tuesday, september 23 - cairns QLD to melbourne VIC, australia
Per usual, we will enjoy breakfast at hotel. Then we will board our private coach transfer from Cairns City to Domestic Airport and catch our flight to Melbourne. Upon arrival, our private coach transfer will take the group from Melbourne Airport to hotel. The rest of day is at leisure.
Evening at your leisure with dinner on your own. Overnight at Hotel Ibis in Melbourne.
i didn't sleep well last night due to the number & variety of screeching birds, but there was a three-hour plane ride to nap on, so that was okay. i continued the free-hotel-breakfast trend of stealing vegemite packets to make my employees eat upon my return. the cairns airport seemed much smaller on the way out than the way in, & security took all of three minutes. it wasn't necessary to remove shoes or bracelets here; only the bulky metal things had to come off, & laptops went separately as in the US. Frugal griped about forgetting his book in his checked luggage, but declined borrowing my DS. (i found out later that DullGreek just happened to have the same book that she'd just finished! crazy coincidence. so Frugal got to read on the ride after all.) though the flight attendant said it'd be a full plane, there was an empty seat between me & Half Creeper, & so i, at least, had another comfortable journey. i mean, aside from all the turbulence. australia must have very lumpy air.
speaking of lumpiness, now's a good time to talk about australian toilets. while it was possible to watch the water drain from tubs, all the toilets in australia are fitted the same way i saw in china & ireland - two buttons, one a lesser flush & one more massive, but both flood the bowl with water. there's no spiraling to be seen. phil had informed me that backwards water rotation below the equator is a myth & that it's just caused by the shape of the bowl, & snopes agrees. sigh. so, there are no toilet videos for you. i did find it odd that the airport restrooms had signs on the doors to not squat, but to use toilet paper to cover the seats. if they wanted that action, why not provide seat covers?
we arrived into unseasonably warm melbourne (spotting a dry cleaner's with the worst name ever - brown stain?! ugh) & went to the hotel ibis; another serviceable, clean, & not fancy hotel. (it's no issue, as i ideally don't spend much time in the room anyhow, but groupon tours had totally spoiled me on fancy-shit five star accommodations.) the room had a single & a double bed, & Talkyface kindly gave me the double. she left with Crap Leader to go do something or other while i waited for lana to arrive.
i'd been talking with my melbourne friend lana for a while about the trip, & i finally got to meet her today. she is fantastic. i know lana from a bodyart group online, so it was fun to have a tattoo buddy for the Grammy Memorial Tattoo addition. she picked me up, i grabbed a myki pass for public transit, & headed off to the piercing urge, a rather well-known piercing & tattoo shop; i'd seen much of their work over the years & know a lot of people who did guest spots there.
on the way, she kindly took me to adriano zumbo's patisserie. (i say kindly because she's vegan & there's nothing there for her aside from sheer aesthetic appeal.) i've been watching zumbo for YEARS on australian masterchef, & his desserts are both absurdly phenomenal & phenomenally absurd. i wanted to eat zumbo's creations as much as i wanted to jump off the sky tower - total highlights of the trip. i bought three pastries: secret carrot's business, kristabellaaa, & Dr Dot; & two macarons: salted butter caramel on toast, & fingerbun, which is apparently a common australian pastry. i almost went with the pollock nights too because it looks SO WEIRD, but i don't prefer those flavors, & was told it wouldn't travel well. (see the pics below for full descriptions.)
carefully carrying my delights, we headed to the piercing urge. they were... kind of dickish, actually. shame, that. i was told to make an appointment by email & they'd do their best. ehh, we could manage it before lana & i head to luna park when i return to melbourne... but i'd rather just get it handled now. so we went to another studio that didn't have any available artists, then to a third that was closed. lana didn't know any other shops, but i'd spotted a sign after the train but before the tram... & we found it again: south yarra ink. ryan was glad to take me as a walk-in, & did a lovely job of it while we listened to american movie hits of the 80s, like "eye of the tiger" & "you're the best around". (actually, most everywhere i've been all across australia has been playing american music, mostly from the 80s. today i even heard an INXS song that never got radio play in the states.) the process was pretty typical to what we experience in the states, though it's adorable to hear australians pronounce tattoo as "ta-DOO". (check this link to hear anachlirium's adorable pronunciation.) kindly, lana loaned me the cash for the tattoo since they didn't take plastic & i kept forgetting to turn USD into AUD.
