Australia never knew what hit it

When I first floated the idea of staying in Australia for a few months, one of the things I did was ask friends and family if they would visit. My eldest sister said her brood would make the trip over if I had somewhere for them to stay and acted as tour guide. Needless to say, the promise was kept and they joined me in Melbourne for 10 short days. Here, I will chronicle what we got up to over Christmas and New Year 2013/2014.

The first thing was transport. I am happy as a frog in a pond using public transport for everything but that’s not practical with four people. Instead of trying to deal with public transport for the whole trip, I decided hiring a car would be the best idea. I managed to secure a fairly reasonable deal through vroomvroomvroom.com.au with Hertz rental in the CBD. We rented a very nice Toyota Corolla which served us well in our adventures (as you’ll read). The reservation and collection procedures were fuss free and I would recommend Hertz as a hire company.

The flight my family were on got delayed about an hour so I drove down to the viewing spot past Tullamarine (to the north) and see if I could watch their plane land. Thanks to a very clever flight tracking website (which told me when they were descending to landing altitude), I did see it . Unfortunately the plane was quite a long way away so, I knew it was them but, couldn’t get a decent photo.

I’d been determined to have a proper ‘Hollywood’ type welcome for them so I’d dutifully made a sign to hold above my head as I craned my neck trying to spot them.

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There were obligatory hugs and tears between sisters at the airport. The male relatives just rolled their eyes and carried on as normal with a nod and “Alright? Nice to see ya”.

We had a hectic schedule for the first few days and we launched right into task number one but it’s not what you’d expect.

The first thing my family did on holiday was go to the dentists. My brother in law (BiL from now on) had managed to pull the cap off his tooth whilst in the airport. That means we had to find an emergency dentist willing to reattach it very early in the morning. Luckily, such a dentist existed and we were met at Elsternwick Family Dentists at 7am. Long story short, glue got applied  and we left for the Great Ocean Road on time.

Our first activity on the Great Ocean Road was surfing. As I’m British, and a fraidy cat, I’d never surfed before in any way, shape or form but it was on the bucket list. I did preliminary research and ended up booking a 2 hour session with Great Ocean Road Surf Tours based in Torquay.

We met at the shop in Torquay on time an were dutifully sorted with wet suits and boards. We then followed the main van to Urquharts Bluff which is where we did our session. We were given an instructional demonstration and safety briefing by the instructors  and then waded in. I was hopeless for many reasons. Firstly, I am ridiculously unfit and surfing is hard. You’re constantly battered by the waves and fighting against the current. I got tired very quickly. Secondly, I kept getting mouthfuls of salt water. This is one of the single most unpleasant thing you can get in your mouth (*chortle chortle*) and I seemed determined to drink the entire ocean. Thirdly, contact lenses do not like salt water. Fourthly, I have no sense of balance or general coordination. BiL was far better than me and managed to actually stand on the board a few times. My ‘standing’ bit were more vertical sections of a fall in progress. Very embarrassing but excellent fun. Here’s an action shot where you can’t tell how shocking I was.

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From Torquay we headed along to Apollo Bay which is were we would rest our heads for the evening. We stayed at Otway lodge in their ‘family’ room. basically the family room was a dorm for the exclusive use of 1 group. We paid $160 for 3 adults and 1 child with breakfast included. I think that’s pretty jolly reasonable. The place was clean, there was parking for the car and the brekkie spread was actually fairly admirable. My only criticism was of the blinds over the windows. They let every single ray of light into the room which is not ideal. Overall, I’d stay there again.

We spent the evening BBQing dinner on the public BBQs along Apollo Bay main street before collapsing into bed. We had an early start.

The next morning, we were scheduled to do impressive amounts of wildlife spotting. We headed to Grey River Road near Kennett River to spot koalas, wallabies and kangaroos. We were not disappointed!

