Never seen the film? You are SERIOUSLY missing out. Go watch it NOW. It's timeless and powerful.
Anyhoo, change can be good for the soul, and as the saying almost goes, a holiday is as good as a change. A couple of months back, Janet and I started talking about it being time for a holiday. Refresh our minds, refresh our spirits... that sort of thing.
We really love holidays, partly because we don't get many of them but part of the problem is that we're very good at finding reasons NOT to go (like money's a bit tight... which is true... but it's true for everyone and not a complete roadblock). So after bouncing the idea around for a bit, we decided to go... but where.
We're pretty familiar with the south coast, and have had holidays to Forster, Port Macquarie and Gold Coast... so Janet suggested we spin the compass around and head to Melbourne.
Nikki is a big fan of Melbourne and often (mistakenly) argues that it's a better place than Sydney, making the venue an easy sell. When I moved out of Sydney after spending six years I was glad to see the back of the place, but it's still MY capital... and I'm nothing if not parochial. Or stubborn. Or possibly blinkered at times.
I'd never been to Melbourne (yep, never in all my many, many years on the planet) so, what the hey... let's check out Australia's second best capital. And, to make even more of an adventure, let's squeeze as much of Victoria as we can into nine days and eight nights.
I've heard rave reviews about Lakes Entrance and the East Gippsland area so let's start there. Next, let's head to Melbourne. Can't check in until 2pm, though, so let's detour to Phillip Island for the morning, and then onto Melbourne. After three day there, off to Ballarat where we went (including Jamie) something like 10 years ago, before Bobby was born, and then have a final day/night in Echuca before coming back home.
Well that's the plan. A pretty over-ambitious plan, it might be argued... too much driving around... too many activities. I'm already having second thoughts, but it's done now. Monies have been exchanged. Debts have been committed. Turns out, I'm NOT the world's best negotiator so I ended up spending a packet on accommodation... plus another packet on activities and events, so right from the get go I've managed to pile on a whole lot of extra unnecessary anxiety and anticipation. But what's a holiday without that stuff, right?
Anyway, after ticking off the days, and then the hours, the day came. Few of us, as it turned out, actually got anything like a full night's sleep before the alarm clock announced it was 4am, but hey, it's only a 6 hour drive. Who needs to be wide awake (and I was plenty awake, for the record). Time to get up and go.
DAY 1 (Saturday Sept 23):
Five o'clock, and we're in the car. We packed the night before, no-one's running late and we're on schedule (yep, I've got a schedule... got a problem with that?).
That was probably the perfect sweet spot for leaving, if not for sleeping. Sunrise spilled over the ranges on our left as we reached Lake George and by the time we hit Canberra's outskirts, it was fully light.
|Here comes the sun.|
The lighter it got, the more road kill you could see. Poor little skippies. And wombats. Mind you the cars they hit probably didn't feel that way, but I lost count at 30 before we even reached Bredbo.
By the time we reached Cooma, no-one was hungry enough to stop for Brekky yet, which I took as an endorsement for my musical/dramatic audio choices (and you better believe there was a schedule for that!) and so we pushed on to Bombala, and a quick snack at the Bombala Bakery. I wanted to give their chunky pie a crack, but had to settle for a plain pie. Should have stuck to my guns and said chunky or no pie at all. Thankfully, Bobby didn't finish his caramel eclair, hit the spot nicely.
So, we were well fed, but the same can't be said for the herd of cattle grabbing what feed they could find twenty minutes out of Bombala. Some drivers seem to struggle with the need to go slow for the (roughly) 2 km the cows were spread across. For me, I was thinking more about the poor farmer who was that desperate for stock feed he needed to take the herd on the road.
The paddocks were anything but lush all the way until about Cann River when the pale yellow started to get greener. I've never been to Cann River before, and no sooner had we got there then I excitedly said to Janet that one of the really great things about this trip is that, in places like Cann River and Lakes Entrance, we were heading to places that NONE of us had seen before.
"Hang on, I remember this place from that time Chris, Maddy, Aaron and I came through here on the way to Melbourne," says Nikki from the back.
