Monday, July 24, 2017

Food, Shopping and Moving around in Melbourne

Melbourne is a huge food-junction with food from all around the world. If we don't want to step into worldwide franchises, McD, KFC, or Hungry Jack (Burger King in Malaysia) with more or less standardized food and taste (but with cheaper prices),  then we can just walk around the street and step into any eatery of your choice.

Eateries with nice environment are scattered around Melbourne. We can choose either to take a seat or take away.

For McD, the burgers served in Australia had the same taste with burgers served in Malaysia.

We would like to thank Uncle Tony for bringing us around the city, and with his guide, we had the chance to try nice food at the heart of the city, as well as in the residential area far away from the city. If you are staying somewhere around the city center, the arcades, Southbank and Yarra Promenade along Yarra River are the places that we can hunt for nice food. Food courts can be found in Crown Towers, Melbourne Central and other major shopping malls. 

We noticed that in Melbourne, the food, especially seafood were fresh, and the taste was good. The price wise was fair, as long as we didn't convert it back to Malaysian Ringgit (especially to Malaysians). Well, we would like to share some photos of the food in Melbourne.

We tried a few dishes at the alley leading to Block Arcade- paella (upper left), chicken risotto with cheese (upper right), cheese cake (lower right), and smoked tuna pizza. The food looked tempting and tasted nice. In Melbourne, dessert is always served together with ice-cream.

Malaysian Kitchen serves food in Malaysian style... certified by both of us. The restaurant is located at Doncaster Road (upper left). We tried several dishes, including lady's finger (upper right), fried squid (lower right) and beef served on hot plate. The portion was not big, but the taste was nice and really exquisite. If you wish to get some Malaysian food in Melbourne and you don't mind to drive far away from Melbourne city, you should go to Malaysian Kitchen. However, it's always good if you could book the seats for any restaurant at Melbourne to avoid disappointment. At Melbourne, the restaurants don't open everyday.

Malaya Inn located at Village Ave, Doncaster, was another Chinese restaurant we visited in Melbourne. The restaurant was big (upper left), and we tried a few dishes including pork (upper right), tofu (lower right), and fried chicken. The taste was good, but we prefer the Chinese food at Malaysian Kitchen.

We had Australian style breakfast everyday, prepared by our aunt- fresh eggs, bread, bacon, pasta, together with fresh milk, baked bean, pan fry sliced pork, and coffee. The food was really nice, and tasted great! The food was prepared exclusively for us, with a lot of love. :)

Shopping malls are scattered all around Melbourne city. Melbourne Central is a hub for mass-transit system and shopping center. There is a well preserved shot tower located at the center of the mall. Hundreds of shops, selling clothes, food, skin care products, books, sport equipment, and many more. 

Some huge shopping malls are located in residential area, far from city area, such as Coles and Chemist Warehouse might be available in these shopping malls. We bought chocolates, fruits, and beverages from Coles, and skincare and health products from Chemist Warehouse. We found that the items with special promotion like chocolates were quite cheap.

When we were walking down the street, we can look for the promotional billboards (upper left), or take a look on the products or the show by street artists (upper right), or at the booths along the street (lower right). Don't forget to slow down the pace and take a look at the statues along the street as well.

The best way to go around Melbourne City area is following the free tram service, by bus or taxi. When we travel out of the city, mrt, transit bus, and taxi can be used. Our uncle was bringing us around most of the time with his car. However, we did grab the chance to try the mrt and taxi when we were going to Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary. 

For mrt, the fare could be paid only by MyKi card only. The card had to be scanned at the departure and arrival stations. So please make sure you have the card ready before you go for mrt. The fare and information about the mrt line and destinations can be obtained from the official website of  Public Transport Victoria.

For taxi, the fare can be estimated by the Victoria Taxi Fare Estimator. From our experience, the estimator has an error of plus minus ASD 5. All the taxi should charge according to the meter in Victoria. Please do not use any taxi service without meter.

Intracity tram service is perhaps, the cheapest way to move around Melbourne city area (upper left). What we need to do is, get a map, find a station (upper right), and hoop into one of this electricity powered tram. We saw a few bicycle-for-rent booths around, but we didn't really know how it worked (lower right). Anyway, walking around Melbourne City is convenient. The street is safe, drivers are obedient and polite, and people are moving in a relaxing manner.  

