the best of southeast australia - detailed itinerary

Sydney Blue Mountains Yarra Valley Mornington Peninsula Great Ocean Road Melbourne
  Sydney Blue Mountains Yarra Valley Mornington Peninsula Great Ocean Road Melbourne

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Day 1 - Sydney
Consistently voted the top destination in the world, Sydney is just about everyone?s favorite city. After all, with spectacular scenery, friendly people, great restaurants, and world-class attractions, what?s not to like?

Start your visit at Sydney?s heart -- the Rocks. The first British convicts arrived here in 1788 and it was they who undertook the hard labor of developing the area.

Today, it?s the most historic section of the city, and one of the most colorful. There?s a 140-stall market here on weekends with top-quality crafts. And it?s a pleasure strolling the narrow, cobbled lanes any time of the day or night.

Like Seattle, Sydney is best seen from the deck of a ferry. And there are ferries going everywhere. So make one of your first stops the Rocks Visitors? Centre in the Penrhyn House. On the corner of Argyle and Playfair, the Visitors? Centre sells travel passes that provide unlimited transportation on Sydney?s ferries and buses.

Being able to bypass the ticket lines and just hop on is a great convenience. If you purchase a pass, be sure to get a map so you?ll know which bus to take where.

Near the Visitors? Centre, Cadman?s Cottage is the oldest surviving building in Sydney. Built in 1816 as a barracks for coxswains, the structure now houses the Sydney Harbor National Park Information Centre.

Walk up Argyle Street to Playfair Street and you?ll come to the Argyle Department Store. The building still contains the original beams, floorboards, and sandstone from its opening in 1828. Today, it?s one of Australia?s leading retailers.

Further up Argyle Street is the Sydney Observatory. For a closer look at the Southern sky, attend a night viewing here. You?ll need to make reservations in advance.

Walk down Playfair Street, bear right on George around the triangle, then walk down to the waterfront. From here, you?ll probably get your first good look at the Opera House, and if you?ve got a pulse, we guarantee it will quicken at the sight.

Also on the waterfront, Campbell Storehouses, which originally dates from 1839, have been remodeled and now house several appealing restaurants, most with wonderful views of the Opera House. Check out the menus to see where you?d like to have dinner one night.

Continue along Hickson Road to Dawes Point Park, the city?s original defensive outpost established in 1788. From here, you?ll have great views of the Harbour Bridge and the giant clown face of Luna Park, an amusement park built in the 1930s.

The Harbour Bridge, also known as the "coathanger" provided jobs for 1,400 workers during the Depression. Completed in 1932, it spans 1,650 feet. Walking across the bridge takes about an hour and provides unbeatable views of the city.

The truly adventurous can climb to the top of the bridge, wearing a specially designed harness. Day and night excursions are available. But advance booking is essential.

If you don?t want to walk or climb the bridge, visit the Pylon Lookout. It?s reached by the Harbour Bridge pedestrian walkway off Cumberland Street.

After you?ve toured the bridge, walk back down Hickson Street to Circular Quay ("key") West. The Overseas Passenger Terminal, where cruise ships berth, will be on your left. Keep an eye out for the QE II and other luxury liners who call at Sydney throughout the year.

Past the passenger terminal on your right is the Museum of Contemporary Art. If you?re an art lover and time permits, tour the museum before lunch. In addition to a permanent collection containing works by Warhol, Hockney, Lichtenstein, and other modern masters, the museum hosts temporary exhibits. The shop on the ground floor is a great place to find unusual gifts.

When it?s time for lunch, the MCA Fish Café in the museum is one of the best restaurants in town. Line-caught fish is a specialty. Or there are dozens of restaurants along Circular Quay.

After lunch, stroll the Writers? Walk to the Opera House. Plaques along the route include quotations from authors about Australia. There?s a lively market here on Sundays.

Seeing the Opera House for the first time is like seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Only more so. Simultaneously familiar and foreign, it?s exactly what you expect it to be. And not at all what you expect it to be.

In any case, it?s marvelous, and you?ll come away feeling that no single structure has ever defined a city more.

Built on what has to be the most spectacular piece of real estate in the universe, the Opera House took 14 years to build, in a process that became so political that the architect -- Denmark?s Jorn Utzon -- has not set foot in the finished structure.

The Opera House is much more than just that. The building is a performing arts complex housing a 2,700-seat concert hall, and two smaller theaters in addition to the opera theater. To see the inside -- which you should -- you?ll need to take a tour. These last about an hour and are very interesting.

If you?re interested in attending a performance, book well in advance. Or check at the box office while you?re here to see if anything?s available during your stay.

Once you?ve toured the Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens are behind it at the base of Bennelong Point. Strolling through the 75-acre park is a delight and you?ll see many exotics found only in Australia. Walk out to Mrs. Macquarie?s Chair for take-your-breath-away views across the harbour.

When it?s time to get off your feet, head back to Circular Quay, find a place that strikes your fancy, and have something cold to drink.

Tonight, pace yourself and have dinner in the Rocks. Sailor?s Thai has delicious Thai food and is a great bargain. It has a small balcony with four or five tables overlooking the Quay. Boulder?s at the Rocks in the Russell Hotel is a charming spot with nouvelle Australian cuisine. We enjoyed grilled chicken with prosciutto, spinach, and balsamic vinegar, Thai green curry chicken, and Tasmanian salmon.

After dinner, there?s plenty of nightlife in the Rocks, if you?re game. Several of Sydney?s oldest pubs, including the Australian on Cumberland Street, the Hero of Waterloo on Lower Fort Street, and the Lord Nelson Brewery on Kent Street.

The Lord Nelson is especially convenient for a drink after an evening visit to the Sydney Observatory.

There?s live music of all kind in the Rocks at night. Just follow your ears to whatever appeals.

Day 2
If the weather?s fine this morning, and chances are it will be, get out on a Sydney ferry and head for the Taronga Zoo. Take your bathing suit along if there?s a swim in your future.

The ferry leaves from Circular Quay Wharf 2 and takes about 15 minutes. It?s indescribably scenic and the fresh sea air is really invigorating. The main entrance to the zoo is a way from the ferry dock, but connecting buses will take up you the steep hill.

There?s no zoo in the world whose views can compete with this one. Panoramas that include the Opera House and Harbour Bridge are around every corner, so take lots of film.

The zoo has more than 400 species, many indigenous to Australia. Highlights include the $3.8 million Gorilla Forest; Koala Encounter, where you can have your picture taken with the shy marsupials several times a day; Australian Walkabout, where you?ll see kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and a host of other local critters; and the Orangutan Rainforest.

