Soaking up the culture in Melbourne's city centre
The cafes, the laneways and the vibrancy of the city's culture, Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world where it's actually relaxing to step into the hustle and bustle of the CBD rather than out of it.
When staying in Melbourne, the CBD is the only place you want to be.
Getting immersed in the cafe culture, strolling the laneways, sampling a few drinks on one of the dozens of rooftop bars or taking it easy on the banks of the Yarra River, the most attractive asset of Melbourne's city centre is that you can take things as slowly as you please.
Every laneway has its own unique character so if you are into modern, retro or the arts, you can find your niche as long as you are prepared to look beyond the exterior to find the hidden gems.
We stayed at QT Melbourne. An elegant blend of funky and fancy with a French flavour and strong tinge of the hipster culture, the QT sits in the heart of the high-end fashion district of the CBD on Russell Street.
Formerly the Greater Union cinemas, the QT, which opened its doors in September 2016, has 188 rooms and there is nothing standard about them or the hotel itself.
From the dancing Directors of Chaos, aka staff who greet you at the door and attend to your every need, to the quirky phrases and even chat up lines from the talking elevators, the beard oils in every room and the cupcake and knife shop, it's definitely different and the bold point of difference is an absolute winner.
Large modern rooms scream luxury with their sleek style, and the comfort and level of service is second to none.
An eight-floor view down Russell Street is one of the many bonuses to our QT experience.
All the standards such as free wi-fi, a well-equipped gym, a high quality on-site restaurant and late night cocktail bar are there, but the real jewel in its crown is The Rooftop.
Currently one of the places to be seen at in Melbourne, the atmosphere and vibe is something else but being made to vacate the outdoor area at 11pm is an obvious mood killer.
Easily the highlight of the QT experience is the gel-topped beds that could cure the worst case of insomnia. How good are they? I'm currently trying to source one in New Zealand.
If you're in the mood to stay in, the Pascale Bar and Grill and the European-themed fine dining restaurant is well worth the experience. A quick glance at the menu shows why Pascale is one of the most popular hotel restaurants in Melbourne. The menu is wide-ranging in variety and some of the ingredients are even grown on top of QT in the rooftop garden, There's a hive of honey bees to cross pollinate edible flowers. Prices are not as bad as you would expect and from my experience, it was value for money.
Pascale's Wood Fire Grilled Farmhouse Breakfast is a perfect start to the day but if you plan on trying to finish it, don't make any lunch plans. All breakfasts are served with a small dish of muesli and yoghurt as a starter.
Also inside QT is Hot Sauce, a laneway-inspired restaurant with Korean and Japanese inspired dishes. The popular venue is well worth a visit when staying at QT but is also in favour with the locals.
You can't go to Melbourne without experiencing the smell and tastes of the laneways. There are endless options, depending on your preference, but be prepared to step out of your comfort zone, too.
We spent an evening at the newly refurbished Dutchess. The first floor steak house offers 250g of the finest steak you will ever taste, with vegetables or fries and salad for between $60 and $90. Half size meals are available for around half the price. Be sure to book a table on the balcony so you can soak up the Melbourne night atmosphere with a view of Federation Square.
WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR
No matter how much you hate early mornings, the 3.30am wake-up call from Global Ballooning is worth every minute of lost sleep. Melbourne, one of the only cities in the world that allows you to fly over the CBD, is at its most scenic just after sunrise from 3500 feet above.
Part of the journey is helping assemble and take down the balloon. It's much more fun than it sounds and is a great way to bond with the strangers you share the basket with.
Drifting across the Melbourne skyline as the sun rises is a weird mix of adrenalin and relaxation as you cut through the air in silence. It's not cheap but it's a once in a lifetime experience that will never leave you. Most packages include photos, a DVD and a champagne breakfast when you are safely back on the ground.
Prices start from around $480 per person and you even get a certificate to prove you weren't scared of heights.
The little known Hidden Secrets Tours (hiddensecretstours.com) is a must if you want to experience the true culture of the laneways, arts and theatre. Our well educated and passionate tour guide shows us a side of the CBD that even many locals do not know exists. Tours can be tailored to your taste and are a great way to find the hidden gems that you can visit again later in your time in Melbourne or on a separate journey. Tours show historic sights, rooftop bars, boutique fashion, hard to find and little-known laneways and give a snapshot of the history of Melbourne and Victoria.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground. We take in a domestic Twenty20 cricket game between Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers. More than 45,000 fans turn up to make for a half-full stadium. The atmosphere is so much better than we expected and it leaves you wondering what a full house would be like. It doesn't really matter if it's cricket or AFL, the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground is well worth the trip.
We are also lucky enough to visit Melbourne in the early stages of the Australian Open tennis tournament. If you are a tennis nut or hate sport altogether, a trip to Melbourne Park to experience the hospitality and the party atmosphere is a chance not to be passed up. A night session inside Rod Laver Arena is a sporting encounter that is well worth the three-figure price tag.
Take me back! Whether it's shopping, arts, theatre, food or sports, Melbourne has it all. It's hard to imagine any other CBD in Australia that offers so many different experiences and atmospheres.
The harder you look the more you'll find and you never get sick of looking. If it's a weekend or two weeks, you could easily soak up your time in Melbourne and that's before you get out to St Kilda or the Yarra Valley.
Rooms at the QT range from range in price from around $250 to $450. Visit qthotelsandresorts.com.
Qantas began a new daily Christchurch-Melbourne service in December 2016. Daily flight leaves Christchurch for Melbourne at 8.05pm (NZT) and return leg leaves Melbourne at 11.45pm (AEST). As a guide, the flight to Melbourne is around $225 with the return leg from Melbourne hovering around the $260 mark. See qantas.com/nz
MORE INFORMATION visitvictoria.com
The writer flew to Melbourne courtesy of Qantas and was hosted by Visit Victoria.