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Touring the Great Alpine Road and the Bogong High Plains Road

17 Jun

After our excursion to Raymond Island, we embarked up the Great Alpine Road, starting in Bairnsdale. The Great Alpine Road was the main reason for our weekend away and touring that area was something we had both wanted to do for a while.

We had actually intended to do it over summer, but due to the bushfires near Harrietville, we didn’t go, as it’s not really safe to go driving through a bushfire and of course, parts of the road were closed. Unfortunately, the road is still sometimes closed while they work to repair it (if you’re going up that way, check VicRoads for the latest road closure information). Even though it is not closed on weekends, it is down to one lane and we decided that we would drive the Great Alpine Road as far as Omeo, detour to our bed & breakfast for the night, and the continue our trip along the Bogong High Plains Road to avoid the construction.

Now, Australia doesn’t really have true mountains, being such a geologically old landmass. But the Great Dividing Range is as good as you’re going to get in this country and there are some snow covered peaks up there. I love mountains, so I was excited to see it.

Don’t ask me why they call it “Alpine”. You’d think they could have come up with a more creative name instead of using one that was already taken. It doesn’t really look anything like the real Alps, but it is still very beautiful. I was so busy just enjoying the scenery that I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but I have a few that I would like to share with you.

One of my favourite kind of mountain or wilderness landscapes is the kind with a beautiful blue river and lots of trees.

One of my favourite kind of mountain or wilderness landscapes is the kind with a beautiful blue river and lots of trees.

Be prepared for lots of windy roads!

Be prepared for lots of windy roads! Our SUV got a great workout on this drive. I recommend trading drivers now and then, as it is challenging driving and it’s hard to enjoy the scenery when you are concentrating on the road.

The landscapes along the Great Alpine Road seem ever changing, from quiet woodland to rocky outcroppings to rolling hills and farmland.

The landscapes along the Great Alpine Road seem ever changing, from quiet woodland to rocky outcroppings to rolling hills and farmland.

We found a rest area and lookout point here. It's called Conner's Hill and is the first glimpse of real mountainous terrain.

We found a rest area and lookout point here. It’s called Conner’s Hill and is the first glimpse of real mountainous terrain.

One of the stopping points along the Great Alpine Road is a town called Omeo. I thought it would be bigger than it was, but it was a tiny, sleepy town with not much going on. We arrived there at about 4pm. Our bed & breakfast hosts had told us that for dinner, we could either bring our own food and cook it there, eat at the Blue Duck Inn “in town”, which we assumed was Omeo, or they could cook for us. We had figured on eating at the Blue Duck Inn, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

So we stopped at the cuckoo clock shop to look around while we decided what to do. My phone hadn’t had signal since leaving Bairnsdale, so my GPS wasn’t working and we weren’t even 100% sure how to get to our bed & breakfast.

The cuckoo clock shop was run by a sweet little old lady who told us all her clock were imported from Bavaria. She had SO many of them! They were all gorgeous and I would have loved to have gotten one, but as our budget for the weekend was a measly $500, we had to pass. We learned later that she had bought the shop as a business for her daughter to run, as she wanted her daughter to stay in Omeo, but the girl had met a man in Melbourne and moved there, leaving the shop for her mother to take care of. She sells maybe two or three clocks a year and the shop is propped up by the hardware store in town, which is run by her husband. How sad is that? We did buy some Christmas ornaments from her, though, since last Christmas I was very sad that we had left all our ornaments in America and didn’t have anything to decorate a tree with.

We then went to the Foodworks grocery store, which was one of the saddest grocery stores I’ve ever been to, and the lady working there told us that the Blue Duck Inn was actually in a town called Anglers Rest. She then proceeded to tell what a great restaurant it was and that she’d even had a customer that day who had eaten lunch there. Another customer chimed in that she knew someone who had eaten dinner there the night before. (Having grown up in a town not much bigger than Omeo, I can appreciate this sort of conversation.) With all the rave reviews from locals, we decided we’d try to find it and off we went.

It is here that we diverged from the Great Alpine Road and headed up Omeo Highway, which is even windier than the Great Alpine Road. I was glad we still had some daylight to drive that road.

We arrived at the Blue Duck Inn around 5pm, only to find they didn’t open for dinner until 6pm. So with a sigh, we continued to drive on to our bed & breakfast.

Now I’m going to take a commercial break to tell you about this bed & breakfast, because it is the worst accommodation I have ever stayed in. I’ve stayed in some $30 a night roach motels and some 5-star luxury hotels and everything in between, so I’ve pretty much seen it all, but this place takes the cake.

It’s called Payne’s Hut and it’s near Shannonvale, but really it’s in the middle of nowhere, which is why we picked it. If you’re going to get away from the city, you might as well go all the way and get as far away as you can.

I’ll start with the good bits to take the sting out of the rest of what I’m going to write. Our hosts had actually prepared supper for us. I had forgotten to call ahead and tell them our dinner plans, so they graciously cooked us a wonderful three course meal. (Yes, there is an extra charge for that!) They are very, very good cooks! And really, they are quite nice people, so I feel a bit mean talking bad about their place, especially because they built it themselves and are very proud of it.

