Sovereign Hill, Otway Park, & Great Ocean Road

Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
This past weekend was absolutely amazing! Our cousins took us to Sovereign Hill (an old gold mining town in Ballarat, Victoria), Otway Park where we walked among the tree tops, and a winding drive on Great Ocean Road!
Sovereign Hill was a lot more fun than I expected. Not being a huge history buff, I didn’t feel to excited until we started walking through the town. They had characters living just like they would have during the late 1800s who were very animated and convincing. We got to peek into their houses and actually shop around their stores! Visitors were also able to pan for gold and keep what they got – a little boy walked up to us and showed us all the gold flakes he had found. I tried for a couple minutes but my patience quickly wore thin, haha!

We toured two different mines in the town and went 30 meters underground. It was quite nerve-wracking at times, but it was very interesting to see where the miners worked and how they suffered to put food on their plates.
Inside a typical cabin

Butcher shop

I was very hopeful I’d actually find something hot to drink!

Everybody panning for gold! Some got lucky!

Ready to head down into the mine!

A demonstration on pouring and purifying gold! They have been using the same bar of gold for 19 years! 24 karats.

Beautiful view from the top of the tower in Sovereign Hill!

Hello, Ballarat!

Overlooking Sovereign Hill

The Tower

Our new friend, Phoenix! She let us pick her up and everything!

We found Phoenix enjoying the boiler room, later!

These guys marched through the whole town like this!

In the bowling center (yes, really – it was nine pin bowling all made out of wood!)

The Fire Brigade!

Exhibit in the Gold Museum across the street. All nuggets found at Sovereign Hill worth thousands of dollars!

Next we stopped at the Twelve Apostles, legendary rock formations along the Great Ocean Road. We were very lucky to have a beautiful day – and while it was very windy it at least wasn’t cold!

Later in the day we went to Otway National Park, a rain forest where one can go up on the Treetop Walk. The views from the top were fantastic. The trees seemed to go down, down, down and never stop! Many of them were too big for even two people to put their arms around. I’m glad we ended up doing this – it was raining when we got there and the parking lot was empty. We almost drove home!

There was a tower where we could climb up that took us above the tree tops – this is the view from the top of that tower.

Climbing to the top!

Tuesday we drove back with the most magnificent view of the Southern Ocean (I know that’s not really one of the official oceans but that’s what they call it here!).
Just a friendly reminder!

The Great Ocean Road was amazing, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who easily gets car sick! I normally do feel queasy but I got lucky since I was with family and they let me sit in the front – can’t do that on a bus tour! 

Melbourne: Market and Hosier Lane

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Yesterday my sister and I ventured on our own into the city. We wanted to check out more of Queen Victoria Market and Hosier Lane and just walk around the city center for a little bit. We found Melbourne easy to navigate as it has several maps on street corners with detailed images. 
Queen Victoria Market was fantastic but had a lot of repeat stores. We weren’t looking for anything specific except some souvenirs, which we easily found as there were many shops that carried the same stuff. There were stalls for clothes, UGGs, jewelry, shoes, purses, hats, and just about every other necessary junk one might need. The food section held fresh fruits and vegetables with the vendors yelling their prices in near religious chants. The indoor market houses the meats and seafood, carrying every sort of fresh cut imaginable and some, including kangaroo meat. We held our noses as we walked through!

After pushing through the market we went to the food court with our eyes set on Verona, a breakfast place. Being brunch lovers, the thought of homestyle pancakes had us drooling! We each had ten mini pancakes slathered in fresh berries and fresh whipped cream. 
Mini pancakes with whipped cream and fresh berries… mmmmm

Outside the market

Our walk through the city took us down Bourke St. and Swanston St., full of shops and street performers. Being a weekday meant the sidewalks weren’t as packed. We popped in and out of the cheap jewelry stores and left with new necklaces that we really needed.

As we grew closer to the Yarra River, in the city center, we came upon St. Paul’s Cathedral. Unfortunately one cannot take pictures inside without paying and I felt too guilty to sneak some! It wasn’t too magnificent for me to be bothered, though. Across from the cathedral is Flinders Street station.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Flinders St. Station.

Keep heading across the Cathedral, away from the station, and you’ll come across Hosier Lane, a classic Melbourne alley covered in graffiti. We wanted to make a special stop here and I’m so glad we did! It’s such a cool area and wasn’t crowded. Sure, there were other tourists but they were sparse enough for them to stay out of our pictures. It seems a little sketchy but there were enough people for us to feel safe.

Hosier Lane

Before heading back we made sure to stop at Joy, a cupcake shop in Southgate station, across the river from Flinders. We bought a box of six and planned to split each on in half. Nom nom!

Flavors, clockwise starting from the top: Chocolate, Sticky Date, Banana, Toffee Apple, Strawberry Shortcake, and Baklava.

I’m so glad we finally got a chance to explore more of Melbourne. After two weeks here I’m feeling very satisfied with what I’ve seen of the city. Tomorrow we’re leaving to see the Great Ocean Road and we can’t wait!

