Melbourne and the Surrounds - Christmas 2006

Link to Travel Diary (Sydney).

23rd December - To Melbourne

Pack my bags and headed out of Sydney. The BIG Hostel was definitely more my sort of place than the Wake Up! but I'm glad to be heading off to Melbourne to stay with Dave and Ruth. A bit of real life, away from the backpackers and a room to myself. You never truly get a decent night's sleep in a dorm. Always someone coming and going. Headed out to the airport in plenty of time and a good job I did. Flying with Virgin Blue. Internet booking, self check-in just the bag drop and I'd be done. But there was a massive queue. I find out that their conveyor belts aren't working and so we're left standing there. Finally they decide on a plan B and start taking the bags out through the back by hand. It ends up that I get through just in time to catch my flight. Thankfully despite the hassle we take off pretty much on time.

Dave picked me up from the airport and took me back to their place in Williamstown. Had a very quiet day, looked around the house which is real nice. Then did a quick tour of Williamstown, very old-fashioned and English. It is on a headland and was one of the first settlements. It has a real nice country town feel to it.

24th December - Melbourne

A nice lazy day today. After all my rushing about it's nice to take it easy and having worked right up until Friday Dave and Ruth are happy to unwind. Dave and I headed into town for a bit of a walk around so that I could get my bearings. Williamstown has a great rail link into the city. It's at the end of the line and trains run every 20 minutes into Flinders Street which is about 30 minutes away. Great to be in such a picturesque sleepy 'village' yet so close to the centre of Melbourne.

Melbourne looks nice. Big wide streets with trams running this way and that. The Yarra River runs through town and there's plenty of parkland. The picture shows Dave on the Princes Bridge over the Yarra with the MCG in the background.

25th December - Christmas with Dave and Ruth

A real Christmas Day. Shit weather, about 16 degrees, the lowest on record for Melbourne is 15.9! A damp, dark day and at one point it even hailed. So no BBQ on the beach for us, it was roast lamb with all the trimmings. The huge prawns we had for starter were the only hint that we were actually in Australia at all. Ruth's parents and sister came over for the day and the 6 of us had a good day. The only thing missing was the Eastenders on the TV.

26th December - Boxing Day Test

Originally I only had tickets for days 2 and 3 of the Boxing Day Test Match but a friend of Dave's had a spare after someone dropped out so I was there on Boxing Day. Over 89,000 others were there too. I'm not sure if I'm glad that I got a ticket or not ;-) It was cold, bloody cold. My image of the Boxing Day Test Match is scantily clad women and fat middle aged blokes with their shirts off going a lovely lobster red. But no, I was there in my jeans, shirt of fleece which was done right up to the top, hat on and my hands hardly ever left my pockets.

I'd only actually got a $20 ground entrance ticket which basically means that you stand at the back of the lower tier and the view is restricted. You can see the whole pitch but not anything above the height of the lower tier. But the weather had put a lot of people off coming, they were 7,000 down on capacity, so we snuck into the seating area and sat in $60 seats all day. Result.

England won the toss and decided to bat. Why? I've no idea. Wet, overcast, interrupted play, the ball swinging and seaming all over the place, another cock-up in the England camp. Anyway the locals were happy. It seemed the only reason they were there was to see the local boy Warney take his 700th test wicket. Although I'm with Bill Frindal on this one, the Australia v Rest of the World game wasn't a test so in fact he was 6 short! England started off very slowly but weren't losing wickets, it was attritional, even the Barmy Army were quiet.

Then mid-afternoon at the end of one over Ponting takes Warney's hat off the crowd cheers. But it was only a little tease. Two overs later Warney's on. And in his 4th over Strauss misses a straight one and the crowd goes wild. He ends up taking 5 wickets the other 4 were down to wild slogs from the England batsmen rather than any decent bowling but that's the way it goes, he's got the best script writer since Botham.

The rest of the day goes pretty much as expected, England are bowled out of 159 and Australia get off to a steady start. The only bit of excitement was Freddy getting Langer out. The next ball the Barmy Army roared Freddy into the crease and he gets the nightwatchman Lee out first ball. I don't know how many Brits there are in the crowd but the noise for that wicket was louder than for Warney's 700th.

27th December - Boxing Day Test Day 2

Down to the G for another cold day watching England getting thrashed. Today it was just me and Dave and we had tickets on the 4th level. Up in the Gods although the view was surprisingly good considering how far we were from the action. We stayed up there for the whole of the morning session which England dominated. By the end of it Australia were 5 down. Dave remarked how cold it was but I told him it was 2 or 3 degrees warmer than yesterday! The trouble was Hayden was still in. Wrongly so because he'd been absolutely plumb twice last night but Umpire Coertzen hadn't given him. Symonds joined him and they put on nearly 300 for the 6th wicket. The cricket was terrible. Playing and missing, edging, more LBWs not given and the attacking strokes were very agricultural. They're saying this innings will keep Symonds in the test side for a while, I hope so, he ain't no test batsman.

