AUSTRALIA DAY 10 – MELBOURNE

20180327_092716.jpg

Today is our last full day in Melbourne! It was nice to be back in the city again after being on day trips for the last two days. We started off the day with a delicious French breakfast at Roule Galette. The restaurant is split up in two locations – the dining area on one side and the kitchen on the other. We ordered the chicken avocado and truffle salmon galettes as well as the maple syrup crepe.

My aunt ordered the flat white and I had the organic apple cider. Food and drinks here were amazing! You know the food is authentic when it is served by staff with French accents!  The galettes and crepe were cooked just right and were piled with fresh ingredients. The service was also excellent. I highly recommend this café!

20180327_093225.jpg

After a delicious breakfast, we visited the infamous Hoiser Lane. I can’t emphasize this enough…come early during the day so you can get pictures without being photo bombed!

20180327_092252.jpg

We got here around 10 a.m. so it was not too bad. We were able to take our time to look at all the artwork and get some nice pictures with it. There was a musk coming from the garbage cans as there are quite a few here but it was still bearable.

20180327_102239.jpg

Hoiser lane is an area where artists can legally do graffiti art on the street. Each time you come here, the artwork you see will be unique as new ones would have been drawn over old ones.

20180327_102250.jpg

Later on in the free walking tour, we found out that there’s an artwork here drawn by a famous Australian artist of a native boy. In one of his eyes, you will see a reflection of his past while in the other eye, a reflection of his future which is to signify the change experienced by the first nations in the country throughout time. We spent a good 45 minutes here taking photos before we headed off to our next destination, the Queen Victoria Market.

20180327_104429.jpg

The Queen Victoria Market is only open on select days and time so make sure you check the hours before visiting. This was probably my favourite shopping stop on this entire trip so I highly recommend a visit here. I allocated two hours for the market but we ended up spending three hours here and still not getting through the whole thing! This market was way larger than I expected and there was way more to see so I would say three hours is a safe amount of time to allocate here. They only have paid parking here so I would recommend catching a Uber here to save a few dollars.

20180327_111133.jpg

The market is divided into three areas – souvenirs, cooked food and produce. We spent three hours alone in the souvenir section! There were at least six rows of souvenir shops which stretched for three blocks.

20180327_111202.jpg

Although some shops sold similar souvenir items like the boomerangs or koala plush toys, we did see some unique items such as rugs made from Australian wool, Ugg lookalikes, and handmade leather wallets. The prices are very reasonable here and unfortunately, we were only able to bargain at one stall! If you need to pick up some souvenirs, this market is a one-stop shop.

20180327_121015.jpg

I bought two pairs of Ugg lookalikes here for $69.99 each which was really good quality and the designs were very unique. They also had a large selection of sizes and colour to choose from. They also accept credit card so you don’t have to worry about running out of cash! I also purchased a customized leather wallet here which I absolutely love! They have many different styles and colour to choose from as well. They also have various embellishments you can add to customize it to your liking and they will engrave your name for free. My wallet came up to $45 which is a steal for the quality and the customization!

20180327_143601.jpg

Since we went overtime at the market, we had to forgo our fancy lunch and we had to grab something quick to eat before our free walking tour. We grabbed some dim sum at a small Chinese stand across the street and the food actually turned out to be pretty delicious. Melbourne definitely lives up to their name as the city with the best food in Australia! We sat and ate our lunch as we waited for others to arrive for the free tour. We had a large group that day so we were split off into two groups. The walking tour was approximately 2.5 hours long and you got to see a glimpse of the different areas in Melbourne while learning about the history of its development. I felt the tour is a good way to get a general understanding of each area but you will have to come back to it on your own time to truly see everything. No reservation is required for the tour. You simply show up at the State Library of Victoria and look for the tour guide wearing the free walking tour t-shirt. Since the tour is free, a tip is highly recommended at the end based on what you think the tour is worth. We paid $50 for the three of us.