Anyway, it's a nice town, Cann River. Might go back there some day.
|First thing you know I'll be back in Cann River again.|
We had until 12.30 so we grabbed some ice creams at Riviera Ice Cream Parlour. This place is incredible... they make their own ice cream and it's bloody fantastic.
|Me with English Toffee/Anzac Bikky double scoop... Bobby with Blue Heaven.|
Lakes Entrance has four (count them, four) separate putt putt/mini golf centres (but NONE in Goulburn... what's the story?). We chose one at random, the Black Ball & Basket. Long story short... my putter was crooked and my ball was wonky and, I dunno, there was a glitch in the matrix and SOMEHOW Bobby won the first tournament.
|Round 1 to Bobby.|
After lunch Janet, Bobby and I drove the five or six kilometres back in to town intending to get into the paddleboats. We crossed the footbridge across the inlet (?) to where the paddleboat place was but it had the big `closed' sign up. Very disappointing. Their website says they are opened weekends and school holidays. They might want to look into that.
Anyway, we kept going to the beach bit. Did I mention it was 35 degrees. Bobby had no dramas heading for the beach but it was AT LEAST 500 miles away, shimmering in the distance. As I trudged through the hot sand, sweat dripping off me, all I could think of was Dune, and Tattoine, and Lawrence of Arabia. Putting all that to one side, I heroically trudged on with my last ounce of strength, got to Bobby and Janet as he collected seashells, only to remember we had to trudge back.
Another long story short, we made it back and I hardly sooked or whinged at all. Much.
Bobby had been pretty keen for the paddle-boating so to cheer him up we took him to Griffith Sea Shell Museum. It's a quaint, friendly and quirky place and as it turned out, the highlight of the trip so far according to Bobby. There's a shop out the front, two lovely owners that make you feel at home and then a fairly eclectic museum out that back that includes a number of aquariums with a range of aquatic residents, thousands of sea related knick knacks, sea shells and gems AND even a massive model train set running out the back.
End of Day 1.
DAY 2 (Sunday Sept 24):Start with a head count.
Four souls on board. No-one's killed each other and there's no signs of cabin fever. Yet. I'm taking that as a win.
Bit of a sleep-in today, then we're off to Bairnsdale for the Bairnsdale Fun Park and all the fun of the fair (plus the more serious stuff... the second leg of the PGA). When we get there, the closed sign is on the gate, and I had a bit of a Wally World moment.
But we were just early and at 10am we were right to go.
The Fun Park lives up to it's name and there's a bunch of great stuff to do. They've got archery, laser tag, kids go carts, bungee trampoline, mini golf, and a stack more. The crowd was down as we got there but we were advised that happens on windy days. It grows a bit while we're there but to be honest, the smallish crowd was more of a positive... no queues and quick access to anything we want.
We started with mini golf and, these being enlightened times, Bobby and I decided to allow a woman to join the Puttputt Golf Association.
The course was fine... probably a bit simpler and less elaborate that the one we'd played at Lakes Entrance, but maybe that was enough for the cream to rise to the top.
Running Total... one game each to me and Bobby (and yes, I know he's only 8 but I've got him in my sites, and if I get a chance, I will take him down to China Town. Belee Dat).
So where were we. Ah, Archery. Gotta say, hadn't done this since the old Vacation Camps at the old Telecom property or whatever it was called in Bishop Street. Green Arrow and Robin Hood have little to fear from me as it turns out but geez I enjoyed it. Bobby showed a bit of talent with the bow and arrow, but struggled a little with the patience side of things. Might be worth pursuing when we get home.
After that,it was the obligatory bouncing castle for Bob followed by the go karts, his favourite (twice). He had the track to himself, which was probably for the best, but he was pretty chuffed after his first crack at unassisted driving. Even parked the kart better than half the people at the back of Centro.
Then it was off to Bairnsdale for lunch. One of the guys at the Fun Park suggested we try George's Burgers in Bairnsdale and I'm a big fan of following local's tips, so George's Burgers it was. And not a bad feed.
On the way into Bairnsdale we saw a few kids parks that looked pretty good including one with the "biggest slippery dip in the world." That's Bobby's verdict, anyway, and who am I to disagree. Biggest or not, it was bloody big (and so were the stairs back up) so Bob just had the two goes.
|Them slippery dips is thirsty work.|
We were all very impressed about how well served Bairnsdale is for public spaces for kids. Bobby was like a kid at.... an all abilities playground when he spotted the Bairnsdale All Abilities Playground. My wife, who is much better informed on such matters than I, reckoned it was one of the best kids play areas she has ever seen and even I thought it was pretty amazing. We had a few more things to do yet and didn't linger all that long, but it left a lasting impression.
