Sunday, October 21, 2012

Matilda Bay Brewing Company

A few months ago, I received a Travelzoo email with a "local deal" for beer tasting with food pairings at Matilda Bay Brewing Company. Matilda Bay is a local brewery that Erik and I learned about early on during our time in Oz, as we tasted many of their beers at the Fed Square Beer Festival (which we will be hitting up again this just a few days!). The deal was $25 per person (regularly $50), so I bought a couple of them with intentions to arrange our tasting during the time that my parents were visiting. Fortunately, we were able to book in on a Thursday night during that week!

Our tasting was scheduled for 5:30, but in typical Aussie fashion, people were late and I'm pretty sure we did not get started until around 6pm. The brewery is located in Port Melbourne, and traffic getting there during that time of day was not easy, so that does provide a bit of an explanation for the delay, though Erik and I find that things rarely start on time here! The guy who was leading our food and beer pairings had a terrific personality and was quite funny. He briefly described each of our six beers and the food item that went along with the respective beverage. It was a "go at your own pace" type of tasting, which was great for conversation among the group, but I was not exactly sure which beer was which because our guide only described them in the beginning. 
From L to R: Prawns, Risotto Balls, Seared Tuna, Lamb Chop, Pork Belly, Chocolate Brownie
There were about 16 people in our group, but we ended up spending a lot of time chatting with the four men next to us, a group of three brothers and a friend of one of the brothers. These guys were local to the area and really fun to chat with during the course of the evening. It was my parents first interaction with Australians, so I think they struggled to understand some of what the men were saying (when we first arrived we had to ask people to repeat themselves we are getting better at interpreting Ausssie English!), but they were definitely entertained buy these gentleman while we were beer tasting.
The darkest beer, Dogbolter, was my favorite! It paired amazingly well with the chocolate brownie.
After the tastings, we were given a short tour of the brewery, where our guide explained the brewing process. He also gave credit to the Americans for their beer brewing skills, explaining that the States is way ahead of Australia when it comes to brewing beer. Aussies do seem to be impressed with the beer choices in bars/pubs in the States. Here we are often limited to just a couple of choices on tap at most pubs. The tour lasted about 30 minutes, and afterwards we said goodbye to our new friends. 
I cannot remember the name of our guide, but he used very "colorful" and entertaining language!

Overall, I thought the value for the money was good and I would definitely go back to Matilda Bay Brewing Company for similar specials. The only caveat is the location, as it is in more of an industrial area and most people would have to go out of their way to get there. It was a great "activity" to do with visitors, so perhaps we will be back soon with our next round of guests!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Great Ocean Road Revisited

If you have been reading the blog for a while you might remember that Erik and I took a trip along the Great Ocean Road in February. I personally think that a trip to see the 12 Apostles is a must-do for visitors to Melbourne, so just a few days after my mom and dad arrived, we headed in that direction! Since I had done the drive before (although technically I did not drive at ALL the first time because I was still not comfortable driving on the other side of the road), I planned most of our stops in advance and I booked accommodation in Apollo Bay at the Beachfront Motel, so that we could split the long drive up into two days.

Our first stop on day one was at Bells Beach. This was a very different beach compared to what Erik and I saw back in February. On the day that I visited with my parents, the beach was packed with surfers. According to one of them, the swell was 3 meters (10 feet) at the face of some of the biggest waves.

Next, we made a side trip to Anglesea Golf Club. I had read in various places that this was a good place to spot kangaroos, and I was not sure that we would see any others during the course of our trip. Sure enough, as soon as we turned onto the road that the golf course is on, we spotted a group of kangaroos. This was midday, so I did not know how much movement would be occurring, as the 'roos tend to be more active at dawn and dusk. However, we saw a few of them jumping and others "scooting" during the time we stopped to watch them. In addition, one of the kangaroos that was close to us had a joey (baby) in its pouch! You cannot see the joey's head, but you can see the ears sticking up and you can see that the mom's pouch is full. So cool!!

Mom and I were hoping that the joey would poke its head out!

