Visiting Melbourne felt a lot like visiting friends in their hometown- because it actually was. While traveling this year we met many people who live in Melbourne, so our plans focused on spending time with them more than on visiting any of the (numerous) museums Melbourne offers. Since we generally opt for nature, wildlife and people over art museums anyway, this was not really a sacrifice at all.
- Days 1-4: Sydney
- Days 5-9: Tasmania (Strahan, Launceston, Bicheno)
- Days 10-15: Sydney to Noosa Road Trip (Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Port Macquarie)
- Days 16-18: K’gari Island
- Days 19-25: Noosa to Ciarns Road Trip (Byron Bay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Townsville)
- Days 26-29: Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
- Days 30-33: Melbourne
- Days 34-41: Alice Springs & Uluru
- Days 42-43: Back to Sydney then flying home
RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→ Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan
Dates: October 23-December 3, 2014
When we arrived in Melbourne, on a Friday afternoon, we were pretty exhausted from our busy few days in Cairns scuba diving and hanging out with friends, so after buying groceries, we spent that evening relaxing in the apartment we had rented for the four nights we were there.
Melbourne City Center
The next day, we joined a free walking tour of the CBD (Central Business District, or city center). Melbourne is a beautiful city, but admittedly the tour was pretty boring. I think this was more the fault of the guide than any failure on the part of the city itself to be interesting. We actually learned quite a few interesting tidbits about the history of the city. For instance, the city has a very distinct look and feel from that of Sydney. It feels almost European, with older buildings in an older architectural style interspersed among the more modern skyscrapers. There is, of course, a reason for this- Melbourne is actually a older than Sydney and experienced a financial and population boom in the 1850s, due to a gold rush larger than that of Alaska and California combined, that led to a lot of development you can still see today.
We also visited the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail) and learned more about the infamous Ned Kelly. Kelly was a bush ranger (meaning a criminal in the outback) and one of the most famous Australian outlaws of all time. He is also beloved by Australians today, even though he was a bad kind of a Robin Hood who stole from the rich but just gave to himself and his friends. When he was finally arrested, he was wearing an iron suit of armor he had made himself to protect him from the anticipated shoot out with law enforcement. This suit of armor is on display at the State Library of Victoria, and the gaol is where he eventually was hanged. Legend holds that the man who condemned Kelly to death told him right before his hanging that he was going to hell. Kelly responded to this that he would see him there. Coincidentally, this man died just a few weeks after Kelly’s execution.
That night we got dinner and drinks with a melange of friends from around the world- Tom and Steph from the UK who we had met on Fraser Island; Danielle from Melbourne who met on our Intrepid Indochina trip; Tasha from Canada who we met in Argentina; and Tanya and Christina from Melbourne who met at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. We got dinner at the unfortunately-named Kum Den restaurant in China Town and then drinks at a trendy-looking bar called Trunk.
Great Ocean Road
The next day, we had plans with Christina and Carly (who we also met at the Elephant Nature Park), to head out on the Great Ocean Road, one of Australia’s most iconic drives, featuring the shoreline of Victoria along the Southern Ocean. Carly was not only kind enough to drive us, but had also laid out an itinerary for us for the day.
We started with a stop at Bell’s Beach, a surfer beach about a half hour before you get to where the Great Ocean Road officially begins, for some views of the coastline and to watch surfers. Every Easter this beach is host to a world-championship surfing competition.
Our next stop was to Aireys Inlet and the Split Point Lighthouse, which is an iconic landmark for Australians since it was the home of the fictitious family in the children’s TV show “Round the Twist”, about a family who lives in a lighthouse and weird magical things happen to them (so Carly and Christina tell us). It was here that we also got our first glimpse of a stand-alone rock in the ocean, a remnant of a now-eroded and collapsed cliffside along the water. We would later see many more of such rocks clustered near one another at the Great Ocean Road’s most iconic sight, the so-called Twelve Apostles. But first, we had a few more stops to make and at least a hundred more kilometers.
Less than a half hour later we came to the official start of the Great Ocean Road, marked by the Eastern View Memorial Arch. The road itself was constructed by WWI veterans in memory of those who were killed in the war. This makes this road the largest war memorial in the world (and, the most beautiful I have ever seen).
Our next stop was in the town of Lorne, where Carly and her mom vacation every year. We earned our lunch hiking up to a beautiful waterfall called Erskine Falls, and then made an obligatory stop at the grocery store to pick up a little tube of Vegemite, a yeast extract paste that Aussies like to spread on bread and sandwiches. Carly is more passionate about it than the average Aussie, I think, because she said she likes to put so much on her bread that it makes her mouth burn. Christina recommended a more moderate amount- best used as a thin layer on bread with a LOT of butter. We had our first taste, straight from the tube, while waiting to order our lunch at the Lorne Hotel. I think it is an acquired taste- strong and tangy, salty but also sour.
Lunch, on the other hand, was delicious, and we enjoyed watching the cockatoos scavange for leftovers.
