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Category Archives: Travels

15th April 2016
Teatru Manoel, Valletta

Malta Philharmonic Orchestra Concert

  • Gershwin
    Piano Concerto in F
  • Borodin
    Symphony No. 2

Conductor / Soloist: Wayne Marshall

Viola

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It’s 11:45 in the evening and the temperature is still well over 30 degrees so I’m going to write up my final entry to the blog from Melbourne whilst I wait for the promised cool change and for sleep to come to me.

Today was one of the few planned out days that have been in the diary since before arriving in Melbourne. We were picked up by Gayathri and Daniel at half nine in the morning and went out to Claire and Adam’s house in Lower Plenty, about 30 minutes north east of Northcote. We met up with Jane & Bec all friends of Amy’s from her school days. The group had hired a minibus and the plan was to drive up into the Yarra Valley to visit a number of vineyards and go wine tasting.

Once everyone had arrived and Jane and Adam had returned with the bus we set off on the road out of Melbourne. The scenery changed from the leafy suburbs and deep gum tree lined city creeks that run throughout Melbourne to hills which the road would wind around until we reached a wide valley not too dissimilar to the Dordogne valley. The valley is at the very end of the Yarra Ranges and so the outlines of larger features are silhouetted in the distance. The grasses were very dry in stark contrast to the luscious green vines. The vineyards had started appearing in a similar fashion to the way that they appear in France, you suddenly realise that you are driving through them and have been for some time. (I still don’t think I’ve ever seen the first vineyard as I always have the same realisation!)

Our first port of call was Domain Chandon, a large vineyard which mainly produced sparkling wines. The usual setup seems to be that vineyards have a large trendy wine bar that you can go to, all of them are filled with people and for the first time on the trip I don’t think that they were tourists because they didn’t have the badge of a video camera or a selfie stick – a great relief! The bar area was light and airy with a large window at the gable end which looked straight out onto the vines. It was a really nice place to sit and have our first drink. Most of the group sampled the produce. I decided to try the Lemon, Lime & bitters option and was pleasantly surprised by a much lighter colour, organic offering that seemed to have hints of apples, very nice! Several times now I have seen sparkling reds and they have been quite popular here. This was one such vineyard which produced these sparkling red wines. They certainly seemed to smell fairly pleasant although I’m not completely sure it was quite right – nobody was going to order a whole case of it today either, although the enjoyed the glass they had.

On leaving the large Domain Chandon our next port of call was at Train Trak, for lunch. Again along side the large bars, every vineyard had a good restaurant attached (with a large wine selection available – of course.) this particular restaurant had a very Italian theme and we all ate delicious Pizzas. Each one was very thin based with scatterings of the various toppings. As in all the other vineyards, the glass walls looked out onto the vines which all appeared to be very well kept and had roses planted at the to signify the different grape varieties.

The interior of all the vineyards were beautifully air conditioned which was very much appreciated in the near 40 degree heat that we were experiencing. At the next stop, a cider house called Napoleone (and yes I have spelt that correctly – he says having checked it three times!!!) Amy, Bec and I took our drinks for a walk through the orchard. The temperature was really pushing into the low forties, thankfully the humidity was almost 0% so it felt almost bearable. Even so, after 10 minutes it was definitely time to retreat back into the cool air conditioned bar area. Napoleone’s bar area was quite funky as it had glass windows onto the exterior with views of the orchards and also glass panes through to the brewery areas. This gave a really interesting feel and really made it feel like you were part of the brewing process. There were 9 different brews available and having ‘checked in’ on Facebook I was entitled to try one. I went for a cloudy apple. It was very dry and actually quite nice. I managed a good couple of cm from the top of 1/4 pint glass before passing it on to someone else to finish!

Whilst running around the area we had seen signs to a cheese producer with a cafe and after a little research found that it was definitely worth visiting as it offered – nearly – free tastings (it was free if you bought anything…) we decided to take a trip into the unknown and drove back round to it. I’m really glad we made the decision as the cheese was delicious and I even enjoyed a Brie like cheese which was beautifully creamy. Each cheese was was handed around the group with an explanation of what is was made with and whether it had been matured or how it was preserved (they used ash for preserving one cheese, it looked odd, but tasted incredible!) I wish I were able to bring some back, but there is no way that it would ever survive the 24 hours of travel.

Having tried small quantities of all the cheeses we felt it would be rude not to enjoy some more and decided to have a cheese board and tea. This was a very good call as the cheeses were even better on bread. The tea was also grown in the Yarra Valley so it was all very locally produced. The tea was delicious but became quite strong after a while, we also noticed that the milk was very fresh and also tasted quite different because of it.

After leaving the cheese makers we returned to Melbourne to make supper. Adam had been checking his weather ap all day as a cool change was expected any time along with massive thunderstorms. Temperatures had started to plummet much further west of Melbourne and it was definitely making its way towards their home. Adam started up the BBQ shortly after arriving home and I was introduced to several Aussie customs including VB (or Victorian bitter – I wasn’t particularly taken by the beer but it is a must for a BBQ meal apparently!)

We cooked snags (Oz – English translation: Sausages) and chicken and lamb kebab skewers. Gayathri had prepared a selection of salads and I pile my plate high with the potato salad which had some hard boiled eggs in too. I was informed that there is only one way to eat BBQ snags and that is to lie one diagonally in a piece of sliced bread (ideally white, the whole grain nonsense that we were eating to day had to do, but I will have to return to sample this delicacy properly!) it is then essential that you run tomato sauce (not inferior ketchup) along the top of the snag. I have no idea why any of this was important but it tasted good! After filling ourselves with supper we sat outside for a bit and Bec managed to catch a small lizard, she’s a lizard expert and handles them lots so she was able to tell us a bit about him.

Claire had cooked deserts, a creamy baileys fondue with strawberries, apples and bananas. The fondue was served in tall cocktail glasses and made it look very nice indeed. It also helped that it tasted fantastic! It was getting quite late after the desert so we started to leave, not before we managed to exchange gifts. I had some teas for Claire & Adam and Jane and Adam gave me a very cool cap of his favourite Aussie rules football team, Collingwood (or the Pies). Daniel was not very impressed, apparently they are not very good, cheat lots and has warned me not to wear it in public or people will just assume I’m a bit weird for not wearing the Adelaide team cap…

Bec kindly drove us back to Northcote where the cool change had come in – apparently! The temperature had now dropped to a chilly 28 degrees which has also become very humid and that is why I’m still up, having packed ready to go to the airport too. I’m currently sat outside on the deck whilst the rain falls softly on the garden, it is starting to cool down, but I don’t think I’ll be in bed any time soon!

Tomorrow I’m leaving for the airport fairly early in the morning so this will be my last post from this holiday. It’s been absolutely amazing, I’ve met so many fantastic people, seen so many places, so much wildlife and had a fantastic time. The Christmas week was really different, but I’d certainly recommend a warm Christmas and one where everything can come fresh straight from the garden every now and again! Everyone has been so friendly out here and it has really made the last few weeks fly by very, very quickly. I shall certainly look forward to my next Australian adventure and hope to return soon to see more of this amazing country, there’s certainly a lot more to explore!

We started the day by clearing up the house at Wonthaggi and packing the car. With the temperatures due to soar it was likely to be difficult to move long distances and total fire bans can cause travel disruptions very quickly. By 10:30 we were leaving Viminaria road and heading into the town. We tried to find postcards of the area, but it isn’t really set up for tourists and the post office was closed, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to send you any of Wonthaggi.

Once we were on the move we made good time and stopped in Tooradin again for lunch. This time we went further down the estuary and found a whole flock of Pelicans. Their bills are very strange and they seem to have trouble holding their heads up because of the weight of their beak. I expect they are like penguins in that on land they are odd looking and cumbersome but in flight spectacular. We certainly saw some soaring gracefully in the distance. The pelicans had good reason to wait in the estuary as the fishing boats which returned would throw any bits of rubbish fish out to them on the beach where they were waiting. The fights that ensued over even the tiniest scraps of fish were quite amusing to watch, generally a lot of shoulder barging would take place even after the fish had long been eaten.

On the road back into Melbourne the overhead displays were announcing that it was a ‘Total Fire Ban’ day. Fire warnings are as standard as flood, wind, pollen and UV warnings in the UK. There are now six levels of fire danger

  1. Low to Medium
  2. high
  3. very high
  4. severe
  5. extreme
  6. code red!
    (having been added in quite recent years)

each with their own level of what is advised or allowed. On top of these the areas can declare total fire ban days, this means no heavy machinery can be used, no hot equipment, no naked flames. Gas BBQ’s can be used provided there is water and a responsible adult but no solid or liquid fuel at all. It seems to work quite well and without any real problems being reported. Certainly the press haven’t noticed it very much. It seems like the British press could learn a lot about reporting these natural occurrences!

