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...:

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 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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Australia Day 2 - Exploring Victoria

We actually slept until 7AM today since the jet lag caught up to us a little bit.  But, overall it was the most rested we had ever felt after long travel days at the beginning of a trip, which was nice.

Our cottage had a continental breakfast in the kitchen which we enjoyed before heading out for a quick final walk in the Dandenongs.  The goal of our walk was to find a superb lyrebird.  If you don't know why the lyrebird is special, just search YouTube for "lyrebird call" and prepare to be amazed.

Andrea decided to rest a bit so just the 3 of us ventured back out into the forest.  If this sign was any indication, we were in the right spot:
Realm of the Lyrebird

The forest was pretty thick in places and we did hear lots of different sounds that could have been a lyrebird. After all, they can imitate anything.  Then, we heard some rustling in the bushes so we stopped.  After a few seconds, Tim spotted some movement and up popped a lyrebird onto a log.

Unfortunately, it was blocked by lots of branches and constantly on the move so I didn't get much better than a proof shot:
Superb Lyrebird

But, our first mission of the trip was a success!

Next we headed southwest out of the Dandenong Ranges towards the Great Ocean Road.  This route took us through Melbourne so we got a chance to soak up some city life along the way.  It looked like a pretty nice place as cities go.

Before reaching the coast, we made a planned stop at You Yangs Regional Park.  This park was supposed to be a good place for echidna and finding one of those was another mission this trip.

You Yangs is a much dryer forest than the Dandenong Ranges but is still very pretty.

You Yangs Eucalyptus Forest

You Yangs Regional Park

You Yangs Trees

We hiked the "Big Rock" trail that led us right to, unsurprisingly, a big granite rock.  While we didn't spot an echidna on this hike, we did find our first reptile.

Jacky Lizard:
Jacky Lizard

Back in the car, it wasn't long before we reached the Great Ocean Road.  I must say that sometimes roads don't have the most appropriate name but the Great Ocean Road certainly lives up to its name in my book.  The scenery along this road is spectacular.

Our first stop along the road was at Kennett River.  Grey River Rd in Kennett River is known to be a koala hot spot so we naturally had to check it out.  Not 5 minutes after parking and leaving the car, we found our first koala:

Our 1st Koala, hiding...

Of course, it was doing what koalas do best which is sleeping and hiding and there were quite a few tourists under it.  So, we decided to walk a bit further up the road to see if we could find any more and to get away from the people.  We did find more including one that was actually being active.

Big reach...

Got it!


Here is another one doing the 3rd thing that Koalas like to do in our brief experience:


Here is the view that the koalas had, not too bad:
View from Grey River Rd (The Koala Highway)

As we were walking up the road, Tim warned us about the sub species of koala called the dropbear.  For anyone that doesn't know about the dropbear, check out this video:

I had kind of heard about this before so Tim didn't take the story as far as the folks in the video did but I still decided not to walk right underneath any of the koalas. 😀

This one was just waking up:
Look who just woke up.

Back at the parking lot, Andrea found a beautiful superb fairy-wren that was doing a bit of displaying:
Superb Fairywren

We ended up seeing 8 different koalas which was really exciting and seeing some being active was even better.  Another mission accomplished.  We were 2 for 3 today which wasn't bad.

Next, we headed off to Cape Otway to find our sleeping arrangements for the night at Bimbi Park.  On the way, we encountered our first kangaroos just after the sun set.  Eastern grey kangaroos to be precise:
Eastern Grey Kangaroo

Eastern Grey Kangaroo and Joey

That last one was the only joey in a pouch we saw the whole trip for any marsupial. But, we were traveling in late summer so we didn't expect to see any.  Therefore, this was a bonus.  There was also a koala in a small tree watching the roos with us.

We found Bimbi Park which has a cornucopia of sleeping options.  They have everything from tent camping, to RV spaces, to cabins with running water. Of course, we opted for the latter.

Great Place to Stay at The Otways


All the comforts of home

The cabin wasn't fancy but had everything we needed.  In fact, the cereal summed up our feelings about the place... it was "Just Right".

Since we only brought breakfast fixings with us, we headed out to Apollo Bay for dinner where we had one of the few average meals of the trip at George's Pizza (sorry George).  But, there was a koala in the trees across the street which was cool.  That made 10 for the day.

Back at Bimbi, we took a night walk around the grounds and along the road.  Right away we found a "brushy" out for a stroll:

We also spotted 4 more koalas (14 total now), 3 more brush-tailed possums, a grey roo, and a scorpion.  But, the highlight of the night was when we spotted a sugar glider.  It didn't stick around very long but I managed to get a proof photo before it glided away out of sight.

Sugar Glider

So, contrary to last night, tonight's night walk was very eventful and was a great way to end a very successful second day down under.  In fact, the only "downer" for the day was that at some point, I realized the band aid from last night was no longer attached.  It must have fallen off while I was sleeping.  Sorry Clarendon Cottages for the surprise when you go to change the sheets...

Monday, March 16, 2020

Australia Day 3 - Still Exploring Victoria

We actually set an alarm today so that we could go on a relatively early walk on the roads and trails around Bimbi before setting off on the Great Ocean Road (GOR) again.

Right off the bat we found a koala but it appeared that it failed to set an alarm:

The next one we found was wide awake though and we got a really nice view of it...

As it scratched every inch of its body:

We ended up seeing 4 koalas and since we went a different direction than the night before we counted all of them as new which made 14 total for the trip so far.

After the walk, we climbed into the car and ventured down the GOR again to check out some scenery.  Along the way, we met some other creatures out "cruising":
Lazy gulls

I took that last picture in the parking area for The 12 Apostles which is a must see area along the GOR. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty overcast which didn't make for great pictures but we made the best of it and the scenery was still pretty dramatic.

The 12 Apostles

A different perspective

Looking the other direction:
More Apostles

Despite signs like these, The 12 Apostles stop was VERY popular:
We were looking everywhere...

But NOT down there...

If they had a sign up that said "No Selfies Allowed" most of the people we saw wouldn't have known what to do with themselves.  That's a human behavior that I just don't understand...

We made some additional stops along the GOR to see more of the beautiful coastline.

The Razorback:
The Razorback

Loch Ard Gorge:
Loch Ard Gorge

We made it along the GOR as far as Port Campbell.  We planned to have a late lunch there and spent way too much time debating between the empty restaurant with the better menu or the popular restaurant with the more limited menu.  The latter had .2 better rating on Google so we choose it because we needed a tie breaker.  But, that ended up being a mistake.  I think we all felt that our lunch was the worst of the trip at the "popular" place.  To cleanse our palates, we got ice cream afterwards and that made it all better.

We made it back to Bimbi in the late afternoon and took a short walk around the grounds which really paid off since in some light rain we found one of the rarer cockatoos.

Gang Gang Cockatoo:
Male Gang Gang Cockatoo

Female Gang Gang Cockatoo

We also had a great look at a cooperative kookaburra:
Laughing Kookaburra

We had dinner in Apollo Bay again and returned with plans to do another night walk.  The walk started out nicely with this brushy:

But, soon after that the rain started to fall and we rushed back to our respective cabins and called it a night which was smart since the rain didn't stop for a while after that.