3 Reasons to Take to the Great Ocean Road

IMG_8729Several friends, when they heard I was visiting Melbourne, urged me to check out the Great Ocean Road. My usual approach is to rent a car and go it alone. Then I noticed on Trip Advisor that there are a number of tour providers. It appealed to me because to really enjoy a coastal road it is helpful if you do not have to keep your eyes on the road.

The awesome part of being a tour group member in a country where they drive on the left: if you grab the shotgun seat you have a beautiful view of the coastline! This road was developed by boosters of tourism after the Great War and employed mainly returning soldiers, fondly called Diggers for their role in digging the trenches. Even today Australian soldiers are sometimes called diggers.


1. I chose Melbourne Coastal Tours. For a reasonable $130 AUS the company picks you up at your hotel and gives you a full day and then delivers you at a location you request in the central business district (most of our group wanted to be dropped at a restaurant not their hotel). Our tour guide Daryl was excellent and I learned a lot more about Australia’s history and geology than I would have on my own. It is also more fun to explore with other people.


2. We made frequent stops throughout the day. The first stop for bathrooms and morning tea at a small town on a protected ocean inlet was about 1.5 hours in. After that we stopped about every 30 minutes until we were on our way back to Melbourne. It allowed us to see wildlife, rainforest, and coastal beauty and enjoy shopping, a delicious lunch at La Bimba and hiking. It was a full day!


3.  The breathtaking beauty is worth the investment of time. Although if you have difficulty climbing steps, your access to the beaches and some of the other stops will be limited.

IMG_8810Melbourne Coastal Tours also does penguin viewing tours of Phillip Island.

Getting to Australia Without Jet Lag

Famous surf beach on Phillip Island is one of many reasons to make the trek to Australia.

Melbourne in Victoria Australia is a terrific destination for a vacation. A lot of people avoid travelling to New Zealand and Australia because they think it is too far to fly.  From San Francisco or Los Angeles it is about 12 hours (depending on the wind) to Auckland. For people on the West coast it is equivalent to flying to Europe. I have made the trip over a dozen times now in one direction or another. This time I mentally prepared to continue on to Melbourne–another 4.5 hour flight. (There are direct 14 hour flights from LAX to Melbourne on other airlines.)

On both legs the Air New Zealand plane was their new style with seats in Economy that have these foot rests that if you have control of the entire row you can create a bed. It does not do you much good if you are flying with a bickering married couple from Oak Park, Illinois like I did. I smiled as I imagined the three of us stretching out on “bench.” However, great if traveling with children.

I had done some reading about avoiding jet lag and I tried a few new ideas. First I ate dinner at 7 in the airport (a few slices of wood-fire pizza). I avoided alcohol both pre-flight and en route. I declined the dinner and took a couple of Advil PM. I slept really well–at least 8 hours. Then I ate lightly until I arrived in Melbourne.

I was tired when we landed in Auckland and would have loved a shower. Instead I drank a flat white. I stayed awake all day both to speed getting on the right time zone and because there were penguins to see and friends to enjoy. I slept soundly and I woke up around 3 a.m. The key is to not panic or stress when you awake off schedule. Just as we can go without eating for longer periods than we often think possible–we can function for a few days with less sleep as we adjust.

On the way home I ate a light lunch and then declined a big dinner. I drank some hot tea and ate the cheese and crackers offered. I lucked out and had the row to myself, so I got to try the new “couch” in economy. It works quite well and would have been even more restful if the cabin lighting had not malfunctioned. They could not be dimmed. I still managed to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep. I watched quite a few films–watch The Dressmaker if you can.

I arrived in Sacramento by noon. I stayed up until 8 p.m. It was easy to go to sleep because it was already dark. I slept straight through until my alarm went off. I felt great today.

What do you do to avoid jet lag?

Sports Mad Melbourne

Melbourne Open

I enjoyed my recent visit to Melbourne. I was able to spend a lot of time with locals and what I suspected was confirmed by my tour guide Daryl–Melbourne is sports mad. In a country whose main religion is sport, this is the mecca or the Jerusalem.

They have the premier horse race of the year: the Melbourne Cup. They invented Australian Rules Football and started the national league. They also host the Australian Open tennis tournament. It is as if New York City, Dallas and Kentucky were all rolled into one.

The 2016 tennis tournament began just as I arrived and it concluded last night. There was a big upset. Serena Williams rolled over everyone she played except one. Angelique Kerber played superbly and never lost her courage. Good on her! Serena was very gracious in defeat.

Just a funny story or two to illustrate how sports influence Aussies. We were traveling on the Great Ocean Road and we kept spotting these big black and white birds. Daryl, our tour guide, told us they are magpies. Then he added, “I hate magpies.” I asked why (since I love Sacramento’s yellow-billed magpies). He explained that the Collingwood football team mascot is the magpies and that the fans from Collingwood (a neighborhood in Melbourne) are “quite feral.”

Melbourne has 11 teams just in their city alone and regularly fill the stadiums. But then they only charge about $45 a ticket. The last time I heard of someone going to a San Francisco 49ers football game the seats were $250 each.

Daryl also told us the story behind the saying “Buckley’s chance.” It implies that the odds are long. William Buckley was a convict who unknowingly bought some stolen goods in England for which he was tried and sentenced to deportation to a new penal colony in Melbourne. The land was inhospitable and the penal colony was not surviving. The leader in charge decided to move everyone to what we now know is Tasmania, but he did not explain this to any of the convicts. So Buckley thought he was being shipped back to England. He was not having any of that, so he and two other men jumped overboard and swam ashore. The jailors decided not to go after them since they were unlikely to survive.