We headed over the Paynesville next and caught the ferry across to Raymond Island. I'd heard good things about the place.... you'll see kangaroos and koalas everywhere, that sort of thing... but we searched a hell of a lot of the island and found just the one koala. maybe you'll have more luck than we did. Either way, it's a cool drove around the island but mostly dirt roads.
Back across the ferry (it's only $12 per car for a return ride, so it's not cheap) and then back to the Griffiths Sea Shell Museum because apparently one visit isn't enough. Then more tucker and a little more sleep.2.
End of Day 2.
DAY 3 (Monday Sept 25):We had plans to squeeze a lot into Day 3 and that meant another early start. Again, everyone was ready in time and it was off to Phillip Island, and then to Melbourne.
The drive becomes a bit of a blur. Trying to remember something unique or... memorable... about each town or city along the way for future reference is difficult. Stratford, Sale (had brekky at McDonalds and I think I saw a Performing Arts Centre?), Rosedale, Traralgon, Morwell, Mirboo North, Leongatha, Inverloch, Wonthaggi, San Remo and then we were in Phillip Island.
A couple of quick notes about driving in rural Victoria. Firstly, MANY of their roads are amazingly straight, and in many areas, the land is as flat as a tack. I also love their town names... not because they are better or worse than NSW but they're unfamiliar to me. Leongatha, Wonthaggi... disappointed I didn't get to see Nar Nar Good, Narre Warren and Koo Ree Rup.
One thing they might like to look at though... their flashing signs that indicate that you need to give way to pedestrians are worded "Give way to Peds." That would mean something different in NSW.
The first place we went to was the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory, featuring "Panny's Amazing World of Chocolate." This is a great place to take kids, and still pretty ok just for adults. You wander around a smallish chocolate museum that features fun chocolate facts and some interactives. There are a bunch of games where you can win wooden balls that can be traded in for chocolate balls, you can design your own flavours, makes edible chocolate squiggles (and eat them) and once you're through to the end, the chocolate gift shop sits back and collects on all of the chocolate cravings they've spent the last hour not-so-subliminally building up. Ka-ching.
I had planned to take us to A Maze 'N Things, which to no great surprise included a maze, and things like more putt putt, Puzzle Island, Magic Manor and Sky Trail's tree top rope bridges, but time was against us, so we drove down to the Phillip Island Racing Circuit and did a few things there. Incidentally, Phillip Island is huge. Did you guys already know that? I didn't. I only just learned it was connected to the mainland by a bridge a few months ago, and now I find out there are several towns on the island. What the hell was I doing in Geography classes at school?
There's a lot to do at the circuit, including go-karting and a great gift store. Having parted with some cash, it was back in the car and off to our apartment in Docklands. If I had my choices again, I'd try to make at least a day at Phillip island, maybe more. There's a bunch to do, lots of lookouts and sight seeing things, several wildlife parks and the penguin parade at nights, and a lot more. Anyway, it's all in the memory banks now. Maybe next time.
The major roads in and around Melbourne, to an outsider, are like someone has dropped a spoon full of noodles onto a plate and called it a map. It's not that they're bad, they're just unfamiliar to me. I place my life in the figurative hands of my SatNav and hope we get through unscathed. If you have an e-toll thingy for Sydney, it also works in Melbourne, so that's one less stressy phone call to be made.
Having survived the dodging and ducking of trams and roads I didn't know, we made it to just outside the apartments we're staying in, and that's where I blew a gasket (not the car... me).
The place has no office there so you're meant to message the guy who comes and gives you the keys to get into the car park and into you room. Thing is, there's no parking out the front so I ducked into the driveway of our underground parking. After pissing off several cars that I was blocking, and then some guy who didn't identify himself but told me I had to move along, I started doing laps until the guy came down, gave Janet the key, and we could park and access our room. The guy was great and really helpful, but the system of having to wait in your car when there's no car spots could definitely do with a tweak.
That being said, Harbour Escape Apartments are fantastic. We're on the 18th floor, so the views are great (including partial Docklands Harbour views). The amenities are nice, the rooms are large and we're in a great location. We're about 200m from the free tram network, 300m from Etihad Stadium and 500m from Harbour Town and the Melbourne Star. It's a very handy base of operations.
