This year, we had planned for not just an entirely new continent but a new hemisphere as well. Australia has been our calling ever since we started watching Masterchef many moons ago. Whatever we saw via Masterchef was extremely alluring and hard to resist. So when we thought of a new place, Australia was an obvious choice for me and Ashish.
Given my hectic work schedule, packing wasn't going to be an unexpected rigmarole packing for a 17 days sojourn to new shores. I am usually a very quick packer and have my lists always ready. However this time, apart from managing the expectations and needs of my 2 little angels, and one of them being demanding, we were going to cover multiple seasons in a small span of time. So in bits and pieces, I completed my packing over two weekends. People traveling without kids will never be able to appreciate how the number of things you pack increases exponentially with kids.
But the more exciting part of preparing for the travel was to research about the sight seeing places, read a little bit of history about them and then to shortlist the Must do experiences amongst the myriad options available. Though the digital world has given access to a lot of information, the information available is often overwhelming and that is the prime reason I like to read blogs written by travelers rather than searching travel websites as the like minded travelers give you lot more guidance and also share a different perspective.
Without any further ado, let the OZ journey begin.
Our journey began with a flight of Thai Airways from Bangalore to Bangkok. After a 2 hours transit in Bangkok, we flew to Melbourne. When we reached Melbourne, it was already dark and chilly. The taxi driver took us from the hustle bustle of the city to our hotel GRAND MERCURE at Swanston Street. I learnt from him that Melbourne has one of the biggest Tram network in the world and you can cover the whole CBD (Central Business District) in trams. They also have a FREE hop on hop off tram across the perimeter of the CBD which is available in every 10 minutes. So next time you visit Melbourne for a day, you can take that tram ride and definitely boast of covering the city in just couple of hours. And for the people who love to explore the city by walking, you are in the best place. The length and breadth of CBD is maximum 10 kms by walk.
We had 3 days in Melbourne excluding the day we reached Melbourne. So DAY 1 - early morning, we planned to take the Hop on Hop off tram and take a look at what Melbourne has to offer. The tourist tram has an old steam engine look with a rustic and antique finish. One complete round on that tram takes 90 minutes. The iconic Victoria station clock which is believed to be the meeting point for lovers, the vibrant coffee shops, the spirited young crowd all have their own charm. The docklands where boats and ships were anchored looked beautiful. Melbourne Eye which is called the Melbourne Star , the Yarra river cruise, the Victoria market and the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG) were the major attractions in the city.
After a quick sneak peek of the city, we headed for the Philip island tour where the unique attraction is the PENGUIN PARADE. Before we talk about this enchanting experience, I will tell you about the Philip island.
Philip island is basically a small countryside near Melbourne where the tours take you to a Kangaroo and Koala park. Yes! Dont expect Kangaroo and Koala's to be roaming around on the road in Australia, they never do. You have to go to these parks where they are taken care. We went to one such park named MARU park. It was a small farm where they breed these animals. You can feed the Kangaroos, click a picture with the Koala and see a few other Australian animals. Kangaroo jump is fun to watch and its amazing how friendly they are. Avani almost petted them like a small baby for quite sometime. She fed her own Kangaroo food to them and also helped others who were scared of getting close to well built kangaroos. We also learnt Koalas are an epitome of laziness with 95 % of their lifetime spent in sleeping and eating. Wish I was a Koala and could just sleep and eat all day. No harm in wishing :P. But they are super cute, just like a stuffed toy who can cling to you and give you the best hug in the world. And I feel lucky to have such a clingy Koala at home too. People who know me well, know exactly whom I am referring to.
Alpaca (looks like a cross breed of sheep (wool) and horse (body structure)), Ponnies and Cuckatoo are few other animals we encountered in Maru park. Another interesting fact we learnt was about Cuckatoo. They are very dominating birds, and to pet them you have to be over powering to them.