There are several mrt lines in Melbourne, which a few of them extends far beyond the city. So we need to get familiar with the system to avoid confusion. Beware that not all mrt stop at every station. It's better to ask the officer-on-duty or locals before hop on to any mrt. The mrt stations are basically easy to access, clean, and safe. The stations are less crowded after peak hours (upper left). The mrt is convenient for us to travel in group (upper right). Taxi and transit bus were available at some of the stations, such as Lilydale (lower row), but might not available at some stations at residential areas. If you are stuck at the station with no taxi or transit bus, try to ask the officer-on-duty on how to call up one.

MyKi card can be purchased from the shop with myki signage.

We stayed comfortably with our uncle and aunt in Bulleen area, which by car, could reach city center within 30 minutes. If you don't plan to drive by yourself, you should stay somewhere nearby the mrt stations, or within the city. With the mass transportation system within your reach, you can access to other places without much problem.

Staying in central business district, such as hotels along Flinders Street keep us close to the places of interest and activities in Melbourne. Homestays with easy access to public transportation, especially mrt can be a good choice as well. 

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to Uncle Tony, Aunt Mee Ing, and our cousin Harn-Yih for their hospitality, advice, and assistance. 

We will visit Luang Prabang in Laos soon. Stay with us by following our Facebook or our blog.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance and Royal Botanic Garden (Day 4 in Victoria)

Day 4, we went back to Melbourne City again to visit Shrine of Remembrance and Royal Botanic Garden. Shrine of Remembrance is located at Birdwood Avenue, opposite of Royal Botanic Garden Melbourne, around 1.2 kms south of Flinders Street Railway Station and Federation Square.

Shrine of Remembrance was built as a monument to commemorate the Australians who participated in the war, armed conflicts, or peacekeeping operations. The shrine was completed in 1934, served as a memorial to those who died in World War 1. The shrine was designed by two local Australians, with the inspiration from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and built with the fund raised from the public. Since then, more memorials were added to the shrine. The shrine opens 9 am - 5 pm daily (closes on Good Friday and Christmas). The admission is free.

We arrived at the shrine at noon. We strolled around the compound of the shrine first, before we entered the main hall. The main hall houses 40 Books of Remembrance- a list of the soldiers participated in World War 1, and a plaque states "Greater Love Hath No Men" (a part of John 15 verse 13). From the main hall, we climbed up to the observatory platform to see the beautiful scenery around the shrine. We went down to the lower level to see the crypt and the exhibition hall after that. We left the shrine at around 1:15 pm and continued our trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria at Melbourne Gardens (or Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne).

There are numerous sculptures erected around the shrine, including The Man with The Donkey which depicting the real story of a stretcher John Simpson Krikpatrick who used his donkey to carry the wounded from the front line in World War 1 (upper left), the Driver and Wiper commemorating the war fought at Ypres (upper right), and the angelic sculptures (lower right). We could see some school children having their activities at the shrine.
There are several paths lead to the main hall of the shrine.

The staircase to the main hall.

School children were gathering at the center of the main hall with the plaque "Greater Love Hath No Men". Sunlight will shine directly on the plaque at certain time of a day. Photography is allowed in the shrine (with no flash). Out of respect, we decided not to post more photos we took in the shrine.

Scenery of Melbourne city center from the shrine.

Another part of Melbourne city.

Medals with each of them representing 100 Victorians who lost their life in military operations since World War 1. These medals are exhibited at the medal gallery at the exit of the shrine.

Royal Botanic Gardens at Melbourne is located opposite of the shrine. We just need to cross the Birdwood Avenue to reach the main gate of the gardens. As the name suggests, the site is a collection of several types of gardens, including the Australian native forest walk, roses, cacti, succulent gardens, and the collections from different countries. Visiting hours of the gardens are from 7:30 am until sunset daily.

Well, one can stay in the gardens for whole day. For us, strolling around center lawn alone took us around 1 hour 15 minutes. Then, we left due to the falling rain. There was only one cafe in the gardens (another one was located at the main entrance), so it will be good to bring our own drinks and maybe, some snacks. Good walking shoes and umbrella are required too. The visitor transportation is provided (garden explorer) with extra fee and prior booking.

The Royal Botanic Garden Victoria at Melbourne is located opposite of the Shrine of Remembrance. 

We can see visitors gathering and enjoying the cooling weather and colours of autumn.

There are several cottages around the area. The one in this photo was built in 1886.

View by the lake with water birds walking around the beautiful lawn.