Melbourne: The City and Parks

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

These past couple days we got to spend some time in the city center of Melbourne! It’s a beautiful city that’s just big enough to have lots to do but small enough to not be overwhelming. We went first on Monday morning which was the Queen’s Birthday holiday, so K and V had the day off. We assumed that meant that the entire city would be out and about but the streets were bare enough. K and V took us on a boat cruise on the Yarra River which runs through the city. The ferry was as packed as the streets outside so I was able to walk inside and outside without a problem.
We made our first stop the Lindt chocolate store inside Southgate station and got Lindt hot chocolate and a variety of truffles we don’t get in the USA. Don’t even get me started! We spent some time waiting for the cruise walking around the shops and on the 

Sculpture outside Southgate train station

I can’t even…

Someone get me a napkin for the drool! 

Southgate Pedestrian Footbridge

Beautiful views from the cruise

The “Melbourne Star”

A treat from the Joy bakery in Southgate station. I think we’ll be stopping there again!

The next day we went back to the city with my mom’s cousin E and her husband R. They took us to Eureka Tower, which offers 360 degrees of views from the 88th floor. I seriously felt like I was a bird or in a helicopter. The weather was perfect without a cloud in the sky, so we could see for what felt like hundreds of miles outside the city. The tower also offers a Skydeck experience for an extra fee, which puts you into a glass box that sticks outside (like the one in Chicago). We did it (because why not?) but I would say it didn’t seem worth it; the glass was smudgy and we weren’t allowed to take our own photos. It’s best to just stay put and look out the windows.

We stayed with them over night to spend more time together. This morning, they drove us to Mt. Macedon, which offers a little hike to a place of worship with a giant cement cross. Leading up to the cross area is plush greenery and lots of mountain mist. After coming back from the Cross we stopped at the small associated restaurant and got delicious English crumpets with cream and jam.

Spotted some Crimson Rosella birds outside restaurant!

The naughty rosellas were trying to eat Kenneth’s (the peacock) food.

After, we went to Organ Pipes National Park. After a pleasant downhill hike we came upon the rock formation which literally looks like pipes from a large organ. It was very different and peaceful. The park itself was a huge gorge filled with trees and wildlife. We even ran into a wallaby on accident!

So cool!

We took a wrong turn back up the trail and made a new friend, Mr. Wallaby!

Tomorrow morning my sister and I are going back to the city on our own to spend more time in Queen Victoria Market and check out Hosier Lane as well. That’s all, folks!

Amazing Weekend at Altina Wildlife Park

Griffith, New South Wales, Australia

This past weekend was AMAZING!! We hopped in the car and drove five hours from Melbourne to Altina Wildlife Park in Griffith in New South Wales, run by one of our cousins. A sanctuary for many of Australia’s endangered species, we visted each animal personally and even went inside the Marmocet cage! Altina takes guests on tour by appointment and we had to wait until the last tour was over before our cousin took us around. 

On the way up to Griffith we stopped at a farmers’ market and walked around for an hour. The best part was finding the wild koala in the trees! It looks like a big lump and you have to look veeeery closely to see it, but you can make out the furry body. It didn’t move at all!

Later in the day we got to Altina Wildlife Park and met up with our cousin, C. He drove us in his truck throughout the park and it was like a wild safari ride!

A bongo, very endangered.

Maned wolf

Timmy the lion


Later in the evening we made a bonfire at the river bend that ran through the park and roasted up hamburgers and sausages. When we kept very quiet we heard the lions roaring from their cages in the background.

One of the thousands of eucalyptus trees

Nothing better.

We spent the rest of the evening driving more throughout the park and seeing more animals.

Ready for the ride!
“Well, the animals have to eat, too.” 

Carrying a six month old wombat

A real life black swan! They don’t have too many white ones in Australia.

The naughty marmocet monkeys! We got to go inside their cage!

They were jumping all over us!

One monkey had just used my head as a trampoline!

Outside the lion’s cage – he was pacing back and forth!

Feeding the hyena the lovely animals parts from the truck – you could hear the crunches as it bit through the horse’s tail!

Sitting by the bonfire with the family.

We rented a small cabin for the night and this was the morning view!

This weekend was simply amazing and unlike anything I’ve experienced before! I’m lucky to have family that are so loving and willing to go the extra step for us. So far Australia has been nothing short of wonderful thanks to them!

Nature Day around Melbourne

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Hawthorne, Victoria, Australia
Yesterday my cousin N, whom I hadn’t seen since we were kids in India, took my sister and I out to the Malaysian restaurant Omah’s in the nearby town of Hawthorne. He had been raving all day about the Singapore chili crab dish, so of course we all ordered that. We were so shocked when our meals came: the crabs were about as big as our heads! I didn’t know where to start or what to do but before we knew what was happening we were all covered in the chili crab sauce, breaking apart crab legs and greedily sucking out the meat and juices. It was so good – I’m drooling just thinking about it. The crab looks a lot bigger from the outside and tricks you in to thinking you won’t finish it, but I was licking my fingers clean after just twenty minutes.
Chili crab dish at Omah’s restaurant in Hawthorne, Victoria, Australia. HUGE.

