Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I was super excited for the last destination on our big road trip:  Melbourne!  Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne is the main rival to Sydney.  Sydneysiders tend to dislike Melbourne, but everyone else in the world seems to love it.  From what I heard in advance, I had a feeling that I was going to love it too.

At first glance, Melbourne doesn’t really compare to Sydney at all.  The natural beauty of Sydney – the beaches, the ocean, the sun, and especially the harbour – just aren’t anywhere to be found in Melbourne.  There is one beach in a neighbourhood called St. Kilda, but it’s pretty dismal.  The weather changes on a dime – warm and sunny one minute, wet and gross the next.  And driving is nightmarish.  The city streets are shared between cars and trams, and right turns seem to be prohibited everywhere I want to make a right turn.  Also, left turns are prohibited everywhere I want to make a left turn.  Then there are the hook turns.  Hook turns are where go to the far left side of the street (keep in mind Australia drives on the left), then you gently stick into the intersection and wait for a yellow or red light.  Then you proceed to turn… wait for it… right.  Right.  All the way across the intersection.  They do it to avoid trams, but it really doesn’t make any sense.  Why don’t they just paint a right turn lane next to the tracks?  Needless to say, I used the “go one extra block and make a series of three left turns to avoid getting killed making one right hook turn” method.  I survived.  It worked.  My first impression of Melbourne was not good.

But then, just as quickly as the Melbourne weather changes, my impression changed too.  After the initial shock of driving wore off, we left the hotel and walked around the city.  The architecture was… stunning – and some places looked like you were in Europe.  There are laneways (alleys) littered with bars and restaurants.  I like bars.  I like restaurants.  And the quality was… well, incomparable to Sydney.

Sydney bars tend to be too crowded, too pretentious, or too full of bogans (rednecks) – or any combination of the three.  With the exception of the Shady Pines Saloon (a country-western themed bar in my neighbourhood), there really aren’t any bars that stand out in Sydney.  In Melbourne, on the other hand, the two bars we went to were both fabulous.  One featured a giant giraffe and giant ostrich when we walked in – with other giant random animals scattered about (not real animals, of course), and the crowd was fully mixed:  suits, preps, hipsters, creepy dreadlock people, normal folk (like me!), and every other group of people you can imagine.  The next night I was taken up to a rooftop bar with a view of the entire city.  Again, a mixed crowd and 100% unpretentious.  Love it.

But, you know me, and you know there’s one thing that really makes it or breaks it for me:  the food.  Please, allow me to ring the bell and declare a win.  The food was great – from the laneway cafes to the Ethiopian restaurant (I finally got to quench my craving!), to the cute little brunch spot in St. Kilda, everything just tasted delicious.  And the cherry on top:  the brunch spot in St. Kilda even had cute baristas.  Win win win!

No wonder this place is one of the most livable cities in the world.  Please remind me why I moved to Sydney again?  I popped into my company’s Melbourne office to introduce myself to the team down there… just in case I want to move to Melbourne one day.  But until that day, I’ll have to settle for the random weekend getaway.  And the first one of those will be… in a week and a half.  Woohoo!

I didn’t take too many photos – mainly because I was busy eating and looking at all the cool buildings – but here is a smattering of shots that I managed to snap, and I promise to do a better job on the next trip.

Views of the city taken from St. Kilda:

The Melbourne Museum:

Yay!  The King Tut exhibit is in town!

Cleopatra ?

Carlton Gardens.  Tell me this doesn’t look like Europe.

Look – a rainbow behind the fountain!  But where are the gays?

There I am!

Melbourne Charlotte (not to be confused with Sydney Charlotte or Charlotte from Sex & the City) with messy fingers from a mostly finished plate of Ethiopian food.  Yummilicious.

St. Kilda Beach.  It’s a beach, yes, but it’s no Sydney beach.

But it does have penguins!  Yay!  I finally got a chance to snap a photo of a real live penguin!  (I turned the flash off, of course.)

And did I mention I drove by a Costco???  Yes – they have a Costco in Melbourne!  And soon to be one in Sydney too!  But until that opens, I’ll drive by again each trip to Melbourne to take in the view.  I miss Costco.

Friday, June 17, 2011

#86: Penguin Parade!

We spent most of our first day in Melbourne… two hours away from Melbourne.  It was off to Phillip Island (great name, eh?) and the Penguin Parade!  The Penguin Parade is Australia’s biggest wildlife attraction and a rare chance for humans to see wild penguins up close.  The colony of Little Penguins is one of the largest such colonies in the world.  The Little Penguin is, as its name suggests, the littlest species of penguin.  They are sometimes referred to as Blue Penguins or Little Blue Penguins due to their bluish colour.

