Country roads

Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
Trip End May 15, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hi everyone:

We are just winding up our week in Kyneton, a town about an hour northwest of Melbourne. Since we left Kangaroo Island about 10 days ago, we have been meandering through the country roads and small towns of the states of South Australia and Victoria.  We are getting better at the driving; we only use the windshield wipers for turn signals on the rare occasion when panic sets in.  We have navigated at least 100 'traffic circles' or roundabouts as they call them, so no longer fear them quite as much.

We spent the first two days on the road, travelling back-country roads with narrow lanes and no shoulders, but blessedly few big trucks (called ‘road trains’).  The countryside is lovely – tons of sheep and lovely rolling hills, still green due to the huge amount of rain that fell this summer.   We were really excited to see an emu beside the road – Ruth was driving and glanced toward the ditch only to see what appeared to be a large furry child looking in the window.  The emu, Australia’s biggest bird, is between 5 and 6 feet tall and is flightless. After making a quick U-turn we watched it clamber over a fence and take off into the fields.

The first night we stopped in Robe, a typical small town that could be in central Alberta, except that we had the best seafood dinner we have ever had – the food tasted like it leapt from the water on to our plates.  The next night we stayed in Warnambool – another small town with wonderful food.  Before heading inland we set out on the western part of the Great Ocean Road, a spectacular drive along the coast, with huge limestone pillars surrounded by crashing waves.

We have stayed the last week in a timeshare called the "Bushland Resort".  Let’s just say it doesn’t quite measure up to North American timeshares!  The first night we were visited by the local police, investigating the theft of the TV from the next unit.  We likely saw the get-away car but apparently the thieves left their ‘picture’ on the surveillance camera so we won’t have to give evidence.  The next morning we found our own evidence of other unwelcome visitors – our dish of butter, nicely covered in plastic wrap, had a lovely furry nose print in it.  Our ‘house mouse’ also nibbled the coffee packets on the counter so likely had a good buzz on by morning.  The management wasn’t too flustered by it all and set up a trap in the kitchen.  As a result, ever since we have gingerly tiptoed into the kitchen, expecting to find a corpse, but apparently the mouse is too smart to take the bait and instead figured out how to get into my purse in order to nibble on a granola bar – I think this is the perfect opportunity to invest in a new handbag!

During our week of dodging mice we have had two wonderful outings.  On Monday we took the commuter train into Melbourne and spent the afternoon exploring the city.  It has great charm – lovely old Victorian buildings combined with very modern ‘edgy’ architecture.  There is a free tram that circles the central areas of the city in a continuous narrated loop.  We didn’t have time to do everything but did visit the Melbourne Museum - a very contemporary building with great exhibits and a good gift shop!  We met up with Bea McNaughtan, a colleague of Phil’s and her husband Joel, who happened to be in Melbourne at the same time and together we went on an all-day wine tour of the Yarra Valley, about an hour north east of Melbourne.  The day was sunny and perfect and the wines were great – Phil and Bea think this qualifies as ‘international work’.

Yesterday was our first marathon birding day – we were picked up at 6:30 AM by Steve, “The Melbourne Birder”.  Twelve happy hours later he dropped us back at our place.  Some of the highlights of the day were: red-rumped parrot, red capped robin, noisy friar, diamond firetail and too many species of honeyeaters to remember!  Like most great birders, Steve can pick out the songs and calls and knows just where to look for the birds, so we added 39 new species to our Australia list, bringing our total to 107 so far.

Having been in Australia for about three weeks now, we have assembled a list of things we love about the country.  Our favourite things: great coffee – interestingly, you order a ‘long black’ or a ‘flat white’ - (on our first day I ordered a ‘tall black’ much to a server’s amusement); banana bread – they toast it and slather it with butter; gluten free food everywhere – my celiac friends would love it here; no tipping – how good is that?; museums are free or very low cost; the news casts all start with the sports scores, especially ‘footy’, or Australian rules football; kangaroos in our back yard – they are quite gentle and shy and are lovely to look at; great hospitality – all Aussies seem happy to help out with directions. 

Some things have surprised us – the cost of meals and groceries is high - a typical dessert in a decent restaurant starts at $16 and we paid $5.50 for two bananas at a supermarket (bananas are ‘dear’ because of the typhoon in Queensland).  Pedestrians do NOT have the right-of-way.  The roads are really narrow and the speed limits are really high – 110 km on a narrow country road –we have to keep pulling over to let people by!

Next we head down to the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne for more touring and birding.  Hope everyone is well – thanks for the emails back!

Ruth and Phil
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Lisa on

I want a Crimson rosella.....not sure if the cats would be impressed! The mouse , not so much and Ruth a new purse with a big zipper. Thankfully he wasn't in your purse when you left for the day!!
Snow is melting and the Flames are out of the playoffs.

Karen Abrams on

Just loving the "mouse house" story and I'm sure there will be many more to share. Travel is amazing for so many reasons... Aren't the "roos" so sweet? Please tell me you're not eating them!!!
The birds must be fantastic. Love the crimson rosella - gorgeous!
Not missing anything here. The weather still sucks but apparently is getting better for the WE.
Brian just had a major bunionectomy and toe reconstruction yesterday. He's doing fine but can't walk of course. Nurse Karen is on call again... Take care.

Betsy on

Keep the lovely pictures coming for those of us stuck in the grey and brown tones of a Calgary spring. On the bright side, at least it hasn't snowed in the past week!

Bea on

We really enjoyed our "international work" trip to the Yara Valley with you both - what's not to like about your first glass of wine at 11 am and finishing the "work day" with a glass of champagne? Glad to hear your birding outing was great. The weather in Queensland was much hotter than around Melbourne, so you'll be able to take your sweater off when you get up there. If you get a chance, go to the Sundsay markets in Port Douglas - it was fun, everything from Thai massage to wonderful blown glass and wooden cutting boards. And lots of kitchy stuff too. VERY hot here in Borneo, but fun - we went to Niah national park where there is a cave where the swiftlets nest and saw the poles the harvesters climb to gather the nests used for birds nest soup. It's worthy of a month of safety team meetings. The harvesting is strictly controlled now - apparently it's the bird saliva that makes the birds nest soup so tasty (I think I'll pass) - so it remains a delicacy and the swiftlets might recover their population. Our friends say there's a hornbill bird nesting around their house so hopefully we get to see it before we leave. Take care on the rest of your trip. Cheers.

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