bike along flat streets and venture underwater, soaking up the cosmopolitan and cheery Aussie spirit (without a koala or kangaroo in sight).
TEXT & phOTOS: Francisco Pardo @panshopardo thanks to Álvaro García @ojodewey
Melbourne: Number One
Over the past five years, Melbourne has been living up to the name of its state, Victoria. For the fifth consecutive year, The Economist has ranked it as the world’s most livable city. But it’s one thing to read about this ranking and something else entirely to switch on the television during a summer morning to hear the breaking news: a prowler broke into a home in the suburbs. If this is the biggest story in Australia’s second–largest city, then the ranking certainly rings true.
So grab your helmet – its use is strictly enforced – and we’re off to the first, most logical stop: the banks of the Yarra River. Tall, modern buildings line Melbourne’s main watercourse almost all the way to its mouth on the Indian Ocean. One of these buildings – the Eureka – has a super-speedy elevator that zooms up nearly 1,000 feet in just 40 seconds to the spectacular city view on the 88th floor.
At your feet, the Yarra’s banks are packed with restaurants and places to relax, where you can watch the boats carrying tourists, office workers on their lunch break, or a local rowing club at practice.
Fruit, Pandas & Graffiti
One great thing about Melbourne is that there are no Eiffel Tower-style landmarks that make you feel obligated to buy tickets for your scrapbook. Visitors enjoy the city at an unhurried pace, taking note of details, messages scrawled on the walls, the respect shown to red lights on pedestrian streets, and little scenes like a basket full of stuffed pandas being given away to attentive passers-by. And that’s just on Hozier Lane, a narrow cobblestone street decked out with graffiti and facing the museums and galleries of Federation Square, which is well worth a visit to get a feel for the daily bustle of the downtown area or “central business district” (CBD).
The afternoon passes as we continue towards the sea, reaching the neighborhood of St. Kilda. Beaches aren’t Melbourne’s most charming feature, but they’re great for a refreshing dip, kitesurfing, or enjoying the casual and jovial spirit of your surroundings, whether on the sands or on the streets next to little O’Donnel Park, near Luna Park and its old-fashioned roller coaster. Take a seat at one of the cafés or bars on Acland Street, like Abbey Road or Rococo, to soak up the neighborhood. And if your aperitif puts you in a festive mood, stroll along Chapel Street until you find a bar to your liking. Or head to the hipster neighborhood of Fritz Roy and walk along Gertrude Street to see if these bars also rank number one for nightlife.
Cairns: Finding Nemo
A three-hour flight northeast to the state of Queensland takes us to Cairns, the gateway to one of the world’s natural wonders: the Great Barrier Reef. This clean, orderly city is much smaller than Melbourne or Sydney and rich in local plant and animal life. Cairns is on the coast but, oddly enough, not a spot for surfing – an undeniable part of Australia’s DNA – because it’s on the mouth of the Trinity Inlet (where concentrated sediment makes the water turbid and muddy) and near the Outback (home to enormous crocodiles). But thanks to Australian ingenuity, a public salt-water pool provides an urban beach in the heart of Cairns. The Esplanade Lagoon is surrounded by parks and close to hotels, shopping, and restaurants serving Asian delicacies.
Although there’s plenty to do in the city, tourists from around the world come for the attractions of nature: nearby beaches surrounded by tropical forest, like Port Douglas and Ellis Beach, and a little farther on, the Daintree rainforest, which can be explored on guided tours. The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, is undoubtedly the region’s main attraction, with tours arranged by agencies in Cairns. While the 1,400-mile-long reef can be visited as a day trip, the most popular option includes three days on the high seas, with snorkeling and scuba diving at different reefs, like Flynn and Milln. Other adventures aimed at expert divers last a week or more. These more extreme tours allow you to see larger animals and shoals of fish, but any dive lets you immerse yourself in a multicolored underwater garden filled with turtles, barracudas, small sharks, clownfish (just like Nemo), and plenty of other species.
Sydney: no worries, mate!
It’s Saturday night in Australia’s largest city, and we’re at the grooviest hotel in town: QT. Located in the heart of the CBD in the historic Gowings and State Theatre Building, QT is packed with pop culture and music references. After checking in and dropping my bags, I head back down from the 12th floor with James Brown’s “I Feel Good” in the elevator. I ignore the stylish bar, wave to the redheaded concierge, hail a cab, and make my way to the legendary nightlife zone of Kings Cross.
But the controversial party scene has sobered up under the influence of lockout laws. A conservative pendulum swing in a city famous for wild nights, these laws were the consequence of a series of unfortunate incidents. Today, bars and clubs close early, and strict limits are placed on alcohol consumption and sales. The laws will be revised this year, but if you’re looking for small, cozy restaurants and a pleasant evening, Kings Cross is the place, especially the establishments
on Llankelly Place.
“Newtown, mate,” says the doorman at one of the surviving bars when I ask after the current bohemian neighborhood. But exhaustion competes with my desire to explore the local nightlife, so I hail a cab back to the hotel, where the red-haired concierge recommends The Baxter Inn, just around the corner. There’s no sign, but a door leads to a warm underground spot right out of the 1920s, pleasantly noisy with a speakeasy spirit. Perhaps the heart of Sydney is found in the least obvious places.
It’s Sunday morning, and like many others, I’m taking the 333 bus to Bondi, the country’s most famous beach. This surfer’s paradise boasts the best of Australia: sports, nature, safety, and beautiful people (forgive the superficial observation). Before settling down to sun and sand, the gorgeous Coastal Walk offers an inviting two-mile stroll along the coast to Bronte beach, the workplace of the most famous lifeguards in the world, just like Bondi. After a day by the sea, treat yourself to a hamburger and cold lemonade at Macelleria.
Before returning to the CBD, I make a detour to Surry Hills. This trendy yet unpretentious neighborhood is full of small restaurants, perfect for brunch or dinner. There are bicycles galore, dogs that resemble their owners, and a great café called Bourke Street Bakery. Order a latte and a piece of ginger brûlée tart, sit at one of the sidewalk tables, and enjoy some people watching, with subjects ranging from lifelong locals nursing coffees to selfie-posting hipsters. If you’re in the mood for some ice cream, don’t miss the famous Messina.
I skip the return leg on the tour boat to take the public transit ferry destined for Circular Quay in the CDB. After a smooth 30-minute trip, with the Sydney skyline backlit by the setting sun, the ferry pulls in and several of us head towards the cafés near the Opera House, where locals and tourists knock back cocktails and aperitifs. The sun is almost gone, and with the Opera House at our backs and the iconic bridge in front of us, it’s hard to imagine a better way to bid farewell to this country with the feel of a continent, the great giant of Oceania.
No worries, mate. in
Daily flights to Sydney from Santiago through Auckland; oneworld connections to Melbourne and Cairns.
More information lan.com
49 Market Street, CBD
26 Flinders Street, Melbourne
7 Riverside Quay Southbank, Melbourne
Queen Victoria Market
Elizabeth & Victoria Streets, Melbourne
Borsch, Vodka & Tears
173 Chapel St, Melbourne
The Baxter Inn
156 Clarence Street, Sídney
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Growings Bar & Grill
49 Market Street, Sídney