The flight from Christchurch to Melbourne was very good. With Chad and Dino getting exit row seating and Graham and Michel a spare seat between them, it made for a comfortable flight. Although M. and G., breezed through passport control and immigration, C. and D. were transporting some dangerous Canadian products - Maple Syrup - for a friend from Ottawa, Markus, who had taken a one-year leave from his job in Ottawa.
Markus had arranged for Steve, a Melbourne local, to drive us all from the airport. Getting the driver, four passengers, four checked and the other bags in an Audi station wagon was a real challenge. With bags in our laps and stuffed everywhere, we made the trip to the city. Thanks Steve.
After dropping-off Graham and Michel at the Ibis Melbourne, Chad and Dino were taken to their digs - where Markus was living. Following a quick stop and change at the hotel, Steve returned to collect M and G for a dinner to celebrate the beginning of the Australian leg of the trip.,
Day 11 - March 21:
The sun shone on the first day in Melbourne. Since the rate for the internet at the Ibis Melbourne was very high ($28 Ausralian a day) another option was sought. Luckily a nearby up-scale restaurant - McCafe - had free Wifi. Not fast but it worked. The hotel duo spent the morning catching up on emails, posting the second episode of the blog and starting to book some of the hotels for the drive from Port Douglas (near Cairns) to Sydney.
This was a day to explore Melbourne's CBD (Central Business District). Chad and Dino walked from their digs to downtown. The "old fellahs" also walked around the city but the two paths did not cross. Melbourne is a very cosmopolitan city with unusual and varied architecture. The streets were busy with "suits", those in business suits, everywhere.
On one of the major streets Graham was approached to make a donation to an international organization to support Lybia. This guy's accent was very British, trust Graham to pick-up on that, and, after a brief exchange it turned out he was from Uxbridge. A small town very close to where Graham was born. It's a small world!
After lunch on the south bank of the Yarra River, the "old fellahs" made it back to the hotel for some necessary laundry duties. Once again, fates intervened and when Graham tried to get back into the room, the door lock decided it had already had enough of this visitor. Michel's key suffered the same fate and eventually with several visits by hotel staff, five re-sets, and a battery replacement for the door system, the problem was fixed. How come these things always happen when Graham is around!
Dinner was in Hardware Lane, a short walk from the hotel, where the restaurants compete to entice you into their eating establishment. The competition certainly helped get a good meal deal. And another small world experience, our waiter was from near Kitchener, Ontario, also visiting Australia.
Day 12 - March 22:
An early start to the day with another visit to Cafe McDonald's for an "internet fix". Since the hotel was offering a 10% discount for meals, Michel and Graham opted to try breakfast at the hotel.
Once Chad and Dino arrived, it was time to walk to a large open air market - the Victoria Market - very close to the hotel. Hundreds of stalls selling everything you can imagine. Some junk but also some good deals. Lunch in the market was followed by a chance to try-out Melbourne's transit system
For just under $7.00 (AUS) - almost the same in Canadian dollars - you get a day pass for all zones. A great value and something OC Transpo (the Ottawa transit system) might like to try to increase ridership. We took the tram to the Royal Botanical Gardens. The skies looked threatening but the weather turned out OK and the Gardens were very good with some many different things to see.
Markus had kindly offered to be the main driver for our next day's outing so that we could all truly experience the sights. His presence was needed to complete the paperwork for the rental car and, once all this was accomplished, we ventured to Hardware Lane for dinner.
Just like the night before, the restaurants competed for our business but this time it was much more intense. Even Steve, the "Melbournian", had never seen it before. After many competing for our business, our best deal was at Vialetto's Italian restaurant with a plate of free appetizers and two complementary bottles of wine. Brent, our Ottawa discount champion, would have been proud of the deal we got!
Day 13 - March 23:
One of the most well-known tourist attractions in the Melbourne area is the Great Ocean Road. If you want to do it all it would take a few days and you would eventually make it to Adelaide.