When you?re through at the zoo, take the local bus to Balmoral Beach. One of Sydney?s most affluent suburbs, Balmoral has a well-manicured park, a pleasant esplanade, and a lovely beach. There are several wonderful places for lunch here.

If you?re in the mood for a splurge, have lunch at the Bather?s Pavilion. Its casual, but elegant dining room opens right onto the beach. The food is fabulous and there?s not a better location in Sydney. The attached café is less expensive.

On the same strip, Watermark also offers great views and seafood. For something more casual, try the Balmoral Boatshed Kiosk.

After lunch, you can swim at the public beach or stroll along the Esplanade. Though Manly and Bondi are better known and more popular, Balmoral is one of Sydney?s best. The trees here are filled with cockatoos, and the Victorian homes are worth rubbernecking to see.

Take the bus back to the ferry dock and return to Sydney whenever you?re ready.

From Circular Quay, a brief walk up Phillip Street will take you to the Museum of Sydney. The first Government House was built here in 1788 and archaeologists discovered its remains in 1983. The museum opened in 1995 and tells the history of the city with objects and documents from the Aboriginal culture to the present day.

High-tech, interactive exhibits make this museum more interesting than many of its ilk. The museum store is very good. And when you?re ready to quit for the day, the terrace at the MOS café is a pleasant spot for a drink.

Head back to your hotel and freshen up before dinner.

If you?re up for another trip on the water, take the 40-minute ferry to Manly Beach. It?s an unforgettable ride at sunset. Manly?s main drag ?? the Corso ?? is lined with cafes, surf shops, and tacky souvenir stands between the ferry dock and the beach.

There are plenty of places to eat here -- Brazil is a good choice. And strolling the beachfront promenade with its Norfolk pines is a great way to observe Aussie beach culture first hand. You can return to Sydney by JetCat in 15 minutes.

Those who prefer to stay closer to town will enjoy the Wharf Restaurant on Pier 4, bel mondo in the Argyle Deprtament Store, or Rockpool across from the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Sydney has lots of options for theater goers. The best sources of information are the Friday "Metro" section of the Morning Herald and the Wednesday "7 Days" section of the Daily Telegraph. The Belvoir Street Theatre is arguably the best theater in the country. And the Wharf Theater at the end of Pier 4 is as much an attraction as its productions.

Jazz fans should head for the Basement on Reisby Street.

Day 3
This morning, hop on a ferry for Darling Harbor. This will take you under the Harbour Bridge and show you another part of Sydney. Get off at the Sydney Aquarium on Cockle Bay.

If you got up and out early, cross the Pyrmont pedestrian bridge and walk down Pyrmont Bridge Road to the Sydney Fish Market. The second largest fish market in the world -- only Tokyo?s is bigger -- it?s a hive of early morning activity as buyers, sellers, fleets, and boats all converge in a frenzy of trading.

Those who prefer to sleep in can visit the market later in the day for picnic supplies. Prepared seafood here is the freshest and cheapest in town and there are a couple of nearby parks on Blackwattle Bay.

Back on Cockle Bay, the National Maritime Museum is a good stop for seafarers of all sorts. Inside the museum, there are lots of exhibits detailing Australia?s maritime history, including displays of luxury liners, hydroplanes, and Aboriginal boats.

Outside, there are 12 historic vessels on display -- everything from a cutter dating from 1888 to an Oberon class submarine. Boaters will likely enjoy this museum a lot.

On the other side of the Pyrmont pedestrian bridge, the Sydney Aquarium is a must for everyone. More than 600 species are displayed here in three floating oceanariums. There are interactive displays like the "touch pond," seal feedings a couple of times a day, and a wonderful Great Barrier Reef exhibit.

The indisputable highlight is the underwater tunnel that allows you to walk under and beside sharks, giant rays, and schools of fish. It?s just like walking on the ocean floor.

Ampersand -- one of Sydney?s best restaurants -- is next door. But you?ll have a hard time getting in without reservations. There are dozens of restaurants in the Harbourside Festival Marketplace, the shopping complex opened to complement the convention center.

After lunch, walk along Darling Drive to the Powerhouse Museum. Located in what was once the power station for Sydney?s tram line, this museum is a must for anyone with an interest in science and technology. There are more than 100 interactive exhibits and displays of steam engines, helicopter precursors, a life-size NASA habitation module, and the world?s only joint Soviet, Chinese, Australian, and American space exhibit.

By now, you?re probably pooped. If you fancy a pint after your tour, pop into the Pumphouse Brewery Tavern on Little Pier Street. When you?re ready, you can take a high-speed ferry from the Aquarium back to Circular Quay or hop on the Sydney Explorer Bus from the Powerhouse Museum.

For dinner, find a restaurant in Campbell?s Storehouse then stroll along the waterfront admiring the lights. Or take a harbor cruise.

Day 4 Sydney
The day is yours to do whatever you enjoy and haven?t done yet. Sydney has some of Australia?s best museums, so if you?re interested in art, visit the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the Domain, once the private park of Sydney?s governor. Those interested in natural history should explore the Australian Museum across from Hyde Park where there are exhibits devoted to Australia?s unique prehistory, botany, biology, and culture.

Architecture buffs will enjoy a stroll down Macquarie Street. Start at the neo Tudor-Gothic Land Titles Office which dates from 1908. Next, you?ll past the Georgian sandstone Hyde Park Barracks, built in 1817. The Mint has a two-story double colonnade, as does the Parliament House. Sydney Hospital has arched, sandstone bridges attaching the wards. The State Library of New South Wales features a classical portico.

Shoppers have several areas to choose from. Downtown, the Queen Victoria Building was refurbished nearly 100 years after opening at a cost of $75 million. This is one of the most beautiful places you?ll ever shop and with 200 stores, you?ll likely find whatever you?re looking for.

Just up George Street, the Strand Arcade is another beautiful complex dating from the turn of the century.

David Jones, and Myers are the leading department stores.

Antique lovers should head for Paddington, particularly on Saturdays when more than 250 stalls cram the church yard on busy Oxford Street. When you?re through, you?ll enjoy a stroll past the gingerbread houses of this gentrified suburb.

Sun worshippers can take the Bondi & Bay Explorer bus to Bondi Beach for the day. Once you?re there, if you?d like to do more than just bask, there?s a good cliff-top walking track to Coogee Beach. The views -- and the people watching -- are great and it?s about a 2-hour walk each way.

Golfers will find dozens of courses in the area that welcome visitors. Or for something uniquely Australian, attend a cricket match. The season runs from October through March.

However you spend your day, be sure to enjoy Sydney?s magnificent natural beauty and good-natured charm.

For your last night here, splurge and dine at Guillaume at Bennelong in the Sydney Opera House. The food, the service, and the setting are unsurpassed.