20180327_150053.jpg

We first started outside of the Old Melbourne Gaol to learn about how the city started as a prison for British Convict. We learned about the infamous Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, who was sent to the gaol and later hanged for murder. The 2003 movie Ned Kelly was based on this true story. We then walked over to Chinatown where our tour guide told us a little about the history of Chinese immigrants in Australia and where was the best place to grab steamed dumplings in town.

20180327_152752.jpg

From Chinatown we headed over to Pellegrini’s which serves Melbourne’s best coffee for the last 60 years. It is an Espresso bar which serves cheap but delicious Italian food and they have no menus with prices!

20180327_153410.jpg

We then sat outside the steps of Melbourne’s Town Hall where our tour guide told us about its history and talked about the history of performing arts in the city.

20180327_154207.jpg

She told us that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be playing in Melbourne in 2019 so if you are a Harry Potter fan, you must go to check it out!

20180327_154550.jpg

We stopped for a bathroom break at Collin’s Place before heading over to the AC/DC Lane. This lane was dedicated to Malcolm Young, a member of the Australian hard rock band, AC/DC when he passed away in 2017. The artwork in this lane is very well done! We also stopped by the Hoiser Lane but it was a very brief stop. There were many people gathered at the lane now so it was a good thing that we came for pictures earlier!

While we passed by the posters, our tour guide told us that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival was coming up soon and it is one of the biggest Comedy Festivals in the world. How I wish we were in town for that! We walked across the Princes Bridge to our final stop, the Hamer Hall, which is the art center for Melbourne.

Our tour guide told us that Sydney Opera House has the best physical structure but the Hamer Hall has the best sound system in Australia.  I can’t really comment on that as I did not watch any performances in the Hamer Hall.

20180327_171535.jpg

From the Hamer Hall, we took an Uber to Brighton Beach, which was about a 45-minute drive away during rush hour. After seeing pictures of the colourful bathing boxes, I knew that we had to make a stop here.

20180327_193008.jpg

Brighton is an affluent coastal suburb of Melbourne and there are 85 bathing boxes here which date back to the 1900s.

20180327_183531.jpg

Brighton Beach is one of the most popular beach destination in the state of Victoria.  We spent about an hour here walking from the first bath box all the way to the last one and then back. Each bath box was unique so it was a great deal of fun checking out each one.

20180327_184947.jpg

We stayed at the beach after sunset so we got some stunning pictures of the bath boxes both before and after the sunset.

20180327_184959.jpg

We had an interesting ride back to the city as we chatted away with our Uber driver who had moved to Melbourne about a year ago from Dubai. It was sad to hear that he still had to work as a Uber driver after his full time job in the office in order to support his family in Melbourne. Melbourne housing prices are equally as bad as Vancouver’s! He dropped us off for dinner at Ezard where we had made dinner reservations. We wanted to have a fancy dinner for our last dinner in Melbourne so I picked this place based on online reviews. With any fancy restaurants, you would of course expect a pricier menu. We were able to get away with only a $300 damage after tips and full bellies which is not too bad. For drinks, my aunt ordered the flat white (her favourite drink this trip) and I ordered this non-alcoholic drink called The rise of rose. My drink was pretty good, bubbly with a strong rose scent. For appetizers, we shared two oyster shooters, scallop dumpling and the Western Australian marron. The oyster shooters were served in ponzu sauce and Japanese sake.They were very fresh and the Japanese sake gave it a nice, sweet kick.

20180327_210259.jpg

The steamed scallop dumplings were served in a broth with white fungi and basil. It tasted a little like the shrimp dumplings you have in dim sum!

20180327_211549.jpg

The marron was fresh and it was paired with interesting ingredients such as granola and nasturtium. The dish came in a tomato-coloured casing which was also really neat.

20180327_212629.jpgThe restaurant also served us a free appetizer which was some sort of pickled cucumber with masago.

20180327_205015.jpg

For entrees, we had the barramundi, Ora salmon and the Chinese style duck. We shared the three dishes so we could try each one.

All three dishes were fresh, flavourful and well presented but my favourite was the barramundi. The chef did an excellent job to ensure the fish meat was succulent while giving the skin a nice crisp finish.

