A Travellerspoint blog

Australia

Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Exploring Australia's most European feeling city.

sunny 35 °C

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

The final drive around the bay of Melbourne from Phillip Island to the centre of the CBD took just under two hours. Our car was to be returned with an empty fuel tank. As we approached the CBD, the fuel light came on to alert us there was 50km of fuel left, which was fine as we only had about 10km to do; however the digital fuel calculator disappeared to be replaced with a flashing last bar on the fuel gauge. Chris suggested we pulled off the freeway, but seeing as we were a matter of kilometres from the drop off and further from a petrol station, we continued. Fortunately we managed to drop off our bags at the apartment before taking the car back and running out of fuel. We would have been fine though, we were uphill from the car drop off point!

After returning the hire car, we headed down to Federation Square where we met up with my cousin, who I have not seen for 10 years. It was also lovely to meet up with my Aunty and Uncle, her parents, who were over visiting. We all had a coffee in the sun before heading across town to visit Cooke's Cottage.

Cooke's cottage is a small country cottage which was brought over from England and rebuilt here. It's a very small two up two down and is set amongst beautiful gardens.

After having lunch, we all went our separate ways and Chris and I began to explore the city and decided to sight see on the free circle route tram, which used an old fashioned tram car.

In the evening we visited Queen Victoria market, which holds a night market every Wednesday evening. This was a lot busier than we had anticipated and there was a good variety of food from all over the globe available. We feasted on some delicious Moroccan style lamb burgers.

The following morning, we visited the state library, which much be one of the best libraries I have ever visited. (Have yet to visit the British library.) this building from the outside is an imposing building with columns out the front. Leading up to the library is a pleasant little garden terrace area with plenty of benches and shady lawns to sit on. Inside the library, there are your relatively conventional square box rooms which 'do their job' of housing all the books, which are rather grand with their double height ceilings. The real reason for visiting though is to see the dome room, only recently restored after having the glass ceiling dome boarded over for the best part of a century. This room is truly magnificent. It retains its original charm with the reading tables from the turn of the 20th century. The room is set up in a circle, continuing the flow of the dome roof. Overlooking the great room are balconies which are home to yet more books. Around the edge of the ground floor there are bookshelves reaching high above your head. You can head up to the balconies, giving you an aerial view of this great room.

Around the edge of this room, on the balconies are various temporary exhibits, one of which explains more about the history of Victoria and how it came to be an independent state, separate from New South Wales in the middle of the 19th century.

In the afternoon, we visited the former gaol, which used to look after all of Melbourne's growing criminal population. Hundreds of executions were carried out within the gaol, where the original hanging platform can still be seen. Within the museum, you can explore the various different cells, which contain fact files on some of the gaol's residents. These include background information leading up to their crime and if they were executed or not.

Some of the cells contain death masks, which were made in order to establish if their was a link between skull shape and size and brain to the likelihood of someone leading a life of crime through the studying of phrenology. You can explore all three floors of the male cell block; the women's cell block has been demolished.

Alongside the gaol is the watch house, a remand and overnight cell block, which was used for short term stays, usually of a few nights, up until the 1990s. The gaol had been a free tour, this one was a guided experience tour. You were lined up outside before being arrested and given a character to play. As part of the tour, you are walked through the various parts of the station and shown to the cells. In Australia, they have wet and dry cells. Dry cells have wooden floors, wet cells are smoothed painted concrete with a drain in the middle so that they can easily be hosed down after a drunken guest or two.

On Friday, we wandered around the centre, stopping to look at the old treasury building and Parliament House. We walked along the river, and up along the South Bank.

In the afternoon, we visited an exhibition in Federation Square. The exhibition called Spectacle looked at how music videos have changed the way we listen to music and showing how sometimes the video can be more popular than the song itself. The exhibition looks at different techniques used over the years and documents those which, for their time, were deemed adventurous and daring. The exhibition went up to present day, with the latest craze of people remaking the music videos and posting them on YouTube.