But the fact that they built it themselves sort of shows. The entire place is off the grid and powered by solar panels and generators. We were staying in the hut and, as it turns out, the hut isn’t connected to the generator. We were asked not to use the lights because they hadn’t had much sunlight in a while. The room had about four single watt light bulbs and it was so dark in there that it was hard to find anything in our suitcase. There was also no place for us to put our suitcase, except on the lone chair we were provided. We were told there was a flashlight in the room… and there was. But it didn’t work!

It was FREEZING cold inside. There was a gas heater in the corner and even turned on full blast, it could not heat the space. All night long, we shivered, despite being dressed in layers and the blankets piled high. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep.

But the real sticking point for me was our inability to have a shower. The water appears to be gravity fed, which means there is no water pressure. Might be okay for someone with short hair, but when you have long hair, you can’t rinse anything out of your hair without water pressure. And because it was so cold, there was no hot water. Who wants to have a cold shower when you’re already freezing cold? No one!

Then there was the issue of the power outlets. THERE WERE NO POWER OUTLETS! Not a one. So even if I had showered, I still would have died of hypothermia from being stuck with wet hair and unable to use a blow dryer.

We hoped that maybe a nice, hot breakfast would make up for it and had high hopes, given our lovely dinner the night before. But it was not to be. Breakfast was bread and jam and there was not even a real toaster. To toast the bread, you had to do it over a flame. A flame has two settings: off and on. Hope you like burnt toast!

For the privilege of staying in accommodations that were the equivalent of if we had slept in a tent in the wilderness for free, they charged us $230. I wasn’t expecting the Hilton, for Pete’s sake, but even a roach motel comes with power outlets! We left there in a terrible mood, feeling ripped off and like they had grossly misrepresented their property on their website.

Anyway… on to a happier subject. From there, we went up the Bogong High Plains Road. And for the first time since coming to Australia, I saw SNOW!!!! Yay!!!!

Yay, snow!

Yay, snow!

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

Partway through our drive along the Bogong High Plains Road, we came upon a town called Bogong. And there was a sign saying there was a hydroelectric plant there with an information center. H said he just HAD to go see this. I thought it would be boring, but it was actually very interesting.

The power plant is owned by AGL and is part of the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme. The water in the photos above is part of the first reservoir in the system of damns. The Bogong plant is about halfway through it and has two huge turbines that are powered by what looks like a rather small creek outside. What I thought was neat is that they have a system whereby they pump water back up to the top and reuse it again.

This creek produces massive amounts of electricity.

This creek produces massive amounts of electricity.

The lady working there told us how they worked and we had a long chat with her about renewable energy sources and such. She told us the plant actually didn’t run on Sundays because Victoria generates more electricity than it needs. With the shrinking of the manufacturing industry, there is far less need for electricity. And as for solar panels, it’s great if you want to use them to generate your own electricity, but they don’t really want you feeding it back into the grid because they already have too much. It was very informative and if you are ever in the area, it’s worth stopping in for a visit.

From there, we drove to the town of Mount Beauty, which lies beneath Mount Bogong, the one of the highest peaks in Australia.

Mount Bogong

Mount Bogong- I love the ring of clouds around the peak.

Mount Beauty is the town down below the mountain. I bet it's a really nice place to live!

Mount Beauty is the town down below the mountain. I bet it’s a really nice place to live!

From Mount Beauty, the drive to Wangaratta- the end (or start, if you come from the other direction) of the Great Alpine Road- it is not too far. We stopped and bought some HUE chestnuts from a roadside stand on the way.

As our long weekend away came to a close, we drove back to Melbourne feeling sad to leave it all behind.

I know I criticise Australia a lot, but mostly I criticise the people and the cities. When it comes to Australia’s natural beauty, it’s hard to think of any other place that could beat it.

Getting out of the city and away from stupid city people and city traffic and city noise reminded me how much I do like this country. It made me realise that I should stop trying to make myself like city living and just start working towards building a future where we will be able to move away from big cities. As a city, Melbourne has some good things going for it, but it’s just not for me. I’d much rather be living on Raymond Island or up in the mountains- somewhere small, quiet, and peaceful. And Australia has plenty of amazing places like that. I hope that soon we can go discover more of them.

Raymond Island

15 Jun

I know I haven’t been updating my blog very regularly. Life is sort of getting in the way, so I don’t have as much free time for blogging as I used to. Eventually, though, I will get all my posts up about our recent trip (well, okay, it was about three weeks ago, now, so not so “recent” anymore).

After Walhalla, we stayed the night at a great bed and breakfast in Bairnsdale, the Dalfruin Bed & Breakfast. We had the BallyVista suite and it was one of the nicest, coziest rooms we have ever had the pleasure of staying in. And by cozy, I don’t mean small. It is a very large suite. This bed and breakfast has a self serve breakfast, which helps keep the price down and is kind of nice because we could just eat in our pajamas and not have to wait to be served. Also, they have a beautiful back garden, with a Canadian maple. I really liked that maple tree, since it reminded me of home and you don’t often see them here.