After Maru park we headed towards PENGUIN PARADE. The road to Penguin parade was very scenic. The lookouts from the cliff of the ocean was amazing. The beautiful aquamarine water breaking into white shimmery waves on the rocks made it look like snow. Avani wanted to climb down the cliff and get some snow from there. Mind you! Pictures cannot capture the true beauty of any place. You have to see it to believe it.
After the mesmerizing views from the top, we reached the PENGUIN PARADE area. Its amazing to know how magical nature is. There are around 20,000 penguins in the ocean near that island. Penguins have a threat from Fox, seagulls and many other predators. So every day in the morning, penguins take a shelter in the ocean to save themselves from the predators. And every evening at dusk, they come out and spend the night in their homes called as burrows. Also penguins usually stay in a flight (group) of 8-9 and go in and out of water with the same flight. So basically, Penguin parade is the parade they make from the ocean towards their burrows in their flights. Its captivating to see little ( 10-12" is the size of penguins in Philip island) penguins doing their wobbly walk to their burrows. You see not one or two but hundreds of such flights of penguins in couple of hours. Khushi wanted to pick a few and take them home. Note: Go prepared for the cold breeze at the viewing area
Day 1 gave us a glimpse of Australia and I can very well name it as the Australian animal adventure, with Kangaroo, Koala, Cuckatoo, Apalca and of course Penguins in a single day.
There are multiple tour operators like Grayline, ATKings running everyday tours to the nearby sight seeing places from Melbourne.
I was looking forward for Day 2 very desperately for two reasons. 1. I was going to meet my childhood friend/sister Anagha after a decade. 2. She was going to take me for a GREAT OCEAN ROAD drive. They were both the highlights of my Australia trip for me. The apostles have been intriguing me since I saw them on Discovery channel in my not so distant teens and the excitement of meeting Manu (as we fondly call her) with whom I have spent all my childhood.
Meeting Anagha, Rishi jiyaji and her two wonderful boys was like meeting close family after years. There was no need to break the ice as there was none itself. Jiyaji, perceived to be an introvert was an extremely jolly and fun person to be with. He went out of the way to make us comfortable and made sure we enjoy the GREAT OCEAN ROAD to the fullest.
Great ocean road is approximately a 300 kms road from Melbourne to the 12 Apostoles. Out of which 150 odd kms are built right on the shore of the Pacific ocean. So you are basically driving next to the ocean at all times and its a must do. Another highlight of the drive is Lorne about 150 kms from Melbourne. Lorne is a small beautiful town (reminds me of Swiss countryside - yes its that pretty) where the rich people have their holiday houses and there are umpteen motels and restaurants. For all the bollywood movie buffs, the key takeaway is that the beautiful glass house made on the cliff in SALAM NAMASTE is located on this road and that made " My dil goes hmm hmm hmmmmm".
One thing about Australia is, wherever you go - A small cafe or a gourmet restaurant- Food is always of good quality, well presented and delicious. People take their food really very seriously there. I missed having THAI there and that's supposed to be yummmmmm in Melbourne.....
So after our lunch at one of the Italian joints in Lorne, we went ahead though we wished we could stay there for a day. We stopped at some beautiful beaches on the way where my kids insisted on going in the water and play with waves. I braved in one of the places where I figured the water is freezing cold, so refrained of others. Then Jiyaji took us to a rain forest. It was a 2-3 km walk in the woods where you can see the rain forest trees and experience the slippery wet pathway. The bright colored mushrooms, the green algae on the trees, the ferns growing on top of other trees ( Interesting fact is that they are not parasites, they just grow on other taller trees because the forest is so dense that in search of sunlight they grow on top of the trees). I personally love the smell of rain forest, so for me it was a great experience.
And then after a wonderful drive, we reached the epitome of beauty. The 12 Apostles and Boy - does it do justice to its name? You really can't visualize it in words But I will make a valiant effort. These huge, mountain size rocks in the middle of the ocean made of chrome yellow limestone are called apostles. I learnt that they were part of the land which gradually/naturally separated from the land because of continuous force of waves around them. Out of 12, 3 apostles have collapsed and now you can see only 9 distinct rocks.
