DDU and the Girls, Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Brisbane airport sign, not Hawaii…

Life has really accelerated for us all in Australia, with full time ED work and 5 kids in school. No longer wide-eyed visitors to this remarkable continent, we are now somewhat more settled, working and living here; and that’s a very different experience. We’ve been trying to keep on top of everything, but the weeks and months just fly by. Luckily, I was able to get away for an EM management conference in Melbourne recently. Three nights right downtown with the hotel on Collins Street, the ritzy shopping and dining area in the center of everything. It seemed like the perfect time for “Girl’s Weekend, Part 2”. So Claire and Cate played hooky and off we went. Stephanie and I reasoned that they’d learn a whole lot more on the road than stuck inside some drab classroom. It’s mid-winter down in south Australia, so a bit nippy, but nothing like mid-winter in Boston or my homeland of New England. In fact, it’s a good time to visit, as lots of plants are in bloom, and you avoid the hot winds off the central deserts north of Melbourne that can make the city scorchingly hot in mid-summer.

Departure Brisbane

Happiness is an airline ticket somewhere

Brisbane aerial

Arriving in a new world…

Melbourne laneway cafes

Greater Melbourne, pop 4 million is, along with Sydney, also 4 million , one of the two largest urban centers in Australia. Nearly 1/3 of the Australian population lives within their two orbits. There’s a very vigorous, friendly rivalry between the two for best-of status, think Boston vs NYC, without any other contenders. In truth, they are very different experiences to an outsider. Melbourne lacks the dramatic setting of Sydney Harbor or headlands or the iconic landmarks of the Opera House or Harbor Bridge.  Instead it’s a subtle city of graceful parks, ethnic neighborhoods and outstanding food, with a very active cafe culture. It’s famous for it’s laneways, small dead end streets right downtown, filled with cafes and streetlife. For what it’s worth, an international quality of life poll recently named Melbourne as the best city worldwide for overall quality of life. Sydneysiders were not pleased to say the least! It’s a lively, safe and friendly place with plenty to intrigue a visitor for days.

Let’s Go, Melbourne..!

Saint Paul’s Anglican cathedral

Victorian train station

The Yarra River, muddy but well-loved…

The climate here is much cooler and wetter than Sydney and is famously unpredictable. The Melbourne based band Crowded House sang about ” Four Seasons In One Day” from experience. But I think it’s this temperate climate that gives the city it’s rich cultural tapestry and focus. I felt the strongest sense of being in a “real city” here more than anywhere else in Australia so far.

Thai Green Curry with Chicken- Asian comfort food!

Girl’s Night out…

University of Melbourne

Showin’ the LOVE baby…!

Real pizza, at last…!

Melbourne has old, established Italian and Greek communities, and up north on Lygon Street, their own version of Little Italy…an antipodean Old North End complete with real pizza, a rarity in Australia, believe me…It’s said to have one of the largest Greek communities in the world outside of Athens.

Lygon Street cafe

Sorry to seem obsessive , but you might notice that this blog seems very concentrated on food and dining. Well, it was mid-winter in Melbourne..and it seems that is what the entire town is about…as well as a few museums…Memories to savor and enjoy…

Chin-Chin crowd scene

Asian braised Waygu beef with rice noodles and cilantro

Even Gelato….!

Silver Fern flat white coffees

Hotel breakfast

Victorian Era shopping mall

Pastry shop window, very European style…

The Queen Victoria Market is a Melbourne institution dating back to the 1850’s. Right downtown, it runs thrice-weekly and provides a mind-boggling array of fresh produce, meats, seafood..Truly foodie-heaven, it was even featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. If ever in town on market day, it’s a must do….

Mmmm, hungry yet…?

Fruiti de Mer…

I am LOVIN’ all this crazy food….

We were lucky to be in town during a winter exhibit of Monet’s Garden, an impressive collection of over 50 large Monets direct from Paris. No photos allowed, but a great experience for the girls.

National Museum of Victoria

Monet’s (fake backdrop) Garden

Prepping for another night on the town…

Thumbs up from Cate and Claire

Cool Hot Cocoas…

Melbourne Aquarium, Great White Shark
The question finally answered…Here’s Nemo…!

A tender morsel….

Dad, I’ll take the pink ones…

Melbourne is also considered the cutting-edge fashion and shopping mecca of Australia…Lots of interesting things to see and buy….if that’s your bag, baby…!

Street art….

Bridge detail

Royal Botanic Garden sculpture

Shrine of Remembrance

The Shrine of Remembrance is a very moving tribute to the Australian war dead of WW1. It sits near the Botanical Garden on a hilltop overlooking the entire city. Made entirely of hand carved local stone, it’s oriented so that on the exact annual date and time the Armacist was announced, a beam of sunlight enters the room and crosses silently over the tomb of the unknown soldier for 15 minutes. Very Indiana Jones…They do a simulation on the hour….

Winter Fire

Melbourne from the shrine roof

The war widow and orphan monument

Royal Botanic Garden

It was off season, so cooler with a grey filtered light…Quiet in the gardens, with few tourists around but still very peaceful and beautiful. And always, a cafe nearby for a “hot cuppa and a bikkie.”

