Wednesday, September 30, 2015

At 5:30 a.m., a dense, gloomy fog settled on the ground, making it difficult to see the paved road in front of us.

We headed to a destination that had captivated me on Instagram – The Pinnacles located at Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. After recently spending the weekend here, I couldn’t believe that such a diverse landscape exists so close to Melbourne !

Cape Woolamai, just a 90-minute drive away, is dominated by a rugged coastline and extremely steep rocky cliffs and pink granite rock formations known as the Pinnacles. According to the island’s signs, about 360 million years ago, molten rock forced itself up from the earth’s core, cooled very slowly beneath the ground and formed the pink granite which you see today. Mother Nature in the form of ferocious winds and waves gradually exposed this pink granite. Honestly, the granite looked more reddish to me, but perhaps it depends on how the light hits the rocks.
Whether the rocks are truly pink or red doesn’t matter as this area is absolutely splendid for anyone who loves landscape photography or hiking. I happen to enjoy both. In fact, I found two websites (Free Photo Guides and Photography Hot Spots) talking about how to find and shoot The Pinnacles. 

Starting at the cape’s carpark, we followed the expansive, empty beach for about a kilometer and then walked up a set of wooden stairs that lead to the three walking trails. We followed the green markers to The Pinnacles, about 4 km in length and taking about 90 minutes to 2 hours to complete. Along the lush, green landscape, we saw several wallabies and thousands of small snails. Mmm…escargot anyone?

At the end of 2km, we reached a wooden bench and The Pinnacles stood in front of us, surrounded by swirling, crashing waves. The fog hung heavy, and we knew that we wouldn’t see a spectacular sunrise. The sun didn’t make an appearance at all, but I still enjoyed taking dozens of photographs here. Watch out as the sea mist will coat your camera lens!

The intense winds kept thrusting salty seawater into our faces. There was no way I was going to scramble over damp boulders to reach the shore to take more photos. However, if you dare to do so, here’s what one of the photography websites recommends:

“Follow the narrow path to the right of the bench towards the point, ensuring that you take great care as the narrow path leads you towards the steep embankment looking down to the bottom. This is where you need to take extra care and wear solid footwear with a good grip for traction. Watch your footing and keep low to the ground to avoid any risk of slipping. Once you get down, you will be rewarded for all the effort with a stunning view and very often you have the place to yourself!”

Instead of hiking down, we followed another narrow path up the nearby cliffs. I was skeptical and a little worried about the tiny path, but we made it up and were rewarded with a beautiful foggy vista. However, if you are scared of heights, I wouldn't recommend doing this small trail.
This is the tiny path my husband made me hike up to the top!
This is the section you need to hike down if you want to get to the bottom to take your sunrise/sunset photos at The Pinnacles.
After hiking to The Pinnacles, we drove about 2km back down the road to the Forrest Caves car park. (The sign is impossible to see from the road, so double check a local map.) These sea caves have been formed and continue to be shaped by the waves, making it a popular area for local surfers. This is an easy 2km return walk along another beach until you reach the enormous red boulders jutting out of the sand at the end. The caves are located here and only accessible at low tide. Well worth a stop if you’re already in the area.
By this point, it was a little after 8 a.m. and we had already been up for 3 hours. We were tired and a bit chilly. After hiking a little over 8km, we headed back to our fantastic campsite to make breakfast, which I’ll tell you about in another blog post.

Happy hiking!

My Traveling Joys

Friday, September 25, 2015

If you only had one day to explore the rolling green hills of the Dandenong Ranges, what would you do?

Well, I compiled a list of the sights we were able to see in just one day recently. Luckily, the Dandenongs are located only an hour’s drive from Melbourne so I’m sure we’ll be back to explore some more. This area is the perfect escape from the city’s major hustle and bustle.

At 9 a.m., our first stop was at Piriandas Gardens, a beautiful woodland garden containing a unique collection of non-native plants and trees. Not much was blooming in early September yet, but the terraced gardens were full of green ferns and shrubbery. Apparently, this garden is particularly beautiful in autumn when the trees change colors. We happened to see several Sulphur-crested cockatoos and two Kookaburras here.
The gardens were created by a local couple, Harvey and Gillian Ansell, in 1959 on 28 acres. On their annual overseas holidays, the Ansells bought and imported new and unusual plants that were planted amongst the native rainforest species. In 1977, the Ansells donated the garden to the Victoria government.
2. National Rhododendron Gardens
Another lovely garden spot is the National Rhododendron Gardens, which was established in 1961 by the Australian Rhododendron Society. In spring, these gardens are home to brightly colored blooms of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, cherry trees and daffodils. The rhododendrons usually bloom from June to early December.
Did you know there are 950 species of rhododendrons in the world? Nope, I didn’t either, but this Victorian garden contains approximately 550 of these species.

We spent a little over an hour walking through the garden and admiring the pretty blooms. Note: the free gardens are much bigger than they look and include a 5-km walking trail around the perimeter. Here’s a walking trail map.

We saw this cheeky Kookaburra literally swoop down and steal some chicken from a picnic table!

