Melbourne: a Newbie’s Guide

It’s now been almost 4 months since I arrived in the weird and wonderful city of Melbourne. Although I’m still not sure if an inhabitant of the city is called a Melbournian or a Melbournite (help, anyone?), it’s just about starting to feel like home. So naturally, I’m about to leave. I’m off to Mildura to do the 88 days of farm work required to qualify for my second year visa (thanks, Australian government), but before I go, I wanted to share a bit of a round up of my life in Melbourne over the last few months.

I wouldn’t want to bore you to tears taking you through a day by day rundown of my exploration, so thought I’d do this post a bit differently by picking out some highlights: Ellie’s guide to being a newbie in Melbourne. Enjoy.

A sunny morning walk to work

Life admin

No, not the most inspirational of headings, but one I wish I’d had a bit more of a clue on when I arrived, given that funds were running on fumes and I needed to start working pretty much immediately. If you’re just visiting Melbourne, skip on down to the next section.

If you’re a working holiday maker, there are a few things you’ll need to sort soon as you can when you arrive. It’s actually a good idea to contact some recruitment agencies before you arrive if you need to get working quickly. Send them your CV and arrival date, and arrange an interview if necessary for when you arrive. Inter Staffing and Michael Page are for office-based jobs and Pinnacle People is good for hospitality. For construction and trades, your hostel should be able to point you in the right direction for recruiters and opportunities.

Before you can work, you’ll need a Tax File Number (TFN), which you can apply for online on the ATO website. It takes up to 28 days to arrive, so make sure you send it to a permanent address (I sent it to my friend’s as wasn’t sure if I’d still be in the hostel). Commonwealth Bank do a good current account for working holiday makers, and can open an account on the spot if you pop into a branch – make sure you take your passport with you.

Also a good idea to get yourself a Medicare card, if you qualify under the Reciprocal Healthcare Agreement (just Google RHCA if you’re not sure). Head to a Centrelink, armed with a print-out of your visa and your passport. It’s another one that can take up to 28 days to arrive, so send it to a permanent address.

If you’re looking to live somewhere other than a hostel, sign up to and join the Fairy Floss Real Estate Facebook group. There are longer term lets on lease as well as shorter term sublets (I found a 2-month sublet on Flatmates), but it all moves quickly, so keep your eyes peeled for new rooms and be prepared to go to viewings same day where possible. If a hostel floats your boat (and I’d recommend you stay in one for at least a few weeks to meet people), I stayed at The Nunnery at the beginning and end of my time in Melbourne. It’s in Fitzroy which is a great, central part of the city, and the rooms and bathrooms are pretty good – though a warning the kitchen is pandemonium as it’s very small… Airbnb might also be an option if you’re sharing with someone else, but I found them too expensive for a room to myself.

Sunset over Fitzroy, viewed from The Nunnery rooftop

Weekend wandering

On weekends or days off, there’s plenty to see in and around the city if you don’t want to stray too far. For the culture vultures amongst you, the Melbourne Museum is great for a fix of scientific and historical goodness. I really enjoyed the temporary exhibition currently on about the Vikings, and there are some great galleries on mind and body and natural history – as well as an outside ‘forest gallery’ like no other museum I’ve ever been in. Admission is $15 for adults – then special exhibitions come at an additional cost. The two sites of the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) are there for all your art perusal needs (art galleries not really my thing so I haven’t been, but amongst my art-loving friends I heard rave reviews).

A Viking boat at the Melbourne Museum

If you’re after something a bit different, you can go on free tours of the very grand Parliament House during the week – I recently went to visit during Melbourne’s Open House weekend, which like London’s, was a great way to explore some of the city’s secrets.

One of my favourite pastimes in Melbourne has just been walking around the city. This can take you along the river and across the various hidden bridges amongst the inner city greenery (keep your eyes peeled for the Federation Bells), for a picnic in the lovely Royal Botanic Gardens, past the famous street art of Hosier and ACDC Lane, and through the sights and smells of the many markets Melbourne has to offer – my favourites are South Melbourne market for coffee and baked goods, and Queen Victoria Market for fresh food and homemade household pieces. If you have time to spare, take a different route each time you walk somewhere and soak it all up.

Hanging out with Jimi in AC/DC Lane

For a seaside stroll, St Kilda beach is the main draw (at least in part for the tiny penguins that come out and play at dusk), but it’s worth heading further down the coast to Brighton to have a nose and take some snaps for the ‘Gram at the Brighton Bathing Boxes (otherwise known as beach huts, for you other Brits out there).

