One of my greatest regrets in the planning of our grand Australia/New Zealand adventure was not giving ourselves enough time in Melbourne. Granted, we only had so many days to work with, and we had two specific things we wanted to do in the Melbourne area, so I did what I could with the allotted time–which ended up being two days in Melbourne (really, one and a half days, if you take into consideration we flew in in the morning, and our flight was late, at that). So it was that we ended up spending very little time in actual Melbourne–but, you know, hindsight is always 20/20, right?
Another one of my regrets is the multitude of early morning departures we endured just to fit everything in; we were just on a very condensed schedule, kidding ourselves that this was the only time we were going to travel to that part of the world, and thus cramming in as much as humanly possible. Day 1 in Melbourne didn’t start off that great, I’m not going to lie to you. (Actually, we had snafus on both days in Melbourne, but I’ll get to that.) For starters, our flight got in late. If we’d had nothing planned for that day, it would have been fine, but because of the aforementioned cramming, we were scheduled to do our Penguin Parade excursion at 1 p.m. that day. Our flight got in at close to 11 a.m. We were going to do a shuttle from the airport to our Airbnb, but of course, there was no one manning the shuttle bus desk at the airport, and no one picked up our multiple phone calls, so we ended up getting a Lyft, but there is a very specific place Lyft drivers must pick you up at the Melbourne airport, and it took us a little bit of circle-walking to finally find it. God bless our Airbnb hosts, who let us check into their fabulous apartment early, and didn’t seem the least bit offended when we breezed back out of there five minutes later because we were in dire need of sustenance before we had to meet for our excursion. Normally, we would have taken a lovely mile-long walk to the meeting point, but we were later, so into another Lyft we went, after which time we searched for some easy takeaway lunchy foods (it took a surprisingly long time to find a place that had sandwiches). Oh, and did I mention it was almost 100 degrees when we were in Melbourne? Yeah, it was crazy, y’all. We experienced some of the strangest weather when we were in Australia; when I was packing, it was actually showing cooler temperatures than the rest of the country, and so I packed accordingly…for cooler climes. [Insert joke about God laughing here.]
Anyway, we finally boarded the bus after baking in the sun for a good half-hour (thank God Grey Line had umbrellas we could use as shelter, or else I might have died from sunstroke, forreal), and off we were to our first destination–a farm, yay–that was a good hour or so outside the city. The drive was fine, if a little dull, but I’ll tell you, I really could have done without the stop at Warrook Homestead. It was kind of depressing, if you want to know the truth. None of the animals looked particularly well-cared-for, unlike the animals at the Featherdale Wildlife Sanctuary, for instance. My husband made a camel friend by feeding him all of the carrots, but aside from that, it was pretty uneventful.
Next, we were off to the Koala Conservation Centre on Phillip Island, where the koalas at least weren’t in cages, so it was a huge step up from the farm. We walked along the boardwalks that wind their way through the park, I squealed over some more extremely lazy but adorable koalas, and then it was back to the bus to find a place to eat. We had a lovely Italian dinner at a family-owned restaurant (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called), followed by some equally-delicious and authentic gelato that we enjoyed while we sat in the nearby park with a nice view of the water.
We headed to the Nobbies next, which has some pretty spectacular coastal viewing via lookouts and boardwalks. Apparently, the Nobbies is home to Australia’s largest fur seal colony, but alas, we spotted no seals. But the views were pretty amazing. We saw some interesting birds there, too, and even a few tiny penguins ahead of our official Penguin Parade (and yes, they were freaking adorable).
Finally, we made our way to the Penguin Parade, which begins around 9 p.m. (or dusk), when a few “scout” Little Penguins emerge from the water for the first time all day and make sure the coast is clear for the other penguins. (And yes, they are aptly named; you can trust Australians to call something exactly what it is, which they kind of made fun of themselves for, but which I, frankly, appreciated.) Over the next hour and a half, we watched a small batches of penguins emerged from the water and began making their way to their burrows, making a multitude of sounds while doing so. (I never realized penguins are so vocal, but apparently these ones are unusually so.) There are park rangers on hand to control the crowd and to make sure no one takes photos or video (all it takes is one person’s flash going off to throw the whole thing off, and they want to keep the penguins’ habitat as natural as possible to protect them). Thus, I was, sadly, unable to get any photos of the Penguin Parade, but you can watch a video of it here, if you’re interested. It was especially interesting when the rangers would talk about the migratory patterns of the birds, or the ways they mate, or what they reckon certain sounds mean, etc. The whole thing was magical…for about the first 30 minutes, then the magic started to wear off a little bit and I grew a little bored. There’s only so long a gal can sit and watch penguins walk by [insert shrugging emoji here].
We ended up getting back to Melbourne well past midnight that night, which was unexpected; the tour details didn’t actually specify how late we’d be getting back, which made our early-morning tour the next morning a smidge more difficult to wake up for…but I digress…again. I just don’t want you guys to be surprised if you do the same two-day combo tour we did! Like four hours of sleep is never a pleasant surprise!
And basically, if I’m giving you an honest-to-God review of the first part of this tour, I’m going to tell you, it was an all right excursion. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible, it was somewhere in the middle, with a few great moments sprinkled in. As I’ve mentioned before, I often choose to do excursions because I feel we see more and learn more, but while the first may be true, the second wasn’t necessarily on this specific tour—the group was too big, it was less personal, and I would have done things differently if the hubby and I had done this on our own. We definitely would’ve skipped the farm and maybe even the Koala Conservation Centre (you see a lot of koalas in Australia, and while I maintain the koala cuddle is one of the single best moments of my life, after a while, seeing them does lose a little bit of its sparkle). We could’ve, instead, driven out to Phillip Island, gotten in some beach time, hit the Nobbies for some quick photos, then headed off to the parade, where we could’ve hung out and watched the penguins for thirty minutes max before heading back to the city at a reasonable hour. If I’m giving you the honest-to-God truth, which I swore to always do, because I know how much time and money are worth when you’re adventuring—but I also don’t want to crush your dreams! If you want to see a penguin parade, knock yourself out, friend!
In my next post, I’ll tell you about day 2 of our combo tour, the Great Ocean Road tour, which was totally amazing, even with those aforementioned snafus (I’ll just keep dangling that carrot in front of you; you’re welcome; actually, you probably don’t care that much, but I’ll keep telling myself you do). In the meantime, pin my post on the Penguin Parade, share it with friends, decide for yourself if that’s how you want to spend half your day in Melbourne!
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