Melbourne’s terrifying riverside

After leaving the Great Ocean Road, we arrived in Melbourne just before rush hour on Wednesday, 20th February. Our home for the next three nights was an AirBnB on the 15th floor of a modern block of flats in the Southbank area. We collected our keys from an external lockbox, attached to a particular lamp post to whose location we had received detailed directions. All very dead letter drop tradecraft. We then transported our luggage up to the apartment. Luckily, the flat had indoor private parking and a lift so the move-in process was easy. We had spectacular views from our small balcony, with what was probably the less glamorous perspective, looking away from the city, out over the motorway and towards the sea.


After getting settled in the apartment, we headed out to see a little of the city and do a little shopping for essentials – tea and milk being essentials for us. We walked up to the Yarra, the river that runs through the centre of the city and which has been recently redeveloped into a vibrant riverfront leisure area, with broad walkways and numerous cafes, bars and restaurants. When I say broad walkways, the routes are actually shared cycle/pedestrian paths. Prominent signs beseech cyclists to ride slowly, but these imprecations are ignored by many who seem eager to use pedestrians as obstacles on a slalom course. The rate of travel chosen by many of them is really quite disturbing. Apparently, Melbourne hasn’t had a cyclist-related pedestrian death since 2006, but numerous serious injuries have occurred.

You’ll be pleased to hear we survived our riverside walk, and Ishbel even managed to get a photo of a black-crowned night heron perched quite casually on a small dock.


Overcome with the excitement of this sighting, and tired from the full on travel of the last couple of days, we dined at home and had an early night.

Thursday saw us up early and attacking the day. Research had alerted us to the fact that Melbourne offered free public transport within the centre of the city and, in fact, had a free tourist tram that circled the city.


This was a bargain not to be missed so we walked from our flat across to the north side of the river and past Melbourne’s art nouveau masterpiece: Flinders St Railway Station.

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From here, we were able to catch the tram and see quite a bit of the city centre. I was keeping an eye open for a barber as I decided I needed another all over head trim. When I eventually found one, it was in a department store so almost certainly overpriced.

We visited a number of the tourist sites, including Melbourne Gaol. This was a fascinating visit since, as well as covering the history of the building and the legal structures that prevailed at various times in Victoria’s history, a number of cells included background stories of former inmates, the most famous/notorious of whom was Ned Kelly.


Having read these tales of hardship and misfortune, I’m surprised that so many people decided that a life in the New World was a path to fortune. I’m absolutely shocked that any women ever chose to migrate since they in particular seemed condemned to live life on a precarious knife-edge between meagre subsistence and utter ruin. Who knows what life in their home country must have been like when this was seen as a better option.

Sobered by the gaol experience, we headed back to the flat to freshen up before our evening adventure. Our host from Adelaide, A, was in Melbourne on business while, coincidentally, his son was also there as part of his graduate training course, so we met up with both of them in the evening for a couple of drinks and a catch up.

Friday started slowly. But, then again, we were in no rush. Our Friday activity had been planned in advance: we had booked the VIP visit to see the Little Penguins on Phillip Island.  This was a two hour drive from Melbourne, and the penguins generally start coming ashore at dusk. Our ticket was for a tour starting at 8pm, but we wanted to have a leisurely drive down there and stop in a couple of places on the way. We set off just after noon and cruised down the road a way.

We decided to stop first at Bassine Specialty Cheeses for a tasting, We had passed a couple of wineries, but Ishbel wasn’t keen on them and I didn’t want to drink anything as there was a long day of driving ahead so cheese seemed like a good alternative. They had some lovely locally made cheeses available for tasting, and a spectacular cheesecake which we enjoyed with a coffee. After this we continued on the road. And quickly encountered a road block where Australia’s finest were performing random breathalyser tests. I was lucky enough to be one of the drivers pulled aside to be tested. I passed, as did all the drivers in our little group and we were quickly on our way again. Let that be a warning to you if you decide to go wine tasting in Victoria without a designated driver.

We carried on to Churchill Island and stopped there for a walk around the nature reserve. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll, until we realised that the bridge back over to the mainland closed at 5pm and by this time it was 4:45, so we increased our pace and made it safely back on to our route. We decided that we would stop for dinner in the next large settlement which turned out to be a town called Cowes. We ate in an Italian restaurant there which was quiet when we arrived but shortly afterward started getting very busy. First, there was a load of people in Kawasaki gear showed up. Then a bunch of people dressed in Yamaha branded clothing. Then a group in Honda garb.

We then realised why we had seen so many motorbikes on the road – and possibly why the cops had their breathalyser roadblock in place this weekend. It transpired that this weekend was Round One of the World Superbike Championship, and it was taking place at the Grand Prix circuit in Phillip Island. Who knew? Everybody who wasn’t excited about seeing penguins, apparently.

