Friday, January 24, 2014

Melbourne to Hobart

These part few days have been the most incredible I have spent here in Australia, and that is saying something.

On Monday I caught the tram to St Kilda, which is a seaside town a few kilometres out of Melbourne. It's lovely, reminiscent of seaside towns back home, with cutesy shops (including some amazing cake shops!) and a funfair. What seemed incredible was being at a beach so close to the big city – you could see the skyline from the beach, and it made me feel both very near and very far from Melbourne.

While in St Kilda, I went to the supermarket and bought some cereal bars, which ensures that I am no longer reduced to eating TimTams (the Aussie version of the Penguin biscuit) for breakfast, as I did before Sunday's ODI. I find it funny that here in Australia, one of the biggest supermarket chains is Woolworths. I'm not sure how it came about that in Britain Mr Woolworth decided he wanted to sell socks, toys and pick 'n' mix, whereas 10,000 miles away it was decided that Woolworths would be a supermarket, but one business strategy has certainly worked better than the other.

I lay on the beach for a while, reading the Agatha Christie which I had picked up from the hostel bookshelf, but away from the wind it was such nice weather that I fell asleep. This happened to coincide with the hottest part of the day (about 2pm or so) and, while I can't have been asleep for more than about 20 minutes, when I woke up one half of my leg was extremely red. I didn't realise quite how bad it was at the time, but it got more painful as the day went on and I realise that I had made the stereotypical mistake of the Brit abroad in Oz and been rather badly sunburned. Oh dear!

Many layers of after-sun and factor 50 and several days later, it seems to be better. It was certainly a cautionary experience.

I really liked St Kilda and I can't help thinking that there's a trend developing here: I enjoy the cities, but it's the little suburb-y type places (St Kilda, Fremantle) where I really feel at home. I guess growing up in the suburbs of London has made its mark.

On Tuesday I decided to book to do a day-long Phillip Island tour. Phillip Island is about two hours drive away from Melbourne and is fairly small, about 100 square kilometres in total. It is quite a bizarre place, featuring everything from a Vietnam War Veterans Museum to a chocolate factory, but it is also an amazing site of natural beauty, with its main focus nowadays being the conservation of the penguins which have their home there.

The tour I did was not cheap (coming in at $109), but ended up being worth every penny. There were about 20 of us who were taken to the island on a minibus. The first stop of the day, though, was at a place called the Moonlit Sanctuary, only a little way outside of the city. This is a small wildlife reserve which looks after many native species. We were given animal feed and told we could handfeed some of the animals. I started off with the emus, but quickly stopped after feeling like my hand was about to get pecked off!

But then we found some beautiful wallabies and kangaroos, who basically have free rein of the place and are very tame. Kneeling down to feed and stroke them and being so close to them was absolutely incredible. They are sooo cute, especially the wallabies.

Lastly, we got to meet a koala, which may have been my favourite moment of the whole day. Firstly, the handler bribed him up onto a branch with his favourite eucalyptus leaves. Then, one by one, we could go in and stroke and cuddle him. It's forbidden nowadays to pick up koalas in the state of Victoria, because they are so heavy that you can damage them very easily if you do it wrongly, but getting up this close was enough by itself. His fur was so soft!

Back on the bus, we travelled on to Phillip Island, where we made several stops, including at some of the beaches, and to a place where we could see an Aussie sheep-shearer in action. At one point, having been asked by some of the others in the group why I was in Australia, I found myself attempting to explain cricket to a couple of Americans. This is a difficult business at the best of times, but the lady in front of me kept chipping in with “helpful” comments.

American Man: “So how many “outs” are there in an inning?”
Me: “10. 10 batsman are out in an innings.”
Woman: “Except if the captain declares.”
Me: *Unsuccessfully attempts to explain the concept of declaration cricket*

Pretty much the real reason we were all on the tour, though, came right at the end of the day. Every night, as it gets dark, the Phillip Island penguins swim in from the sea and waddle up the beach into their homes around the island, and every night, hundreds of people go to watch. The whole thing has been set up very well: yes, in one way it is very touristy – there are rows and rows of bleachers on the beach for people to gawp at the penguins – but it also pays for the conservationists to keep the penguins' natural environment intact, and for the penguin homes which have been built and stationed around the island for the penguins to sleep in at night.

The penguins are fairy penguins, the smallest type of penguin that exists, and they really are tiny. You therefore really had to strain your eyes to see them as they gradually emerged from the water, but once the first ones were out, hundreds more followed. It was actually very funny, as you could see a few come out first, then swim back in to get their friends, and then whole groups would emerge, waddle along the beach for a few metres, pause, wait for more friends to join them, and carry on going until they were about halfway up – then finally race away until they were safely off the beach and away from the dangerous seagulls.

Walking back towards the minibus, along a wooden walkway, you could see them running beside you. At one point we even got stopped by the rangers, as a group of penguins decided they wanted to cross over in front of us!

I took some photographs, to give an idea of what the experience was like:

Just kidding!! Unfortunately but understandably, photography is officially forbidden while on the beach. There are some great photos if you google “Phillip Island penguins” but I couldn't take any myself.

Anyway, it was a magical experience, and a magical day.