Life’s a Beach at the Brighton Bathing Boxes

A little further afield, there are a few good day trips within a few hours of the city. I rented a car twice, both times from Budget. You can find all the major car rental companies in Melbourne, as well as a kind of Airbnb for cars called Carnextdoor (you have to sign up to be a member). First up on the list (something I actually missed out on thanks to work) is a trip to Phillip Island. Main draws here are walks around the nature park, more tiny penguins, and an excellent excuse for fish and chips on the beach.

Next up for a day trip (and one I actually did manage) is the Mornington Peninsula. It’s mostly motorway, but a lovely drive when you get to the peninsula itself. Stop off for lunch in Sorrento or Portsea, then head to the Point Nepean National Park and soak up some history in the Quarantine Station (looking out for dolphins off the beach) – and if you’re up for a bit of a ramble, walk the loop up to the fort. Before you leave, head to the other side of the point for some wild sea and bracing winds around the London Bridge Lookout.

Exploring the old Quarantine Station at Point Nepean

My favourite day trip from Melbourne was to the Yarra Valley, the area’s wine producing region. If you’re a fan of the vino, this is not really a car rental situation unless you have a designated driver (and they’d really be taking one for the team). We signed up to an Australian Wine Tour Company day trip, for $130. This included pick up and drop off in Melbourne, lunch and a visit to four vineyards including tasting. It was slickly done, with a lot of information on the area and delicious lunch, and the tastings involved a variety of wines from different styles/heritages of vineyard. I’d highly recommend it, not least because it’d be really difficult to get around the area without driving or having a tour lead to do that for you!

Enjoying some breakfast wine at the Chandon winery

At two days minimum, ideally three, the Great Ocean Road is a longer trip from Melbourne but is beautiful. I did it in July so it was a bit cold, but actually, I’m glad we did it in winter as Melbourne locals tells me the road is just a log jam in summer. It’s a beautiful drive along miles of rugged coastline, epic surf and seaside towns. Perhaps the most famous sight on this route is the Twelve Apostles (despite there being perhaps 7.5 actually left), and it was quite a sight to behold just before dusk: a very dramatic sky against a very dramatic sea, in perhaps the windiest place I’ve ever experienced. This, however, isn’t the only stop off. We made our way down through the Otways National Park, spotting wallabies in the forest, before stopping at Lorne for coffee, Wye River for lunch and Apollo Bay for a stroll along the beach. Twelve Apostles was our last stop for day one, and we stayed in the very nice Port Campbell hostel just down the road. Day two covered the Loch Ard gorge and a drive along the shipwreck coast to Warranambool for some whale watching at Logans Beach (though sadly, no whales were watched) before heading home, with enough time to visit Torquay and famous surf spot Bells Beach before retiring to the city. There are many other stopping points along the way, so I think three days would allow you to soak up more of the scenery if you have more time to play with.

A windswept gang at the Twelve Apostles

You can also drive along the coast to Sydney, or west through the Grampians towards Adelaide, if Melbourne is a stopping point on a longer trip.

Fun and games

Whatever day of the week, for nights off, post work wind down or catching up with friends, there’s something going on in Melbourne. For the film buffs amongst you, Monday is cheap cinema day at the Kino in the CBD, or the Nova in Carlton. As a once cheap outing that’s steadily got more expensive, cinema tickets for under $10 are not to be sniffed at. They’re both lovely cinemas with a variety of screens and showings – though it can be worth booking as it gets super busy when new films are out and everyone wants a piece of the discounted ticket action.

For a quintessentially Victorian experience, you must go and indulge in the state’s favourite pastime: the AFL. Matches are held almost every weekend in season at the Etihad Stadium in the Docklands or the iconic MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) in Richmond. Take your pick of a suburb to support, don the appropriate merchandise, grab a pint and a pie, and head on in to cheer along with the crowds. It draws fans from all over – families, guys, girls, couples, old, young, city and country. The atmosphere is fantastic and you can get general admission tickets from $25.

