This post is a little late. It’s been just over a week since Ben’s parents took their leave from us to explore the Western side of Australia with their friends. We had a wonderful time hosting them and getting to show them some of the areas in and around Melbourne. Ben took some time off work and a friend generously loaned us his car for a few days so we were able to drive out to see some sights.
Some highlights of their visit…
We spent a nice day having lunch at St. Kilda beach and then made our way back into the city for afternoon desserts at Hopetoun Tea Room which has been operating since the 19th century. The next day we had breakfast at one of our favorite spots – Chez Dre done properly with dessert – and took off for Mornington Peninsula. We stopped at a couple wineries, the strawberry farm (complete with jam purchases of course!) and then headed to Phillip Island for the penguin parade. Unfortunately, I did not come home with a new pet wallaby but it wasn’t for lack of effort!
No trip is complete without a drive down Great Ocean Road to see the 12 Apostles! Along the way we spotted some koalas and drove through Otway National Park to take a tour through the Rainforrest Treetop Walk. Once we got to Port Campbell, the wind had picked up quite a bit and it had gotten cold so we decided to leave viewing the Apostles and other stack formations for the next morning.
Thankfully, the temperatures picked up a little the next day but the wind was still pretty fierce and… “the sea was angry that day my friends!” I thought the experience might be a bit spoiled without the beautiful weather we had back in December but it was still just as spectacular. The storm-like weather conveyed the sheer power of the sea crashing into the formations and it took your breath away.
The final outing was a trip to Healesville Animal Sanctuary about an hour outside of Melbourne. Here, we got to see some of the same animals we had encountered throughout our travels – just closer up – as well as others native to Australia that you may not see – and may not want to see – on your average excursion. Admittedly, all of us were most excited about seeing the duck billed platypus which did not disappoint but was much smaller than we had imagined.
Alas, it was time for the parents to depart Melbourne for adventures out west. Fortuitously, the night before their departure, the skies lit up with fireworks which we all enjoyed from our apartment balcony. Ben and I have learned that there is no shortage of fireworks in Melbourne over the summer and it’s something we’ve come to enjoy. I think these in particular were for the Moomba Festival but we’ll all just say that they were arranged special for Ben’s parents 😉
Overall, it was a lovely visit. They brought a little bit of home to us and for that we are very grateful. I’m sure they are having an amazing time exploring Aussie’s Western coast – something Ben and I hope to be able to do soon!
Hope you’re comfy because this is going to take a while. We have officially celebrated our first Aussie Christmas!
Ben and I both love the holiday season and are especially keen on Christmas. It was difficult imagining a hot summer Christmas thousands of miles from our family and friends. In fact, it was the first either of us has ever spent away from our families. Despite this, we knew we had to take advantage of the situation. We are in a beautiful country with amazing sites and it’s SUMMER!
Ben’s firm shuts down for the holidays. Technically, the offices in the states also close but that never meant the work stopped. Here, on the other hand, the company is SHUT DOWN. So Ben got a little over 2 weeks off. To add to the merriment, a friend from work offered to lend us his car for the duration since he would be visiting family up north. After a brief lesson to make sure Ben was comfortable driving on the left side of the road (crazy!), he deemed Ben suitable to drive and left the car in our care.
We kicked off the holiday with a viewing of Elf at an open air cinema on St. Kilda Beach. We met some meetup group friends (see Geelong Wine Festival) and enjoyed the free ice cream and not so free wine and food. It was a lovely warm evening and a perfect way to commence the mashing up of Christmas and summer!
The next day we headed out on a road trip along Great Ocean Road (GOR). GOR is a lot like Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH) in California. Both hug the coastline and offer beautiful views. Both are winding roads that can take a while to navigate, partly because you continuously stop to check out the views and partly because it’s easy to get caught behind slow drivers that don’t pull off to let you pass. However, I’m a little sad to report that GOR has a bit of an edge over PCH.
PCH does provide uninterrupted gorgeous views while GOR has substantial sections in which your view is obstructed by brush or is actually too far from the highway to see. Nonetheless, GOR has direct access to many of the beaches along the way so there are ample places to stop and the colour and clarity of the ocean is unmatched by the Pacific. If that isn’t enough, then you throw in the main attraction of the GOR – the 12 Apostles. But I’m jumping ahead a little….
The first night we stopped in a small beach town called Lorne. A little disappointed because it was a cloudy day, we took it easy and met up with a couple friends who were coincidentally also staying in town. We had great beach views from our hotel and were visited frequently by cockatoos on our balcony. I have come to the realization that a couple cockatoos on your balcony is adorable and exiting, but 5 cockatoos staring in at you first thing in the morning is creepy and feels as if they are conspiring.
We set aside the next day to explore some of the rainforest. Did you know they have rainforests in Australia??? You probably did, but I was ignorant of this fact until very recently. We set out early in the morning and saw Erskine Falls and then made our way further up GOR into Otway National Park to check out the tree top walk. This consists of a steel structured treetop canopy walkway and is the longest and tallest of its type in the world. The views were amazing and we felt like we were walking through FernGully!
Then it was time to move on towards the Apostles. The 12 Apostles refers to a group of limestone stacks off the shore that have formed due to erosion. The name is a bit misleading. There are actually only 8 structures today but there were only ever 9 to begin with (1 of them collapsed a few years back). There are also a few other of these stacks within a short drive of each other so we made the rounds. Aussies may not be the best counters but these formations completely live up to the hype!
We stayed in Port Campbell which is just 5 minutes from the site. It’s a tiny town of just 500 but since the weather was looking to be unpredictable, I wanted to ensure we had the best chances of seeing the Apostles in all their glory. And my strategy paid off big time!
I read that they were most beautiful at sunset and sunrise. So, we checked into our hotel and headed out to see the famous site. We were stunned. They are absolutely breathe taking! They were so beautiful in fact that I told Ben we had to come back and see them again for sunrise. He looked at me doubtfully and laughed that I was not exactly a morning person. This is true but never underestimate the things that can motivate me! 😉
5:30am we were up and back on the shores for our second look. Yet again we were in awe. The light was completely different and everything looked golden and bright. Then I realized I had forgotten our Christmas hats! The whole point of this trip was to get some holiday pictures that we could share with our loved ones stateside.
Sooooo….. we just had to go back through a third time! Thankfully, I have a very patient husband who has learned that once I get something in my head it’s hard to dissuade me, so he didn’t fight it. As a bonus the weather was completely in our favor and we got some fantastic pics!
Then, alas, it was time to head home. We stopped and took more pictures along the coast (with our hats) since the weather was so nice. Spotting a kanga and koala from the road officially made it the best road trip ever. We made one final stop at Bells Beach where the Rip Curl Pro surfing competition is held yearly and then we two happy expats arrived back in Melbourne for Christmas eve.
Christmas morning we woke up and opened presents and stockings. Ben even made breakky – something he only does once a year, if that! Along with heaps of candy, we got a few crackers in our stockings (called crackers in the UK while Aussies apparently call them bon bons) – they are cardboard packages filled with a novelty toy, a joke and a paper crown that you are suppose to wear all day. When you pop them open they make a loud “cracking” sound. Family had also sent over some gifts and we felt very loved and grateful.
We spent the rest of the day at the beach with friends. It was certainly fun playing on the beach and we consider ourselves beyond lucky to be here but it definitely did not feel like Christmas. We hope you enjoyed your holidays where ever and with whom ever you spent them!