Today, our cousins K and V, who we are staying with while in Melbourne, took us around to the local beaches. It started out being a cloudy day but thankfully it cleared up soon enough! I was also able to collect a couple snack bags of sand to take home!
We began the day at Half Moon Bay and walked up the pier. It was freezing here so we didn’t stay too long!
Half Moon Bay

An annoyed pelican that projectile-squirted its poop at my sister, who screamed and ran away in a huff.

 Next we stopped at Middle Brighton Beach and walked up and down the pier.

Middle Brighton Beach

Third, we went to Dendy Beach to see the famous bathing boxes (changing rooms). They are painted in all the colors of the rainbow and are so much fun to see!

For the final lap of the day, we went to Mt. Dandenong, following a winding trail up the small mountain and into the rain forest preserve. We stopped at William Ricketts Sanctuary, a beautiful forest that contains hand-carved sculptures of aboriginal people at every turn throughout the trail.

William Rickett and his wife

Tree of Life
We stopped at a bird feeding spot on the way back home where we got to feed wild cockatoos, big white parrots almost the size of a chicken. I had the bowl of bird feed, plus some in my hand, and eventually got one of them to fly down from their protective tree to the fence near me. I should have realized that I started a chain reaction. Once I gave that one some food from my hand, a second, a third, and a million more came! Before I knew it, I had at least eight giant birds on my fighting each other for the food. I suddenly felt a chomp on my right hand at the base of my thumb – one of the little jerks had bit me! It was bleeding a fair bit so I got out of there and ran over to the water station (with warning signs right above it stating that these birds might carry diseases, which of course made me feel so much better). Blood was everywhere! We managed to wrap it up and drove home right away with my mom telling me every five seconds to hold my hand up in the air. It seemed to stop bleeding and didn’t start up again when we got home and redressed the wound. The girl working the feeding area told me that people get bit all the time and I should be fine. So far I have full mobility in my thumb and the wound didn’t seem to be too deep. 

What a way to end a lovely day! At least I’ll have a scar that’ll give me a good story!

Melbourne Day 2: The Miracle Fruit

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
In the true spirit of family reunions, we visited four of my mom’s cousins yesterday whom she hadn’t seen in over ten years. It was so much fun watching them catch up and meeting them myself.
The plants here in Melbourne are nothing like we have in Sheboygan. We saw wild eucalyptus, lavender, citrus fruit trees, birds of paradise, and I don’t even know what else. Everything looks so different and almost strange! Plus, all these plants are right outside everyone’s homes and are as normal as grass.
Eucalyptus tree! Definitely didn’t expect it to look like this.

Eucalyptus tree and flower – crush up the leaf and you can really smell its scent.

Later in the afternoon we went to my Auntie B.’s house for a delicious lunch of mutton curry and dahi wada (a deep fried and yogurt-soaked savory doughnut). Everything was so good that I could barely eat any dinner later since I stuffed myself so much!

But then, something amazing happened. My Uncle T. surprised us with something we’ve been craving and dreaming of for years, something we only got in India that most people in the US had no idea existed: custard apples. A fruit that tastes a lot better than it looks, custard apples (also called seethaphal in Hindi) are green and lumpy on the outside and cream-colored on the inside with its fruit surrounding each seed. The trick is to eat it with a spoon, scoop out a seed, suck the fruit off, then spit out the seed. The flavor is sweet and incomparable to any other fruit, and its soft texture makes it truly taste like a custard. When Uncle T. brought these in the house, I just about fell over!

Custard apple!

Looks are deceiving!

yum yum yum!!

After so much eating we spent the rest of the evening chatting and looking at old photographs of their son N., my cousin who I spent a lot of time with when we visited India. It was great getting to see him again, and we’re making plans to go out for dinner soon.

Today we’re going back to Auntie B./Uncle T.’s house for lunch and then going out shopping. We haven’t done any sightseeing yet as we’ve been prioritizing seeing family (and the weather has been depressing).

Can’t wait for today’s adventures!

Arrival in Melbourne!

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

My mom, sister, and I finally touched down in Melbourne, Australia yesterday morning and were greeted by a horde of relatives waiting to kiss us and pinch our cheeks. We waited in the customs line for almost an hour before walking through the double doors, pouring us into Melbourne. Most people would complain having to stand in a line for an hour, but after 16 hours of sitting in a cramped position all we wanted to do was stretch!

The flight itself was great.  Qantas is probably the best airline I’ve traveled with so far. There were over 50 movie choices and even more television episodes available of all the latest shows and seasons. Definitely something for everybody! They also fed us every 90 minutes or so with a light snack and we got two meals that were very good.

Beautiful light fixtures in the O’Hare Airport

We’re staying with our cousins K. and V. (husband/wife), who live in a beautiful, magazine-esque home with gorgeous hardwood floors and more than enough room for us. Thanks to them we were able to make this trip a reality; there’s no way we would be able to afford hotel rooms and restaurant meals every day! Having relatives all over the world truly makes it possible for us to travel.

So far we have seen some interesting native birds which would probably be kept in a zoo in the US. I just wish I could have a better camera (and knew what the birds were called)!

Today we’re planning on spending some time with aunties and cousins. More to come later!

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