04/10/2013 09:16 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sydney vs. Melbourne: It's Like Chalk and Cheese

My last day in Sydney was a day of utter perfection. Believe it or not, it had nothing to do with food and I can't even remember what I ate. (Oh, wait, it's coming back to me...)

At the recommendation of some Sydneysiders, I did the walk from Bronte Beach, past Tamarama Beach (otherwise known as Glamarama), to Bondi (pronounced Bond-EYE). The weather was PERFECT--sunny, 80-something degrees. And it was a Sunday.

I began with a crisp, cool swim in the ocean at Bronte. I had my bathing suit on under my clothes and I asked one of those classic Aussie beach-patrol guys if it was safe to leave my backpack on the beach; he said yes, so in I went. Ahhhhh. Delightful! I then put on a wrap and walked past Tamarama (GORGEOUS!) and towards Bondi. The water and the rock formations were incredible.

When I finally got to the Icebergs ocean swimming pool on the beach at Bondi, I truly felt like I had reached the destination of my pilgrimage to Australia. I've wanted to swim in that pool ever since I first knew it existed. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was even better than I dreamed. I got a locker, and in I went. I can still feel the wonderful feeling of dunking my head under to soothe and cool it. Ahhhh. An hour of baking in the sun later, I put on a sundress and had a late lunch at the famous Icebergs Restaurant overlooking Bondi. It was delicious. But more important, it was the most relaxing lunch I can ever remember. My trip to Sydney ended with a bang.

The next day I took an 11-hour train ride from Sydney to Melbourne. I wanted to see the landscape change and I did--from green subtropical gum forests to dry grasslands dotted with gum trees. I ate a Cherry Ripe (Australia's oldest chocolate bar) just to see if it was worth it. It wasn't really.

And so I arrived in Melbourne, which is a harder city to know. On the surface it seems very serious and highly industrious. It felt a bit like New York City. Still palm trees and tropical plants, but less so--as if you can feel yourself getting closer to the South Pole. "Four seasons in one day" is the common comment about Melbourne's weather. I only ever knew it as a Crowded House song! At first, after the gloriousness of Sydney, I was a bit bummed. But as I started walking and exploring, I started to see the deeper side of Melbourne, which is highly creative and artistic. Many of the buildings are very modern, and there is art everywhere--especially in the famous "arcades" and alleys. The whole place smells like coffee! (Which I am still not back on, by the way.)

Even though it's less than 200 years old, Melbourne feels more historical, more traditional, maybe more like England but still very much Australian. Perhaps my melancholy stemmed from knowing this was my last stop...I would be heading home from here. Or it could be that it was my first day of rain.

I can't believe I spent three weeks in Australia and still didn't see a fraction of it. I realized that I had spent a lot of time in Australia "shopping," which I consider a form of market research and exploration, and that one big difference between America and Australia, which was apparent in both Sydney and Melbourne, is that shopping and the acquiring of "stuff" doesn't seem to be as much a part of Aussie culture. It was rather refreshing. And it reminded me of what an Australian coworker told me when I got back: "In America, you live to work. In Australia, we work to live."

Suffice it to say, Australia, I will be back.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to