I just got back from Melbourne, Australia and if you like the outdoors (but still want to be near a large city with excellent work prospects, large companies, and great food and culture) then I think Melbourne is probably the place for you in the Southern Hemisphere. On top of that, when I was there just a few weeks ago the exchange rate was almost 2 AUD for 1 USD. Not bad at all…
Melbourne is located on the southern coast of Australia, not far across the sea from Tasmania and Antarctica. The saying in Melbourne is that if you don’t like the weather, hang out for a few minutes because it is bound to change. When you are on the coast, it can be 120 degrees Fahrenheit and then within 5 minutes you feel a cold front come up from Antarctica and it drops to 70 degrees in a moment. It just hits your back and you feel a 50 degree swing in 5 minutes! The ski resorts aren’t far from Melbourne either, so you can see why the outdoorsy folks might prefer it to Sydney, which is out on the Eastern coast.
I arrived in Melbourne and was greeted by my friend David, a semi-professional Australian Football League player who had a knee injury last year and called it quits. He said that when AFL is on (April – September) Melbourne is the place to be — it is all that anyone in Melbourne (even all the girls) talk about during those months! Rugby Union and Rugby League are also huge — I was in heaven with 2 or 3 channels playing nothing but rugby 24×7. Melbourne also regularly hosts Formula 1 Grand Prix races right in downtown, and is teeming with traveling fans during that time.
I checked in at the hotel —– “Oaks on Lonsdale” which was only $150/night AUD (wow…$80USD!). The Oaks on Lonsdale is a high-rise hotel in the heart of Melbourne, walking distance to all the main attractions of the city. The hotel is located on Lonsdale Ave in downtown and has large, very recently-renovated and stylishly-decorated apartments — each with their own kitchen and washer/dryer. See my picture at right, that I snapped when sitting down for dinner my first night.
There is an IGA grocery store right next door, so you really are set once you settle in. The washer/dryer helps a LOT because then you can pack much lighter (jeans, one pair of shoes, and a few shirts) and then just do laundry at night. I went down under for more than 2 weeks and just took a carry-on — no checked baggage going through customs!
Just up the street from the hotel is St. Peters —- a gorgeous Catholic cathedral built during colonial times. The outside is blackish-brown stone (other buildings are also that reddish-brown sandstone that is so prevalent in Australia…very reminiscent of Utah red rock). Inside it is the traditional cross in floorplan, with a raised central altar area. The roof and rafters are a gorgeous dark wood, and the detail throughout was very impressive.
About a block from St. Peters Cathedral is the free Melbourne trolley system, which you can catch to take you around sort of a belt route of Melbourne. Next stop was the Melbourne Museum, and then down to Victoria Markets (aka, Vic Markets) which are very much similar to Pike Place Market in Seattle.
A little ways away from the Vic Markets you’ll run into the old Bath House which is where the outdoor sports shops are located. There is a high-end climbing gym called Hard Rock Climbing Gym and it rivals the downtown REI in Seattle for exceptional indoor climbing (see pics at right). A few blocks away is the office of Melbourne International Backpackers too — a great place to grab a guide and go do some camping in the outback, or along the beach.
Unfortunately my itinerary did not include a few days’ excursion into the outback. Instead I gave a speech at Melbourne City Hall, with a great brunch-and-mingle out on the old pillared deck high above the street (see pic at right). And the rest of the week was meetings and good food…though my flight left just as the rest of the guys were treated as members guests to the Presidential Room of the colonial-era old-boys club called “The Kelvin Club.” Before I left, however, I did have the chance to have a delicious wagyu steak and some roasted kangaroo at The Meat & Wine Co. — a great restaurant alongside the river in town. But you’ll feel like an anaconda after that — too full to eat for 3 days!
All in all, it was enough to get me to want to go back during their winter (our summer) and try out the ski resorts, take in more of the water, and hit up the Melbourne International Backpackers for a camping trip into the outback. Oh yeah, and catch a few Aussie Rules football matches while I’m at it too!