Wednesday couldn't have been more different! It began with another tour: the Neighbours experience. I know that going on this tour was incredibly cheesy / studenty / British of me but I couldn't come all the way here and not see Ramsay Street, could I? (The answer is no.) The studios where much of the soap is now filmed are only about 30 minutes drive from the city centre, so we went there first, and had a bit of a look round the bits which weren't being used for filming. Our guide was clearly a Neighbours fanatic himself, and was hilarious: he spent most of the time pointing out all the inconsistencies to us and explaining that Neighbours is “all lies”, in a way that was reminiscent of a parent telling his kids that Father Christmas isn't real.

But of course, when we got to “Ramsay Street”, which is a real street only a few minutes away from the studios where they film all the outside shots, it was quickly apparent that the whole thing is edited very cleverly. The street is a tiny cul-de-sac, whereas in the show they make it look huge! Anyway, Susan and Karl's house is actually a real house, with real people living there (as are all th others). I can't help thinking that, although in one way it must be totally awesome to live in Ramsay Street, it must also be flipping annoying to have coachloads of tourists crowd into your cul-de-sac every day (hiya!) and take photos of you / your house.

Part of the experience was getting to meet one of the Neighbours actors, and today we got James Mason, who plays Chris. He was really lovely, very funny and willing to have loads of photos taken. I asked him what was going to happen this year in the show but he refused to tell me. The ironic thing is that since I've been in Australia, I haven't seen a single episode of Neighbours, and have no idea what's happened since Christmas.

So, in the last few days I've seen kangaroos, wallabies, penguins, koalas, and Ramsay Street. I can now go home happy ;-)

I spent Wednesday afternoon exploring Melbourne's South Bank, next to the Yarra River, which is similar to London's South Bank in that there are a ton of cool restaurants and bars, some interesting artwork and architecture, and many street artists at work. Then I walked to the Botanic Gardens, which are really beautiful. Sort of like Bushy Park back home I guess, only with amazing different types of wildlife, and a gorgeous lake in the middle.

In the evening, I went over to the Queen Victoria Market on the north side of the city. Normally this is open in the day, like a normal market, but in summertime they open it up every Wednesday evening from 5 to 10pm and it has a totally different vibe. It felt sort of like a music festival, with delicious street food being sold all the way along (I limited myself to a white chocolate gelato cone, as I'd already had dinner at the hostel), the most beautiful hand-crafted goods on sale (including miniature wooden animals which I did my utmost to resist buying), and live music playing everywhere, the highlight being a guy doing beat box didgeridoo. Everyone says Melbourne is cool and individual, and I suddenly understood why. I'm pretty sure that if I lived here, this is where I'd spend every single Wednesday evening come summer.

Thursday was the second ODI, so I was back up in the press box at the G. But, as it was a day-nighter, I decided to visit the National Sports Museum beforehand. I'm glad I did. They have some great stuff there, including some of Betty Wilson's old cricket gear, a list of all the members of the Australia Cricket Hall of Fame (featuring Belinda Clark), a lot of baggy greens, and a little section entirely dedicated to women's cricket. The Melbourne Cricket Club Museum also has some great stuff, including lots of artefacts relating to the centenary Test match at Melbourne in 1977. I hadn't realised before that they flew out every single player who had ever played in England-Australia Tests to be there; the mind boggles. Once again, Dad would LOVE all this.

Australia won the second ODI, and you can read my account of the match here. The star of the day was clearly debutant centurion Nicole Bolton and it was great to be there to see her innings.

I ended up spending most of Friday at the Melbourne Cricket Club Library, which was certainly time well spent. I've been to a fair few libraries in my time, but these guys were the most incredibly welcoming people ever, especially David Studham. I was treated to free lunch, tea and cake. And I was taken down into the depths of the MCG to the archives, which are huge, and shown the collections they have relating to women's cricket: including all the minutes of the Australian Women's Cricket Council and the Victoria Women's Cricket Association. I was practically drooling. It will take months, but I very much hope I can spend some time at some point going through the AWCC and VWCA collections with a fine toothcomb. Watch this space...

I had decided a while ago to travel from Melbourne to Tasmania by ferry, instead of flying, and had got mixed reactions when I told people what I had planned. Given that the journey is about an hour by plane, and a 9 hour ferry ride plus 3 hour coach journey, most people obviously choose to fly across. But I thought getting the ferry would be fun and exciting, and so it proved. The boat was huge, with 10 decks, and I have never slept on board a ship before, so that was exciting in itself. I had a really cute cabin:

I had gone for the cheap option of a 4-bed shared cabin, but lucked out and ended up with the cabin all to myself. This was absolute luxury after sleeping in a hostel room with 11 other people for the last week!

The ship sailed from Port Melbourne at 7.30pm, and I stood at the stern and watched it depart:

For the rest of the evening, there was cricket and tennis on TV, live music, and a bar. I felt a bit queasy by 11pm, as we sailed further towards Tasmania and the waters got rougher, but when I went back to my cabin and got into my bunk, and lay there with the rolling and pitching of the ship, I got to sleep quite easily.

Unfortunately the wake-up call this morning came at 6am (zzzzz) as the boat docked at 6.30. I left the ship (after being sniffed by a sniffer-dog!) and boarded the bus which would take me to Hobart. Sadly, I slept for most of the journey, but what I did see of Tasmania – glorious countryside, rolling hills, mountains and farms – looked beautiful.

And now here I am at my hostel, having just arrived in Hobart. I'm looking forward to spending some time getting to know the city.

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