Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Victoria Day 1 - Travel and The Dandenong Ranges

What's the best way to forget an exhausting and somewhat disappointing trip?  Well, you plan another one of course.  At least, that was what I kept telling myself as the motivation for more travel eluded me.  But, if truth be told, the planning for this first trip to Australia started months before our previous trip to Madagascar so we were pretty much locked into going.

The timing and location of our trip to Australia revolved entirely around using airline miles.  The airlines make it soooo hard to actually use your miles.  It took me weeks of daily checks to finally find some viable flights.  And, of course, we could only use miles for one ticket so we had to pay for the 2nd one which wasn't cheap since we were flying business class on Quantas for the international leg.  All other legs were booked separately which was a bit of a nightmare when it came to luggage and other logistics but we managed it all just fine.  Once we booked the international air travel, everything else had to fit in around that.

Anyway, things started to fall in place nicely and we ended up with the following itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Melbourne, travel to the Dandenong Ranges - Clarendon Cottages
Day 2: Dandenong Ranges to the Otways - Bimbi Park Cabins
Day 3: Great Ocean Road - Bimbi Park Cabins
Day 4: Great Ocean Road to Melbourne - Melbourne Airport Motel
Day 5: Fly MEL to Hobart. Bruny Island - Inala Cottage
Day 6: Bruny Island - Inala Cottage
Day 7: Bruny Island - Inala Cottage
Day 8: Bruny Island to Hobart, Mt Field NP - Hamlet Downs
Day 9: Mt Field NP - Hamlet Downs
Day 10: Mt Field to Cradle Mountain - Peppers CM Lodge
Day 11: Cradle Mountain area - Peppers CM Lodge
Day 12: Cradle Mountain area - Peppers CM Lodge
Day 13: Cradle Mountain to Port Sorell - Roosters Rest
Day 14: Narawntapu NP, Warrawee Forest Reserve - Roosters Rest
Day 15: Deloraine area - Derby Forest Cabins
Day 16: Quoll Patrol tour - Derby Forest Cabins
Day 17: Bay of Fires, Freycinet NP - Freycinet Lodge
Day 18: Maria Island - Mason's Cottages
Day 19: Tasman Peninsula - Mason's Cottages
Day 20: Fly home

In hindsight, this schedule ended up working out really well.  If I had to do it all over again I might remove the two nights in Derby and add a night at the Dandenongs in Victoria and another at Freycinet.  But, that's only because the arranged tour we had in Derby wasn't what we expected.  More on that later.

One of the goals of this trip was to take things easier than we normally do and we accomplished that goal.  I think we only set an alarm a couple times the whole trip!  It was nice not having to keep to a rigid schedule and get up butt early everyday.

The leisurely pace of the trip started on day 1 since our first flight didn't leave until 3PM in the afternoon.   So, we could sleep in, "relax pack" (what a concept), and saunter to the airport when we were ready.  All told, the door to door time from our house to landing in Melbourne was around 24 hours which isn't bad at all and far less than some of our past trips.

I do have to say that traveling through the San Francisco airport was a bit spooky on Feb 26th.  Due to the coronavirus scare, all travel from Asia was shut down so the airport was really empty.  Of course, we would find out later on our return visit that "empty" is very relative.

Anyway, we arrived in Melbourne at 6:30AM and had a whole day ahead of us so it was good that we got some sleep on the long flight (thanks Quantas!).  

When we first planned this trip, we contacted our Aussie friends Tim and Andrea to see if they wanted to join us for any of it.  They accepted the invite and ended up joining us for two separate long weekends.  The first was the initial 4 days in Victoria and then they also came down to Tasmania later in the trip.

Since their flight was arriving pretty quickly after ours, we hustled through immigration and customs and then I bought an Optus SIM card for my phone since they had a kiosk at the airport. We then ventured over to the Hertz counter where we met up with Tim and Andrea.

For the first time ever, we would be renting a car on one of our international trips and, of course, we had to do it in a country that drives on the opposite side of the road.  So, to ease into this transition, Tim drove the whole first weekend so that I could get used to the idea and ask all sorts of questions about weird road signs.  For instance, I was surprised to learn that a sign next to the curb saying "1P" didn't mean that only one person could pee at a time on the sidewalk.  It had something to do with 1 hour parking...who knew?

