Tuesday, 24th Aug - Saturday, 31st Dec

The excitement associated with Australia usually has more to do with the crocodiles, snakes, and sharks, than it does with the hotel scene. That may be because the inhabitable percentage of total land mass is the equivalent of my entire family living in the bathroom, while the living, dining, and bedrooms remain unused. Or it may be that Australia hasn't really been acknowledged in the world media since the 2000 Olympics.

Having said that, Australia is underrated as a holiday destination. Melbourne is a sweet town with a vibrant dining scene, quaint shopping, which includes all of the world's fashion dynasties and boutique designers, and a surrounding natural environment of beaches and islands, a short few hours away from Melbourne, all of which offer a pleasing alternative to urban life.

Travellers on a budget are in luck. Melbourne has plenty of backpacker hostels and budget hostel accommodation that are all centrally located. Much of this budget accommodation in Melbourne is centrally located and within walking distance of the free City Circle Tram, an antique version of the very efficient pay-as-you-go tram system that criss-crosses the city at every major intersection, soft as a whisper, frequent, and providing seamless travel throughout the city.

With most of Melbourne’s backpacker hostels and budget accommodation situated on the fringes of the Central Business District, tourists will find Melbourne infinitely walkable. Visitors can walk from the Greek Precinct to China Town, to the "Italian" Lygon Street, to Queen Victoria Market in a matter of minutes.

For those who are not on a budget or wanting to stay with friends in backpacker or hostel accommodation, the Park Hyatt is the town's premier hotel. I enjoyed starting each day at the Park Hyatt with a swim in the 25 metre edgeless aquamarine pool, finishing up with a jacuzzi that overlooks the Melbourne skyline, followed by a sauna or steam. I could have played tennis had I been so inclined, or used the day spa which includes a myriad of treatments, featuring La Prairie and Elemis products, had I had the time to do so. Sadly, duty called far too often for me to avail myself of the number of opportunities for relaxation and so I am unable to report to you the details of a spa experience, except to say that it is small and unassuming and staffed by pleasant, accommodating faces.

The Park Hyatt has a total of 240 rooms, 24 of them suites, and five levels of suites. For those who want to splurge, the Presidential Suite has a commanding position on the 17th Floor of the Park Tower, and is literally nestled amongst the trees with views over the historic buildings of the area and surrounding gardens and parklands. The master suite has two king beds, with gas fireplace, plasma television, extraordinary ensuite, master Italian marble bathroom, oversized custom spa bath with inset television, separate shower and double vanity. There is a separate guest bathroom near the study and a dining room. The living area also features a gas fireplace. There is an executive area of the study that includes a facsimile, CD player, four direct dial telephones and data ports.

In descending order from there, the Ambassador Suite is located in the Park Tower, with separate bedroom and living space, a study area, a dining table for six, gas fireplace, and views overlooking many of the botanic and historic features of the area. The average room size is 165-square metres, quite ample for most needs. The diplomatic suite, smaller at approximately 120-square metres, offers the same amenities, in smaller proportion and is also in the Tower. The Terrace Suite is located in the Cathedral residence and features king accommodation with separate bedroom and living room. There are large outdoor terraces that take in the view of Melbourne’s St Patrick's Cathedral. The average room size is 65-square meters. Lastly, the Park Executive Suites feature the same separation of living space with views of Melbourne’s historic precinct and are similar in size to the Terrace Suites.

For those of you interested in taking in the surrounding natural environment, Phillip Island, home of the Moto Grand Prix, is also home to the famous fairy penguins. The penguin parade – the nightly return of penguins from the sea to their burrows – takes place at night so it is worth booking some accommodation. There are budget accommodation options, including backpacker hostels and budget hostels. Check with the owners, some backpackers and budged hostels will take group bookings so go with friends. A nature-lover tour, with a VIP Twist, includes an escape from the 1500 to 3000 tourists

A little known alternative is the Ultimate Penguin Tour, available only on request and by reservation, which includes sitting on a stunning, secluded beach, and viewing them in their natural environment, under the cover of darkness by night using infra-red binoculars. The cost of the experience is nearly triple that of the en masse touring, $60, but well worth the experience, particularly because all funds go to preserving this threatened environment for their rightful inhabitants, the fairy penguins. And don’t worry, the money splurged on the tour can be saved by opting for budget accommodation.

Back in Melbourne, apart from befriending a local, the best way to see Melbourne’s famous alley-way culture is with Hidden Bar Tours. While the bars are mostly within walking distance of Melbourne’s budget hostels and backpacker accommodation, the bars are so hidden, you wouldn't find them with a map, and they often don’t have signs, or publicly displayed opening hours.

Also within walking distance from Melbourne’s budget hostel accommodation are many theatres and galleries. Melbourne is considered by many to be the cultural heart of Australia, and the many opportunities in this regard combined with a lovely multicultural environment, make a trip to Melbourne well worth the visit.