Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas at "the Prom"

Merry Christmas! Technically Christmas is over here, as we are well into the 26th, known as Boxing Day in Australia. Boxing Day is similar to Black Friday in that most stores have massive sales, and Boxing Day is also known for a big cricket match held in Melbourne every year at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). This year we woke up in a tent on Christmas morning, the last of three nights spent backcountry camping in Wilsons Promontory National Park, affectionately known as "the Prom" to Australians (in case you were wondering, Australian secondary schools do not have "proms" like we have in the States, so no confusion there). We have been wanting to check out the Prom for a while, but it is a good three hour drive from Melbourne, so I thought it would be good to dedicate more than a weekend to exploring the area.

We did not get a very early start on Saturday morning, as it had been a busy week of finishing up work before a long holiday for Erik on top of lots of Christmas parties to attend for both of us (the Aussies do not mess around when it comes to Christmas parties!). Originally we had planned on a 7am departure, but we missed that by a few hours! At any rate, we arrived at the Prom in the early afternoon hours to be greeted with lush green forests and beautiful beaches.

This is the first time I have ever seen an emu on a sign. The bottom animal is a wombat, which we were hoping to see on this trip but we were not so lucky. We did see a few "sleeping" wombats on the side of the road, but those don't count!
Upon arrival, we ate lunch and took the free park shuttle up to the top of Telegraph Saddle, where we would begin a "short" hike to our accommodation for the night. Our hike that day was about 12 kilometers, or 7.5 miles, mostly downhill with a little bit of climbing towards the end. We camped at a backcountry site called Roaring Meg, conveniently located next to a freshwater stream. On Sunday, we got an early start, as we had 24 kms (15 miles) to hike that day. I have to take the blame on setting such ambitious distance goals for each day, because the way that I generally convert kms to miles is to cut them in half. Clearly that is NOT a good way to calculate, because three extra miles is a lot when you've already walked 12! The tracks that day were filled with lots of ups and downs, a visit to a lighthouse, some nice coastal scenery, much-needed rest stops, walks through towering forests, and numerous wildlife encounters.
Our first view of the lighthouse

You can actually stay in cottages on the lighthouse grounds instead of camping, but you still have to hike to the lighthouse to get there, as there are no roads within the park in this area.
Look how well this blue-tongued lizard blends into the walkway!

The lighthouse from the "other" side 

Stepping foot onto Waterloo Bay beach...still a few more hours of hiking to go at this point!

We crossed several gorgeous beaches during our four days of trekking.
Once we arrived at Refuge Cove, our campsite for the second night, we plopped down our bags and immediately headed into the ocean for a bit of relief from our long day of walking. This campsite was probably the nicest of our trip...lots of towering trees to sleep under, a minute or two walk to the beach, and only two other tents besides ours in the area.
Our campsite at Refuge Cove was just beyond the sand and into the trees.
We were slow to start on Monday morning given our big hike the day before, but we still had a good 16 kms (10 miles) to walk in order to get to our campsite for that night. The first two hours of hiking were backtracking along part of the walk we had done on Sunday, but the last few hours were mostly easy miles across flat, sandy tracks, bringing us to Oberon Bay, where we would spend Christmas Eve. Unfortunately the weather was not as nice on Monday, so it was a bit cool during the evening hours, but on Christmas morning we woke up to sunshine and warmer air, ensuring that we could get in a Christmas morning swim.

Little Waterloo Bay

On Christmas morning we had about 8 km (about 5 miles) to hike in order to get back to our car. The views on this hike were some of the best of our trip, so it was a pretty easy few hours of walking. Once we arrived back to where we started, we quickly changed into our swimwear and headed out into the ocean for a quick dip!
Oberon Bay. Our campsite was at the far end of the beach.
Hiking down to Little Oberon Bay
Little Oberon Bay
Blue water and blue sky!
The boys returning from their swim in the ocean at Norman Beach

Overall, we had a great trip to the Prom, as it is set up well for hike-in camping. The backcountry sites have water access (though you need to be able to filter/treat the water) and most have basic long drop toilets. Despite my full-on itinerary of hiking, I think everyone in our party had a good time. It was our first encounter with snakes in Australia (except for the one I saw running last year), and fortunately all of the snakes that we came across retreated quickly and were not interested in being close to us. We are not sure exactly what types of snakes they were, but we determined one was probably a tiger snake given its appearance and their presence in the Prom. No koalas, wallabies, or kangaroos in our campsites this time though, only possums trying to eat our food! We did see a few wallabies and kangaroos along our hikes, one particular exciting moment when we saw a joey who was a bit startled by us and then jumped head first into her mom's pouch. Pretty cool! This was my longest hike-in camping experience and while it certainly is easier to hike without carrying everything on your back, I think the chance to access places that take a bit more "work" to get to is a nice reward for a hard day of hiking!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Drinking in Dromana!