The scenery of central lawn, with "overgrown" sky scrappers. 

Nice walking path.

Plants available around the gardens.

For us, both Shrine of Remembrance and Botanic Gardens are must visit places in Melbourne. For better experience, a more relaxing and slower pace is recommended. And, we would suggest to visit the shrine first before the botanic garden. 

2:30 pm, we left the botanic garden and continue our trip to shop for souvenirs. We will share our experience about food and shopping in Melbourne in our next post.

Day Trip to Healesville Sanctuary (Day 3 in Victoria)

Healesville Sanctuary is known to visitors as an "all in one" place to see the indigenous animals. The sanctuary is located beside Yarra valley, around 65 kms from Melbourne City. Well, that's the place we visited on our third day in Victoria.

We used public transport to go there. We spent 30 minutes travelling from Surrey Hills Station to Lilydale by mrt, and then another 25 minutes travelling by taxi from Lilydale to Healesville Sanctuary. The mrt fare was AUD 2.80 per trip per pax, while taxi fare was around AUD 49 per trip. The taxi stand was located just beside the mrt station. Just in case, if you cannot find a taxi on your way back from the sanctuary, you can ask for the staff at the sanctuary to get one for you.

We need to purchase myki card to pay the fee at the mrt stations. These card can be bought or topped up at the convenient shop or anywhere with "myki" sign (upper left). The payment for the train can only be made with myki card. Surrey Hill station was quiet (upper right), and there were plenty of empty seats on the train (lower right). The taxi station was around 50 meters away from the Lilydale Station.

The admission fee for Healesville Sanctuary- AUD 32.50 for adult, AUD 16.30 for child, and AUD 29.30 for senior (65 and above). Child will have free entrance on Saturday, Sunday, and public holiday. For senior, we need to show document that can confirm the age, such as identification card, passport, or driving license for discounted ticket. We can buy our ticket online as well at Healesville Sanctuary official website.

When we walked around the sanctuary, we found that the signage were clear, restrooms were clean, and there were designated areas with Wifi connection as well.  These facilities ensure a pleasant stroll in the sanctuary. We reached the sanctuary around 12 pm and stayed until 5 pm.

From the ticket counter, we started with the exhibits of emus and cassowary, then echidnas and koalas, followed by kangaroos, Australian Wildlife Health Centre, and platypus. We took our lunch at Pavilion Cafe before going to animal of night exhibits and had a close-up activity with a cute wombat. After that, we continued our visit to brush-tailed rock wallabies, local birds, and goannas. Again, we took a rest at picnic area beside Pavilion Cafe before walked through reptile house, flight arena, and wetland aviary. We visited dingo before leaving the sanctuary. There are several aviaries  and animal houses scattered around the sanctuary. We can visit these places when we walk pass the sites.

There are three eateries in the sanctuary, selling food and beverages with reasonable price. Pavilion Cafe was the one that located at the center of the sanctuary which we passed by it a few times. The food there was nice. There are plenty of picnic tables and resting area around the cafe. The cafe opens daily from 11 am to 2 pm.
Entrance to Healesville Sanctuary.

Tuesday afternoon, we didn't have to queue at ticket counter. Well, if we wish to have close up activity with certain animals, we need to buy the tickets at the counter as well. For wombat, we paid AUD 20 per person for a 15-minute session.

Well, we might think that this is how a koala should do all the time. They sleep 16 - 18 hours a day.

Lucky for us, we saw  a few koalas actively moving around, eating and climbing up and down. 

Echidna, spiny anteater was moving around the nicely decorated exhibit. It is a kind of egg-laying mammal- monotreme. Another monotreme is platypus. So both monotremes are available only in Australia.

Kangaroos were tame. We could pet them if they came close to the main walking track.

Australian Wildlife Heath Centre showed us how the injured animals were treated. The center had an operation theater where we could actually see how the animal operation was done. The veterinary was conducting an operation for an eagle during our visit. That was the first time for us to see an eagle lying on the operation bed.

The 15 minute close up session with a cute wombat was more than a staff that holding a wombat for us to take photo. We were in fact interacting with a cute free roaming wombat in an enclosure.

The wombat was visitor-friendly. It just walked around the visitors, craving for petting and cuddling. It would take the shoes as pillow for a short nap as well. According to our guide, the close up session was only available when the wombat was awaken. Sometimes, the wombat would just rolled itself into the blanket and took a nap.

