Melbourne Australia

View from my rental apartment

I have arrived in Melbourne Australia – a city I am really digging. The temperature is perfect and the vibe reminds me of a low-rise New York city. I think I could possibly live here some day.

I arrive at the airport and take the skybus to Southern Cross station. I take an uber from there to my airbnb.

Melbourne Airbnb

I plan to stay in Melbourne for a full week including Christmas so I wanted to get a hometown feel instead of staying in a hotel or hostel. I chose the funky neighborhood of Collingwood to stay in an Airbnb studio. The owner is an Australian artist now based out of the UK. Her specialty is imaginative collages. You can find her artwork at Collagism. Her artwork and interesting sense of style can be seen in the apartment.

I love having a “home” for the week. There are some poor neglected plants on the porch that I nurse the week I am there, giving me some sort of normalcy during my travels. Collingwood is a funky but sleepy neighborhood, I think it probably got hit by a recession in the area since it seems many places have closed nearby. There are still enough places in the neighborhood to keep me satisfied and it is nice to not stay in the middle of a tourist district. Collingwood is in walking distance to some town highlights and once I figure out the trams it isn’t hard to get to where all the important sites are.

I head out to meet with another travel buddy whom I met on my Jordan tour in September. Melbourne is her hometown and she has some spare time before the holidays to meet with me tonight. We met at a lively café on the river for a snack and and a cocktail. She has to work tomorrow so we don’t stay out late.

Once again I am very thankful once again I get to meet so many great people during my travels.

After walking my friend to the train I wander around town looking at holiday lights. The Christmas holiday is in two days so Melbourne is full of color.

When it is time to head back I couldn’t quite figure out tram in the evening so just took UBER back. Luckily by the next day I had it figured out.

I am loving the nighttime view from my apartment.

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve. If the holiday is anything like in the USA then most things will be shutdown tomorrow. I head to the grocery store to stock up on goodies for tomorrow – including Meredith Dairy Goat Feta which I am addicted to.

Coincidently a friend from high school is in Melbourne at the same time as I. She is stopping in Melbourne to meet some of her clients before she heads off to her honeymoon in Fiji. I meet up with her and her lovely husband for a day of fun. (Interestingly enough we both lived in NYC at the same time for about 4 years and for some reason we were never able to meet up. It took traveling to Australia to see each other again!)

We meet up for brunch. So many times I dine alone and most of the time I don’t mind being on my own but it is very nice to have company, especially around the holidays.

Then we head off to our river cruise down the Yarra River.

I almost wear this to my river cruise today. My apartment has fun props.
Cruise boat

We stand up in the back. There is clearance for us to stand under most bridges but at least one makes us duck down.

Our cruise drops us off at Williamstown where we explore a little bit. Williamstown is Melbourne’s first port settlement. There are stores and cafes. We settle on a outdoor seating area and chat for a while. When it is the scheduled time for our return trip we head back to the port to catch the return journey.

The fun isn’t over when we return to Melbourne city. We decide to try it out at a roof top bar for a little while. We don’t stay too long though. Each one of us seems to want to get back to our lodging for the rest of the evening (something typical for us 40 somethings). Besides it has been a long day!

This is the kind of joint we are at
Rooftop cocktails

Finally figured out the tram system and I wander back to my apartment just in time for this glorious sunset.

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have no plans. I plan to eat and relax all day long….

Adelaide, South Australia

I leave Victor Harbor and head north towards Adelaide. The drive seems to start off fine but soon I see areas off into the distance with what I think is dark cloud cover but I find out is actually smoke clouds. I double check the news to see that I am not taking myself into harms way; it appears I am not at this time.

I drive down two lane curvy roads past many wineries. I am feeling disappointing I did not include this region, McLaren Vale, in my travel plans. It is a beautiful area and I am sure the wines aren’t too terrible either. I’ll be sure to try some of the region’s wines later in my travels.

I finally arrive in Adelaide. It is a nice quiet city. The downtown isn’t too large and I don’t find it too hard to navigate around. I do get a little confused on where to drop off my rental car but I eventually figure that out. I am a couple hours late in my return which could trigger me to have to pay for an additional day. Fortunately I am given a reprieve. Adelaide already seems like it has a small-town friendly presence.

Prior to dropping off my rental car I left my bags off already at the hotel at luggage storage. Now I have an opportunity to wander and walk back to my hotel.

I find some street shopping where I walk around and browse. There is also an outdoor seating area where I grab a beer and get something to eat.