As the Penguin Parade made my list of 103 things, we decided that it was worthy of a splurge.  So, we signed up for the “Ultimate Penguin Tour” and had the chance to walk down to the beach in a small group – away from the big crowd – to watch the penguins come ashore at dusk.  We were provided with night vision goggles so we could clearly see them in the darkness.  They came ashore in small groups, waddled across the beach, and made their way up the sand dunes to their breeding grounds beyond.  After about 30 minutes of watching the penguins emerge from the ocean, we slowly and carefully walked alongside of their breeding grounds on our way back to the visitor centre.  We were provided with dim flashlights so we could ensure we didn’t step on any penguins.  They were just bright enough for us to see, but the lights were tinted red as this colouring doesn’t have a negative impact on the penguins’ eyes.

Of course, everyone loves penguins (who could dislike penguins?!?) and their exhibits at zoos are always popular.  This tour, however, was a whole new level.  It’s rare to see penguins in the wild, let alone seeing them come ashore from their hunt for food.  But we did, and we were up close with a front row view.  Overall, it was an absolutely spectacular experience.

Unfortunately, photographing penguins was not allowed as their eyes are very sensitive to flashes of light (and some people in the past have proven to be idiots for not knowing how to use their cameras properly or assholes for being selfish and not turning off the damn flash on purpose).  We got plenty of photographs before and after instead!

I thought these were supposed to be the Little Penguins???

Look!  My pass says I’m a special guest!  I’m stoked!

We decided to empty our bladders before heading out for our tour.  Now, which restroom should I use?  Wait a minute…

Night vision monocular in hand, I got to check out my first of many penguins:

Look at all these penguin tracks!  We were in for a treat.

Sunset looking over Western Port Bay:

Before driving off, they ask you to check for penguins under your car:

And then they ask you to check again:

Ok.  All clear!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Koala Fever!... and Chlamydia

In my nearly year and a half in Australia, I’ve had the privilege of seeing quite a few Australian animals in the wild – notably kangaroos, wallabies, emus, snakes (ick!), various birds, and – my favourite – the quokka.  One major one that hadn’t made the list so far was the koala, but that was all about to change on our way to Melbourne.

The Great Ocean Road is notorious for having wild koalas all alongside it, and the koalas are one of the bigger tourist draws.

As my friend Karen told me before I went, it isn’t hard to find them either – just look for all the cars stopped alongside the road and mass amounts of tourists with their cameras pointed up toward the treetops.  At the end of the first day’s drive, we saw a bunch of cars stopped on the way to the Cape Otway Lighthouse.  I pulled over and found that Karen’s advice was spot on.  This little creature was up in the trees:

Weeeee!!!!  A koala in the wild!!!!  I zoomed in for a better shot:

There were a few others in the area, but they were all high up in the treetops which made photography difficult.  After ooo-ing and aah-ing for a few minutes, we hopped back in the car and headed toward the lighthouse.  It wasn’t even a few minutes later when we saw more cars pulled over.  This time, the view was up close and personal:

This koala was at ground level and probably made a great photo op for dozens of tourists that day.

It was like we hit the koala jackpot, but the real winnings would be the next day when we drove to the town of Kennett River.  A street called Grey River Road is famous for its koalas, and sure enough, there was another one right there at eye level when we arrived:

Could the photo op get any better???

With our interest peaked, we popped into the Koala Conservation Centre on Phillip Island the next day.

Liz finally got the chance to snuggle with a koala:

If they weren’t already, our common misconceptions of koalas as cute, snuggly creatures were put to rest:

Those guys have super sharp claws so they can grip into branches.  And if they can grip into branches, they can certainly grip into people too.

I thought I had done quite a bit of research on koalas, but there was one major thing I missed in all of my reading.   I found it on this sign:

Koala chlamydia?!?!?  They say it so nonchalantly and offer no further explanation.  Research after the fact taught me that chlamydia has been a major problem in koala populations for ages.  It causes blindness, urinary tract issues, and reproductive problems in koalas.  Nobody knows exactly how the disease was introduced to koalas, but it has been one of the major factors contributing to the koala’s decline.

On a related note:  my research also taught me that koalas, like many other marsupials, have bifurcated penises.  That basically means that their penis forks into two branches, each with its own head.  That is only appropriate as female koalas have two vaginas and two uteruses.  Crazy, eh?!?!?

Maybe the double contact quickens the spread of the disease?  Or maybe there is an abundance of koala sex workers?  Do they trade eucalyptus leaves for carnal pleasures?

Whatever it is, these sharp-clawed little chlamydia-carrying prostitute animals are slightly less cute than they were before…

But they’re still really cute!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Great Ocean Road - Part 2!

After a glorious first part of the Great Ocean Road along the coast, we decided to head a bit inland for the afternoon to check out the Otway Fly Treetop Walk.  Similar to the one I did in Western Australia, the Otway Fly took us up into the tree tops, but when it came down to it, it wasn’t quite as nice as the original.  I should’ve known it wasn’t going to be as good the moment I saw the spelling mistake on the warning sign next to the entry:

No, I wasn’t the one who corrected it.  I didn’t have a marker handy, but luckily one of my intelligent and observant predecessors did.  Despite the scenery not being as unique as the tingle trees of Western Australia, it was still fun to run around the treetops:

The Otway Fly had a dinosaur exhibit on the ground.  I’m not quite sure why it was there, but it totally would’ve been better if the dinosaurs were real… and caged… just like in Jurassic Park.  But since they weren’t, we decided to have a little fun with them.  Liz gently kissed her new stegosaurus lover…

I wasn’t as gentle when I took my velociraptor for a ride…

Anyway – moving on from our moments of immaturity.  We drove back out to the coast to our final stop of the day:  the Cape Otway Lighthouse!

