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Australia packaged: two tours from Melbourne


I had long heard of the scenic coastlines of Australia and even been to Perth in the days of my youth. So when I heard that my cousin in Melbourne was getting married, I jumped on the opportunity to visit with my wife.

It is a 7-hour trip to Melbourne, capital of the state of Victoria from Singapore where I am based. Luckily for us, Melbourne remained unaffected by the recent spate of flooding that affected Queensland.

The Koala is a much maligned animal, being called a bear when it is actually a marsupial. It is a question of taxonomy.

We stumbled on 2 day tours from Melbourne’s Best Tours (http://www.melbournetours.com.au/) which we booked online. It was only when I reached Melbourne that I learned that we can approach the Visitor’s Centre at Federation Square to get any tour information as well as the places to visit.

We later met other fellow travelers and I understood that Grayline (http://www.grayline.com.au/) is not bad.

Koalas and the Penguin Parade

The first day tour included a Koala Encounter – meaning I get a photo opportunity – as well as a visit to Philip Island, to see the Little Penguins march onto the shore late in the night.

In the morning, we had morning tea at a Wildlife animal farm where we were able to have a photo opportunity with the Koala. Turns out, in Australia, they are very particular about animal rights. In Queensland you are allowed to hold the Koala for photos but in Victoria, where I was, we were only allowed to pat the animal. And this was only allowed in recent years. Apparently, the Koala gets stressed out when people hold them often. And it was shown that their lifespan actually decreased.

We had our lunch at Churchill Island Heritage Farm, where we got the experience of a traditional Aussie working farm. Churchill Island is not really an island per se as though its linked via a bridge and can be crossed from the land in low tide. The view was very nice; we could see all kinds of farm animals, and even got on a horse tram ride.

After lunch, we visited the Koala Conservation Centre nearby. Were the Koalas an endangered species, I enquired of the ranger? Yes and no, came the answer. In some parts of Australia they were breeding in large numbers, while in other parts there were a shortage of them. And they are very particular eaters. They only feed on the eucalyptus tree and live only in Australia. To conserve energy, they sleep 20 hours a day! I think that makes them more lazy than a cat!

Next, we visited the Nobbies. It is a great place to experience spectacular ocean scenery. There is a broad walk for all the nature lovers to look and admire penguins and seals that are nearby. Indeed, when we were there, we did see Little Penguins that nested there. There are in fact many species of penguins and the Little Penguin found here in Victoria is the smallest of them all. Everyday the small Little Penguins make their way from their nest, which can be up to 1 km from the shore to the sea and return back late at night. That return trip by the Little Penguins is a spectacle to watch! It is called the Penguin Parade at Philip Island.

Unfortunately, no cameras nor videos are allowed. Yes, you might argue for the techies, we no use flash photography ok? Apparently not. Some people still used flash so cameras and video was banned altogether. It was with great sadness that I had to keep my camera equipment in a bag and hence there are no photos to depict the occasion. But then again, no words or pictures can adequately describe the full experience of sitting quietly on the beach at 830pm with the cold winds blowing at you in anticipation of the Little Penguin coming ashore.

You see, everyday, they come ashore at Philip Island. And everyday, the rangers count the number coming ashore and the time they come ashore. This enables the rangers to gauge and roughly predict the next days’ activities.

The Little Penguins feel that they are most vulnerable when they first step ashore. So they wait for their fellow compatriots. One by one, the Little Penguins gather. Small but together as a band, unity in numbers. Until that is, the occasional bird flies by. Immediately the penguins scatter and go into the sea, thinking that a predator has come.

In truth, the birds are not their predators this night, for they have also come along with the humans, but for a different purpose. When the humans scatter after the parade of penguins, the seagulls will come for the litter that we humans have left behind.

On the day we saw the Penguin Parade, about 200 penguins made their way to the shoreline. Some seemed so well fed that it was a wonder that they managed to stand up and move at all. Indeed, groups of penguins would move a bit and then stop to rest for a while. Then they move on and then they rest again.

As I departed the Penguin Parade, I came away thinking it a miracle that this little animal would attempt this day after day. It was a long and tiring day for a day tour. We reached our hotel at 12am.

Twelve Apostles and The Great Ocean Road

The second tour we booked was for the 12 Apostles along the famed Great Ocean Road with its pristine long stretches of beaches. Ideally, the Great Ocean Road should be explored over a 2 or 3 day period, leisurely over a self-drive and bed and breakfast. However, on this occasion, time was a factor. Distance was another. It as a round trip of 500 km, meaning a 6 hour road trip. Knowing this, our next Tour Driver, also called David, was perhaps understandably a bit miffed when we came late for the meet up at 715am.

“Hurry up”, he exclaimed, for there were 21 of us to be picked up and he was running late. This David was in great contrast to yesterday’s David.

According to Wikipedia, the Great Ocean Road is a 243-kilometre (151 mi) stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Warrnambool. The road was built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932, and is the world’s largest war memorial; dedicated to casualties of World War I.

Most of the time we were on the bus as time was tight and David was quite firm, insisting that people stick to the time allotted per stop. We made a friend who was from France along the way and he commented that the living standard in Melbourne was even higher that in Italy or France. A simple bottle of drink that we bought for lunch costs us AUD 3.8 which amounted to almost SGD 5! So I could not help but agree.

We chose to take a helicopter to view the Twelve Apostles for which we paid an extra AUD 75 per pax and what you see above is an aerial view of the Twelve Apostles.

It might surprise some that the Twelve Apostles were originally called the Sow and Piglets! Well, some enterprising people apparently thought it not a good idea and perhaps with an eye for tourist dollars, renamed it the Twelve Apostles. They are actually limestone formations that are constantly being eroded. We were in fact told that one of the ‘Apostles’ fell victim to the sea just recently. Now it appears, we are left with eight ‘Apostles’. In time, it is certain that all the Apostles will vanish.

The Great Ocean Road was an eye-opener, with its pristine beaches which we enjoyed seeing. If not for the fact that this was a rushed trip, a leisurely 2 – 3 day self-drive plus bed and breakfast to soak up the atmosphere would have been great. Not to mention swimming along the beaches and mixing with the locals. Unfortunately for us, time and distance did not permit this.

We loved the seeing Koala, the cute little Penguins marching on persistently onward to shore and even more so, nature’s grandeur, the Twelve Apostles.

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