Once back in Melbourne the temperature on the veranda had reached 41 degrees, the wind was quite strong and equally warm as it was blowing from the north, straight over a desert and onto us. It’s weird experiencing that kind of breeze as usually we associate wind with having a cooling effect. This breeze was like being in the blast of a large hair drier. Amy and I walked into town to post more cards and the heat was quite sweltering. In fact so hot that I just hadto buy an ice-cream (we had an Icy pole – an ice lolly) to get home!

As this was our last supper all together I had suggested that I take everyone for a final meal together. Susie and Amy suggested and booked an indian restaurant on Upper Heildelberg road in Ivanhoe called Cafe Safron. It was quite different to curry houses at home with completely different dishes. When they came the were full of flavours and the lamb was very spicy – still very tasty. I also enjoyed my first ‘real’ lemon lime bitters, made fresh. It was something else. It arrived at the table in two layers one orange, the lower lemonade which I had to mix together. Quite delicious and very refreshing.

Afterwards Susie, Luciano and I wandered down the street to the supermarket whilst Amy drove the car to pick up some supplies for the final days adventure. It was still well over 30 degrees. Even now at quarter to eleven it is still over 30 degrees. It’s going to be a scorcher tomorrow!

After last nights festivities we all woke up fairly late and didn’t really get going until just after 10, I was worried that I’d almost missed ringing the UK to wish them all a Happy New Year now that we were all in 2015 together. Thankfully I didn’t miss it and managed to get hold of everyone at number 4. I managed to speak to Grandwen briefly before being passed around the whole room and only after a few people did I realise that the the Nicholas family were also with them – sorry Robert for confusing your voice!!!

I also spent a lot of time writing up the last couple of days and finally getting up to date with this blog. With all the writing and phone calls I completely forgot to have breakfast! In the end I joined Susie, Luciano and Amy in an early lunch and I enjoyed a large scrambled egg on toast. The weather was quite chilly and overcast so we decided to go out to the desalination plant which had been built quite recently amongst some considerable resentment (opened three years ago, there are still large amounts of graffiti over any sign and placards placed in several locations)

The area around the de-sal plant has now been rejuvenated and planted quite carefully outside the plant, on the roof of the plant! And a wetland with a great bird hide has been built to support the wildlife. We walked out to the bird hide and whilst walking out over a board walk over a swamp where we heard these loud cluck type sounds pinging one at a time from different patches of the swamp. These turned out to be frogs (possibly bull frogs, but we couldn’t see any so it was quite difficult to identify them properly).

When we were in the hide we saw two Black-Shouldered Kites who hovered stationary high above us possibly hunting. The diversity of the wildlife was incredible for an area which until very recently has been a vast building site. Whilst it definitely needs a few years to really establish the plant life properly it was still very impressive.

On our way back we dropped into Wonthaggi to pick up some more bread and milk, I managed to post a couple of postcards so I hope they make it – the postbox was a little like St-Foy with various slots to hundreds of different areas.

Once back at the house I read my book, which I’m really starting to get into until Luciano announced that supper was ready. I hadn’t noticed the time and hope that I’m not too sunburnt because of it! Luciano had cooked a tuna and tomato sauce which we ate with linguine. We’ve also been drinking lots of Lemon, Lime & Bitters. I’m reliably informed that this is a very typically Australian soft drink and it is certainly quite delicious and very refreshing. It has an orangey, pink colour. It seems to go with everything and tastes much better than in sounds!

Having eaten our supper we went out to play cross country bocce / pétanque on the lawn. It was cross country because it was played between the Ti-trees and on a very bumpy, sloped lawn covered in rabbit diggings. We were also trying to play by moonlight at the end as the sun had gone down; the ball usually completely disappeared the moment you threw it which made it rather challenging. Luciano won by some margin (11-9-7). As we finished Susie came out and joined us with a torch as we were aiming to see some more wildlife. I still had yet to see a wombat or an echidna in the wild. Unfortunately, they weren’t in the mood to be seen, but there was certainly evidence of the presence of a wombat as it had left some droppings quite near a new hole.

As usual the day ended playing scrabble. Halfway through there were some large thuds on the roof and quite a lot of scurrying. This is quite normal as possums live happily in and on the roof of the house. I offered to go outside and have a look at what could have caused the noise. As I walked around the side of the house I allowed the torch to shine into the tall Ti-tree that stood near the corner and on a branch over my head there was a very large Brush Tailed Possum. It sat quite merrily on the branch gently looking round at me with wide red eyes. It’s eyes were ringed by white fur. When he moved it was much slower and more deliberate and more like the Koalas that we saw in Kennet River than I was expecting. Given the noises you hear you expect to see it scurrying and jumping like a squirrel.

The Scrabble game went very badly for me and I came last spectacularly. I would like to claim, in mitigation, that the only non-single pointers that I had all game were an H & Y. Even so, a poor show! Amazingly Luciano and Susie managed to draw after Luciano went out and Susies letters we’re taken away from her score to give them both 118!

Having run around everywhere over the last few days we decided that New Years eve would be an R&R day so I slept in and woke up at 9. I had decided to make some pancakes a couple of days ago and thought that today would be the perfect day to break them out. It was fairly mild at 18 degrees so they were just right to start the day. It was also a very good excuse to enjoy more of Ruth’s delicious sauces which we were able to pour over them. I had a horrible feeling that I had burnt a little bit onto the pan and was slightly terrified whilst trying to retain the appearance of total calm as I manically tried to scrape the carbon off that was rapidly forming on Susie’s favourite pan!

After breakfast I started to read some of my book whilst the sun attempted to appear from behind the clouds and managed to get through quite a bit up to lunch time when we again tried to finish the ham and cheese. There’s still quite a lot left!

Once lunch was finished and cleared away Susie and Luciano left to visit some of their friends in Inverloch. I applied some sun cream (especially around the ears, which are still a bit red) and sat on the lawn reading for a good couple of hours whilst enjoying some rays and birds chirruping around me.

For our last supper of 2014 Amy and I had decided to prepare Kangaroo steaks with mashed sweet potatoe (which is white like a turnip in Australia) and some fried potatoes with carrots and broccoli. It was quite delicious and the Kangaroo was very tasy and melted beautifully. After supper we played a word wheel game (somewhere between boggle and a word wheel thing with silly rules about which letters you could use and when) I lost, badly! So I gently moved the proceedings on to scrabble, which I did marginally better at finishing second in the first game and doing very well at in the second during which we celebrated new year, I rang home and number 4 to wish them a happy new year too!

Once we had the new year celebrations out of the way I went on to win the game of scrabble because Susie (who had put down all her letters at one point a bonus scoring 50 points) ended up with a high scoring set of letters leaving me winning by 1 point.

At this point I was not just 11 hours ahead of the UK but also a whole year, I was probably far too excited by this geeky concept!

After a very early start and quick breakfast we managed to leave the house just before 9 exactly as planned. The aim was to head to Australia’s southern most tip, Wilson’s Promontory, another of the national parks. It was a little cold and slightly damp as we left and as we were heading south it would only get colder so I donned the clothes I had brought for my return to England and Amy drove all the way there, mainly through fairly unremarkable farm scenery and rolling hills up until the park entrance where shadowy mountains were just peaking through the clouds.

Driving into the park more and more appeared on the horizon, stunning wide open plains turned into towering mountains which the car struggled to pull us up. The views at every moment were every bit as impressive as any other sight so far. The area of Wilson’s Prom is huge and after 40km of driving through the park we reached our destination. (it was still another 15km to the southern most tip, however with no roads going that far we had to settle for this spot)

The car park location at ‘Tidal River’ was stunning, with a beautiful sandy beach surrounded by cliffs and mountains. We started the walk by heading out onto the wide sandy beach which we could walk along before making our way up the estuary. The mouth of the river ran shallow over the beach and it was clearly a place that children would play on hot days. For us the main weather feature was the wind which was very strong, it blew sand straight up off the beach and into our faces, eyes, noses and ears ripping the water from our eyes and blasting our skin raw.

We were following the Loo-Ern track which started by crossing the river on a new board walked path before climbing the hill opposite. As we climbed the views back over the sandy bay became more and more stunning and, due to the scale, less and less photographable. The route – which was like yesterday covered in Ti-tree forests – climbed up and over the headland before the flora changed to become much more windswept and heathland like and descended slowly down to Squeaky Beach.