somewhere in there we also hit a little local market, & i bought two australian-made organic raw chocolate bars: pana chocolate's sour cherry & vanilla 60% (an amazing soft dark chocolate i really liked), & an orange & gubinge 70% by lovingearth. (had to buy the latter- i had no idea what gubinge was! it was okay.) i found another flavor of mentos i haven't tried, simply called "drop"; lana said it was licorice mint, & we gagged at each other. i figured the reason they called it drop was because after one taste you'd only want it to drop out of your mouth - yuch. i did not purchase them.
i photographed some crazy trees outside some shops as we walked to the sweetwater inn, lana's favorite place to take friends since it has a vegan & omnivorous menu; it was actually very close to the tattoo studio. i hadn't eaten since an australian organic nut bar ("with australian active manuka honey") on the plane, so i was pretty hungry. i had the peppered kangaroo steak with house-made berry sauce, & it was fucking AMAZING. i thought the 'roo steak the other day was great, but this was really gorgeous. it came with a lightly vinaigretted salad & mashed potatoes with an odd but enjoyable texture - the whole mash was tiny little lumps, & i liked it. that steak though: wow. i bought lana's meal in thanks, & we parted ways back at the train station.
she offered to see me all the way, but i was cool - just one train & a tram back to the ibis hotel, & i was glad to become comfortable with public transit since i had extra days in melbourne coming up after new zealand. i internetted in the lobby (paypal'd lana immediately, of course) & listened to yet more 80s hits on the hotel overhead - even "freedom" by wham!. (& here i thought i was the only one who EVER played that cassette. [okay, yeah, i still play it, & i know all the words. shut up.]) i accompanied my free half hour of net with my beautiful zumbo carrot cake - the gingered cream cheese mousse was light enough to float away, & the slightly salty & crisp graham cracker crust on the bottom kept it texturally interesting. it was perfection & my day ended happy.
that was my favorite kind of travelling experience - tooling around with locals. it was my favorite in ireland, with sensibleken & nollipop, & will always be my favorite. touristy spots are nice, yeah, it's great to see the country & its natural wonders & whatever, but i most enjoy just seeing someone's home through their eyes, eating how they like to eat, getting around how they get around, & so forth. the world as it is.
wednesday, september 24 - melbourne, victoria, australia
Breakfast at hotel with private coach tour of Great Ocean Road Tour - 10 Hours yes, but so worth it! Enjoy one of the world's great coastal drives, with its dramatic scenery of striking contrasts. The region boasts powerful seas, golden beaches, peaceful townships, giant cliffs and lush forests. Today’s tour includes 2 course lunch.
Dinner on your own with overnight at Hotel Ibis in Melbourne.
the great ocean road is basically australia's answer to the pacific coast highway. the beachy views were nice, whatever; it looked like any other coastline pretty much. we were on koala watch, but i spotted an ENORMOUS ant cruising around; he was at least an inch long & had killer mandibles. (i ID'd this as a bulldog ant, & whatsthatbug confirmed it. :) ) in the little towns, there were huge wild parrots everywhere: galahs, cockatoos in the trees, australian kings, rosellas so tame they were landing on tourists' heads. plus wattlebirds & australian magpies: birds everywhere. & i finally spotted one wild koala sleeping basically on its face.
today was the first day we got rain, but considering we spent the majority of the time in a coach, i called it good timing. i went for the fish & chips at lunch because i'd never tried blue grenadier, but it was unremarkable. i asked Toothy who chose the restaurant, & he seemed hesitant to admit it was him; i asked why he chose it, & his answer was "it's the halfway point on the trip". yeah, tasted like it too. Photogeek's camera broke, but i used the power of the internet & fixed it for her - apparently it's a common problem that her camera's 35x zoom does not like going past 30x. (well well, i never had that problem with my 20x! ;) )
continuing on, we visited the "twelve apostles", which i really liked. they're large outcroppings of sandstone which periodically crumble while more are made as the land erodes. it was pretty epic seeing them standing there in the fog. i found another giant ant: awesome. (i couldn't identify this one, but i asked reddit & whatsthatbug.com, so i'll update if i get an answer.)
