Australia Day, Phillip Island & The Bass Coast

On Friday it was Australia Day, a national public holiday which commemorates the founding of Australia in 1788. Unlike most other public holidays, Australia day is always celebrated on the 26th January rather than being moved to the nearest Monday. This year it happened to fall on a Friday, giving everyone a bonus long weekend. b-)

Sara and I booked the following Monday off work too, allowing us to take a four day break and explore a bit more of Victoria. We decided to visit the Bass Coast, about two hours drive south. :d

Typically for us, we didn’t organise anywhere to stay until the last minute and then, because of the long weekend, we discovered that most places were already fully booked. Our original plan was to stay at either Venus Bay or Inverloch, within easy driving distance of Wilson’s Promontory, but everywhere we tried was full. #-o

In the end we were lucky enough to find cheap and cheerful accommodation in Cowes, on Phillip Island; a bit further away than we intended but a beautiful spot nonetheless. 🙂

On Friday we just enjoyed the sunshine, strolling along the beach and relaxing outside the cafe bars on the Esplanade. It seemed very European: the drive over the bridge from San Remo on the mainland reminded me of Ayamonte, on the Spain/Portugal border. If it wasn’t for all the cars going by with their Australian flags draped out of the windows, it would’ve been like a Spanish promenade. In our hurry to pack we forgot to bring the sunblock, amongst other things, so ended up with red faces. x(

We spent Saturday exploring the Bass Coast. The Tarwin river and Venus Bay were lovely but, with hindsight, we’re glad we ended up in Cowes; if you’re not into fishing or surfing there’s not much else going on. (:|

We then drove on to Wilson’s Prom — the most southerly point in Australia, a vast National Park with stunning forests, beaches and wildlife including koalas, kangaroos and emus. We purchased a day-pass and made our way down to the Tidal River campsite area, amazed by the spectacular scenery every time we turned a corner. Some of the beaches are like on “Lost”, with secluded inlets and crystal clear lagoons. It’s a beautiful place, well worth a longer visit in the future — Sara even said she’d stay there in a tent next time! 😉

On Saturday evening, as the sun went down, we enjoyed live music and sampled cellar-door wines at the Night Market on Cowes foreshore. :-”

Sunday was spent touring Phillip Island. We had a leisurely lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Rhyll, a tiny marina village (which is thankfully nothing like Rhyl in North Wales). We also took a look at Smith’s Beach, Newhaven and Woolamai Beach.

The highlight of the trip was definitely last night’s visit to the Penguin Parade; something we didn’t get a chance to do when we visited Phillip Island on holiday two years ago. We arrived at the visitor centre shortly before dusk and waited at the beach for the tiny penguins to come ashore. Watching them fight their way out of the rough sea and waddle up the dunes to their nests, only inches away from you, was an absolutely magical experience — it was well worth making the trip for this alone. (*)

Edit: Although I only had my mobile phone camera, I managed to take quite a few pictures which can be found in the gallery. The quality isn’t amazing, but you get the idea.

Notes from Sydney

I’ve just arrived back from another three-day business trip to Sydney, my fourth trip in the last two months. I haven’t changed my mind about the place — I still think it’s a dirty, overcrowded dump (with a very nice harbour area).

Highlights of this trip:

  • The Qantas CityFlyer service was better than previous trips on Virgin Blue, with inflight entertainment and complimentary refreshments. We finished our scheduled work sooner than expected and were able to change our tickets to an earlier flight easily enough — there’s a flight to Melbourne every 30 minutes. :>
  • I’m beginning to get my bearings: I now know the best route to Melbourne Airport from home (approx 50 minutes away) and could probably find my way to the Sydney office without using TomTom, if I really had to.
  • In Sydney, Hertz gave me a shiny new Toyota Camry instead of the usual Ford Falcon/Futura hire car. Both models are as big as a whale, but the Toyota is a different class entirely.
  • As a repeat customer I’m now given vouchers for complimentary drinks whenever I check in to the usual hotel. I also found a few new bars and restaurants in Parramatta, only a few minutes away by taxi. 🙂
  • Sydney taxi drivers are utter lunatics; the worst I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, except for Egypt. Assuming they know where they’re going (which isn’t always the case) they weave in and out of busy traffic at high speed, as if playing some kind of arcade game. Last night the driver decided to speed down a long service road running parallel to the main road; unfortunately he didn’t bother to slow down for any of the many speed humps along the way before casually swerving back into the main flow across four lanes of traffic. :-ss

The main plus point from this trip was last night’s visit to the James Squire Brewhouse, a fantastic restaurant/microbrewery on Kings Wharf. As guests of a key supplier, we enjoyed steak and seafood whilst working our way through the superb beer menu.