A couple of late wickets meant that Warney came to the crease just before the close and gave the Aussies even more to cheer about. The Barmy Army were massed a few bays along to our left and on the first day were remarkably quiet. The General was in there, a guy nicknamed Jimmy Saville who's their song leader in chief and Billy Cooper their trumpeter who had been allowed to bring in his trumpet for this test. He's actually very good, orchestra quality and he even played with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on Christmas Eve.

Now and again Billy Cooper would knock out a tune, anything from Jerusalem, through Beatles numbers to Christmas carols. Jimmy would lead the 'Everywhere we go...' and they had various songs for every occasion including a few not to favourable ones about Umpire Coertzen!

On day 2 they were in much better voice and it continued into day 3. It was good fun and highlighted even more how crap the Aussie fans are. No singing or chanting just the odd expletive here and there.

After me and Dave headed into town to the James Squire Brewhouse. James Squire was the first brewer in Australia and the beers are better than your average Australian piss (official word use by the Aussies and it describes their beer so well). James Squire Amber Ale (which is quite dark and not amber at all) and the Porter are especially recommended although they do serve it a bit too cold. I like cold beer but around freezing point does kill the taste a little too much.

28th December - Boxing Day Test Day 3

Day 3 and back up in the Gods again where we stayed all day. Again the weather had improved bay a few degrees and it was almost cricket weather. I actually took my fleece off for some of the day and unlike the first 2 days they didn't put the floodlights on. The play was pretty predictable. England had a good first session again. Cleaned up the tail fairly quickly and then batted through to lunch without losing a wicket.

But from then on it was all down hill. Wickets falling on a regular basis and it was all over about 15 minutes before stumps.

The picture on the left shows Warney preparing to completely bamboozle Harmison. The massed ranks in the top right of the photo in the distance are the Barmy Army. From this distance they are quite fun but I wouldn't want to be sat too close to them all day.

The picture on the right shows the Aussie team carrying Warney off the field. He announced before the game that he is retiring from test and Australian domestic cricket after the next game so this is his last game at the MCG. There's talk of how they are going to honour Warney at the MCG. The idea I've heard so far is naming the Great Southern Stand after him. Call it 'The One Night Stand'!

On the way home we found 2 great pubs. The Mitre Tavern which is one of Melbourne's first pubs and has a real old English feel to it and The Irish Times a real Irish pub (not just themed) which serves Bulmer's on draught and does huge tasty meals. Both are half way down Little Collins Street near the RACV if you're ever in the area.

29th December - Melbourne

I have a plan! Since September I've had my winter travel plans sorted out, but my plan always ended on the 1st of January 2007. I had no idea what I was going to do beyond that. It wasn't a problem, having a plan that far ahead was very unusual for me anyway. But 1/1/07 is approaching rapidly and I think Dave and Ruth were getting afraid that with no where else to go I may never leave ;-)

But now I'm sorted for another month. I'm off to New Zealand. Doing 3 weeks or so travelling around the North and South Islands. I may not get down this way again for a while and everyone who's been over to NZ says it's fantastic, so I'm off on the 4th of Jan.

Anyway back to today. Bit of a lie in then off to explore Melbourne. And I got some decent weather for doing it. I even got my shorts and sandals on for the first time in a week. Spent most of the day just wandering around. I had lunch down at New Quay in the Docklands area. Melbourne is changing at one hell of a rate of knots. There is a lot of money being spent and they have big big plans. The whole of the docklands area to the west of the City Centre are being totally rejuvenated much along the lines of Docklands in London. The big banks are moving their offices out there, there are parks and marinas, restaurants and bars and the Telstra Dome the latest of Melbourne's great sporting arenas. When the area is finished it's going to be impressive. A little sterile, but impressive. The area is full of some dodgy modern art. On the right in front of the Telstra Dome is Cow up a Tree which is actually made from 5 tonnes of bronze!

After lunch I headed to the Rialto Tower. Until recently the tallest building in Australia. It has an observation deck and gives great vies all over Melbourne. It was a fairly good day to be up there. The skies are clear but hazy, I could see the city really well but not much of the country beyond.

After lunch I headed to the Rialto Tower. Until recently the tallest building in Australia. It has an observation deck and gives great vies all over Melbourne. It was a fairly good day to be up there. The skies are clear but hazy, I could see the city really well but not much of the country beyond.

