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Alan's HomeAustralia 2006Flagstaff, Arizona to MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA [click here]


Australia 2006

Flagstaff, Arizona to MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA [click here] |

14 to 19 June 2006

Some of this blog entry, plus soundseeing clips of Melbourne can be heard on my Geographpy for Travelers podcast at:

LAX to Auckland took almost 12 hours. AUK to Melbourne took almost 4 more hours. Including transit time at airports, I estimate that it took us about 24 hours to get from our house in Phoenix to Melbourne, Australia. Fortunately, the flights were smooth with very little turbulence. Service on Qantas was very good. We received little pouches with sock covers, eye covers and toothbrushes (which United also gave us the last time we crossed the Pacific in coach). And after dinner they actually handed out bags of snacks in case we woke up or planned to stay awake after the lights were dimmed.

Melbourne was cloudy, cold and a little rainy for the three days that we were there. Although, the day we left the clouds cleared and the sun came out.

On our first day, we met with Martin Fluker, a tourism professor at Victoria University who also does a travel podcast. His podcast mostly consists of interviews with tourists and members of the tourism industry in Australia. In addition, he had his students create podcasts this past semester on sites to see in Melbourne and will be putting some of those up on his podcast in coming weeks. His podcast is seen as a public relations tool for his school and is therefore fully funded by them (unlike my podcast, which is class oriented, though not exclusively). He is also part of a larger podcast network in Australia, and his mom has a radio show here, as well. We are going to see if we can somehow have our students collaborate next Spring semester (our classes overlap in March and April).

One of the first places that Martin took us was the Queen Victoria Market, which is a very large farmer’s market and open air (actually covered) market place. We went there for lunch and had falafels, bratwursts and similar food from the deli section. It was very good! The market was actually very close to where we were staying and we ended up going there several times during our stay in Melbourne for food, gifts, and some clothing. I bought a fleece coat of AUD$10 (US$7.50) to supplement the windbreaker that I had brought. That helped a lot to keep me warm.

Martin took us around a good part of the downtown Melbourne area, including Chinatown and down some of the coffee house alleyways. After a rest in our hotel, we went back to the Victoria Market for dinner, and found that is was pretty much closed up well before 6pm. We did get find some personal-sized pizza still available in the deli section, which was really good, and bought some small oranges (clementines) in the food section.

We stayed at the Flagstaff City Inn/Comfort Inn on Dudley Street. It was very comfortable and nicely located on the edge of downtown. One way that we got to downtown was to walk through the Flagstaff Gardens (park), where we saw a possum strolling around the bottom of the tree the first day we arrived. Martin mentioned that the some of the trees had large plastic sheets around them, which I noticed, to keep the possums out of them to prevent damage.

Day two in Melbourne was an excursion to the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island. The “parade” is the return of the fairy (or blue) penguins from fishing in the sea. Phillip Island has the largest fairy penguin population in the world, and some 400 or so penguins return to the site we went to visit each night. (The penguins can be out in the water for two weeks or more before returning to their nests.)

We were picked up by GoWest! Tours at 11:15 from a backpacker hotel around the corner from where we stayed. We picked up other groups at other backpacker hotels. Since we were the first to be picked up, I sat up front across from the driver for photo taking. We got back to our hotel at about 9:00pm. Of the 21 people on the bus, there were two other Americans, a couple of German speaking groups, a group of Italian speakers, and some Japanese speakers.

Our first stop was for a restroom break while our guide got our sandwiches for lunch. The actually lunch was at a winery. The guy doing the demonstration at the winery was really grumpy, and I don’t think he sold any wine to anyone in our group. We then went to an animal park where we took photos with koalas and fed kangaroos and walabis. On our way to Phillip Island the rains started, and really came down hard. We stopped at a surfing beach, and people were surfing out there, along with a few fishermen on the beach. And we went to a spot where seals like to hand out, though you could not really see them in the rain and clouds.

