Melbourne, you so fine!
10.04.2015 17 °C
When I left off last Sherry and I had just finished up a weekend in Geraldton WA and we were about to make our way to Perth to catch a flight all the way over to the East Coast where we would spend a few days in Melbourne. To get to Perth we purchased bus tickets in Geraldton, which were just another reminder of just how expensive things are in Australia, as it cost us about $165 in total to get us both to Perth. Back in Thailand we could have got 3 plane tickets for this price! But, as the blog is titled...it is, what it is, and we needed to get to Perth and this was how it had to be. I will talk more about the cost of living in Austrlaia in a later post and so for now, I will just say that you need to be prepared for some sticker shock if you are travelling from North America. Our bus left around 8:30 am on Monday March 9th and we arrived in Perth around 2:30 in the afternoon. Unlike our bus travels in south east Asia this trip was pretty uneventful. Don't get me wrong, I was quite alright with that being the case. This drive took us along the in-land route to Perth, so the scenary was pretty uneventful, with the only breaks in the flat dessert looking landscape, being our short stops at gas stations for food or to pick up other passengers. Through our travels back and forth to Perth we got to know the routine pretty well. Along the way you would always stop at a gas station where you could grab some deep fried goodness that was waiting under a heat lamp for you or in some cases there would be fresh homemade meat pies waiting for you to devour and stave off hunger. These stops were not so great for my gluten intolerant companion, but sherry made sure to pack some snacks, as she is usually prepared to do that no matter where we go until she figures out the local appetite for gluten free options. There are restaurants attached to some of the gas stations but when you are making the drive to or from Perth, all you want to do is get it over with, so it is almost always just a grab and go stop. After a short taxi ride to the airport (couldn't find a cheaper or more timely way to get there at that time) we checked in with plenty of time to spare before boarding our Virgin Australia flight at 5:30. Our flight would be around 3.5 hours but due to crossing over time zones we would be getting into Melbourne at right around midnight. For those people wondering about finding the cheapest or best flights, my only recommendation right now would be to shop around. I know, I know, thanks for blowing our minds with that insightful travel tip Shayne! The truth is we have tried all sorts of websites and apps to book our flights, and hotels for that matter, and we haven't been dissappointed with any particular one yet. Some of the most user friendly ones are Trip Advisor (app or website) and Kayak (app). These sites give you a look at all the different offers out there, whether it be from Expedia, Booking.com, Agooda, CheapOAir, Tripsta or one of the many other online offerings that are out there. You will find that prices can tend to escalate from the price you see on the initial search when you go into the booking so make sure you read the fine print and know what costs you are adding on and if you really need them. Some sites may look cheaper then others based on the initial search but it will be the added costs once the booking starts that bring them back to par with the rest. Expedia has been one that we have been particularly happy with in terms of the price being the same in the initial search as it is when finally hitting "ok" to make your booking.
Before getting right into the details of our time in Melbourne I will touch on briefly why it was that we decided on going there and not Sydney or one of the other highlight city's along the Gold Coast. Sydney is always the front and center choice for travellers when they go to Australia and I am sure as many people are reading this they are under the mindset that Sydney is the capital of Australia due to how much press and marketing it gets globally. Well, it is actually not the capaital, Canberra is and as I was told by some of our teacher friends back in Geraldton, even some students still believe that Sydney is the capital! We talked with many different people along our travels to date, trying to gauge what places might peak our interest on the Gold Coast, and Melbourne was the overwhelming number one. People kept telling us that Sysney was very busy and congested with tourists and that we wouldn't find very many tried and true Aussies there. We just were not in the mood at that time for a crazy busy city and being in the monotony of hopping around from tourist attraction to tourist attraction just to say we were there. Please don't get me wrong, Sydney is definitely on our list of things to do, but given our short time frame and our desire for a more relaxed experience, we landed on Melbourne. Queensland is another beautiful place we hope to be fortunate to travel to some day.
