Date of Trip: July 2010
This was part of two back to back home exchanges in Melbourne, Australia, and Christchurch, NZ. The NZ trip will be written up separately. I had been to both countries before on exchanges in 2008 (see prior trip reports), but Melbourne and Christchurch were new to me.
As usual with back to back exchanges, there were a lot of logistics to organize. I flew Air NZ to Melbourne, changing planes in both Los Angeles and Auckland.
The home exchange apartment was in the area of North Fizroy. For the most part I used public transportation, but I did have the use of a car (used only for side trips). The apartment was very basic, but did have a washer and dryer (small size as in Europe).
My focus was on exhausting the sites of Melbourne and doing a number of side trips to places in the area. In addition, a 4 night stay was planned in Tasmania. I flew the discount airline Jet Star to get back and forth to Hobart.
I visited all the major museums in Melbourne in addition to some of the smaller ones because I was based in Melbourne for 4 weeks and had the time. They were all easily accessible by public transportation. In fact, Melbourne’s public transport makes a car unnecessary unless you plan to drive out of town. I also found the place that sells same day half price theater tickets in Melbourne. It is called “Halftix” and is located in the Town Hall. Even better than the theater tickets (I bought plenty of those), it also sold half price tickets on some day tours. I highly recommend that you look into Halftix for what it offers if you are traveling to Melbourne. I did take two organized day tours. The first was to the Penguin Parade on Philip Island and the second was to go wine tasting. For other trips out of town, I used the car. Other than the 4 nights in Tasmania, I did not spend any other nights in hotels while in Australia.
Melbourne is a very cosmopolitan city with restaurants from a variety of ethic groups — especially Chinese, Italian and Greek. I sampled some of those. Close to where I lived, I became a regular at the local coffee shop which made the best muffins I have ever eaten. The coffee there was much better than Starbucks.
While in Australia, the national parliamentary elections were going on. For those of you who don’t know, it did end in a “hung parliament” (meaning neither major party got a majority of seats. Julia Gilliard now is Prime Minister and heads a minority government. As someone who is very interested in politics, I found it a plus to be there when this was happening. Some of the issues are similar to those in the US.
For side trips, I drove the Great Ocean Road, went to the reconstructed goldfields town Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, explored the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, found the monthly gourmet food market in Yering and visited the Healsville Animal Sanctuary for the usual koal/kangaroo fix. The Great Ocean Road has to be one of the great drives of the world (better even than in California, folks). I got some great photos of some rocks known as “The Twelve Apostles” even though some have fallen and there are not 12 anymore. At Sovereign Hill I stayed to watch the evening show and the special effects were wonderful for that. Sovereign Hill is basically analogous to Colonial Williamsburg and similar places with lots of reenactors. It was fun day. Mornington Peninsula is also gorgeous and I ate lunch at a winery called The Vines of Red Hill.
The absolute highlight of the Australian exchange was the trip to Tasmania. While in “Tassie”, I visited the Port Arthur Historic Site. Port Arthur contains the extensive remains of one of the original convict prisons for hard cases. It is in a gorgeous location but you can’t help being saddened when you think of what happened there. One section of the prison was silent. The prisoners could have no human communication at all — even while exercising or in church. The regime drove some insane and it was then ended.
From Port Arthur I drove into Hobart and walked around the harbor. On Saturday I went to the much ballyhooed Salamanca Market. I have to tell you that I think most craft markets are over hyped and I found Salamanca to be the same. On my third day in Tasmania I stayed at the Margate Cottage Boutique B & B in Margate. It was gorgeous and, when the sun went down, the marsupials came out to play on the property (most marsupials are nocturnal). I would stay there again in a heartbeat. During the third day I went on the Bruny Island Wildlife Adventure, which I highly recommend (They have another similar experience that runs out of Port Arthur). You get taken in rubber motorized speedboats down to the Southern Ocean. On the way you observe some unusual rock formations and wildlife. Smelly seals are guaranteed!
I hope to home exchange in Tasmania someday.
After 4 weeks based in Melbourne, I flew to Christchurch. I did get out of Christchurch before the September 4th earthquake.