In the evening, we took a tram down to the bay to visit the town of St. Kilda. This is a popular little seaside town, particularly with kite surfers. There are plenty of cafés along the streets and after a walk along the promenade, we stopped for dinner at a comical Italian restaurant. All the staff were foreign, and we didn't hear any native English speakers, most sounding European and a few were French. Anyway, boss man (potentially Italian?) didn't seem to have too much patience for his staff, who to be fair, were relatively incompetent. It was quite entertaining watching him become frustrated when they didn't understand or asked questions, from the customers, which he deemed irrelevant and pointless. For example, what's the house white. (It's dry white and $12 (£6) a litre, what more could you possibly want or need to know?) The food was good, even if the starter did come out sometime after my main.

At one end of the seafront, there is a Luna Park, which was relatively deserted, but at least everything was still lit up with brightly coloured lights. Just up from that there is a pier, which extends some way out into the sea with a beach section off to one side. Along the beach, meeting the pier are loads of large rocks and within the gaps of these rocks are various little penguin nests. As it was sunset, we sat and watched and saw about five different penguins coming in and wandering around. Chris was not impressed that we had paid to see this the other night, but you couldn't really compare it as at this time of year there are a lot fewer penguins.

The following day, Saturday, was our last day in Melbourne. We started the day by visiting the Eureka tower which has an observation deck on the 88th floor, considerably higher than any of the buildings around it. The views were great and you could see right down to the bay. There is also 'the edge' experience, which is a glass cube which extends three metres out from the side of the building and once fully extended, the frosted glass floor clears so that you are standing on a clear glass platform. The views were no better in the cube, and seeing as it extends over a car park, the view down is nothing special either. This is definitely one that is more for the novelty factor and the ability to say you had done it.

All around the observation deck were some forty viewfinders which you would look down to see a specific labelled building or monument. This was a really easy way to clearly know what you are actually looking at, compared to when we went up the Petronas Towers in KL, where the pictures showing the skyline were about 10 years old and incredibly outdated!

In the afternoon, we wandered around the shops, and sat in the park before heading back to our apartment to pack, have dinner and get an early night as we had to get up at 2.45am to catch the bus to the airport to fly to Sydney.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 17:39 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

East Coast Australia - Sydney to Melbourne

sunny 30 °C

East Coast Australia - Sydney to Melbourne

Saturday 26th January

Taking the most direct route from Sydney to Melbourne would take about nine hours to cover the 881km on the highway inland, going through the capital of Canberra. The alternative is to meander along the Princes Highway, which weaves in and out of the various coastal towns, running along the seafront.

We started in the Blue Mountains and headed south east towards the coast, stopping off at the sleepy towns of Bowral and Bundanoon. Bowral had a quaint little high street set in traditional old buildings with a good selection of book shops and cafés. We stopped for a coffee and a browse around a couple of the shops. Bundanoon was more of a village and we just had a quick drive through it.

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Some of the views we have been forced to endure on our drive

We continued across to the coast and headed down, stopping to look at the gorgeous coastline in Ulladulla, before arriving in Durras North for the night.

Durras North is in the middle of Murramarang National Park. We had planned to stop in Bateman's Bay; however it was recommended we stop here as it was less touristy and kangaroos are guaranteed. You don't need to tell is twice!

We booked a cabin on a holiday park, which assured you you would see kangaroos and as we were checking in, a couple went bouncing past the front of reception. Later that evening, there was one just hanging out down the side of the caravans, looking as though he thought if he didn't move or look at us, we couldn't see him. The following morning, they were just lounging around in the shade on an open area of the campsite.

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Kangaroo!

Our cabin, described as retro was a mix between that and vintage. It was more like a very old mobile home with a Portakabin attached for an awning living room area. The sofa chairs in the living room were vintage dark floral green, the dining chairs and table looked like it was from the 1950s with its part pink leather upholstery. The curtains were all various different dark floral patterns. Fortunately the bed was newer and incredibly comfortable.

Sunday 26th January

The following morning, we walked the discovery trail along the lake and through the woods behind the campsite. Theses woods felt incredibly British, just lacking in heather! The route took a little over an hour and took you along the side of a tranquil blue lake with forest surrounding it on all sides.

