St. Kilda Pier Penguins

The City, The Culture, The Sights

The St. Kilda fairy penguins are like a preview to the Phillip Island fairy penguin population, but St. Kilda is much, much closer and more easily accessible.

After being out in the water all day, the penguins come home at dusk to their nests within the rocks on the St. Kilda Pier breakwater.

In the summer, apparently, there are tons of penguins, but the sunsets can be as late as 9 pm, where complete darkness won’t fall until 10 pm.  We wanted to see the penguins earlier, so we waited until winter.  However, fewer penguins live here/make the daily trek in winter, so it wasn’t the event we thought it might be.

While we were sitting on an (uncomfrotably pointy) rock waiting for the action to begin, I noticed some movement in the rocks behind us.  Lo and behold, it was a penguin!

This one must not have travelled out that day and was cozied up in his little nest underneath rocks.  The fairy penguins are almost blue in tone and have a small yellow patch on the front of their neck.

At first, we were the only people who knew he was there because we were sitting with him.  However, once someone else saw, word got out quickly and the penguin (and us) were instantly surrounded by tons of people and cameras.

Finally, another tiny penguin emerged on the rocks above the water a bit later.

The people in fluorescent yellow jackets were the penguin patrol.  They controlled the crowds, reminded people not to use flash, and created a safe radius around the penguins.  Their job wasn’t too hard this night, but I’m sure it could get frantic in the summer.

Probably most beautiful of all were the amazing views of the sunset; the gradient looked like a rainbow!


The Great Ocean Road

The Culture, The Sights

The drive from Melbourne down to the Great Ocean Road doesn’t take long, but it has some highlights of its own.

First up is Point Lonsdale.  This is the western point of land that is at the opening of Port Phillip Bay.  This opening is known as The Rip and is one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of water.  The width of The Rip is 3.5 km, but the navigable width is only 1 km.  Many lives have been lost in The Rip both as part of shipwrecks and in recreation.  One of Australia’s Prime Ministers went swimming in The Rip in 1967 and disappeared, presumed to be dead.

We saw waves crashing into each other in the shape of a square, something I had never see before.  It was kind of like a square whirlpool and definitely looked dangerous.  It can be seen in the right hand picture just behind the pier.

Queenscliff is a cute, historic town on the bay side of the opening, so it is a much safer harbour.  It’s a popular beach town for Melburnians to escape to in the summer.

The Barwon Heads Bridge separates Barown Heads from Ocean Grove by crossing the Barwon River.  This bridge is the oldest timber stringer road bridge in Victoria; it was built in 1927.  It is also Victoria’s longest wooden bridge.


Torquay is the surfing capital of Australia.  Not only is it home to some of the world’s most famous surf brands, Rip Curl and Quicksilver, but it is also home to the world-famous Bells Beach.


Bells Beach hosts, arguably, the most important surf competition: the Rip Curl Pro.  It takes place Easter weekend every year and draws huge crowds to watch the best surfers take on the best waves.  The long right-hander is what Bells Beach is most known for.  Surfers were everywhere, trying to catch a piece of the famous waves.

We continued along the coast between Bells Beach and Anglesea as the last stretch of coast before the Great Ocean Road officially starts.  The highlight here was Point Addis, which had stunning views out over the Southern Ocean (this will be a recurring theme in this post!).

Finally… the start of the Great Ocean Road!

The road was built during the 1920’s by returned soldiers and functioned as a permanent memorial to their mates who had died.  The statue of diggers at the arch was unveiled in 2007 at a ceremony to honor the mate ship shown during the construction of the GOR on its 75th anniversary.

The Memorial Arch at Eastern View used to function as a toll gate, but is now just the symbolic start to the journey.

The GOR continues on through Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven, and Moggs Creek until the next stop–Lorne.

Lorne itself is another small, beach town but out of town a bit, and inland a bit, are two places of natural beauty.

The first is Teddy’s Lookout.  Up on a taller-than-expected hill, there are amazing views of the ocean and the GOR.  It is a quintessential aerial shot of the GOR winding just along the coast.

Erskine Falls is next.  This is the highest waterfall in the Otways Region and is located in the middle of a temperate rainforest, which I think looks primordial–where are the dinosaurs?

Continuing on the GOR from Lorne we hit the memorial plaque just outside Lorne and another one at the difficult-to-construct-around Cape Patton as well as the villages of Wye River and Kennet River.

My favorite stop on this stretch was the shipwreck of the W.B. Godfrey, which was sailing from San Francisco to Melbourne in 1891, when it wrecked off the coast.  While no men were killed in the actual wreck, 5 men were killed in trips to salvage supplies from the wreck.  Soldiers building the GOR found their graves when digging up the area and made them a new marble headstone to honor them.  However, the headstone is placed in an arbitrary location.  The beach in front of the shipwreck had this enormous seaweed; I tried ripping a piece and it was like trying to rip rubber.

