So Canberra was great in the end with Katie-Jayne being a superb and very generous host. Both Katie-Jayne and Emma even stayed up to drop us for our 1155pm Greyhound so that we didn't have to sit in the station for hours. The journey was typically long and we were both pretty tired when we got to Melbourne at 8am. Hel had made sure our hostel was easy to get to and we walked out of the station straight over to the hostel in less than 5 minutes. It was too early to check in so we just dropped off our bags and picked up some good traveller vouchers that would be useful to help make exploring the city cheaper. We headed into town toward Federation Square where we picked up more leaflets and coupons from the visitor centre. It gave us a better idea of what we wanted to do whilst we were here. After the lack of sleep and hard work so far we rewarded ourselves by claiming the 2-4-1 voucher for pancakes at a nearby pancake restaurant! That gave us some energy to head back to the hostel to find out what kind of room we had, admiring the queues in the 30 degree heat to see Father Christmas at the Myer centre on the way. Dropped stuff in the room and in typical fashion headed right back out as wasn't the kind of place you wanted to relax in. After seeing posters for Love Never Dies we went via the Regent Theatre to see if we could be cultural and complete the series by getting tickets for the show…more on that later! Then we hopped onto the first of 2 river cruises (they went in opposite directions down the Yarra and had a 40min gap in between). Again the vouchers paid dividends. The first cruise headed past the South Bank, the Crown complex (hotel, cinema, casino, restaurants, shops etc) and all the way down to the Westgate Bridge, which is known for its collapse in the 70s. Luckily the sun was shining to add to the experience! In the quick gap between cruises we went to the ACMI centre (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) and looked round their main exhibit on film, media and the moving image. Had some very cool things inside including a video games area through time and also an interactive centre where you can film yourself doing a movement and Matrix style it composes a video swinging around you. Then we headed back down to the river for the second cruise this time heading in the opposite direction by Melbourne's numerous sports arenas that are all conveniently next to each other - Melbourne Cricket Ground, Rod Laver Tennis Arena, Olympic stadium, and past all the Friday afternoon work parties/BBQs along the river bank, which reminded me of the times we have spent sunny days having drinks in Richmond along by the river, so I declared Melbourne as being what Richmond would be like if it was a city. After this cruise making us feel even more tired we got a hotdog to share for some energy and loaded up on sun cream (the vendor was giving it away for free), and it turned out the guy selling it went to Bromsgrove and remembered Bennies from playing against them years ago in 7s. We then went back into ACMI to play around some more as they had many old skool games to play, e.g. Tetris, lemmings, Sonic, Zelda etc and look at some of the memorabilia (Mad Max, Australia and Moulin Rouge among others). Following this we popped across the river to the Eureka Tower and the lift zipped us up to the 88th floor for an amazing view over Melbourne and down to the coast to St Kilda where we'd be moving to the next day. Very lucky it was such a clear day as the views were amazing and we were able to go out on a little exposed platform and feel the immense breeze at that height. We then headed down and jumped on the free city tram to get a view of all the places we had not managed to see that day, including the new Docklands development and Etihad Stadium. We jumped off back near the centre of town and grabbed a quick Red Rooster (roast chicken fast food) and had a drink in a bar to make use of its happy hour before getting down to the South Bank to catch a "fire display" we'd heard the captain mention on the first cruise. We hadn't heard exactly what he said and so weren't sure what we'd see or if it would even be on. Luckily on the hour we saw a small flame appear above the 6 or so big columns that lined one section of the South Bank (outside the Crown). These soon spurted big flames into the air in quite a cool show, we'd later find out from an English barman that this show cost $10,000 per hour and it runs nightly on the hour from 9pm-1am all year round!
