After the peace and calm that is New Zealand we are preparing for a major culture shock with our eminent arrival in Melbourne.
Before that there is the little matter of a drive from Coromandel to Auckland Airport. Our flight (and airline) had been changed whilst we were in NZ and we were now due to depart around lunch time. This meant an earlier start so we were on the road by 8am. The roads were quiet as we re-traced our steps to the airport. It was a lovely calm,sunny day and along the coast road many of the beach car parks were filled with parked up ute’s and boat trailers so some serious fishing was going on somewhere.
One of the charms of New Zealand roads are the road side cafes, and we passed one about an hour out from Auckland Airport with a very odd name. We just had to pull in for a photo whilst we did a quick driver change. No we did not stop for a coffee!
Left: Road over the mountain out of Coromandel. Right: Yes, it was called that, and it was in the middle of no-where!
Once at the airport we found out that our jet had been delayed by an hour so more hanging around. Eventually we were airborne and four hours later we arrived at Melbourne Airport. The contrast in landscape between NZ and Australia could not have been greater. We were leaving behind lush green landscape, and exchanging for a scorched and brown dusty one and as we stepped out of the terminal, the change in environment really hit home. It was a real assault on the senses. It was noisy, very hot, and the crowds of people around was something we had not experienced since we left London. On the road to our apartment in Altona it took a while to adjust to the amount of traffic on Melbourne’s roads and the 8 lane highways near the airport!
Our time here is going to be spent exploring some of those areas of Victoria we did not get to see last time and probably less time in Melbourne itself. Having said that Sunday morning we were in Melbourne meeting up with friends Nick and Jenna. It was the weekend of the Labour Day public holiday and Melbourne hosts a festival called Moomba (See last years blog entitled “Places to Go People to See” for more) which means that the city centre was very, very crowded. We had not encountered these sort of crowds since last year so it took some adjusting to being elbow to elbow with so many people. Even the laneways (pedestrian areas of the city centre) were crammed, and it was a struggle to find somewhere relatively peaceful for coffee, lunch and a catch up. Sunday afternoon and Monday we spent some lovely time with Lyn’s cousin and her family at Sunbury and in Altona.
Top: Oscar’s new toy; Lyn and throwing practice. Bottom: Lyn borrows Oscar’s new bike; Oscar gets muddy; Lyn Still on Oscars bike!
Bird life on Altona beach: L – Australian Ibis; C – Pelican landing; R – Just having a stretch and drying my wings
Clockwise from top: Melbourne from Altona Esplanade; More of Melbourne; Brooding sky in Altona; Us on the Nature Reserve at Altona; Not always sunny here.
Our first afternoon out was a trip to nearby Williamstown, a short drive from here and closer to Melbourne. Located on the mouth of the Yarra River the area now known as Williamstown was first settled in the 1830’s but the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, brought new gold seekers, many from the tin mines of Cornwall, and many more from the Californian gold fields, and the settlement’s growth was phenomenal. Its maritime and port heritage was also established around this time. Today, representative of Williamstown’s maritime history, large scale maritime industry dominates Williamstown’s piers precinct, and a maritime theme characterises the Nelson Place tourist area. Williamstown remains a working port, with the Point Gellibrand fuel terminal providing the port facility for an oil refinery nearby.
Parts of Williamstown are worth exploring and there is a a walk from Nelson Place which covers many of the historic buildings built out of the gold rush and subsequent prosperity. Walk past the modern BAE Systems Factory and on to a wide, extensive esplanande with many original trees still in place. One quirky building on this route is a theatre restaurant, themed as RMS Titanic and named after the ill-fated liner. From the shape and the funnels on the roof everything is Titanic related and guests are asked to suspend reality when they enter and are encouraged to imagine they are travelling first class and dress accordingly if so desired. Apparently the nightly comedy show is a hit with customers, if a little ragged in production. We were there for early afternoon, so no show or dinner for us, for which I am mighty relieved!
Two views of the Pub/Theatre RMAS Titanic
From this and the esplanade, we walked on to the Botanic Gardens, then back through some classical street architecture to the start point.
Clockwise from top left: “Timeball” on the Esplanade; Workers cottages circa 1902.
Having enjoyed many a good walk in New Zealand we are hoping for the same in the rural areas of Victoria. Two large ranges sit around Melbourne namely the Macedon Ranges to the north west and the Dandenong to the north east.