The first successful koala spot was made by my nephew. What you’re looking for when hunting wild koalas is a furry, round, grey bottom. I’m not joking. Look for a fuzzy , football shaped grey lump in the trees and you’ll see a koala on Grey River Road. As they are nocturnal, we went very early in the morning hoping to catch them just as they headed to bed for the day. We weren’t disappointed. We saw numerous sleeping koalas, a couple of awake but immobile ones and finally, the cutest of the cute, a very active Mum and baby. AWWWWWWWWWWW! You can just see them up in the branches of the tree here.

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As you drive along Grey River Road, there’s heaps more wildlife around the place. You’ll see colourful birds, creepy crawlies and, if you’re luck, wallabies and knagaroos. It’s pretty hard to get pictures of them though because they’re fairly skittish. We saw far more wallabies than kangaroos. The way to tell them apart is this: Kangaroos have pointy ears, wallabies have round ears. Here is a wallaby who hung around long enough for a picture.

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Grey River Road does get a bit hairy to drive on further along it so I wouldn’t do the whole road unless you’re in a decent car. I was very worried in the Corolla but needn’t have been. The car was fine, I swore a little bit though.

After the wildlife, we headed to the Cape Otway lighthouse. There are more koalas to see along the road to the lighthouse too but Grey River Road is better.

Last time I did the Great ocean Road, the lighthouse was closed because it was the off season. This time though it was open so we paid up and headed in. It’s $18.50 per adult and $7.50 for the kiddies. Overall, I think it’s worth it because there’s a fair bit to see in the grounds. You have the old telegraph station, a cafe, a war time bunker and some tall poles which were transmitters for something, maybe? Obviously the main attraction is the lighthouse because it’s beautiful.

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We headed up the lighthouse and enjoyed the spectacular view from the top. Simply stunning:

View from cape Otway Lighthouse

We wandered around the grounds and enjoyed the information on offer from both static exhibits and also the guides in the complex. It’s a really lovely place to just relax so we decided to have lunch at the cafe there. It was very delicious but the gold star for that day;s cuisine goes to the millionaires shortbread (a.k.a. caramel slice) we shared. My goodness, it was the best one I’ve had in a long time. Most places in Australia pack the biscuit base with coconut which is a crime against food really as it should be a shortbread base and there’s no coconut in shortbread my dears. This one didn’t though. It was gloriously coconut free and all the tastier for it. Go and eat one if you’re at the lighthouse.

An interesting thing about Cape Otway is that dinosaur bones have recently been discovered there. The old telegraph station houses a small exhibit about the fossils and types of dinosaurs which have been linked to the coast and it’s very interesting. What we liked best though was the ingenious graffiti on the wildlife sign.

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We did do other things on the Great Ocean Road but I blogged about them in my other entry so I’m not going to retread old ground. If you want to know about the 12 apostles or other attractions then please do look up my older blog entry.

We got back to Melbourne from the Great ocean road at about 8 o’clock on Christmas eve. There was a quick trip to the supermarket for essentials and then straight to bed as Christmas day had a packed schedule too.

Melbourne zoo is open every single day of the year and it’s where we chose to go on Christmas day. I had pre-bought tickets online and, as a result, we breezed past the substantial line of people queuing and straight into the zoo. I cannot recommend enough buying tickets in advance for attractions in Melbourne. It saves you time and stress. We paid $30 per adult for the zoo but nothing for the kiddie because on weekends and public holidays, children visit for free.

The last zoo I went to was in Singapore and it was amazing. I knew Melbourne zoo would have to be pretty special to top Singapore zoo so I wasn’t surprised when it fell a little short. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good zoo, and they have some great attractions, but it’s just not quite on the same level of epic as Singapore zoo is. I still had a great time though.

One of my favourite bits was the fairly new Lemur Island. You basically go and hang out with Lemurs in their enclosure. The lemurs aren’t really bothered by the visitors so long as they are quiet and slow. The lemurs tend to scarper when it gets too noisy or busy so try and get in if there’s a lull in human traffic.