20180327_214653.jpg

We also got an order of Crème Royale potatoes with miso and wasabi butter to share.

20180327_214721.jpg

Overall, the food was amazing and each dish was so well thought out by the chef. The pairing of each dish was so unique. Who would have thought that Western-Japanese fusion dishes would taste so delicious! The only complaint I have about our dining experience at Ezard was the service. Our server disappeared half the time and towards the end, we were assigned a new server without any notification beforehand. I would have given this restaurant a 9 but decided to knock it down to 7.5 due to the service!

20180327_221432.jpg

After a delicious meal, it was time to head back to our hotel to get packing for our last stop, Sydney! Melbourne is a lovely city and I wish we had spent a little more time here! Food was amazing, the city was bustling but not overly crowded and there were so many things to do! I was joking with my fiancé that we should move to Melbourne and live here for a while…. Melbourne and Vancouver are quite similar in many ways. Who knows! Maybe one day we will!

AUSTRALIA DAY 9 – GREAT OCEAN ROAD

20180326_100538.jpg

It was another early morning for us that day as we had signed up for the Great Ocean Road tour with Bunyip Tours. We were waiting outside the meeting point at 6:50 a.m. and it was a chilly morning. Our first stop was a washroom and biscuit break after a 1.5-hour ride on the bus in a small town. After another hour drive, we finally arrived at the Great Ocean Road memorial arch, which is where the Great Ocean Road begins.

20180326_100528.jpg

The Great Ocean Road was a project completed by the soldiers who returned from World War I looking for work. It is dedicated as a memorial but also the road was built to connect the settlements who were living by the coast as previously these settlements were only accessible by sea or bush track. The construction began in 1919 and took three years to complete. The road stretches 244 kilometres and is difficult to drive through as there is only one lane in each direction and the speed limit varies from 50 km to 100 km/hour. The roads are also very windy and narrow. The Great Ocean Road travels alongside vertical cliffs which are susceptible to erosion so there are possible rockfalls.  However, it is one of the most scenic drives as it traverses through rainforests, beaches and cliffs while providing visibility of the Bass Strait and Southern Ocean.

Next stop again was a washroom break but it was a good spot to snap a picture of the nice beach. There were also many wild, white cockatoos here.

20180326_104349

After another 45 minute drive, we stopped at a spot where wild koalas and cockatoos are frequently spotted. We only managed to find one koala but there were lots of cockatoos. Our tour guide gave us some seeds to feed them and they were not shy about eating from your hands! I have a phobia of animals with sharp beaks so I was very nervous about feeding the birds. However, I figured that this was probably one of those rare opportunities so I decided to do it anyways. While one was eating off my hand, another one flew on top of my head! Thank goodness I was wearing a hat!

We drove a little further and stopped at a stopping point for photos of the beautiful shoreline. Next stop was finally lunchtime!

20180326_121513

We had lunch at the Iluka Café and we had a choice between roast chicken, fish and chips or lamb shawarma. Between the three of us, we ordered one of each and the food tasted pretty delicious.

After an hour lunch break, we were back on the bus and headed for the Twelve Apostles at the Port Campbell National Park. I believe we were originally supposed to make a stop at another attraction but unfortunately the attraction was closed as they were doing repairs on the damage from the forest fire last week.

The Twelve Apostle is a collection of limestone stacks and were formed by erosion. There was previously nine but the ninth one collapsed back in 2005. The limestones have no connection to the biblical reference. It was simply a name they used in lieu of its previous one, Sow and Pigs. There were many people here when we visited but we were still able to get very clear, beautiful shots of the limestones.

We drove a little further down the Port Campbell National Park to see the London Arch, Loch Ard Gorge, and the Razorback. Each one of these have its own observation area which made it easy to snap some nice pictures.

20180326_162226.jpg

The London Arch was previously called the London bridge due to its similarity to its namesake but got renamed when the arch collapsed in 1990.

On the other hand, the gorge was named after the ship Loch Ard which ran aground on its way to Melbourne. Only two out of 54 passengers survived and the rock pillars are named after them, Tom and Eva.

