My three-year-old daughter and I are walking towards the big malls and department stores in Melbourne's CBD. Along the Yarra River, we watch a man dressed in a business suit whistling while swinging his legs in the murky brown water - leather shoes on and trouser legs wet. In the bright morning sun, his shiny black briefcase sits close-by on the wharf and he gives us a wave and smile.
It's then we decide to give the chain stores a miss and head out in search of the kind of shopping locals love and that showcase what's so special about Melbourne - the unexpected. With the help of my Melbourne friend Emily and her three patient boys, we found great markets, many only available over summer. All had shopping you can't find back home, as well as plenty of entertainment for the kids and a way to make the most of the sunshine.
Mathilda's Market is on every couple of months. The Christmas one was at the Caulfield Racecourse and is the biggest of the year with more than 100 stallholders.
As we pull up outside the Caulfield Racecourse, well-dressed mums race each other faster than the horses would to the entrance. We're given a free bag to hold our purchases and the kids are given a quick makeover - hair plaited and glittered, nails painted, faces covered in butterfly wings. The market is full of beautiful handmade items, many of which can usually only be found online. Beautifully handcrafted childrenswear can be found next to wooden toys and personalised pop-up play-rooms. It's fun for parents and children and full of unique presents at great prices.
Magnolia Square Market
Check the website for dates and venues around Melbourne.
Long-gone are the days when anyone could be a market stallholder. These days, many markets are curated market places, showcasing unique products and independent designers and artists. Magnolia Square has everything from jewellery and vintage children's books to women's shoes and home furnishings. Stallholders make their stands as beautiful as their products; keep your eyes out for We Heart Books, selling handpicked children's books for the young and the young at heart.
The Esplanade Market, St Kilda
Every Sunday 10am-5pm since 1970. Upper Esplanade, St Kilda.
For more traditional market trading, the Esplanade Markets are in front of Luna Park and the famous Palais Theatre, as well as near St Kilda Sea Baths. Head there for brunch on the beach, or make it a day trip and enjoy the cake shops of Acland Rd. Stalls sell tourist items such as Aboriginal crafts, as well as local artworks.
Every Sunday 10am-5pm at Waterfront City/New Quay Promenade.
Like many dockland areas around the world, this district leaves you feeling the concept hasn't quite worked. A half-finished ferris wheel sits behind an outlet shopping centre where you can finish shopping after a breeze through the markets along the waterfront. It has few traders but the ones who are there are friendly and sell interesting items - secondhand designer childrenswear or collectable model cars are being sold to the sounds of And I love Her by the Beatles played on an old Melbourne-made Wertheim piano, while a woman blows bubbles as the children dance nearby.
In The Atrium and BMW Edge theatre at Federation Square, Cnr Flinders & Swanston Sts.
This was the most crowded market we visited and the stallholders here put as much effort into their outfits as they do to the beautiful illustrative and decorative-based design products they sell, including clocks made from vinyl records and necklaces made with small colourful pencils. It's a biannual event where you can shop, as well as meet and talk with the designers. Well worth a look, just hold your children's hands tightly - it's a busy place.
Queen Victoria Market and Suzuki Night Market
Corner of Victoria and Elizabeth Sts. Queen Victoria Markets are open from 6am Mon-Sat and from 9am-4pm on Sundays. Suzuki Night Market is held on Wednesdays during summer from 5.30pm to 10pm.
The Queen Victoria Markets are a mix of food produce and market goods such as locally made clothing and jewellery, as well as cheap toys and AFL memorabilia. This has been the most famous open-air market in Melbourne for 130 years. Head down at 6am to see the hustle and bustle of market-trading at first light. On Wednesday evenings during summer, the Suzuki Night Markets are held and offer hawker-style food stalls producing everything from traditional African curries through to the sweetest honey dumplings. A new self-guided Queen Victoria Market heritage trail is also now available as a free downloadable map from the website.
Bend and Snap
Last Sunday of every month, 11am-4pm. 361 Little Lonsdale Street.
This quirky-cuty little market is tucked away in a side street in the city centre and named after the pick-up move with a "98 per cent success rate of getting a man's attention" from the movie Legally Blonde. It's in a warehouse space and filled with handmade items you won't find anywhere else - such as illustrations of the band The White Stripes and little brown bags labelled "mix tapes" with four homemade badges inside. Ella Fitzgerald sings Blue Skies in the background as dreamy stallholders hope for a sale. On the way out, you'll get a "lucky dip" compilation CD to take home. You get the feeling this is a way of life for the market people, rather than just a way to make some extra money.
Where to stay:
When you're travelling with children, the hotel room is almost as big an event as the sightseeing. After a hard day's shopping, it was a relief to head back to the Melbourne Langham to watch the photographers and stylists rushing around with long-stemmed pink roses in the lobby before our trip in the gold lift to our room, where we ordered bowls of popcorn, hot chocolate and cookies for in-house movie nights. Waking early, we took dips in the pool overlooking the Flinders St Station as it welcomed and farewelled trains. One early morning, we watched as four yellow hot-air balloons drifted past in the distance and rowers raced along the Yarra.
Dining at the Melbourne Langham was unforgettable. A Little All Stars Children's Tiffin Morning Tea is served in the Aria Bar & Lounge with bowling and basketball cookies, tennis cupcakes, chocolate cricket bats and mini football party pies. Open-kitchen breakfasts with chocolate towers and a cheerful chef making pancakes, dramatically flipping them on to our plates, helped make this perfect. My daughter snuggled a teddy bear wearing Langham pyjamas for the plane trip home. She couldn't wait to tell her brother and dad about our amazing "new home".
Melbourne's Top 5
Craig Martin of Premium Travel Auckland shares his top tips on things to do in Melbourne:
1. Go to the Yarra Valley Dairy and grab a can of their amazing marinated feta. You can even bring some home with you.
2. Have a Pimms at Madame Brussels, a unique rooftop bar near Princess Theatre. It used to be a brothel and has a secret passage leading to the state parliament. The floor is covered with astro turf and filled with funky garden furniture.
3. Have a moving dining experience on board The Tramcar Restaurant. Relax with a delicious meal as Melbourne passes by the window.
4. Ride in a hot air balloon over the Yarra Valley for stunning views. If you have time, stop off at the vineyards for a delicious lunch afterwards.
5. Head to the Crown Casino for a taste of Melbourne's nightlife. From restaurants and bars to having a bit of a gamble, you won't be disappointed.
For more information on travelling to Melbourne, contact Craig and the team at Premium Travel Auckland on 0800 22 87 46 or email email@example.com
Find out more at Australia.com