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Melbourne zoo is definitely worth a visit but probably only one visit.

Instead of the Christmas dinner my family were used to, we headed down to Elwood beach for a BBQ. There’s a few public BBQ spots near the boat club and that’s where we settled in for a traditional Aussie Christmas. We even threw shrimps on the barbie….

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The beach at Elwood is generally much quieter than St Kilda and I do prefer it. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

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The schedule didn’t really ease up on Boxing day. We had a very early start in order to drive down to Sorrento for a day of dolphin spotting.

I had booked with Polperro in order to swim with seals and dolphins at Sorrento. We paid $130 per swimmer and, I have to say, it was complete value for money. The staff at Polperro are faultlessly wonderful, the equipment is good quality and you’re served freshly baked scones on the boat. If you want to do a dolphin spotting/swimming session near Melbourne, I would recommend Polperro very highly indeed.

Anyway, You are guaranteed to swim with the seals as they tend to all hang out in the same place on a big structure. I never realised just how agile seals are under the water. They’re also very, very cheeky. They shove and push each other around on the structure then they get in the water and pretend to be sharks. No really, they swim around with one flipper out of the water to look like a shark fin. As I was swimming around, there was one seal who kept swimming underneath me but it swam upside down. I spent a while chuckling at him swimming looking up at me while I was swimming looking down at him. The seal pups played and leapt out of the water higher than you thought could be possible. It was awesome to see them so close and for them to not give a toffee about you being there.

Here’s a picture of BiL, enjoyign a hot drink, with the seal structure in the background.

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We didn’t get to swim with dolphins as the pod we found had calves with them. As they’re wild dolphins, there’s no way Mummy dolphin would hang around with her babies if we got into the water so we were limited to watching them from the boat. It was still magical. The pod came right up to the bough of the boat and swam along with us. You can see how close to the boat they came:

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They also hung out further away.

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Polperro were very clear that they couldn’t assure us of swimming with dolphins when I booked and we were obviously disappointed that we didn’t get to go in with them but understood completely the reasons for that. In the end, it really didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the day for us as, whilst we were hunting for the dolphins, the crew talked to us about the history of the coast and the dolphins we were looking for. I really cannot say a bad thing about Polperro, they were great and did everything in their power to make the trip as enjoyable as possible.

As we’d been swimming around for a while, we’d ended up with rumbling tummies so we headed into Sorrento for food and what food it was. It seemed rude to be right on the coast and to not eat fish so, we went into Fish Fetish and got ourselves a family box. It was, hands down, the best fish and chips I have ever eaten. There was not only heaps of food but it was extra tasty food (except for the potato cakes but that’s just because I don’t understand the point of potato cakes). Nom.

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After stuffing our faces there, we needed a brew so we went to Just Fine Food a few shops down. We had a ‘famous’ vanilla slice but I didn’t think ti really deserved the acolades to be honest. It was an average vanilla slice that didn’t taste like it was made using real vanilla beans. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t amazing. What it was was expensive.

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Anyway, a drive back to Melbourne and one speeding ticket later, we collapsed. Knackered doesn’t even cover it. We spent the next day chilling out before undertaking more sightseeing.

We’d seen a fair bit of the countryside around Melbourne by now so the next logical thing to see was the city itself. One of the things we definitely wanted to do was go up to the Eureka Skydeck. I had bought the tickets in advance and enjoyed 10% off thanks to being a YHA member (Youth Hosteling Association). We went at about 10 in the morning and ti was basically empty. When we left at about 11:30, the queue sprawled out of the door so, go early.

From the 88th floor, you can post letters (which we did) and get a great view of the city. It’s so easy to forget the size of places when you’re at ground level. Melbourne is big and impressive when you see it from so high up. Here’s a snap of Flinders Street station and Federation Square.