We debated about whether to go to the Buchan Caves or to Raymond Island. Since we did have to make some headway up the Great Alpine Road to get to our next overnight stop, we could only do one. Raymond Island won out on account of it being less out of our way and because they have KOALAS! And anyone who has read my past posts knows that I am NUTS about koalas! Besides, we’ve seen caves before and once you’ve seen one, you’ve kinda seen them all.

It’s about a 20 minute drive from Bairnsdale to Paynesville. The island is accessible only by ferry. It’s free to cross as a pedestrian or $10 to take your car across. If you’re going to do the koala walk, leave your car in Paynesville (plenty of parking near the ferry), because the koala walk starts in the park right by where you get off the ferry. We took our car across, though, and I’ll tell you why it came in handy later.

The marina as seen from Paynesville.

The marina as seen from Paynesville.

The koala walk takes about 20 minutes on the near side of the island. You can buy a little guide from the honesty box in the park for $2, which I did, because the money goes to help sick and injured koalas. Then you just start walking and follow the signs.

Of course, koalas sleep for something like 22 hours a day, so most of the ones you see will be curled up in a tree, dreaming of eucalyptus leaves. We did find a couple that were just waking up for breakfast though. 🙂 In all, we saw about two dozen koalas.

This fella was wide awake and didn't seem to mind being photographed.

This fella was wide awake and didn’t seem to mind being photographed.

This one was so busy chowing down that it didn't even seem to notice us staring and pointing and telling it how cute it is.

This one was so busy chowing down that it didn’t even seem to notice us staring and pointing and telling it how cute it is.

I tried to convince this one to come down and let me hug and pet him, but he was more interested in scratching himself.

I tried to convince this one to come down and let me hug and pet him, but he was more interested in scratching himself.

We also saw tons of bird life, mostly noisy squawking parrots.

The lorikeets were making a terrible racket! There must have been dozens of them on this person's house and in their yard. I guess they probably have a hard time sleeping in.

The lorikeets were making a terrible racket! There must have been dozens of them on this person’s house and in their yard. I guess they probably have a hard time sleeping in.

The two birdies were cuddling each other. So cute!

The two birdies were cuddling each other. So cute!

I don't think I have ever seen this particular species before, so I don't know what it is, but he was soooo pretty!

I don’t think I have ever seen this particular species before, so I don’t know what it is, but it was soooo pretty!

But we didn’t see very many people, which was nice. The island seemed very peaceful and calm and it was just what we needed on our getaway from the city. No people, no cars, just plants and animals and a cool sea breeze.

Sometimes I wonder if these birds think humans build piers for their convenience.

Sometimes I wonder if these birds think humans build piers for their convenience.

After our koala walk, we wandered around the town a bit and then decided that, since we had brought the car across, it might be nice to drive to the other side of the island. The striking thing about the island is that most of the roads are just dirt. I’m sure that’s fun in the rain! But it does give it a very secluded feel. We drove through large stands of eucalypts and reached the far end of the island, where there were only a few houses.

If this were my commute every day, I don't think I'd mind a bit!

If this were my commute every day, I don’t think I’d mind a bit!

On the Paynesville side of the island, it is quite busy with people coming and going by ferry and all the boats going through the marina. Even though both Raymond Island and Paynesville are small towns, they are sort of holiday towns for retirees and being a weekend, there was a bit of hustle and bustle.

On the far side, there is a quiet beach and nothing else. We saw one sailboat far off near the horizon and that was it. We ended up spending nearly two hours on this beach and it was honestly the best, most perfect part of the trip. I’m not usually one for beaches, but this was nice. It really made us not want to go back home. So when we got back to Paynesville, we went straight to a realtor’s office to look at what sort of properties are for sale out there!

How cool would it be to have this for your backyard?

How cool would it be to have this for your backyard?

And yes, we’re still thinking about moving there!

 

Edit: I couldn’t figure out why this post was getting so many hits and then I found out it has been mentioned on RaymondIsland.net. So hello to all the Raymond Islanders who are stopping by! I am insanely jealous that you get to live there and I don’t. If the day ever comes when my husband and I don’t need our jobs anymore, we’ll be packing up and moving out there straight away! Until then, your little sanctuary will remain one of our favourite getaway spots. 🙂

Walhalla – An Australian Gold Mining Town

7 Jun

For the first time in what seems like forever, we were able to go away for the weekend and explore a new part of Victoria that neither of us had been to before. Woohoo! I’m a bit delayed in writing about it, but better late than never!

We spent the first day of our long weekend at Walhalla, which was once a major gold mining town, but is now largely abandoned. Only 16 people currently live there. However, the town is set up as a holiday destination, with plenty of accommodation from bed and breakfasts to campgrounds.