You can see quite a lot on a day trip but only if you start really early. So at 6:30 a.m. Markus, the driver, Chad and Dino arrived at the hotel and we all piled into the car to get out of the city before the rush hour started.
The weather was bright and sunny to start the day and after a couple of hours and a couple of stops to take in some of the beaches, we made it to Lorne. A small town but one that obviously knew what visitor was coming. Kafe Kaos! Graham and everyone had to stop for coffee.
For all of us, this was an amazing day. The road wound past some fantastic scenery. Although Markus is an Ottawa native, he had done the trip before so having him at the wheel was a real bonus. Five of us in a small Hyndai made for a cramped ride but the many stops helped stretch-out the limbs.
Later in the morning, the group took a side tour into Otway National Park to see the lighthouse. It was decided not to pay the entrance fee so the lighthouse was not really visible. However, the park is home to several Koala Bears and the group had their first Koala Bear Sighting.
Lunch was in Lavers Hill, the highest point on the Great Ocean Road. After lunch the weather was not so good and we were often dodging some heaving showers. By mid-afternoon we reached one of the sites of the "Twelve Apostles". This was the only location where you could get down for a beach-side look at a few of the Twelve Apostles. It required a walk down a steep cliff, luckily with steps provided. Once down on the beach the heavens opened and we all took protection "under the weather"! Once the rain soon stopped and we spent quite a bit of time on the beach amongst the Apostles - a definite highlight of the trip.
Graham showed he had truly mastered the art of delayed action photography.
We then toured to other scenic lookouts for the Twelve Apostles (just spectacular) and our last stop was at the site of the "London Bridge". Another limestone formation which, at one time, had two arches - but just like London Bridge one of the the arches had fallen down!
As we started the drive home a brilliant rainbow shone over us., What an ending to a truly memorable day. Thanks Markus.
Day 14 - March 24:
Although the weather did not seem too bad as we walked to Cafe McDonald's for breakfast and some email duty, by the time Graham and Michel had taken the tram to meet-up with Chad and Dino , the rain began. It was supposed to be a showery day but the rain and drizzle were to be a large part of this day.
We drove to the Yarra Valley, a large wine growing area in the state of Victoria with many many wineries. We stopped to walk around the town of Healesville but with the rain coming down hard we got back in the car and headed for the De Bartoli winery. The wines, both red and white, were very good and some are sold in Ontario. Dino and Graham really liked their port wines. To avoid lugging bottles around Australia, some purchases might be made in Sydney for the trip back to Canada - of course, all within Canada custom regulations. Before heading back to Melbourne we stopped at another winery but this one was not that good.
Once back in the city, it was time to bid a brief farewell to Chad and Dino and to thank Markus and Steve for their hospitality.
With the rental car returned, undamaged! Michel and Graham checked-out some of Melbourne's other areas. A walk through the Greek and Chinese quarters was followed by a tram ride to Albert Park. This is the site of the first race of the 2011 Grand Prix season. Although one had to look at the track over the outside the fences, you could see the cars racing by and those cars certainly are noisy.
A further tram ride lead to St. Klida. At the end of the St. Kilda Pier is the home of a colony of very small blue penquins. Chad and Dino had gone to see these penquins on their first night in Melbourne and Graham and Michel decided to take check them out on their last night. The rain had stopped but winds were blowing hard and the waves were crashing into the pier as the made their way along the walkway. The intrepid tourists made it to the end of the pier for a look at penquins who were trying to get onto the rocks for the night.
The street before the Pier was full of restaurants which gave plenty of choice for Michel and Graham for their final dinner in Melbourne.
Chad and Dino will remain in Melbourne until March 27th (Day 17), before heading to Cairns. Graham and Michel leave tomorrow (Day 15) to fly to Alice Springs and, after a side-trip to Ayers Rock, they hopefully will meet Chad and Dino in Cairns Airport.