My hotel is close to a shopping street. It is quiet this evening but it gets busier the next day with shoppers getting in last minute Christmas shopping.

I wake up early and go out to breakfast and get some delicious pancakes at The Original Pancake Kitchen. I think my hotel normally has breakfast included but the hotel restaurant is under renovations.

After breakfast I go back to the hotel to sort through and pack my bag since I have a flight tomorrow. I am back to living out of my bag again. It was nice to have a week reprieve of having to stress about correctly packing everything into my bag.

In the afternoon I meet up with a new friend I made in September while traveling to Egypt. Adelaide is her hometown. We grab some coffees and she gives me a tour of the town. She shows me her beautiful university and we take a walk in a lovely park. It is nice to catch up.

We stop for sushi and also have time for a glass of wine on a terrace.

I love meeting good people on my travels. Sometimes it is hard for me to come out of my shell and talk to new people but I am rewarded when I do.

She has evening plans so I stroll the town in the evening. As the night goes on the streets get lively. I see groups of young men traveling about in what seems like stag nights and birthday celebrations.

I think about seeing a movie but end up going back to my hotel to make sure I am prepared for my next journey.

I wake up next day to smell of smoke that has penetrated my hotel room. I start to really notice the fires now.

View from my hotel window. It is hard to tell but it is smoky.

My friend has to work today but is able to meet me for breakfast and coffee since I have some time to kill before my flight. I am so glad I met her months earlier in Egypt.

Now on to Melbourne where I am spending the week, including Christmas.

The Heat is On, Australia style

Victor Harbor, South Australia

I am leaving Coonawarra after my semi-successful wine and camping time there.

I am heading to the caves nearby at Naracoorte Caves National Park, a world heritage site with a very old fossil history.

Mother nature has other plans for me. Naracoorte Caves is closed due to wildfire risk.

It is starting to get scary in Australia. Thus far this is the closest I’ve been to the fire risk but soon I will be heading to Melbourne and Sydney where the fires are much worse nearby.

Here is the current map:

December 2019 fire map. I am currently in South Australia.

I do see a roadside kangaroo.

Since the caves are closed I decide to move forward to my next destination for the night, Victor Harbor.

I make a pit stop along the way and notice some nice art and mosaics.

Today is another day of watching the tempatures slowly rise as I travel on. At one point it gets to 48 C (118 F). I believe this is the hottest I have ever felt. Thank goodness the air conditioning in my rental car works.

Victor Harbor

After I arrive to Victor Harbor the temperature starts to lower quickly by almost 30 F and the wind starts to pick up.

I am staying at the Hotel Victor, a hotel right by the water.

Temperature when I arrive.

I chose Victor Harbor as a stop on my way to my final destination of Adelaide. It is advertised as a charming old-style town. There is supposed to be Horse Drawn Tram but it seems I again am visiting off season since it is not in operation during my visit. The wind is too strong so I avoid trying to view wildlife, which seems to be the biggest attraction in the area. (see video below)

I do walk down by the water and appreciate the views and birds.

The wind gets stronger. I try to capture it in the video below.

I head to dinner at Nino’s of Victor Harbor. I am happy I can order a side of vegetables. It sometimes is so hard to eat healthier on the road so I do the little bit I can.

I only stay the night so don’t have much time to visit some of the other town’s attractions like the nearby Granite Island. Perhaps I’ll be able to visit again someday.

Coonawarra Wine Region

When visiting the south coast of Australia I thought it would be a good idea to visit one of the wine regions in the area to challenge my poor opinion of Australian wines.

Two popular wine regions I read about are the McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra region. I decided to choose the Coonawarra region due to its proximity to caves.

Working title: “Australia is closed for the holidays/fire/whatever”

I misread my check-out time of the Airbnb in Port Fairy and rush to put all my crap into the car when the owner arrives to clean for the next guest. Thank goodness I didn’t have to carefully pack my backpack -> one great advantage to having a car for a week.

Before I leave Port Fairy I do a stop at the beach there, beautiful as is the rest of the coast.

I continue my drive watching as the temperature gage slowly rises in Celsius. Watching temperature rising seems to be the theme of the next two days, as well as watching news of the Australian fires. Although the fires are getting worse, they are not yet affecting the regions I am at.

Temps go up to 99 F (37 C) during my commute to the next location.

I am staying in a bubble tent for two nights at Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park.