Our flight to Melbourne was right on time as we landed just after midnight. With no customs to clear, we buzzed through the airport and were in a taxi before 12:30. Since we arrived too late in the night, taxi was the best option to get us to our destination in a timely fashion. It cost us about $50 to get right to our hostel in the centre of Melbourne, which seems like a lot, but again based on the speed at which we got to our place it was definitely the best option. We stayed at the Space Hotel, which despite the name, is in fact a hostel. It was around $32 a night to stay in a 6 person dorm room. This may again seem somewhat expensive to seasoned hostel goers, but this place had great ammenities and I would highly recommend it. Everything was clean, comfortable and well taken care off, which are all things that can go a long way to helping you maintain a positive outlook on your travels. We did our best to sneak into our dorm room without disturbing our roommates but thankfully they had just landed in from a night out drinking so we fired up some drunken banter with them, sharing a few good laughs before finally putting head to pillow. The next morning I was awake pretty early as I am a fairly light sleeper and a couple of our roommates were up and on the way out to their next destinations quite early. I was totally fine with being awake, and I felt pretty good for having limited sleep, so I grabbed a shower and toured around the hostel to see what all we had available to us, while Sherry grabbed a few more zzz's. We had no real definitive plan for our time in Melbourne so the first day we grabbed a map and just started walking around. Our plan was to make our way down to the harbour and beach area, then just go with the flow from there. As we were further south in Australia now we noticed a change up in temps as the highs of 32 degrees Celsius were exchanged for average temps around 16-18 degrees Celsius. As a point of reference I will just remind everyone that it was mid March which was the beginning of their fall or autumn season, so all and all that is pretty good in my mind. I located a walking path that would take us all the way down to the harbour and it was only a few blocks from our hostel that we were able to connect up with that. The pathway follows along the Yarra River which we found out makes for a beautiful and relaxing walk. The path was paved the entire way and well marked for bikers, walkers and runners. It become very evident to us that Melbourne is a fitness forward city as we encountered bikers, joggers and walkers of all ages along our journey. The city has made the fitness lifestyle very accessible to its citizens by creating the infrastructure they need to partake in and enjoy being fit. The pathway's are so well designed for bikers, which seemly must cut back on the amount of traffic on the roads. It appears that many people were using bikes to get to and from work instead of driving their car or using public transport. There was even a rock climbing wall under one of the over passes that people were stoping at to literally and figuratively hang out. After a few directional mix ups, we finally made it to the harbour area around lunch time, so we figured the only proper thing to do at that time was to eat! We made our way out along St. Kilda pier, passing fisherman, tourists and locals along the way. The sun was out and there was a slight breeze which made the walk quite comfortable and enjoyable. About 2/3 of the way down the pier there is a restaurant called "Little Blue Restaurant" which has both indoor and patio seating and this was where we decided to take a rest to have some lunch. We sat out on the patio overlooking the harbour and back towards Melbourne which made for an excellent backdrop during our meal. We took some photos of our stop here which I will have up and posted soon! We both really enjoyed our lunch here and would recommend making a stop in if you find yourself wondering around the St. Kilda pier and your stomach starts to growl at you. I was in total relax mode after this stop, partially because we had done a wack load of walking already and partially because the environment around us was so calm and beautiful that it was pretty hard not to be. With nothing else planned on our agenda we walked back down the pier to St. Kilda park and then eventually started making our way back to the city center. Along the way we passed many of the same city sites we saw along our way to the harbour but because of the time of day the activity in and around the Yarra River had increased considerably. The work day was over, school was out and people were all over the place. Bikers, runners, joggers, walkers, and rowers all made up a very vibrant pulse around this waterway. Sherry and I stopped and watched the rowers for awhile to give our aching feet and legs a rest. One, two, four and eight person boats made their way up and down the river with their coaches shouting instructions through a megaphone as they kept pace biking along shore. There were young and old alike taking part, with some boats just being out there for exercise and enjoyment while others were clearly there for competition training. Having never been exposed to live rowing in my life, but being a fan of sport in general, this was a really cool and unplanned stop along the way. That night we were both pretty played out from all the walking we had done, so we grabbed some dinner and made plans for the next day and tucked in for a somewhat early night.