Downtown from bridge over the Yarra River

Saint Paul’s cathedral

Old and New

Now let’s eat…!

Asian Peking Pork

Fancy Chocolates…!!

As any of you who follow DDU regularly know, we are not really urban-folk..Love to get that city vibe for a few days, but then it’s always “Let’s hit the open road and see what lies ahead!” …or something… So, the plan was perfect; three nights in downtown Melbourne and then head out down the southern coast and see Lorne and the Great Ocean Road (GOR). Quiet off season and one of the world’s great oceanside drives…Let’s go….!

Port Airlie Lighthouse

Southern coast near Airey’s Inlet

The official start, I guess….

It’s a very windy road….

Flotsam and Jetsam…

The GOR has an amazing history. It began as a jobs project for returning WW1 veterans and took over 20 years to complete. It runs over 100 miles along some of the most remote and rugged coastline in Australia. There’s a string of tiny old fishing and resort settlements strung along the coast and backed by the temperate rain-forested Otway Mountain ranges, now all preserved as National Parks. In summer season, booked out a year in advance, off season you have the place to yourselves…Per-fect…!

She Oak Creek Falls

The Otway Ranges are remote, rain-swept, forested and steep right down to the ocean. Numerous creeks run off to the sea, carving tight canyons full of indigenous plants, birds and wildlife. A surprise to me was how many large waterfalls and hiking trails exist right off the GOR. Stopping at any creek outlet leads into an impressive stone canyon within a few hundred yards..We did a day trip into She Oak Canyon, hiking over the falls, which culminated in a large open cave high above the falls. A fantastic, diverse hike in only a couple of miles…

For scale, the Birdsnest fern is about six feet high

Cardio workout

A bend in the road

Lorne winter sunset

We stayed two nights in the well known resort town of Lorne, completely dead off season. Got a great winter escape package on-line, complete with a kitchen and two bedrooms. Of 200 or so units, there were around six occupied. Had the place to ourselves…It’s a convenient base for exploring the GOR and taking a long day trip out to see the iconic Twelve Apostles near Port Campbell, our agenda for the next day….stay tuned….

Pool and hot tub…the only guests….

Lorne Main Street morning

GOR overlook

As we drove west, the weather cleared and we got beautiful, filtered, low northern- winter sunlight by the time we made it to the Twelve Apostles; an iconic Australian landscape, three twisty-turny hours later…As you approach, the anticipation builds and the overall effect doesn’t disappoint; you are standing at the ragged, battered southern edge of the continent, and could be nowhere else on the planet…

The Twelve Apostles, (with 1 and 1/2 Saints)

Not a fake backdrop….

Actually only some eight remain in this constantly evolving landscape

As the sunlight and clouds shift, the limestone formations change rapidly in depth and distance. The southern ocean, driven by cold winds right off of Antarctica, is never still or silent…

By all reports, we were most fortunate, as in mid-winter many tourists drive for hours through near gale force winds only to arrive here in virtually white-out conditions. Our weather was balmy by comparison.

Visitor’s Center, Twelve Apostles

Port Campbell Harbor
Loch Ard Gorge

Incredibly narrow gorge mouth

This coast is called the Shipwreck Coast, scene of hundreds of disasters over the centuries. The most famous was the wreck of the Loch Ard in 1878, on the final night of it’s 3 month voyage from England. Of 55 passengers and crew only two 18 year olds, a boy and a girl, survived; both miraculously swept into the protection of Loch Ard Gorge. Legend says he rescued her, after hearing her cries for help above the storm, brought her into the cave pictured, build a fire and both survived the stormy night. The romantic tale made headlines world-wide, but no real romance ensued. She soon returned to Ireland, and the lucky two never saw each other again.

The rescue cave

Another surprise is that this coastline is much more than just the well-known landmarks shown here. In fact, the entire limestone coastline is capped by a windswept, rather flat heath plain that ends abruptly at the storming seas several hundred feet below. It is a complex, varigated system of gorges, caves and headland stretching for 50 or so miles and constantly evolving with time and tide. A long day trip really isn’t time sufficient to see even the highlights. There are many trails to hike and nooks and crannies to explore.

Headland arch, the next Apostle..?

Loch Ard Gorge with Heath

A coastal labyrinth

Local humor, Port Campbell

The road back over Cape Otway

The Southern sub-species of Koala. Fuzzy Ears much??

We took a side trip out to Cape Otway on the ride back to Lorne for the express purpose of seeing the southern subspecies of Koala. Larger, darker and furrier than their tropical cousins, it’s one of the best places to see them in the wild. We weren’t disappointed, seeing several dozen. We had no time to explore the famous Cape Otway lighthouse though. Maybe next trip.

GOR overlook

Old Lorne Hotel
Bedtime after a long, tiring day

Lorne morning

Nice lil’ birdie…

Australian birdlife is amazing. Here in Lorne, raucous, wild, Sulfur-Crested Cockatoos come right to your balcony for a handout. They are so intelligent and exotic, you can’t help yourself…which only encourages the neighbors…Before you know it, a full-fledged Cockatoo riot, complete with fisticuffs….!

