Happy New Year from Australia!

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January 7th 2012
Published: January 7th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Firstly, Happy New Year to you all! Ellie and I hope that you had a lovely relaxing Festive break and we wish you all the best for 2012.

So, it's not long now until we are back in the UK (under three months) and time is flying past extremely fast as usual. We are still in Melbourne and still working hard but have had Ellie's mum, Judith, visiting us for the last 3 weeks or so. We have had a thoroughly enjoyable time with her and seen some spectacular things, however, it is actually her last day in Australia today and we will be sad to see her go back home.

Judith arrived in Melbourne on the 19th December and has been staying near us in St Kilda for the last couple of weeks. She has been staying in an apartment on St Kilda beach esplanade and has had some beautiful views to wake up to and even more amazing sunsets to gaze at in the evening!

We have been treated to some amazing days out with her, and I will now try and relay to you what we have been up to by trying to translate my scribbled notes in my diary!

Leading up to the Christmas weekend, Ellie and I were working as usual during the day so we left Judith to explore the City on her own and get a feel for her surroundings until we saw her in the evening when we all ate together and many-a-time enjoyed the sea-breeze sweeping the St Kilda sunset upon us outside her apartment. During the days leading up to Christmas weekend, Judith did a walking tour of Melbourne City which unearthed a lot of Melbourne's art and cultural heritage, visited the Royal Botanical Gardens and also spent a lot of time around St Kilda itself.

As the Christmas weekend came upon us and Ellie and I had four free days on our hands, it was easier to organise some sightseeing and adventuring with her. One of the reasons we came out to Australia was to spend Christmas Day on the beach, in the sun with a stubbie (a beer) but unfortunately, Melbourne had the first (and last!) laugh and it bucketed it down with rain all day! However, this did not deter us from having an absolutely amazing and somewhat alternative Christmas Day. Ellie found out that the Royal Melbourne Zoo was open in the morning of Christmas Day, so we decided to go and visit there on Christmas morning! Not many people can say that they have visited the zoo on Christmas Day can they? Surprisingly the zoo was actually quite busy but not enough to stop us seeing some uniquely Australian creatures with Judith. The highlight of the visit was definitely seeing a platypus! None of us had never seen one before and seeing one swimming around in front of us was actually quite mesmerising, really quite surreal! So, after a quick whistle-stop tour around the zoo, we were due for lunch at Pat and Ruth's (with whom we stayed with when we first arrived in Melbourne) and headed on over there.

Part of the reason for Judith coming out here was also to see an old friend of hers, Lynda (Ruth's mum – who she went to teacher training school with) and so it was nice for her also to spend time with her in the City and also see on Christmas Day itself. Both Pat and Ruth had organised an incredible Christmas lunch (turkey and nut-roast) and after the lunch when we were all completely stuffed and watching the rain pour down, we couldn't help but feel totally stitched up that we could have been experiencing just this type of weather on Christmas Day in the UK! Anyway, not to be deterred and heading home after lunch back to St Kilda, the rain finally died down and we decided to brave the beach in the evening; just to say that we had been on the beach on Christmas Day. I will put the pictures from us on the beach after I upload this update. To finish the day as uniquely as we had started it and just after the sun had set, we decided to go to the end of St Kilda Pier and witness the penguins coming in (it was the second time we had visited them in a week). Our Christmas Day was certainly different (bar the traditional Christmas lunch) and was one that Ellie and I will certainly remember fondly for a long time.

On Boxing Day, we had a fairly slow-paced day and visited a couple of art galleries in the City; the Ian Potter Centre which had a couple of Indigenous and Western Australian Art exhibitions on and also the National Gallery of Victoria as Judith had not been there yet. Apart from that and having a spot of lunch and going to a few shops with the Boxing Day sales on, we didn't do too much. I think we were all still feeling a bit jaded after a hectic day before! However, we did manage to get to a purely vegetarian restaurant in St Kilda called 'Soul Mama's' in the evening which was surprisingly busy for such a carnivorous country! I guess if the food is good, then people are going to eat there regardless (the food was brilliant).

The next day, and mind and Ellie's final day off before three days of work, we went to the St Kilda Baths which is home to a sea-water 25m swimming pool. I've never swam in a sea-water swimming pool before and first of all when you get into the pool area you feel a little hard done by because the pool itself has a huge window facing out to sea! However, after getting in the pool, it was quite pleasant but not the type of place you could really do lap after lap. The pool itself was extremely warm and you found yourself sweating after a while because the water was so damn hot! Opposite the pool, though, was a hydrotherapy pool which had all sorts of jets of water going off and this was probably the best part about the baths. The hydrotherapy pool was very relaxing and managed to get rid of a few aches and pains that we had! After the baths and feeling refreshed, we went into town and visited the Immigration Museum. The museum covered a wide range of Australian (mostly modern) history and obviously covered a lot of the darker details ranging from the treatment of the indigenous people to the more recent 'White Australia' movement. From a visiting tourists point of view, some of the museums exhibit kind of made you think 'jeez, some of this stuff was only happening like 30/40 years ago..'. Still, it was definitely worth going to and learning about the courses of history that have gone on around us as we currently live in Australia.

