Christmas and New Year Wanderings in Australia

The last bit of Australia we
wanted to explore was the southern part from Adelaide to Sydney, so that was
the plan for the Christmas and New Year break this year. In the process we
visited four major cities; sampled wineries, beaches and national parks; saw
koalas, kangaroos and penguins; climbed the highest mountain in the country;
experienced a horizontal tornado; and had some good celebrations and some that
were less good.

 

Christmas in Adelaide

 

At 4am on Christmas Day a shuttle
came and took us to Wellington Airport, where we caught the 6am flight to
Sydney – fortunately we had sparkling wine with our breakfast to keep us in the
Christmas mood. From Sydney we got another flight to Adelaide, where we picked
up a hire car and turned up at the Hilton Hotel for a 3-night stay. For the
rest of the day we wandered the city in the sunshine, having lunch in McDonald’s
(the only place open) and exploring the Botanic Gardens. In the evening we had
a buffet Christmas dinner at the hotel, with good food and a visit from Santa.
The next two days we went out on excursions from Adelaide – first north to the
Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley (where we sampled their products and
bought some to bring home). The next day we went south to the Fleurieu
Peninsula, visiting the seaside resort of Glenelg, Maslin Beach, Cape Jervis
and Victor Harbour, where we rode on a horse-drawn tram across the sea to
Granite Island, which was great fun. On our way out that day we were stopped by
the police for a random breath-test, which Ian passed OK, but they pointed out
the car’s registration sticker was 2 months out of date. We went back to Hertz,
and after some argument they gave us a new (legal) car.

 

New Year in Melbourne

 

On 28th December we
left Adelaide and headed east, with nothing booked till we reached Melbourne.
We visited Grampians National Park, with impressive waterfalls and rock
formations, including the ‘Grand Canyon’ which it would be hard to mistake for
the original. We also visited the smaller and quieter Mt Eccles National Park,
where we walked round the rim of an extinct volcano with a lake in the crater.
From there we dropped down to the coast and began to follow the Great Ocean
Road. This is famous for the eroded limestone stacks standing in the sea just
offshore, in particular the so-called ’12 Apostles’, which we visited both in
the evening and the morning to see them in different lights. We stayed in Port
Campbell nearby, and were able to enjoy the sunset sitting outside a pub near
the beach. As well as amazing scenery, that area is noted for the hordes of
flies that continually pester you, perhaps attracted by the equal hordes of
tourists.

 

From the Great Ocean Road we
headed for Melbourne, stopping at Geelong where they have an impressive
collection of bollards along the waterfront, carved and painted to look like
figures of sailors, life-savers etc. We reached Melbourne on New Year’s Eve,
and checked into the hotel we had booked. It was central, but the room we had
was cramped with small high-up windows – not a patch on the Hilton. We had
booked an evening dinner cruise on the river that evening, so we changed into
our glad rags and headed down. The city was buzzing with people, the sun was
shining, and we found our boat and got on board – and then it started to go
wrong. The service on board was poor, they had ignored our order for veggie
food, and the boat just cruised up and down the same stretch of river all
evening. To cap it all, the clouds rolled over and a massive thunderstorm
started, which put a bit of a damper on the fireworks. However, the disco was
quite good and there was a fair amount of drink, so we managed to enjoy
ourselves despite it all.

We had two more days in
Melbourne, during which time the weather stayed grey and damp. We explored the
city on foot, including the Botanic Gardens and the Shrine of Remembrance,
which is an impressive structure. We went up the Eureka Skydeck, allegedly the
highest public viewing point in the Southern Hemisphere, and did this twice –
in daylight and at night. Perhaps because of the weather, we were less
impressed by Melbourne than we expected. It’s a splendid city, but seemed to us
to lack the ‘wow factor’ (© Amanda Lamb).

