We can hardly believe it, but we have already been in Melbourne for two weeks now, and our time here in Australia is almost coming to an end! It seems like only yesterday that we arrived in this country!
After having traveled around in a campervan, stayed in hotels and an apartment (Sydney) for some months, it has been really nice to just settle down for a short while. We are currently guests at Alexandras family here in Melbourne, and we have had a good chance to get a little bit of a daily rhythm more close to a “normal” daily life, than the last months have been.
Anton has been playing wonderfully with his grand cousins here. He has found his own little place in the children's group, and even though he is the youngest, he is certainly not holding back! The children here have all let him play with their toys, as if they were his own. They have also been allowed to play with his little collection of toys from his small backpack, although it took some convincing from me before he understood the rules about “caring and sharing”: If you can play with their toys, they can play with yours!
The house we are currently guests in is HUGE, and we have our own little corner. But we spend most of the time with our hosts anyway. And we love every minute of it! We had no way of knowing how the chemistry would be before we arrived, but it has turned out to be absolutely good! We even went away for a weekend together at Venus Bay and Phillip Island, a good 2,5 hours drive south of Melbourne. We had rented a summerhouse for a few nights.
Initially we had planned to stay at Phillip Island, but for some reason none of us had realized that the location of the house was in fact not on the island itself, but a one-hour drive away. Of course the landlord had made sure that his house would be included in the results from the search engines when typing in “Phillip Island” in the search criteria. We were three adults checking the description before we made the final booking and none of us realized that it would take us almost two hours to get from the house to the attractions on Phillip Island that we wanted to see.
In spite of that, we did have a fantastic weekend! Venus Bay is a hidden gem on the south coast of Australia. Endless, wide sand beaches where the kids could run off all of their excess energy, collect shells, crabs etc. It is winter here but it was lovely and sunny, and in spite of the “off season” there were actually other people present.
The main reason that we went away for the weekend was to see the famous “Penguin Parade”. Every night at sunset hundreds of small penguins arrive from the ocean to a small bay on the south west corner of Phillip Island. They waddle across the wide beach and into their nests in the dunes behind. They stay there for the night, and go back to the ocean before sunrise the next morning. The penguins are way too exposed and vulnerable to make this crossing in daylight. They would just be easy targets for the local birds of prey that would have a feast. The parade has become quite an attraction. So in order to protect the wildlife a visitors center with an amphitheater facing the ocean has been built. Thus the guests can sit and watch the penguins come in without disturbing them. When they have come up from the ocean and crossed the beach, the visitors can follow them further into the dunes from low-fenced boardwalks. Needless to say, the lighting was sparse in order to make minimum disturbance, but we could hear the penguins calling each other in the darkness as we slowly walked back to the car, and they found their nests. We did not really expect to meet many other guests at this time of year, but hundreds of others had turned up and paid 22,50 dollars per adult to watch the phenomenon. Children up to 15 years were half price. Anton was free as he is still under 4 year old. The money paid goes to maintenance of the center and protection of the local wildlife. An obvious attraction at all seasons. We totally agree!
We have spent the past couple of weeks walking around in Melbourne. Just casually exploring the city. We have seen the most important attractions but mostly we have just “lived” here and had our quiet every day life for a while. One of the very first things we did was to buy our “Myki” cards. The electronic tickets that is used for metros, buses and trams here in Melbourne. Hence we are always ready to get around the city by public transportation. The “City Circle” tram circling around the “inner grid” of the city is free of charge. We started there, just to get a “beginners overview” of the city and its layout.
Melbourne was founded in 1835, 47 years after the Europeans arrived in Australia. Today there are a bit more than 4 million people living in the area. This makes it the second biggest city in Australia after Sydney. It was named the “most livable city in the world” in both 2011 and 2012 by ”Economist Intelligence Unit”. They use factors such as living standards, costs of living, infrastructure etc. There are a few different lists of “most livable cities” published every year, and they all use slightly different factors. I have also seen some of these naming my old hometown of Copenhagen the “best and most livable city in the world”. I guess it is just a matter of taste... I can see why Melbourne is a great city to live in. It has a vibrant life and construction sites everywhere. It is obviously a thriving and growing city! But as a traveler I obviously look for something completely different when deciding if I like a city or not. I look for an “X factor” - something that is hard to describe, something charming... Just “something” that makes it special and/or unique. Melbourne is laid out around the Yarra River, which means long promenades along the water with cafés, restaurants, shopping- and amusement centers. Like Copenhagen, Melbourne has really managed to make the best out of the old docklands after the commercial shipping industry relocated towards the coastline, far away from any residential areas. In the old city center there are numerous narrow alleys with small shops, cafés and restaurants creating a feeling of walking around in an old European city center. And like Sydney there is an obvious victorian inspiration. The architecture is magnificent. I love the blend of old and new. Skyscrapers side by side, mixed with old red-stone buildings, churches and small parks. I am fascinated every time I see such a city layout!
One afternoon Anton and I had a “Boys Out” experience. Alexandra was scheduled to meet with a friend so we went to see the “Fox Classic Cars Collection”, located in an old warehouse in the docklands. Here one of the richest men in Australia has put some of his finest old cars on display. Many of them are original showroom cars with almost no mileage. Including an Volkswagen Beetle, a few Porsches, and some Ferraris. One of the crown jewels of the collection is an old 6-door Mercedes limousine, previously owned by Ringo Starr. It even appeared in a couple of Beatles movies in the 1960’s. We were both very fascinated by this one. It is quite a substantial collection, and apparently just about a third of it is currently on display.
We also went to the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. Eureka Tower. On the 88th floor there is a visitors center and observation deck where you can enjoy a 360 degree view of Melbourne from above. These kinds of towers have become a bit “trendy” for any ambitious city to have. But the Eureka Tower is actually well worth a visit and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps the clear blue sky, sunshine and 20 degrees celsius helped. Yeah, the Australian winter is nice. The locals do say that these temperatures are a bit unusual for the season though.
We have spent some time here in Melbourne going through our luggage and decided to make a few upgrades here and there. This was necessary before we arrive in the much colder New Zealand. Hence Anton and I now have new down-feather jackets and nice, warm knitted gloves. This was according to plan. We could not have brought this along with us from Munich. To make room for the new, we have thrown away some bathing pants, shirts and shorts that we will no longer be needing. I still have another pair of bathing pants, just in case we get to an indoor pool. If not I can use them when we get to California. Antons wardrobe has also been renewed and cleaned up. And we had to get a new pair of running shoes for him even though he was really unhappy to let go of the old ones. The new ones are actually 2 sizes bigger than the old ones. I guess it was about time! By the way, you can read a longer article about our equipment and supplies by clicking here!
Next week we are going to Auckland, New Zealand. We have booked a campervan for our entire three months stay. This was really the cheapest car we could rent, and as it is also a “home on wheels” it is quite practical. This is a good side effect of traveling through “odd seasons”: You get cheap quotes for things like this. Thus we can still allow ourselves to check into a motel, hotel or even rent a house or flat for a while. We will most likely rent a flat somewhere, but we will not do this before we have found a nice and suitable spot that we really like and where we want to stay for a few weeks. Again, due to the off peak season, we can do this with short notice.
On facebook we can read about the heatwave in Europe. Our friends are posting pictures of sun, summer and sweet, cold drinks in the parks. And even though I do not for one minute regret that we are in Australia this time of year, I do send lots of friendly thoughts back home to the “Summer Lands”. I think of last summer, which was also quite good, and that it is now exactly one year ago that we decided to embark on the journey of our lives.