We didn’t stay overnight, but we did spend a very pleasant afternoon there. Being a Friday and non-peak season, many of the shops were closed and there were very few people around the town.

The highlight of our visit was the tour of the gold mine. Walhalla isn’t like crappy, rip-off Sovereign Hill with all its tourist traps and fakery. Walhalla is the real deal. It’s not a living history museum. It’s a genuine ghost town. And for that reason, I think it is a far better place to visit than Sovereign Hill, not to mention a better value for money.

The Long Tunnel Extension

The Long Tunnel Extension

It took the miners several years, but they finally intercepted a gold containing reef.

It took the miners several years, but they finally intercepted a gold containing reef.

That over there would be the teeny rest area where the miners could eat their lunch.

That over there would be the teeny rest area where the miners could eat their lunch.

Our guide, Sue, had all kinds of stories about people getting killed in the mines and how long it took to dig the mine. Here she was explaining that they had cleared all the trees within 30km of the town to provide fuel for the boilers.

Our guide, Sue, had all kinds of stories about people getting killed in the mines and how long it took to dig the mine. Here she was explaining that they had cleared all the trees within 30km of the town to provide fuel for the boilers.

A neat cross section map of the mine. If you worked at a level about halfway down, it might take you over an hour to reach your post.

A neat cross section map of the mine. If you worked at a level about halfway down, it might take you over an hour to reach your post.

Some interesting factoids from the mining tour:

Ned Stringer, a former convict, was the first to register a gold claim in the area, but he died from tuberculosis before he could return to Stringer’s Creek to profit from his find. However, his find generated over 50 years of intense mining activity.

A boy could start work in the mines at age 16. If he made it to the ripe old age of 24 without being killed, he was considered lucky. If he made it to age 30, they pulled him out to do topside work.

If a miner was killed on the job, the other miners would pool their days wages (£3.10 a day, which was a lot of money back then, especially compared to the national average wage of 50 schillings a day) and give the money to the widow. The widow could use the money for a funeral (there are a lot of very big headstones in the town cemetery- probably not cheap!) or use it to leave town and set up a new life somewhere else. She might stay if she had a son old enough to send into the mines or if she could remarry.

The quartz reef in the mine yielded over 42 tons of gold by 1900. The entire Walhalla goldfield produced 70 tons of gold

The gold found in Walhalla largely funded the building of Collins Street in Melbourne.

The last death in the mines was in 1986 when a company wanted to try to reopen the mine. A man was killed when a section of rock collapsed on him and it took 6 months and $3 million to recover his body. After that, plans to reopen the mine were abandoned.

After the mine tour, we explored the town a bit. One of the coffee shops was open and we had a snack there and I got some postcards in the post office.

The Walhalla Fire Station is actually built over the creek, due to lack of flat ground in the area. The original station burned down in a bush fire, ironically.

The Walhalla Fire Station is actually built over the creek, due to lack of flat ground in the area. The original station burned down in a bush fire, ironically.

Stringer's Creek. Supposedly contaminated with arsenic. I did notice that there were signs warning that the tap water was not suitable for drinking.

Stringer’s Creek. Supposedly contaminated with arsenic. I did notice that there were signs warning that the tap water was not suitable for drinking.

A pretty crimson rosella, doing bird things.

A pretty crimson rosella, doing bird things.

Not sure what kind of parrot this is, but there was a lot of very colourful, noisy bird life around.

Not sure what kind of parrot this is, but there was a lot of very colourful, noisy bird life around.

Peaceful. So nice to be away from the city!

Peaceful. So nice to be away from the city!

This is the former bank vault. The rest of the bank was moved to Moe and the vault was left behind. Naturally, the bank closed when the mines closed.

This is the former bank vault. The rest of the bank was moved to Moe and the vault was left behind. Naturally, the bank closed when the mines closed.

I also wanted to see the cemetery. I don’t know why, but I always like seeing old cemeteries. They do run a ghost tour of the town on weekends, but as we weren’t staying the night, we figured we’d just go visit the ghosts ourselves before leaving.

The cemetery is set on a very steep hillside and doesn’t seem to be very well maintained. The footing is pretty treacherous and we both tripped and slipped a few times.

Many of the headstones are made of wood and the names have worn away long ago. Others are crumbling stone. But a few seem to be cared for on a regular basis and some old graves have had the headstones replaced with new ones in recent years. I always wonder about the forgotten, neglected graves- who those people were, what happened to their families. I suppose it’s not very nice to be lying cold and forgotten in the ground where no one remembers that you ever existed and I always spend a bit of extra time at the forgotten graves, in case no one else does.

Most of the graves are from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. The rest are from the 1980s, probably from when people were drawn back to the town by the prospect of the mines reopening. Some graves contain entire families, including several where none of the children lived to see adulthood and many with teenaged boys who likely died in the mines. It’s quite sad to think of all the families that lost their sons, husbands, and fathers to the mines, all so that other people could get rich.

