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Melbourne's Marina Land

Many years ago when I was considerably younger - we're talking the 1960s - I was lost in Melbourne. This is not uncommon for me, proving I had no more sense of direction then than I have now.

All I needed was to find the road to Geelong, but on entering a Port Melbourne hotel (I know, risky) to ask directions, I felt I had stumbled through a portal. This was one rough place, much like I imagined a sailor's pub from 19th-century London would have been, and I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Those punters are probably long gone by now. I'm sure the pub is too. These days you're more likely to get a latte or a limoncello than a leer at most bars in this area which has undergone an amazing gentrification. Or should that be a generational shift?

These days the blocks of townhouses and apartments are filled with up-and-coming Generation X and Y-ers. Those that visit are often of the same era, and the décor and ambience suits this demographic exactly.

However, there is another group who arrive by water rather than taxi and they too are delighted with the recent turn of events here.

In the past decade or so, investors have put many millions of dollars into this prime, yet formerly overlooked and under-utilised, part of Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Ideally situated to tap into a market that was waiting to be won over - the boating fraternity - it has won many admirers.

Docklands is quite literally where the City of Melbourne meets the harbour and the Docklands development has extended the city's access to deep water for the first time. It is now possible to berth your boat at Docklands from just $30 overnight (possibly costing less than car parking would) at one of four magnificent marinas - and for those who drop in for just a few hours, it's free.

Three privately operated marinas (Marina YE Yarra's Edge, NewQuay Marina and d'Albora Marinas Victoria Harbour) plus Waterfront City Marina, operated by the City of Melbourne, provide a range of options and 80 public berths. A cost-effective option to consider is a short-term marina berth making this an ideal base from which to visit the many events in and around Docklands and the CBD. Some sailors even come by boat for the footy at Telstra Dome.

Then there's the option of an extended stay for a few days or weeks, while some boat owners prefer a permanent berth at one of the private marinas.

The Destination Docklands Boating Guide (free from boating clubs, marinas and Melbourne Docklands Marine at Waterfront City Marina) provides all the key information although bookings are essential at all marinas where staff will meet you and help you berth.

Even the largest boats have a home here. Melbourne's Superyacht Marina at Docklands recently moored the 67-metre Apoise during the Australian Open. Located at Waterfront City, at the Bolte Bridge end, it adjoins a vibrant retail and entertainment precinct and fronts 40 hectares of deep sheltered water. Close to the heart of Melbourne - Australia's food, fashion and events capital and home of Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex - it has an advantage over many other places where superyacht berths may be located several kilometres from the city centre

Each marina berth has power, telephone lines, fresh water, security and sewage pump-out. Forward ground moorings allow for stern-to berthing, which today's big yachts often prefer. Onshore facilities include parking, waste disposal and marina office and lounge - marina staff routinely earn high praise from superyacht captains.

For those who want to stay on dry ground there are several options too. Travelodge Docklands Melbourne opened in 2010 in Aurora Lane, immediately adjacent to the Docklands Stadium. It was the 47th added to the Toga Hospitality portfolio.

Docklands' first internationally branded accommodation, Accor's seventeenth property in the Victorian capital, is the Docklands Serviced Apartments - Grand Mercure - one, two and three bedroom apartments expected to become popular with leisure travellers. This dramatic waterfront residential and business precinct houses an impressive range of bars, restaurants and boutiques, part of the $1billion residential, retail and commercial precinct developed by MAB that has transformed the Docklands area.

For Melburnians this has been a huge bonus to a city already rich in tourist drawcards. Now visitors can enjoy water views from more than 60 cafes, restaurants, and bars, as well as galleries, shops and parks.

NewQuay's award-winning restaurants such as Medici, Mecca Bah, The Lounge Room, Bhoj, Livebait and Liquid, with its bar as the name implies, are always popular. Those with a sweet tooth gravitate to Hot Chocolate Café & Bar, adored for its dessert-only menu. Many wrap an evening up at Cargo's trendy bar.

At Central Pier several new event venues take the anxiety out of planning a function. The Atlantic Group (V)'s four venues, Peninsula, Atlantic, Sumac and Sketch housed side by side in an absolute waterfront location are able to cater for events of any size (from 130 - 1200 guests) making this the largest development in Australia of its kind to date, privately owned by an Australian company. The $20M development established four function spaces and Alumbra, a premium waterside cocktail bar and stylish and sophisticated nightclub.

Built in 1914, cargo sheds 9 and 14 had become dilapidated and dusty. Now they have come to life and Shed 14's floor area has been subdivided into four distinct venues Peninsula, Atlantic, Sumac and Sketch. The heritage nature of the sheds meant the exterior restoration had to be carried out sympathetically, with interiors totally redeveloped to accommodate the new state-of-the-art facilities.

And when all the eating and drinking and partying is over, what else is there to do at Docklands? Surprisingly, plenty. Whether berthed or in the harbour you can always throw in a line from your boat and just go fishin'. Docklands' waterways are home to 19 species of edible fish including black bream, silver trevally, mulloway, tailor, mullet and snapper. For lure casting, try Victoria Dock (opposite Telstra Dome) and along North Wharf Road.

Then you can cruise up the Yarra or the Maribyrnong, or enjoy Port Phillip Bay. Many of the bridges on the Yarra are high enough for most boats or if your cruiser is too big you could use your tender to explore the rivers.

The nearby Telstra Stadium is the venue for events such as the Australian Open Tennis, Formula 1TM ING Australian Grand Prix, NAB Cup, or the AFL season. Docklands is also the place to come for the L'Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival or Moomba Waterfest @ Docklands.

It's certainly a transformation. From its reputation as a seedy, forgotten part of Melbourne, the Docklands redevelopment has brought this area into the 21st-century, making it an additional visitor drawcard for the already vibrant city of Melbourne.


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