Sunday, June 17, 2012

Phillip Island Penguins

Phillip Island is about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne and is well worth the trip.  It is high on my list of things you must do when in Victoria.  It's in the same region as the Mornington Peninsula which encompasses pristine ares such as Mornington, Mt Martha, Dromana and Portsea. I've been there many times and it never ceases to take my breath away.  It is very beautiful.  It's a great area to be able to see Kangaroos and wallabies in their natural habitat.
You can also take advantage of fishing, hiking, boating and eating at many fine restaurants and cafes.  Phillip Island is also host to the World Super Bikes, Moto GP and V8 Supercars since it is home to the Phillip Island Circuit. has some very useful information on where to stay and what else is on offer.  For the purpose of this post I would like to focus on the Penguins that come on shore year round.

Commonly known as Fairy Penguins or Little Penguins, they arrive on shore around sunset, coming in from sea to either feed their young, build a nest or mate - it depends on the time of year. They have nests on the shore.  I grew up in Tasmania and had the privilege of seeing the little guys many times up and down the east coast.  They are extremely cute and it's unusual to see such wildlife up close and personal.  Just like on the documentaries with David Attenborough in Antarctica, they don't seem to be affected by the presence of humans.  Coming up from the surf, they march up the sand in groups or single file.  I'm not talking about a zoo or any controlled environment or show.  It is amazing to see real live and wild Penguins come marching on shore from the surf every night.   The thousands upon thousands of people who come to see the spectacle every year agree with me.  There is a tiered, elevated seating platform on Summerland Beach which has a 180 degree viewing of the Penguin Parade.  Tickets will need to be bought for the tours.  Make sure you get there early. December, January and Easter are the busiest times. So, come grab some fish and chips, perch yourself of the shore at sunset or take a guided tour.... and enjoy.  Just a few tips: Melbourne weather can be unpredictable so take something warm (even in summer) and some wet weather gear just in case.  Also remember you are not allowed to take a picture of them with a camera that has a flash.

>>> Hotels in Phillip Island, Australia
>>> Hotels in Mornington Peninsula, Australia
>>> Book a Phillip Island Penguins Koalas and Kangaroos Day Tour From Melbourne

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Poor Man’s Gold Coast - Lakes Entrance

On one of my frequent trips to Lakes Entrance, Victoria, one of the locals I met called it the ‘poor man’s Gold Coast’.  What he was saying was, when city dwellers from Melbourne want a weekend away and they can’t afford to fly to the Gold Coast in Queensland, they drive to Lakes Entrance.  After all, it boasts some of the same attractions as any popular holiday destination in Australia.

Ninety Mile Beach
The township sits on a manmade channel which gives access to the Gippsland Lakes which in turn gives access to Bass Straight.  This coastal formation is unique and comprises the largest land-locked lake system in Australia and is protected from Bass Strait by the seemingly delicate strip of Ninety Mile Beach.

‘Lakes’ as the locals call it, seems to spring out of nowhere.  One minute you are driving in the Victorian countryside, slowly winding up over a hill when, quite unexpectedly over the crest, you are welcomed with an amazing view:  winding lakes of green and blue hug a sandy coastline teaming with native Australian shrubs which thrive in the coastal conditions.  On a side note regarding the drive, make the time to enjoy it. I guarantee you will see a lot of native Australian wildlife.  I’m talking about Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Galahs, Kookaburras and Magpies – birds you usually need to travel outside of the city limits to see.  Even to an Australian who sees these birds semi-regularly, it’s a joy to see them in such vast numbers out in the country.  Also keep an eye out for Kangaroos and wallabies.

Lakes is a haven for boaters, campers, fisherman, hikers and a general great escape for Melbournites.  It used to intrigue me as I was driving in country Victoria, that I would see many cars with a boat hooked on the back, and just any boat either,  boats with big hulls obviously designed for more than a calm lake.  On long weekends cars will be streaming down the Princes highway with the city at their back and relaxation on their minds.

The Famous Footbridge
Ninety Mile Beach (accessed by the famous footbridge) is a great surf beach which is patrolled by lifesavers in the summer months.  For more exploring by foot, take a hike to where the sea meets the lakes entrance (hence the name) and see what Captain Cook would have seen when he made his first sighting of the Australian coast.  He first saw Point Hicks, named after the officer on watch, Lieutenant Zachary Hicks approximately  34 kms (22 miles) north.  Take the time to also explore Lake Tyers, a state forest and the small town of Nowa Nowa.

Undoubtedly, the water sports make Lakes Entrance a blast, and this is why I recommend going in the summer months.  Hire a paddleboat or catamaran and explore the inland rivers.  You can take advantage of world class snorkelling, scuba diving, canoeing and kayaking.

Take an evening and sit outside at one of the many restaurants that overlook the shoreline.  Peruse the many boutique shops, cafes and best of all, fresh fish!  My Queensland Travel Mate Jenny Allen is going to disagree with me but, cold water fish is better! It’s known as the seafood capital in the area because of the large number of trawlers which come in everyday and fresh seafood can be bought directly from the boat.

There are many reasons to visit the Melbourne CBD – and you can be sure I’ll be writing about them here.  But you are missing out if that’s all you see.  Jump in a car and in less than three and a half hours you’ll be amazed at how quiet it is, how fresh things are and how friendly the people are.  It is a unique opportunity to experience country Australia off the beaten tourist track.

How to get there:  Follow the M1 freeway out of Melbourne then take Princes Highway/A1 exit and follow almost the entire way to Lakes Entrance.  It's very well signed and easy to follow.