The view on the way down was stunning, white sand spread out along a long beach up to another jutting pile of rocks forming the next headland. The waves crashed hard against the rocky cliffs below us sending spray high into the air, and rolled breaking into the beach for miles before coming to rest. I expect there were rip tides, whirlpools, sharks, hidden rocks and killer jellyfish, but it looked like a great place to surf! Walking along the beach we managed to get the sand to squeak despite the squally rainfall that had been falling on us for the parts of the walk.

We ate our lunch in the cover of a large pile of rocks, I had a mozzarella and ham roll which we had made before leaving. There were a number of seagulls waiting hungrily for any left overs, my lunch was delicious so they went hungry.

On the return part of the walk we decided to turn right at a fork and follow the path up a cul-de-sac to a lookout point on the end of the headland we had crossed to get to Squeaky Beach from Tidal River. The views again were stunning, 360 degree views out to sea, beaches and mountains greeted us. We waited there just taking in the view until another group arrived and started using their selfie stick to take photographs of themselves.

Once we arrived back at the car park we lost Amy and Susie at the end when they went to use the facilities and Luciano and I assumed they’d gone back to the car. They assumed we’d gone to the cafe…

Once we had found them again we left Luciano completing a Su-Doku and went for a short walk around the new boardwalks at the top of the tidal river estuary. One of the things I’ve noticed the parks all do well is the signage that they produce. The information about native species and non-native invaders (and how to get rid of them) is fantastic. The walk took us in the shadow of a number of large mountains, some covered mainly in green Ti-trees others with bare rock faces exposed.

After walking I drove back and we stopped a couple of times looking for the wildlife walks which we had been told about and the park maps showed, unfortunatly the signs did not marry up with the information on the maps and it made it quite difficult to work out where the right spots were, there were a number of false alarms and we definitely walked down a fire break at one point! Eventually we found the right spot and spent quite a while wandering round spotting Kangaroos. Usually these looked very much like rocks until they sat up and looked around to check the area.

On the drive back we stopped at Cape Patterson and had fish and chips on the cliff tops overlooking the sea. The sun had finally broken through the clouds and we sat comfortably on a bench in the sunshine watching waves break on the sandy beaches. After an hour of eating in front of the seagulls we slowly made our way back to Harmers Haven to finish the rest of the ice-cream and have more of the amazing Strawberry and Youngberry sauces.

I’m afraid I lost the game of scrabble spectacularly with a score of 99. Bad letters.

Bite & sunburn update…
Bites on feet and legs gone but replaced beyond in the palm of my hand. It’s not very big but is really very irritating. Stocks of Anthisan are running low!
No major sunburn except for my ears which I forgot about yesterday and so they crisped up quite nicely.

After a late night we all slept in until around 9 when we woke up and had breakfast. The day was quite mild and we decided to go for a walk around the local heath. The route took us through a ti-tree forest, the trunks of the trees are very twisted and stretched up above my head before fanning out into a green hat. The large number of trees meant that the cover above us was very thick and walking in any other direction would be impossible because of the density of tree trunks. For the first 10 minutes we wandered through these ti-tree, cathedral-like structures before it broke out into an area of land which was much more recognisable as heathland.

The aim was to search for more Australian wildlife and plant life. The weather was quite cloudy and a little chilly, I was wearing a jumper and trousers for the first time, so the likelihood of seeing any large animals was limited. however, we did see a number of different birds and found quite a few orchids growing. On our return we discovered that they were mainly Hyacinth Orchids which had bright pink flowers and a thin red tongue. We also found a number of grass trees, one had completely disintegrated quite recently and there was only a pile of its scales to show for its existence.

On the way back we saw a large bank of cloud forming in front of us, it appeared to be a very long tube and at a different height to the rest of the clouds much higher over it. Over a short period of time it rolled up into a long tube which stretched out in a very straight line for a very long distance. These clouds are called ‘roll clouds’ and are extremely rare. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud over it, as when they form in the sunlight they are really spectacular. Even so I took several pictures and managed to make a stop frame animation on the camera from them which make it look like the clouds are swallowing us up! Once the cloud had passed overhead the rain started to fall. I think this is the first rain since being in Australia.

For lunch Luciano cooked spaghetti in a pesto sauce, the sauce was very chunky with large bits of pine nuts in it which made it very different to the pesto in the UK that I’ve tasted. We ate whilst the wind picked up around us. The day was going to be fairly cool so having decided the beach wasn’t going to be the best idea we drove into Wonthaggi to do some shopping. Wonthaggi has quite a small high street with not many very useful shops on, but has a nice feel about it. The supermarket was just behind the high street and had a large car park where we were able to find a space.

Once we had completed the shopping we made our way to the Homebase type store Mitre10 as we needed a new inspection tube cover for the septic tank.

On our return to the house we realised that it was getting quite late and so Luciano cooked another delicious tomato sauce with pasta which was typically delicious again. We had bought icecream in the supermarket to enjoy some of Ruth’s Youngberry and Strawberry sauces on. The freezer in the house wasn’t working very well so the icecream was very runny. This only meant that it needed eating quickly!

We managed to fit in two games of Scrabble to the evening I didn’t do so well in the grand scheme of things, but did manage to score over 30 for putting a single letter down!

Having slept very well in my first night in the beach house I woke just before 9 and had a quick breakfast of more multigrain weet-bix. After clearing away we all made our way down to the beach for low tide to see the rock pools.

The beach was very different to yesterday as the tide was out about 75 meters. This left a wide expanse of rock exposed which had pockets of rock-pools with a wide variety of aquatic fauna and flora in each. In our first rock pool we found a small crab underneath a rock. There were also a number of sea stars (small limpet type creatures) lining the edge of the pools. These could easily be prised off to observe closely. On closer inspection there was a circular mouth on its underside. I also found a selection of large sea snails some with shells as long as 5-8cm. A particularly elusive creature was the chiton, we had seen a number of its shells washed up along the shore line and it was quite tricky to find. After several fruitless attempts we stumbled across a couple of large ones attached limpet like again to the sides of rockpools. They have segmented shells which have a blue/green glossy hue and look like armoured slugs. The Internet says that they are quite delicious, we left them alone in peace however.

In some of the larger pools there were groups of people snorkelling and looking at the fish. Although they weren’t brightly coloured they were still interesting looking and had various bandings or spots along their bodies. We were able to walk out quite a long way on the rocks and watched as groups of fishers stood casting lines out into the sea. Some were obviously quite inexperienced and it was quite amusing to see the struggle to reel in land some of the tiniest fish or mainly seaweed!

The water in the smaller pools had been heated by the sun and was actually very warm indeed, nearing bath temperature! One of the pools was big enough to watch people snorkel up and down looking at fish, crabs and a wide variety of seaweed we were able to look in from above and see a large number of toad fish, these had speckally stripes and were as long as 15cm, also visible were some eels and a particularly large crab at least 20cm in width and 10cm in length just walking around on top of a pile of seaweed under the water. We are going to head back down later in the week to do some snorkelling ourselves.

As the weather was looking so good we decided to drive around the coast to the next seaside village Cape Patterson. We were due to meet Kevin and Cathy, geologist friends of Luciano and Susie. As we drove up to their house Cathy was standing waving to us from their first floor balcony with Cody, their miniature Lassie type dog. After brief introductions all five of us made our way down to to beach.

The beach at Cape Patterson was very thin at the high tide when we arrived with a couple of hundred people sandwiched between the tide mark and the steep sand dunes. As with most British beaches the masses had simply dumped themselves and their kit within a couple of meters of the stairs down. We decided to walk up 50m to the lifeguarded section where there were two flags out signalling that it was safe in that area. The beach had seams of rounded rocks – just popping their heads up from the sand – heading out to sea and so there were sections which looked perfect but had danger hidden beneath. Body boarding was amazing fun! The swell was huge, some waves towered over my head as I stood and you had to jump just to try and keep your head above them. I caught the first wave I tried for and felt like I was flying rapidly towards the beach on the breaker. I think Luciano took a number of pictures which may appear sometime soon if they come out!

I was only ‘dumped’ by one wave, it was a large one which I caught before realising that there was yet another behind it. The water plunged over me, in my mouth, up my nose and reminded me I was in Australia (the land where everything is out to kill you and where everyone stands on their heads.) Underwater I had no idea where the sky or the ground were, but managed to kick my way to the surface to stand up and spit out the small ocean I had swallowed!