Tasmanian devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial. Tasmanian devil can be found in wild only on Tasmania Island. Although being categorized as nocturnal, the Tasmanian devils in the sanctuary were active during our visit.

Next to Tasmanian devil is the enclosure for wallaby. Like kangaroo, the area is large, with designated walkway for visitors. 

The best part of the wallaby enclosure- the feeding area is at the walkway. So during the feeding area, visitors can actually pet and feed the wallabies. By the way, we are not allowed to bring our own food for animals. The food for wallabies are given by the staff, free of charge.

Several nocturnal animals are kept in dark exhibits, such as platypus (upper left), bandicoot (upper right), potoroo (lower right), and possums. These exhibits are provided with very low intensity of light, to keep the animals active. Well, it was hard to take photo of these animals without flash light- which was strictly prohibited.

There are many types of birds in the sanctuary, including noisy kookaburra (upper left), fast moving helmeted honey eater (upper right), active Australian cockatoos (lower right) and heron of the wetland. 

Dingo is the largest terrestrial predator in Australia (cute dog!).  It is the oldest type of dog in Australia, which the presence of dingo had been drawn on the wall of caves thousand years ago

Pavilion Cafe is a big shack, selling various type of snacks and beverages with reasonable price.

The main pathway is flat and easy to access. For first timer, following the main pathway is a good idea to see all the animals around the sanctuary. Fast tracks can be used if you wish to skip some part of the sanctuary.

Healesville Sanctuary is definitely a must visit place in Victoria. Reason- it is the nearest place for us to see the indigenous animals nearby Melbourne, and the sanctuary is really well-maintained. Well, that was a whole afternoon trip with a lot more walking compared to our Great Ocean Road Trip the day before. If you are animal lover and wish to have a relaxing moment with the animals, more time should be allocated for the trip.

Next, Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance and Botanical Garden. Follow us now.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Great Ocean Road Trip (Day 2 in Victoria)

We visited Melbourne City area on our first day in Victoria, Australia. Second day, Great Ocean Road. We booked our day tour with Go West Tours a few days before we departed to Melbourne. The tour operator's prompt responses, plus, good rating on Tripadvisor helped us with our decision. 

Melbourne, second day, 7:30 am. We arrived at Rendezvous Hotel at Flinders Street. Our tour guide and driver- Joel, fetched us at 8 am. The tour was well-arranged, with several stops along the way- Torquay for breakfast at around 10 am, Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch for photo at 11 am, Kennett River for wild Koala at 12 pm,  and lunch at Apollo Bay at 1 pm. After lunch, we continued our trip to Great Otway National Park to view the world second largest tree at 2 pm. 

Then, we took 1 hour 25 minutes to reach Port Campbell National Park to see the famous "Twelve Apostles"- gigantic sea-water carved limestone stacks along the sea side. We enjoyed the majestic view of these limestone stacks at the observatory platform for around 40 minutes before we took Gibson's Steps to the beach at 4:30 pm. We made our last stop at Loch Ard Gorge, which was 10 minutes away from Gibson's Steps. We headed back to Melbourne at around 5:45 pm, took a short dinner at Colac around 7 pm, and reached Rendezvous Hotel at around 9 pm. 

We reached Torquay at around 10 am and stayed for 30 minutes. We had our breakfast- tea, coffee, chocolate drink, and cakes beside the beach. Torquay is one of the surfers' paradise along Great Ocean Road. The Great Ocean Road stretches 243 kms, starting east from Torquay to Allensford on the west. Click on this image for bigger panoramic view.

Great Ocean Road was built mainly by the soldiers returned from World War 1. The construction started in 1919 and completed on 1932. It was part of the effort of the country to cope with employment of the returning soldiers, and at the same time, improving land connection of the coastline towns. The work was not easy as the construction was done by hand, along with simple tools such as axes, pickaxes, explosive and shovels. The Memorial Arch of Great Ocean Road was built to commemorate sacrifices of the workers thorough the construction. The first memorial arch was built in 1939. The current one is the third, after the first two destroyed by wild fire.

A memorial statues beside the Great Ocean Arch. We took a quick stop around 10 minutes there, just to take photos.
Our next stop, wild koala watching at Kennett River. There was a small cafe nearby the car park (upper left). The eucalyptus trees along the viewing area attract wild koalas to feast, and then sleep on these trees (upper right). We successfully spotted three koalas. They had one thing in common- rolled themselves comfortably for a day time nap (lower right). In contrast, the cockatoos were more active and interactive. 

