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No sun. No worries. 18 days in Sydney, North Queensland, Red Center and Melbourne by mr/ms_go

No sun. No worries. 18 days in Sydney, North Queensland, Red Center and Melbourne by mr/ms_go

Jul 8th, 2007, 06:39 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 2,544
Thank you so much for sharing your GORGEOUS pictures and your beautifully written report. I'm still in the early planning stages -- and this has really helped.
Songdoc is offline  
Jul 9th, 2007, 10:29 PM
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i really appreciate the fine writing and descriptions in your report so far

AndrewDavid is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 04:59 AM
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Thank you Susan7, Songdoc, AndrewDavid.

Here's the final installment...

Yarra Valley/Melbourne

The final portion of our trip consisted of four days in the Melbourne area. Our initial instinct was to spend part of the time on the Great Ocean Road, but some feedback indicated that this would be an iffy proposition in the winter. Several posters here suggested the Yarra Valley, including the Healesville Sanctuary, as a more appropriate option for wintertime. That sounded good to us, too. We've spent several other enjoyable vacations in wine regions.

If we made one mistake, it was in understanding the flight schedules between Ayers Rock and Melbourne. In early research, we noted a non-stop flight that left Ayers Rock at noon and arrived Melbourne around 2pm. That would be perfect--providing several hours of daylight to get to Healesville. But, that flight apparently operates only two days per week--and Saturday (the day we ultimately traveled) was not one of those. So, that meant we would have to connect through Sydney, not only eating up a good part of the day in travel but also preventing us from arriving in Melbourne before 6pm.

We picked up a fire-engine red Camry at the Melbourne airport and set out towards Healesville in the dark. The first part of the drive would be easy, on the Western/Northern Ring Road, but then we would need to navigate a series of progressively smaller roads. Fortunately our hosts provided very detailed directions. It looked like a fascinating and beautiful drive, but it was hard to tell in the dark.

Before locating our accommodation, we made a detour into Healesville for dinner at the Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander winery--a suggestion from our hosts. We loved this place--the high ceilings, the wines, techno music, unpretentious atmosphere, free wi-fi, friendly service and the wood-fired pizza. We decided to go back there our second night and were just as happy, particularly after another nice dinner, a couple of free glasses of Innocent Bystander Moscato and some complimentary croissants and breakfast rolls for the next morning.

We always seem to book one trip stop about which we are not quite sure what to expect. On this trip, it was our accommodation in the Yarra Valley. We really stumbled on the Lavender Farm--we inquired about something else in Healesville and were offered this as an alternative. At any rate, it looked nice, so we decided to give it a try. And it turned out to be one of the best surprises of the whole trip, and easily the best accommodation value.

Lavender Farm is a self-contained house on a farm about five minutes outside of Healesville. It was much bigger than we needed, with three bedrooms, a full dining room, living room with woodburning fireplace, breakfast room, two full baths (one with spa), wrap-around porch with expansive views, laundry facilities, and a full kitchen stocked with eggs, bacon, bread, jam, OJ, milk and a delicious coffee cake. Our immediate reaction: wow, couldn't we have a few more days here?! The property is expansive, and guests are free to roam around and interact with the owners' three dogs and other animals. Apparently a lot of guests also ride the horses. A bird feeder just off the kitchen provides hours of entertainment as the parrots and cockatoos battle it out for prime position. We enjoyed our stay, and it is very convenient to the Sanctuary and other nearby sites. Average rate: A$175 for three people.

Our primary activity in the area was the Healesville Sanctuary and we enjoyed the up-close look at the kangaroos, koalas, platypus, pelicans, dingoes, birds of prey and many other critters. The highlight was feeding kangaroos by hand during the "Meet the Keeper" session. Apparently, some like to be scratched under their chins, just like cats and dogs.

Our other main activity was tasting wine. We visited several—TarraWarra, Yering Station and Oakridge—in addition to our evening sessions at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander. It would be hard to pick a single favorite wine among the varieties we tasted, by the merlot and shiraz at Giant Steps were very tasty, approachable and rich. It's too bad that we can't carry back wine anymore (note: at the time of our trip, there was no problem carrying liquids on domestic flights). We did manage to package a few bottles into our checked luggage and they made the trip back just fine; security (Australian, US??...our money’s on TSA) did open up the bags and cut the foil on one bottle).

Overall reaction: we really liked this area. We easily could have taken a few more days for scenic drives, winery stops/meals and relaxing on the farm, as well as the attractive, easy-going town of Healesville. Thank you to whoever suggested it.