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Day 5 - Blue Mountains
There are several ways to get to the Blue Mountains, depending on how independent you want to be. Trains leave Sydney?s Central Station for Katoomba, the main gateway to the Blue Mountains, almost every hour.

The trip takes about two hours. If you take the train, you?ll be able to get around the area via the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus, which stops at 18 attractions on an hourly basis. You can hop on and off at waterfalls, scenic overviews, or bushwalks as you see fit.

For the ultimate in flexibility, rent a car. To reach the Blue Mountains, take the M4 to Lapstone and then take the Great Western Highway. The trip takes about an hour and a half.

Frequently enshrouded in a blue mist created from oils released by the eucalyptus trees, the Blue Mountains are Sydneysiders? favorite getaway. At 3,000 ft., they provide a cool escape from the heat of summer and there have been summer homes and fashionable resorts here since the turn of the century.

Today, the area offers cafes, antique stores, and galleries in addition to natural beauty.

With it?s tumbling waterfalls, fresh mountain air, and unique flora and fauna, Blue Mountains National Park is a paradise for hikers and adventurers, and there are wonderful scenic drives for the semi-sedentary.

The first town you?ll come to in the mountains is Glenbrook. There?s an outstanding Visitor?s Center here, or you can wait and stop at Wentworth Falls or Echo Point.

The Norman Lindsay Gallery and Museum in Faulconbridge exhibits the work of one of Australia?s best known artists. His stone cottage and gardens are lovely, making this a pleasant stop even if you?re not a fan of the artist?s over-the-top style, which is kind of a cross between Rubens and Conan the Barbarian.

Five-time Prime Minister of New South Wales Sir Henry Parkes is buried in Faulconbridge Cemetery.

Several miles up the road, you?ll come to Wentworth Falls. Here, you?ll find Yester Grand, a nicely restored Victorian house and garden once owned by the Premier of New South Wales. Built in 1870, the house features beautiful views of Mount Solitary and Sublime Point from the verandah.

Wentworth Falls Lake is a pleasant spot for a picnic. But most people come here to see the waterfalls. In addition to the falls for which the town is named -- which cascade 935 feet into the valley -- Queens Cascade, Empress Falls, Sylvia Falls, Lodor Falls, and Vera Falls are also in the area.

Those interested in hiking to the falls can get information about hiking tracks at the Conservation Hut, which is operated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There?s a pleasant café in the hut, and the Valley of the Waters Walk leaves from there.

The next town after Wentworth Falls is Leura, a pretty village that retains much of its 1920s charm. The shady main street is lined with stylish galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. And there are several attractive gardens here.

The Everglades Gardens are a National Trust property three and a half miles from Leura. Created in the 1930s for the founder of Feltex, Everglades contains an arboretum, an alpine garden, rhododendrons, and formal terraces.

Leuralla is an art deco mansion with an impressive art collection at the bottom end of the Leura Mall, the Blue Mountain?s most fashionable area.

Hikers can walk to Sublime Point Lookout for unforgetable views -- and photos -- of the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley. Many regard this as the finest lookout in the Blue Mountains. The walk takes about half an hour. Aboriginal legend claims the sisters were turned to stone by their father to save them from an ogre.

The spectaculary scenic Cliff Drive will take you to Echo Point, where you?ll find the Blue Mountains Tourism office which is another good place for information. You can pick up a map and the Blue Mountains Pocket Guide here.

For a different view of the Three Sisters cross Echo Pont Road. These honey-colored formations were created by millions of years of erosion and they?re one of the park?s most photographed sights.

There are several good walking tracks from here, including the Giant Stairway which descends 1,000 feet into the valley on steps carved from the rock. You?ll pass Katoomba Falls on the way. Plan on two or three hours for this hike. If you get tired, you can take the scenic railway back to the top.

West of Echo Point is Katoomba, the largest town in the Blue Mountains. When it?s time for lunch, there are several good restaurants here, including Lindsay?s, and the art deco Paragon Café which is one of the finest 1930s "milk bars" still in existence.

Tea at Lilianfels, which is served in the garden, is a Blue Mountains institution. If you?re not staying here, consider coming for tea one afternoon.

After lunch, go for a hike, take a bike ride, or explore the town of Katoomba. The Scenic Railway and Scenic Skyway are here. The former, designed to transport coal miners to the Jamison Valley, is the world?s steepest railroad. It travels at a nerve-jangling 50-degree incline.

From the base, it?s a short walk to the bottom of Katoomba Falls.

The Skyway, or cable car, is a must-do. Built in 1958, it was the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The six minute roundtrip travels almost 1,000 feet above the valley floor. You?ll see Katoomba Falls and Orphan Rock en route.

Also in Katoomba, an IMAX theater shows a film about the Blue Mountains called, The Edge. Our advice is to see the park, not the movie of the park.

When it?s time to call it a day, one of the best views in the Blue Mountains is from the terrace of the Hydro Majestic Hotel built in Medford Baths in 1904. A drink here at sunset couldn?t be more pleasant.

All that exercise and fresh, mountain air will likely give you a tremendous appetite. Thankfully, dining is one of the pleasures of a getaway here and there are several great restaurants in the area to choose from.

Cleopatra?s in Blackheath is the best in the Blue Mountains, and according to American Express, the best in western New South Wales. Darley?s at Lilianfels has won dozens of awards for its food and exceptional wine list. And Silks Brasserie in Leura was admitted to the American Express Hall of Fame in 1999.

The Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls, and Leura Cascades are all floodlit at night, so a visit to Katoomba after dinner will give you a different look at these scenic highlights.

Day 6 - Blue Mountains
Have breakfast at your hotel this morning and spend the day enjoying the area however you please. The drive from Lithgow back to Sydney takes about two hours, so plan your time accordingly.

There are a couple of good walks from Blackheath. You can climb one of the Three Brothers for sensational views, or hike the Cliff Walk from Evan?s Lookout to Govetts Leap. The 90-minute walk will reward you with views of the Grose Valley and Bridal Veil Falls, the highest in the Blue Mountains.

You can get information from the Heritage Centre on Govetts Leap Road.

Also in Blackheath, the Rhododendron Garden in Bacchante Street has more than 1,500 of the flowering shurbs. An annual festival is held here each November. There are also some interesting buildings in town, including the Railway Station (1883), St Aidan?s Church of England (1884), and the Post Office (1910).

Architecture buffs will also enjoy Mt. Victoria, a National Trust town with many historic properties, including the Toll Keeper?s Cottage (1849), the Bank Building (1885), the Victoria Police Station (1887), the Library (1875), and the Victoria and Albert Guest House (1878).