We started our day out in Woodend a village in the Macedon Ranges close to our ultimate destination of Hanging Rock. It is a charming village, friendly and quiet. Hanging Rock however was not. We arrived in time for our picnic lunch and found a table in the shade away from the crowds of young school children playing on the sports field nearby. As we sat, I spotted a small kangaroo in the undergrowth a short distance away. He slowly made his way along the line of a gully whilst looking for a place to cross. A little further along he found a shallow bank and tentatively came down the bank and slowly up on to our side. We watched enraptured and very quiet as he moved slowly along, occasionally stopping to eat and chew what grass he could get. This was very unusual as Kangaroos are normally timid creatures and pack animals. This poor thing was alone. He ended up about six feet from our picnic bench and lay down for a sleep. After watching him for a while we quietly picked up our things and left him dosing.
Solo Kangaroo clockwise from top left: Gently down the slope now; Mmmm this tastes better; What about here?; Time for a relax now; Sleepy time.
Hanging Rock gives its name to the book and film, “Picnic at Hanging Rock” but the real thing has nothing of the drama of the literary one. A tarmac path leads virtually to the top, and the only reason it does not go all the way, is that the last short effort is a rock scramble. When we reached the top the noise from a school party was so bad we quickly turned and walked down again, finding another path to follow as we descended. It was a great pity as the views from the top were amazing, but with swarms of children running around we could not get close.
Montage of pictures up to Hanging Rock
This trail was much quieter and we had it to ourselves. As we walked I glanced over into a wooded area to see a herd of around fifty Kangaroos all stood rock still staring at us. They looked a bit like Meerkats the way they held themselves, but as we stopped and stared back they decided that we were no threat and relaxed a little. These were much further away but showed more natural behaviour. I suspect our solo encounter earlier had either been ejected from the herd, or had been tamed in some way, leading to his rejection by the others. This thought was amplified when on returning to the car we saw our little one being petted and stroked by a group of American tourists. Hmmmmm.
Top row: More Kangaroos Bottom left: Lyn’s delight at seeing Kangaroos in the wild; Right: Me on the woodland track; Us on the woodland track.
The other range of hills within easy driving distance is the wonderfully named Dandenong Hills. These lie about 80 minutes drive north east of Melbourne, but access involves a drive into the city and out again along the M1 and City Expressway a very busy 10 lane (in places) highway that runs on an elevated section into town then drops down into a 2.5km tunnel before popping up on the east side. If it were a roller coaster it would be exciting, but as a very busy 6 lane (by this time) highway it was slightly un-nerving!
Our destination was a village called Sassafras in the Dandenongs and after an encounter in a coffee shop with the rudest, nastiest Australian we have ever met on our travels, we sought out some decent walking tracks. Enquiries at the Information office yielded only two, an 18km one way trek to a village called Emerald and a shorter walk to the next village, Olinda. As time was tight we opted for the short walk. After about 30 minutes we concluded that the Aussies do not get walking as the Kiwi’s do and this walk was not in the least bit enjoyable. We persevered and made it there and back without incident but because it was so boring no pictures exist of either village. I think the rudeness of the cafe owner really put a dampener on our day.
We visited the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) last year, but as with most galleries they refresh their exhibitions on a regular basis. This gallery was no exception and this years refresh was called “Triennial”. The website says it is a “celebration of contemporary art and design practice that traverses all four levels of NGV International, as well as offering a rich array of programs. The NGV Triennial explores cutting edge technologies, architecture, animation, performance, film, painting, drawing, fashion design, tapestry and sculpture.” There was much we did not understand but one or two intriguing works, including a room full of oversize skulls caught our attention, and proved popular with others too. Also, there were a few works by Picasso on display which were very popular with the selfie stick army, who, in typical fashion, crowded out all other viewers around these and other popular exhibits!
NGV Exhibits for Triennial: Top Row: Left – Portrait by Andy Warhol; Centre; Andy Warhol Self Portrait; Right: Picasso’s Weeping Woman. Bottom Row: Skulls by Ron Muech; Polished steel Sculpture.
Our evening was spent in a suburb of Melbourne called Hampton, in a wonderful Italian restaurant, with friends. A great evening.
Party time: L- ME Lyn and Nick; Margaret (Jenna’s Mum) and Jenna; All of us
Melbourne seems busier than ever and its development out to the east and north shows no sign of slowing down. Even in the centre, new office blocks are reaching up, adding to the already crowded skyline. As the autumn replaces summer the local’s attention is turning to their winter sports, with the Rugby League season already under way and the Australian “Footy” or Aussie Rules Football season kicking off this week. There is much going on in Melbourne, some of it we will touch, some we will avoid like the plague.