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There’s a very cool attraction at Eureka Skydeck. it’s called ‘The Edge’ and it’s basically a glass box which is ejected from the side of the building. Ok, ejected is a little dramatic but, it does extend away from the rest of the building so that you are 88 floors up with nothing under you. It’s absolutely, such a cool thing to do. It’s worth the extra $10 or so to go in it. We were very lucky again though as ti was so quiet, there were only four of us in the box. I’m sure they pack it much fuller at peak times. You get a cool picture to take home too (for a price though).

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Eureka Skydeck is well worth the money. Go if you can.

As it was Christmas time, we admired the decorations around the city whilst wandering. My favourite decoration had to be the giant mistletoe on the footbridge behind Flinders Street Station. I’m sure we were not the first, or last, people to strike this pose under it.

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We explored the city and took in the sights before heading to some green space. Fitzroy gardens are very picturesque and have a decent amount of things to look at. There’s a model Tudor village, multiple fountains and, most importantly, Captain Cooks cottage. That’s right, the cottage was moved from England and rebuilt in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne! The poor roof was probably very confused when it had to deal with sunshine and not rain. Here it is:

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You can go round it for an entrance fee but we wanted to play catch instead so we didn’t.

The last thing we did in Melbourne, before it was time for the flight home, was to enjoy the New Years Eve Family Friendly fireworks at Yarraville Park near the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Melbourne did a good job with the fireworks and organisation of New Years eve. The City centre was marshaled to within an inch of its life. It was good to see such care had been taken in the planning. New years in London is just a free for all of pushing and shoving but in Melbourne, they’d barricaded off certain sections and had a one way pedestrian walking system working. It was wonderfully efficient. The fireworks were pretty too.

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So happy new year and Happy holidays from a bunch of Pommes in Melbourne!

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Return to Oz (tralia)

I loved Melbourne and now I’m living and working here. My initial impression of Melbourne has only been reinforced and flourished into an extreme fondness during my 6 weeks or so here.

I work in a café making sandwiches with the most lovely bunch of people. I live in Ormond with amazing people. I’m incredibly happy.

My blog for the next few months will be about my adventures in Melbourne as I plan to be here a while. If you’re in Melbourne Central, pop into Klik for a coffee and say hello!

Australia – Magical Melbourne

I arrived in Melbourne feeling like a sack of something nasty. I was tired and desperately wanted to shower. Luckily I had a place to stay and a short trip out of the centre took me to a house with a bathroom and a bed. Score!

To get around in Melbourne you need a ‘Myki’ card. This card will cost you $6 AUD (non-refundable). You tap on and off transport as you use it and your pre-loaded credit gets deducted. There’s train, buses and trams in Melbourne. I gave in trying to work out the fare system and daily cap as it seemed to change every time I got on something. The Myki system is confusing and doesn’t work very well most of the time. Also, you cannot claim back any cash left on your card when you’re ready to leave so plan how much you top up carefully.

Australia is currently in the middle of winter so Melbourne was not the tropical temperatures you would expect. It was between about 10-17 degrees whilst I was there and it rained a bit too. This didn’t really affect me however as, being British, my breeding makes me mostly impervious to bad weather. I replaced my lost coat rather quickly (I’m not that hardy) and got on with seeing the City.

The architecture in Melbourne is glorious. There’s plenty of well preserved buildings to enjoy within very short walking distance of one another. The State Library of Victoria is an imposing example.

Library

Looks a bit Greek with those columns doesn’t it? Inside the library there was an exhibition on other public buildings in Melbourne. It covered who designed them, how they have been added to over time and the origins of why they were commissioned. Pretty interesting really. I walked around it for a bit.

The closest station to the Library is Melbourne Central. It’s a bit of an architectural triumph in itself as the station is built around this very tall tower.

Melbourne Central

That’s right, around the tower. The council said “No, no. You can’t knock that down and develop there, no way.” so a clever architect said, “how about I build around it then?”. The council said “Well yes, that works, off you go.” and so they did! Now, there’s a mall and a train station all snuggled up to the tower. How lovely.