Getting fired up…

And a few of me mates….

C’mon just one more tidbit….

Don’t say you weren’t warned about me….!

Cumberland Resort, Lorne

Lorne bathing beauties

Looking back at Lorne, heading east on GOR

Australian nautical colors

On any trip you have only two real choices…stay local and explore a small area intimately, or hit the road and try to see as much of a region as possible, within reason…We normally prefer the former, but the state of Victoria, by far the smallest and most populous of Australian states, is famous for the stunning diversity of it’s landscapes. Everything from hiking and skiing in the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alps, to the GOR and coastal ranges to the desert landscapes of the western goldfields with the Outback beyond, all within a four hour driving radius of Melbourne. Given that we might never get to this part of the planet again, we decided to see as much as possible. So here the tale gets a bit tricky. Driving east off the GOR we stayed on the coast south of Melbourne, crossing the narrow neck of Port Phillip Bay by ferry to the Mornington Peninsula and the resort town of Sorrento. This area has been the playground of Melbournites since the 1860’s, think Boston-Cape Cod. The area is riddled with boutique wineries, restaurants and excellent B&B’s. We were only passing through, but did stop for an excellent snack in Sorrento and lunch in Mornington.

Ferry selfie

Sorrento Harbor

Queenscliff-Sorrento ferry

Empty ferry
Amazing ferry, with back massaging recliners…!
Sorrento Hotel

Sorrento Cafe

Sorrento back beach

” The Sphinx”

A “crook” penguin

Claire and Cate, our lovely daughters

Sorrento back beach scenes

Lunch in Mornington

We went to a famous Italian market and restaurant for lunch in Mornington…Really, really, (really) good….

Nutella too, X-Large…Paradise found….!

Claire and Stephanie

The ( genuine Italian) chefs

Seriously real pizza….

And Calzones too…unheard of in Queensland…!


Healesville Hotel dining room

Even though the Mornington Peninsula was magical, and could easily occupy a week, or an entire summer, of your time, we had a few miles to go yet. On a friend’s advice, we decided to head two more hours north, to spend our final night in the Yarra Valley; a wine region famed for it’s cooler weather wines, and Pinot Noirs especially. Healesville is the small agricultural town at it’s heart, like Napa, well regarded for fine, local-sourced ingredients and seasonal menus. The Healesville Hotel is a rustic foodie haven, so we decided to end the trip with a big splurge on a winter dinner there, complete with roaring fireplace. I held the line on accomodations though, we spent the night in a roadhouse up the road!

Table for four, seven o’clock…

See you at seven…anticipation…
The loving couple…

What followed was one of the best meals I’ve experienced while in Australia, and that’s high praise. Relaxed, attentive but not fussy service, thoughtful pairing of courses with local-sourced wines. More than merely dinner, it was a shared life experience with our beloved daughters; and hopefully a subtle education in the more refined pleasures of life. Good food, conversation, companionship; the very stuff of civilization…

Beef filet with winter root veg…two please….
Pork belly and loin with….other good stuff…
Dim Sum with clover leaf..? I can’t recall….haha


Stephanie, in the mood

Pork belly and loin with etc….yes, please..

This is crazy good, Dad…

And a praline sundae to finish…

Too pretty to eat…?

Next morning, up early, a quick brekkie, and off to explore the Yarra Valley before catching an afternoon flight back to Brissie. There was method to my madness, as the Yarra Valley lies only 1 1/2 hours northeast of Melbourne, almost right up to it’s expanding outer suburbs. So we were well positioned to the airport already.

DDU needs his cuppa…or two…!!

Future beef filet at the Healesville Hotel…? Keepin’ it local folks…

The Yarra Valley is surprisingly large and adamantly agricultural, surrounded by low hills, it feels very similar to Napa or Sonoma. Being mid-winter, the vines were dormant and it was quiet. A nice season to visit!


De Bortoli Vineyards

Stephanie, my #1 girl….

Yarra Valley Chocolates…amazing, lots of free samples…Every kid’s favorite shop, of every age….go there…

All you can eat, free chips….!

Hell on your wallet, straight ahead….

More free sugar, sir…?

Soon enough, it was time to turn in the rental car, get through the security lines, board the plane and wing it back to Brisbane. Spending time with our growing daughter’s was a priceless bonding and memory sharing opportunity for us all. While very different than a boy’s trip, it was every bit as much fun and memorable, if a tad more calorie intensive…. We hope we’ve shared experiences and memories that will carry them through and help to shape their lives forever. Thanks to all our extended families and friends who might be reading this, for sharing some of these experiences with us. And we hope you are looking forward to what comes next for us during our incredible Aussie adventure, as we are. Who ever knows?  Until then, love and blessings!  Stephanie, Claire, Catherine…and DDU..

Over Cleveland Point and Raby Bay, our Australian home…!

Stephanie, Claire and Catherine..my lovely ladies…

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