Fortunately, the rains stopped by the time we got to the penguin parade location. We were the only ones in our group to pay the extra fee for the Penguin Plus tickets ($11/adult; $5/child). Everyone else went to the large stadium stands where people most of the tourists, including some who come in large busses, sit to watch the penguins come out of the water. The Penguin Plus people have a smaller area that is off to the side of the main beach (we could not see the stadium stands) where the penguins come very close to the stands and the wooden platform connection to the stands. From the small stands you can watch them come out of the water. From the platform you can watch them walk by (and walk along with them), and sometimes walk directly under you. Many could be very easily be touch as they walk by. They do look at the people on the platform, but for the most part they ignore them. Then walk in groups of 3 to 30, though these groups get smaller as you they wander from the main path on to other paths that take them up the hillside (also very close) and into their burrows. They are very noisy once they settle in their burrows.

This was, I think, a very unique experience. There are few, if any, other places in the world where penguins are this accessible and in this large of a number. Although lots of tourists are drawn to see this nightly event, the site is well managed to protect the penguins, to minimize the visitor impacts, and to maximize visitor experiences. Photos were not allowed as the flash can damage the penguin’s eyes, although some (mostly Chinese) did snap a few pictures. I took my photos of them off of postcards in the gift shop.

We ate dinner at the gift shop, though unfortunately we did not have time to really take in all the information displays there. We all slept most of the way back to Melbourne.

On our final day in Melbourne we basically explored the downtown area. That started with the free City Circle Tram, on which we did one loop of the downtown (about 50+ minutes). We got off near where we started to go back to Victoria Market, where we shopped for a while and had lunch. Taking our purchases back to the hotel, we then set out to catch the tram again and head to Federation Square, which is the heart of Melbourne. On the way, we shared a very crowded tram with “footy” fans on their way to an Australian Rules Football (a version of rugby) match. It was quite a crown, mostly sporting red and black, the colors of the local team playing at the Telstra Dome. A couple people asked if we were going to take in a football game while we were in Melbourne, as it appears to be a really big part of the local culture.

We got off early and walked along the colorful river walk to Federation Square, which is an architecture wonder. There is a European-style grand train station, which is actually a commuter station for Melbourne, a historic old church (St. Paul’s), and a futuristic complex of multimedia office buildings. The latter is hard to describe. One of the more interesting buildings has snippets of neon text that relate environmental messages that are sent by SMS (cell phone text messaging).

I had read a press release on about the tallest building in the southern hemisphere (the 92 storey Eureka Tower), and its 88th floor observation deck (located on the river walk). But when we went there we were told that it was not yet finished. So we went to go the second tallest tower and observation deck. But when I found that it costs AUD$45/adult (US$33.75), we decided to not go there, but instead went to the nearby Melbourne Aquarium, which was really good.

At the end of the day we caught the City Circle Tram and we went to Chinatown for dinner. I do not know the name of the place we ate at, but it had roast pork, duck and chicken hanging in the window, and I highly recommend it. We ordered four dishes, including Char Kway Teow (my personal favorite dish from Singapore/Malaysia), and chicken and duck, plus a won ton soup. We could not believe the size of the dishes that they served. We were hungry, but wow, this was a lot of food – and it tasted great! The won tons were the largest I think I had ever seen! The Char Kway Teow was the wonderful Penang style (which is lighter than Singapore style). We pretty much ate it all. We then missed the last City Circle Tram (stops at 6pm) so we walked back to our hotel, which was a good walk after a big meal.

In sum, we thoroughly enjoyed Melbourne. It is a very walkable city (kind of reminds me of downtown Portland, Oregon, though bigger), supplemented by free public transportation. It has great and diverse food offerings. It is a multi-ethnic city, with a lot of Asian influences. It is an architecturally interesting city, with many different colorful and fun public spaces. And it was cool, but not too cold considering we were here in Winter.

Locations Visited: Flagstaff, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Auckland, Melbourne

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