My personal ‘wow factor’ building was Flinders Street train station and I don’t believe further explanation will be required after you see the photo:

Flinders St Station

Another impressive, but somber, building is the Shrine of Remembrance. It was built after the end of the First World War in order to commemorate the sacrifice of Victorians.

Shrine of remberance

The shrine has a visitors centre beneath it with information on how the war affected Australia. The shrine itself is cleverly designed so that at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, the sun shines directly onto a plaque set at the heart of the building which reads “Greater Love Hath No Man”. The word ‘Love’ is illuminated by the sunlight for a few minutes before the sun passes by. Every 30 minutes, they have a ‘fake’ sunlight moment for visitors to enjoy. There’s also a balcony area which provides you with excellent views of Melbourne if you wander around it. There’s guided tours each day too at 11am and 2pm. I missed the 2pm one but was lucky enough to find a spare volunteer who didn’t mind taking me around. Free to enter and well worth a visit.

Right next to the Shrine of Remembrance you will find the Observatory and the Botanic Gardens. The Observatory has a few information boards dotted about but you can’t go inside or see anything really. The gardens are as you would expect, beautiful. It felt distinctly autumnal in certain sections of the gardens though. I really felt like this could have been a scene from anywhere in Britain.

Botanic gardens

Again, you can take a free tour at 11am or 2pm around the gardens but I missed both of them. The gardens are free and make for a joyous stroll. You can get a good view over the river Yarra from the far North East side of the gardens too. Worth going for a look.

Melbourne has ample shopping. There’s modern malls and boutique shops to be found around every corner. My personal favourite, if not tacky, shopping spot was the Queen Victoria Markets.

Victoria Market

Here, you can buy anything from fresh meat and veg to some really rather dubious ‘authentic’ Australian souvenirs. My personal best buy were 6 doughnuts from an American style caravan thing between the vegetables and tat sections.

Another less tacky place I enjoyed was the Block Arcade.

Block Arcade

There’s mostly more independent shops in here which will sell you everything from cake to greetings cards. The building itself is really rather lovely and the shops have been fitted into it very respectfully.

Away from the older buildings now and into the new, the central business district (CBD). As you would expect, the buildings are tall and shiny. They light up at night too.

night time cbd

Amongst the CBD you can find many things to do. There’s the arts centre (which looks rather like an odd Eiffel Tower) and the gallery to look around. The Gallery is wonderful and I visited on two separate occasions so as to make sure I didn’t miss anything in the exhibitions. There’s the iconic Federation Square where Melbourne holds most of it’s big parties (New Years Eve etc) and a casino set right on the river. You have theatres, bars with live music, street performers and amazing street art all just right there. Truly brilliant! The CBD looks impressive from further away too. Here’s a shot taken from the jetty at Williamstown (a smaller ‘township’ about 20 minutes outside Melbourne).

CBD from williamstown

Williamstown itself is adorable and I bet the fish and chips/ice cream combo there during summer rivals the best of the best.

I also made a short trip to St Kilda which I didn’t see a great deal of. What I did see was a rather attractive water side ‘town’ that I wanted to spend more time in. I also saw live music in Fitzroy, enjoyed a giant monkey in King Kong and rode the city circle tram. It was also Melbourne Open House weekend whilst I was there so I got to see inside City Hall and stand exactly where Her Royal Highness The Queen stood and waved to crowds form the City Hall balcony in the 50’s. Smashing! I did a fair old bit really.

Apart from the City itself, a ‘must do’ if you’re going to be in Melbourne is the Great Ocean Road. This road does exactly what is says on the tin. It’s great to drive on and it’s by the ocean. You can’t go wrong.

There’s lots of towns and view points to stop at once you get on the road and I would suggest a minimum 1 night stop over. We stopped for the night at Apollo Bay on our trip at a place called Angela’s Guesthouse. As it’s off season, we paid $150 AUD for 4 people to share a ‘suite’. There were beds, a bathroom and a lounge area with tea and coffee provided. Not bad at all for the price.