Well, people paid more attention to the birds than the koalas.

After lunch at Apollo Bay, the road led us into a forest area (upper left). We took a 20-minute walk into Otway National Park to see the second largest tree in the world- Eucalyptus Ragnans (upper right). The largest living specimen of the eucalyptus is in Tasmania, reaching approximately 100 meters in height (lower right). The hole at the tree is definitely too big for a rabbit.
Some cool art by nature found in Otway National Park.

3:45 pm, we reached the tourist center nearby the Twelve Apostles observatory platform (upper row). The observatory platforms is 500 meters away- flat, and accessible by wheel chair (lower right). The walk path cuts through the native vegetation nearby the cliff. These limestone stacks are a part of Port Campbell National Park.

Limestone cliff and the gigantic pillars carved by nature were stunning. The wind was strong and the sound of the wave splashing on the pillars could be heard clearly. Lucky for us, it was not cold. The observation area was not very crowdy as well.

The observatory platforms are built strategically to see the limestone stacks by the sea. Out of 12, 8 stacks are remaining, eroding 2 cm per year by the sea.

Gibson Steps is nearby the observatory area of Twelve Apostle limestone stacks. Named after the building- Hughes Gibson, the stairs take us down the cliff to the beach, where we can see the limestone stacks and the cliff from sea level.

The steps might be intimidating from the top, but it takes less effort to get down to the beach. Well, climbing up is where the real challenge awaits. The staircase was carved through the limestone, steep and narrow. So it will be good for us to leave the heavy backpacks in the bus.

Nice view from the beach. The two off shore stacks are named Gog and Magog (not a part of 12 Apostles).

30 meter high cliff spanning till the edge of the sea level. We stayed for 30 minutes at the beach before heading to our last stop at Port Campbell National Park- Loch Ard Gorge.

We reached Loch Ard Gorge around 5:10 pm. It was getting dark. There are four different paths that lead us to different places. Due to the time constrain, we chose only two- Razorback and Loch Ard Gorge.We came across  these two limestone stacks, which once was connected to each others on our way to see Razorback.

The Razorback is a big limestone stack, with the razor-like edge facing the direction where the waves hit the stone. This limestone stack is located at the end of the left path. Click on the picture for bigger panoramic view.

Back to the car park, we took the path led to the Loch Ard Gorge- named after the ship wreak at the gorge in 1878. The incident killed 52 passengers on board, while two survivors of the ship successfully made their way to the gorge and took refuge there. The story about the ship wreak and the survivors can be obtained here.

Is this the cave that two survivors from the ship wreak rested? We couldn't find any clue there. This cave is located on the beach side of Loch Ard Gorge, where it can be accessed through wooden staircase.

Loch Ard Gorge was our last stop at Great Ocean Road. We took the inland route back to Melbourne City. As the night fall, we couldn't see much except the faint lights from the farm houses and the street lights along the the road. 

Great Ocean Road is indeed a must visit site nearby Melbourne. Despite a day long trip by bus, it worth the money and the time spent. We can see different scenery- from the city, suburban area, to small surfing town, sea side, farmland and forest, the trip covered them all.

The whole trip require a lot of walking, especially at Otway National Park and Port Campbell National Park. Non-slippery shoes are necessary to walk on the forest and seaside terrains.  Food and drinks can be bought at Kennett River, Apollo Bay, and Colac. It will be great if we can bring some snacks and drinks with us. Sufficient drink to keep us hydrated and snacks to maintain the energy level are required. Rest rooms are available at Torquay, Kennett River, Apollo Bay, the tourist center at Port Campbell National Park, and the eatery at Colac. All the attractions along the road are open to visitors without entrance fee. We are thankful that Go West Tour arranged the whole trip well, by taking a stop almost every hour.

This is one of the hardest-to-built stretches of Great Ocean Road. We were allowed to hoop down and walked around for 3 minutes there. Click on the picture for bigger panoramic view. 

Beautiful farmland with cattle and sheep can be seen along the Great Ocean Road.

Different views from Melbourne city (upper left) to the suburban area (upper right), to the farming area (lower right) and sea side, all can be seen in Great Ocean Road trip.

We had a long trip to Great Ocean Road on our second day in Melbourne. Third day, Healesville Sanctuary.