The next morning Sherry got up early and was successful in getting us booked on a tour that would take us out of the city and out to Phillip Island where we would get exposed to more of the beautiful countryside and some of Australia's awesome local wildlife. I will give a quick shout out to our tour company "Go West" (http://www.gowest.com.au/our-tours/penguin-parade-day-tour/) as we had a great day and were entertained the whole time by our fantastic tour guide Dennis. The tour we selected would take us to Phillip Island which is south east of Melbourne and takes about 1.5 hours to get to by bus. The island itself is now connected by road way and has a permanent population of around 9500. During the summer months the population explodes to around 40,000 due to all the seasonal guests with cottages and summer homes. Our tour group was nice and small with only about 20 or so people which allowed us to easily get to know everyone throughout the day. We departed our hotel around 11:00 am, making our way to our first stop which was at Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm. Here we started with a great lunch, which included fresh fried rainbow trout for me and a gluten free option for Sherry which was a salad with grilled fish. There were two other options which we had time to choose from while we made the drive out from Melbourne. The meal was a great start to our day and was another opportunity to meet more of the people on our tour. All fuelled up, we headed out to walk around the property, receiving a lesson in bush tucker along the way. Bush Tucker is essentially a collection of wild growing plants and trees that are edible and which have been used for centuries by the local tribes. Our guide was quite knowledgable and kept things entertaining all along the way. Back on the bus, I sat with my new friend from Tokyo who was over on holiday visiting her boyfriend who lived and worked in Sydney. She had spent time going to school in the United States and as such she spoke English quite well. She was very friendly and inquisitive which lead to some great conversations about just about everything. These interactions, for me, are what travel is all about. Getting to informally learn about the greater world around you through the experiences of other people. The next stop for us would be the much anticipated Koala Conservation Center. During this part of the tour we would be guided around through the centre, getting the chance to snap photos of the Koalas in a very natural environment. Now, I have to say, these little buggers may be cute, but dammit they are lazy! As you will see from pictures, they are sleeping almost all the time and are tucked away in the branches of the trees. As I said to the tour guide, it pretty much seemed like these guys were dealing with a permanent hangover! Regardless of their static nature, it was still really cool to see them. During the tour we also came across some wallabies which are described as small or midsized macropods, that look quite similar to kangaroos, but as the description suggests, they are smaller. All and all we spent about an hour at the center before jumping back in the bus and arriving at our wine tasting session out in the beautiful countryside of Phillip Island. With expansive views of the small vineyard, the surrounding farmland and the ocean, this place had curb appeal that could not likely be matched - it was stunning. It's not very often you hear about wine tasting experiences going bad, and I am not about to start! We had a great time with our host Karen who presented us with three white and three red wines to try out. Of course the wine was accompanied by a selection of fresh local cheeses as well. I can safely say that I did learn a bit about wine during this expeience but mostly I just caught a buzz as Sherry passed her unfinished glasses over to me to finish, so she could get topped up with the next wine, which would inevitably be passed over to me as well. It was a vicous cycle, but I prevailed, managing to resist the temptation to go all "John Belushi in Animal House" up in there. Before loading up on the bus, most people made the change to some warmer clothes as the sun was starting to go down and the air temperature was doing the same. After a short stop in the small town of Cows for a snack, it was off down the coast to the "Knobbies" where we would get to tour around the giant coastline and take picutures of little penguins as they snuggled up in the wooden huts along the cliff side. These little fellas would also be the main attraction that night at the Penguin Parade, but since it would be night time during that show, we would not be able to take photos due to the flash of the camera disorientating them as they made their way up the beach. The coastal views at the Knobbies were incredible and it got me even more excited to get over to Ireland where I knew I would be encountering even more of this great natural beauty. Finally, at just before 8:00 pm we arrived at the site where we would watch the worlds smallest penguins, who had been out at sea for many weeks, come bouncing out of the ocean and make their return to their babies and their homes which are scattered all over the coastal area. This occurrence happens daily. It is almost like clockwork, with the penguins starting to waddle up the shore at or right around 8:30. The way things are set up, you literally have these fellas walking right beside you as they call out to their families and eventually start doling out food to their young ones. There are tons of people around, so you do need to be patient, but it's certainly an experience that is well worth it - just remember to dress warm and all will be well. With the penguin parade all wrapped up, our day on Phillip Island had come to an end. Back on the bus our driver turned off lights and it was nap time for most people, but as we had been doing all day, my friend from Tokyo and I started to chat again, and we did do for the entire 1.5 hour drive back to Melbourne. What a great day that was and I am sure it goes without saying, but I highly recommend taking in this adventurous day. Between the amazing sites, comical tour guide and the great people we got to meet, it was well worth the price of admission. Back in Melbourne, it was straight to bed for Sherry and I as we had to be up for a 10:00 am flight to Queenstown, New Zealand.
Melbourne was a wonderful experience for both Sherry and I. It is an absolutley beautiful city that seems to offer a little bit of everything. It certainly has a passion for the arts with plays and exhibitions readily available, while also offering many outdoors activities for its residents and visitors. We definitely would like to make a trip back to Melbourne some day when we can take even more time to experience all the hidden gems tucked within it's city walls. Well, it is off to New Zealand!
Shayne and Sherry