As I have already mentioned, Ellie and I unfortunately had to work for three days between Christmas and the New Year weekend so yet again we only saw Judith in the evening and prepared for our busy New Year's weekend trips. The New Year's weekend was definitely one of the highlights of Judith's stay with us. However, on New Year's Eve itself, none of us did too much celebrating apart from swimming at MSAC (Melbourne Swimming and Aquatic Centre – the pool where Ian Thorpe broke 3 world records at the Commonwealth Games a few years back) during the day and having a quiet one in the evening to draw the 2012 in because we had an early start the next day to travel down to Phillip Island.

Phillip Island is located around an hour and half drive south of Melbourne CBD (Judith rented a car for two days) and has some amazing scenic drives, as well as some luscious beaches and most notably, it's famous 'Penguin Parade' where around 16000 penguins (there are only 10000 people living on the island...I guess it's like Wales and sheep) come in from the sea to rest on the island by night. So, after exploring the island during the day (Phillip Island is named after Prince Phillip and it's main town is called 'Cowes' because early settlers were homesick and thought it looked like the Isle of Wight!), we bought our tickets for the Penguin Parade and along with 4000 other tourists, we found our spot on the beach to see the little creatures waddle in at sunset. We had to get to the Penguin Parade around two hours before they actually were due to come in so it was a lot of waiting around but, hey, it was worth it! Apparently, the dash between getting out of the sea and getting up to the top of the beach is the scariest time for penguins because they are nervous that they might be attacked so it was funny to watch them get out of the sea and run back to-and-from the sea a couple of times before they plucked up the courage to finally make a quick dash for the beach to their home for the night! It certainly was an incredible event to witness and was more than worth the wait! As the car-park was so close to where they rest, we were also told to check for penguins under our cars in-case they mistakenly thought that was their bed for the night! Our trip to Phillip Island was an extremely long day (we didn't get back until gone midnight having been on the road from 7am) but this didn't stop us getting up reasonably early the next day and heading for the Great Ocean Road drive.

To give you a bit of an insight, The Great Ocean Road was built after World War One to thank the troops of the war for their efforts and dedication to the cause. We decided to drive the distance from Torquay to Lorne and obviously marvel at the ocean views as we went along. It took about two hours to get to Torquay from St Kilda and once we were there, Judith and I sampled some fresh seafood and all us melted in the 45 degrees Celsius heat! The day was definitely not one for rushing about and the car's air-conditioning came in very useful. However, as we drove between Torquay and Lorne (it's around a …. journey) and stopped for important photo breaks, we couldn't help but think that the area reminded us a lot of Cornwall/Devon with it's craggy hills and roads cut into the landscape. The Great Ocean Road is certainly not called the 'Great' Ocean Road for nothing and I am so glad that we managed to do it because we might not have been able to do it without the aid of a hired car!

As we slowly commenced our journey along the road, we stopped at a couple of landmarks including Split Point Lighthouse (where part of Mad Max was filmed apparently) that looks across the bay from where the Great Ocean Road was built. Our final stop was Erskine Waterfall which is an absolute must for visitors of the Great Ocean Road. It was a little inland from the road and proved a cooling relief (literally) because as we headed up the hills into the forests towards it, the temperature dropped! Erskine Waterfall is completely untouched and Judith and I decided to trek the short distance across large rocks and boulders up towards the waterfall itself and stand near (not under, although there was people washing underneath when we were up there) where the water came down so Ellie could take a picture of our accomplishment. This was definitely a worthwhile experience (see pictures that will follow shortly) and visiting the waterfall brought the end to a fantastic weekend!

After getting out of Melbourne and visiting Sydney for a few days with Lynda, Judith is now on her way back to the UK and because of the time difference, will arrive on the same day that she left her. We will be sad to see her go but have had an amazing Festive period with her and we managed to do some awesome things that we probably wouldn't have done without her here.

What's mine and Ellie's plan now? Much the same as before Christmas – we are still in Melbourne until the end of February at which point we plan to travel New Zealand for three weeks and then we fly back to Brisbane and visit my family (we will also be going to stay on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast for a bit), then down to Sydney for a brief stay and back to the UK on 3rd April. I imagine it will come round quick and with less than 3 months until we are back home, we are looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

We are booking our New Zealand campervan up this weekend and apart from work, I can't imagine we will be doing too much apart from saving our money up in the coming weeks. I will probably update next in February, and will stop my waffling for now.

Until the next time, Matt and Ellie.


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