We finished our dinner and made our way down to the visitor centre where I enjoyed a quick power nap in the car before we headed in for our tour. The problem with the experience is that photography is banned completely. Flash photography can startle, disorientate, or even blind penguins so there used to be a ban on the use of flash. Unfortunately, some people just cannot comply with simple instructions so they have been forced to introduce a blanket ban on photography so it’s impossible to show any photos of the huge numbers of penguins returning from an extended feeding trip waddling across the beach to reach their burrows so they can feed their chicks, or begin the moulting process to renew their feathers. However, we were able to spot one cheeky youngster who was out of his burrow before night fell hoping for a parent to return early and provide a feed.


The penguin experience was excellent, and we had cleverly parked our car close to the exit to allow a rapid getaway at the end to get ourselves back to Melbourne. This was our last night in Australia as the following morning it was time to pack up and make the relatively short hop to New Zealand. A country I would be visiting for the first time and which Ishbel hadn’t set foot in for nearly forty years. Auckland, here we come.

Great Ocean Road

It’s been a while since the last post so I’ll be putting some of our days together in a feeble attempt to catch up with the blog and get the narrative back on track. When I last left you, we were just finishing with the oddness of Mt. Gambier and heading out along the coast towards Melbourne.

Our target for this second day out of Adelaide was to get to Port Campbell, a 250km drive along the coastal route, but scheduled to take 3 hours, according to Google Maps.

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En route, we stopped first at Portland to see the Gannet Colony at Point Danger. Our journey over the next few days is partly characterized by detours to see birds, so get used to it.

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We generally combine these stops with a coffee, but this time we wanted to press on to our next stop: Port Fairy. This town was named in 1828 by the crew of the whaling ship, The Fairy. The reason we wanted to stop here was to try to catch a glimpse of a Short-tailed Shearwater. There is a colony of these birds in Port Fairy estimated to number over 30,000 so we reckoned we had a pretty good chance.

We were wrong. Shearwaters, of course, spend the whole day at sea fishing, returning to land only at sunset. So we had no chance of seeing one arriving there in the middle of a scorchingly hot day. Nevertheless, we had a pleasant walk around the Griffiths Island Reserve.

DSC_0523.JPG After our walk, we got back in the car to carry on towards Port Campbell. We were receiving regular updates on the mileage ahead from the Great Ocean Road signage.

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We knew we’d be getting to Port Campbell in good time to relax for the evening and see what the town had to offer. The rest of the journey was nice and straightforward and we checked into the Southern Ocean Motor Inn early in the afternoon.  This gave us a chance to play our instruments for a while. We’d been neglecting our practise a little recently so it was good to pick a couple of tunes again.

Early evening, we walked through the town, which didn’t take long, and picked out a place overlooking the beach where we had dinner. After dinner, we had a brief walk along the beach and admired the local male and female dragon boat clubs practising in the surf just offshore.

We had an early night since the following day we had our final, 300km drive to Melbourne ahead of us. We were up and out the door nice and early to get some miles under our belt but our first stop was just a short way down the road at the Twelve Apostles visitor centre. We wanted to get a look at these shoreline structures, carved by the elements and, sadly, now somewhat fewer than twelve.


The day had started gloomy and overcast and by the time we got to the apostles, there was a steady drizzle falling, all of which served to make the view more dramatic. It also reduced the time I was willing to spend lingering there, despite Ishbel’s famed imperviousness to the elements. We compromised and wrapped up the visit once she had the shots that she wanted and we were once again on the Great Ocean Road.

The road itself is a lovely drive, winding its way along Victoria’s southern coastline and presenting spectacular views ahead and behind (weather permitting). The day brightened up as we ate up the miles although the nature of the road, carved as it was out of the rock faces of the coast, means that there is a constant program of repair and maintenance which necessarily slows progress on the drive.  The road is a remarkable testament to the people who built it. Ex-servicemen returned from the battlefields of World War 1 built the road between 1919 and 1932 as a monument to their fallen comrades. Today, it constitutes the world’s largest war memorial.


Before getting to Melbourne, we stopped for a coffee in Geelong – a name I only knew previously as an AFL team, so it was interesting to see the town itself. After this, we made  the final, short press into Melbourne and settled in to our AirBnB. Our Great Ocean Road journey was over, and it was time to explore an Australian city neither of us had previously visited.

On the road again

Another stolen title, this time from the classic song by 60s American blues-rock band, Canned Heat. On Monday, we were headed out of Cairns back to the Gold Coast for a couple of days with Ishbel’s sister and brother-in-law (V&G).

Despite having heard the occasional horror story about their tendency to cancel flights at a moment’s notice, our Jetstar return experience was just as straightforward and trouble free as the journey up to Cairns nine days previously. It felt like we were getting out just in time as the heat had rolled into town with a vengeance with temperatures hitting 36°C. We had enjoyed a farewell breakfast with Ellen before she left for the airport earlier in the day to start her long journey back to Germany. Our own, much shorter, flight to Brisbane was taking off in the afternoon so we hid from the scorching sunshine in the air-conditioned mall near the train station.