Our final stop was in Melbourne for two nights and one full day in the city. We often end our trips in a more traditional business hotel with amenities such as Internet services (for checking flights), etc. We were a little concerned about driving into the city on a business day, probably because we'd been sufficiently warned about the hook turns. Using some very precise directions provided by maryk (THANK YOU!!), we drove straight in on the Eastern Freeway and then proceeded down Victoria toward the CBD.

The Avis website offered us the choice of dropping our car at one of two downtown locations--the Avis office or the Grand Hyatt. We chose the latter, but an Avis staffer at the Melbourne airport (not the one who handled our rental) made it very clear that the Grand Hyatt location was a pick-up location only; we would not be able to drop the car there. A phone call confirmed that. A note to Avis is forthcoming--but getting the trip report done first is, of course, a priority.

More confident now in our ability to read the map and identify how to avoid hook turns, we decided to drop off our luggage at the Melbourne Marriott on the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale. It was the last stop we'd have to make. The very friendly and helpful bellman suggested that he'd call Avis, and perhaps they'd come pick up the car. He did. They would. No worries. We could check right in and get a head start on exploring Melbourne.

We were also quite happy with our choice of the Marriott Melbourne. The room wasn't large, but it was comfortable and well equipped with a refrigerator, toaster, iron/ironing board and, most importantly, high-speed Internet (for a fee, but that was okay; this was our first accommodation of the trip with in-room Internet). Service is what made this hotel stand out, and we also liked its location--easy walking distance to the places we wanted to visit, but on a corner that was relatively quiet. A$220 for a triple.

We had a day and a half or so to explore the city, during which we:

-Walked throughout the central business district; we particularly enjoyed exploring the arcades and alleyways and the sights and smells of Chinatown

-Visited Federation Square and the Southbank shopping area

-Wandered through the Victoria Market and its stalls selling everything from fresh seafood to wine to produce to Uggs to ballerina dresses for little girls…and just about anything else you can imagine

-Traversed various bridges across the Yarra River and watched the rowers practicing

-Rode the Ferris wheel, which offered some nice views (note: we expected once or twice around, but it actually went around 20 times or more at a fairly good clip)

-Took the tram to St. Kilda and wandered through Luna Park (a bit older than Sydney's similar park) and along the beaches and piers; it's very easy to get around in Melbourne

-Relaxed in the Alexandra, Fitzroy and Royal Botanical Gardens

-And generally walked and walked

Last but not least, dining. Breakfast was not included in our room rate, but we still had quite a bit of pastry left over from the Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander bakery (the server had taken a liking to Chris, and gave us some extras). The coffee bar in the lobby provided a convenient complement. Other meals included:

-Snacks and drinks at the Riverland Cafe near Federation Square; we were surprised by, and thrilled with, the plethora of outdoor dining and drinking spots, especially given that it is winter

-Chinese dinner at Mask of China, recommended by the concierge; unusual Chiu Chow cuisine; decent food and very attentive service; more expensive than we expected

-Italian at one of the restaurants on Lygon Street; we weren't starving and were really more interested in a comfortable, homey atmosphere than gourmet dining that evening; the interesting part of this experience was that practically every restaurant had a barker out on the sidewalk hawking the menu and offering some kind of freebie. We admit we were lured in by a free bottle of wine....a weak spot.

The sun was starting to peek out as we arrived in Melbourne, and the following day was one of clear blue skies. A perfect ending to our trip. We thoroughly enjoyed our stop there.

And that is our trip to Australia. We hope this report is helpful to others. We'll be back shortly with a few closing thoughts and observations.
ms_go is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 05:06 AM
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Having trouble with the edit function again...

Here are the photos from Melbourne:
ms_go is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 06:41 AM
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I have really enjoyed your trip report. Lovely to see that you realy enjoyed your trip and you have some wonderful photos. I can't believe how much you managed to fit in with such a brief time in Melbourne (in the city), you must have been constantly on the go.

What is an absolutely amazing coincidence is that the real reason I sat down at the computer was to look up the Giant Step winery on the net. Although I am a local I had never heard of this winery until yesterday and thought I would check it out because it sounded like a good place for lunch one day. After your review I certainly will make time to go up for a leisurely lunch one afternoon.
shandy is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 09:26 AM
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You have such a good eye---the tennis shoes are fabulous.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 09:28 AM
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Shandy: Glad you're liking our report. As my LW said, we enjoyed our time there and we're glad we stayed as long as we did. It's a beautiful part of the world you live in!