After an early lunch, we walked along the deserted beach on the golden sands. The water was a beautiful turquoise and midnight blue mix with waves crashing at various points on the way into the beach. Sadly there were no kangaroos on the beach, preferring to stay at the campsite.

Back on the road again, we were stopping for the night at Merimbula, about an hour north of the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Along the way, we stopped for a cream tea in Central Tilba, which could probably be best described as Australia's answer to the Cotswolds. The buildings were traditional frontier style with timber weatherboard cladding and corrugated tin roofs, painted on earthy hues. The town was set in rolling green hills with a few token black and white cows. We climbed the hill to the water tower, which offered panoramic views of the valleys and mountains.

We stopped for the night at a motel in Merimbula, perched high up on the hill overlooking a picture perfect blue bay. The owner advised us do a driving route around town, which took us to a long stretch of beach, and a fisherman's jetty. The motel was west facing and so we watched the sun go down over the bay from our room.

Monday 27th January

The next morning we crossed the border into Victoria and immediately the weather improved. So far Australia had felt like those first days of spring, with the crispness gone but the sun not quite strong enough to warm through you. In Victoria, it's back to hot summer days, but at least without the humidity of Asia.

We stopped in Mallacoota, a town on the sea, where the river meets the ocean, forming various lakes and inlets which form part of Croajingolang National Park. The best way to explore these waterways is by hiring a motorboat for a couple of hours. Chris was thrilled that he got to be the captain of his own ship, even if at top speed it was passed easily by windsurfers. We passed through a couple of lakes and explored a couple of mangrove lined creeks.

After Mallacoota, we had quite a drive to Bairnsdale, where we were spending the night at another caravan park. Our reason for stopping here is to the East, on the coast there is a town called Paynesville. From here, you can park your car and take the ferry for free to Raymond Island. Raymond Island his home to a colony of koala bears, relocated here from Phillip Island in the 1950s. There is a koala trail around the island leading to a wooded area, where we found 8 little koala bears just chilling in the branches, each with their own tree, making it more of a challenge to spot them. I wonder how many we missed. Some of them watched you as you walked around their tree to get a better look.

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I'm watching you!

In addition to koalas, the island is home to some colourful green birds with red, blue, and yellow chests as well as kookaburras. After about an hour wandering around the island, we caught the ferry back to Paynesville. Now all we need to see are some wallabies and wombats.

Tuesday 28th January

Today is our penultimate stint along the coast before we arrive in Melbourne tomorrow.

We headed inland to Walhalla, a former gold mining town, which thrived during the 19th century. The town is set in the hills about 40km from the main highway. This town is very traditional, with its original post office, which avoided renovation or conversion and therefore looks just as it would have done 100 years ago. There is also the original wooden firehouse set over the river and an elevated bandstand in the centre of a very pretty garden alongside the stream. There are a couple of cafés, a hotel and a general store, but the main attraction is a trip down the disused gold mine.

The mine entrance is located 500m up the hill out of town, and offer tours at various times of the day during the weekends with one a day on weekdays. We joined the half one tour and donned our hardhats. The tunnel into the mine was quite high and we were able to stand most of the way through the 500m tunnel into the mountain. The edges of the tunnel were jagged from where they had exploded their way through. Along the floor lay the original tram lines used for removing the gold. The mine had a couple of lower tunnels, but even they were 5ft. One area opened out, which used to be home to the boilers and is sat next to the former lift shafts.

After looking around the old post office and the town museum, we did the final couple of hours to Phillip Island, home of the Little Blue Penguins, which tend to be referred to as just 'Little Penguins'.

We arrived at Phillip Island at 6pm, had some dinner before heading to the beach where the Little Penguins nest. The penguins come ashore at dusk, which is currently 21.15. We arrived shortly after 7pm to guarantee front row seats on the sand.

Walking along the boardwalks to the beach, there was a wallaby posing for photos up on the sand dunes. Another Australian animal ticked off the list!

