Back in a big city again, it would be rude not to go for coffee, and there were a wealth of suitable places on Degraves, Little Bourke or Little Collins Streets which offered street style service. Amongst the street art (=euphemistic description of graffiti), there were also beautiful arcades.
Markets turn out to be quite big in Melbourne: we visited South Melbourne Market by ourselves but booked a foodie tour of the Queen Victoria Market which gave us a far greater understanding of what we were looking at, as well as the opportunity to taste some Aussie delicacies (smoked crocodile anyone?).
The Queen Vic market building dates back to 1878 and has retained original architectural details which we found really interesting such as the Dairy Hall’s marble floors and pull-down store fronts, and the hanging meat hooks that enable the butchers to bring in carcasses from the loading dock at the top of the hill all the way down to the meat hall at the bottom. I was briefly tempted to get up at 2am to witness the mechanics of this.
We were introduced to the finger lime, or lime caviar. Believe me when I say that your G&T is crying out for a little sprinkling of these. In fact, we’re going to have a go at growing finger limes when we get home!
We read an article in the Fiji Airways In-flight magazine saying that this was a different way to experience the Melbourne Star. They weren’t wrong: doing a few downward dogs and high planks in an entirely glass cabin (thankfully private) whilst 120m in the air was certainly an interesting, if not entirely meditative experience! The only thing is that they built the Melbourne Star in the Docklands; think building the London Eye in the London Docklands - no one would be on it (and in fact no one was).
Philip Island, a 2 hour drive outside Melbourne, boasts a parade of little Penguins (aka Fairy Penguins) at sunset. We read some hilarious TripAdvisor reviews from angry visitors expecting baton-twirling penguins marching in time to a Disney theme tune, but as this was definitely not what we were expecting we booked with The Little Penguin Bus Company and were not disappointed.
The protection of these penguins has been so successful that rather than their projected extinction by 2020, there are now 32,000 of them coming ashore at night, once their main predators have gone to bed - not all at once; they take it in turns over a week or so.
We purchased a toy penguin wearing a jumper hand-knitted by volunteers for real penguins affected by an oil spill - one to keep away from our destructo-dog when we return home!
“Don’t go to Australia before March”, they said; “It’ll be too hot before then”, they said. What they didn’t say is that March to May is monsoon season. On face value that’s no big deal; having been rained on by Cyclone Fehi and snowed on by Cyclone Gita in New Zealand, what’s a bit of rain between friends? I can think of worse places to be holed up.. there are some interesting indoor things todo around Cairns.
Whilst visiting the nearby town of Palm Cove for dinner we saw these signs on the beach:
We were quite aware that there are a) wild crocodiles in Northern Queensland b) these critters are quite happy in fresh or salt water. Ever since I saw Attack of the Alligators! Episode of Thunderbirds back when I was 8 I’ve “had a thing” about large ferocious reptiles who’s only mission in life is to eat anything they can catch; hence a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures was a must-do.
Hartley’s has operated a commercial crocodile farm since 1989 and also provides refuge to crocodiles trapped when they venture into areas inhabited by humans - not those crocodiles which have actually killed a human; those are shot....! A recent acquisition was Rolo, named because of the impressive death roll he performed on cctv footage when he caught a dog just up the road in Port Douglas.
Our boat trip around Hartley’s Lagoon started with the usual health and safety briefing about staying behind the safety rope. The only people allowed on the other side are the guide, with his crocodile bait on the end of a stick, and the lady in a wheelchair....?! We learnt that crocodiles can go from log look-a-likes to rearing almost fully out of the water snapping their jaws with a resounding snap remarkably quickly when presented with a chicken head dangling on the end of a bio-degradeable rope. Not sure the wheel chair would have been as palatable.
We watched a nightmare-inducing croc attack show where Jesse, a self professed “Crocodile guy” and intrepid guide, was chased around by Hagrid. Reassuringly the only major injury at Hartley’s was in 1981 when a Cassowary bird mis-judged a landing on a Ranger and cracked one of his vertebrae.
According to a cynical Hartley’s ranger (who likes reptiles a lot), tourists spend AU$3billion a year to see “grey balls of fur asleep in trees”. Having spied on the Koala breakfast (which we hadn’t paid extra for), Victoria felt the need to boost this revenue. Daisy, one of the rock-stars only allowed to work 30 minutes a day (any more might eat into her allotted 20 hours a day of sleep), was duly prised off her branch and presented to Victoria for a cuddle. The joy provided by these “grey balls of fur” is clear from the photos.
On Saturday, the sun finally came out and the clouds cleared. We were originally booked on the skyrail to go up to Kuranda and the Scenic Railway to come back down, but the train was cancelled for 48 hours’ of safety checks after all the rain. No matter, the Skyrail was running, and we snagged a glass-bottomed gondola so that we could look staring down on the rainforest below.