Melbourne, Australia, November 19
Australia (Part 2)
We arrived in Melbourne last Sunday and caught a shuttle from the airport to a gritty seaside suburb called St. Kilda. We had booked a spot ahead of time at a hostel called the Olembia, which turned out to be a very nice place, the nicest hostel we have ever stayed in. It was very clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, and we met several other interesting travellers. For the first couple of nights we stayed in a three bunk dorm, with a young guy named Stephen from Mansfield, England. He had been camping out in the hostel for the past couple of months looking for work. Sue thought she may have to throw him in with our laundry, but he turned out to be quite clean and courteous. (And he ended up finding work selling timber that very week.)
We found a great little Italian place in St. Kilda called La Porchetta where we were able to get some huge portions of veal and chicken parmigiana for cheap. The pizza there was actually pretty good as well. Ordering coffee in Australia is a bit bewildering, as they use some different terminology. So far, I've tried the long black, flat white, and the venerable cafe latte. All were good and quite strong. I was actually able to have just one cup after dinner and remain lying awake in bed, twitching slightly, for several hours before falling asleep.
On Tuesday we figured out the tram public transport, with it's unenforceable system of zones and ticket validations, and headed into the city. Melbourne is quite manageable and has a stately air to the downtown area. We spent a few hours checking out the new aquarium (see pictures and video), sitting on the steps of the old Victorian Parliament building, and then walking through St. Patrick's cathedral and the Fitroy Gardens. Another observation on Australia is in order here. It seems that not only do cars drive on the lefthand side of the road, but when walking down a bustling street, people seem to stick to the same lefthand side rule. After a few near collisions on the sidewalk, we figured this one out and began to smartly blend with the flow.
The next day, we headed out to Phillip Island, which is about a two hour drive southeast of Melbourne. Our shuttle driver, Don, provided colorful commentary en route while we slept. At one point we stopped at a roadside "nature reserve" which was kind of like the Popcorn Zoo. They had several different species of native animals, but it was kind of sad to see them caged up. Upon arrival at Phillip Island we checked in to the Amaroo Hostel, where our accomodations were a mini-trailer home. Not too shabby actually, and it had a kitchenette and cable TV. Sue worked up some serious home cooking including chicked noodle soup, grilled cheese, and veggie burgers. The biggest attraction on Phillip Island (and in all of Australia according to Don) is the Penguin Parade along Summerland Bay. At about 8:30 every night, hundreds (sometimes thousands) of Little Penguins (a species that gets to about one foot in height) emerge from the ocean and waddle up the beach and into the surrounding hills to nest. Well, we signed on for this straightaway. The park service has actually built stadium seating with lights right on the beach to service the half million visitors per year. Good old Don quietly informed us that the penguins always turn left when they head up the beach, so we positioned ourselves strategically. Sure enough, before long they were streaming by us, just a few feet away. No photography was allowed, because the flashes tend to frighten and confuse the penguins, so you'll have to take our word that this was in fact pretty neat.
We spent our last day on Phillip Island riding on rented bikes and then hiking around Cape Woolamai on the opposite end of the island. Spectacular views up there and we even saw a huge snake in the wild. I am still trying to find out what kind it was, but from the locals I talked to, we can be sure it was poisonous. Sue kept her distance, not willing to perform any emergency venom-sucking. I took a picture anyway.
After leaving Phillip Island by ferry, we headed over to French Island, which is about twice as big as Phillip Island, but not nearly as developed. In fact, the population is reported to be around 60 persons. Having missed the morning lift to our lodging, we hiked around one side of the island for a few hours and saw a koala and some crazy porcupine-looking things. After meeting our ride across the island, we finally made it to our destination - the McLeod Eco Farm. Friendly owners Mark and Melinda gave us a complete rundown of the unique organic system they are implementing on what used to be a prison farm for convicts. (We wanted to stay in the prison cells, but they were closed for renovation; we stayed in the warden's quarters instead.) Since the food was fresh, and they had Gill the French chef in their employ, we splurged and had an amazing steak dinner. I asked Melinda about the sparse island population and she explained that many of the farms and cattle ranches we had observed on our hike are owned by "Collins Street Farmers". This is the affectionate term the hardcore local farmers use to describe the city folk who keep summer ranch homes on the island, with just a few cattle to keep the fields in check. (Collins Street is a main thoroughfare in downtown Melbourne.) The next morning Mark gave us a lift back to the ferry dock and shared several stories of his pre-organic farmer adventures around the world. This was a really great place and we may try to get back here again after we return to Australia.
Upon returning to Melbourne via ferry, train, and tram, we met up with our friends Chris and Nadine (Dave met Chris at the IDUG conference in Canberra) and they brought along a couple friends also, James and Jackie. We went out for tea (that's dinner in Australian, much to Dave's delightful surprise), and had quite a good time. We are now fully indoctrinated in the ways of the beloved Tim Tam, a chocolate biscuit (cookie) treat. (By the way, apologies to our Aussie friends that the picture came out so dark; we'll try again when we get back around to Melbourne!)
We're off to the airport again now to catch our flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
Leafy Seadragon (Melbourne Aquarium)
Great Barrier Reef Grouper (Melbourne Aquarium)
Jaws (Melbourne Aquarium)
Dave and his pal Manta (Melbourne Aquarium)
Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral
Living Water (Outside St. Patrick's Cathedral)
Orchids in Fitzroy Gardens
Feeding the Kangaroos (1)
Feeding the Kangaroos (2)
Sue and the 'Roos!
Koala in the Wilderness Reserve
Muffy, be a doll and fetch my slippers...
Summerland Peninsula, Phillip Island
Cape Woolamai Beach, Phillip Island
Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island
The Pinnacles at Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island
Narrow path to the Pinnacles
Sea Caves at Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island
Big Snake on Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island
Cape Woolamai (Bay Side), Phillip Island
Sue on the Edge, Phillip Island
Sue, come back!
Koala in the wild, French Island
Stony Point train
Friends from Melbourne
Sue and Marky Mark
Captain Davidson, of Planet of the Apes fame, becomes our new travelling companion.