When it comes to cracking sports events, no one plays host quite as well as Australia, writes Bonnie Jansen
Australia does sport better than New Zealand does.
Okay, maybe not when it comes to rugby union, but hear me out. I’d be the last person to hype up the Aussies, especially when it comes to sport. Most Kiwis feel the same – it’s a general unspoken rule. But credit where credit’s due: my action-packed, sports-focused weekend across the Ditch was game-changing.
Their primo and well-thought-out transport-to-stadium set-up altered my opinion of the place. Along with their sheer scale and variety of sporting arenas and the community feel, the competition and the camaraderie along with everything else you can do outside the sporting action.
Melbourne: Cricket and flea markets
I touched down in Melbourne on a Friday night, and realised I’d landed in a sports fan’s city of dreams.
The famous Melbourne trams were packed to the brim with tens of thousands of footy–mad fans headed for the equally famous Melbourne Cricket Ground – which we’ll get to shortly.
Locals said it was a “chilly” Melbourne evening – though for a Kiwi, it felt more like T-shirt weather. Locals were wrapped in branded scarves and beanies for the derby between Carlton and Collingwood.
It was my type of paradise.
After checking in to Le Meridien hotel it was off to one of Melbourne’s new favourite restaurants, ALT. Pasta Bar. A short walk and a tram ride and we were there. Although all the other incredible looking, smelling, and chocka places we passed on the way would have sufficed, I’m glad we settled for this place, nestled on one of Melbourne’s side streets.
Good wine, local ingredients, fresh seafood (and a great soundtrack) and I was sold. A happy Kiwi and ready to move to this place.
Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
Melbourne has pulled out of hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games but maybe the answer was just centralising it more, diverting it from the regions to the already set-up city. The opening ceremony was set to be hosted at Melbourne Park – a place I grew up dreaming of visiting.
The place boasts success – and so it should. Let me paint the picture for you: The Melbourne Cricket Ground is the centrepiece – the biggest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere with a 100,000-person capacity. To its right, over the tram tracks, is Melbourne Rectangular Stadium where they host a lot of football and league, and next to that is a gigantic tennis arena, home to the Australian Open in January each year. This city caters to a variety of codes and the best part? It’s right on your doorstep. A handy walk, tram, bus, or train ride from just about anywhere in the city.
The spectacle of the MCG was distinctly designed by cricket heads, for cricket heads. It’s structured by rich traditions but has modernised, and the best part is that it’s not exclusively for cricket. It’s been revolutionalised for hosting events such as the 1956 Summer Olympics, the 2006 Commonwealth Games and two Cricket World Cups: 1992 and 2015. It can also do concerts – most recently Ed Sheeran, which saw more than 215,000 people attend across two nights.
The tour of the ground is a must-do. There are museums, shops, libraries and interactive experiences – like attempting to jump the distance achieved there by former Commonwealth Games record-holders. A lady called Moira (I’d guess in her 80s), led a group of about 20 around, proudly showing off her “home”. The memories, statistics and events rolled off her tongue passionately. I sat in the grandstand a moment to take it in and imagined reliving those experiences.
The walls of the stadium halls are replete with records dating back decades, iconic key moments you forgot happened, and pictures of the people behind the grounds. I must confess, my heart tore a little seeing they were almost all male achievements, male fixtures and male staff. And it certainly didn’t help that Moira said when her brothers were born her father added them on to the waiting list to become a club member – typically with a wait time of more than two decades. He couldn’t add Moira to the list because she was a girl.
But it was good to hear how the place had diversified and developed over time to be more inclusive to women. Further in the tour we heard about female firsts and record-breaking women’s AFL games and cricket matches, with the promise of many more in the near future.
And happily, Moira did go on to become a member as women were eventually admitted in the 1980s, almost 130 years after the MCG opened.
I had been told to take binoculars to the Bledisloe Cup match we attended there that evening because the place is enormous. However I didn’t feel I needed them. It was absolute scenes; regardless of being a little further back from the field than usual, it still felt intimate and electric. And though the stadium knew how to put on a show so did the All Blacks, whose fans appeared to outnumber the host’s. It really must be true how many Kiwis have settled in Melbourne.
Leaving the stadium on a brisk Melbourne night – choosing the 20-minute walk option back to the hotel over the highly popular 10-minute tram ride – I was already planning my next trip back to Melbourne Park. It’ll be January, for the Australian Open.
Queen Victoria Markets
The sporting side of my two nights in Melbourne was the highlight for me, but there’s so much more to the place – with shopping and dining near the top of my list.