Anyway, why should you go on the Great Ocean Road? ‘Cause it’s beautiful, that’s why. My favourite beach was probably this one and I believe it’s Bell’s Beach.

Great Ocean Road Bells Beach

The lookout points at all the stops are pretty good but this one, I found, was spectacular. We had a bit of fun writing in the sand and generally being mischievous.

Great Ocean Road

The weather was pretty changeable. It was consistently cold but the wind and rain attacked intermittently. The afternoons were definitely the worst for weather. We were soaked through to the bone on the afternoon of our first day because we’d been caught in a deluge. If you’re visiting in summer time you won’t have to worry but a winter visit resulted in drying a lot of clothes on radiators and broken umbrellas.

The first real ‘landmark’ we saw were the Erskine falls. There’s two view points, the upper and lower. You’ll get this view from the lower:

Erskine Falls

Once you’re at the bottom, there is a trail you can follow further down the cascades. I chickened out due to my clumsy nature and Converse All Stars unsuitable shoes. One of the girls I went with did venture down and got some stunning photos of the cascades. She said the path seemed to go on and on so experienced ramblers could probably go for a decent trek.

A world famous stop is the 12 Apostles. There’s a little visitors centre with bathroom and caffeine facilities. When you get down onto the walkway, there’s a few paths you can take for views. Just take them all one at a time. Here’s my personal favourite (now with extra blowy hair).

12 apostles

You can take a helicopter tour over the apostles if you so desire but none of us did, so we didn’t.

Past the 12 apostles is Loc Ard Gorge and Hunters cave. This is the site of a famous shipwreck but, as I’m not into all that stuff, I didn’t pay attention to the information boards. I stood and watched waves career into rocks and wondered how they’d withstood erosion for so long.

Hunter's cave

The section of road after the 12 apostles is apparently a big ship wreck buffs dream as there were loads of sinkings and what not. It was easy to understand how ships had gotten wrecked as the waves were enormous and vicious. There’s a few light houses on the way too with the most famous being the Otway lighthouse (but it was closed).

Down the road from the 12 apostles you can make several stops on what is called the ‘gourmet’ trail. There’s cheese and wine places to go but we went to the chocolate place. I’d been treated to some pretty amazing hot chocolate in Melbourne at Koko Black’s (in the Royal Arcade) but this hot chocolate just pipped it to the post.

Gorge Chocolate

Gorge chocolates is run by a a couple who hand temper all their goods. They sell almost everything you can imagine but my personal favourite was raspberry liquorice coated in white chocolate. Absolutely divine!

Back on the sightseeing trail, we headed to another icon of the Ocean Road, London Bridge. It’s not the London Bridge I know and love, it’s something completely different and stunning.

London Bridge on Great Ocean Road

Honestly, when I say every view point is worth stopping at on the Great Ocean Road, I mean it. There’s something unique on offer at every station. It’s a crying shame we had wet weather. If it had been bitterly cold and windy we would have been happy to see much more but, with rain pouring in from all directions, we had to abandon some stops in favour of not catching pneumonia. You can see from my final picture just how much the weather closed in towards the end of the second day. We raced against the rain for as long as we could but conceded at about 4pm and headed back to Melbourne.

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A quick stop in Geelong to fill our bellies full of Indian food was a good move! We arrived back in Melbourne at about 9pm after a stunning 2 days driving. I can only imagine how beautiful the trip is in summer.

I will conclude with the fact that Melbourne is an anomaly which I was not expecting. It’s a city striving to be all things cultural and it’s not doing a bad job. By British standards, Melbourne is a tiny baby of a City but, despite that, it’s really got some good stuff going on! The plucky young thing knows what it wants to be when it grows up and that’s helping it to be a pretty exciting place whilst it develops. Well done Melbourne, you managed to bewitch me.