We went back to the hotel to pick up our bags and summoned our taxi. On arrival, we readjusted our bags to make sure everything was within the weight limits: 21kg for our single hold bag and 7kg max per person for hand luggage. They hadn’t checked the carry-on on the way up but we decided to err on the side of caution. We were glad we had done so when, as we were waiting at the gate to board, one of the crew members walked along the line with a pull-along scale asking each passenger to place their cabin bags on it. At least one of our fellow passengers was obliged to check his bag, and pay AUD 40 for the privilege.

Our flight was mostly uneventful, although I question why a six-year old feels it necessary to recline his seat on a two hour flight. Especially if he’s in the seat in front of me. Rant over. We arrived safely at Brisbane and collected our bag before heading for the train station. It was rush hour in Brisbane when we arrived, so we didn’t want anyone to drag themselves through that traffic to collect us when there was a direct train from the airport to Helensvale.

We were fortunate enough to find a train due to leave in 8 minutes sitting at the platform waiting for us so we ensconced ourselves in the carriage, signed on to the Queensland Rail WiFi service, and relaxed for the 80 minute journey. We were picked up at the station and were back at V&G’s house in no time. Over a lovely dinner of roast chicken and salad, we forced them to listen to our dive reminiscences before fatigue eventually overtook us and we retired to bed.

On Tuesday, a farewell dinner had been planned for the evening with V&G, their children and partners, and the grandchildren. During the day, the four of us went up to Mount Tamborine, Queensland’s first National Park, declared in 1908. We took a walk down to the Witches’ Falls lookout point where it became apparent that this part of Queensland has experienced less recent rainfall than the north.

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The falls had dried to a mere trickle. One bonus of the walk, however, was the opportunity to see a kookaburra.DSC_0778

We also encountered a termite mound just off the path that appeared to have suffered some damage. The termites were hard at work trying to repair it, which meant a tasty meal for any passing lizard.


We made our way back up to where we had parked the car and drove to Eagle Heights hotel for a bite of lunch with a view over the whole of the Gold Coast. The air was a bit hazy but the high-rise buildings of Surfers Paradise 22km distant were clearly visible. Temperatures were in the low 30s, so after lunch we drove back to Helensvale and had time to jump in the pool to cool off before the rest of the family arrived.

Once everyone rolled in for the evening, we had a nice, relaxed dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. We chatted a little about the Australian concept of “long service leave” whereby employees who stay with the same employer for ten years are rewarded with eight weeks paid holiday. I remember my own tenth anniversary at work, when I received a signed letter from the CEO. On balance, I think I’d have preferred the eight weeks. At the end of the evening, we said goodbye to the younger generation. It’s always odd taking your leave of friends and relatives in Australia because you never know when or if, you’ll see them again. Although global travel is much more accessible now than it was on our first visit here back in 1995.

Wednesday dawned hot in Queensland (again). Ishbel was up and out early taking a last opportunity for some bird photography at Coombabah Lake. After deciding there wasn’t much going on there, she moved on to Oxenford Park and managed to get a couple of interesting shots.



Once she got back, we finished our packing and V&G once again drove us off to Brisbane Airport’s domestic terminal for the next flight on our RTW schedule. We were off to Melbourne today. This time, we were travelling business class with Qantas with plenty of luggage allowance so none of the concerns we had with Jetstar on the Cairns side trip.

Arriving at Melbourne, we picked up our bags then, as instructed, called the rental desk of our car hire company, Ace Rentals. We had booked this car through a consolidator,, because of the highly competitive rate they offered. We had reserved a Nissan Qashqai and, after going through the formalities at the desk, I received my documentation and went out for the always compulsory walk around the car to inspect for damage. I was surprised at a couple of things on the documents themselves: the high mileage (over 65,000km) and the number of dings and scratches already identified. I was even more surprised at the very first thing I spotted on the car.


We were driving to Adelaide and I wasn’t keen on a 1500km round trip with a gash like this on the sidewall of the tyre. I trotted back in to the desk and asked the young gentleman to come out and take a look. His verdict? “It doesn’t go all the way through, so it’s up to you if you want to take it.” I didn’t want to take it. We were offered a Mitsubishi ASX which was slightly smaller but had tyres I felt better able to rely on.

Having straightened this out, we hit the road. Time confusion was pervasive at this point. Victoria was one hour ahead of Queensland, so we had lost an hour on the flight. However, Adelaide is in South Australia which is a half hour behind Victoria, so a half hour ahead of Queensland. I had booked a motel at a town called Ararat which was about a two hour drive from Melbourne airport, but I hadn’t checked which state it was in, so I had no idea what time it would be when we got there. As luck would have it, it was still in Victoria, so we arrived just before 9:00pm. Reception there was scheduled to close at that time, so we just made it. We also discovered that the latest opening restaurant in town closed at 8:30pm. One takeaway was still open until 9:30pm so we grabbed a pizza from there after checking in. We drove up to collect it and were struck by how much the town looked like a scene from a movie set in the 1950s.


We couldn’t even finish the pizzas and eventually just crashed out, looking forward to a good sleep before finishing the drive to Adelaide the next day.