Due to popularity the holiday park has purchased some new tents. Some of the older tents are in need of repair and are not in use this evening. The campsite is installing a new one for me and it isn’t ready yet.

My package deal includes wine and chocolate. I throw them both in the camp refrigerator for later so they don’t go bad.

While they are setting up my bubble tent I head into the nearby town (Penola) thinking I can find a restaurant but nothing seems to be open. Either everything closes early in this sleepy town or I am here off season. Even the grocery closes early (7 pm!). I need to pick up some food for the night before I lose that opportunity as well. I find out later that if I want a better selection of restaurants and stores I need to drive 30 minutes further to Naracoorte.

The disappointment I feel of things being closed seems to be a common theme in this area. Many good wineries exist in Coonawarra but the region is insufficiently able to handle tourism (local or foreign). Some of my bad luck is caused by traveling in the slow period before Christmas where everything comes to a halt. I wish I would have known but I am not sure more research would have told me this information ahead of time. I do stop at one winery cellar door for a quick tasting before grocery shopping – Patrick’s of Coonawarra – and I am the only one in the tasting room during my time there.

I head back to the campsite with my groceries and try to find room in one of the two refrigerators for my groceries in the camp kitchen (side note – finding room in shared refrigerators becomes a frequent activity I participate in while van camping in NZ but more about that later).

My tent is now ready and the air conditioner works on cooling the tent. In time I find it is way too hot to lounge inside the tent with the sun during the day; there is an air condition unit and wine chiller but they are no match for the heat. The bubble tents are really more appropriate during cooler months, not in the middle of an Australian heat wave.

There are vineyards next to me and I have a nice view of the sunset. The top of the bubble gives me an semi-obstructed view of the stars and moon.

On the right is camping bathroom. I use to pee once or twice but really I preferred walking the distance to the bathrooms in the campsite.
wine fridge, filter water, and air conditioning

There are privacy curtains but they don’t seem to work well. I use my hairclips to try to hold them together.

Things get fun when the sun sets. There are mood lights in the tent. Luckily it cools down without the sun. Between the darkness and air conditioning it becomes comfortable to sleep. The previous generation of tents were held up by pressure inside but these are held up by inflation of the pentagon shapes into a sphere. The AC combined with the outside air did still cause some pressurization and some of the Velcro sections would frequently come detached as a result (like the door on the “privacy room”). Despite the inconveniences it is a fun and unique experience and I would do it again sans heat.

The next morning I cook breakfast on the camp grill. the food I cook is included in the package deal I had booked.

The rational for staying in this region is for the Coonawarra Wine Trail. The wine trail is group of wineries that are all in walking distance of each other. The camp site I am staying at is supposed to have a van that will drop me off at parking at one of the wineries and pick me up later in the day. I organize a ride in advance but when it is time for me to leave the driver is no where to be found. I wait for a while for the driver who seems to be off doing errands but I am getting very hungry so I head out to get lunch. The first restaurant I stop at is closed. I am not sure if I missed opening hours or it is closed for the day since there is no sign stating the status, just a person inside who motions for me to leave because they are closed. I am disappointed because it is one of only couple choices in the area. I additionally try the nearby general store which advertises to-go lunches. The gentleman working looks at me like I have two heads when I ask for a take away lunch since they have nothing appropriate for that.

My last hope is buying a fancy lunch at a winery ten minutes away. I am crossing my fingers it is available.

And it is.

Hollick Estates

From there I move onto the wine tastings at the wine walk but I have to be super careful and discriminatory about what I taste since I will have to drive myself back eventually. I know there are wine tours because I see wine vans it’s just they are not heavily advertised like one would expect in a wine region. I have no idea how I could have booked one of them.

Finally I get to the wine walk and the first winery I try to visit Brand’s Laira is unexpectedly closed for the day and it’s not even 2 PM – This is the second time I get hit with “it is the slow season so we’ll just close when we want”. They do have a small wine history path on site where I get a little history lesson of the area.


But I am here to sample wines so I move on to the next winery in the wine walk

It is hot by the way. It isn’t a cool comfortable stroll.

Wynns

I head to Wynns where I get to try some Pedro Ximenez. I spend some time chatting with the very friendly lady providing the wine samples. I am a fan of this winery, too bad I already have too many bottles to travel with or I would buy more.

They have a nice exhibit on the history of the winemaker, the area, and winemaking in the area. I learn about local soil conditions.

