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Trip Report 2 wks in Oz--Melbourne, GOR, Tas, Pt Douglas, Atherton Tbllnds, pt 1

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Our family of 4 (with 20something daughters) knew it might be a while before we were back in Australia, so we packed as much as possible into our vaca while staying at least 2 nights in each spot. We were most interested in Oz's natural world so spent more time on that than in cities. We had stayed in Sydney on our way to NZ years ago so skipped it this time, and though we wanted to visit Uluru, we didn't have the time or wish for another plane ride (9 total--6 free with ff miles.)

Part 1: The southern mainland.

3 days in Melbourne: We easily navigated this charming city with a combination of walking and taking the trams (free within the CBD). Highlights: wandering the laneways (incl graffiti art), walking along the river, National Gallery's stained-glass ceiling, Royal Botanical Gardens (Shrine of Remembrance nearby was interesting but just ok), and the aboriginal art at the Ian Potter Gallery at Fed Sq. Queen Victoria Market was fun, but full of the souvenirs you find everywhere.

Another fav: taking the Little Penguin Bus (a van, actually) down to Phillip Island's Penguin Parade one evening, though, yes, it is unabashedly touristy. The penguins are just that cute if you can put blinders on and ignore the people. Going on a more intimate van (with stops at the Nobbies and another beach) and with a very nice and knowledgeable driver kept us from being overwhelmed by the crush. So did springing for the Guided Ranger Tour (arranged in advance when you sign up for the LPB). We sat in a viewing area with fewer than 20 people, away from the throngs in the grandstand. Well worth it! Bring food and warm clothes.

We stayed at the Ovolo Laneways, which we adored. We prefer intimate hotels to the big monsters. Its design is hip (far hipper than we are), it's in a great location (just up the hill from Chinatown and an easy walk or tram ride anywhere in the CBD), and they have all sorts of thoughtful extras: free snacks in the lobby, more in a goody bag in your room plus free drinks stocked in your minifridge, an ample pastry/fruit/yogurt breakfast, good coffee machine (also in lobby), and free laundry.

Best meal: Chin Chin--worth the wait. Hutong was good for the soup-filled dumplings.

2 days along GOR: Leaving Melbourne, we rented a car and drove to Cape Otway via Ballarat. (Brushfires had closed eastern portions of the Great Ocean Road.) We didn't go to Sovereign Hill, but without it, we didn't feel the the town was worth the detour.

We stayed at the Great Ocean Ecolodge, recommended by a fodorite on this forum. THANK YOU! What a terrific place! The lodge is small and simple, with proceeds funding their conservation efforts, but so well done. We arrived in time for tea, followed by the included led bushwalk out to the tiger quoll enclosure, with kangaroos and wallabies hopping here and there. A pair of koalas hang out in some trees outside the lodge pretty much all the time. One night they took us to see the potaroo and sugar gliders they also have, and we put honey on our fingers for the sugar gliders to lick. A yummy breakfast is included, and we added the fabulous dinner, as did the other guests (Europeans). Dinner is a bit pricey, but so fresh and delicious and the conviviality of sitting around the big table swapping travel stories while creatures hop around outside make it worth it. One night, on the chef's suggestion, we paused before dessert to go out and watch a field of kangaroos hopping and boxing as the sun set.

What we saw of the GOR and its cliff-lined coastline were indeed lovely. The 12 apostles are cool but so overrun with tour buses of selfie-snapping tourists, it does detract from the experience. Since we were staying there instead of on a day trip from Melbourne, we avoided the worst crowds by arriving mid-morning. Earlier would have been better. We stopped at a lovely peaceful rain forest walk called Maits Rest (recommended by the folks at the lodge)--a wonderful antidote.

The next morning we visited the Cape Otway Lighthouse before heading back to the airport. The lighthouse itself was interesting enough and had a great view, but even better was the conversation we had with an interpretive guide stationed at an aboriginal hut in the woods. He told us lots about the area's original people and the complicated relationship with whites today.

To be continued on Tas...

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