After having been on the road for a couple of days around Coastal Victoria, we were eager to stay in one place for more than two nights in a row, and explore the cultural and urban experiences that the city of Melbourne has on offer. Sydney had been a bit of a disappointment for us mostly due to the bad weather, so we had high hopes that Melbourne would turn things around for us and our Australia experience. The weather played along this time (with a few exceptions), and we could enjoy walking around some of the cute and artsy neighborhoods like Fitzroy, Melbourne’s first suburb. The city definitely impressed us with its lively coffee culture giving us ample opportunities to complete our investigation of the differences between a latte, a cappuccino, and the Ozzie favorite, the flat white. After our caffeine fix and delicious pastries at De Clieu on Gertrude St, we would stroll around, discover the boutique shops, and indulge in people-watching. The selection of unique and funky pieces in hip local design shops (Julia) and record stores (Julian) was very tempting, but with limited budget and baggage allowance we unfortunately had to hold ourselves back and focus on the great coffee instead. Thanks to some insider tips from a few friends, we also got to sample the best parts of the funky laneways, narrow alleys in the CBD district, and had a few Victoria Bitters and some good ‘ol grub at Sister Bella to escape a sudden downpour. Melbourne also has a vibrant folk and singer-songwriter scene, so it wasn’t hard to catch a performance in a low-key Brunswick venue where all the patrons seemed to know each other.
Our luck had it that we arrived in Melbourne just in time for arguably the city’s biggest sports event, the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Julian took it as a sign from above and promptly decided that he ought to get a ticket. So we chose to split up for one day, and while Julia was taking a stroll along the Yarra river and got inspired at the National Gallery of Victoria, Julian watched fast race cars go in circles burning rubber and gasoline. It was a memorable experience for both of us though and we both returned happy to our lovely AirBnb accommodation in North Melbourne.
Despite all the urban excitements we nonetheless felt that we should get out of town for at least one day-trip, so we once again hit the road for an excursion to Phillip Island, about two hours Southeast of the city. The island’s biggest attraction is undoubtedly the colony of Little Penguins. Around 32,000 of the tiniest of penguins (they are only about as tall as a decent sized seagull) live in the waters near Phillip Island, and over 4,000 of them call the burrows around Summerland Beach their home. They spend all day hunting in the water, but just after sunset they return to the beach with remarkable time precision. In fact, the arrival of the penguins is such an event that the tourist information will post the ETA (estimated time of arrival) of the penguins for the day. Oh, and there are two giant bleachers at the beach for visitors to watch and admire the little buggers as part of a larger conservatory. It’s appropriately titled the “Penguin Parade” and here is the procedure: Visitors are advised to arrive about an hour prior to the penguin ETA to browse the gift shop, stock up on popcorn, and find their preferred seat at the beach. There will be a short introduction by one of the rangers, but other than that it’s mostly sitting and waiting for the first penguins to show up while the sun sets and the temperature drops. Before disembarking the ocean, the penguins will gather up a few hundreds yards from the beach to make sure everybody is ready. The penguins are extremely quick in the water, but the short stretch of beach up to their burrows is where they are the most clumsy and therefor vulnerable to birds of prey. So exposing themselves out on the beach is a big deal for such small creatures! As a consequence, they try to find their luck in numbers and will come out of the water in groups of maybe 10-30 penguins. The bravest and boldest go first, but even they will have a quick peak to make sure it’s safe. No, maybe not. Let’s try again… no, still not cool. Ok, here we go again. Nope, not safe. Again… You get the idea! Once they have finally deemed the beach safe, they will waddle up to their burrows in the dunes as quickly as possible. Since we were visiting during moulting season, some of the penguins had put on extra weight for a few weeks without food, which made them particularly clumsy as they struggled to keep up with the pack. It’s really quite adorable how they move about the sand and try to locate their homes. The conservatory has build wooden boardwalks that allow you to follow the penguins around a bit on their homeward bound quest. Unfortunately, taking any kind of pictures or videos is strictly forbidden, which is a shame, but whatever it takes to ensure the health of this largest of Little Penguin colonies is fine with us. We also had a beautiful beach and cliff hike around the island, but of course the penguins get all the credit. It was definitely a wonderful day-trip and a very memorable experience.
Finally then, it was time to say Goodbye to Australia and catch our flight to Christchurch, NZ for the next chapter of this incredible journey.