Our final stop for the day, and our resting place for the night, was Apollo Bay, one of the larger towns on the GOR.  It is known most for its fishing trade and popularity in the summer.

Mait’s Rest is a boardwalk hike through a spectacular temperate rainforest.  It was raining the day we went, which added to the atmosphere.

The Mountain Ash trees along this walk are over 300 years old and 60 metres tall (they can grow up to 100 metres!).  This makes them the tallest flowering plants in the world.  These trees shed their bark to enrich the soil below; these trees deposits 40 tonnes of their bark per hectare per year.

Cape Otway is the second southernmost point on mainland Australia, so a lighthouse is necessary to keep the ships away from its daunting rocks.  The lighthouse, known as the Cape Otway Light station, is the oldest lighthouse on mainland Australia.  The light keeping ships away today comes from a solar-powered LED light out on the tip of the Cape, no longer the lighthouse, but the lighthouse is open to the public.  It has simply incredible views of the Southern Ocean.

Moving on from Cape Otway, we continued along the Shipwreck Coast section of the GOR.  More than 200 ships were lost here between the 1830s and the 1930s.

One of our stops in this stretch was Johanna Beach.  This is the backup beach for the Rip Curl Pro when Bells Beach isn’t cooperating.

Another stop was at Melba’s Gully, another temperate rainforest walk.  It is one of the wettest places in Victoria, which we can attest to.

Now… the Limestone Coast section of the GOR.  The land is scrubby and windswept and the coast is now lined with tall, sheer limestone cliffs.  Here the beaches are the most dangerous.

The limestone creates many shapes as it erodes, but none more famous than the 12 Apostles.  These sea stacks have never actually numbered 12.  They used to be called “Sow and Piglets” for the one large stack and the small ones surrounding it, but someone thought more tourists might come if they were named “12 Apostles.”  It seems to have worked as this was the singular most crowded stop we made along the entire journey.  Since the limestone is constantly changing, one stack collapsed in 2005 dropping the actual number of apostles by one.

The Razorback limestone formation was one of my absolute favourites.  Wind-blown spray is the main creator of this stack and causes the sharp, razor-like edges along the top of the ridge.

Loch Ard Gorge is named after another casualty on the Shipwreck Coast.  In 1878, the Loch Ard wrecked on the coast near this gorge.  All the passengers died expect 2 people; Eva Carmicheal couldn’t swim and clung to a bit of the wreckage which washed her into this gorge, where Tom Pearce (who had swum there) rescued here.  As much as this sounds like the beginning of a love story, it wasn’t; the two went their separate ways and never saw each other again.  Today, the two stacks standing in the middle of the gorge are named Tom and Eva.

Port Campbell is another small, coastal town along the GOR.  It’s tiny bay is one of the only safe-swimming places along the otherwise treacherous ocean of the GOR.


The Arch is another limestone creation. This was one of my favourites because of the way the waves crash through the opening.  It’s so mesmerizing to watch.

London Bridge, or “London Bridge (broken)” as it’s labeled on the maps, used to be a double-arched limestone formation.  The first arch collapsed in January 1990, leaving two tourists stuck out on the island.  Broken or not broken, the arch is still a sight to see.

Warrnambool is the end of the Great Ocean Road and is most popular as a whale watching sight, in-season of course.

Thunder Point is on the tip of Warrnambool.  On one side is Lady Bay, the calm, boat-friendly water and on the other side is the wild Southern Ocean which swirls and crashes magnificently.  All in all, a good summation of the Great Ocean Road.


The Culture, The Sights

Bendigo is the fourth largest city in Victoria and the second largest inland one.  It is located in the Goldfields region just about smack dab in the middle of the state, a bit northwest of Melbourne.

To get there, there is about an hour and a half drive through regional Victoria.  One of the places we went through just before reaching Bendigo was Maryborough.  Their train station was the focal point of the town.  Built in 1890, the station was magnificent before the town had anywhere near its current population of 7,630.  Mark Twain once remarked that Maryborough is “a train station with a town attached.”

The hotel we stayed at was the historic Shamrock Hotel.  This hotel dates from the 19th century (1897) and began as a place where miners could rest their heads for the night.  As more and more gold was found and funneled through Bendigo, the hotel became more and more prosperous.  All of the rooms are named after people who have a Bendigo connection; we stayed in the Lola Montez Suite.  The building, outside and inside, is still opulent with stained glasses, a sweeping marble staircase, and fireplaces in every room.  It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register and under the National Trust of Victoria.

Bendigo is full of historic buildings.  Many are now just remaining facades with the interiors completely renovated for modern use, but some still hold onto their historic uses.

