Still catching up!!
We have just had a great weekend, our friends Terry and Jenny flew in from Brisbane for the weekend, hired a car and took us to see some of their favourite places in and around Melbourne. Those of you who have been paying attention will know that we met Terry and Jenny on the Island Princess during our Alaskan cruise in August, we got on really well and it was great to catch up with them again and enjoy Melbourne together.
Terry and Jenny had booked in to our hotel for three nights but couldn’t get a room here for Friday night so they stayed across town for the first night, as they had arrived on a late flight we took pity on them on Saturday morning and walked over to their hotel to meet them. From there we went out for breakfast at an Italian bakery/cake shop Jenny knew, it was fantastic, the displays of cakes and pastries were so beautiful we forgot to take any pictures of them! You will have to take my word for it.
After breakfast we jumped in their hire car and drove out to the Dandenong Ranges, a National Park east of Melbourne. It was a lovely day and the scenery was beautiful as we drove through hills covered in native forest; we stopped in a little town called Sassafras to have a look around and squeezed in a cream tea in a converted chapel. From there we drove on to the National Rhododendron Gardens where we spent time walking through a beautiful garden valley filled with Rhododendron and azalea in full flower, it reminded us very much of the National Trust property Stour Head in Dorset which we visited in June, when all the shrubs were in flower too. From there we headed back in to Melbourne where we had a reservation for dinner in town.
Terry is Sri Lankan and was keen to introduce us to Sri Lankan food ahead of our visit there in February, he had booked a table at a restaurant called Cinnamon which offers a buffet on Saturday night. We hadn’t eaten much Sri Lankan food before so we were glad of Terry and Jenny’s guidance as we sampled rice dishes, curries, sambals, and a Sri Lankan speciality called Hoppers, little baskets made from rice and served with curry. We also tried a delicious dessert made with coconut milk and cane sugar, it was very good but Terry insisted that Jenny’s homemade version is better.
Sunday was the first day this summer when the temperature was due to hit 30⁰C in Melbourne so we packed water, sunscreen and hats and set out for the Yarra Valley wine growing region. We had a table booked for lunch at the Yering Station Winery but before lunch we wanted to spend some time looking around a farmer’s market in the grounds. When we got there it was very hot so we were pleased to discover that the market was mostly set up inside a barn, we spent quite a while exploring the stalls and sampling the produce (chutneys, cheeses, chocolate, biscuits, olive oil, jam), we did start to wonder whether we would need our lunch reservation at all. Once we had finished touring the market we explored the rest of the Yering Station site, there was an art gallery, a terrace with a panoramic view over the valley and a cellar door where you could sample wines from the vineyard. We sampled a number of wines and chose one we wanted to have with lunch. Terry signed up for the Yering Station wine club so he and Jenny will receive 6 bottles of wine every quarter, fortunately they don’t ship to the UK so we weren’t tempted to sign up ourselves. By the time we had finished the tasting it was time for lunch (do you notice a theme emerging here?), the restaurant was very modern with tall glass walls looking out over the valley. The signature dish was a roast shoulder of lamb for two served with salad and chips, we all went for that and thoroughly enjoyed it along with a bottle of excellent red wine and coffees all round. When we left it was still very warm, 32⁰C so we jumped in the car and turned on the air conditioning. Jenny guided us to the Yarra Valley Dairy where we stopped to buy some cheese to take back to the hotel for supper.
Monday was even hotter, the forecast said 35⁰C with heavy rain at night. We had planned a trip south of Melbourne to visit Phillip Island and see the Little Penguins (they are the smallest species) which come ashore at dusk so once again we packed hats and sunscreen and Jenny added jumpers and raincoats in case it got cold waiting for the penguins! It was about 2 hours to Phillip Island so we had all day to get there, on the way we stopped at the Australian Garden, part of the National Botanic Garden, which we had heard about from an Australian family we met on our wine tour in Hawkes Bay. Terry and Jenny hadn’t heard of it and we didn’t know what to expect but we saw the sign so we stopped to have a look, we were glad we did. Historically the site was a nature reserve protecting a large area of native Australian bush; four years ago part of it was developed as a modern botanic garden highlighting native flora and recreating a variety of different habitats from across the country. We were keen to have a look around but it was very hot, it was a large site and there was very little shade available. As we hesitated we spotted a little open sided tour bus which did guided tours with commentary, we spoke to the driver and, although she was expecting a tour group that was attending a lecture she agreed that she had time to take us around the garden while she waited. We paid our Aus$7 each, hopped on the bus and enjoyed a guided tour through the gardens. It was interesting and we learned a lot about plants and shrubs in Australia. When we finished we found a picnic area and had a feast of cheese and fruit and other goodies Jenny had picked up at the farmers market. It was still very hot but we had to shelter from a sharp shower and we could see the weather was changing as clouds gathered.