Being a Melbourne Demon for the day

For an evening of laughs, there are a few comedy clubs that’d be worth checking out. Kings of Comedy is hosted in an upstairs room in a CBD pub, and consists of 7-8 acts. They’re well paced so if one comedian isn’t quite your cup of tea, the next one will be up shortly. It’s a good value night out – just don’t sit in the front two rows if you’re from Britain, New Zealand, or from my show experience, Coburg. Other well-known comedy options include The Comic’s Lounge, The Butterfly Club, and the annual International Comedy Festival if you’re visiting in April.

From Kings of Comedy to Kings of Leon, Melbourne also has a vibrant music scene. From a packed festival schedule during the summer (including the renowned Rainbow Serpent and Falls Festival amongst others) to one-off gigs big and small, it’s worth keeping your ear to the ground for musical events. You’ll likely come across a free copy of Beat Magazine (often given out around stations) which will highlight some upcoming concerts and tours, and the usual websites such as Ticketmaster are a one-stop shop too. A tip: look out for musical events going on in Melbourne around the time of festivals going on elsewhere in Australia – this year, a few of the biggest acts from Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass also played in Melbourne before or after the festival.

Needless to say, Melbourne is also a great night out. It’s difficult to be able to recommend key spots as there will be nights to suit every taste, but in general, Sydney Road (Brunswick), Brunswick Street (Fitzroy), Chapel Street (South Yarra) and the CBD are good night haunts. From a few civilised drinks on the rooftop of Fitzroy’s Naked for Satan to dancing all weekend in Chapel Street’s Revolver Upstairs (lovingly known as Revs – not to be confused with the UK’s Revolutions chain…), you’ll find something to tickle your fancy. I’d recommend exploring rather than sticking to the same area, as there are many quirky watering holes, chilling your wine as we speak, just waiting to be discovered.

Ready for a night out in Fitzroy

Wining, dining and everything in between

No trip to Melbourne would be complete without eating far too much and drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee. I thought I was into coffee having come from London, but the Melbourne offering is enough to make a coffee snob of even the most occasional drinker. There are cafés for days all over the city, with only one Starbucks to be found. Hurrah. Cafés tend to advertise which coffee producer they serve – look out for places serving Padre, Industry Beans and Seven Seeds. The Industry Beans cafe and roastery in Fitzroy, and the Seven Seeds equivalent in Carlton, are definitely worth a visit for a mean brunch as well as an excellent cup of coffee.

Coffee and brunch with Vic at Seven Seeds

When I arrived in Melbourne I noticed a bit of a trend here; that even the smallest and most unassuming of cafés tend to offer cracking food. Brunch is ever popular, with set menus, bottomless offerings and enough food options to keep you deciding until the following Sunday. A few of my favourites (and believe me, if nothing else I’ve certainly indulged in brunch here…) are Journeyman on Chapel Street, Top Paddock in Church Street, Archie’s on Gertrude Street and Alimentari on Brunswick Street.

Coffee and hotcake (Google, and then order, it) requirements met, the lunch and dinner scene in Melbourne is just as extensive. Lazerpig in Collingwood, aside from winning points for the name, does arguably the best pizza in the city. Milk the Cow in Carlton is a great cheese and wine place with tasty food accompaniments if you’re feeling fancy. There are hundreds of places in Chinatown that offer cheap, cheerful and delicious meals – my favourite being the Empress of China for their $7 dumpling feast. It’s also worth noting that dietary requirements are well catered for, with a number of alternative menu options, or entire restaurants that specialise accordingly – such as the delicious vegan spot Smith & Daughter in Fitzroy. On top of this, there’s good pub grub, some 24-hour food joints that don’t just serve kebabs, and tasty stalls for on-the-go fuel that pop up around the city. Suffice to say; if you go hungry in Melbourne, you’ve done it wrong.

An evening at Milk the Cow

So there you have it. I’ve had a fantastic four months eating and drinking (and thankfully walking, to compensate) my way around Melbourne. It’s quirky, fun and beautiful – with something for both city bods and those more comfortable in greener surrounds. It’s a city that has a new place in my heart and I’ll certainly be back. In the meantime, someone keep watch over Melbs for me – and have my fair share of brunch.

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today in this city: lost count, but it’s certainly been varied. Fellow backpackers, Aussies from the countryside, immigrants from all over the world doing all manner of things – and perhaps a disproportionate number of ‘interesting’ locals on Chapel Street.

Interaction was: more often than not, one to remember for reasons of pure confusion – based either on my accent or theirs.

One Woman and her Backpack x

Follow me on Instagram @ellielfield

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