I have always found cemeteries to be hauntingly beautiful and the cool, autumn day, with the sun already dipping below the tree line, made the cemetery a very peaceful place to be. I suppose if you have to die and be buried, there are much worse places to seek eternal rest than in a quiet, abandoned mountain town.

The path up to the cemetery is lined with all the prehistoric looking plants that are so common in Australia. I love them and half expect to see a dinosaur crossing the path in front of us.

The path up to the cemetery is lined with all the prehistoric looking plants that are so common in Australia. I love them and half expect to see a dinosaur crossing the path in front of us.

This kookaburra didn't seem to mind at all that his constant laughter was disturbing the peace!

This kookaburra didn’t seem to mind at all that his constant laughter was disturbing the peace!

This lonely grave was tucked away into a far corner of the cemetery and was completely inaccessible, due to all the overgrown flora.

This lonely grave was tucked away into a far corner of the cemetery and was completely inaccessible, due to all the overgrown flora.

As you can see, the ground is very steep. There are lots of roots and prickly things just waiting to snare an unwary visitor.

As you can see, the ground is very steep. There are lots of roots and prickly things just waiting to snare an unwary visitor.

We left Walhalla after our visit to the cemetery, as everything was closing up and we still had to make our way to Bairnsdale for the night. On the drive down the mountain, we saw numerous lyrebirds running around, which I have never seen before in the wild. If you’ve never seen one and want to, this is apparently the area to go to!

I definitely recommend Walhalla for anyone interested in gold mining history or anyone who just wants to get away from the city and go somewhere peaceful for a while (like us). There is a lot more to do during peak season and on the weekends, but going on a Friday and being some of the few people there was really nice and relaxing. It’s a place I’d love to go back to.

http://www.visitwalhalla.com/

Good night, LaTrobe Valley!

Good night, LaTrobe Valley!

Werribee Open Range Zoo

12 Feb

I mentioned before that H was going to take me to Werribee Open Range Zoo for my birthday, but I got sick and couldn’t go. Fortunately, we finally got to make the trip out there about a week ago.

The Werribee Zoo has mainly African animals and has been built in a big crater where they have tried to recreate an African savannah and let the animals roam semi-free. In order to see them, you have to go on a “safari” which is included with your admission.

Not all the animals are in the free range area. Only the non-predator animals that get along, like giraffes and zebras. If you want to see lions or gorillas, they have their own enclosures.

I took some pictures to share with you.

A one-humped camel. I didn't see any two-humped camels. And I don't know if these camels really came from Africa or if they just scooped these guys up out of one of the rogue Outback herds.

A one-humped camel. I didn’t see any two-humped camels. And I don’t know if these camels really came from Africa or if they just scooped these guys up out of one of the rogue Outback herds.

American bison. They don't actually live in Africa, but they are a threatened species and I guess the zoo just wants to help keep them alive. And since they are a grassland species, they fit right in with the rest of the animals.

American bison. They don’t actually live in Africa, but they are a threatened species and I guess the zoo just wants to help keep them alive. And since they are a grassland species, they fit right in with the rest of the animals.

Scimitar-horned oryx are extinct in the wild and now only live in captivity. They used to live in herds of over 1000, but now most are fewer than 20.

Scimitar-horned oryx are extinct in the wild and now only live in captivity. They used to live in herds of over 1000, but now most are fewer than 20.

The Przewalski horse, or Mongolian wild horse, is the last truly wild horse in the world and has never been tamed by humans. It is native to Asia and parts of Europe, but being a grasslands animal, has managed to fit in at Werribee.

The Przewalski horse, or Mongolian wild horse, is the last truly wild horse in the world and has never been tamed by humans. It is native to Asia and parts of Europe, but being a grasslands animal, has managed to fit in at Werribee.

Przewalski horses died out in the wild in the late 1960s. It exists today only because of captive breeding programs and all Przewalski horses alive today are descended from nine horses that had been in captivity in 1945. Fortunately, these horses have been successfully reintroduced into the wild in Mongolia and there are now about 300 wild horses.

Przewalski horses died out in the wild in the late 1960s. It exists today only because of captive breeding programs and all Przewalski horses alive today are descended from nine horses that had been in captivity in 1945. Fortunately, these horses have been successfully reintroduced into the wild in Mongolia and there are now about 300 wild horses.

The addax is critically endangered, having been overhunted for its prized meat and skin. Fewer than 500 are thought to exist in the wild today.

The addax is critically endangered, having been overhunted for its prized meat and skin. Fewer than 500 are thought to exist in the wild today.

The grasslands animals have a huge area in which to roam.

The grasslands animals have a huge area in which to roam.

The wetlands area of the open range section. All the wetlands animals were off napping somewhere.

The wetlands area of the open range section. All the wetlands animals were off napping somewhere.

Zebras! I was so excited to see them, but unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the bus to get very many picture.

Zebras! I was so excited to see them, but unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the bus to get very many pictures.