Back in the car we finished the journey to Phillip Island and reported to the visitors’ centre where we purchased our tickets for the Penguin Parade and checked what time the penguins were expected, 20.45, but we were advised to take our seats by 19.45. We had a couple of hours to kill so we drove back to a nature reserve called Swan Lake which the woman on the ticket desk has suggested as a good spot for spotting wallabies. Mark and I don’t have a great track-record spotting wildlife in Australia and Terry and Jenny were determined that we would see a marsupial of some description so, more in hope than expectation we set off along the board walk around Swan Lake (very reminiscent of Wicken Fen near Ely). We had only just got out of the car when we spotted our first Wallaby sitting in the middle of the track, as we walked on we saw several more and were able to watch them for quite a while, it was brilliant. We were even able to watch some from a bird hide on the edge of the lake. After about 45 minutes the sky went very dark and we felt a cold down draft so we hurried back to the car and got there just before the rain started. With an over and hour before we needed to return to the penguin beach we decided to drive to the other visitor centre on the end of the Island and have fish and chips in the café while the storm blew through – ever hopeful, none of us fancied sitting on the beach in the pouring rain and howling wind waiting for the Little Penguins. On the way to the café we spotted an Echidna crossing the road, it is another Australian marsupial and looks like a large hedgehog with a very long, very thin snout. After dinner, to our delight the rain stopped and the sky brightened slightly so we headed to Penguin Parade and took our seats on the terraces over-looking the beach.
The Little Penguins on Philip Island live in burrows behind the beach, some as far as 1km from the shoreline, at this time of year the adults spend most of the day at sea fishing and then come ashore at sunset and return to the burrows to feed their chicks. Every evening at dusk groups of penguins come ashore and cross the beach to reach their nests. Apparently, there are 36,000 penguins in the colony and every night 16-20,000 cross the beach, we didn’t see that many but we did see hundreds make the journey. As the sun set we could see penguins in the surf out at sea, they would gather together in ‘rafts’ of 20 to 50 and then head slowly for the beach; once they arrived they would huddle together as if they were plucking up courage and then they would hurry across the open sand in tight little groups. These were wild penguins exhibiting natural behaviour and it was a real joy to watch. The crowd was well supervised but the wardens had their work cut out trying to get everybody to stay sat down and not to film the penguins.
We were very lucky with the weather as we sat out in the open until about 21.30, there was a bit of drizzle and we did put on the plastic poncho’s that Terry had bought but we didn’t get wet. It was raining as we drove back to Melbourne but we were really surprised when we saw on the news that several people had died in the city from Asthma attacks caused by the storm. Wild weather indeed.
After temperatures over 35⁰C on Monday it was a bit of a shock to wake up on Tuesday morning to discover lead grey skies, rain, and temperatures of 16⁰C, what a turnaround! We all walked up to Victoria Market for breakfast and then caught a tram in to town to have a look around. We went back to the Melbourne Central Shopping Mall which we had visited on our walking tour, it houses Shot Tower an historic armaments factory which has been preserved inside the Mall under a glass dome. It also has a large (i.e. 10ft across) fob watch which opens on the hour to reveal two mannequins playing Waltzing Matilda and a flock of clockwork birds that sing along – very sweet. We managed one last gourmet treat, hot chocolate at Koko Black a very smart chocolatier in the Royal Arcade, a grand Victorian shopping arcade. As it was still raining we decided to drive out to St Kilda a seaside suburb which boasts another colony of penguins, for some reason the traffic was horrendous and the sat nav took us on a very circuitous route but we saw lots of Melbourne that we wouldn’t normally have seen (positive spin!!) and we did eventually see the penguins too. Slow traffic back meant we only had time to stop at the hotel to collect Terry and Jenny’s luggage before it was time for them to head back to the airport for their flight home.
We had a great weekend, we saw some wonderful things and ate some wonderful things and laughed most of the time. Terry is a big Doc Martin fan so we are looking forward to returning their hospitality when they visit us in Cornwall and we take him to visit ‘Port Wenn’!!