It was clear to see Melbourne was a bigger city than we had experienced in the rest of Australia. Arriving in 39 degrees, with a hot wind in our face, we headed straight for St. Kilda beach, which was packed out with school leavers, so we actually ended up lying in a grassy park nearby. The heat was so aggressive we both retreated into the shade of a big tree. I (James) still managed to get my run in, but suffered afterwards, even after drinking three litres of water.
In the evening we met up with Connor and Tara for dinner in the Melbourne Crown Entertainment Complex, which is a vast 24 hour mall of restaurants, bars, cinemas and a casino. Then we headed to an Irish bar to meet Donal and Melissa; the craic was mighty and it was great to catch up and spend some time with friends over a few beers.
The next day, amazingly, turned out to be very cold and rainy, a massive contrast to the day before, so we spent the time doing something cultural and visited some of Melbourne's many museums. First up was the Immigration Museum, all about the different nationalities that make up the population of Victoria. It was a great museum, well worth the trip, especially as we managed to yet again blag our ways in for free!!
Next up was the impressive National Gallery of Victoria, with thousands of works of art, including a history of fashion exhibit, with clothes donated by Kylie Minogue!! We ended the day with a wander (and a run for me) round the botanical gardens.
For our last day, we took a tour to Phillip Island, world famous for its Penguin Parade! Although the penguins don't hit the beach until sunset, about 9pm, we spent most of the day exploring the island. The tour started with a pretty uneventful and dull 'follow the flag' style walk around another set of botanical gardens, before we hit the good stuff! The chocolate factory though, made us forget about that, as we tucked into masses of free samples, made our initials in chocolate and watched the world's largest chocolate waterfall!! It was a little embarrassing, when we climbed last onto the bus, with our arms still full of freebies!!! The koala rehabilitation centre was next up, and even though we had seen more koalas in the wild, it was pretty cool seeing the cute critters again, along with wallabies bobbing about!
After our free dinner, we headed off to the Penguin Parade. Depending on the season, between 100 and 2000, penguins come out of the sea, waddle across the beach and into the cover of the sand dunes for their nights rest. We upgraded to a separate section of viewing deck that was directly next to the most common path the penguins take, and I have to say, it was definitely worth the extra few pounds! We saw about 900 of the Little Penguins (literally, the world's smallest) standing about 1 foot away from us! They come up from the sea in groups of about 40-60, in an orderly fashion, and take turns to take the biggest risk of crossing the beach, while the next group waits patiently behind for their turn! For 50 minutes there are bright lights shining on to the beach so you can see them, then everything goes off and the penguins get left in peace. 50 minutes is just about as long as you need, as once the sun goes down, the sea breeze blowing in your face isn't so refreshing anymore….more like freezing!
Our bus leaves this evening for Sydney, and we have discovered the public library has free wifi for all…..so we are taking full advantage of it and catching up with all our chores!!!!!