History buffs should visit the villages of Hartley and Little Hartley. Bypassed by the railroad in 1869, the towns remain little changed since their development between 1830 and 1860. Today, Hartley is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Highlights include the Hartley Court House (1837), St. Bernard?s Church (1848), and the Royal (1849).

Those interested in caves and natural history should plan to visit the Jenolan Caves. The drive here, which crosses the Great Dividing Range at 4,100 ft. is one of the most impressive in New South Wales. The road follows a river before leading drivers through the Grand Arch, the largest open cave in Australia.

The limestone caves were discovered around 1840 when an escaped convict who was using the cavern as his lair led a lawman there. Of the 22 major caves here, nine can be toured. The caves, which were formed in a 300-million-year-old limestone deposit, feature incredible stalactites, stalagmites, rivers, and ponds.

There are also several good bushwalks in the area.

From the Jenolan Caves, return to the Great Western Road at Hartley and head west to Lithgow, where you can pick up the Bells Line of Road. If time permits, there are several wonderful gardens between here and Sydney.

Mount Wilson, 5 miles off the Bells Line of Road, is a pretty village with some of the best English-style, cold-climate gardens in Australia. The gardens are best in spring and fall and to see them, simply stroll along "the" Avenue, Church Avenue, or Queen?s Avenue. During the two seasons, many of the residents open their gardens -- some of which are more than 100 years old -- to the public.

A few miles up Bells Line of Road, the Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens are an annex of the Royal Botanic Gardens, established to house plants that could not survive in the Sydney?s coastal climate. Cool-climate species from all over the world -- including the Himalayas -- are displayed here.

Continue on Bells Line of Road back toward Sydney and follow the signs to Sydney Airport. Turn you rental car in at the airport, then take the shuttle to your airport hotel. This will greatly simplify your life in the morning when you fly to Melbourne.

Tonight, have dinner at your hotel and turn in early so you?ll be rested for your flight tomorrow.

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Day 7 - Yarra Valley
This morning, transfer to the airport for the 90-minute flight to Melbourne. Since you?ll return to Melbourne at the end of your trip, you?ll bypass the city this time. Pick up your rental car at the airport and head for the Yarra Valley.

Nestled at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges, the Yarra Valley is just a one- hour drive from Melbourne. Blessed with wonderful scenery, world-class wineries, charming antique stores, and delightful inns and restaurants, the Yarra Valley is one of Australia?s most appealing regions.

The car rental agency can give you directions to Lilydale, which serves as the unofficial capital of the valley. Those interested in the history of the region should visit the Lilydale Museum, which contains an exhibit about opera diva Dame Nellie Melba, who grew up here. Originally the old Shire Offices, the building dates from 1889.

The three main towns in the Yarra Valley -- Lilydale, Healesville, and Yarra Glen -- are connected by the Melba Highway, the Maroondah Highway, and Myers Creek Road. The three roads inside that triangle -- Healesville Yarra Glen Road, Old Healesville Road, and Chum Creek Road -- will take you most anywhere you want to go, and distances between villages are short.

Most visitors are lured here by food and wine, not necessarily in that order. There are more than 40 wineries here, most of which offer daily tastings. You could easily spend days sampling Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Methode Champenoise sparkling wines at the vineyards here. So pace yourself, or leave the driving to someone else and take a wine tour.

The Visitor Information Center in the Old Court House in Healesville can give you touring and tasting details, and an area map. Foodies can get information about the Yarra Valley Regional Food Trail, a self-guided tour visiting 75 of the region?s finest purveyors of bread, cheese, chocolate, fruit, and nuts.

When it?s time for lunch, several of the wineries have terrific restaurants. DeBortoli, Eyton on Yarra, Fergusson, Kellybrook, Lillydale, Lovey?s, and Yarra Burn each have charming places to dine, most with wonderful views. For beer lovers, Lovey?s has the area?s only microbrewery.

Another delightful lunch option is the Yarra Valley Dairy in Coldstream -- a must for cheese lovers. Exotic French- and Italian-style cheeses like Persian Feta, Chevre, and Grabetto are made on site and served in the 100-year-old milking shed. Smoked trout, Tasmanian salmon, and smoked chicken round out the menu, and the dairy serves many of the best local wines.

Be sure to save room for dessert with Yarra Valley Clotted Cream.

You can spend the afternoon visiting the Yarra Valley wineries, exploring the galleries and craft shops of Olinda and Sassafras, or strolling the region?s magnificent gardens. Even those who aren?t interested in wine should visit Domaine Chandon?s Green Point vineyards outside Coldstream.

Owned by legendary champagne house Moet & Chandon, Domaine Chandon creates some of the country?s finest bubbly from the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown here. Some 80,000 visitors a year take the tour and enjoy a glass -- or bottle -- of sparkling wine in the spectacular Green Point Room, which offers breathtaking views of the vineyards and Great Dividing Range.

If you prefer exploring the great outdoors, you?ll find six of Melbourne?s eight "Great Gardens" and six national and state parks and forests here.

The National Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda is a beautiful spot any time of the year. There are nearly 30,000 rhododendron, azaleas, and camellias on the 103 acres here and there?s a pleasant two-mile walking path through the park.

The William Ricketts Sanctuary features the artist?s sculptures placed throughout the fern gullies and ash forests of the 33-acre estate. Other lovely gardens in the area include Pirianda Garden in Olinda, the Alfred Nicholas Gardens and the George Tindale Gardens in Sherbrooke and the R. J. Hamer Arboretum outside Olinda.

For those who prefer to hike in more natural surroundings, there are great trails throughout Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Ranges National Parks. Steavenson?s Falls Scenic Reserve outside Marysville offers several trails to the waterfall, the highest in Victoria. You can hand-feed the possums here if you?re so inclined.

Bicyclists will enjoy the Warburton Rail Trail which follows the old train tracks from Lilydale to Warburton. On the stretch from Lilydale to Mt. Evelyn, you?ll likely see kangaroos along the way.

For dinner this evening, try one of the Olinda?s charming cafes or the dining room at the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel, or, if it?s the weekend, dine at one of the wineries.

For something completely different, take an evening bushwalk in search of gliders, wallabies, and wombats with Ecoadventures.

In any case, turn in early so you can be up before the dawn.

Day 8 - Yarra Valley
Get up and out early this morning for one of the highlights of any visit to the Yarra Valley -- a sunrise balloon flight. You?ll drift above the vineyards along the edge of the Dandenong Ranges before landing at one of the wineries for a champagne breakfast.

It?s an unforgettable way to experience the stunning natural beauty of the Yarra Valley.