In the picture you can see Flinders Street Station in the bottom left and the Yarra River leading up to the MCG. In front of the MCG to the right is Melbourne Park where the '56 Olympics were held and the Rod Laver Stadium and outside courts used for the Australian Tennis Open.

One thing about Melbourne is that it is sport mad. The MCG for cricket and Aussie Rules, the Tennis, Telstra Dome for cricket, AFL and both rugby codes. Flemington for the Melbourne Cup, Albert Park for the motor racing. All the venues are very close to the city centre. It's as if the sporting venues come first and the rest of the city has to fit in around that.

30th December - Great Ocean Road

A day out on the Great Ocean Road. Described as one of the world's most spectacular coastal routes it runs for about 3 hours or so down the coast south of Melbourne. The coast line is very rugged with high cliffs and limestone stacks, untouched (inaccessible) beaches and heath land and rain forest right down to the coast.

We set off at about 7am in order to get as far as Peterborough without hitting too much traffic. The plan definitely worked with it only taking 2 1/2 hours. We then worked our way back along the Great Ocean Road. Stopping of many times to walk out to viewpoints. The Arch, London Bridge, The Grotto finishing off at the 12 Apostles.

31st December - Melbourne

Quite a quiet day and then out to celebrate New Year's Eve. I just went into Melbourne for a few hours and did a couple of museums. The Immigration Museum and Melbourne Museum. The Immigration Museum not surprisingly covers the different waves of people who have come to Australia. From the original Brits, through the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s and into the 20th century. It also covers immigration policy. The white-Australia policy and then the populate or perish period after the 2nd World War.

The Melbourne Museum at the Old Treasury Building gives a history of Melbourne since the first Europeans arrived. I always like seeing old photos and films of a place and they had plenty. It covered most aspects of life and the old vaults of the building were turned into an exhibition about the 1850s Gold Rush.

Instead of taking the rain back to Williamstown, I took a tram down to St Kilda and then the ferry back. It was good to see the Melbourne skyline from a different angle, as you can see below.

In the evening the 3 of us went out to a New Year's Eve bash at a restaurant in Williamstown. None of us fancied being a part of the crowds in central Melbourne and fancied even less the journey home. It was a fun night they had an 80s disco so we were in our element especially as the music over here in general is quite rock based.

But the evening ended right pretty much on mid-night. We did the countdown etc and then the bar closed and by 12:30 we were out on the street. In fact everywhere in Williamstown closed at that time. How crap. But it fits in with the general nanny state anti having fun thing that Australia seems to have going on. It seems the powers that be don't trust the population all. Rules, rules rules everywhere, including a blanket ban on drinking alcohol pretty much everywhere. I guess Australia has a big alcohol problem to go with its gambling problems. But this sort of control just hurts the ones who are responsible.

1st January - Melbourne

A typical New Year's Day except for the gorgeous weather. Got up late and kept up a slow pace all day. I got the train into town again in the afternoon and had a walk around. As in the UK very little was open so I wandered along the river and out to the MCG. It looks a bit different without the 80,000+ people swarming around it. I got chance to look at the statues that are around the ground including Bradman and Lillee. I expect Shane will have his own soon.

I walked back through the Fitzroy Gardens to see Cooks' Cottage which really is a bit of a cheat. It was built in 1755 in Great Ayton in England and it was Captain Cook's parents cottage. It was shipped to Victoria in 1934 and re-erected in the gardens

In the evening I went to the cinema and saw Casino Royale. It's not bad but I wouldn't rush out to see it. Now sure what in particular was wrong but as James Bond films go I think it was one of the worse.

2nd January - Melbourne

Today we headed out to Phillip Island. It's about 2 1/2 hours north of Melbourne and is a bit like the Isle of Wight except it's joined to the mainland by a bridge. In keeping with the Isle of Wight thing they have even named their main town Cowes! Big thanks to Dave once again for driving, it's been great staying with Dave and Ruth, having my own room, a clean kitchen, some meals cooked for me and my own personal tour guide.

Once on Phillip Island we stopped off at couple of places for a bit of a walk. Firstly at the Pyramid, which is a pyramid like lump of basalt rock just off the coast. A viewing platform gave great views all the way along the south pat of the island as well as full exposure to the gale force wind which had come straight up from the Antarctic.

We then headed down to The Nobbies, great name had to take a picture of the sign. These are more basalt islands just off the coast. The area is covered in boardwalks for visitors which allow you to walk around without damaged the area. There are loadsa birds in the area and in the sand dunes are lots of penguin burrows. The island you can see in the top let of the photo is home to a seal colony which you can just about see with binoculars.