 

Along the coast

 

On 3rd January we left
Melbourne and headed south and east, visiting St Kilda (slightly tired beach
suburb) and the Mornington Peninsula, including Arthur’s Seat (views over the
peninsula) and Flinders (more sea views). We drove on to Phillip Island, where
we stayed at Cowes, a fairly down-market holiday resort. The main attraction on
the island is the ‘Penguin Parade’ every evening, when hundreds of tourists
turn up and sit in rows by the beach to watch the little blue penguins come in
from the sea. We joined the crowds, and had to wait for a while till the sun
was well down. Then they come ashore and rush up the beach in groups,
shouldering aside the seagulls that are standing on the beach. The amazing
thing is that from the boardwalks on the way back you can see them heading
home, stopping to chat with each other and generally doing their own thing,
oblivious of the hordes of tourists just feet away from them. The downside was
that we were not able to take any photos of them, but we did buy some postcards.
Also on Phillip Island was a headland called the Nobbles, where we could watch
silver gulls nesting and watch the sea breaking on the rocks.

 

Our next main stopping point was
at Wilson’s Promontory National Park (called the ‘Prom’), the most southerly
part of mainland Australia. We did an interesting cliff walk here, round to a
beach at Little Oberon Bay, as well as a shorter walk from Squeaky Beach (where
the sand really squeaks when you walk on it). Further on we drove down to 90
Mile Beach, and found a spot on the sand to sunbathe near the remains of a
wrecked ship. We could see a strange horizontal tube-shaped cloud further down
the beach, just out to sea, and it approached us quite rapidly. When it reached
our position the wind suddenly blew incredibly hard, blasting sand all over us,
so we packed up and headed back to the car. Our theory is that it was some kind
of vortex, or ‘horizontal tornado’, but we’d never seen or heard of anything
like that before. Further along the coast we visited Raymond’s Island by miniature
car ferry. This is famous for wildlife, especially wild koalas. We toured the
island by car and on foot, and finally managed to see a koala up a tree. This
was exciting for us, but the koala seemed bored by the whole experience.

 

Heading for Sydney

 

Further along the coast we turned
northwards and inland, and ended up at the ski village of Thredbo, in
Kosciuszko National Park. From there we took a chairlift and then walked up to
the top of Mt Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain (but only about 2200
metres). The walk was great, across alpine meadows with stunning displays of
flowers, and with great views of hills and lakes all around. There were a lot
of other walkers up there, and it was by no means a challenging walk. We went
on from there to Canberra, the capital, and had a guided tour of the parliament
building. This is very modern and built sort of inside a hill overlooking the
city. We also walked along the lake there and up an avenue to the main war
memorial, passing an impressive number of subsidiary memorials along the way.

 

From Canberra we drove to the
east coast and northwards in the direction of Sydney. There are a number of
pleasant little resorts and beaches along there, and we stopped at a few of
them, including 7 Mile Beach and the euphoniously-named Ulladulla (home of
Abdullah, the mad mullah?). In the town of Woolongong we watched a Greek
Orthodox community holding a ritual on a boat in the harbour, where a cross is blessed
and thrown into the sea, to be retrieved by boys swimming from the shore. One
of the highlights along the coast is the ‘sea cliff bridge’ where the road is
built out over the sea to avoid being swept away by landslides from the cliffs.
We also found a high viewpoint along the coast from which several hang-gliders
were launching themselves into oblivion. We drove on into Sydney, reaching a
motel just south of the city centre on 10th January.

 

We took the bus into the city and
that evening went to a performance at the Sydney Opera House, which was an
interesting experience. It was a dance show from Brazil, called ‘Bale de Rua’
and wasn’t necessarily quite our thing, but the auditorium is enormous and
fascinating, and was full of people, so it was worth it just for that. Our last
day we spent exploring Sydney on foot, from Darling Harbour up to the old
buildings at Miller’s Point, where we particularly enjoyed visiting one of the
oldest pubs, the Lord Nelson, for much-needed refreshment. We also explored the
Rocks area, which is more touristy, and ended up at Mrs McQuarrie’s Point to
get a final view over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

 

That evening we flew back to
Wellington, going from summer back to something closer to winter. We managed to
pack in a lot of different experiences during our tour of southern Australia,
and feel that now we’ve had a taste of the whole country, north, south, east
and west.

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