The Loch Ard Gorge was my favourie of the three but required walking up and down a steep staircase.

20180326_160123

However, the photos are totally worth it! Even though the weather was not the greatest when we visited, the photos still turned out really nice. Each one looks just like a postcard!

When we were visiting the Razorback, we also saw a rainbow!

20180326_163926.jpg

The next stop was Gibson Steps but not many people from our tour decided to get off the bus for this one as it was raining really hard and the walk down was very steep. It was a little tiring but I felt the photos taken were worth the trip! The Steps are named after the person who built a staircase for visitors to get a closer look of the twelve apostles from below.

We made our last washroom stop and grabbed some food to eat before we headed back home. We saw a double rainbow at the gas station which was really neat as I have never seen one before! The ride back was three hours long. We had a long, busy day so we napped for a bit on our ride home. I am glad we decided to do the Great Ocean Road on a tour rather than driving ourselves as it would have been a very exhausting drive! The price of the tour is reasonable so I think it is better to sit back, relax and enjoy as a passenger rather than doing the drive yourself.

20180326_183443.jpg

After we got dropped off around 8 pm, we decided to go for dinner at Chin Chin, an Asian fusion restaurant that my friend highly recommended. There was a 30 minute wait so we decided to go for a walk and come back. Although it was a Monday night, Melbourne CBD was still very busy. We did not get very far in our stroll when they texted us to tell us that the table was ready.

The restaurant was jam packed and there were still many people lining up outside. It was also very loud with music playing in the background so it was a little difficult to hear each other.

20180326_212706.jpg

After reading the reviews online, we decided to order the braised wagyu beef pad seuw, caramelised sticky pork, crispy skinned duck and a bowl of coconut rice to share.

20180326_215413

All the dishes were very delicious and very strong in flavour.

20180326_215407.jpg

I am not sure if they put a lot of MSG or spices in their food, but I had to drink lots of water to wash down the flavour after dinner. The duck was very crispy as the name suggests and was paired with a nice ginger soya sauce.

20180326_215421.jpg

The sticky pork was not too bad but my favourite was the pad seuw. This was a creative dish as I have never had rice rolls stir fried with meat before. Surprisingly, it tastes pretty good with beef! I think I will try to make this at home.

20180326_214715.jpg

Price was reasonable and the service was good. Our dining experience at Chin Chin was a great way to end the night!

AUSTRALIA DAY 8 – PHILLIP ISLAND

Since we had a long day yesterday, we had a chance to sleep in a little longer this morning. Our Phillip Island penguin tour starts at 10:40 am so we had time to grab breakfast before we headed out. I picked the Felt Restaurant which is located inside Hotel Lindrum. The restaurant was only a few minutes’ walk away. The food was delicious and the dishes were unique but unfortunately the wait was just unreasonably long. We waited almost 45 minutes for our food despite following up a few times. Even our drinks took 30 minutes! We ordered the Chorizo & ranchero baked eggs, Cured trout, Potato hash & Caviar, and Free Range Eggs on Toast. I think the restaurant is worth a try but go when you have some spare time.

20180325_162408.jpg

After lunch we headed to our pick-up point for the tour with Bunyip Tours. We were the first stop so the coach arrived promptly. We picked up a few more people along the way and headed to our first attraction, the Moonlit Sanctuary. Shortly after we arrived, we were served lunch in their cafeteria. There was potato salad, bread, sautéed onions and chicken and beef sausages. The beef sausage was horrible but the rest was not too bad.

After lunch, we were given free time to look around the sanctuary. This was one of my favourite zoo visits because there are lots of kangaroos and wallabies to feed! When we were at the other zoos, the animals did not even want to eat because there were so many people feeding them. Make sure you buy the seeds at the entrance because that is the only place where they sell them. Otherwise, you will have to walk all the way back to buy them which is what we had to do after realizing that the seeds will actually come in handy here! We had a great deal of fun feeding the kangaroos and wallabies as well as seeing the other Australian animals such as Tasmanian Devil and Dingoes up close.