After leaving the kangaroos, we made a short stop at Split Point lighthouse and then stopped at the Great Ocean Road monument. Shortly after that, we stopped for lunch in Lorne, where we ate a filling lunch of fish and chips just a few steps away from the Southern Ocean.

We then made our way to Teddy's Lookout, which has beautiful views of the ocean and offers a glimpse of cars driving along the famous road below. After taking some pictures, we were back in the car (at this point I was feeling bad that we have a two door car because getting in and out is not an easy task and we were doing it often!) and off to our next stop, Grey River Road, for more koala spotting. We were again successful at finding several koalas. In addition, we saw our first "wild" kangaroo along this road, who was just having a meal when we wandered by him.

How cute are they?!

This cockatoo was not happy with me taking his photo!

Our final stop of the day was in Apollo Bay for rest, dinner, and sleep! It was super quiet in town and most things seemed to close at 5pm, though this was a weeknight in the spring and the population of the town is quite small, so I guess that is to be expected. We ended up not being very hungry for dinner after our massive lunch, so we tried a tapas place called "Chill" and we were pleasantly surprised with the food and the delicious sangria. The decor and feel of the place was very modern but also laid back, and I would definitely recommend checking it out if you spend some time in Apollo Bay.

In the morning, we ate a nice breakfast at Cafe 153, just a few steps from our motel. After brekkie we were off to do some more exploring. The night before, we had decided not to drive down the road to the Cape Otway lighthouse. I knew that this was a great place for koala spotting, but since we had already seen so many, mom and dad agreed that our time would be better spent elsewhere. However, when we approached the road to the lighthouse, we were making good time and I kind of just felt like we should drive down the road, so I made a last minute decision that would turn out to be a good one. There were tens (maybe hundreds?!) of koalas in the trees on this road, including the most adorable baby koala in the world (seriously!). Furthermore, we witnessed two koala "fights", as apparently they are very territorial about their tree spaces! Check out the video below to see one of the fights (yes, that is my mother you are hearing during most of the fight). Also on the video is a climbing koala who startled me as I was walking into some tall grass to try to get a better view of the joey. All of the sudden, I heard a rustling in the grass, and this koala came walking out straight towards me, crossed the road, and then proceeded to climb up the tree. I thought I captured the entire thing on video, but apparently not. Mom and dad were standing there too, and I think my mom caught most of it on her iPhone!

720p from Ashley Hanson on Vimeo.
Koalas seem to fall asleep in the funniest positions!
After we parked, we realized there was a koala right above our car.

These two were actually getting along well. Check out the video above to see the koala fight!
Yes, this picture is *almost* the same as above, but I cannot get enough of this joey!
Mom is checking up on baby...
...and then they rub noses. So sweet!
Don't you just want to take this thing home with you?!
Another mommy, holding her joey while sleeping. Note baby koala leg sticking out!!
The next part of the drive is through Otway National Park, which is full of twists and turns and unfortunately made my mom a little car sick. Needless to say, she was happy to get out of the vehicle when we arrived at the 12 Apostles.

Again, how cute are they?!

From the Apostles, we drove up the road to Loch Ard Gorge, where we did a little more sightseeing before jumping back in the car to return back to Melbourne. We drove the inland road home, which is about two hours faster (though not nearly as pretty or exciting!) than driving back along the Great Ocean Road. This was a lot to see and do in two days time, and I probably completely exhausted my parents, but they seemed to keep up rather well and enjoyed nearly every second of our trip along the road that is consistently named one of the greatest in the world for its scenery.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Phillip Island