Shortly after 9pm, the first few penguins began to come out of the sea and waddle up the beach. They were so cute as they came out of the water, being knocked over by the waves and pulled back in again. Some of them were more skilled than others at getting out; one took nearly five minutes. Once they made it out of the water, they had to scurry up the beach past all the seagulls, who were not too much smaller than the penguins who are only just over 30cm high. They tended to leave the water either alone or in groups of about four or five. On the beach, they would congregate at the bottom of the sand dune before heading up in a line to find their waiting chicks.

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Nesting penguins

As it's towards the end of the breeding season, the chicks are now about six weeks old and are nearly ready to leave the nest. As we walked along the boardwalks, which overlook the nesting sites, we saw an adorable little chick, who was just beginning to lose his brown fluffy baby feathers, so he looked like he had a fur gilet on with his flippers coming out the side.

We were finally kicked out at 10.30pm to find one in the car park all on his own.

We returned to our cabin for the night, ready for our final drive to Melbourne the following day.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 03:03 Archived in Australia Tagged koala penguin coast kangaroo wallaby Comments (0)

Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

rain 24 °C

Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains are both easily accessible from Sydney, with tour companies offering day trips to both or you can take the train or as we did hire a car and enjoy the drive.

Hunter Valley, located a couple of hours drive north of Sydney is famous for its vineyards and wineries. We hired a car and began to head up the coast to Cessnock. Heading out of Sydney, we drove over the Harbour Bridge as opposed to taking the tunnel and on to the freeway.

At Gosford, we left the freeway to meander through the villages alongside the Yengo National Park. We stopped for lunch in a sleepy little village called Wollombi, and had the tastiest Greek style lamb burgers.

Once in Cessnock, we found a vineyard called Tambauline, where I'm unsure of the owners business logic. All the vineyards offer free tasters normally amounting to about five 25ml samples before you're expected to buy a bottle of your favourite. This guy was chatting away the whole time, making fun of his advertising stating 'sold out is just a marketing term which makes you want to buy it. Same applies with stock running low, means we've got too much to shift!' He was also a liberal pourer, probably offering about 50ml each time. As we discussed which wine we would buy, he interrupted us to say 'don't feel obliged to buy anything, you're backpacking!' As it was £5 for a very nice bottle of white, we didn't let him put is off.

In Australia, there used to be a law that if you owned a pub or bar, you had to provide accommodation for anyone who became to drink to get home, resulting in most towns having an abundance of affordable rooms. We thought we would give one of these establishments a try and had a very comfortable and reasonably priced room with shared bathrooms; however as this was a Thursday night, there was only one other couple there.

The following morning we visited another vineyard with sculptures in its gardens. We tried a few more different wines here before buying another cheap bottle. This winery seemed a little more interested in making a sale, with samples being smaller, but you were still unsure if they were really that fussed either way.

After this we hit the road and took the scenic route down to the Blue Mountains. Driving in Australia is so much more pleasant with rolling hills and empty roads. We headed along a 35km section of 'unsealed road', which is a gravel road to you and me and only saw a couple of cars in the other direction as we snaked our way through sections of forest and open plains. On spite of all the signs warning of kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and wombats, we were not lucky enough to anything more than some large black and white birds.

We stopped for lunch by the river in a village called St. Albans, which was very different to the St. Albans we know in Hertfordshire. There was an old fashioned pub and general store opposite the picnic area alongside the river. After lunch, we continued through to Wiseman's Ferry and, expecting to find a bridge, nearly shot off the end of the road into the river, not realising that you had to take a car ferry to cross the river.

Our last stop before Katoomba was Windsor, which had a peaceful little pedestrianised area set back from the river.

As we neared the Blue Mountains, it began to rain and cool down quite considerably. We found our hostel and actually felt cold for the first time in months!