Our second stop was the Churchill Island Heritage Farm. We were given some free time here to see various farming activities and do some shopping at the souvenir shop. While we were there, we got a chance to see the whip cracking, working dogs and sheep shearing demonstrations.

The highlight here was definitely the sheep shearing. Inside the wool shed, the farmer demonstrated how to shear a sheep in just minutes. At first, it was a little unbearable to watch as the farmer held down the sheep to shear it. However, the farmer did explain that if you do the shearing correctly, the sheep is completely unharmed. After the demonstration was over, we got a chance to see the sheep wool and the sheared sheep up close. The sheared sheep look so much smaller afterwards!

There is also a heritage house on site where you can walk around to see the preserved furniture in various rooms. Make sure you leave enough time in the souvenir shop because there is so much to see there! We were in such a rush but we still managed to buy some sheep oil lanolin cream and merino wool products. Merino wool is a high-quality wool that is sold mostly in New Zealand but also in Australia. It is known for its softness and ability to preserve warmth.

After the farm, we visited the Koala Conservation Center. Unlike the other zoos, koalas here are wild and are found in their natural habitat. There are only 30 koalas in the center and we made it a game to locate all of them.

20180325_162356

We managed to find 25 so we did a pretty good job! It was difficult to spot some of the koalas because the center is so big and the trees are very tall. Our necks were sore by the end of the visit from looking up the whole time! There is also a gift shop and small cafeteria here as well. We grabbed a light snack before we headed to our next stop.

We still had some spare time before we headed over to the penguin parade so our tour guide took us to this nice beach on the island. The weather was gorgeous and we spent some time playing in the water.

Our tour guide then took us to the Nobbies Ocean Discovery Center for us to grab some dinner and look for seals. We had no luck with either unfortunately! The Center was about to close so they stopped serving food and the weather was getting bad so I guess all the seals went hiding! It was still nice for us to be able to see the penguins’ homes (i.e. boxes built by the park rangers) up close. We even got to see ONE penguin hiding away!

Finally, we arrived at the Penguin Parade which was what we have been looking forward to the whole day! Everyone got distributed their respective passes and we got our fancy VIP tour lanyards!

20180325_191328.jpg

We were behind schedule when we arrived and the presentation from the park ranger had already begun! Since we did not have dinner yet, we quickly grabbed some food at the cafeteria and went to join them upstairs. The dinner was surprisingly good here! We ordered the beef burger, salmon with pesto sauce and roast beef. Even though we had to wolf down the dinner in 15 minutes before we headed out to see the penguins, we still enjoyed the food!

20180325_192104.jpg

Our park ranger gave a 15-minute presentation to explain their preservation project on the island and what happens during the penguin parade. No pictures are allowed once you are outside as it may harm the eyesight of the penguins. However, there were two stuffed penguins in the room which we were allowed to touch and photograph. The penguin fur was surprisingly soft!

After the presentation, our park ranger took us outside to their skybox where we got to see the penguins come onshore with our own binoculars. It was raining really badly at this point so I was really glad we had picked the VIP option which allowed us to see the parade in a warm and dry place while everyone else had to sit outside in the bleachers in the rain! There are four viewing options, two which are uncovered and two which are covered. Prices are more expensive for the covered options. Other than the advantage of staying dry, there are less people in the VIP tour so you do not have to worry about your view being blocked by the people in front of you. The crowd is substantial once the sun sets! It was also nice that we could hear the park rangers call in to the tower with their counts of penguins that they see which had come onto shore. The park rangers do a count every night after sunset to determine how many penguins return to their homes.

20180325_192114.jpg

The reason why the penguins return home after the sun sets is because they are afraid of being eaten by their predators when they come on shore. The mother will bring back food for her babies by carrying it in their mouths. Despite the fact that many penguin babies are crying for their mothers at the same time, each penguin is able to differentiate between the calling of their baby so they know their way home. The mother penguins are exhausted after they come onshore from the swim so often times they will stand and rest for a bit before they make their way back home.