it was three hours' drive back to the hotel; i'd brought my netbook, & used the time to write & fill in some travellogue gaps from my cameras. upon returning, i headed out immediately with Auntlike, Photogeek, Elf Ear, Fuzzy, & Chronic Bitchface for dinner. we found a malaysian place called coconut house, & i ordered the barbecue pork mee pok special, which was surprisingly good. i came back to the hotel to internet & delight in my zumbo kristabellaaa - deep velvety chocolate mousse with a lemony-creamy-jelly-crispy stack in the center... oh man, it tasted truly wonderful & even survived my travels almost perfectly - just a little cosmetic damage. it totally made up for having to listen to the divinyls & michael bolton in the lobby.
left to right: Chronic Bitchface, Elf Ear, back of my face (holding a cup), Auntlike, Half Creeper, Crap Leader, Talkyface, Upclass, Fuzzy, Photogeek, DullGreek, Toothy, Frugal
[not my pic]
thursday, september 25 - melbourne, victoria, australia
As has been the case the entire tour, breakfast at hotel followed by private coach tour to Phillip Island plus special Penguin Tour (8 Hours)
Phillip Island - Phillip Island Nature Park - Special Boardwalk Included Dinner for our farewell meal! Ultimate Adventure Penguin Tour - Limit 10 people per group.
- Comprehensive ranger briefing.
- Penguin viewing at secluded beach.
- Use of night vision glasses and radio controlled headsets for interpretation on site.
Overnight Hotel Ibis in Melbourne
we started the day at the queen victoria markets. part were like the shit night markets of cairns, but the rest was a lot like pike place market in seattle - very good butchers, fishmongers, fresh fruit & veg, & specialty shops. Photogeek almost bought a kangaroo salami, but we were unsure whether it could go through customs - returning from china, they disallowed ANY meat products, even in a sealed glass jar, so i cautioned her that the same may apply here. i was interested that a lot of the butchers offered female pork belly, female pork chops. are girl pigs more tasty than boy pigs? i found kipfler potatoes being sold, & wished i had a way to cook them. Talkyface & i broke away from Crap Leader & the others; i bought a very bloody blood orange while she shopped for a small didgeridoo for her friend. i almost bought a beautiful springbok pelt with a mohawk, but eh, i don't need my apartment to turn into a charnel house for animals & if i want an african pelt, i'll buy it when i go to africa, anyhow. Talkyface paged through a ton of mounted photographs looking for gifts, & i ended up buying one too - of australian roadkill being eaten by a swamp harrier. awesome.
the group wasn't leaving until 2pm, so i ate my macarons (the fingerbun one was good but the salted caramel was exceptional) & we walked around downtown melbourne for a few hours. i photographed an andre the giant sticker that i'd seen a million years ago in philly... wild. i also shot a building with a badly placed title... or IS it??!? on the tram, i sat next to a frenchman wearing an amazing cologne; unable to communicate this in french, i got to use my google translate app to tell him "vous sentez merveilleux". pleased, he said "bon!" & "au revoir" as we left the tram. Talkyface wanted to buy some opals, so i visited a few shops with her. i was vaguely looking for some spectacular solid black opals to set into plugs, & they had a nice set at the place Talkyface was buying hers... my total price would've been about $3500AUD, & the lady at the counter was visibly quaking with excitement whenever she talked to me, & she was kind but overly attentive. it was like the commission would've paid her student loans or something. i don't mind dropping cash on quality, but i wasn't super stoked about the best pair they had... & the lady was SO excited that i couldn't just tell her no. so i said we'd go to lunch & think about it. Talkyface had to come back in an hour anyhow as she was having her earrings re-set from gold to silver.