Two funny giraffes. Did you know they have blue tongues? It helps keep their tongues from getting sunburned. Fortunately, giraffes are not endangered. Werribee has about seven giraffes, all male.

Two funny giraffes. Did you know they have blue tongues? It helps keep their tongues from getting sunburned. Fortunately, giraffes are not endangered. Werribee has about seven giraffes, all male.

The common eland is a type of African plains antelope. Fortunately, they are not endangered, though their population is decreasing. They are the second largest antelope in the world, after the giant eland.

The common eland is a type of African plains antelope. Fortunately, they are not endangered, though their population is decreasing. They are the second largest antelope in the world, after the giant eland.

These southern white rhinos were happy to just watch us go by. They are one of five species of rhinoceros that still exist. Their only predator is humans and they are under threat from habitat loss and poaching. Their horns are especially prized on the black market. While a rhino can survive without its horn- their horns are sometimes removed preemptively and very gently to discourage poaching- poachers often hack it off with a chainsaw or machete, causing serious harm to the animal and leaving it to die from blood loss and stress. A rhino's horn is worth its weight in gold on the black market.

These southern white rhinos were happy to just watch us go by. They are one of five species of rhinoceros that still exist. Their only predator is humans and they are under threat from habitat loss and poaching. Their horns are especially prized on the black market. While a rhino can survive without its horn- their horns are sometimes removed preemptively and very gently to discourage poaching- poachers often hack it off with a chainsaw or machete, causing serious harm to the animal and leaving it to die from blood loss and stress. A rhino’s horn is worth its weight in gold on the black market.

This is Leeroy. Our guide told us that he is very funny and gets bothered by the different species of animals socialising together and will try to herd zebras with zebras, giraffes with giraffes, etc and will go around herding until they are all segregated.

This is Leeroy. Our guide told us that he is very funny and gets bothered by the different species of animals socialising together and will try to herd zebras with zebras, giraffes with giraffes, etc and will go around herding until they are all segregated.

A  whole zebra family and this time they were on my side of the bus! How cute is that baby zebra???

A whole zebra family and this time they were on my side of the bus! How cute is that baby zebra???

The zoo has three male gorillas. Werribee Zoo is a sort of holding facility for male gorillas that take part in international breeding programs. They are endangered in the wild.

The zoo has three male gorillas. Werribee Zoo is a sort of holding facility for male gorillas that take part in international breeding programs. They are endangered in the wild.

Meerkats live in southern Africa and belong to the mongoose family. They are burrowers and can dig up to 400 holes a day. They also appear to be immune to snake and scorpion venom.

Meerkats live in southern Africa and belong to the mongoose family. They are burrowers and can dig up to 400 holes a day. They also appear to be immune to snake and scorpion venom.

The vervet monkeys were some of the few very active animals we saw. (Most were just resting.) Vervet monkeys exhibit a lot of human-like traits, including very strong kin relationships, anxiety, dependent alcohol use, and spite. They have four predators (leopards, eagles, pythons, and baboons) and have a distinct call for each. They should perhaps develop a call for humans because, while not endangered, they are facing threats from human encroachment, including loss of territory, electrocution, vehicles, and being captured for bush meat, use in traditional medicine, or biomedical research.

The vervet monkeys were some of the few very active animals we saw. (Most were just resting.) Vervet monkeys exhibit a lot of human-like traits, including very strong kin relationships, anxiety, dependent alcohol use, and spite. They have four predators (leopards, eagles, pythons, and baboons) and have a distinct call for each. They should perhaps develop a call for humans because, while not endangered, they are facing threats from human encroachment, including loss of territory, electrocution, vehicles, and being captured for bush meat, use in traditional medicine, or biomedical research.

Hippopotamus spend most of their day wallowing in mud or water. In order to keep from getting suburned, their skin secretes a natural sunscreen, which has a pinkish tint to it. Hippos are listed as a vulnerable species. Baby hippos are subject to predation by crocodiles, lions, and hyenas, but adult hippos are left along due to their size and aggressive temperament. They are subject to poaching from humans for their ivory teeth.

Hippopotamus spend most of their day wallowing in mud or water. In order to keep from getting sunburned, their skin secretes a natural sunscreen, which has a pinkish tint to it. Hippos are listed as a vulnerable species. Baby hippos are subject to predation by crocodiles, lions, and hyenas, but adult hippos are left along due to their size and aggressive temperament. They are subject to poaching from humans for their ivory teeth.

These two cheetahs are two adolescent brothers. Cheetahs are the fastest land animal and can run up to 70 mph or 112 kph.

These two cheetahs are two adolescent brothers. Cheetahs are the fastest land animal and can run up to 70 mph or 112 kph.

Every day, there is a serval demonstration, where the keeper brings out a serval and gets it to leap around and be adorable while explaining why servals do what they do. I'd love to be able to tell you more about it, but honestly, I couldn't hear anything the keeper said because there was a very rude mother behind me who let her child scream in my ear the entire time. But since most of the animals are not that active during the day, this is one of the few chances you'll get to see one of them doing something other than resting.