The historic General Post Office is now the visitor’s centre, but is still a magnificent building from the outside.

After climbing almost 300 stairs, Poppet Head Lookout had great views of Bendigo from all angles.  The lookout, which is an original poppet head from the Garden Gully United mine, is built directly over the top of the opening to the deepest mine in Victoria.

Camp Hill Primary School, which dates from 1877, is still going strong as a primary school.  The red brick with white accents reminds me a lot of the Rippon Lea facade.

The school and poppet are located in Rosalind Park where there were hundreds, if not thousands, of bats.  In the afternoon they were simply hanging upside down in their trees, but when darkness fell they were flying overhead in droves, especially towards the top of the GPO–bats in the belfry, indeed.

The original Myer department store was founded in Bendigo, even though today the headquarters and flagship store is in Melbourne.

What is the Ulumbarra Theatre today was the old Sandhurst Gaol (Bendigo used to be known as Sandhurst).  The architecture still speaks strongly of its original intent with heavy gates, small courtyards, and high walls.

The Town Hall (1859) is another grand building; columns, arches, stonework, towers…this has it all!

The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Bendigo is the second tallest church in Australia, after St. Patrick’s in Melbourne.  Its building was started in 1895 and was not completed fully (mainly the spire) until 1977 due to various long intervals.  The sandstone it’s constructed from was quarried in the Geelong area.  The huge pipe organ was installed early in the building, in 1905.  While we were inside, the organ player was practicing.  It was really fantastic to hear the music fill up the large, resplendent space.  The church is really a focal point of Bendigo; it sits off of the main road up on a hill and its spire is visible from nearly everywhere in town.

Sovereign Hill and Gold Museum

The Culture, The Sights

Sovereign Hill is an immersive, open-air, living museum depicting Ballarat during it’s gold-rush prime (1851-1861).

The first area is the settlement/diggings.  It shows how the miners lived and worked during the gold rush (which wasn’t in very nice conditions). A recreated Chinese mining settlement was also in this area.

One of my favorite parts was mining for gold in the small creek adjacent to the diggings.  And yes, I found some!

We also had the opportunity to go into the recreated Red Hill Mine.  It was dark and narrow, but was much brighter and larger than it would have been in the 1850’s.

The second largest gold nugget in the world, known as the “Welcome Nugget” was discovered in the Red Hill Mine in 1858.  It weighed 69 kg and would be worth over $3 million today.  A model of the nugget is shown off down in the mine.

The main street of Sovereign Hill is based on Main Street in Ballarat East at the time.  The shops lining the way are authentic shops recreated from lithographs of Ballarat East in the late 1800’s.  They include a bakery, jeweler, grocery, apothecary, candle shop, tentmaker, stables, undertaker, bowling alley, library, bank, and post office.  Lots of trades are showcased as well (they were also needed to keep the town going) including blacksmith, tinsmith, wheelwright, farrier, and coach builder.  Houses and schools are also brought to life to complete the entire town scene.

In the middle of the heat of the afternoon the “must-see” Redcoat firing took place.  The Redcoats came to Ballarat after the Eureka Stockade in order to keep the peace.  This type of display reminded me a lot of Colonial Williamsburg.

Another must-see was the gold pour where pure gold is poured into a 3 kg bullion bar worth AUD $160,000.  After it was poured, the gold was still so hot that a piece of wood just touching it instantly caught fire.


The Gold Museum is just across the street from Sovereign Hill and it tells the tale of gold mining in Ballarat as well as shows off plenty of examples of nuggets.  All of the gold pictured below was found in or around Ballarat.


Ballarat Begonia Festival

The Culture, The Sights

Over the 3-day weekend that we were in Ballarat, the famous Ballarat Begonia Festival was happening.  It is the largest begonia show in the southern hemisphere.

The festival takes over the Ballarat Botanic Gardens on the shores of Lake Wendouree.

Just the Botanic Gardens were beautiful with lots of amazing and colorful beds as well as some incredibly old and enormous gum trees.  I especially liked the Australian animal topiary!

Another fun installation at the Botanic Gardens were the flower crowns on the statues of former Prime Ministers.  Some pull off the flowers better than others.

Now, on to the main event.  Inside the conservatory was the main begonia display.  It wasn’t anything flashy, but was simply gorgeous begonias in vivid shades.  My favorite was the almost neon orange one, while my parents liked any of the two-toned begonias.

Another main display was the “Arborsculpture.”  These trees’ trunks were sculpted throughout the growing process to make fantastic shapes and patterns.  It was something I had never seen before, but was completely enthralled by.

Art made from (and based on) flowers also featured in a different display.