20180325_191433.jpg

At first, there were not too many penguins coming on shore. However, after about 20 minutes or so, many of them were coming on shore in groups. It was really neat to see such a large group of wild penguins up close! The Little Penguins are so adorable as they are small in size and they are clumsy, sometimes tripping over each other or running into things! Even though we were soaked by this point, we were having so much fun that we did not mind the rain. Once we saw that most penguins have already returned to their homes, we went inside to dry off and look at the souvenir shop. My aunt really wanted to do the souvenir photos so we lined up for that. The photo turned out really nice so I am glad we did do it. There were lots to see in the souvenir shop but unfortunately, we were tight on time. We bought a few items and went back to our bus for our ride home. We were the last ones to leave as all the other tour groups have left already!

20180325_205918.jpg

The ride home was about 3 hours so it was very late when we got back to our hotel. I really applaud our tour guide as he drove nonstop for 3 hours in the pouring rain after a very long day! He brought us home safely though! I highly recommend joining a tour to visit the island as it is too much work to go on your own. We had an amazing and unforgettable time in Phillips Island! It was one of my favourite experiences on this trip. The Little Penguin species was almost extinct in the 1980s and thanks to the hard work of the Phillip Island Nature Parks, a non- for-profit organization, the numbers are now stable. The foxes on the Island were previously killing the penguins so once the Island became fox free, the Little Penguins were able to grow in numbers!

AUSTRALIA DAY 7 – MELBOURNE

20180324_082553

We headed out early in the morning to catch our 8:55 am flight to Melbourne after dropping off our rental car. We flew with Qantas this time. Everything about the flight was good but they did not allow you to pay for luggage online so we had to do it in person which I thought was a slight waste of time. Not to mention, the cost was a little steep at $50 AUD per piece!

After 2 hours 10 minutes, we arrived safety in Melbourne! We were greeted by rain as soon as we landed. It was about a 30-minute drive to our hotel but time flew by quick as our Uber driver shared with us some interesting facts and useful tips about the city. He told us that Melbourne is a city with lots to do; there are always a festival, event or concert going on in town. When we were there, they were hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

20180324_183652.jpg

He also told us to go check out the Crowne Casino and the restaurants along Southbank. The Uber driver said driving in Melbourne can be difficult because there are many trams which share the road and they are the only city in the world to use hook turns. Hook turn is a right-hand turn that you do from the left hand lane. I think it is such a stressful turn to make because you have to keep an eye out for cars coming from both directions; it is especially challenging to watch the ones coming from behind you!

We stayed at the Punthill Manhattan which is a service apartment style hotel. These types of hotel are very popular in Australia. Our room was available shortly after we arrived so we went upstairs to drop off our luggage before heading out. The apartment was very spacious with two single beds and a sofa bed. Kitchen and bathroom were large too. There was also a washer and dryer in the bathroom. Cleanliness was good except for some stains in the jacuzzi bathtub. Front desk service was excellent and helpful as well. The location is awesome as it is only a 5-minute walk to the free tram station and just a 10 minute walk to Melbourne CBD with lots of restaurants and a convenient store nearby.

20180324_142532.jpg

We took the free tram to the Bunyip Tour head office first to pick up our tour tickets. We bought a bundled package which includes the Great Ocean Road and Phillips Island Penguin tours as well as admission to two major attractions in Melbourne. Their tour guides were knowledgeable and friendly.  The vans were small but comfortable. The driver came 15 minutes late for our second tour. However, it was nice that they actually had someone working in the office at 6 am who answered our call and confirmed that the driver was on his way. We picked the aquarium and Skydeck 88 for the two attractions. Even though the tram is free, it was clean and well maintained. Many of the locals were also taking this tram. The free tram travels along the main street of CBD but if you have to head out of CBD, you will have to take the paid tram. That was the only time that we took the free tram in Melbourne but it was very user friendly so I highly recommend it.