After about an hour of surfing in the reasonably warm waves we made our way back up to Kevin & Cathy’s house where we ate a light supper which we had brought with us to share with them. The view from their dining room on the first floor was of the bay and looked out towards Wilson’s Promontory – not that it was quite visible, but the wind turbines could be seen in the far distance. We finished off half of the remaining Christmas ham for lunch with a selection of olive tapenade and homemade cheeses from Katy in Bendigo.

We all ate lunch slowly and conversationally and we eventually finished eating a few hours later when we realised that we needed to get moving as Amy and I had bought tickets to the Penguin arrivals at Phillip Island that evening and needed to set of in the next few minutes if we were in with a chance of making it on time.

We arrived at Phillip Island amoungst the last of the cars to watch Penguins arriving. The place was very busy and full of tourists, thankfully the centre has a really strict no photography policy (to make sure that the penguins weren’t disturbed by flashes) and enforced it. This meant that unlike all the other attractions that I’ve been to people were not able to wander around looking at the incredible scenery or sights through their phones or iPads. Unfortunately there were still so many people that we were jammed in like sardines onto concrete raked seating areas. We estimated that there were around 3,000 people sat waiting, watching a beach.

It was worth it though as slowly blocks of, what looked like, little ducks swam along the surface and up to the beach. Once on dry land they seemed to wait for something then waddled along bunched closely together. If they even so much as smelt danger they would turn and run. This was quite comical as time after time they would manage to escape the waves, climb some of the beach bunched together be close to achieving their goal before one of the back most penguins would get jumpy and turn round running for the safety of the waves. The rest of the group would usually follow like a wave going through the group until just one would be left, lonely at the front wondering where all his mates had gone!

After about ten minutes some of the tourists had clearly started having withdrawal symptoms from their gadgets and left the spectacle of the arriving penguins and would make their way back up off the beach to the heathland home of the penguins at the top of the dune. We stayed riveted to the amazing sight for about an our before the waves full of penguins started to die down and the darkness was setting in, so making it quite difficult to see them anyway, and climbed back up to the top of the dunes where the penguins were now making their way back to their chicks and burrows for the night. The whole site was carefully managed with lots of boardwalks that the Penguins could easily walk under and were completely separated from us. We were still able to look out and see them waddling their way home to their chicks. Happy (or hungry) reunions took place between chicks and parents and squabbles broke out between chicks and other parents.

Once everything had really started to die down we left and I drove back off Phillip Island and back toward Wanthaggi. We stopped at a petrol station to refil and managed to pick up some more milk and a icecreams to keep us going for the hour long drive back home. We arrived back just before midnight, I didn’t even need to get a cup of tea before going to bed I was so tired!

The start of my second week involved us setting off to the beach house in Wanthaggi. Again we aimed to leave by 9, so I was annoyed with myself when I woke up at ten to. Thankfully this time I had packed ready and wandered through to the kitchen to grab some breakfast. At 10:30 we managed to set off and drove south west towards the beach. The highway was wide with five lanes at times and high grassy, green banks to each sides. After a short period of time it became fairly monotonous and I settled down to watch the world go by.

After an hours driving we drove through Cranbourne a small town just outside Melbourne. We drove through and stopped the other side in a small picnic area in a clearing amongst gum trees (still no Kookaburras) we drank tea from the thermos again and had some of the left over mince pies we had been given by Katy from Bendigo. As we sat a family arrived and set up for a BBQ on the other side of the clearing. There were plenty of public BBQ’s around again and they soon started cooking up sausages.

The reason for stopping in Cranbourne was to stop at the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens which were based there. Again the gardens were free and we walked through the entrance and down steps to see a cast sea of red desert like expanse. The Gardens were known as the Australian garden and demonstrated how native plants could exist within Australian gardens easily and make sense.

The first exhibit type area we walked past was really very clever. In 1m wide strips that went back over the brow of a hill there were typical plants from each area of Australia. Each strip contained typical progression exhibited from small to large plants. Very cleverly planted and beautifully presented with a map and codes. This was a triangular patch a good 50 meters wide and it went back 40m at its longest.

The gardens were on a scale I’ve never experienced before and took a good couple of hours to walk at a swift pace around. They included several large lakes and a research garden (I will try and upload pictures of this for you Jonathan!) There was even an entire garden based around prehistoric plants and contained plenty of Wollemi Pines and bracken.

After leaving the garden we made our way a little further east to a town called Tooradin where we had lunch. I ate a plan meat pie, delicious again! We sat on the banks of an estuary where it might have been possible to see pelicans, unfortunately they must have been out fishing as there was a solitary Pacific Gull and a whole host of normal gulls, the latter of which were fairly keen to share our lunch!

On the dual carriageway we came across a very rare occurrence in Australia, a traffic jam. This was filled with traffic for Phillip Island the head of the Weston Port bay. We risked taking a shortcut and took a dirt track away from the traffic. The road was very windy and took us up into the hills, the view from the top was worth it. Weston Port Bay lay to our left with Phillip Island at its mouth, the Bass Strait lay in front of us clear & very blue as the sky was completely cloudless. Making our way back down to the main road gave us more and more views of the Strait and whetted our appetite for the beach.

We arrived at the house (just outside Wonthaggi, in an area called Harmers Haven in the Bunurong Marine park – another protected area of coast) it’s built very much like the inside of Bernis, basic but comfortable and in a fantastic location. Having not been visited since Easter, we weren’t sure what the inside would be like. Thankfully the structure was fine, but the possums had made their way through the ceiling in the bathroom and had left a little mess in the floor and there was a major ant invasion in one of the cupboards.

I helped check the water tanks with Luciano before helping empty, clear and clean the cupboards. The ants were a little more populous than expected and it took a couple of hours to really find their nest and spray it fully. They seem to be clear now, fingers crossed!

Amy and I went to find the beach, it’s about a 50 meter walk from the house through heathland and I had my first close up view of the Bass Strait. The path we were on took us out to a small headland from which we could look along the coast for miles. The beach had large flat looking rocks pushing out into the sea with golden sandy beaches lining them. The tide was quite high and so we were only able to see a few rock-pools, even so they were full of small sea creatures and we found a tiny crab under a stone very quickly. We walked along the beach around a couple of headlands to see the ‘surf beach’ (just an area of water which is a little safer to swim in than the others as it doesn’t have rips or rocks.)

On climbing back up to the house Luciano had cooked another fantastic meal. A tomato and lentil sauce with ham on polenta and mozzarella which was absolutely delicious. We polished it off very quickly before finding the scrabble board and starting a game. I finished first but my score was second, just behind Amy’s 159 (although she had started first!) I think there may be plenty more games over the next few days!

Having eaten ourselves silly the day before everyone started fairly slowly. Breakfast was a similarly lavish affair to yesterday and we all sat around enjoying each others company and the delicious food that was in front of us. I had 2 multigrain weet-bix and several slices of multigrain bread with Rob’s homemade honey again. Rob was planning to harvest the honey for the year and he, Nick and Ian had suited up to prepare to visit the hives. We were all invited to watch and were able to get quite close as they visited each of the 6 hives in turn.

The hives were built with two or three boxes making each colony, the bottom – we were told – would contain the Queen and was where bees were hatched. The upper boxes were above a Queen excluder sheet which was a grill (which was too fine for the Queen to fit through but allowed worker bees to continue filling honey comb, therefore stopping her from laying eggs in them). These upper boxes contained 8 frames which were filled with honeycomb. As each was pulled out it was instantly clear when bees had filled them with honey as they had a slightly whiter coating which sealed the honeycomb matrix. Rob and Nick took a couple from each box and would leave the less filled frames in each box to collect another time.

Rob removed 16 frames in total from the five different hives. The last one had been quite ‘lively’ and despite using the smoke one bee had got under his net and stung him on the neck. He spent about 30 seconds sorting the net out and was back straight away to finish the box. The frames were loaded onto a barrow like device in two spare boxes and wheeled up to the tin shed. Inside, Nick was using a steam heated knife (a long, very flat knife connected with a series of hoses to a pressure steam heater) the knife took the waxy top of the honeycomb off exposing the golden honey in the comb beneath. Once both sides of the frame were cut open, two frames at a time were placed into a hand cranked centrifuge within a large drum and spun to remove the honey from within the comb. They honey sprayed out and onto the side of the drum before sliding down to the bottom of the drum where it was collected. The weight diffence between the frames filled with honey and those empty was quite staggering. Rob had estimated that there would be around 70 – 80 pounds of honey harvested from the hives.

I struggled to believe that there was anything like that amount being collected in the bottom of the drum as all I could see were very fine threads of honey being spun from the frames. When the tap at the bottom was finally opened it was incredible to see a thick stream of golden honey pour out and onto the sieve & filter and into the bucket that had been placed below.