Vendors, of course, were a dime a dozen.  Flowers, gardening tools, and lawn decorations made up the majority of the items.  Metal lawn decorations were being sold by quite a few different stalls, including animals made from old metal pieces.

Alongside the Botanic Gardens runs a tram route which various vintage trams offer rides on.  The tram we happened to hop on was the oldest, from 1926, and an original Ballarat tram, unlike some of the others from Melbourne or Geelong.  There was a dressed-up conductor, as there would have been, who handed out and punched tickets–a fun step back in time.

The fish hatchery that borders the Botanic Gardens was open for public inspection, which is otherwise not the case.  There were dozens of ponds with different ages of fish residing in each.  The local cormorant population loves to eat the fish, so nets have to cover all of the ponds.

On Monday, which was Labor Day here, there was the Begonia Festival Parade.  The Parade had less to do with begonias and more to do with local clubs and organizations.  Nevertheless, it was still full of entertainment and fun.



The Culture, The Sights

Ballarat, a city about an hour’s drive away from Melbourne, is a popular tourist destination in the Goldfields region of Victoria.  With its whopping population of about 100,000 it is the most populous town in the Australian interior.

Ballarat became a real booming city as a direct result of the gold rush.  Gold continued to be found in and around Ballarat, even to this day, so it maintained its place as a city of merit.  Due to all the gold coming through Ballarat, there is a lot of wonderful architecture from the late 1800’s.  These buildings include the Town Hall, Mining Exchange, and Post Office.

Ballarat was also home to the only armed rebellion in Australia history, the Eureka Stockade, and it is credited with starting democracy in Australia.

Just like many other cities in Australia, including Melbourne, World War I is honored in an amazing way in Ballarat.  It is one of the earliest war memorials to have been built.  The impressive Arch of Victory leads the way onto the Avenue of Honor.  For the next 22 km, trees (some now 100 years old) line the edges of the road.  The plantings started in 1917 with 1,000 trees, but there are now a total of 3,771 trees.  It is a beautiful remembrance.

Ballarat is also special in that it has hosted the Olympics…. well, at least parts of them.  During the Melbourne Summer Olympics of 1956, canoeing and rowing competitions were held on Lake Wendouree in Ballarat.

About halfway between Melbourne and Ballarat are the Brisbane Ranges and Brisbane Ranges National Park.  Within the national park is Anakie Gorge, a gorge created by the Stony River.  When we walked the trail alongside the gorge, the river truly lived up to its name as there was no water in it, only stones.

Werribee Park Mansion

The Sights

Werribee Park comprises of the land that was the estate of Werribee Park Mansion.  Today it houses a hotel, a zoo, gardens, an equestrian centre, and the original mansion, which has been restored and is open to the public.

The mansion was completely built in 1877 by the Scottish Chirnside brothers, who got rich off of sheep.  They lived there and ran their empire from it.  The style of the mansion is Italianate.

From 1923 to 1973, the mansion became the home of a Catholic seminary.  It then got under the ownership of Parks Victoria who turned it into the historical attraction it is today.

Almost every room on the ground floor was open, from the drawing rooms (one for women and one for men) to the dining room to the master bedroom with the only original indoor bathroom in the house to the larder and pantry.  All of the decorating was lush and super colorful, which I loved.

My favorite room was the open upper foyer at the top of the grand staircase, which transitioned into the ballroom.  I love the light blue paint color against the deep mahogany wood and with accents of pure white and real gold foil.  The tile floors also perfectly tie into the color scheme, which is very reflective of the open sky just outside the wide double doors onto the wraparound balcony.

Upstairs, more bedrooms were on display, as well as some small exhibits on the clothes people living and working in the house would have worn.

Back downstairs, one of the main, and largest rooms, was the billiards room.  Animal skins (real and original!) littered the floor and animal heads were hung on the wall or placed on the floor (like the hippo in the corner); one of the Chirnside brothers loved to go on safari.  The rhinoceros foot stool is also an esky!  You never know when you’ll need a cold drink when playing pool.

The ‘backyard’ of the enormous mansion held a courtyard and large laundry facilities.  A huge drying area was sectioned off by a row of evergreens and covered in white shells to stop dust from dirtying the linens/clothes.  Australians are big on air-drying, hey use what you’ve got right, and they’ve definitely got sun.  The same is true to this day, the balconies of all the other apartments we can see always have drying racks out with laundry covering them.

On the extensive grounds, there was a small lake with a grotto in the centre.  The grotto, which didn’t look like much from the outside, was completely inlaid with shells in intricate patterns on the inside.  Succulents were blooming all over the grotto as they can survive in Melbourne year round.

The Victorian State Rose Garden is also on the grounds of Werribee Park.  Summer was the perfect season to come here as all the roses were in full bloom.  I also caught a fleeting glimpse of the famously elusive Splendid Fairy Wren.