If you prefer to stay grounded, sleep in and take the Puffing Billy -- a 100-year-old steam train -- via narrow-gauge railway from Belgrave to Emerald Lake. Their "Luncheon Special" seats you in a restored turn-of-the-century dining car for the three-and-a-half hour trip. You can choose from several lunch "hampers."

There are several departures on weekdays, so if you don?t want to take the Luncheon Special, you can assemble a picnic, spend the day at Emerald Lake and return on one of the later trains. In any case, you?ll travel over trestles and bridges through magnificent scenery.

Animal lovers should head to the Healesville Sanctuary where you can see more than 200 species of Australian birds, mammals, and reptiles in their natural setting. Paths take you through the bushland, past wallabies, kangaroos, emus, dingos, koalas, and wombats. You can even walk under platypus as they swim overhead.

For anyone interested in Australian wildlife, this is a must-see. The sanctuary has breeding programs for more than 20 threatened species, and it provides care for more than 1,000 injured or abandoned animals each year.

When it?s time for lunch, try the Yarra Valley Pasta Shop, just outside Healesville. In addition to terrific pasta, they offer seared scampi, antipasto, and risotto.

Gulf Station outside Yarra Glen is another interesting stop. Managed by the National Trust, the farm was established in 1847. The slab-timber buildings here are the best surviving examples in the area, and the complex provides an accurate recreation of a 19th-century farm.

Antique lovers should head for the HCP Antique Emporium which has more than 30 dealers under one roof. And golfers can tee off at the Olinda Golf Course.

For dinner tonight, splurge at Eleonore?s Restaurant at Chateau Yering. Specialities include Quail Dumplings in coconut curry, Chateaubriand, and Squab.

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Day 9 - Mornington Peninsula
This morning, head back toward Melbourne and take the Nepean Highway down the Mornington Peninsula. A favorite weekend getaway for Victoria?s city dwellers, the Mornington Peninsula has great beaches, charming resort towns, beautiful golf courses, scenic walking tracks, water sports, wineries, and historic estates.

There are beaches on both sides of the Peninsula. The calm, sandy stretches on Port Phillip Bay are suitable for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. The Pacific coast is rugged and good for surfing and tide-pooling. But take care swimming here -- undertow and riptides make it dangerous for novices and professionals alike.

The Peninsula is blessed with lovely accommodations. And it?s small enough that you can base yourself almost anywhere and still see and do everything that interests you.

The first town you?ll come to along Port Phillip Bay is Frankston, which marks the end of Melbourne?s suburbs. The next town is Mount Eliza, which sits high on a bluff overlooking Canadian Bay.

If you?re ready to stretch your legs, Mt. Eliza Regional Park has a circular walking trail that offers great sea views. The roundtrip is a little over a mile.

There are also several antique stores and specialty shops in the village.

Mornington is the largest town on the Peninsula, and there?s lots to see and do there. The main street branches off the Nepean Highway and follows the coastline to Schnapper Point where there?s a jetty, a boat launch and a yacht club. There?s a boat rental shop here if you?d like to get out on the water.

If you?re lucky enough to be here on a Wednesday, don?t miss the open-air market on Main Street. If you?re here on the second Sunday of the month, there?s a market at the Mornington Racecourse.

One of Victoria?s 16 regional galleries, the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery exhibits the work of Sir William Dobell, Sir Russell Drysdale, and Fred Williams. The gallery sells a booklet outlining a self-drive tour of the Peninsula, stopping at viewpoints painted by the gallery?s artists.

Wine lovers should head inland to Moorooduc, where Ermes Estate, Stumpy Gully, Barak Estate, Mornington Vineyards Estates, and Moorooduc Estate offer tastings on weekends.

Also in Moorooduc, TV World Media Museum (formerly Studio City) is a television, cinema, and pop culture museum and working studio.

Not far from Moorooduc, Tyabb is the antique center of the Peninsula, and the Tyabb Packing House offers Australia?s largest collection of antiques. More than 40 dealers occupy the 50,000-square-foot warehouse, and there are ten other stores along the Frankston-Flinders Road and the Mornington-Tyabb Road.

South of Mornington, Mount Martha is an affluent vacation resort with beautiful views from its 500-foot summit.

Mt. Martha Park, reached by following the Esplanade past Martha Point, has several nice walks. And there's a trail along Balcombe Creek following the estuary through the wetlands.

Those interested in history and architecture will enjoy the Briars Historic Park, an estate dating from 1848. You can tour the home, which is noted for the treasures given to the Balcombe family by Napolean, and stroll the woods and wetlands.

When it?s time for lunch, you?ll have no trouble finding everything from fish and chip shops to four-star restaurants en route.

Dromana, one of the most popular resorts on the Peninsula, is the gateway to Arthurs Seat State Park. Arthurs Seat towers 1,000 feet above the bay and provides spectacular views of the entire area. The hardy can climb the two-and-three-quarter mile trail to the summit.

A less strenuous alternative is to take the chair lift or drive up Arthurs Seat Road. However you get there, check out the panorama from the Old Viewing Tower, built in 1934.

There?s a restaurant and wine bar a little further down the road.

Garden lovers and those who?d like to take a stroll should continue down Purves Road to Seawinds, an estate with beautiful ornamental gardens. The walk through the grounds offers sensational views; on clear days, you can see Mount Dandenong, the Great Dividing Range, and the Melbourne Skyline.

Across from Seawinds, the Arthurs Seat Maze has several theme gardens, a huge hedge maze, and some incredible topiary.

In Dromana, Hickinbotham and Domana Estate are open daily for tastings. Karina Vineyard is open on weekends.

Heronswood, a Gothic Revival mansion built in 1871, is proclaimed by the National Trust as being "of national architectural importance."

If you?re ready to hit the beach, Safety Beach -- off Point Nepean Road -- has good swimming, a boat club, and a walking path. And you can rent boats and windsurfers at Dromana Pier.

Rosebud is the gateway to Cape Schanck and Mornington Peninsula National Park, the most popular in Victoria. Both of the parks have wonderful walking trails and unforgettable scenery.

The 68-ft. Cape Schanck Lighthouse, built in 1859, is well worth a detour, and there?s an interesting lighthouse museum on the property.

The best short coastal walk in the area leads to a secluded beach at Bushrangers Bay. Three miles from the Long Point Road turnoff, the path is about three miles roundtrip.

Bird lovers should visit Greens Bush, also reached by Long Point Road, opposite the lighthouse turnoff. Honeyeaters, parrots, kites, and wedge-tailed eagles can be seen in the bush here.

On the bay side of the peninsula, there are popular beaches at Gunnamatta, St. Andrews, Rye, and McCrae.

Sorrento, near the western end of the Peninsula, is one of the most fashionable resorts in the area. Chances are, you can arrange almost anything you?d like to do from here.