Our first attraction in Melbourne was the Sea Life Aquarium. There was a long line up for ticket purchase so it was nice that we got to cut the queue with our pre-purchased ones. We first headed to their cafeteria to grab some lunch. The cafeteria is the only place inside the aquarium which serves hot food and they served the typical burgers and fish and chips. Prices were reasonable and food was not bad. In an hour and a half, we were able to go through the whole aquarium. The two highlights for me were the giant crocodile which you could “step on” on a glass floor and seeing the aquarium guests feed sharks in wetsuits inside one of the large tanks. Not much to see in the gift shop so we just took a quick stroll.

20180324_173151.jpg

Next, we were headed for the Eureka Skydeck 88. While we were walking there, we snapped some nice pictures of the Melbourne skyline and watched the street performance for a bit. The Skydeck 88 was not busy at all when we visited in the afternoon so we were able to leisurely pace around the observation deck. It is the 2nd tallest building in Australia and 15th tallest in terms of residential building in the world. They also have the highest post box in Australia where you can mail out a postcard.

We were ahead of schedule so we decided to check out the Crowne Casino that our Uber driver recommended. He was right. The casino was very extravagant and grand. To go from one end to the other takes about 30 minutes. It was rated by Forbes as one of the finest five-star properties in the world in 2017. A casino, hotel, food court, restaurants, and retail stores reside on the property. It was bustled with people coming from all directions. My favourite was the food court as they have a large selection of cuisines to choose from. They had a stall which sold Chinese food and I was craving a snack before our late dinner tonight. I ordered a chicken thigh and sui mai to share. The food tasted better than I expected and prices were reasonable as well.

After we finished eating, we went outside to stroll along Southbank. Along the river, there were some graffiti murals which were well drawn. They also had a Bangkok Market set up where you can buy Thai food and drinks to try. Since the Formula 1 Grand Prix was going on, there were also some stalls opened selling souvenirs and there were a few racing cars on display.

We then took a Uber to our meeting point for the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. At first, I was a little concerned about how to find the meeting point as they had to move it due to the Formula 1 race. Luckily, there was already many people gathered there so we spotted it pretty quickly. After they took attendance, everyone boarded the tram. The other guests were well dressed for the event and they all seemed to be locals except for us! Once we were all seated, the host gave us a brief introduction and the tram was on its way! The host came by to serve us drinks and took our order.

We had a 5-course meal that night and you could choose your appetizer, main and dessert. Did I mention that alcohol was unlimited? We only had apple ciders that night though as I was feeling quite tired from our long day and alcohol makes me sleepy! The dining experience is three hours (8:35 to 11:30 pm) and they take you along the city on the tram tracks. Our host had a great sense of humour and we were well entertained for the evening. The food was also very delicious. The course were served promptly but with a decent gap between the courses. The proportions were also very generous so we had food leftover.

The tram was very steady so we did not get motion sickness at all. There were three trams that night and each one sits 24 people. The seats were comfortable and the décor was very fancy. The trams were vintage W class trams built in 1927 and provided 55 years of tram service before they were retired. They were then converted for the purpose of the restaurant in 1981.  Although the tram is quite narrow, there is actually a fully equipped kitchen and a washroom onboard as well! The food is prepared offsite but brought onto the tram in raw form. While the tram moves, the chef will cook the food so it is delivered fresh to each guest. I cringed a little when I bought the tickets online as it is expensive ($150/person). However, I had such a great time and the opportunity is quite rare! Book online as spots do fill up fast!

It was past midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. The day has been a long one as we were up since 6 am but it was a great deal of fun! Our first day in Melbourne was a success!

AUSTRALIA

Just came back from my 16-day trip to Australia, the land of koalas and kangaroos! It was a jam-packed trip, as usual, but everything went relatively smooth and we all had a great time! I know Australia is not really on everyone’s priority list because they think Australia is very similar to Canada. Hopefully after reading my blog, I will convince you to take that dreadful long flight and check it out for yourself!

TRANSPORTATION

Air

20180401_093352.jpg

We flew with Air Canada as they are the only airline which flies direct to Australia (Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney). I had been eyeing the prices on Expedia for a while and they remained pretty consistent (+/-$100) but there was a $500 price drop at the end of September. Not sure if this was just a glitch in the system or it was due to the end of summer…I missed out on the great deal so I ended up paying almost $1,500 after tax. Both flights left on time but our return flight was delayed by 45 minute and turbulence was horrible!