The large bucket below was easily 30cm in diameter and 50cm deep. Two of these buckets were filled deep with runny golden honey. We had sampled it both as it came out of the hive with the honeycomb and again when being drained from the centrifuge. Both times were absolutely delicious and like nothing else I’ve tasted! By this point it was about half 2 and the temperature inside the shed – with 5 of us working inside alongside the steam heated knife – had rocketed up and we were all sweltering in the heat.

Having finished spinning the honey we went inside to have lunch. It is pleasing to know that traditions from the other side of the world continue here, the left over meat had been beautifully prepared by Ruth and Katy and was waiting for us on the lunch table. Rob ducked out towards the end and picked a number of apricots from the tree which had been heavily weighed down by the number growing on it earlier. They were very tasty juicy and quite ripe; the skins were fairly soft and peach like.

After lunch we started to clear up, pack the car and say our goodbyes and about an hour later set off for Melbourne. On the route home we drive through the nearest village (Mandurang) and on to Bendigo. At the third largest city in Victoria, it was quite interesting to see. The city was built upon the gold rush and was filled with many large old buildings which had clearly been financed by the profits from the heady days when the gold mines were active. There was also a tram system running through the city which again was clearly a remnant of the gold industry.

We continued our drive back to Melbourne on the freeway and popped into Woodend for tea at a bakery cafe, I had a pot of tea with Susie and we also shared a piece of delicious Red Velvet cake between two. It was slightly cherry flavoured and was the deepest red with a fine white icing. One of the sweetest cakes I’ve had for a while!

On arriving back in Melbourne I unpacked the car and Luciano prepared supper of the left overs from last week (mince and stew) to empty the fridge for our trip down to Wonthaggi. Another delicious meal. As we sat eating we realised that the sun was setting over Melbourne and it would be worth heading outside to watch the fruit bats. The air was thick with them as they left trees from the left of the house and flew high overhead to the right. I’m not sure where they were heading but ther large black silhouette against the darkening blue sky was really quite something to behold. Their wingspan must have been at least 50cm wide possibly more and their black bodies were clearly quite significant. They flew, not like the bats I’ve seen in France or the UK, who fly very erratically and seemingly randomly, but silently, in a smooth direction and more like large birds traversing the sky.

I spent the rest of the evening packing before having a go at the Bach double with Amy. I say ‘having a go’ as although I know it off by heart still I was playing on one of Amy’s very old instruments – a 3/4 size violin and a 10th size bow, long notes were something of a challenge! After the Bach double we made our way through a Suzuki violin duet, trio and quartet book. Some of the pieces were really good fun, including a clever Mozart duet which you placed on a flat table between two players both played from opposite ends as if playing normally (i.e. one played the same piece but upside down and backwards to the other, incredibly it worked!)

Insect bites update.
The trilogy of bites on my arm are subsiding along with the ones on my ankle and knee from the Great Ocean Road. However the three separate ant bites on my toes from Bendigo have swollen up to the size of a two penny piece and are very itchy!!

I think that Australian Christmases are very civilised!

I was woken up by a loud menagerie of birds that started around 4am. The noises that came rough were beautiful and I can now really understand where Messiaen got his ideas for his many compositions based on birdsong.

Breakfast was already laid out when I went in at 8am and included a large selection of cereals freshly picked fruits, stewed fruits, yoghurts, honey from the garden and a juicer with plenty of fruit to squeeze for juice. I had a multigrain weet-bix and a piece of pumpkin bread toasted with the homemade honey on.

Following breakfast everyone gathered in the lounge and presents were gently passed out. I was nominated as an elf, but found that it was quite tricky as I didn’t know everyone’s name particularly well so managed to subtly hide from that duty! I was surprised to receive presents and was kindly given a couple of pairs of nice socks from The Walker family in Birmingham, a woollen jumper from Susie and Luciano, a very interesting book from Katy and Rob, a set of very nice Aesop’s products (Aesop’s is a very cool Australian soap and smelly things brand – something like the body shop I think) from Heather and Ian and a pair of board shorts and a rash vest for surfing and swimming in the Bass Strait next week from Amy.

After presents it was definitely time to start the cooking preparations. Ruth was in charge and set us all to work preparing Christmas lunch. Katy had been out early in the morning and had pulled up a good supply of carrots, picked loads of peas, beans & mange tous and produced a whole load of other fruit and veg fresh from the garden. I washed and chopped the carrots and was then free to take a back seat (14 people all cooking got a lot of work done very quickly) so set the table before taking a look at all the meat cooking on the BBQ.

Christmas lunch looked amazing spread out along the table on the veranda in the strong midday sunshine, I was very glad for the UV protective covering stopping us from being burnt to a crisp whilst still allowing plenty of sunshine through. Lunch included, BBQ beef fillet, a stuffed turkey breast and a whole turkey. All of which had been prepared on the outdoor BBQ oven.

The meal had a very homemade feel about it as Heather had hand prepared beautiful Christmas crackers which contained no jokes but a fun set of verses of the twelve days of Christmas which we each read out in order and contained the various stages of the love of turkey meat. From the beautiful whole turkey on day one, through cold turkey sandwiches, turkey curry, turkey mince and fried turkey.

After lunch – as normal – everyone had eaten themselves into a slight food coma and a few of us moved off to play a card game of 500 – a variation of bridge. I spent a little time writing up Christmas eve and gently allowing my lunch to settle before joining a team in the card game. It’s quite good fun when table talk is banned with your opposite partner whilst trying to communicate with your teammate next to you. It should be noted that cheating was much less prevalent in the southern hemisphere!

We also went out to see whether there were any animals lying around in the mid day heat. Unfortunately we found that a large Eucalyptus had split completely in two and part of it had landed slap bang on the only Pistachio tree (of the four) that had any fruit on it. A real shame, as they were not even close enough to being ready to harvest it and allow it to ripen in the sun.

There was no supper, but instead we sat down for Christmas pudding. Along side there were plenty of fresh fruits, fresh ice-cream and mixed berries; some that I’d never seen before. Logan berries, mulberries, blackberries, young berries and mulberries – all freshly picked from the garden by Luciano & Amy.

After supper we returned to the 500 table, this time the teams were Nick, Rob, Amy & I and Luciano & Ruth. Rob was our partner and together we managed to creep up to over 500 whilst the other pair lost many of their bids so crept down to -300 unfortunately they didn’t let us win a bid so we couldn’t win!

At 10pm I skyped home and spoke to mum and dad who sounded very prepared for the mass of people due to descend on the house. Jon and Heather were out so I missed them, but had a nice chat. The rest of the house were gently going to sleep and it was very dark so it wasn’t possible to stay up much longer, but it was nice to see the sun shining on Christmas day in the UK. It had been beautifully sunny here and a lovely temperature all day!

We were aiming to leave Northcote fairly early in the morning to make our way up to Bendigo for Christmas. I was worried about holding everyone up, so I made sure I was packed and ready super quickly. I needn’t have worried, so spent the next couple of hours helping to prepare the new turf for our absence over the next few days by watering it and the front garden thoroughly before packing the car with the bags and food. It was very important not to forget the food or drinks that we had spent yesterday preparing.

Shortly after 11am we set out and filled up with petrol before travelling north on the Calder Highway. We made it to Malmsbury for lunch around 1pm. Malmsbury is a small Australian village about 100km from Melbourne. We had lunch from the Bakery and sat in their shady garden under Eucalyptus trees. Unfortunately they had run out of plain meat pies and so I had a steak and kidney pie with sauce (tomato ketchup) again this was delicious. It was at this point we realised that the bottles of wine had not made it into the car.

Following lunch we wandered down the village road passing a very Australian concept – the drive through off licence – before making our way to the local botanic gardens which we walked along side until being picked up by Susie and Luciano.

The drive from Melbourne to Bendigo took us through some amazing scenery, from managed plantations (the old pine plantations are now slowly being replaced by indigenous eucalyptus) to flat dry plains before finally turning into rolling hills with several large rocks scattered around; which – other than being absolutely tinder dry and golden – could easily have been mistaken for the Wainstones.