Anyway, with the luggage safely tucked away and Tim behind the wheel, we set off from Melbourne towards Yarra Bend Park which would be our first stop.  Based on research I had done, there was a large colony of grey-headed flying foxes here.

Finding the park wasn't too difficult and finding the foxes was down right easy.  Once we got out of the car, we could hear them chattering away and it didn't take long to walk down to the river and see thousands of them hanging from the trees all around.

Huge Grey-headed Flying Fox Colony


Grey-headed Flying Foxes

We also got our first indication that we should watch where we walk due to snakes:
Watch where you walk

The flying foxes themselves were bigger than I thought they would be and very cute especially for bats.  We also saw some interesting behavior.

Time for a nap:
Just Hanging Around...

You are never too old to nurse:
Nursing Grey-headed Flying Fox

Because he can:
Grey-headed Flying Fox

Maybe the lion shouldn't be called "The King of the Jungle" after all...:
Ahem...

Yeah, that's right, it's only day 1 and the animal genitalia pictures are already flowing.  But, in my defense, I didn't zero in on the one to two bats "displaying" themselves.  Many of them were very "relaxed" in the late afternoon sun so it was hard NOT to get a photo with a penis in it.

If you haven't already, feel free to flip your monitor upside down to look at these bat photos.

Grey-headed Flying Fox Close-up

Besides the flying foxes, we also had some new birds at the park but the bats were certainly the star of the show around there.  After an hour or two we continued on towards the Dandenong Ranges.  We stopped for a nice lunch (Eggs Benedict, yum) and then headed over to Clarendon Cottages where we would be spending the night.

The grounds around the cottages were very nice.  A little too nice for Karen because instead of paying attention to the stairs as she walked she was searching the trees for critters.  This resulted in her missing a step and wiping out.  Her back and ankle took the brunt of the fall.  Luckily, her back was just bruised and her ankle (while painful to walk on) ended up being OK and only slowed her down a bit for the first few days.

For those keeping score at home when it comes to trip wipe outs it's Karen - 2 and Alan - 1.

The cottage we had for the night was really nice.
Clarendon Cottages



After checking in, we headed out into the forest for a hike.  The scenery was really pretty:

Dandedong Forest

More Dandenong Forest

And some of the trees were huge:
Walking Among Giants

During the hike, we saw our very first macropods.  This was super exciting for us.

Black Wallaby (AKA "Swampy"):
Black Wallaby (

We also got some great looks at one of the many colorful birds that call Australia home.

Crimson Rosella:
Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosella

Juvenile:
Juvenile Crimson Rosella

Another Juvenile Crimson Rosella

One of the great things about a first trip to Australia is that not only is it a new country for us but also a new continent.  So, just about everything that moved would be a new species for us.  In fact, we saw only a few non-lifers the whole trip.

One of our favorite lifer birds had to be the laughing kookaburra.  It has a call that ranks right at the top of bird calls for me and it was nice that we found one right off that bat:

Laughing Kookaburra

After a nice dinner at a local pub (The Kilkenny beer was a winner), we headed out for a combination night drive and walk.  We know that many of Australia's interesting critters come out at night, so we were really looking forward to the night activities on this trip.  Unfortunately, we completely struck out on this night.  We saw absolutely nothing walking around the forest.  Although, at one point we were surprised by a female jogger running alone with only a head lamp (Well, she was clothed too).  The trail wasn't paved and you certainly wouldn't catch me running on it at night...let alone by myself.

When we returned to Clarendon Cottages I scanned some of the nearby trees and finally saw some eye shine.  It was a brush-tailed possum which we would later learn is just called a "Brushy" by the locals.
Brush-tailed Possum (

Then, I got another hit in a nearby tree.  This time it was a ring-tailed possum (Interestingly enough, the Aussies don't call this a "Ringie").

Ring-tailed Possum

So, while the hike in the forest was a bust, it was great that the grounds of the cottages were not.  So, we were able to end our first day on a high note.

As I got changed for bed, I noticed a trickle of blood running down my shin.  That's when I realized that I got "leeched" at some point during the day.  We certainly didn't see any leeches but somehow one found me.  Luckily, two trips to Borneo have pretty much desensitized us to leeches so I just slapped a band-aid on it and went to bed.