20180324_082553.jpg

For the domestic flights to Melbourne and Sydney, we took Virgin and Quantas which was about $150-$175 per person. They include one piece of 23 kg of luggage. Quantas charged us $70 for an additional check in luggage (no online option) while Virgin only charged $30 when I paid the fee online. There are limited carriers for domestic flights unfortunately. I heard that you should avoid Tiger Air as their flights are always delayed or cancelled.

20180328_073948.jpg

The three airports we visited were easy to navigate and we had no issues with our luggage. Customs were not as strict as we had heard it was and it was quick to clear customs with their automated system.

Uber

20180324_125159.jpg

We had a jam packed schedule so most of the time we just took Uber. We used Uber in all three cities and service overall was alright. We had a few drivers cancel out on us last minute which was frustrating and the meet up points were sometimes very confusing (ie. One venue had multiple). However, the drivers that we did travel with were friendly and we learned a great deal about the city from our conversations.

Public Transit

Australia’s transit system is definitely way better than Vancouver’s! The public transportation and stations were very clean and well maintained. There are many options to choose from – train, tram, water taxi, buses, ferry and light rail! Public transit does seem like an attractive option when you have to pay for expensive parking – $60/hr!

In Brisbane, we took the water taxi which is a great way to see the Story Bridge and travel from one area to another. You can purchase the Go Card and use it to take any public transportation. They also have a free water taxi as well but it does not come as frequently.

20180320_211747.jpg

In Melbourne, we took the CBD tram which allows everyone to travel for free within the CBD grid. You can purchase the Myki card for all other paid transportation.

Lastly, in Sydney, we took the train and light rail as we toured Chinatown and the Fish Market. Just remember to tap on and off with your Opal card!

Car Rental

We rented a car for the Brisbane/Gold Coast leg of the trip as that was the quickest and least expensive option. I booked the vehicle with Budget through Expedia. Pick up and drop off process was simple and smooth. Price for rental was very reasonable as well. However, there are many tolled roads and bridges in Australia so these can add up quite quickly! Remember that Australia drives on the opposite side of the road. You will need to get an international driver license to drive there. I downloaded the application form from the BCAA website, got my photos taken and then went to a BCAA office to have it processed. The license is valid for 1 year from issue date and costs only $25. Don’t forget to bring the booklet (international driver license) and your own driver license on the trip!

Taxi

Taxis to/from the airport when pre-arranged are actually not too bad. We  took it to and from the Melbourne airport and it was only about $50 for half an hour ride!

20180328_094425

COMMUNICATION

At the airport, we purchased a sim card from one of the local providers, Vodafone. They had a promotion going on which was $30 for 24GB and unlimited calling/texting for 30 days. The sim card was free. We were able to use their service across Australia but sometimes there would be poor or no reception when we were out on excursions. There is also free wi-fi in many places around the city. This is a nice option if you do not need data all the time.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

If you’re a hardcore travel planner like me…you would probably want to know about the following as well!

-Tipping is not required in Australia! Whoot whoot! Think of all the money you save!

-You can drink tap water!

-Washrooms are almost everywhere and relatively clean!

-For cheap grocery, go to Woolworth, Coles or Aldi! You can also visit the local markets but check their operating hours as they are not open 7 days a week.

-Even though we’re both speaking English, sometimes it can be difficult to understand with the accent and the different terminology (C: garbage, A: rubbish; C: fries, A: chips; C: ketchup, A: tomato sauce!

20180320_192519.jpg

-Credit card is accepted in most places except for the local markets

-Always bring an umbrella and a windbreaker as it can get pretty windy and rainy sometimes! I was so thankful that my backpack and windbreaker were water resistant as we were completely soaked from time to time!

IMG-20180408-WA0135.jpg

-Food is expensive…! Be prepared to pay at least $20 per person for breakfast, $35 for lunch and $60 for dinner!

20180329_115955.jpg