The Blue Mountains are just over an hour to the west of Sydney. They are part of the Blue Mountains National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the evening, we ventured down to the edge of the town where there are viewing points and trails around the Blue Mountains. We looked out on to three stacks of rocks known as the Three Sisters. Down the side of the Three Sisters is the giant staircase which is 900 steps to the bottom and rather more challenging back up again. We were more than pleased that this was not an option as it was drizzling and we only had a couple of hours of daylight left. We took the trail around the cliff to Katoomba Falls, which took about half an hour. The views were stunning, with the tree covered mountains as far as the eye could see looking a beautiful deep shade of blue in the distance.

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The following day we were pleased to see blue skies and the sun shining, while still cool, making for perfect walking conditions. Today we visited Wentworth Falls, where there are various trails along and just below the cliff edge. Again, the views were spectacular with the different coloured layers of rocks rising above you as you walked along the paths made mainly from rocks. The falls themselves were flowing well after all the recent rain, and had smoothed some of the sections of rock where it flowed before cascading over the cliff edge.

We followed the National Pass around the cliffs, taking you past various miniature waterfalls. The recommended walking time was 3-4 hours, a challenge Chris and I were more than happy to try and halve. We managed the route in about 50 minutes, if not less as we missed the marker for the end of that trail.

After the Blue Mountains, we began our journey along the East Coast from Sydney to Melbourne.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 02:59 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Sydney, NSW, Australia

semi-overcast 24 °C

So much for 'Two Rolts, Two Continents, Two Rucksacks'!

Sunday 19th January

We set off at 5.30am to take the bus to the airport for our flight to Sydney. Considering the standard of driving, the bus ride was uneventful; however we were pleased to be off the 80 mile an hour bus being driven by a man who didn't look much over 20, on his phone, and sniffing a clear liquid out of a small glass bottle.

We checked in for our Air Asia flight, which had cost all of £100, even after all their Ryanair style add-ons.... We headed through to departures, got some food and drinks for the flight and waited to board. Our flights from KL international had all allowed you to take your drinks through, but Air Asia did not allow it at the low cost terminal. Seeing a chance to make more money, they also re x-rayed your bags at the gate, confiscated drinks bought in airside and forced you to buy their overpriced water on the plane. I bet Ryanair is disappointed that they don't have access to x-ray machines at the gate for this little stunt.

We arrived in Sydney at about 9.30pm to find that we could finally test out the epassport gate! (These never seem to be working in London.) We both headed up to the gate, and I had to take my glasses off. Without my glasses, I can see absolutely nothing, and so had to shut one eye and cross the other to try and read the screen. Clearly the machine didn't like that, wouldn't work and so I had to use the normal passport counter, much to Chris' amusement as he had gone through.

We checked into our accommodation, which had been advertised as shared bathroom. We were very pleased to discover that not only did we have a balcony, but also there was a private bathroom off of that! You know you've been travelling too long when you're more than pleased at having a bathroom, even if it's technically not attached.

Monday 20th January

The following morning, we dropped off our laundry, which probably weighed about 5kg. Lately in Malaysia, we've struggled to get it done for much less than £2 a kilo and so were not looking forward to hearing the cost of this. Turns out it's $10 (£5) to have it washed dried and folded!

That morning, we visited the Powerhouse museum, which is in the former steam powerhouse in Sydney. Along with quite a detailed exhibition on steam power, there were also exhibitions on space, Australian shops from the early 20th century, when the Beatles toured Australia, and an exhibition which had lots of ways to play with light.

Insert by Christopher: Another exhibition had real inventions but with ridiculous and amusing made-up stories for each one. For example shoes with mice on the front which the 'inventor' made to help his wife get over her fear of mice, only for her to try to run away from her own feet. Unfortunately I was waffling while Zoë was reading the introduction, causing her to misread it and not realise it explained this and read each of the twenty or so explanations believing them to be true. I had quite a giggle at how gullible she was. She really is quite stupid.

In the afternoon, we wandered through Hyde Park, to the cathedral in the middle. This cathedral looked a lot older than its 200 years and was pretty impressive. Afterwards we visited the shopping area, including the magnificent Queen Victoria shopping centre, which was incredibly grand inside with Victorian tiled floors and an open double height central area with balcony walkways between the shops. Chris bought some new clothes as he was beginning to look quite the scruff bucket.

