Day Trip: Kangaroos, Koalas and Penguins!

For my first trip out of Melbourne city, I hopped on a bus tour out to Phillip Island.  It was a full-day kind of thing, with lots of stops on the way.

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It started with a trip to Moonlit Sanctuary, a wildlife conservation park boasting natural areas with all kinds of Australian wildlife!  They have a large, fairly open area with kangaroos and wallabies, a pond with tons of birds, and some smaller animals in little exhibits.  I thought they did a really good job of making it a sanctuary, and not a zoo.  I loved seeing all the unique animals!

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There are some optional photo ops (an extra charge from the park admission) that were well worth it- I got to meet Louie the koala as he snacked on his eucalyptus leaves, and I got to pet a kangaroo as it ate special kangaroo food out of my hand! I was surprised that their fur was actually really soft.

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If you want to shy away from the cute and cuddly, the Sanctuary also has a large python. I chose not to hold it though! 😛 The dragons were pretty cute though…

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Our group had a nice picnic lunch at the sanctuary (there is a large covered picnic area with grills), too. I think this would make a great place for a fun outing, and you can listen to the parrots as you eat your lunch!

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After that, we headed down to Phillip Island. Along the way are loads of small beach towns (San Remo and Cowes), which make great stops for some sand, pretty views, and fish ‘n chips.  The main attraction at Philip Island (penguins) doesn’t really get going until after dark, so I got to enjoy the sunset from the small beaches we stopped at along they way.

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So what’s the big deal with Phillip Island you ask? Every evening, the penguins swim in, and make their descent up the land to a nice area where they burrow and sleep for the night.  It’s a spectacular natural phenomenon as the penguins, usually in groups, trudge and waddle up the hill.  Because it’s so popular, they have to institute some pretty tight controls of the tourists.  No photography/videography/cameras of any kind are allowed, since the rangers don’t want the flashes of thousands of cameras to scare the penguins away.  Of course some people sneak some photos while the rangers are not around, but in general, most people respected the rules.  Everyone gathers around a raised walkway to see the penguins swim up onto the beach. And then, it’s a few minutes wait as all the penguins make their way to their sleeping spots.  Once they are near the walkways, you can get really good looks at them as they wander around, looking for a place to sleep, often traveling in small groups.

Since I didn't take photos, this is a photo I bought at the gift shop

Since I didn’t take photos, this is a photo I bought at the gift shop

Overall, it was a great day, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to see some of Australia’s very unique wildlife.  Everything was relatively close as well- Phillip Island is only about a 2 hour drive from Melbourne city proper, and well worth the trip!

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First Weekend in Melbourne

My first Sunday in Melbourne I toured around downtown Melbourne with not too many plans, and was so excited by all the things I found!

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I arrived in Melbourne just in time for the AFL Grand  Final, where over 99,000 people packed the MCG stands to watch the season’s final game between the Hawthorne Hawks and Sydney Swans.  I caught the game from home, but I still got to see the stadium when they opened it to the public the next day!

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First of all, the walk from the tram station to the stadium was awesome — Blue skies and lovely views of the Melbourne city skyline.  It was a really perfect day weather-wise, and a great one to spend outside.  The stadium was packed with people and families who could all go wander onto the field, many bringing their own footballs to kick around.  It was really neat to be able to walk around on the grass and see the shape of it.

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After touring the MCG, we headed back to Federation Square, which hosts all sorts of public events and many coffee shops and restaurants.  The Square was hosting an exhibition educating the public about the history of Albanian immigrants, and we even got to watch some Albanian dancing.   There is a more in-depth gallery in the Immigration Museum all year-round. It just amazes me that things like this are always going on.

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After having worked up an appetite wandering around, it was time to grab some lunch! Down the street a few blocks from Federation Square is Flinders Street Station.  I tried to find Flinders Lane, which is supposedly a host of many restaurants, but wandered down Flinders Street instead, and still found my way into a delicious fish n’ chips eatery!  The fish was delicious at this place (which also offered some fresh sushi, salads, and grilled fish if you want some variety) and a great introduction to some of the Melbourne fair.  After lunch it was time to head back to Federation Square, where there was a free orchestra concert hosted in the Deakin University auditorium there.  What better way to finish off lunch with a glorious performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony? The conductor and musicians performed beautifully, and it was truly awesome to see it in the sunny auditorium in the middle of the square.  There was even a bird who stayed to watch- some might say he got stuck in the building, but  I maintain he was just a fan of the music. 😛

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After the performance, it was time for a spot of coffee, and we hit the road to wander around.  Before arriving in Melbourne, people had told me that coffee is a very serious thing and that there would be coffee shops everywhere.  I didn’t fully realize what that meant until I got here and realized you can find coffee EVERYWHERE. And it is AWESOME.  So, on the quest for a flat white (that’s my favorite, coffee with plenty of milk in it!), I spotted a nice tapas restaurant, and looked in.  I realized the building itself was covered in graffiti, and then as I looked down, I realized the ENTIRE STREET I had found was covered in graffiti. Lo and behold, I had happened upon the famous graffiti alley I had read about in passing before arriving.  This alleyway, closed to vehicles, is a smattering of wall art of all styles, and a true fascination to walk down.  Artists will often add to others’ works, or paint over them periodically, so it’s an ever-changing landscape of different visions from all over the globe.  After our awe-inspiring impromptu art show, it was really time to settle down for a bit of caffeine, and what did we find? Brunetti’s!  Another coffee shop I had heard people mention and added to my mental list of “I’ll try to go there someday.” Well, someday turned into a day much earlier than I expected! The seating area of this iconic shop is outdoors in a pretty square with fountains (ok, everything here is architecturally interesting and I love it), and the coffee and back shop is all perfection.  After my delicious coffee and pastry, it was time to hop back on the tram and head home.

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At the beginning of the day, I had set out to take a look at the Cricket Grounds and then let myself wander around to see what else I could find.  After a full day breathing in the city skyline, indulging on delicious eats, and pondering the lovely music and art of Melbourne, I couldn’t help but arrive home and be thankful for the amazing day I had just experienced.  And here’s to each and every magnificent day in Melbourne still to come!