we had a quick lunch at pieface, which had locations in sydney as well - we split a classic aussie meat pie & a lamb & rosemary sausage roll, & they were fairly delicious. after, i found a smoothie shop & paid $4AUD (thursday sale!) for a banana/honey/cinnamon smoothie - an interesting flavor that i enjoyed but wouldn't buy again. we shopped a bit in various stores until it was time to go back for Talkyface's opals. i walked quickly past the shop & met her down the block... she reported that the excited clerk's face dropped when she entered alone. i made sad jokes about Talkyface having to break up with my australian opal girlfriend for me; i just couldn't stand to come to another country & disappoint someone to that degree.
we met back up with the group in the lobby for our 2pm departure to phillip island. i worked with Frugal a bit on where we'd stay upon returning to melbourne (the ibis hotel is fine, but there's an ibis budget nearby that would save us each about $100AUD over the three days, so we'll do that), & off we went towards phillip island & its famous tiny penguins. the drive was a couple hours; i napped & then drank the soursop juice i bought downtown (yum, i missed the guanabana i had in the philippines - same fruit, different name.)
we stopped through the nobbies center & wandered the very cold bluffs for an hour. we spotted wild wallabys hopping in the tall grass, & huge gray cape barron geese. i took lots of photos of the black basalt, & a picture of their "don't bother the snakes" sign because the bit at the bottom charmed the hell out of me. Auntlike spotted a couple penguins in a burrow in the side of the hill, & i got some great video of them. glad i did, too, because photography isn't allowed at the next stop at all. i was able to buy a new pair of fingerless gloves at the gift shop, which was great since the arctic breeze on phillip island was super cold, & i'd lost one of my gloves just before the bridge climb in sydney.
the penguin parade was really cool. we were outfitted with headsets & binoculars, told a bit about them in the museum, then we trooped down to the beach to watch them come in from the ocean. they used to be called fairy penguins, but have been renamed little penguins as it's closer to their taxonomic name, eudyptula minor. (several tour guides have now been incorrect in saying the name was changed for political correctness.) hundreds of penguins came from the sea & carefully traversed the beach, the rocks, & the grasses to their burrows - shiny bellies flashing in the moonlight. our guide told us how the seagulls can really frighten the penguins on their way home, & their reaction is to vomit in fear. of course this is terrible since they spend days & weeks fishing & vomiting ruins all that work; further, if they have chicks, they can't feed them if they've puked up all the food... but it really just makes the little penguins seem even more little & geeky.
our group was sat in the front row of bleacher-like stands on the beach, & then we walked over to what they called "penguin plus", where we got to see the penguins making their way to their burrows. we saw tiny fluffy hatchlings & lots of adults chattering to each other as they waddled past us. the biggest ones were only about a foot tall, so it was overall an adorable experience despite the fact that their beaks can chomp straight through a leather glove & into human flesh pretty easily. our tickets all had a sticker offering 50% off a penguin adoption, & i made jokes about being able to adopt half a penguin - begging our guide not to chop a penguin in two if i could get someone else to adopt it with me. the center has a free app for a burrow cam, which i intend on downloading the minute i'm no longer on international roaming data.
also of note: the gift shop had some terrifying kangaroo stuffed animals. why make a joey removable if you're not going to bother giving it a body?! it's like the mother kangaroo is just carrying around the decapitated head of her baby, unable to move on...
a two hour bus ride back to melbourne, accompanied by the greatest in american music from 1970-1995 (seriously, we've heard nothing BUT that spread EVERYWHERE we've been). some folks headed out for farewell drinks, but i continued my tradition of zumbo & wifi - the Dr Dot tonight. it held up well considering it's been in the fridge for three days, but it was my least favorite of the three items i'd chosen. still delicious, though.
music: penguin cafe orchestra, "harmonic necklace"
(because it fit the length perfectly & i am hilarious)
i wanted the sound of the water, but the wind was too fierce. so i added my most calming mp3 - & replayed each of the three movies again to fill it out. enjoy.
music: nina gerber, "it's all just talk"
top row: Crap Leader, Talkyface
bottom row: Elf Ear, Half Creeper, Fuzzy, Photogeek, Auntlike, Chronic Bitchface, Upclass, DullGreek, Toothy
[not my pic]