The drive up to the house was along a very dusty, dry, dirt track which wound for a kilometre up to a beautiful house. The mud-brick house was built using the mud from their land in the 80’s and is, at first glance, typically built in the style of the area (single storey, typical Victorian area bungalow) however it is a little larger and over two floors – the ground floor split into two levels with rooms flowing through each other. Their land is typical Australian bush land, dusty and filled with eucalyptus trees with some scattered grasses trying to grow in the fairly arid conditions. The garden even backs on to the Bendigo national park colloquially known as ‘One Tree Hill’

We were first greeted by Solo, a quite elderly, enthusiastic and very friendly sheepdog who came out barking very happy that there were more people to give him attention. Rob and Katie greeted us very warmly and introduced us to their son Jo and their daughters Ruth and Elly (all in their mid to late twenties.) They were very pleased to find out that I drank tea and immediately put the kettle on to make a pot of Madura tea.

Immediately after unpacking the car into the house we were shown around the land by Rob, who took us to see the nesting boxes he had put up. Because the boxes are not for birds we were able to take a look inside without disturbing the wildlife. In the first we found an old abandoned nest, the second contained a lone Phascogale (a small brush tailed grey creature somewhere between a possum, rat and squirrel.) The final box we opened contained a large number of baby sugar gliders, we estimated 7 were in the box. it was very difficult to tell because they were all balled up together and climbing on top of one another so there were lots of noses and tails and no way of telling which belonged to which animal. They were still very cute critters!

Their garden also contained a vegetable plot, similar in size to an allotment and was covered with netting to keep birds and fruit bats off. The garden had some beautiful fruits, some I’d never seen before including Logan berries, elderberries, peaches, plums and many many vegetables!

The evening meal was of my lasagne which had been cooked on the BBQ (really it was just heated up, but just want to make you lot reading this at home in the cold, grey rain jealous – it was also a very pleasant 28 degrees outside in the early evening!)

Supper was suspended briefly as some kangaroos had bounced past at a distance, around the corner of the house up a small track. After supper we went out to look for more, it didn’t take long before they appeared. On a small golden, dry pasture of land there was a group of two or three kangaroos.

I currently have some spectacular bites over my legs and arms. The worst of which is about 1cm wide and as itchy as anything I’ve ever had. The ants are also a good 15mm in length and have a bite that has quite a kick; as I was wearing open toed sandals I received a number of nibbles on my toes, not overly pleasant! On the way out to the tent I got a little stuck as there were a number climbing the outside of the entrance and I had my hands full and couldn’t get rid of them. It was very hard to avoid them getting through the fly netting as I climbed in to go to bed.

This was a bit of a spare day and gave me a chance to prepare for the travels to Bendigo for Christmas. My task was to prepare supper for the Christmas eve meal (certainly felt like home with that task!) Susie and I wandered down to Fairfield high street to buy the ingredients. The usual Italian butcher was so busy that we were forced over the road to its competitors – Susie was not amused that we had to visit the alternative! We purchased 2kg mince beef to make a lasagne. The butchers were attached to a fruit and veg market where we were able to pick up all of the other items we needed.

In the searing heat of 28 degrees I cooked up a large pot of mince and a lot of white sauce before constructing a large 4 layer lasagne which contained beautiful mozzarella, gruyère and an Australian cheddar. Somewhere in the region of a kilogram of cheese made up the monstrosity.

Having made the supper I took myself off into the centre of Melbourne to wander around and leisurly visit the areas I had seen earlier in the visit. Taking the train – as usual – from Fairfield to Flinders Street station before walking into the city’s lane-ways and through the shopping centre. I stumbled upon another, newer and larger T2 store (a brand which I had enjoyed a few days earlier!) after some time enjoying the free samples and looking at many of the products I left the hustle and bustle of the shopping centre and made my way down to Degraves lane and happened to pass a barbers shop. My hair was getting rather long and uncontrollable so I decided to stop in and was asked to return 30 minutes later.

This left me with quite a tough decision, what to do with myself for 30 minutes near some amazing little boutique tea shops. Such a hard choice! I selected one at the foot of Degraves lane which did fantastic miniature cupcakes (I enjoyed a selection of tiny Belgian Chocolate, white chocolate & raspberry and a redvelvet cupcakes) they had a wide selection of flavoured teas and green teas but only one suitable black tea, it was still very pleasant. I spent the next 30 minutes sitting and enjoying an Australian book – Tomorrow When the War Began.

The barbers shop was a tiny little narrow space which went back for much further than it was wide and had clearly just opened as there was little or no decoration. Sarah cut my hair and amused me by asking me to “move through to the back” to have my hair washed (this involved shuffling one chair to the right) and when done being told that she would “meet me out front” (which involved standing up from the chair and turning round!)

From Degraves lane I wandered down over Princes Bridge and through to the Botanic Gardens, at first I was rather disappointed as it was just an area of grass and trees which seemed distinctly normal. I then arrived at the Sidney Myer music bowl, a large outdoor venue with a tent like the orchestra summer concerts bubble. A large ‘Carols in the Park’ concert was taking place wit a variety of performers, there were plenty of TV cameras around and it seemed like a very large concert. I had certainly heard it over the bustle of the city since walking over the bridge.

After passing the concert I realised that the Botanic Gardens hadn’t actually started and were now starting to appear in front of me. After going through the entrance gateway the noise of the surrounding area seemed to evaporate around me and the sounds of the gardens were amplified. I had been advised to visit Guilfoyles volcano, a recently renovated mound which contained a 19th century reservoir. It was now home to a variety of Aloës, bottle trees, cacti and other dry environment plants. At the top was a new pond with floating planters which had roots which dangled into the pond to remove excess nutrients from the water. The volcano was at the very far end of the garden and as I walked there I noticed a large selection of different trees which had information about who had planted them. Mostly they were planted by British Monarchs or Dukes. Quite interesting to see trees planted by the Dukes of York, Windsor and Cornwall from the late 19th century and early 20th century as well as Queen Elizabeth II (who planted an English Box) pass by. It was particularly interesting to see how much they had grown and what they looked like now and to rack my brains about which duke had become which Monarch or not.

Finding myself still in t-shirt and shorts at 7pm was quite a shock and with the temperature dropping I started heading back. The walk to the station involved wandering through the top end of the gardens with some good views to the city before walking along the banks of the Yarra and over swan street bridge, past the Tennis arenas and the MCG which was clearly prepared for the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India.

Arriving back at Fairfield dinner had just been put on the table, Luciano had cooked up the remaining mince and made spaghetti Bolognese. Thankfully it tasted delicious and the alternative butcher had not ended in disaster!

Later in the evening there was a documentary on cyclone Tracey which had obliterated Darwin exactly 40 years earlier. The documentary went back quite far and included a brief history of the aboriginal land issues of the time. An elder had stated that a large storm would bring vengeance on the area after aboriginals had been forced out and their land had been removed.

Day 9

After a quick breakfast we packed the car and left Melbourne for the south west Victorian coast. This involved crossing the river Yarra which we did on the Westgate Bridge. The bridge is a 2.5km suspension bridge which climbs high above the river allowing large ships to pass up the Yarra below it.

The bridge took us out to Geelong, where we joined the coast and stopped at a city beach for a quick break and swapped drivers. From here we drove down to to Point Lonsdale at the port Philip Heads where we had a picnic cup of tea and watched the Spirit of Tasmania leave the bay and a large container ship arrive.

After two cups of tea and Susie’s delicious fruit cake we Left and travelled to the Great Ocean Road over a bridge at the Barwon Heads which reminded me of Studland on a sunny summer day and down through Torquay – where the great ocean road is claimed to start. Torquay is fairly uneventful and mainly filled with surf shops so we drove straight through to Anglesey where we stopped at the general store and picked up lunch. I had a delicious ham and cheese toastie. We sat on the banks of a lagoon and ate our lunch in beautiful sunshine.

After lunch the great ocean road turned into a much more picturesque route with the cliffs getting taller and taller the further that we went, the vegetation becoming greener. After about an hour of stunning views we stopped at Lorne and had tea at the Beach Bath cafe sat out on the beach still with the sun shining. This beach was very busy and felt a little like Poole beaches in summer.

Our final stretch of the day was down to the Kennet River. It involved more dramatic scenery and the road hugging more cliffs, the road cut into the cliff face sometimes very high up. The road wound around the cliffs and then usually carried on up the valleys making the road full of twists and turns and I can quite understand the reputation that it causes travel sickness.

On arrival at the camp site we were told there were loads of Koalas. Sure enough there was a grey lump, balled up and sleeping in the very top of a tree just outside the reception centre. We had a cabin over looking the road and immediately over the other side was the beach. After unpacking the car into our lodge we went in search of more koalas. Unsurprisingly, within a few meters we saw a crowd of campers around a tree. What was incredible was that the koala they were looking at was just at head height and not phased by the small, quiet crowd gathering, even campsite staff were joining. After that incredibly rare occurrence we continued walking around the camp site and then up the Grey River Road which climbed up behind the site. We saw many more Koalas high up in the trees as well as a large variety of bird life including Yellow Robins, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Blue Wrens and rare black Cockatoos. The Koala count reached 15 by the time we returned to the cabin!