The Olinda section of Dandenong Ranges National Park covers 790 hectares between Olinda, Kalorama and the Silvan Reservoir. Until 1968, huge Mountain Ash trees were felled for timber and used in the growing city of Melbourne. Now, the remaining trees are home to several Australian bird species.
From the Olinda Falls carpark, it’s a relatively easy (but muddy) walk, perhaps 10-15 minutes to access the upper falls and then 5 more minutes or so to the lower falls. These were my favorite waterfalls we saw in the Dandenongs. At the lower falls, we sat down on the wooden bench and enjoyed a mid-afternoon picnic lunch. I recommend that you do the same to avoid the crowds at the picnic grounds by the carpark.
We saw dozens of cockatoos and lorikeets here, but they were perched too high up in the trees to get any good photos. Here is a walking map of the area.
Does anyone know what these metallic blue bugs are? Such a strange color!
Touted as having the “best view of Melbourne,” the Mt Dandenong Observatory was slightly disappointing for us. First, you must pay 6 aud for the car park, and then you must navigate around dozens of people that don’t know how to park a car and throngs of families going to and from their cars here. Crowds really aren’t our thing, and on this Saturday it was particularly awful. The café was packed and the main restaurant was closed for a special event. At least my glass of white wine was only 7 aud, and we briefly enjoyed the sweeping view of Melbourne and the surrounding Victoria region.
5. William Ricketts Sanctuary
If you want a beautiful, tranquil place to reflect on life, stop at the William Ricketts Sanctuary located just down the road from the hectic observatory. Just as my good Melburnian friend recommended, this sanctuary was a true delight!
This sanctuary was created way back in the 1930s by local sculptor William Rickets when he bought a four-acre bush block and called it Potter's Sanctuary. Over the years, he made frequent trips and befriended the Pitjantjatjara and Arrente Aboriginal people, whose traditions and culture inspired his sculptures. In the 1960s, the Victorian government heard about his work and bought his property and additional adjoining land. Ricketts lived at the sanctuary into his nineties and continued to create his sculptures until his death in 1993.
This sanctuary is truly a magical place! I felt like the sculptures, half hidden among the ferns, were literally coming out of the ground and becoming part of the surrounding forest. It’s really tragic to think how the Aboriginal people were treated when the first “white people” arrived in Australia and then destroyed acres and acres of land and killed thousands of local animals such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies.

As the afternoon light faded, we made our final stop of the day at Sherbrooke Falls, which includes a 2.4km flat trail roundtrip. (Click here to see a trail map of the area.)  We entered the trail off Terry’s Avenue and founded it to be an old, muddy logging road. Along the way, you’ll see the tons of verdant green ferns (which remind me of Jurrasic Park) and the region's finest mountain ash trees, some of them up to 200 years old. I found the falls slightly disappointing compared to the Olinda Falls, but apparently they are the most inspiring after heavy rains.
Have you visited the Dandenong Ranges? Do you have any other tips for our next trip?

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When I heard about a local festival featuring tulips and Turkish food, I knew we had to attend! It's like this event was created just for us!

Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne through the beautiful Dandenong Ranges, the Tesselaar Tulip Festival, now in its 62nd year, features more than half a million tulips and a million other spring bulbs planted on 25 acres of farmland. The festival runs through October 6th and includes an upcoming food, wine and jazz as well as Irish weekends. There’s something for everybody here!

Since we lived in Istanbul for three years, I took countless photos of the Turkish lale (tulips). I ended up doing the same thing at the Tesselaar Festival, although my husband insisted that I surely had enough tulip photos in my collection. Never enough, I told him!
We arrived right as the doors opened at 10 a.m. so we could beat the crowds and have better tulip photos sans people, of course. I was slightly disappointed more tulips weren’t open yet, but apparently the Victoria region's winter had been longer and colder than usual this year. No worries. The festival workers gave us two free late-bloomer tickets to return again.

Seeing row after row of colorful blooming tulips is certainly a feast for the eyes, don’t you think?
There once was an old woman that lived in a shoe…but I don’t consider myself old!
This wooden shoe is recorded to be the largest in the world and was carved by Aussie-born and internationally renowned chainsaw artist, Robbie Bast.
By now, you may be wondering what does Turkey and tulips have in common.

Well, tulips are native to Turkey and Central Asia and were brought to Holland in the 16th century. Because of the growing popularity of Turkish tulips, Holland experienced a period known as “Tulipmania” during the 17th century with excessive tulip prices and oversupply which resulted in market crashes. Then, during 1718-1730, known as the “Tulip Era” under the Ottoman reign of Sultan Ahmed III, tulips became an important symbol in Turkish arts, folklore and daily life. The lale symbol is still found all over Turkish ceramics and textiles.

After taking plenty of tulip photos, we wandered over to the Turkish side of the festival where a live band was playing. The only Turkish word I could grasp was “şey,” which is the American equivalent of saying “like” all the time.

Next, I found a Turkish woman from Izmir demonstrating how to do ebru, which is the art of creating patterns with colored pigments in a pan of oily water and then transferring this pattern to paper. I paid 10aud and she helped me create my own vibrant masterpiece.
By now, we were hungry so we wandered off to check out the Turkish options for food. The gözleme stand was calling my name. The Turkish family from Ankara making these spinach-cheese filled flatbreads (or pancakes) were thrilled to speak with me in my bir az Türkçe. The only item missing was the pickled veggies that are usually served alongside like at the Turkish pazar.
Since we shared the gözleme, we were still hungry and soon were tempted by the tantalizing smells coming from the nearby Adana kebab grill. We shared the kebab and an ayran to drink while we soaked up the spring sunshine and planned where we wanted to go hiking.
Even though I haven’t lived in Turkey for more than two years now, I still miss it and I think she will forever be a part of my soul. At least, this Turkish weekend and the blooming tulips brought back so many wonderful memories of my former home.
Am I really in Australia? The festival also featured free tractor rides around the farm and a sculpture garden.

My Traveling Joys

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