I spent most of Dec 2006 and a little bit of Jan 2007 in Australia, my wife and I flew into Melbourne on the 9th Dec. It was my first visit and is now my favourite city in Oz. Mebourne is significantly cheaper than Sydney and has a lot more to do than Cairns. A taxi driver told me 4 million people live in and around the city but it didn't have the in your face crowds of Sydney or London and felt a lot more relaxed. One night we ate on the Tram Car restaurnt that tours round the city whilst serving up meals, the food was good considering the size of the kitchen and we had a good banter with the table next to us, the waiters were friendly, the meal and drinks are all inclusive for Aus$100 / £40 so it wasn't even expensive.
A couple of days later we went for a meal at the Flower Drum, which is billed as the best Cantonese restaurant in the southern hemisphere, I have no way to verify the validity of this but the food was fantastic. We booked three months in advance and could only get a thursday night, so book early to avoid disapointment. The highlights of the meal were a waiter arriving to make your peking duck pancakes for you, the steamed oysters and the beef in black bean sauce which melted in the mouth. The only problem is we wont be able to order a chinese take away for months now we are back home.
I met up with and old friend David who I hadn't seen since I was sixteen, he has been living in Melbourne for seven years and graciously he offered to accompany us to a couple of his favourite restaurants. The first was a Japanese restaurant and the second a Vietnamese, the food in both was great and the bill was tiny working out at around £10 a head for lots of food. A lot of the Melbourne restaurants have a BYO licence and a bottle shop nearby, so if you like wine you can afford to spoil yourself a little.
We also took a Tram down to the beach at Port Melbourne and took a boat down the Yarra river to Williamstown both trips were pleasant if not eventful. Kilda beach is also a short tram ride away and has a lively night life and a nice beach and some good shops. We stayed in the Langham Hotel in Southbank which is 5star and was only Aus$200 / £80 a night, the hotel was great the staff were friendly and it was well located for exploring the city, it also has really nice terrace with a pool overlooking the Yarra river, I would highly recommend it.
After eight days in Melbourne we flew up to Byron Bay for christmas, Bryon is a chilled seaside town with a beautiful beach a few nice restaurants and good pubs and bars, the beach is ranked in the top 25 beaches around the world, and the people are great and very laid back. There are lots of surfers and you can go on dolphin / whale / turtle watching tours if that's your thing. Byron is a great place to sit back and do very little except sunbathe and drink beer. We stayed in the Beachcomber motel on Shirly St, it was plesant enough but the motels and appartments on Lawson St looked nicer, maybe they are more expensive though.
The last part of the holiday was Sydney, we were staying at the Novotel that overlooks Darling harbour, this is a 4star hotel and it doesn't have any frills, we booked harbour view room which is worth the extra dosh as the Sydney skyline is impressive. Darling harbour is a good place to stay if you are holidaying in Sydney, you are a ten minute walk from the shopping district and you can take a boat into Circular Quay (next to Sydney Opera House) the trip only takes ten minutes. A friend of my was getting married on the 29th December, the reception was out past watsons bay, it was a great wedding and I got very drunk.
We were also in Sydney for new years eve and had booked table on a cruise boat so that we could eat, drink, be merry and watch the fireworks in comfort. This was expensive Aus$500 / £200 a head but we firgured it was unlikely we would repeat the experience any time soon. The food was good the beer / champagne kept flowing and the fireworks were impressive.
Alas it was all over so soon, fortunately my wife gave me tickets to Thailand for christmas so I only have to wait till April to see the sun again.