On Saturday we were due to move hostel again to a Base by the beach to use the remaining nights on our card. We checked out of King Street and left our bags in the luggage room as we still had stuff we wanted to do in Melbourne while we were still local before moving on to St Kilda. So we jumped on a tram and went to the MCG hoping to be able to get on a tour (there was a 20/20 cricket match that eve with Shane Warne's return so event day tours weren't guaranteed). Luckily we were able to get pretty much right onto one and it was just the two of us! The guide, Rod, was really good, very passionate and clearly loved the stadium having been an MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) member for years. Tour was great with the only place we couldn't see being the changing rooms due to the match that eve. We then looked round the Australian Museum of Sport which was cool with interactive zones similar to the AIS in Canberra and an impressive hologram Shane Warne exhibit. The day was getting on by the time we were back to town so I had another quick hot dog whilst Hel tested out a shop's brazen name "Lord of the Fries". She had her chips Belgian style (with aioli mayo) in a cone but the verdict was that, whilst good, they weren't the best ever. Having realised we were too late to visit Queen Victoria Market we decided to grab our bags and get the tram down to St Kilda to Base for our first experience of an 8 share room. Having arrived and met our roomies we had a quick explore of St Kilda. Initial impression didn't live up to expectations as it had turned overcast and the esplanade somewhat resembled Venice Beach but it has since grown on us more. After a shower and getting "dressed up" we went back to town to be cultured and see…Love Never Dies (Phantom sequel), having had such rave reviews from Alison and being lucky to see the Anniversary show at RAH. After some food near the Crown we topped up with some maltesers for the show and Hel treated herself to a glass of bubbly (I opted to have a soft drink instead). It was very good and did live up to the praise, the Phantom in particular was awesome. We were even luckier as it was the penultimate show in Australia and having already closed in London and NYC we may have seen one of the last shows. We went back to the South Bank to watch the flames again and walked through the Crown with its expensive shops and ornate Christmas decorations before catching a tram back out to St Kilda and getting in around midnight.
After a pretty chilled Sunday morning in the hostel we headed back into town to visit the Queen Victoria Markets, the biggest outdoor market in the southern hemisphere. All sorts of bakery/deli stalls then meat, fish as well as a huge section with clothes, gifts, lights, candles all market type stuff! Walked back through town to look at the Myer window displays then through a couple of Melbourne's famed old little streets and arcades with cafes and chocolateries abundant. Having had our appetites whetted by the cafes etc we managed to survive their exorbitant prices, but succumbed to a far cheaper place near Flinders Street Station to have a churro and coffee. A quick visit back into the ACMI exhibit enabled us to play around some more before walking to Fitzroy Gardens near the MCG which was a pretty park with native flowers and Cook's cottage (that had been transported over from England by the man himself way back when). On the way back to the hostel we got off the tram a bit earlier to walk along St Kilda esplanade, which was basking in some sunlight, when it started to rain but fortunately not too badly. We then tried cooking our dinner at the hostel (the coating on the chicken we bought at the market made this difficult but we managed to mash something together.) Having eaten we popped to McDonald's try their free Wifi and to get a McFlurry before returning to the hostel to use the internet as Macca's was even slower than normal and watched Tropic Thunder in the TV room downstairs, whilst Hel had some microwave popcorn.
Up very early yesterday for a tour down to the Great Ocean Road.We braved the 645 alarm and snuck out of the room as quietly as we could to have a quick breakfast (been going through a microwavable oats phase recently). After switching minibuses in town we were soon on our way, first stop being Bell's Beach which is a surfing mecca and where the finale of Point Break was filmed. The town still has the HQ for both Rip Curl and Quicksilver while the beach itself hosts the annual Rip Curl Pro which is the top surfing event in the world along with an event in Hawaii (name escapes me, but it's happening around now). Moving on from there we saw the GOR Memorial Arch; passed through a town called Lorne where the Pier to Pub annual swim race occurs and stopped just outside town to spot wild koalas up in the trees; had lunch at Apollo Bay; walked through temperate rainforest at Mait's Rest; went to see the 12 Apostles (limestone stacks off the coast); saw Loch and Gorge (limestone cliffs) and London Bridge. Once back to St Kilda we headed down to the pier to see if we could spot some wild Penguins. Having seen a guy catch a type of shark as we made our way up we walked down to the rocks and there were 5 or 6 penguins there which we were very lucky to see.
Today we wasted time in the hostel watching umpteen episodes of The Simpsons until our pick up for the airport and after an uneventful flight on their equivalent of EasyJet we are now back in Brisbane for Christmas.