We hopped on a tram and headed into town. I hadn't eaten so food was number one on my mind, and belly. I grabbed the Lord of the Fries poutine near Flinders Street station (everyone else grabbed something else) and we ate it at Federation Square. I also found a place called Betty's Burgers and Concretes where I got a chocolate frozen custard thick shake (pretty good) and we MAY have dropped into All Star Comics. For Bobby.
Back to the apartment for a feed and a snooze, and then on to day 4.
DAY 4 (Tuesday Sept 25):The plan for Tuesday was a bit on the busy side but unlike the previous day, we ticked off every box.
The first booked activity was to go to Legoland Discovery Centre in the Chadstone Shopping Centre, but a little bit of detective work showed me that The Block from the TV series of the same name was more or less on the way.
Have to say... was a bit concerned that some big, burly security guy might move us along. Or Scotty. Or big Keithy. Or Shelly Croft. But there was none of that. The houses are completed, which provided a bit of dissonance as we watch the show which is still showing what they were up to weeks/months ago.
There were a few tradie trucks in the street, no doubt addressing minor stuff, but no contestants, no Channel 9 crew and only local residents and a couple of other rubber necks like ourselves.
In a few weeks they'll have the open houses and there'll be no parking for blocks around. As it is there's not much access to rear parking through the narrow access points at either end but that's a problem for the impending buyers.
|The scene they WON'T show you on The Block.|
The Legoland Discovery Centre is up several flights near the Hoyts Centre and it's everything a tiny brick builder could want. There are two fully functional rides inside, many lego displays, play centre/gym, activity and learning areas AND a 4D cinema showing a Ninjago movie complete with smoke, wind and rain effects. Watching Bob grasping at the things that appeared to stick out from the screen was a highlight for me. The 4D cinema alone is the sort of thing you'd expect to see at Movie World and I was pretty impressed with the quality of the whole shebang, especially for primary school aged kids.
|Bobby trying to get his breakdance on, but Lego guy... he no play.|
There's a special going at the moment where you can buy a combined ticket for Legoland and Melbourne Aquarium so we took advantage of that, and that pretty much dictated where we went next.
To avoid traffic snarls, we parked back at the apartment and took a tram. I have to say, I'm getting pretty hooked on trams (and will rave about them a b it later). One dropped us bang in front of the front door of the Aquarium and once inside you follow a very imaginative path up and down three or four levels, through different themes and logical areas.
The Aquarium is a high quality marine zoo, and they've put a lot of thought into their themes, colours and journey to make it appealing to kids and not at all annoying for parents.
It's all in there... small sea life you can put, sharks, a crocodile and all of Dory's mates in between.
There's a stack of activities, including many places where kids and smallish adults can stick their heads up into domes inside tanks.
|Under the sea... everything's better, down where it's wetter... take it from me.|
There's a tribe/herd/flock/raft/waddle of penguins in a huge enclosure complete with a swimming pool and layers of fake snow. The little buggers dash through the water and all looked very chilled (pun intended) on "land", that is except for one tightly packed clump looking up at a fixed point where nothing was visible, possibly listening to some message from their penguin overlord. It was pretty freaky deaky, and if there's a mass escape any time soon... well, the signs were there.
|Pengwings, as Benedict Cumberbatch calls them.|
|I could sense no-one believed me when I said I'm a fashion plate. Who's laughing now?|
Back to the trams, and back home and you could be excused if you thought that was enough gallivanting for a day, but we had one more event up our sleeves... the Melbourne Star. It's like the London Eye, but closer. Cursed as I am with bad luck, I remembered at the last minute that I had something else to do and was not at ALL scared of heights, so Janet, Nikky and Bobby went up while I... searched for that other thing I'd forgotten to do.
The Melbourne Star takes about 30 minutes to do a full circuit, and never stops during opening hours so you board the thing while it's moving... ever so slowly. The views (I was reliably informed) are spectacular and very much worth the trip.
|Nikky and Bobby... not the least bit scared. And neither was I, ok!!!|
UNRELATED to that review, it was also the scene of another Bobby triumph. Running score: 2-1 to Bobby. The tournament continues in Ballarat.
Then home, some local pizza, and some local snoozing.
More to come.