I hope you like koalas, because I took about a hundred pictures of them when my parents were in town!
During mom and dad's visit, we wanted to take one "big" day trip from Melbourne. There are lots of places to see that are within a two to three hour drive of where we live, but after discussing our potential plans with a few locals and with our visitors, we determined that Phillip Island was a good choice. We started the day at the Nobbies Centre, where we learned a little bit about animal and sea life in Australia and also had a look at Seal Rocks, which at any point in time can house over 20,000 seals! Unfortunately you cannot actually see the seals from the Nobbies Centre, but if you pay a few dollars you can get close up views of the seals, as there are video cameras near the rocks that will zoom in, out, and around for you to get a glimpse of the seals. 
It's tough work sleeping 20 hours a day!
Next, we made our way to the Koala Conservation Centre. Here, boardwalks are strategically built around eucalyptus trees to entice koalas to build their homes there. I had read mixed reviews about this place and wasn't sure it would be worth the $11 admission fee, however, it was absolutely worth the trip. We saw several koalas, two with babies (called "joeys", just like baby kangaroos), and also several wallabies. In addition, there were a few birds spotted, including a robin sitting on her eggs.
If you look closely, you can see that the baby is hanging onto the branch and the mom has her arms wrapped around him. SO cute!
This momma has her left arm around her baby.
This wallaby was not getting any attention whatsoever from my mother!
Can you spot the robin? Not the best photo, as she was well-hidden.
This video was taken on my phone and is therefore probably not the best quality, but it is fun to hear our reactions when the koala unexpectedly decided to get out of the tree. I showed my parents so that you can get an idea of how close we were able to get to the koalas. The background noise you hear is actually cars racing on the Grand Prix course, which is a few miles away from the sanctuary. Apparently that noise has sadly driven some of the wildlife away. 

Koala Conservation Centre from Ashley Hanson on Vimeo.
Another wallaby looking for some attention.
Looking at faces like this just does not get old for me!
Our last stop of the evening was the Penguin Parade. Again, this was something that gets mixed reviews from locals and visitors. Some say it is a must-do and others say it is not worth the money. Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable (albeit, cold) experience. Just after sunset, hundreds of "little penguins" (also called fairy penguins) begin to exit the water and come ashore, where they have burrows in the sand dunes. They tend to come out of the water in groups, and it is actually quite amusing to watch as they waddle to shore, trying to avoid being eaten by the seagulls! However, the most entertaining part is actually as you are walking back from the ocean, because the boardwalks have been built so that you can view the penguins going to their burrows. Also, inside the visitor's center, there are little "windows" into a few burrows so that you can look at the penguins that way. One of the penguins I saw through a window was actually sitting on two eggs. There is no lack of penguin viewing on the walk back to the car, and it is even mentioned to visitors to check under their vehicles for the little guys when leaving the area!
This bird was "pecking" at its reflection in the car and it was hilarious to watch!
Waiting on the little penguins. We had decent seats, but I definitely recommend getting there early to get spots in the first few rows, as it will make for much better penguin viewing.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


On September 23rd, our first visitors arrived in parents!

Their visit was much anticipated by both us and by the traveling party, who took the trip in part to see us and also to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary! Their visit was planned over school holidays so that I would be free to explore with them without the burden of working during the week. Due to the fact that my dad is still working, he could only take two weeks off, which meant about ten days in Oz after you account for travel and also spending a day in LA (where they did a whirlwind tour of Hollywood, drove up the PCH, and got in the audience for a Jay Leno Show taping!). I tried to pick activities that would "highlight" the best of what Melbourne has to offer, since they would spend only seven days here before flying to Sydney for a long weekend. I also did not want to completely exhaust my parents, as after all, it was meant to be a vacation for them!

When they arrived on Saturday morning, we let them get settled into their new surroundings, but then went to Willy for the day to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. We also ate dinner at a great restaurant within walking distance of our house, which forced them to stay awake even though they would have probably liked to have been asleep! They were troopers though, and managed to avoid going to bed until around 10pm, which helped them get adjusted to our "local" time.
Mom insisted I take this picture to show Erik driving on the "wrong" side of the car!
Strolling on a lovely Saturday in Williamstown with the CBD in view.
Williamstown Beach
On Sunday, we took a day trip to Phillip Island. This was one of the few days that Erik was able to join us for activities, as unfortunately he was (and still is!) quite busy with work. I am going to do a separate post for Phillip Island, since this was our first visit there, but for now I'll leave you with a few pictures from the Koala Sanctuary. We also attended the Penguin Parade, but they do not allow photography (much to my mother's dismay!), so the only pictures I have from that event are of the lovely sunset over the ocean that evening.
One of the koalas that my mother became attached to...she did not want to leave!