The three men made it ashore and scrabbled around trying to find enough to eat for a few weeks. The two other men decided to set off for Sydney and were never heard of again. Buckley was a tall man–6’4″ and he must of been strapping. He continued to make a go of it on his own. Some time later he met his first aboriginal people. They had just lost their elder who was also a really tall man. So at first they thought Buckley, with his very pale skin, was his spirit. It was all sorted eventually and they taught Buckley to survive. I cannot remember now how well he eventually did, just that he lived long enough to be immortalized with the slang, “You don’t have a Buckley’s chance..”

Some might have said that Angelique Kerber did not have a Buckley’s chance. But now you know the story and you know that Buckley’s luck was both bad and good. And that like Buckley, Kerber made the most of her luck and came out on top.


5 Awesome Aussie Animals

We arrived just in time to see the “Spirits of the Sky” bird show.

There are more than five awesome Australian animals or birds. The continent broke off from Gondwanaland way before any others so some pretty weird evolution occurred that is unlike anywhere else in the world. I was able to see all 5 at the Healesville Sanctuary outside of Melbourne.

  1. Exhibit A: the Platypus. Sometimes called the duckbilled platypus, but that is redundant. There is not another kind of platypus. This may be my favorite animal in Australia. (All five of these are contenders.) I saw the wee platypus climb out of the water and into her den–alas no photo. I did buy a terrific hand puppet in the gift shop.
  2. The Wombat. It was a hot day and so the wombat was snoozing under a log. They are so darn adorable. There is a photo of one in the newspaper and you just want to give it a squeeze.
  3. Koalas. They have to be on the list, of course. They are fascinating; however, they are also sloth-like and hang out high in trees so there is not as much interaction. And you want to cuddle them until you see their amazing claws.
  4. Surprise: Wedge-tail Eagle. Did not know about them until the Spirit of the Sky show. Wow. They are HUGE. And awesome.

    Wedge-Tailed Eagle are magnificent birds.
  5. Surprise: Dingo. Maybe I am missing Lulu and Dozer (dogs at home). We caught the keeper presentation on the dingo and watched her interact with the two in the closest enclosure. I was reminded of my beloved Radar and yet there is that wildness that is also fascinating.


What does not make my top five? The Tasmanian Devil fell out, in part because they are not very bright and can be vicious. The kangaroo because, except for the joeys that are A-Dor-A-Ble, they are kind of like really big rats and as common as deer. The Little Penguin I associate with New Zealand as well.

The Tasmanian Devil is bigger than expected and solid like a badger.

My friend Sandy’s favorite animal is the echidna. I did not see one until I was on Kangaroo Island and I have to admit they deserve adoration–not sure what animal or bird they’d knock out of the top 5. What is your favorite?

Celebrating Penguin Awareness Day

The Penguin Experience begins at the visitor’s centre.

Today (and by this I mean the full 24 hour period known as January 20 in Australia and the United States) is Penguin Awareness Day. The timing of my trip was planned to coincide with the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. My stop in Melbourne was motivated in large part by the Penguin Parade experience on Phillip Island.

I was fortunate that my friend Sandy had some time off from work and enthusiastically purchased tickets ($24 AU for just penguins; $47.20 AU per adult for package that includes the Koala Experience and other activities on the island). Her sister Colleen and husband Pete own the San Remo Hotel and Bar, referred to as the pub. Her gracious sister provided us dinner at the pub and let us sleep over at her house. This was hugely helpful because the penguins do not waddle home until dusk and in summer (January) this is around 9:15 p.m.  A delicious dinner in San Remo is also convenient if you are traveling on your own.

The Penguin Parade was very well organized and staffed. As a result, while we could not see the penguins up close when they landed on the beach, we could see them very up close as they waddled up the hill to their nests. We witnessed more than one penguin being mobbed by his/her young with them competing to receive regurgitated fish. Everything was designed to minimize disturbance to the Little Blue Penguins while still providing a terrific experience to about 500 people.  They call them Fairy Penguins or Little Penguins in Australia, but they are the same delightful type of penguin I have observed in New Zealand.

If you are in Melbourne and you need someone to organize transportation and tickets, then I highly recommend Melbourne Coastal Tours. Especially if you cannot stay locally to Phillip Island–best to let someone else drive you back to the city at night.

There are no pictures allowed at the Penguin Parade because the flash would scare the penguins. So instead, check out this “burrow camera” from the Phillip Island Nature Parks. http://www.penguins.org.au/attractions/penguin-parade/penguin-burrow-camera/



Getting in Right Mindspace for Vacation

I am a fan of Air New Zealand so when I booked my flights to Melbourne and Adelaide Australia I choose them again. I flew Southwest to Los Angeles International Airport to save money and car parking hassle.Everything went smoothly. I was in the Tom Bradley International Terminal awaiting boarding and I finally started to get excited about my planned vacation.

Air New Zealand is known for its creative air safety videos. They often amuse and passengers actually watch the safety announcement. On this flight the new video. I was delighted to see their latest video featured many famous surfers and the overall impact was to put me in the right mood for this vacation.

I needed to transition to full frontal summer temperatures and to a more hang loose attitude. This video really gave me a push to chillax.