I’m unashamedly obsessed with the Queen Victoria Markets, and my one complaint for the entire trip was not having long enough there. Perhaps no amount of time would ever be enough. With the diverse smells, tastes, cultures and shockingly low prices, I was hooked. During the Ultimate Foodie Tour, you’re treated like a royal. Most stalls stop you to say “hey” and offer a taste of their finest produce - from truffle cheese to fresh oysters, octopus and perfectly cooked kangaroo (which I still can’t believe I ate and enjoyed). In fact, my second complaint (my own fault) was leaving with a too-full tummy; everything was simply too mouthwatering to resist.
I just loved Melbourne. It has everything you need and so much you didn’t know you needed. The city knows how to host sport, yet has so much substance to go with it - colour, intriguing street artwork, and a thrilling busyness. The little bars, funky restaurants and eateries we walked past were so inviting, I want to go back and tick each of them off.
Brisbane is a winner for Olympic holidays
Less than 48 hours into the trip, I was happy, complete, and feeling I’d already won – but the game wasn’t over. Brisbane wanted a turn to strut its stuff.
Unlike the world-champion Spanish football team in Palmerston North, you could never be bored in this city. There is such a variety of things to do.
After touching down we headed straight for the iconic Brisbane river, which runs through the city. We jumped on a kayak and headed upstream – really getting an intimate sense of what the place had to offer.
As we paddled along, I gazed at the humble, yet beautiful bars and restaurants over-spilling with people. The City Cat commuter ferries were rushing by and locals along the riverside were out for a late afternoon run or family stroll as the scorching mid-winter heat mellowed. I leaned back in my kayak and took it all in. Modern skyrises reflected the stunning sunset and I soaked up proper sun on my face for the first time since before Christmas.
I guess Aussies do know how to DIY after all, because that’s what they’ve done in South Bank on the river’s edge. Lack of beaches in a city? No worries, just plop one right in the middle. And it’s actually really cool.
Opposite South Bank, a development that looks like it’s come from a different planet is being built. The $3.6 billion Queen’s Wharf is set to transform Brisbane. We got a look inside the plans for the integrated resort, opening in 2024, and its hopes to create a vibrant new tourism playground within the CBD.
The stunning mix of heritage and contemporary architecture will maximise Brisbane’s yearly 300+ days of sunshine, with dining, entertainment and recreation options to suit every taste and budget. A sure tourist attraction and destination for 2032.
But I was ready for the main event: a Fifa Women’s World Cup group match. Masses of people were out for the event. We walked past South Bank Beach – set up as the city’s tournament fan zone – and it was flooded with crowds.
Walking along the river towards the stadium that evening, I got a new perspective of the city. It was dark now, and the place was lit up like the Sky Tower on steroids, colourful and classy.
Then we reached what I think is the coolest street in Queensland, Caxton St. The precinct stands because of its diversity of nightclubs, pubs and restaurants – but also the atmosphere it brings on a match day. Caxton St is Brisbane’s burgeoning place to be seen.
The famous street flows into Suncorp Stadium like a river; a well-set-up path to the stadium that suggests Brisbane can keep up with Melbourne on the sporting front.
Unlike the MCG, Brisbane’s stadium is compact – its rectangular layout is built for football codes, meaning fans enjoy an intimate setting, very close to the pitch.
Again, Australians know how to do sport – and how to appreciate it. They get into it no matter who’s playing. Our match was Nigeria against Ireland, with nothing at stake. At the same time the Matildas – the Aussie team – were playing a crucial game in Melbourne. However, it didn’t stop 25,000 fans from showing up and supporting the visitors, and being genuinely hooked.
Of course, Brisbane does have natural beaches. In fact, some of the best in the world are just a short ferry ride away. Stradbroke, Coohiemudlo and Bribie to name a few. We went over to Tangalooma Island Resort (on Moreton Island, a 75-minute ferry trip). Go for the day or stay for a while; the opportunities are endless.
The resort calls its jewel “nature’s theme park where amazing natural encounters are just part of the everyday experience”. Guests can go whale-watching, on quad-bike tours, desert safaris with sand tobogganing or snorkel the Tangalooma Wrecks.
I’d never been on a helicopter before, so when I was told that was on the agenda, there was a mix of nerves and excitement. But as soon as we got above the island, I was immediately at peace, enjoying a view I would likely never see again.
Turtles, shipwrecks, world-class natural sand dunes, and... whales! The highlight of the trip hands-down. A mum and its calf floated along as we watched from the sky in awe.
But what stood out to me about Tangalooma was the peacefulness you have at your fingertips.
Visiting the island re-emphasised that the Aussies really do have it all. Because whatever drives your trip across the Ditch – whether the buzz of major sports events or the beauty of the isolated outdoors – you will find it there.