Many cities have iconic trips, routine to the locals, but for tourists they are special highlights that will become treasured memories. In Melbourne, taking a tram down to St Kilda beach is a time honoured tradition that still offers the visitor a memorable experience, as well as a glimpse into the history of beach life in Melbourne.
There are two main tram routes to St Kilda beach as I understand it. If you are in the city you can catch the 16 (or 3a on weekends) outside Flinders Street station, while the 96 runs past Spencer Street station and stops just opposite Crown Casino.
This route is outside the Free Tram Zone, so you will need to buy a Myki card, available at most tram stops and many small retailers, and remember to tap on and off. The ride is not expensive, around three to four dollars each way.
The number 96 tram stops right outside where I was staying at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, so that was my logical choice.
The tram I caught was one of the newer, sleek class 11 trams, but I would have been just as happy riding in one of the older, more rickety versions. It took around twenty minutes to get there.
The ride itself was not very scenic until you reached the beach. I think there is more to see on the 3a route as it passes the Arts Centre and the Shrine of Remembrance, but the 96 was much more convenient for me.
Luna Park, St Kilda
I got out at the end of the line and walked back to Luna Park, which for over a century has been the face of St Kilda beach. Developed in 1912 by the J.D Williams, and the same company that built the Coney Island attractions, St Kilda’s Luna Park is still popular today. Next to Luna Park is the Palais Hotel, another historic site built in 1925.
St Kilda Boardwalk
I made my way down to the beach and walked along the boardwalk towards St Kilda Pier. As usual there were many different types of activities going on along the beach. People were out for a stroll or jog, bike riders and skaters were cruising past while a couple of very keen swimmers braved the chill winter waters.
There were even a few kites being flown on the grassy knoll.
Missing though were the traditional Port Phillip Bay Gelato trucks, usually on hand to sell you an ice cream cone with a variety of gelato flavours for the nearly reasonable price of eight dollars. Nowhere else in the world have I come across a gelato cone with so many interesting colours and flavours, and
I was looking forward to having one on this trip, but I guess it was just too cold for them.
I looked into the history of St Kilda before I visited the beach and found it fairly interesting. I was trying to find out more about ‘Saint Kilda’ but no such person existed. The more I dug, the more I was intrigued by the series of events that led to area getting its name.
There is a group of islands off the north of Scotland called the Outer Hebrides, of which one is called St Kilda. No-one is really sure how the island got its name; the best guess is a Dutch translation error that stuck. By most accounts it is a cold and desolate area and receives few visitors, though it did serve as home for a noblewoman for a number of years, all be it against her will.
In the Eighteenth Century Scotland was the focus point of the Jacobite revolution, which was an ill-fated plan to restore the descendants of King James I to the English throne. Lady Grange reportedly discovered her husband and a bunch of co-conspirators plotting a rebellion at her Edinburgh estate, and lest she divulge their plans they kidnapped her and imprisoned her on St Kilda Island, where she remained for eight years. After her death and the attempts by the guilty parties to cover up their actions, (which included giving her three funerals), her story passed into legend.
Sir Thomas Acland was a member of a prominent family, and amongst his varied interests, owned a schooner that was used for trading fruit. In 1810 Acland’s wife visited St Kilda and no doubt returned with an interesting story. Soon after, Acland’s schooner was renamed the ‘Lady of St Kilda’.
Thirty years later the ship was sold and made a voyage to Melbourne as a cargo ship. The trip may not have been profitable, or the owner may have decided to settle down in the new colony, as the ship was once again put up for sale or barter, anchored off the beach that was soon to bear its name.
I find stories like that fascinating, that a place that became the most famous beach area in Melbourne owes its name to a noble lady that was imprisoned on a remote Scottish Island because her rebel husband was a afraid she would dob him in.
Being the popular place it is, St Kilda beach is host to a number of cafés and restaurants, most with great views of the water. It was already late afternoon in the middle of winter, so not many places were still serving lunch. I finally located a bistro called Beachcomber, where I enjoyed the Chicken Souvlaki and a well-earned cold beer.
St Kilda Pier
The sun was already low as I resumed my walk towards St Kilda pier, as it was close to the solstice and the days were getting short. I walked out along the pier just as the sun was hitting the cloud bank just above the horizon.
There is a historic kiosk at the end of the pier called ‘Little Blue’. I’m a big fan of the English seaside tradition of building structures at the end of piers, and was keen to enter the café for a hot chocolate, but it was closed for a private function. Instead I continued around to the back of the pier where I noticed a group of people congregating.
Sunset while waiting for the Little Penguins
I asked what was going on, and was told they were waiting for the penguins to return to their homes in the breakwall, which they did around sunset every night. I was surprised to learn St Kilda was home to a colony of Little Penguins. I knew about the famous Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, but did not expect to find them living at the end of St Kilda pier, so close to the city!
Little Penguin at St Kilda Pier
I stuck around for a bit, curious to see the little guys, and maybe get a picture. There was a wooden boardwalk in front of the rock wall where their nests were, I waited there for twenty minutes hoping to see them waddle in.
I think because the tide was fairly high they were able to swim under the walkway undetected. One penguin did walk out onto the rocks and was nice enough to pose for a bit. As flash photography is banned for the birds welfare, it was challenging to get a good shot in the dark conditions, but I managed to take the above pic.
Little Blue, Kiosk at St Kilda Pier
It was now very dark, and I needed to be back in an hour or so. I walked back along the pier taking a few pictures before setting up my tripod at the end to capture the below shot. I then grabbed a hot chocolate from the café to warm myself up and jumped on the 96 tram back to my hotel.
St Kilda Pier at Night
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