Yarra Valley, Canberra and on to Sydney

Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
Trip End Dec 04, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thank you for all your birthday wishes in text messages, e-mails and notes left on my notice board. I really appreciate it. I celebrated my birthday last Tuesday with Janice and her partner Stu, Mae Yin and Balan. I also got to see Mae Yin and Balan's six-month old son, Aden who's an absolute cutie. The next day, I was up bright and early for my day tour to the Yarra Valley. We headed east towards the Dandenong Ranges where we stopped at the lovely Dandenong Ranges National Park. The forest looked stunning in the early morning light, with the tall slender mountain ash trees bathed in the morning sunshine. Saw lots of birds: brightly-coloured rozellas and different varieties of cockatoos. We then continued our journey to Belgrave, where we boarded the Puffing Billy Steam Train. It's Australia's oldest steam train and it was quite an experience just hanging out the window and watching the forest pass by. After the train ride, our journey continued to the Yarra Valley where we visited the Fergusson winery. Along the way, we passed some beautiful countryside: rolling green hills, vineyards, nurseries, quaint villages and patches of gum forests. Lots of Dutchies live in this area where they have their nurseries and fruit/vegetable farms. At the winery, we were treated to a delicious spit roast lunch accompanied by a fine Cabernet Sauvignon.

After lunch, we made our way through this very charming valley to the Healesville Sanctuary where we got to see some koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, the Tasmanian Devil, emus and other Australian animals. Check out the photos of the laidback kangaroos :-) We then visited the Chandon Estate which is owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet & Hennessy). It's a gorgeous estate perched on a hill and has sweeping views of the Yarra Valley. The bubbly was good as well as the Pinot Noir.

The weather enroute was stunning. The sun shone throughout and it was a perfect day for a trip to the Yarra Valley. I must say, the bad weather on Monday really enhanced my trip to the Great Ocean Road (and 12 Apostles) and the great weather during my Yarra Valley trip did the same.

On Thursday, I took a ten-hour train/coach combination to Canberra. I don't think many people go to Canberra because I couldn't find a direct service!! Weird, huh? It is after all the nation's capital! I really enjoyed Melbourne and wished I had more time to explore the various neighbourhoods. There's just so much to see and five days isn't really sufficient. Oh well! Anyway, the first part of the journey to Canberra (by train) was quite uneventful, first through Melbourne's sprawled out suburbs, then past large farms and little communities, with the snow-capped peaks of the Great Dividing Range in the distance. After a three hour ride, I arrived in a small town called Bairnsdale, in the east of the state of Victoria. From here, I hopped onto a bus for the seven-hour trip to Canberra. The scenery was more interesting in this part of Victoria. It was hilly throughout and we passed large tracts of gum forests, beautiful lakes and even skirted the coastline where we were treated to a stunning vista of the Pacific Ocean. We drove through many little towns and villages with exotic names like Orbost, Nowa Nowa, Bombala and Nimmitabel. The landscape became noticeably drier after we crossed into New South Wales. The green hills of Victoria made way for brown,shrubby hills and expansive plains. This is cattle country. Everywhere I looked, there were numerous herds of sheep and cows as well as groups of kangaroos.

I arrived in Canberra at 6 pm and was met at the station by my dear friend Renate. I met Renate in 1988 on a flight from Sydney (via Melbourne) to KL. We struck it off beautifully from the start and talked almost non-stop during the entire 11-hour flight. Since then, we have kept in touch every year, sending each other letters, postcards and Christmas cards. When we got to her place, Renate popped open a bottle of champagne, after which we sat down to a lovely dinner and chatted for several hours. The next day, we went for a beautiful drive around Canberra. My last time in Canberra was in 1988 and it has grown a lot larger since. We drove along Lake Burley Griffin and the impressive Parliament House. Then had lunch at the Lake Marina. That evening, we were joined by Renate's daughter for a dinner at the Hellenic Club. There are many clubs in Canberra (and all around Australia for that matter) that cater to the various ethnic groups. For instance, the Hellenic Club is the Greek club, there are also clubs for the Italians, Austrians, Germans, Chinese, etc., etc.. Anyone can become a member and most of these clubs have senior and family-oriented facilities and cultural activities as well as restaurants. The dinner was wonderful and the conversation was endless! Mum and daughter can really talk :-) When we got back, Renate and I sat out on the verandah and chatted till about midnight. I loved our chats. It really is special when you have a friend with whom you can relate to so easily and talk to about anything.

This morning, Renate brought me to the bus terminal for my three-hour coach ride into Sydney. We said our goodbyes and I hopped onto the coach. The journey to Sydney wasn't too interesting and it was a good thing it only lasted a few hours: halfway through the journey, a Chinese guy who was sitting behind me started to 'sing'....in his sleep. It started off as a murmur, then became louder, changed into a cacophony of hoots and wails and ranged from high screechy tones to baritone-like noises. It was like a mix of Chinese opera, Tosca and a hyena really. Well, whatever it was, it wasn't pretty. I'm sure the girl who was sitting across the aisle from him would agree with me (see photo). OMG factor: 1 :-)

Anyway, I'm in Sydney now. Yes!!!! One of my favourite cities in the world. The weather is great too; after the massive temperature fluctuations in Melbourne (25C to 8C in the daytime from one day to the next, ok!!) and ditto in Canberra (24C during the day and about 9C at night), the warm weather in Sydney is lovely. Back to shorts and t-shirts! I had a rather embarrassing experience when I arrived at the Sydney Central Station. I got into a taxi and told the driver the name of my hotel. He hesitated for a moment, then drove around the corner and about 100 meters up the street and there was my hotel!! Well, I didn't know it was that close! Anyway, he was in a jolly mood and we both had a good laugh.

Right, I'll be here for two nights. On Monday, I'm off to the Whitsunday Islands where I'm going sailing for a few days. Then I'll fly up north to Cairns where I'm spending five nights. Oh yes, there's a last-minute addition: a camping trip to the Outback in Queensland - I received an e-mail a few days ago from the hotel I'm staying at in Cairns and they offered me a night out in the Outback as an alternative to a rainforest hike I was supposed to do. I decided to opt for it as I've never really been to the Outback and ... emmm, I've never camped out anywhere in my life, so it should be a fascinating experience!

Till the next blog.

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