Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Daytrip from Melbourne

Did you know that more than 80 percent of Australia’s plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are found NOWHERE else in the world? 

I didn’t either until I moved to Australia and started learning more about this amazing island/country. According to, the country has more than 378 mammal species, 828 bird species, 4,000 kinds of fish, 300 types of lizards, 140 snake species and about 50 types of marine mammals.

On our recent glamping trip to Phillip Island, we stopped at Moonlight Sanctuary, about an hour southeast of Melbourne to see some Aussie animals up-close. Besides our wallaby encounters in Tasmania, my husband hadn’t seen any other animals yet. Contrary to our American beliefs, kangaroos aren’t just hopping around everywhere, especially in the city!

This sanctuary serves as a conservation park on Mornington Peninsula where you can explore 10 hectacres of bushland, meet endangered species and hand-feed kangaroos and wallabies. I was excited because I love the adorable wallabies! I also was curious to see what new creatures we might see. Turns out, plenty of them!

Upon entering, we met a pretty pink cockatoo known as Major Mitchell. This fellow was quite chatty and reminded me of some girlfriends I know who can talk nonstop. I whistled and said hello repeatedly and he continued to mimic me verbatim!
Other birds we encountered (in order) were a black-winged stilt, superb green parrots, emus, Bush Stone-curlews, Cape Barren geese and too many species that I hadn’t even heard of!
The black-winged stilt is quite common on mainland Australia and prefers freshwater and saltwater marshes.
Superb green parrots call southeast Australia home and are considered a vulnerable status. An estimated 5,000 breeding pairs are left in the wild.
Emus also are native to Australia and can be found in savanna woodlands and forested areas.
Bush Stone-curlews have the most amazing eyelashes and apparently a shrill call “like a screaming woman.” This nocturnal, native species is considered rare in most regions and endangered in Victoria and New South Wales.
We saw many Cape Barren geese on Phillip Island, which they call home as well as other coastal parts in southeastern and southern Australia. They have a unique yellow-green bill and pinkish legs.
After being captivated by the colorful birds, we found the displays of roly-poly wombats, cuddly koalas, sunning lizards, the "terrifying" Tasmanian Devil and wild dingoes. 
The sanctuary holds animal talks at certain times so we got to see the dingoes up-close and learn more about this wild dog. Dingoes are common throughout mainland Australia and are descended from southeast Asia’s Grey Wolf. These sibling pups were quite cute and enjoyed a tasty snack of kangaroo meat while we watched them!
Of course, my favorite activity was being able to hand-feed the small wallabies and large kangaroos which roam the sanctuary. We bought two bags of animal feed at 2aud each with our tickets. My advice is to head to this section first to avoid the crowds of families.
Me and the lil wallaby
Hubby finally got to see and feed a kangaroo!
A mamma wallaby and her joey tucked inside her pouch!
Wallabies are a marsupial like kangaroos but are much, much smaller. The wallabies are a bit timid, so I planted myself literally on the ground and held out my hand so they would come to me.

Total cuteness!

There are several sanctuaries located in Victoria where you can see awesome Aussie animals like the ones we saw. Don’t miss out on your chance to hand-feed a cute wallaby too when you visit Australia!

Would you like to see a wallaby up-close?

My Traveling Joys

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

From our campsite on Phillip Island, we literally had to only walk about 20 steps to reach the chilly sea.

The location was perfect for our first “glamping” experience! As we approached our tent, soft, relaxing music filled our ears. Nearby, children on holiday break played on the beach. The sun was shining and everything seemed alright with the world.
Up until this trip, I had never ever been glamping, but hubby and I had been camping several times when we lived in the D.C. area and separately as children. I had read about this trend of “glamourous camping” before (particularly popular in Africa), but I had no idea what to expect when we decided to take a break from Melbourne and spend a weekend glamping near the beach.

What we loved best (besides the fab beachside location) was that the tent was outfitted with the comforts of home – fringed rugs, a comfy queen-size mattress with sheets, pillows and a blanket, magazines to read, real plates and cutlery, a radio, an electric tea kettle and heater, a butane gas-burner stovetop, a lounge chair and even a cute dining set for two located outside our tent. We could even stand up in our tent!
This was a far cry from our previous camping experiences together, although we did use a blow-up mattress underneath our sleeping bags the last time we camped. Also, I didn’t have to hunt for firewood, and we didn’t smell like a campfire the next day.

The local couple behind this new enterprise is Serena and Alejandro Cabello, who started Phillip Island Glamping in July. Prior to our arrival, I had been in touch with Serena several times about how glamping worked, whether dates were available and at what location. I selected the Cowes Caravan Park because of its beachside location. (Two sites also are available near the town of San Remo.) Next, I reserved and paid 40aud for site 179b via the campground and paid Serena 140 aud to set up the tent and all its fixings. Our total cost was 180aud (about $125) which was cheaper than boutique hotel rooms on the island.

The whole booking process was so simple!

We spent a sunny afternoon strolling along the vast beach in front of our campsite, heading 2km away toward the Red Rocks Beach, which is aptly named after its gigantic red-colored boulders near the sea. I couldn’t believe how natural this stretch of beach was – totally unharmed from development!
Before sunset, we headed to Phillip Island’s main attraction – the Penguin Parade. At dusk, hundreds of Fairy Penguins waddle in from the sea after spending the day fishing for food for their young. We plopped our butts down on the damp sand for a near-front row experience. The penguins look so adorable as they scrutinize their surroundings, deciding which way to go and how to avoid the annoying seagulls so they can reach their burrows again.  

During the Penguin Parade, you aren’t allowed to take ANY photos so you don’t scare the penguins. However, you can see some cute penguin photos here, and the chicks look like they are waving at you.
A few penguin shots. Bottom right, you can see the furry outlines of two new chicks in their burrow. 
Our campsite was cloaked in darkness and peacefulness by the time we reached it. Hubby and I nibbled on some local cheese while we cooked a simple dinner of Italian sausages with baked beans. Not our finest meal, but it was doable considering one of us had to hold the flashlight (or torch) while the other cooked and plated. But we had wine and the black sky twinkled with thousands of stars. We rarely see stars in the city! What a beautiful sight!
Cooking at night at our glamping site on Phillip Island. Classy stuff! 
In the morning after our sunrise hike to The Pinnacles, we cooked up bacon and over easy eggs which we enjoyed with some leftover lentil salad and local cheese. If you’re craving coffee, just pop into Cowes and grab a take away coffee from one of the many cafés.  

For us, glamping was the perfect way of getting our outdoor fix without compromising on comfort, especially as the temperatures dipped down at night and we turned on the electric heater. We enjoyed our first Australian glamping experience so much that I’m already looking for other locations around the country!

Have you been glamping before or would you like to try it?
Wine + glamping = a winning combination!
This cute fairy wren visited our campsite in the morning.

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Daytrip from Melbourne

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