Sara and I will definitely be paying a visit to their sister restaurant at Melbourne’s Docklands in the near future.

Video Clips

Inspired by Jon’s recent posts with embedded YouTube clips, I thought I’d post some myself.

Firstly, here’s a clip that I found completely by chance last week. It really made me — for the first time since getting here — feel a bit homesick for England. Most of these pictures were taken from Grains Bar; you can actually see our house at around the 3:53 mark on the video. :((

And the same author has done a superb compilation of photographs taken around Manchester’s city centre. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing it a bit. :-<

But on the other hand, Melbourne has it’s own attactions. All this is within a half hour drive:

And the city:

Here’s one about Melbourne’s trams:

Here’s a small stretch of the Great Ocean Road (unfortunately without any of the “sights” or towns), which brings back memories of our trip to Melbourne in 2005. It’s a fantastic drive though.

The Drought Continues

Two months ago I blogged about how Victoria’s water authorities had introduced Stage 2 Water Restrictions due to a severe lack of rainfall this year.

Since then things haven’t improved much. Except for a couple of really stormy days over the Christmas period, we’ve only had half a dozen brief showery spells in the past few weeks. Apparently it has been the driest winter and spring on record. #:-s

The water companies have now implemented Stage 3 Water Restrictions, which are much more strict. We are no longer allowed to wash our cars (except for cleaning windows, mirrors and lights) and we can only water the plants (but not lawns) on two specific evenings per week. [-x

The “water patrols” are out and about, presumably looking for people with green lawns and clean cars. Anyone caught breaking the rules will be fined; repeat offenders will have their mains water pressure reduced to a trickle. =;

The breakdown on our monthly water bill shows that Sara and I are using considerably less water than the average amount for a two person household. Unlike most Aussie homes, we have a front-loading washing machine (top-loaders are still commonplace here), an AAA-rated dishwasher (which is rubbish, but efficient) and water-saving toilets. So we’re doing our bit. :)>-

Taxi!

Why is it so difficult to get a taxi in Melbourne’s suburbs? ~X(

Apparently there are 4,425 licenced taxis in Victoria, most of which operate in the Melbourne metropolitan area. You see them all the time when you’re driving around — they’re all bright yellow — but when you actually need to hire one, they’re nowhere to be found. :-??

We originally planned to spend New Year’s Eve in the city, watching the fireworks on the banks of the Yarra. Getting into Melbourne wouldn’t be a problem — free trains and trams operate until 3am on New Year’s Eve. We knew, however, that getting back from Bayswater station afterwards could be tricky, so we decided to stay close to home instead.

So we drove up to our “local”, the Oak Tree Tavern. We had to pay $15 entry (or $35 including a carvery meal) but at least entertainment was laid on and we could get to the bar without fighting through a crowd. Surprisingly they didn’t bother with the countdown to the New Year or Auld Lang Syne. :-”

Knowing that we’d have to wait ages for a taxi after midnight, we called for one at about 11:30. “It’ll be with you in 15 minutes” said the operator. Yeah, right… half an hour passes and it’s 2007. <:-p We call back and get the old "It's in your area now, it'll be with you in 10 minutes" line; it seems like taxi operators the world over are trained to lie. No problem, we'll just have another drink while we wait... and another... We call back and the operator finally admits "Look, we have no idea when we'll be able to get a taxi out to you - it could be a couple of hours or more". :)] So, with no other option, we set off walking. It's quite a long walk home when sober but, when you're fuelled by Old Speckled Hen and Stella, it takes twice as long. At least it was a warm night. #:-s So why don't they have more taxis in Melbourne? Or perhaps have little taxi offices in each suburb, like in the UK? Because in order to operate a taxi in Victoria you need a government licence, which costs over $300K per cab. The companies who currently have paid for these licences would demand compensation if more licences were made available. Obviously the drivers prefer to operate in and around the City centre to maximise their profits, so the out-of-town customer has to suffer during peak times. 🙁

Happy New Year everyone. :-h