Victoria has several wine regions scattered throughout the state, as the climate varies a lot between different locations. A few months ago, we visited the Rutherglen and King Valley regions with a group from Erik's work. Last weekend we spent three nights on the Mornington Peninsula with friends, specifically in the town of Dromana.

One of our friends found an awesome five bedroom house just a few blocks from the beach that we could make our "home" for the weekend. There were a few couples and a few singles, and we all took turns cooking meals for the group. Erik and I chose to cook a full American breakfast complete with made-to-order omelettes, potatoes, sausage, and mimosas. :) I should mention that this house was very multicultural, with a group of two Americans, two Aussies, two Italians, a couple from the UK, a Canadian, and a Spaniard. One of the things that is so fantastic about Erik's job is that post-doctoral researchers have come to work in Melbourne from all over the world, so we have established a very diverse group of friends!

Most people arrived Friday night around dinner time, where our first delicious meal was served outside on the deck.

On Saturday, we enjoyed a morning of lounging around and checking out the beach before heading out for a half day of visiting local wineries.

Remember the Beach Boxes from Brighton? There are some here, too!
Erik and our other friend, Angie, volunteered to be designated drivers so that the rest of us could indulge in beer and wine.
First winery of the weekend...Darling Park
This distillery had the most delicious lemon cream liquor!
Port Phillip Estate
Our Saturday wine tasting crew at Port Phillip Estate.
Hickinbotham had both beer and wine tastings...
...and a nice outdoor patio where we enjoyed lunch.
This work horse was HUGE!
Minus a few of the others, our last stop at Crittenden was well worth the wait.
Leaving with lots of bottles of wine, specifically the 2010 Pinot Noir!
When we returned back to the house on Saturday around dinner time, we decided we should head out for a swim in the not-so-warm Port Phillip Bay. It was a good way to refresh for another night of delicious food, drinks, and board games.

For Sunday, one of our friends had booked a bus so that we would not have to worry about a DD. For about $30 per person, we had our own personal driver, Rick, to take us anywhere we pleased for the day. Having the driver was fantastic and absolutely worth every penny, and we were able to visit five different wineries that day.
First stop: Tuck's Ridge
We had a great experience there and ended up with a few free bottles of wine!

Second stop: Montalto
Third stop: Red Hill Estate
Fourth stop: Merricks
We had lunch at Merricks as well. Rick, our driver, is at the head of the table.
Fifth and final stop: Box Stallion
Sunday night was another repeat of Friday and Saturday nights, though perhaps a little bit more low key since we were getting up early to drive back to Melbourne on Monday morning.

Drinking in Dromana was such a fantastic way to spend a weekend and the group is already discussing doing a similar trip next year. The Mornington Peninsula has an abundance of great wineries, so we could go back and actually visit different places next time, though I think we had a few favorites that we might like to head back to as well!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Return to Hobart

On our final morning in Tassie, we ventured out on a few short walks before heading south towards Hobart. On the way, we stopped at Kate's Berry Farm, where we sampled delicious jams and enjoyed yummy strawberry and boysenberry ice cream accompanied by a pretty nice view!

Gorgeous views on the drive back to Hobart!
We almost hit this Echidna as it was crossing the road!
Up close and personal but definitely NOT showing his face!
Once arriving in Hobart, we went straight to the top of Mount Wellington, a 4,000 ft mountain that towers over the city. On the way up the mountain, the weather was perfect. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the top, the weather had changed, with clouds moving in and the temperature dropping rapidly. We had been in shorts and t-shirts and suddenly we needed pants and fleece jackets!
The beach area on the right side of the picture is Seven Mile Beach, where we ate lunch.
After descending Mount Wellington, we had a few hours to kill before our flight. Overall, we were quite tired from the previous two days of hiking, so we did not want to spend those hours walking around in Hobart. We decided to head to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, where we would be able to leisurely stroll around, rest on a bench, or lie down in the grass (which is what Erik decided to do!). Springtime in Tassie meant there were some beautiful blooms to be photographed.

These flowers were in my wedding bouquet!
During our short trip, we were only able to explore just a slice of what Tasmania has to offer. We are hoping to head back for another long weekend, next time tackling the west side's popular mountains and hiking tracks!