The Pier has fishing charters, dolphin-watching, and dolphin-swim cruises, as well as sightseeing cruises. The town has several historic limestone buildings. And there are several good walking tracks, including the Coastal Walk, which can be accessed from 30 points between Sorrento and London Bridge.

There?s also an aquarium where you can hand-feed the seals.

At the tip of the Peninsula, Portsea is famous for its beautiful, crescent beaches. The strip of land becomes so narrow here that the pleasant bayside beaches are a mere stone?s throw from the wild, ocean coast. Nowhere else on the Peninsula is it so easy to enjoy both.

Stately 19th-century mansions and gardens reveal Portsea?s history as a playground for Melbourne?s wealthy.

One of the highlights of the area is London Bridge, a natural rock arch formed by the action of the waves. You can drive there or walk from Portsea Back Beach.

Phillip Island, which can be reached by bridge from the Peninsula is famous for the Fairy Penguin "parade" that takes place nightly at dusk. The smallest species of penguin -- just about a foot tall -- the Fairies emerge from the sea and waddle across the beach to their rookery as lots of tourists watch from behind fences.

During the summer, this is one of the most popular attractions in Australia, so if you?d like to see it, advance reservations are essential. Phillip also has one of the largest colonies of fur seals in the world. As many as 7,000 can be found at Seal Rocks at the island?s western end.

As you?d expect of a holiday resort, there?s no shortage of great restaurants on the peninsula. Arthurs, atop Arthurs Seat, has a fine dining room and a less expensive wine bistro, both with wonderful views.

Poff?s, in the Red Hill wine district, won the American Express award for Best Restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula in both 1998 and 2000. Dine on the verandah or on the patio.

Those interested in nightlife will find plenty of options in Portsea.

Day 10 - Mornington Peninsula
The day is yours to do whatever you please. There are dozens of ways to enjoy the water here. Snorkel and dive trips are available from Portsea. Sport fishing charters leave daily from Sorrento Pier. And Bay Connections offers seal-watching cruises, also from Sorrento.

You can rent windsurfers, aqua bikes, and canoes at the Portsea Jetty.

For something really special, you can swim among the wild bottlenose dolphins in Port Phillip Bay. Polperro Dolphin Swims departs daily from Sorrento Pier at 8:30AM and 1:30PM, taking small groups into the bay to snorkel among the graceful, fun-loving mammals.

Golfers can choose from 16 courses, most with sweeping views of the sea.

With more than 150 boutique vineyards on the Peninsula, wine lovers will enjoy exploring the Moorooduc, Merricks North, Balnarring, Dromana, Merricks, Main Ridge, and Red Hill Regions.

Antiquers could easily spend a day puttering around Tyabb. Hikers will find wonderful trails in the area?s National Parks. And shoppers will enjoy the stylish boutiques of Sorrento and Portsea.

No matter how you spend the day, you?ll understand why Melbourners have been coming here since the turn of the century to enjoy the sun and sea.

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Day 11 - The Great Ocean Road
Drive to Sorrento this morning for the ferry across the narrow passage (the "rip") separating the Mornington Peninsula from the Bellarine Peninsula. Ferries depart every hour, on the hour, starting at 7AM. The crossing takes about 40 minutes and it?s very scenic. You?ll see the cliff top mansions of Portsea, and dolphins and seals are often sighted.

You?ll disembark in Queenscliff, which was founded in 1838. This pretty resort town has three grand hotels dating from the 19th century the Queenscliff, the Vue Grand, and the Ozone.

From Queenscliff, drive to the twin towns of Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, which are separated by the Barwon River estuary. There are several popular, safe swimming beaches here.

Continue on to the Surfcoast Highway and turn left, headed for Torquay, the "Surf Capital of Australia." Those interested in surfing should visit the Surfworld Museum in Surf Coast Plaza. With surfboards dating back to 1915, a surfing hall of fame, and interactive videos, it?s a fun stop for surfers and beach lovers of all ages.

Modelled after the resort town on the English Riviera, Torquay marks the start of the Great Ocean Road, Australia?s most spectacular coastal drive.

The road was built between 1919 and 1932 as a memorial to the Australian soldiers who died in World War I and as a public works project for those who returned home and needed employment.

Mile markers -- measuring the distance from Melbourne -- are posted every kilometer along the south side of the road. They?re handy for finding waterfalls, rainforests and other hidden treasures.

Torquay has a pretty esplanade and several popular beaches. Bell?s Beach, at mile marker 108, is one of the most famous surfing beaches in the country. And it?s a doozy. It?s hosted the Australian National Surfing Championships since 1961.

If the surf?s up, you?ll be impressed.

When it?s time for lunch, try one of the cafes along Torquay?s Esplanade.

The next town south of Torquay is Anglesea, best known for the mob of kangaroos who?ve made their home on the local golf course. You can see them by driving up to the overlook on the west side of town.

The Splint Point Lighthouse in nearby Aireys Inlet was built in 1891 following the sinking of the Joseph Scammell. It offers great views of the coast, but it?s said to be haunted.

The Bark Hut here is a recreation of a homestead dating from 1857.

The Angahook Lorne State Forest begins at mile marker 128 and continues for ten miles along the Great Ocean Road. As the road winds toward Lorne, there are several scenic turnouts en route. Cinema Point, the highest point on the road, and Big Hill are great for photos.

The Tourist Information Office in Lorne -- just east of the Cumberland Resort -- has maps and brochures with information on sights along the road.

Though it?s only 25 miles, the drive from here to Apollo Bay takes more than an hour. If time permits, you can visit Erskine Falls outside Lorne before starting the drive.

The road twists and turns, hugging the coast and revealing one spectacular view after another.

When you arrive in Apollo Bay, stop by the Visitor?s Information Centre on Apollo Bay Foreshore. It?s the best one along the Great Ocean Road and you can get information on just about everything in the area there.

Once you?re settled into your hotel, take a stroll through the town, visit the Old Cable Museum, hit the beach, or have something cool to drink at one of Apollo Bay?s cafes.

The local crayfish, abalone, and lobster fleets ensure you?ll have no trouble finding fresh seafood for dinner. For outstanding food with a Mediterranean influence, try Chris?s Beacon Point Restaurant on Skenes Creek Road.

The same family of restaurateurs owns the Sea Grape Wine Bar and Grill in Apollo Bay. Pisces on the Park specializes in fresh seafood and beautiful views.

After dinner, you can take a bushwalk through the rainforest to see the local glow worms.

Day 12 - The Great Ocean Road
Get an early start this morning so you can enjoy several detours along the way. And if you manage to get up and out really early, you?ll learn that Apollo Bay has some of the most fantastic sunrises in the world.

