Monumental Melbourne

By Monique Balvert-O'Connor

A trip to Phillip Island to see the little penguins come ashore is a treat for both children and their parents. Photo / Visions of Victoria
A trip to Phillip Island to see the little penguins come ashore is a treat for both children and their parents. Photo / Visions of Victoria

The prison door clangs shut, leaving my 11-year-old son locked away in the dark. Serves him right, I think.

His 15-year-old brother had dared him to misbehave during the Watch House Experience at Melbourne's old gaol. It was a challenge he couldn't resist and, much to his older brother's delight, he got caught. Now he has to do the time.

I daren't laugh, as the charge sergeant isn't the kind to show mercy. Verbal abuse and cavity searches - just our mouths - yes, but mercy, no.

The Watch House Experience is an interactive performance held daily in Melbourne and we're the criminals.

It's one of the added extras at the Old Melbourne Gaol - along with things like a candlelight Hangman's Night Tour.

We'd already toured the gaol, dating back to the 1840s, the place where 135 people, including iconic bushranger Ned Kelly, were hanged. After trying on a replica of Ned's famous suit of armour, and digesting many a sombre story, our boys are keen to linger even longer and take part in the Watch House action.

We all love it.

So much so, that the three sons holidaying with us decide by unanimous decree that the whole gaol experience is right up there on their "best-things-to-do-in-Melbourne" list.

This ranking is no mean feat as there is just so much family fun to be had in this bustling, cosmopolitan city.

During our four days in Melbourne we've visited the zoo where the baby tiger and elephant were real stars, the aquarium that is the city's main tourist attraction, and the museum where I could have stayed for hours lost in the personal stories shared at the Titanic Artefact Exhibition.

While I was stuck back in history, the boys were in today's multimedia world. In Federation Square they found innovative exhibits and interactive experiences at the techno wonderland that is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

We've toured the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground, where my boys were stunned to learn the MCG cricket club has 100,000 members with a waiting list of 200,000. Get your children on the waiting list as newborns, and they may gain membership by the time they leave school. Such morsels of information, and the chance to actually put their feet on the hallowed ground, made this well worth itinerary inclusion.

We'd already gained a bird's eye view of the MCG when we ascended high above the city within the Eureka Tower. The tower's Skydeck88 comes with impressive credentials as the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere, within the world's tallest residential building.

Our guide allays any fears about how the building copes in high winds by informing that two 300,000 litre water tanks on level 90 and 91 prevent any excess swaying.

This tower offers more than a viewing deck. Picture a glass-bottomed horizontal lift inching its way out, way up high - very, very high. The Edge experience involves a glass cube which projects 3m out of the building, 300m up, and for a few extra dollars you get to be in it. It's unforgettably scary.

But, it was a full day's excursion out to Phillip Island that was highest ranking on our children's list of favourites. It's pretty hard not to be enchanted by the parade of little penguins as they scuttle at dusk from the ocean to their beds in the dunes.

It was a magical finale to a day - organised by tour company Go West Tours - that also included a wine-tasting stop, a visit to a koala conservation centre, and a view and taste Phillip Island Chocolate Factory experience. The life-size chocolate statue of Michaelangelo's David and the world's largest chocolate mosaic wowed us all. We made chocolates and ate chocolates.

In fact, gastronomically gorgeous food is a major ingredient in the family-fun equation in this hugely multi-cultural city. We feasted at Queen Victoria Market, in the city's historic and hugely atmospheric laneways, in China Town, in the Greek precinct, and of course Lygon St where the Italian options overwhelm. It was fortifying and fabulous, but we're not quite sated - after four days in Melbourne, we know we'll be back for another bite.


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