As for Giant Steps...we did enjoy our meals there, but it may not be 100% right for everyone (e.g. they do play the music rather loudly, and the post-industrial decor is a tad sparse). But the wood-fired pizas and casserole pots were delicious and the people are very pleaseant.
mr_go is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 09:31 AM
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Hey, Bob! Good to see you here, too. Those chairs done yet?

Believe it or not, that market stall had even more colors of Chuck Taylors available than what that shot shows.
mr_go is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 07:21 PM
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Aha, "no worries" makes an appearance, a very useful Aussie expression and that porter sounds very helpful.

Thanks again for a delighful report!
Susan7 is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 07:42 PM
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Thoroughly enjoyed your report ms_go - thanks for taking the time to post!
Melnq8 is offline  
Jul 10th, 2007, 11:41 PM
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Thank you for a wonderful report. Love the sneakers!
Toucan2 is offline  
Jul 11th, 2007, 10:29 AM
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Thank you for inviting me to the Australia board...your report and photos were so interesting.

There's so much more to see than I thought. My impression was since Australia has a young history it wouldn't hold my interest as Europe does. I see that if you enjoy the outdoors there is a bounty of different activities.

Food for thought...if I can ever save enough money
CRAZY4TRAVEL is offline  
Jul 11th, 2007, 06:44 PM
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what holds your interest?
Written history is short but we do know that two Australian tourists visited Manila in the Phillipines in the mid 17th century. More than 100 years before little Jimmy Cook 'discovered' the place. Actually I have great respect for that navigator.
Saltuarius is offline  
Jul 11th, 2007, 06:48 PM
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Just thought I'd jump in about the photo of a granite crater. Of course the crater was not created at the sane time as the granites were laid down. The granites are about 230 million years old and would have formed 5+ kilometres underground. the crater was formed by a gaseous explsion. Exactly where the gas came from is not know yet. It is one hell of a hole and I'm glad I was not there when it blew!
Saltuarius is offline  
Jul 11th, 2007, 10:17 PM
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Great report, ms go

Glad you enjoyed our country - and hurry back!

No worries
margo_oz is offline  
Jul 12th, 2007, 01:58 PM
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What a wonderful and informative trip report, especially for us. We are doing something similar for August, but chose to go to Darwin instead of Alice Springs, mainly for cost reasons. We have our four teenageers with us, and have rented apartments in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne, and a house in Cairns at Machans Beach. Is it an option to drive through Daintree and on to Cape Tribulation as a single day trip, or would they need a day each? We want to spend a day in Kuranda, two days diving, a day in rainforest, and we still have another day and a half. We have a people carrier in each place - what's it like driving in Sydney? - We are staying in Georges Street,for five and a half days.
jcrob is offline  
Jul 12th, 2007, 10:40 PM
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Yes one can easily get to Daintree and Cape Trib in the one day. Of course one could also take a couple of weeks.

Can I suggest that you take a day exploring the Atherton Tablelands, much more wildlife there and interesting rainforest, lakes and waterfalls. If you want a really great guide to show you around try Alan www.alanswildlifetours.com.au He is good with kids of all ages, knows the plants and animals and if anyone can find the elusive platypus and tree-kangaroo it is him.
Saltuarius is offline  
Jul 13th, 2007, 07:07 AM
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Just to add to what Saltuarius stated...We enjoyed both the Tablelands as well as the rain forest, and wouldn't want to have missed either one. We didn't really see much of Cape Trib town itself, but at that time of year I'm not sure we were missing much. It's the forest that's the attraction, not necessarily the towns per se (IMO). Be advised that you can't drive north of Cape Trib at all unless you have a 4WD vehicle.

We didn't do any driving in Sydney ourselves, but from what we observed it seemed like a fairly typical big city in terms of traffic. Driving on the "wrong" side of the road can be daunting for some, so if this is your first time I would use caution.
mr_go is offline  
Jul 13th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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We've really been enjoying your trip reports and wonderful pictures. We are planning a trip for next year--so all of your details have been a huge help to us!

What kind of camera did you use to get the underwater pictures? Yours look so clear and the color is much better than anything I've ever gotten underwater!
caligirl56 is offline  
Jul 13th, 2007, 10:24 AM
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Thanks, all, for the kind comments. I'm glad you've enjoyed the trip report and photos.

caligirl56--we have a Canon A80 (4mp) that is about four years old, but it still takes pretty good photos. I recently bought a waterproof case for it. It is a little bit of a challenge to use--the viewfinder is hard to see, so you kind of have to just aim and shoot. But, I was happy with the results for a first try. On the snorkeling trip we took (Calypso), they did rent underwater cameras.

I know I still need to come back and finish off this report--coming soon, I promise!
ms_go is offline  

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