Feeling as though we couldn't confirm we were in Sydney until we saw the Sydney Opera House, we took a train up to the harbour and by the time we got there, is was wet and miserable with a heavy drizzle. We headed to a restaurant for an early dinner, hoping it would pass and we could see the harbour by night but had no such luck.

Tuesday 21st January

The following day we visited the Sydney Museum, which shows Sydney life during the 20th century. The museum is located on the grounds of the first government house from the 1700s. At the front of the museum, there is a viewing cube, which looks out onto the square in front of the museum entrance. From above you realise that the various different coloured slabs and tiles have been placed to show the foundations and floor plan of the original building.

After lunch, we wandered around the harbour and the front of the Sydney Opera House before taking the ferry across to Manly bay. The main reason for taking this ferry is to obtain a better view of the harbour and therefore the Opera House and Harbour bridge.

We spent a couple of hours in Manly, wandered along the beautiful coastal path, which overlooks the crystal clear waters before stopping for a coffee on the promenade. All along the coastal path were signs warning of penguins, but unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see any.

After sailing back to Sydney harbour, we walked over the Harbour Bridge and took yet more pictures of the Opera House.

Again after dinner it began to rain and so we headed back, hoping to see the harbour by night on our final day.

Wednesday 22nd January

We rose early this morning and took the tram to Sydney fish market. We had read that this was the second biggest fish market after Tokyo's and so had fairly high expectations after the huge, chaotic Tokyo fish market being one of the highlights of our trip to Japan back in 2012. Sadly, there was not much to compare, with little bustle and only a few stands, with most of it shut off to the public. Never mind! We stopped off on the way back into town at Paddy's market, which is housed in an old fashioned looking market building.

We took advantage of the cheap electicals and the very good pound to dollar exchange rate and Chris purchased a new wide angle lens. I have now lost my husband to the ability to take new types of photos.

Despite the weather still not being great, (this is not proving to be what I had always thought about Australian summers; it is similarly wet and miserable at times and no one is saying 'it's not normally like this' but rather affirming 'this is Sydney',) we took the train to Bondi beach, which has gorgeous fine gold sand beaches. There is a large pavillion and cafés along the streets. It kind of reminded us of Brighton, if it were to have a facelift and some sand imported. It's a shame we didn't see it in the sun, but there were still a few wetsuit clad surfers playing in the waves.

We took the bus back to Central Quay, which was definitely more interesting than the underground train as we travelled through the surrounding suburbs of Sydney. We booked tickets to see 'La Soirée' at Sydney Opera House before getting dinner at a harbour side restaurant.

La Soirée was not we imagine, described as a 'burlesque circus cabaret'. Perhaps the clue was in the burlesque. The first act was three men painted and dressed to look like Aboriginies. They crept through the audience crouched low with spears to the stage in the centre. They moved around the stage before getting onto it and stamping their feet a little, before the music changed from traditional didgeridoos to Greek music with a dance twist and they began thrusting and gyrating to the music. We were in stitches from start to finish. We had bought cheapo mezzanine seats; however the ringside seats weren't full so we were upgraded and had front row seats. This allowed for a lady in a too tight red PVC dress to wiggle her bum in Chris' face and have him give her a bum push on to the stage.

Another act involved a lady hiding a hankie in her suit and gradually taking each item off so it couldn't hide the hankie anymore. She was soon naked and after a little thrusting and wandering around the audience, she went up on to the stage and hid the hankie one more time before mischievously retrieving it....

There was also a speech made by the Queen, who flashed his Union Jack boxers to finish. Most acts followed this style of entertainment, although there were a couple of proper acrobatic acts performed while suspended from the ceiling. (With a slight twist I suppose.)

I don't think we will be forgetting what we saw at Sydney Opera House anytime soon.

The following morning, we picked up our hire car to begin our adventures down to Melbourne.

Posted by Roaming Rolts 17:27 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney harbour opera bondi ferry Comments (0)

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