As you leave Apollo Bay, the road heads inland and enters the Otway Ranges. The first temptation en route is the Maits Rest Rainforest Walk, which will take you about half an hour. There?s a car park off the road, and the well-marked path takes you into the verdant hillsides.

A couple miles south at mile marker 205 is the turnoff for the Cape Otway Lighthouse. Built by convicts in 1848, the lighthouse operated without interruption for nearly 150 years before being turned off in 1994. Tours start at 9AM daily.

From Cape Otway, the road ascends and descends, passing farms and homesteads before cresting at Lavers Hill, the gateway to Melba Gully State Park.

You can take a 90-minute side trip to Triplet Falls or enjoy one of the walking trails in Melba Gully.

South of Lavers Hill, at mile marker 250, Moonlight Head is the highest coastal cliff in Australia. The views are spectacular and there?s a shipwreck trail marker. So many ships ran amok here that the stretch between here and Nelson is known as the Shipwreck Coast.

The road rejoins the coast at Princetown, not far from Port Campbell National Park. The Park is the highlight of the Great Ocean Road, so be sure to allow enough time here.

Your first stop should be Gibsons Steps at mile marker 273. Walk down the steps to a beautiful beach with breathtaking views of the Twelve Apostles. The huge limestone "stacks" are one of the most photographed attractions in Australia, so make sure you have plenty of film. Some are over 200 feet high.

If you?d like to view them from a different angle, you can take a 15-minute helicopter flight from Port Campbell.

There?s an information center at the Twelve Apostles that can provide you with information about the Port Campbell Discovery Walk and other trails in the park.

Two miles up the road, you?ll come to Loch Ard Gorge, named for the most famous of the ships wrecked here. Those interested in the maritime history of the area should visit the Loch Ard Shipwreck Museum here.

Port Campbell is the main town here and there?s an excellent lookout and an interesting cemetery there. Just outside town, there are several good stops -- Two Mile Bay at mile marker 287, The Arch at 290 and London Bridge at 291.

In 1990, a hunk of London Bridge, a natural arch formed by the waves, broke away, leaving a couple stranded on the remaining stanchion. The road was rerouted because of the erosion.

Two miles away is the Grotto, another popular stop that provides many wonderful photo ops.

You?ll pass several scenic coves -- the Bay of Martyrs, the Bay of Islands, Crofts Bay and Boat Bay -- between Port Campbell and Warrnambool, the large port at the western end of the Great Ocean Road.

Known as Victoria?s "Southern Right Whale Nursery," the waters off Warrnambool are where the whales come to calve and raise their young before returning to Antartica. Because the whales come within yards of the shore, there?s no need to take a cruise -- they can be seen from the viewing platform at Logan?s Beach.

If you?re here between June and October, be sure to visit the lookout before continuing on twenty minutes to Port Fairy, a charming little harbor town.

Once you settle into your hotel, take a stroll through the town. If the Visitor?s Center on Bank Street is still open, you can pick up a brochure outlining historic walks through the village which has more then 50 National Trust designated buildings.

There are dozens of restaurants in Port Fairy, serving everything from pizza to haute cuisine. The restaurants at Dublin House or the Merrijig Inn are especially good.

Day 13 - Port Fairy
Port Fairy is one of the most delightful, relaxing spots anywhere, so spend the day doing whatever you please.

Architecture and history buffs will have a field day strolling the town?s lanes and appreciating the many churches, homes, and stores dating from the 1850s. Among the best are the Colonial Bank, Seacombe House, Mott?s Cottage, Emoh, John Mills Cottage, and the Star of the West Hotel.

Divers can explore the area?s history from another angle. There are dive trips to the Thistle, which sank offshore in 1849.

Golfers will enjoy the 18-hole Port Fairy Golf Club, right at the ocean?s edge. Birders should walk to Griffiths Island where there?s a large colony of mutton birds.

If you?ve always wanted to surf, but never learned how, Easy Rider Surf School offers a two-hour lesson. It doesn?t take any special talent to enjoy Port Fairy?s beaches on your own. They?re safe for swimming and very popular.

A walk down the wharf is a must for any visitor. If you?re a fisher, you?re in luck. One of the largest commercial fleets on the coast is based here. You can take a cruise to see whales or dolphins, or charter a boat for a half or full day of fishing. Shark is a frequent catch here.

Antiquers will find several shops in the village. And there are also some nice galleries and craft stores.

Whatever you choose to do, relax, unwind and enjoy the salt air.

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Day 14 - Melbourne
This morning, return to Melbourne via the Princes Highway, which you can pick up outside Warrnambool. The drive back to Melbourne takes about three-and-a-half hours, and there?s not a lot to see en route.

When you arrive in Melbourne, return your rental car and transfer to your hotel.

Unlike Sydney, Melbourne doesn?t have lots of attractions you really must see -- the city itself is the attraction.

If Sydney is like San Francisco, Melbourne is like Boston. It?s a little bit more conservative, a little more status conscience, and a little more traditional. Not that you?d know it wandering down trendy St. Kilda or Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.

The city owes its prosperous good looks to the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Thousands of British flocked here to find their fortunes, and the city is proud that its founding fathers were adventurers and not convicts.

It?s also proud to be the nation?s food, finance, and fashion leader. Australia?s best restaurants, best designers, and best shopping are all found here. So be sure to leave time for shopping.

Melbourne is always at the top of every "most livable city in the world" survey. It has a huge ethnic population. In fact, only Athens has more Greeks than Melbourne, so it?s terrific for those who enjoy ethnic food.

One of the great joys of Melbourne is its transportation system. The city has one of the few remaining tram networks in the country. More than 700 of them connect the city and its suburbs. Just as appealing as San Francisco?s cable cars, the trams should be a part of any Melbourne adventure.

If time permits, hop on the City Circle Tram for a quick orientation. This free service circles the central city, commonly known as the Central Business District (CBD), with trams running in both directions. You can get on and off at any of the stops, or stay on for the 40-minute loop.

Another good way to get oriented is to go to the Observation Deck on the 55th floor of the Rialto Towers. The 360-degree view of Melbourne and the surrounding suburbs is worth the effort.

For dinner tonight, if you want Greek, head for Lonsdale Street. Chinatown has all kinds of Asian food. And Southbank, on the south side of the Yarra River, has several good restaurants, most with views of the river and CBD.

Try Mecca for sophisticated Middle Eastern food, Blakes for award-winning, inventive cusine, or Scusa Mi, where the views from the balcony are as appealing as the Italian food.