For supper I used the camp’s public BBQ to cook sausages which we ate with broccolini, carrots and new potatoes overlooking the beach from our cottage.

After supper Amy and I went for a walk along the beach. It was a beach with golden sand and some bedrock poking out of the beach just at the waterline forming rockpools. With the tide out we were able to find several anemones in little pools of water. Mainly they had eaten and so looked like little red jellies stuck to the side of the rock but some still had their tentacles open looking like minute little kraken. We managed to find a very large green and white anemone which when fully unfurled was around 10cm in diameter. It had several concentric bands of green and white surrounding what looked like quite a scary mouth with slightly yellowing teeth!

Once it fell dark all four of us drove much further up the grey river road (really a dirt track into the forest) than we had walked up earlier to a picnic area. On our way up we spotted a tall looking light grey marsupial who stood up level with our eye-line (us sat in the car) so it must have been a good meter high. Nobody was quite sure whether it was a wallaby or a kangaroo.

We parked at the picnic area 5km above our camp site and walked back along the road, over a small bridge and could see what looked like a large set of led Christmas lights filling the bank. However, they were filled with hundreds of Glow-worms. They were just behind tree ferns so as you walked along they looked like bright little stars twinkling on the deep black background. With no moon, very little light pollution and extensive tree cover above the whole area it was pitch black. With the glow-worms twinkling made it feel as if you were standing in the centre of the universe just looking out at the many stars around.

On the way down I spotted a wallaby sat in long grass by the side of the road. much smaller than the one we saw on the way up. It was very chilled out and didn’t seem to mind us hanging around as it just kept on munching on the grass around it.

Day 10

The next morning we went to see our friendly koala which had sat so low in the tree only to find he had left and moved to another tree overnight. After breakfast and some gentle cleaning up we checked out and left to continue our journey along the great ocean road.

Our first port of call was Cape Patton where we were treated to a view from a turn off on the road which at that point was cut into the cliffs and looked out along the coast to Apollo Bay. The road up until this point was maintcut into the cliffs and wound into and around valleys that cut inland occasionally. In one of these valleys we stopped and walked a short way to a lookout point from which you could see the Carisbrook Falls. The largest waterfall in the Otway Ranges.

When we arrived into Apollo Bay we had a a tea stop in cafe 153 on the sea front. I also had a very sweet millionaires shortbread. Walking out around the bay and into the harbour wall we were able to look down and saw two large rays, as the bay had very clear blue water their dark outlines were very clear against the white sandy sea floor.

After leaving Apollo Bay we had quite a drive and left the coast and headed inland past Cape Otway and on to Maits Rest (Ngatanwarr in the Aboriginal language) This was an ancient temperate rainforest which was only a small part of what used to be – millions of years ago – a forest covering much of Australia. Some of the trees were enormous and one fallen tree was significantly wider than I am tall. There were a number of mountain ash (tree fact for the day – mountain ash are the tallest flowering plants in the world).

There were a large number of trees with holes underneath looking like they had been caught midstep clambering through the forest. Sometimes there were only two or three thin looking roots holding up these vast trees. The cause of this became apparent when you saw trees growing on top of a rotting fallen stump, sending its roots down the sides of the old tree which then completely decomposed leaving a void under the new tree in the space once occupied by the old fallen one. Tree ferns often grew out of fallen trees too.

We had lunch about half an hour after in Lavers Hill (not a town really but a junction where three or four cafes had sprung up to service passing tourists) these passing tourists stopped in a cafe which had recently changed hands and had been an excellent stop for Susie in the past. The new owners were very laid back. So much so that when we asked what soup of the day was they didn’t know and then said it will take some time. I asked for a tuna mayo sandwich without salad. 20 minutes later it arrived, filled full with salad. (At this point mum, you should be very impressed as I ate it all!!!) Despite being fairly unpromising with the new owners we all found our food quite pleasant – even with salad!

At Lavers Hill we turned left and the road returned to the coastline to start the final section past the Twelve Apostles. Our first sighting was at Castle Cove where a new species of dinosaur was discovered a few years ago (a chicken like creature named Leaellynasaura.) From this point only one of the limestone stacks was visible but its sandy colour and banding was already impressive especially as it towered very high above the sea.

The next stop was the official Twelve apostles visitors centre. This was filled with hundreds of visitors some taking helicopters from the helipad from which around 4 helicopters took off every ten minutes. These frequent fliers shattered the peace and quiet of the area and rather than feeling remote it felt like a city centre.

Even so, after walking down to the lookout point the views rivalled anything I’ve seen so far on this trip. The path crossed over to the top of what will become the next stack; this gave views out to both sides of the stack. Looking out at 6 or 7 of the stacks as they stuck out from the coast was an amazing site and nearly made you forget about the thousand other tourists around you; until one pushed you aside or bumped into you and made you fear for the camera you were holding!

Our next port of call was at Loch Ard Gorge, the site of one of the most famous ship wrecks along the Australian coastline. The boat the Loch Ard hit rocks whilst in poor weather sinking with almost all those on board. Only two of the passengers survived. They found themselves in the depths of a gorge which one of them climbed out of and had to walk to find civilization – neither feat would have been easy in that area of the world. Against all odds, they survived.

The Gorge was our final stopping point on the Great Ocean Road and after a short drive we found ourselves in Port Campbell where we finished the tea supplies on the side of the harbour before starting the long drive back to Melbourne.

We stopped for supper in Colac and found most places were closed but found a fish and chip shop – Captain George’s – and had Australian fish and chips (shark fillet!) Quite delicious!

Again, this morning started slowly. I’ve finally been hit by the end of term exhaustion and jet lag and it was nice to be able to lie in and have a other lazy morning.

After a big breakfast we went into Melbourne to celebrate the 50th wedding Anniversary of two of Susie’s friends, Terry (FRS) and Sally. It was at the University which was very easy to get to after taking the train to Flinders street and then jumping on a tram to the University. The university is huge and feels very much like Manchester (although it wasn’t raining!) Having made our way to the reception venue we met several old family friends of Susie’s and chatted for much of the afternoon. The meal was a delicious buffet of a wide variety of different foods including oysters, antipasti and Szechwan Lamb. We were sat with Henry – a fine art professor from Durham and Patrick – Terry’s brother and a vicar in Perth (very deep Australian accent) the afternoon was very pleasant and was nice to hear about Perth and Fremantle again.

On our way back we stopped in at T2 a tea emporium which had many different types of teas at the front of the shop (although mostly infusions) and a large number of beautiful teapots on the shelves around the walls. I think it was a very dangerous shop for me to enter!!

Our evening was spent meeting up and eating with some of Amy’s friends from college, Tash and Ed. we decided to drive across to the top of Lygon street and eat in a little Armenian restaurant in the Brunswick area of Melbourne called Mankoush. We shared a variety of Lebanese and Armenian dishes; which included Lamb kebab on a chickpea humous type bed, pumpkin dip, spring rolls with walnut, leek & spinach and mixed green beans in some kind of spice. Ed is a teacher in a school which utilises technology in a really cool way and we spent a lot of time talking about google classroom and VLE teaching. I’ve still got to write much of the paper I’m writing for the RSC and it was very useful to chat with him about a lot of it! After dinner we wandered down Lygon street to the Gello Bar for more Italian ice creams. A very delicious evening of food!

We are all off on a road trip down the Great Ocean Road tomorrow – a road built as a war memorial following world war one. So might not have any Internet to update the diary until Monday evening. Also, I have a large number of photos, but no way of getting them off the camera and onto the computer! They will go up at some point.

Having returned to Melbourne rather late last night, this morning was much slower than previous days as we were feeling very tired having run around Sydney lots over the last three days and I’d had some very long days thanks to my jet lag and waking up at 5am.

After grazing through breakfast for most of the morning, a light lunch of bacon and egg on toast was cooked by Amy. After lunch we went into Melbourne on the train. My MyKi card was getting low so needed topping up and after a few minutes of waiting in the sunshine the train arrived.

The UV levels are so high in Melbourne (because of the hole on the ozone layer) that it’s possible to burn within a couple of minutes. Even cloud cover doesn’t block out the rays. I’ve managed to put sun cream on every day so far and have avoided getting burnt. Unfortunately I burnt my head yesterday as I didn’t wear a hat – I won’t forget again!