Our next stop was one I had read about in Lonely Planet- Kennett River, allegedly the best place to spot koalas in the wild on the Great Ocean Road. We pulled over into a car park and walked up Grey River Road, where the koalas allegedly live. Far easier to spot than the koalas, however, were the dozens of king parrots flying around, eating seeds from the hands of tourists and landing on their heads. My focus, however, was on koala spotting- I did not want to leave Australia without seeing a koala in the wild! To my great joy, we did spot a little ball of fur sitting high up in a tree. It was not much to look at given the distance and the fact that koalas spend most of their time sitting still, but I was stoked.
We then turned our attention to the birds. Even without offering them any food, they came and sat on our heads and arms, and we all had a fun time with them for nearly a half hour.
Tim then spotted another koala in another tree a bit further away and harder to spot than the first. That made two! And as we were getting ready to leave, the first one we saw actually moved, leaning over a bit to scratch his leg. This was probably one of the most active moments of his day, and we got to see it!
Back on the road, we then made the long drive to the Twelve Apostles. These rock stacks (of which there were once twelve, and this day we counted eleven) are leftover from erosian of the headland. They appear eerie and beautiful, representing the passage of time and an Australian past predating humans.
We then headed for our last stop of the day before the long drive back to Melbourne (thanks again Carly!!)- the Lock Ard Gorge. This spot was just a few kilometers past the Twelve Apostles and stunningly beautiful. Two cliffs bordered the stretch of beach making up the gorge, with waves crashing in against the red rocks. This site is also one of the most famous along what is termed the “Shipwreck Coast”, a stretch of coastline 120km where more than 80 vessels wrecked over just 40 years. The Loch Ard is the most famous of these. On the last night of its voyage from England, the ship went off course, and of the 55 passengers, only 2 survived- Eva Carmichael and the apprentice officer who rescued her from within the gorge, Tom Pearce. It sounds like the start of a great romance, but the two actually never saw each other again.
Three hours later we were back at our apartment and saying goodbye to Carly and Christina, then it was to bed. The next morning Danielle was taking me, Tim and Tasha to the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, where we hoped to finally see a platypus!
Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary
We arrived just in time for the Birds of Prey demonstration, and got to see several gorgeous birds before it started pouring rain and the show was called off. The best bird we saw, in my opinion, was a hawk whose feathers looked like brown camo and who is as effective on the ground as in the air. The caretaker worked with the bird to demonstrate how he can use his claws and beak to break into large, thick eggs for food.
Once it started pouring we made our way to one of the inside exhibits- the reptile house. Here we saw several of the most dangerous snakes in the world, including the number one most dangerous- yikes! To my surprise, they actually had fairly neutral color markings on their bodies. I had expected brighter reds and yellows, as this is what I have been told to look out for, so I am glad I saw what they actually look like on the offchance I were to see one in the wild. That said, it is not my intention to ever get close to any snake in the wild.
After the reptiles, we decided to break for lunch, since we were nearby to the platypus house and saw a sign advertising a platypus talk at 1:30pm. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled time, we were waiting by the gate. A caretaker came out and told us that the show was actually only on weekends and holidays. Since this is not what the sign said, she grabbed the sign to fix it later, which impressed me and Tim (a solutions-oriented person!). She also offered to give us a brief walk and talk through the platypus house to tell us about these strange little creatures.
The platypus is one of the weirdest animals in the world. It is one of only five species of monotremes (egg-laying mammals) on earth (the other four are all species of echidnas so you might as well just call it two). The platypus has a bill like a duck, a body like a beaver, and instead of nursing their young from breasts like other mammals, they actually secrete milk like sweat, and the baby just lays near and laps it up. This makes it very difficult to raise a platypus or an echidna in captivity, since you cannot just give them a bottle. Instead, the caretakers must put the right amount of milk in a small bowl and have the baby lap it up.
We got to see two of the many platypus they have at Healesville, though we weren’t able to get a good photo since the platypus house was dark and they swim pretty fast. Even so, it was exciting to finally get to see this elusive creature!
We also saw the typical Australian animals we had seen previously- wombats, wallabies, kangaroos and even a Tasmanian Devil. One of the highlights, though, was our visit to the onsite animal hospital, where we got to watch one of the caretakers nursing a baby echidna who was taken in when his mom was hit by a car. He hadn’t yet developed his full spikes, but we learned that he was actually at his sharpest right now (which makes sense, since they are also most vulnerable when they are young).
Another highlight was seeing a baby koala and his mom. We were lucky, too, because the baby was very active while we were there. He was crawling around on the ground, climbing trees, annoying his mom, and being the cutest ever. His mom also woke up for a bit. It was great.
Our last stop was to see some dingos, who were as beautiful as ever, despite being surprisingly dangerous animals.
All in all, our brief but busy visit to Melbourne was a lot of fun. We loved getting to see some of the people who have made this trip amazing all along the way, and it was also nice to spend some time in a large city, since starting the next day we would be spending a week in Australia’s remote, hot and dusty outback…
And when it comes to the Sydney versus Melbourne rivalry that is such an intense part of the culture in these two cities, Tim would like to cast his vote for Melbourne. He thinks Sydney is nice and we had a great time, but Melbourne just felt like a better place to live. Sorry Sydney friends.