The Philosopher in me thinks that the apostles demonstrate how beautiful things can be created with persistence and hard work. And when waves can break the rocks apart, nothing is impossible.
I could be there forever, watching the wild waves breaking on the rocks and spilling the pearls all over. But everything has to end, so we headed back. The route back from the apostles is a different road than the Great Ocean road which is slightly shorter. And in that route, we went to another wonderful cafe- 12 rocks cafe in Port Campbell . I had the worlds best WARM BANANA PUDDING WITH CARAMEL SAUCE and HOT CHOCOLATE. A MUST VISIT, if you love modern deserts.
That was an end to the exciting day and also time to bid goodbye to my dearest Manu. With heavy heart and a lot of beautiful memories we parted our ways for the time being.
Next day Day 3, was our last day in Melbourne. We had kept no fixed iternary for that day because we wanted to explore the city and see a few iconic places from our Masterchef diaries and from A's Cricket diaries too.
So early morning, we headed to Melbourne Cricket ground. The mecca for cricket lovers and my husband being one huge cricket fan we had to take a tour for sure. Unfortunately when we reached MCG,they declared that there are no tours on that day for MCG. After a little persuasion, they asked us to go to Gate 3 and check with that counter. But the counter guy couldn't help as there was a FOOTIE (Aussie Rugby) match scheduled for the afternoon and for security reasons they couldn't allow us. Then my people skills came handy and I was able to persuade one security guard to allow us to click a few pictures with the ground. Gradually, from the lobby area to the seating, we were able to get a glimpse of MCG and also managed to click a few pictures in this amazing cricket ground. So a day which could have been very depressing for my better half turned out to be a rainbow day for him with a more than sneak peek into MCG.
Then it was shopping time for the kiddos. Australia is so child friendly and exciting for the kids that almost everywhere we went we had so many new things for the kids. Malls had dedicated toy sections with amazing statues, mannequins, setups for the kids. You can spend few hours, just in the kids section of the malls as they are as exciting as any activity center.
Then I pulled everyone to see the iconic Victoria market which hosts a huge variety of clothes, toys, souvenir shops, funky stuff from all over the world and most importantly fruit and vegetable market. Not just any fruit and vegetable market, but the favorite market in MasterChef Australia which hosts those vibrant, colorful and yumilicious produce from Australian farms which makes you love their food so much. They have mind blowing variety of fruits and vegetables.
And then it was time for some sinful indulgence. LINDT Cafe! For chocolate lovers, LINDT is next to heaven and imagine LINDT cafe where they serve shakes, smoothies, pastries and waffles with ice-creams made out of LINDT. Imagine yourself with a shopping basket, picking up baskets of LINDORs. Only chocolate lovers can imagine this feeling which would fasten their heart beats exponentially. So others please excuse my exaggeration. ALICE in Wonderland - Dipti in Chocolate land. It was the same feeling for me.
Talking about Chocolates, we met another good friend Nitin in another exclusive chocolate cafe - The MAx Berner Chocolate Factory. Thanks Nitin for introducing it to us, I just loved the chocolate fondue there. Nothing comes close to it.
The night life in Melbourne is very happening. Till midnight you will see people performing on the roads and others enjoying them; Youngsters ganging up with their friends in their best party clothes; Graphitti on the walls, people very chilled out and warm; its the cafe capital of the world; The vibes of the city are very young and energetic and makes you feel - dil maange moreeee!!!!!!
This was an end to our first destination in Australia. Melbourne was very welcoming and we were looking forward to a great stay ahead. With this I wind up this blog.
Watch out for my further blogs to explore Sydney, Cairns and Gold coast through my eyes. I try to keep my blogs short, but when the thoughts flow in, I cannot restrict it for words. So bear with me... C u soon.