Melbourne has a lively pub scene, and those with a strong constitution can "crawl" their way across the CBD. Start at the Elms Family at Spring and Little Lonsdale, and end at Young & Jackson?s, across from Flinder?s Street Station, stopping at the Exford, Bridie O?Reilley?s and the Duke of Wellington along the way.

Comedy is very popular in Melbourne, and if you?d like to see a first-rate comedian or zany performance troop, there are usually several options.

Day 15 - Melbourne
Start your day at the Queen Victoria Market between Elizabeth, Therry, Peel, and Victoria Streets on the northern edge of town. The market covers 17 acres and has about 1,000 stalls. You?ll find everything here from fruit and vegetables to tacky souvenirs.

It?s a great spot to pick up breakfast. We liked the "American" donuts, which were similar to beignets from Café du Monde in New Orleans.

If you?re lucky enough to be here on Sunday, there?s a good arts and crafts market outside the Arts Centre along the Yarra.

For a survey course in the city?s architecture, walk along Swanston Street down to Flinders. It?s car-free the whole way. At Victoria Street, you?ll see the Edwardian City Baths (1903) which have been beautifully restored. The colorful, contemporary building nearby is the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

The classical building with the octagonal dome is the State Library and Museum of Victoria.

On the other side of Swanston, the glass domed building is Melbourne Central, a popular shopping center.

The bluestone building with one tower is the Melbourne Town Hall which was completed in 1870, though the portico was added in 1887. St . Paul?s Cathedral was built in the Gothic Revival style in 1866. It?s worth popping inside to see the beautiful altar screen and organ.

Young and Jackson?s is a 19th-century hotel protected by the National Trust. There?s a popular pub inside. Flinders Street Station, built in 1910, is the city?s busiest rail station and a popular meeting place.

Two of Melbourne?s most beautiful shopping spots are just around the corner. The Royal Arcade on Elizabeth Street, the city?s first, was originally built in 1869. The present mix of shops is a little odd, but its worth venturing inside to see the statues of Gog and Magog on either side of Gaunt?s Clock. The figures are modeled after originals in London?s Guild Hall.

The Block Arcade on Collins Street, opened in 1892. The Arcade was renovated in 1988 and is now overseen by the National Trust. The domed ceiling and mosaic floors make this one worth visiting.

The smaller streets around here -- Little Collins and Little Bourke Street are lined with cute shops and cafes where you can have lunch.

Laurent Boulangerie and Patisserie is the spot for pastries or dessert.

The Bourke Street Mall is home to Melbourne?s leading department stores, Myer and the sprawling David Jones, where everything you?re looking for seems to be in a different building.

If you?re interested in attending a performance, the Half-Tix Kiosk is also on Bourke Street Mall. It sells day-of-performance tickets to many of Melbourne?s venues at a discount. "Melbourne Events" provides a monthly listing of everything that?s going on.

This afternoon, spend a little time on the Yarra. There are four bridges from the CBD spanning the river. You can take an hour and fifteen minute cruise from the northern end of Princes Bridge. You?ll pass some of Melbourne?s most luxurious homes and gardens.

Another alternative is to rent a bike and enjoy the 12-mile Yarra Bike Path that winds along the river. You can ride to the Fairfield Boat House and rent a punt for exploring the Yarra on your own.

If you didn?t visit the Maritime Museum in Sydney, consider visiting the Melbourne Maritime Museum where the Polly Woodside, a restored iron barque dating from 1885 is docked on the south bank of the Yarra. And if you missed the Aquarium in Sydney, Melbourne?s new one is good too.

This evening, take a tram to St. Kilda for dinner. The ride?s all part of the fun and you?ll pass cute Victorian cottages along the way.

Fitzroy Street has the largest concentration of restaurants in the city, many of which have tables along the sidewalk. We had a wonderful meals at Café DiStasio and Felix, but there are literally dozens of great places to eat here, so take your pick.

After dinner, you can take a tram or cab it back to town.

Those who can?t get enough of trams can dine in one dating from 1927. The Colonial Tramcar treats diners to white-linen service and a five-course dinner while plying the streets of Melbourne. Dinners are very popular, so advance booking is essential.

Day 16 - Melbourne
Spend the day doing whatever you please in Melbourne. There?s lots for garden lovers to see and do here. With more than 12,000 species on 100,000 acres, the Royal Botanic Gardens are the best in the country. Within the Botanic Gardens and the adjoining Kings Domain are the Shrine of Remembrance, the Italianate Government House, La Trobe?s Cottage, and Ornamental Lake.

It?s a lovely place for a stroll or a bike ride. As is Fitzroy Gardens behind the Parliament House. St. Patrick?s Cathedral nearby has been refurbished and it?s a beautiful example of Gothic Revival.

The Melbourne Museum complex opened in Carlton Gardens in October 2000. In addition to traveling exhibits, the museum has permanent displays regarding Aboriginal culture, a living forest, the human body, and evolution.

Also in Carlton Gardens, the Royal Exhibition Building, completed in 1880 for Melbourne?s first International Exhibition, is a stunner. The opulent interior has been painstakingly restored, and it?s a wonderful example of Victorian splendor. The hall hosts various exhibits throughout the year, such as the Royal Flower and Garden Show in April.

When there?s no exhibition, the building is open for public tours daily at 2PM.

Rippon Lea is a magnificent old Victorian mansion five miles from downtown. You can get there by tram or bus. Built between 1868 and 1903, the 33-room house sits on 13 beautifully landscaped acres of gardens. This is a lovely spot in the afternoon and tea is served in the garden.

Shoppers can spend all day in the stores of the CBD. Those looking for the latest styles and trends can take a tram to Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, where piercing parlors alternate with trend-setting boutiques.

Lygon Street in Carlton specializes in Italian imports. Lots of designers have set up shop on Chapel Street. Ackland Street in St. Kilda has a casual, beach-town ambience and great bakeries. And Toorak Road is where you?ll find the Melbourne outposts of famous international labels.

Melbourne is a city of sports fanatics, and no sport engenders more fanaticism here than cricket -- a sport that?s completely incomprehensible to everyone but British colonials. The season runs from October through March, and if you have the chance to see a match, it will provide you with a unique experience. Off season, you can tour the 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground, which is one of the most hallowed playing fields in the sport.

For your last night in Melbourne, try Donovan?s, a St. Kilda Beach House; Flower Drum, a Chinese restaurant voted Best Restaurant 2001 for the umpteenth time; or Marchetti?s Latin for world-class Italian.

If you have any energy left over, have a nightcap at Walter?s Wine Bar in Southbank and enjoy one last view of Melbourne?s twinkling lights.

Day 17
Transfer to the airport for your flight home or onward.

Images of The Blue Mountains and Melbourne courtesy of Virtual Australia.