We arrived into Flinders Street station again and decided to take the tram up to the Melbourne Museum. We rode on one of the newest trams with three carriages, it was quite full but we managed to get seats for the five minute trip up Bourke street. We disembarked at Nickleson street and walked past the great exhibition building (built 1881) where there was a graduation ceremony for Melbourne University students.

The museum is opposite the Great exhibition building and is very modern, it’s glass frontage runs the whole length of the building and leans forward at a slight angle avoiding reflecting the sun. Inside felt very spacious and full of light and air. Unlike the UK museums have a small entrance fee at AU$12 and are not publicly funded at all. Despite this there were plenty of great exhibits which were very new and well presented. We started with the First People’s exhibition which gave a really interesting introduction to the local aboriginal culture. I was really impressed by the way they displayed everything which encouraged you to take in lots of the information without putting the aboriginal people on display themselves. It felt more like a celebration and explanation of their culture and very integral to Australians today rather than a them and us style exhibit which could have felt like the aboriginal people were on display. It did presume a significant amount of prior knowledge but I felt that only added to the sensitive and clever way in which it was presented.

Following on from that section we bumped into the mother of Bec (a friend of Amy’s) who works at the museum; before going up a floor to see the ‘Art of Science’ collection. This was a display of a large number of scientific pictures showing different animals and their distinctive markings. Mainly field sketches from the first visiting explorers and scientists there were also some very interesting pictures by scientists who had never visited Australia and were drawing animals based on testimonies and dead specimens!

On leaving the museum we walked along to Lygon street where we had Gelato from one of Melbourne’s oldest Italian establishments, Brunetti’s. I had a cookies and cream scoop with a mixed berries. Absolutely delicious and my mouth is watering with the memory of it.

This brought us out to a bus stop where we caught a bus all the way to Denis station a very short walk from Fairfield and home. Supper was once again kindly waiting for us; a delicious beef stew with roasted pumpkin and potatoes all cooked by Susie. In the evening we settled down to watch Spicks and Specks the Australian version of Never Mind the Buzzcocks followed by Miss Fisher’s Murder. An Agatha Christie like series set in 1920’s Melbourne, quite good fun and interesting to see.

We started far too early, leaving for the airport at quarter to seven and catching the Fairfield train to Southern Cross to get the Skybus back to Melbourne Airport where we took a flight to Sydney. Flying in Australia is quite a different way of traveling as the domestic flights are more likely bus services. Me with my passport in my pocket, worrying about what was in my bag couldn’t have made me more obviously a tourist! There was no need to even have a boarding pass until actually getting on a plane, and even then it was only glanced at briefly!

Landing at Sydney is also quite an experience, the plane had only just reached its highest altitude before starting its decent, banking right to go out to sea and then turning back 180 degrees, going over the harbour entrance and then landing on a runway which – sticking out into the harbour – only appeared a few moments before touching down!

Leaving the plane we were on the train into Sydney within about 10 minutes of landing. The train took us straight into Circular Quay where our hotel was based. We disembarked and were greeted by what must be one of the most incredible sights – a huge cruise ship in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge just behind to the left and to cap it all opposite both those was the astonishing Opera house.

We walked to our hotel and asked to leave our bags only to be told that actually our room was ready for us! I think room is the wrong word as it included a large lounge, kitchen and laundry. The best part is the balcony over the botanical gardens over which you can just see the tip of the opera house.

We left the hotel to look around and walked the hundred meters up to the opera house. It sits on the end of the peninsula that our hotel is based on and is an extraordinary sight. The sun glitters off the almost white tiles and dazzles everyone. I’ve seen the opera house thousands of times in films and pictures, but never thought it would be as amazing in real life, I think it even blows the bridge away – which in itself is an incredible structure!

For lunch we sat on the quay with a view of both the bridge and the opera house eating an Australian delicacy – a meat pie. Quite hot and delicious, especially with ‘sauce’ (tomato ketchup) it was definitely a good recommendation!

Our afternoon was spent walking around to Darling Harbour. Walking out to Dawes point gave us another view of the opera house from ‘The Rocks’  and got us up close to the bridge which towers over everything. We walked under the bridge and past the Wharfes near Miller’s point which have been mostly converted into nice restaurants, bars and cafes. From one eminated the sound of a baroque orchestra rehearsing. On investigation we found out it was the Australian Hayden Ensemble who were preparing for a concert at the opera house on Thursday evening titled the 300th anniversary of C.P.E. Bach. It’s a shame we are going home before the end of the concert.

Having made our way to Darling harbour we tried to find a café to get a cup of tea and even better a piece of cake, unfortunately everything was bars so instead we had a ginger beer, coke and a pizza we had to wait until 5pm before we could go to the Sydney aquarium. This was a very good place to visit as there were hundred of different fish, seahorses, sharks, rays and even a Dugong or two called Pig and Wuru! It was also quite good fun playing spot the finding Nemo character. I found quite a few and will post photos of the real life characters as soon as I can get them off the camera, I think they have far more character than their digital counterparts.

As we walked back to the hotel we stopped to pick up supper at Coles (the Australian version of Sainsburys) and picked up salmon in a honey and soy marinade to prepare at the hotel along with mangoes and ice cream. Whilst continuing the journey we found ourselves walking through Martin Place. After yesterday’s events two hostages were killed along with the gunman. The queues of people leaving flowers for those who lost their lives stretched a couple of blocks. The atmosphere was most likely intensified by the slight feeling of claustrophobia from the sky scrapers surrounding the square. The silence that hung over the usually bustling and very busy area was very intense and the city is clearly reeling and in shock after the events of Monday.

Supper was delicious and probably more because of the view from the balcony than my cooking! Mangoes and ice cream are also quite delicious!

Today was a day of exploring the city with Amy and her friends Claire and Adam (plus Jane) There are so many places to see and go that it is impossible to describe them all so I’ll try and list them in a vague order!

We left home quite early to go to Fairfield station where we had a homemade lemonade at the bean counter, topped up a MyKi card (Melbourne’s answer to the oyster) and took the train into Jolimont for the MCG. The park around the MCG has lots of sporting statues paying tribute to Australian athletes who have made a great contribution to Melbourne sporting life (Don Bradman, Shane Warne, AFL players runners etc) After meeting Claire and Adam we briefly looked inside the MCG before walking into Melbourne past the AFL Stadium (where Adam spotted the most famous footballer ever,) the Rod Lever tennis stadium where the preparations for the Australian open were in full swing and along the banks of a much wider Yarra river than yesterday.

After a cup of hot chocolate at the riverside cafe we walked into Melbourne and took in Fed Square (A newly built square with funky, jaggedy looking, glass buildings surrounding it. These contained a recital hall and art galleries. Walking out of Fed Square we walked past the grand Flinders street station and into Melbourne’s Lane-ways a collection of gridded streets containing some amazing hidden cafes & shops. These took us up to Melbourne central Library which has an amazing selection of reading rooms, one of which was an enormous octagon and at least 5 stories high with bookcases set into balconies in the walls all the way up.

On our way to Lunch we went through the central shopping center and took in the tourist must do of the clock! It’s a 2 meter wide pocket-watch style face mounted on a wall that opens out on the hour to sing waltzing Matilda to the hundreds of tourists who gather below waiting to enjoy the site through their mobile phones and cameras whilst it emits its wondrous noise as locals walk past trying to feign their disgust whilst – I am sure – wishing that they were tourists so they too could afford the time to take in this marvelous site. Personally I think its the dancing doves, cockatoos and flautists that really make this one of the worlds great wonders. All this takes place next door to an old lead shot tower which is encased within the marvelous glass domed area that this clock plays to – this really is a site which is worth seeing!

Lunch was at a delicious Chinese restaurant where you ordered using a touch screen computer mounted on the wall. Very cool and some really delicious dumplings!

Following lunch we wandered back through the lane-ways and watched a demonstration of sugar rock being made in the Suga shop. This was absolutely incredible and  still don’t quite understand how they managed to make the image of a nectarine appear through the whole of the stick of rock so perfectly!

We left Claire, Adam and Jane after enjoying afternoon tea at the cupcake shop and Amy and I walked down to the southbank of the Yarra and along to the Eureka Tower where we too the lift to the Eureka Skydeck on the 88th floor of the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. As we walked out of the lift onto the floor we were greeted by astonishing views which took in the entire bay across to the first mountains of the great dividing range. Spread out at our feet were all the places that we had visited earlier that day. Well worth the fee to see on such a clear day!

Supper was kindly prepared for us by Lucciano another delicious Italian meal of carbonara with zuccini and bacon. Delicious!