Finally I make quick stops at both the DiGiorgio and Rymill wineries. I try a limited amount of those since it is getting late in the afternoon and I want to make it back to my campsite.

DiGiorgio

Rymill

Rymill has a chardonnay I don’t mind the taste of.

It is almost Christmas here in Coonawarra

I head back to the campsite where I find the air conditioning unit in my tent does nothing to fight the sun. I feel my body cooking in the tent. I’m pretty much stuck outside waiting for the sun to disappear which isn’t until close to 8:00 PM or later. I’m hanging out out in the covered lounge area at the campsite drinking some wine, planning future travels, and catching up on family and friends back home. It was a dumb decision to book a bubble tent during the hottest time of year. By the way yesterday was the hottest day on record for Australia so I have impeccable timing.

I think that if I come back to South Australia it won’t be during their summer and I’ll probably give McLaren Vale a chance instead.

More Great Ocean Road Australia

I have just left my wildlife retreat. Currently (December 2019) Australia is experiencing an outbreak of fires. I start actively watching for news updates because the fires escalate day by day. I may need to alter travel plans or even leave the country.

Today I am heading to an airbnb in Port Fairy Victoria. I am staying in an adorable cottage for the night and stopping at some sights along the way.

Gibson’s steps

My first stop of the day is Gibson’s steps.

The steps provide a pathway down to a beautiful beach. Today the Gibson steps are closed due to storm damage and erosion. I just soak up the view up top instead.

Great Ocean walk

From the parking lot I notice a trail marker for the Great Ocean Walk. I read later that that it is an 100k scenic walk along the coast. Today I only walk a little bit of the trail since I hadn’t prepared for a long hike.

12 Apostles

I head back to my car for the short drive to the twelve apostles, a collection of limestone rocks off the coast.

I plan to head to the next rock formation down the road, Loch Ard Gorge, but I see a sign for a cheese and food trail and suddenly decide it is more important to follow that trail then to stop at any other roadside wonders.

12 Apostles Food Artisans

I follow the road with the food trail signs until I get to the first stop Apostle Whey Cheese. I skip the chocolate stop (Gorge Chocolates). I know you must be thinking there something wrong with me but I prefer a block of cheese over a chocolate bar 99% of the time.

I partake in a cheese sampler, tour the grounds and purchase to cheese to go.

I also pick up an official copy of the food map.

I head off to the next location but stop to look at some cows on the way.

I am heading to a brewery nearby, Sow and Piglets Production Brewery. From the website it appears that they sell sausages and such to eat. Beer samples and sausages sound good to me. When I arrive I find the brewery is closed for tastings. I must have arrived off season. If I want to try the beers I have to go to their microbrewery location in town.

Instead I head to the town of Timboon. My first stop is Timboon Railway Shed Distillery. It is a whisky distillery and restaurant. I try a couple whisky samples and then sit down for a late lunch.

Slow cooked beef over potato cake

I finally try a sow & piglet beer.

Right around the corner is an ice cream shop. I head over to Timboon Fine Ice Cream where they have some unique and fun flavors (at least to this American).

I order one scoop of Orange & Cardamon and one scoop of Rhubarb & raspberry. I really love the flavors.

After my ice cream I head back on the road. I plan to go straight to my Airbnb but I drive by Cheese World and I cannot help stopping.

They have Meredith Dairy in stock. I first learned about Meredith Dairy in central Florida where a local cheese monger sells the marinated goat cheese feta. It probably is one of the best cheeses I have ever tasted. Meredith Dairy cheese is produced in Victoria; in fact I emailed the farm to see if they gave tours before my trip and sadly they do not. In the USA we import the feta but some of their other products are new to me. I pick up some cheese to take back to my cottage tonight.

I check out the cheese store’s wine collection which is unfortunately heavy on the not so great wines we can already try in the USA. Luckily I already have some bottles I purchased a couple days prior.

I head to my cottage in Port Fairy to rest for the evening. It is an adorable cottage named Elizabeth Margaret Brady Cottage built in 1860.

There is charming bedroom and a cozy living room with a working gas fireplace that I use that evening.

The cottage can hold a small family. There is an attached area with another bedroom and bathroom. It is a pretty large place all to myself. There is also a washer on sight. I am happy to be able to do laundry.

additional bedroom and mini kitchen

There is complementary wine. I can add it to my wine and cheese tasting for the evening.

I prepare some snacks and a cheese plate and relax by the fire for a evening. Today has been a great day.