Qantas 37 – Melbourne to Wellington and the spaces between

I’m on the flight between Melbourne and Wellington (unfortunately I don’t think they call it Melly, so I can’t say Melly to Welly), catching up on the Big Bang Theory, reviewing my week just past, planning the week ahead, and considering the Melbourne experience.

Travel writers love to compare Wellington to San Francisco. And Wellingtonian’s love to tell me that “I’d love Melbourne — it’s the Wellington of Australia.”

So somehow I pictured Melbourne looking like Wellington and San Francisco. It doesn’t. It’s flat.

In fact, it’s not like Wellington or San Francisco at all. Welly and SF are both unmistakably themselves — they may remind you of other places, but you could never be in either and not know where it was. Melbourne is a chameleon, reminding you of everywhere you have been, hiding itself. It takes a while to see Melbourne, rather than bits of New York, Toronto, Chicago, Wellington, Oakland, San Francisco, St Louis, and all the other cities people said it reminded them of.

But Melbourne is fantastic — not Wellington, but interesting in its own right.

The first thing I noticed is how far the airport is from the city. Wellington is amazing and unusual in that the airport is so near the city centre. Honolulu is the same way. I always forget that most cities aren’t like that.  So it takes a lot of driving on a really boring motorway (Australia seems to specialise in boring motorways) before you see the city.

Old buildings and new buildings side by side in the city centre

The next thing I noticed is how wealthy Melbourne is today and must have been in the 19th century. The buildings are amazing. Every corner brings a new theatre with oriental domes, a church or cathedral, or just another row of gorgeous houses. Melbourne was built off the wealth of the Australian gold rush, and it shows.

The 1920s Forum theatre - we saw a comedy festival show here

Details of the Forum theatre

Apparently this is the largest cathedral in the Southern Hemisphere. Or Australia. My guide had a hard time deciding.

There is still more money in Melboure than Wellington today — both individually, and (due to the larger population), collectively. There are no Louis Vuitton and Chanel shops in New Zealand — we simply don’t have the economy and population to support them. I enjoyed the window shopping, but I’m glad we don’t have the big international designer stores locally.

The fabulous Flinders St Station

Another difference in architecture that massively changes the feel of the city is the materials used. Wellington was leveled by an earthquake in 1840, and much of the rebuild was done in wood. Melbourne is built of stone and brick.

That's Victorian as in 'the state of Victoria', not the era!

On the steps of the Victorian Parliament after a show

I’m biased and love my city best, but I have to admit that Melbourne does do one thing way better than Wellington. I love chai tea, and in Melbourne the chai is real loose-leaf tea (not a nasty sugary syrup) served with steamed milk in darling little teapots, with a tiny pot of honey on the side, and a quirky cup and saucer to pour it in to. So much yummier, so much classier. Cafes of Wellington — take note!

Mmmmm....best chai ever!



  1. Lynne says

    I have many friends who live in Melbourne or who holiday there, and I get a different picture from each one of them. This makes sense in the light of what you say about its reminding you of so many cities. Thank you for the photos – they make it look like a bigger, richer version of what Christchurch used to be!

    • I can see some of Christchurch (or at least what ChCh used to be) in Melbourne – yet another city to compare it too! The Avon is cleaner than the Yarra though.

  2. Ah the Yarra is filthy brown muck isn’t it! It’s a disgrace really. And our beaches are terrible….BUT, I love Melbourne…The way I see my city, for international visitors, I honestly don’t know what draws them here. There’s nothing you can’t get in Europe and we don’t have the natural wonders like the rest of Australia…Melbourne is a city to live in, not visit. Because it’s a *really* great place to live. We have excellent food, great art and culture and a good vibe which is best appreciated if you’re a part of it daily.
    Glad you got some good Chai – we do have places that do that nasty syrup stuff too so you must have struck it lucky.

    I’ve liked your posts on Melbourne’s architecture. So much you don’t really pay attention to when you see it every day. 😀

    • I wasn’t that appalled by the Yarra – I’m sure it has some pollution, but I understand that that type of river tends to have a layer of silt that floats in the water. Not attractive, but still the way nature intended it to be.

      Melbourne may not be a major tourist attraction, but I really enjoyed my visit. I go to places for people, natural beauty, architecture and museums – Melbourne has three out of four for me, so I was happy! Seeing the buildings, meeting you guys, going biking along the river, visiting the NGV, and of course the events – it was brilliant and I’ll be back!

      I had chai at four places, and it was the same thing (and fantastic) every time.

  3. Maire Smith says

    I find marsala chai at most Indian restaurants in Wellington is fine. It’s spiced tea, with or without milk. It’s not chai latte, but it’s rather lovely. And it’s unsweetened, so one can choose how one has it.

    • I do like marsala chai, but it’s not quite the same if you have to go into a proper restaurant instead of a cafe, kwim? Also, they don’t give you honey, and I LOVE tea with honey. Guests to my house quickly find they get offered honey as a sweetener, and if they want sugar I have to do an elaborate rummage round in my cupboards trying to remember where the sugar for tea is.

  4. Lucy says

    Actually, there’s a Louis Vuitton (and possibly a Chanel, too) on lower Queen St in Auckland – though it’s probably a small one by Melbourne standards and I’d imagine is more for the cruise ship visitors than the locals 😉

  5. Love the pic of you in your green shirt pouring tea! You look so beautiful in it! Cute outfit!

    • Thank you! I’m glad that Theresa got pictures of me in that outfit, because I do love how I look in it 😀

  6. One always does love one’s own city best. I feel that SF is the most beautiful city in the world, but in that case I’m pretty sure I’m not biased at all 😉

    • You only feel that way because you haven’t visited Wellington! I have a deep and abiding love for SF myself, but when I first saw Wellington my reaction was “WOW”. Wellington is SF designed by a movie producer – only the fabulous bits!

  7. Tamsyn says

    I’m pretty sure the first photo is the church my great great grandparent s got married in, can you remember the name of it? I’ve never been there myself

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