The main visitor attraction and the reason we were there is the "penguin parade". Lights and concrete stands have been erected to allow visitors to see the penguins returning to their colony, which they do with a total lack of interest in their spectators. At about 8:45 we see the first few penguins wash up on shore, stand up look around and immediately run back into the ocean. This goes on for 10 minutes or so, before enough of them come onto shore in a group (raft) and pluck up the courage to make a run for it up the beach to the sand dunes.

The penguins are aptly named Little Penguins and are really dinky. As they run up the beach they are all action legs and flippers going at full speed. Sat on the sand in front of the stands it's a great sight. In all in the hour after dusk about 1200 penguins come out of the water.

But the best part was yet to come. As we walk back from the beach on the boardwalks which run over the sand dunes the penguins are running about just below us. When they find their burrows the chicks, most of which were quite big but very fluffy come out screaming for food and then the wife comes out and either greets the male with a kiss or more often than not an ear full. They make quite a racket. The penguins can spend up to 3 weeks out at sea fishing before coming home.

It's amazing that with a thousand or so people walking around on the boardwalks right above them they carry on with their lives oblivious to us being there. It really was a great sight. Did I mention that they are really, really cute.

3rd January - Melbourne

My last full day in Melbourne so once again I caught the train from Williamstown into the City via Newport. The Melbourne transport system is very good and off-peak at least not crowded at all. And the best thing of all is the price. $6.10 for an all day ticket for the trains, buses and trams. That's less than £2.50. On a Sunday it's only $2.50! I see Red Ken has now put prices up in London again and the cheapest single on the tube is £4. Anyway my one plan for the day was to visit AFL World. A museum to all things Australian Rules. It had the history of the game and all the clubs, a hall of fame for the players etc. But it also had a lot of interactive stuff, mainly aimed at kids but it didn't stop me.

Kicking an AFL ball into screen to try to simulate some great goals of the past. (It was like those golf simulators the ball hits the screen and continues on in the video screen.) A machine where balls are thrown at you, you catch them handball them into a target, as many as possible in a minute. They had AFL2006 on a playstation thingy. You record your own commentary to game, loadsa stuff, wasted a few hours nicely.

In the evening we I treated Dave and Ruth to a night at the theatre as a way of saying thank-you. Barry Humphries live on stage. He's doing a 2 month run to celebrate 50 years since the first outing of what was then plain Edna Everage. In fact there are quite a few things going on around Melbourne to do with Edna and I did most of them. In the theatre booking office is an exhibition of some of her frocks. There's Ednaville which is a set of rooms set out like the 1950's house Edna once lived in. In the Moving Image Museum there's Virtually Edna which tells Edna's life story. The show was great. Started out with a Dame Edna song celebrating her 50 years. Then a quick change and he did 20 minutes or so of Les Patterson. The drunken, swearing, crude Aussie Politician character he does. He's very funny, telling stories laying into Australian politicians and celebrities, drinking from his whiskey glass and spraying the audience with it as he speaks. The other part of the first half he does and old man in an old peoples home, reminiscing. It was good and would have been even better had I been living in Melbourne for 70 years as he referred to a lot of very old local stuff. I enjoyed it, a lot more subtle than Les! It was quite like an Alan Bennet monologue.

The whole of the second half was Dame Edna. Telling stories, attacking celebrities worldwide, interspersing a few song (and dance) numbers, singing out of key and dancing badly alongside the 4 professional dancers. Then he (she) starts picking on members of the audience and getting them up on stage for various things. At one point he called a women's daughter up for a chat.

It was a really good night, a real one-off. And to see Dame Edna with her home town audience was brilliant.

4th January - Melbourne

My last day in Australia and what better way to spend it than on the beach? Walked the 5 minutes or so it takes to get from Dave and Ruth's to Williamstown Beach found a spot, lay down and fried myself for about 40 minutes each side until well done. The beach was busy but big enough to cope. The viewing was not quite up to Bondi standard, mainly families with young kids and teenagers on school holidays. It must have been pretty hot today because it was burning my feet walking across the sand. On the right is the typical Williamstown House. Cute isn't it. They don't make them like that anymore.

Off to the airport for an evening flight to Christchurch my first stop in New Zealand. We left in plenty of time on a good job we did. I had read that a British passport holder does not need a Visa to go to New Zealand. BUT, you have to have a ticket out of the country which I hadn't got. So I hurriedly had to book one at the airport. But how crap is that? They issue a 6 month visa and you have to be out in that time why do you need a ticket out booked. With so many budget airlines doing one-way pricing, return tickets are not standard any more. They obviously don't get many people who like to play things by ear like I do. Anyway I made it onto the plane and into the hostel in central Christchurch, safe and sound.

Link to Travel Diary (New Zealand South Island).