Every day, there is a serval demonstration, where the keeper brings out a serval and gets it to leap around and be adorable while explaining why servals do what they do. I’d love to be able to tell you more about it, but honestly, I couldn’t hear anything the keeper said because there was a very rude mother behind me who let her child scream in my ear the entire time. But since most of the animals are not that active during the day, this is one of the few chances you’ll get to see one of them doing something other than resting.

We had to come back to the lion exhibit three times before we finally saw one. I'm glad my camera has a decent zoom lens because this picture has much better detail than what we were actually able to see. The zoo has three male lions and one female. Sadly, their population in the wild is rapidly decreasing and most wild lion populations are isolated from each other, causing inbreeding.

We had to come back to the lion exhibit three times before we finally saw one. I’m glad my camera has a decent zoom lens because this picture has much better detail than what we were actually able to see. The zoo has three male lions and one female. Sadly, their population in the wild is rapidly decreasing and most wild lion populations are isolated from each other, causing inbreeding.

The Werribee Open Range Zoo is not a huge zoo. You can spend maybe three hours there before you’ve seen everything you want to see, assuming all the animals are visible. (We didn’t see any African wild dogs, since they were just not active, and almost missed the lions.)

The safari to see the grasslands animals is probably the best part. It’s a bit difficult to see the animals that are in enclosures, but the safari animals are free roaming and you can get pretty close to them.

I was also really looking forward to the serval demonstration because I really like servals. Well, I like all wild cats, but servals are very cute. I love their spots. Unfortunately, at places like zoos, you always have selfish people who don’t care if they ruin the experience for everyone else.

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but I have a message for parents: If your child still needs afternoon naps, don’t drag them around a zoo all day long. Your kid is tired and cranky by 2pm and they need a rest from all the excitement. Make sure they get it because no one else wants to hear your screaming brat and your screaming brat is miserable and you’re a terrible parent for ignoring their needs. If you, the parent, want to see the serval demonstration, then get a babysitter and leave your kid at home. Your toddler is not interested in what the keeper has to say, but we adults who paid for our own tickets are interested and want to be able to hear what he is saying without your brat screaming throughout the entire thing. So let me make it simple in case you didn’t know why everyone was giving you the stink eye: please just leave because no one likes you.

As much as I liked seeing all the animals, by the end of the day, H and I were both a bit depressed. The whole day was basically, “Look at this animal; it’s going extinct,” and “Look at this animal, it’s extinct in the wild,” and “Look at this animal, it’s severely endangered because of poaching,” and so on. It’s really sad to see all these majestic animals and know they are struggling to survive and that in most cases, humans are to blame. I’m glad we have zoos that run conservation and breeding programs to keep them alive, but it’s still very depressing.

But if you can get past that, then Werribee is a neat zoo and worth visiting. I don’t know of any other zoo that takes you on a mini safari. I admit I did like Healesville Sanctuary a lot better (there’s more to do and see there) and I haven’t been to the Melbourne Zoo yet, but it’s not bad for what it is.

Melbourne Christmas Square

20 Dec

Welcome to Christmas Square!

Nutcracker sentries

I’ve been surprised by the number of public Nativity displays in Melbourne, considering the country’s overall obsession with political correctness.

There is an animated display of the Nativity story for children to enjoy.

A random Christmas wombat?

A beautifully decorated tree stands out among the surrounding high rise buildings.

People enjoying the little hedge maze, looking for all of Santa’s reindeer.

Santa’s reindeer are hidden throughout the maze. Here is Cupid, along with a short story on how he got his name.

Here’s Blitzen. According to his story, he is electrically charged!

These nutcrackers are stationed at each entrance.

A quiet respite among the hustle and bustle of the city.

The square was packed with people enjoying the nice weather, or perhaps just taking a break from Christmas shopping.

Giant sized ornaments!

I noticed the hedges had Christmas lights running through them. Maybe worth visiting at night time when they are all lit up.

Schoolchildren out enjoying the day, maybe an end of term celebration. They are so cute in their little hats.

The Melbourne Christmas Square is located at the corner of Swanston and Collins in the CBD and runs through January 3.

This blogger has posted some nice shots of the Square at night time.

Myer Christmas Windows

13 Dec

Every year at Christmas time, the Myer department store in downtown Melbourne puts up a big animated window display. This year, the children’s book “Russell’s Christmas Magic”, by Rob Scotton, was chosen for the Myer Christmas Windows.

If you find yourself in the area, you should stop by to check it out. The large storefront windows have all been converted into animated displays, telling the story of Russell the sheep, who comes to Santa’s aid when he crash lands his sleigh. Santa, with his sleigh broken, thinks he will have to cancel Christmas, but Russell saves the day by converting an old car into a magical gift-carrying machine.

Myer also has a short little “making of” video here: http://www.myer.com.au/home_christmas-windows.aspx

The display runs through January 6th, so you still have plenty of time to go see it if you haven’t done so yet.

