The third Melbourne lockdown had delayed my weekend getaway to this lovely little town on the Yarra River, but two weeks later my plans were back on.
I’ve been to Kangaroo Island almost ten years ago, and in the meantime I forgot just how enormous it really is. Once we got off the ferry, it came as a shock to realise that it would take us about an hour and a half to get to the Flinders Chase National Park on the other end of the island. You also have to plan your meals carefully, as you very well may be stuck an hour’s drive away from the nearest cafe with a growling stomach.
The drive is worth it though, since Kangaroo Island is home to some of the most amazing landmarks in Australia. The absolute star attraction is Remarkable Rocks, a group of giant granite boulders that look like abstract sculptures artfully scattered by nature atop the granite base. I was prepared to enjoy them rain or shine, but the day’s random weather played into our hands; the minute we got to the rocks the showers cleared and the orange lichen looked even more stunning against the blue sky.
In the late afternoon, we just made it to a guided tour of the Seal Bay, where you can see the Australian fur seals. We were lucky to catch them during the season when young seal pups frolic around excitedly and annoy the grown-ups who just want to have a nap.
The next day, we headed to Little Sahara, which is exactly what the name suggests: a mini sand dune area about two square kilometres in size. More active travellers go there for sandboarding, but we were content to just go for a stroll.
Mum and I spent three days in South Australia, and as always we managed to pack a lot into the long weekend at our disposal. Though I still didn’t get a proper look at Adelaide, I at least managed to see more of the city than the time I flew in for a U2 concert years ago, when I pretty much only saw the airport, the stadium, and the interior of the all-night internet cafe. I wouldn’t mind coming back for a third time and exploring it better.
After a brief stop at the Glenelg Beach, we spent time driving around Barossa Valley, stopping at a couple of wineries.
Then we drove to Hahndorf, an obscenely picturesque and quaint small town originally founded by German Lutheran settlers in 1839. It was packed with tourists, but as the day was drawing to a close the streets got a bit more nice and quiet. The main tree-lined street, with old sandstone architecture and flowers everywhere, is very pretty. Of course we just had to have German sausages and sauerkraut for dinner, topped with non-alcoholic beer.
Sydney is always great to visit, and this time I got to attend the annual Vivid Festival, when Sydney is illuminated by some amazing light shows. We were also lucky to catch the Archibald Prize portrait exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, spend some time at the Manly Beach, and enjoy some great food. I tried non-alcoholic beer for the first time, which was surprisingly nice (real beer still gets a no from me though).
I’ve been to Tasmania at least five times before, and seen most of its major attractions, but never made it to Bruny Island off the south-eastern coast near Hobart. This beautiful spot exceeded all of our expectations and was very much worth the trip.
I don’t think I’d want to live in Canberra but visiting for a few days was nice. It’s a very sedate place which, depending on a point of view, could either mean quiet and relaxing or dull and empty. On a plus side, the food was uniformly fantastic and the city is very green, with many European trees which must look stunning in autumn. The road system however is a visitor’s nightmare; evidently someone decided that parallel streets are way too boring and that the traffic must run in circles and loops instead.
MONA and Mt Field National Park
The first time I went to MONA (that’s Museum of Old and New Art), it blew my mind – it’s simply one of the best and most unique museums I’ve been to. I had no idea a place so amazing was just an hour’s flight from Melbourne. Even taking away the art itself, the underground spaces with their somewhat ominous atmosphere and bare rock walls are worth seeing. It was a pleasure to visit it again and see the changes since the last time.
After MONA we decided to drive to Mt Field National Park and see the Russell Falls again. The last time we were there in a different time of year, it was more like a Russell Trickle, so it was nice to see it roar with a bit more energy. It’s a beautiful walk through the rainforest, as well, which made us burn off at least some of the food we shamelessly stuffed ourselves with during our break.
And that was it for our trip to Tasmania, except for a short stop in Richmond on our way back to Hobart, where Mum bought a couple of cheese knives, which she then forgot to take out of the handbag. That didn’t impress the guys at the screening point at the airport, luckily our bag was still available at the check-in so she could put them inside. I then also did a no-no by walking through the screening gate with my hands inside the jacket pockets, which I was told to never ever do again. The funny thing was that, at the beginning of the trip, Mum had to part with a pair of small scissors left in her handbag by accident when we were screened at the Melbourne airport, so this trip was obviously under a curse of small metal objects.
Freycinet and Bicheno
On the second day, we headed out to the Freycinet National Park. Our first stop was at the Friendly Beaches, which I haven’t checked out before. It’s a gorgeous spot, with white sandy beach and those awesome red lichen-covered rocks typical for the coastline on this side of Tasmania.
Then we went on to Coles Bay, which turned out to have its own micro-climate; it was hot enough to swim and made me wish I had packed my bikini or at least a pair of light pants instead of jeans. Sunbathing ruled out, I did a walk along the beach, enjoying the view of the Hazards and stopping to take a photo every 30 seconds or so, because seriously how can you not?
We had lunch at a local cafe which I would not come back to – we got served a lumpy seafood chowder, tiniest pieces of white bread, and a Greek salad which was predominantly spinach with a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar. Food everywhere else was great, but this cafe obviously survives only because of the high tourist turnover.
I chickened out of doing a hike up to the Wineglass Bay lookout, so instead we drove to Bicheno, a coastal town further up north. The sea was much rougher there compared to the sedate Coles Bay and the wind way nastier, but that didn’t stop us from hopping all over the rocks.
Salamanca Market and Mount Wellington
Sometimes in a rush for more exotic destinations we ignore the wonderful places right under our nose, and we pretty much ignored Tasmania for the first 11 years after we’d moved to Melbourne. Once we finally visited though, we never stopped coming back, as this small island is blessed with natural beauty and packed with things to see and do. And delicious food, too.
This time around we haven’t ventured too far from Hobart, which was our base for two nights, but we still managed to pack in quite a bit. The only real annoyance on the first day was waiting for almost an hour for our checked-in bag to show up. Note to self, best not to travel to places with tiny airports so close to a public holiday, because chaos may ensue. Because of this delay, we haven’t spent as much time at the Salamanca Market as we would have liked, but oh well. It’s a great place to hang around, with the beautiful sandstone buildings as the backdrop and plenty of interesting and tasty wares on display.
Afterwards, we went for a drive to the top of Mount Wellington, which looms over the city. It was freezing cold with a killer wind, however the views were spectacular. The terrain on the very top is quite rugged and harsh, but it has its own desolate beauty to it that always appeals to me.