The Cape Otway Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Australia, which is only appropriate as it does sit on the Shipwreck Coast.  We walked the grounds and the climbed up to the top:

Looking out over the scenery, I began to notice that the limestone cliffs were disappearing and the coast was changing into more rolling hills with foliage.  It wasn’t until the next day that we really saw the difference:

The new scenery on the second half of the Great Ocean Road was remarkably different than the first.  It wasn’t as ooo-and-ahh-worthy as the rugged, wave-carved coast that we started on, but it was equally as pretty.  We did a mini-hike up to Sheoak Falls:

And then stopped at another, more impressive waterfall – Erskine Falls:

Our final stop on the Great Ocean Road:  Bells Beach!

Bells Beach is Victoria’s most famous surfing beach.  It was a bit too cold to go in the water, but the sand was soft and the view was great.

Off to Melbourne we went from there, and as we drove away, I had a small feeling of pride.  I had been driving for three days straight, mostly on difficult, winding, 2-lane roads, and not once did I drive on the wrong side.  Maybe I’ve just become accustomed to driving on the left.  Or maybe it was the constant reminders I was receiving every few kilometers along the way:

Apparently I’m not the only tourist here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Great Ocean Road - Part 1!

Liz and I awoke early on a Wednesday morning to start our two-day trek along the Great Ocean Road.  The Great Ocean Road is a 150+ mile stretch of road that hugs the coast between Torquay and Warrnambool, Victoria.  It’s a two-lane winding road that has some of the most spectacular coastal views in Australia.  Having the word “great” in the name is absolutely appropriate as we were soon to find out.  So, we packed up our car and headed out, stopping of course for a quick photo op:

Yes, we stopped and took many photos of signs along the way – mainly because Liz is a photo op monster (which I now appreciate) – but the real photos were the ones of the scenery.  And there was lots of scenery, especially on day one.

Our first stop off was the Bay of Islands – photo taken from afar:

Then on to the Bay of Martyrs:

The Grotto:

And the very famous London Bridge:

The island in the bay there used to be attached to the mainland on the left – that is until January 15, 1990, when the arch known as London Bridge came tumbling down into the water, cutting the rock off from the mainland and stranding two tourists on the newly formed island.  After several days stranded without water and no way to get off the big rock, the couple died of dehydration.

Actually, they didn’t.  Just kidding!  They were rescued by helicopter a few hours later.  Bet that makes for one hell of a story to tell their friends and kids one day!

The Razorback was a very interesting rock formation – the two sides eroded away by wave action, the Razorback was very thin, nearly as thin as… say… a razor?  Yes.  But the Razorback is actually called the Razorback because the top (back) of the formation is sharp like a razor due to the salty wind-blown sea spray hardening sections of the top.

The coast along the Great Ocean Road is known as the Shipwreck Coast due to the high number of shipwrecks that occurred before modern navigation equipment came into play.  The Loch Ard is one of those ships that hit the rocks and sank.  All but two of the passengers perished with the ship in 1878 after a three-month voyage from London to Melbourne.  The two survivors were washed into this gorge, which is now appropriately known as the Loch Ard Gorge.  Liz and I walked down into the gorge and pretended we were the two survivors!

Actually, we didn’t pretend at all – we just explored the beach a bit, but it would have been totally fun to role play.

Or not.

The next stop was the big stop – the most famous geological feature on the whole Great Ocean Road:  the Twelve Apostles!

The Twelve Apostles are twelve limestone stacks in close proximity to each other.  Actually, allow me to correct myself:  the Twelve Apostles were twelve limestone stacks in close proximity to each other.  As with all good things, the Twelve Apostles must come to an end, and the constant battering of waves against the easily-erodable limestone will ensure that.  With the most recent collapse of one in 2005, only 8 of the original 12 apostles remain.  Which one is next?  It’s just like Survivor:  the suspense is killing me!

Erosion in action (nerd alert!):

Our final big rocky cliff seaside viewpoint was the Gibson Steps.  The Gibson Steps were carved into the cliff side in the late 19th century and covered with concrete for safety at a much later date.

It’s a quick walk down:

And at the end lies a fantastic beach:

With all of this natural beauty, it’s difficult to be anything but happy when taking in the views on the Great Ocean Road.  But as any good pessimist will tell you, the happy bubble can burst in the blink of an eye.  And that blink happens when you read any one of the many signs that constantly serve to remind you that at any given moment during your visit to the Great Ocean Road, there’s a chance that you will DIE.

I think I’ll take a few steps back from the edge now.