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

Samsung 06Dec2012 012

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

myer christmas window

The Royal Melbourne Show

2 Oct

On Sunday, we went to the Royal Melbourne Show, which is kind of like a state fair. Actually, it’s almost exactly like a state fair, only on a slightly smaller scale. There are the usual livestock and craft competitions and carnival rides and all that sort of stuff. But I hadn’t been to a state fair in many, many years, so it was fun to experience it again, Australian-style. And I took lots of photos with my new camera. (It turns out a new camera doesn’t make one a better photographer, though. Who knew?)

First we walked past a dog competition. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but it seemed like the dog was supposed to retrieve an egg and deliver it to the handler without breaking it. He did pretty well!

dogshow

Our first official stop was the poultry pavilion, with ducks, turkeys, chickens, and lots of feather and squawking.

Some cute ducks.

A plucky rooster.

The cutest, goofiest looking chickens I have ever seen.

We wandered past a few rides, but we didn’t go on any for two reasons: 1) They are pretty expensive, and 2) after H’s bad experience at Knott’s Berry Farm where he puked his guts out, we decided any rides had the potential to ruin the day completely. I really don’t like vomit.

There were cooking demonstrations scattered throughout the show. This one was about how to prepare lamb, in the “paddock to plate” pavilion.

Plenty of activities for kids, too, including pony rides. I wanted to ride a pony, but G thought I was too big and would break the pony’s back. I don’t know why I let him get away with saying that!
And of course, there is the obligatory Ferris wheel, from which one can presumably see the non-operational Southern Star Ferris wheel, which overlooks the industrial wasteland of the Docklands area

Eventually, we started to get pretty hungry and H wanted to try these things. He liked them, I didn’t.  They were filled with some spicy beef mixture and olives, which was okay, but the crust was really dry and they were very messy to eat.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Royal Melbourne Show was the peculiar Australian tradition of “showbags”. I’ve never seen this in America, and as I understand it, it’s something unique to Australia. What are showbags, you ask? They are bags with all sorts of goodies in them, usually following some sort of theme.

For example, if you really love Skittles, you might get a Skittles showbag with a variety of different kinds of Skittles in it, or same goes for Tim Tams. Most of these bags contain junk food or cheap plastic children’s toys from China, but some of the ones geared towards adults have some useful stuff, like coupons or product samples or whatever. The bags usually cost about $10 or $20 each, depending what’s in them, but there are some that cost a bit more or less. Generally, the value of the products inside well exceeds the price you pay, so I guess a lot of people think they are getting a great deal on them.

It used to be that showbags were for the agricultural industry to showcase their latest products and get them into the hands of the public, but now it has turned into something much more commercialised. However, the showbags pavilion is definitely the most popular area of the whole showgrounds, with a massive queue just to get in and everyone packed shoulder to shoulder inside, so tight you can barely move.

Seriously. A whole pavilion for this. And it was the most crowded place in the entire showgrounds.

The queue from the back.

Halfway through the queue, thinking this better be worth it!

A selection of showbags. I got a couple from here, but it was the only counter that I could actually squeeze my way up to.

Showbags for candy and other junk food. Most of these didn’t seem like an especially good deal to me, but I guess if you’re used to paying $3 for a candy bar normally, then five for $10 seems like a steal.

Later at home, I emptied out the two I bought, so you can see what’s in some of them. I got the Women’s Health one and the Marie Claire one, both for $20 each. Aside from the magazines, they mainly just had coupons and product samples.

After fighting through the throngs in the showbag pavilion, we decided to go somewhere more civilised and ended up in the arts, crafts, and cookery pavilion, which had all kinds of things on display. Here’s a sampling:

A spinning demonstration

This was made entirely from eggshells. How cool is that?!

Our next stop was the livestock pavilion. For some reason, H really wanted to see the cows and sheep!

Baby lamb! So cute!

I just want to bury my face in their wool!!!

More babies! Squee!!!

This poor fella had hay stuck on his face that he couldn’t shake off.

We watched a cow judging competition and this one was the winner. However, after they put the sash over her, she started to have fits and tried to shake it off. I guess she didn’t like her prize!

There were all kinds of cows, from hairy ones…

…to gigantic, meaty ones…

… to white baby ones!

After seeing some cows and sheep, we figured we’d head over to the wood chop pavilion to see if there was anything going on there. Here are a few sights we passed along the way:

Daffodils are my favourite flower! I never knew they came in so many varieties before and I especially liked the white and pink ones.

Yes, the euro is indeed sliding these days… har har 😉

Fortunately, we were able to catch the end of the woodchop competition, which was pretty neat to watch. The youngest competitor (who was actually really good) was only 15!

The winner (from Victoria!) was presented with a golden axe.

We decided to leave around 5pm, having seen most of what we wanted to see. I don’t know if the Royal Melbourne Show is something I’d do every year, but maybe every other year. We definitely had a good time and it was cool to see a state fair, Australia-style. On that note, I’ll leave you with a picture of a gigantic inflatable crocodile!