There were many wallabies at the koala sanctuary, though Sandy did not have much interest in them!
Watching the water for any sign of penguins
Monday was rather low key due to the fact that I sustained some sort of food poisoning, likely from a Red Rooster (a local fast food chain) rotisserie chicken. Unfortunately I was still feeling sluggish on Monday, but that did mean that we could relax at home and watch the Ravens play Sunday night football. Later on in the afternoon, we took the train from Footscray Station into the city so that we could ride the City Circle Tram. The free tram travels around the city in about an hour, giving a little bit of commentary along the way. It is a good way to get your bearings of the city and it was a nice way to spend a cool afternoon. On the way home, we stopped at Olympic Doughnuts so that my parents could try their famous hot jam donuts. The place looks incredibly dodgy, but luckily the girl in front of my mother explained that she had been coming to get donuts for years from that place (it opened in 1981), so my mom was convinced they were okay to eat. :)
Flinders Street Station
Hanging out at the tram stop
Hot jam donuts at Footscray Station!
On Tuesday, we departed for the Great Ocean Road! The three of us (Erik had to stay home to work...booo!) headed out in the morning and set our sights on reaching Apollo Bay that evening. We would return back to Melbourne on Wednesday night for Erik's birthday dinner. Our trip was absolutely fantastic, and I will do a separate blog post about our trip there as well, because there is just too much to write about in one post. Highlights included surfers at Bells Beach in 3 meter swells, kangaroos at Anglesea golf course, baby koalas on the road to Cape Otway lighthouse, witnessing two koala fights on the same road, stunning views from Teddy's lookout, a tapas dinner in Apollo Bay, and obviously seeing the 12 Apostles.

Wednesday evening we celebrated 34 years of Erik with pizza for dinner and cake for dessert. He even had a few presents to open, some of which traveled all the way from Africa, where Erik's mother spent some time just a few months ago.
Birthday boy!! :)
Rainbow chip cake is the way to this guy's heart!
For Thursday, we planned a trip to Queen Victoria Market. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of mom and dad at the market, but I think they enjoyed looking at the items the stalls had to offer and they did a good amount of souvenir shopping there as well. I actually drove to the market (which I would never do under other circumstances because I hate driving in the city), and came to a sign where I was supposed to do a hook turn. Well I have never encountered that before and I had absolutely no idea what to do! There were no cars coming in the other direction (though there was a cyclist who probably had to slow down to avoid hitting me), so I just turned right instead of waiting like I was apparently supposed to do. I might need a Melbournian to work with me on this hook turn thing! On Thursday evening, we headed to a local brewery, Matilda Bay, for a beer tasting. I will post additional information about that as well, because I think local readers might be interested in learning more about that adventure. We all had a great time and also met some "friends" during our tasting experience!
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." - Benjamin Franklin
Our friends!
Friday was spent watching the Ravens on Thursday night football and also packing up for the next adventure -- a trip to Sydney! On Friday night we had dinner with some members of our "footy family", who were generous to host us for dinner after just returning from a three week holiday in Europe the day before. My parents enjoyed being able to be inside the home of an Australian family and there was no lack of good food, drink, and conversation! We flew out of Melbourne on Saturday morning on different flights and met up at our hotel, Marriott Circular Quay, later that afternoon. Again, I will do a separate post on Sydney, but here are a few pictures from the trip.

Two iconic sites in one shot. Lots of people out enjoying the lovely Sydney weather!
My parents flew out of Sydney on Monday at 1pm and arrived back in Baltimore at 8pm on Monday night, over 24 hours after they left Australia. We had a fantastic visit with them, and we are so glad that they were able to make it here to see what our lives are like Down Under. Stay tuned for more detailed reports from their visit! :)