March 7, 2017

Brisbane : The heart of the Sunshine State

After our initial pitstop in Melbourne , it was time to move towards a more permanent home i.e. Brisbane. Australia as a whole is known all over as a laid back country and when we moved to a place which was even more laid back than Melbourne, it definitely took some time to get used to. In an Indian context, if Sydney is comparable to Mumbai, Melbourne to Bangalore , then Brisbane is often compared to Mysore, a city having its own charm and not exactly in a rat race , taking life as it comes. The tag of laid back doesn't infer in any negative sense. Brisbane has some of best infrastructure in the world, great outdoor places to visit in its surrounding including the Great Barrier reef and the UNESCO world heritage rain-forests and last but not the least the party capital of Australia , the Gold Coast just an hour drive from here. Even though there are very few tourist attractions within the city that would be considered great, I would still try to list a few worthy of mentioning in this blog.

The best way to enjoy the city would be to head towards South Bank and then take a free for tourists ferry known as Cityhopper (with bright red highlights unlike the blue ones for the CityCats) that snakes along the mighty Brisbane river giving some great views of the skyscrapers and the iconic Story bridge. South bank is another place to hang out on a weekend. It has got a pool and the a artificial beach accessible for free to the public !!! Why an artificial beach you ask, well it is because the nearest beach is a good 30 kms from the city, so they build a artificial one for those who cant go there regularly. Also a great place to catch some jaw-dropping pyrotechnics on new year's eve and Australia day.

The other interesting places to visit in the city centre include the heritage structures in the King George square and the shopping precincts in the surrounding areas. There is queen street which is the shoppers paradise. You can expect some sort of weekend markets in these areas wherein hundreds of people would be selling their used products at dirt cheap price. Kinda like a giant garage sale.

The nearest park or zoo within the city to experience local wildlife of Queensland is the Lone Pine Koala Santuary. Its not like extensive place, but has a pretty open concept for interaction with the local wildlife like koala bears, kangaroos and so on. They even have a barn where the sheep dogs have their own show, which was the best part. Overall an ok place especially for small kids who would have never have any interaction with any wildlife elsewhere.

And finally the best place to view the entire city from a completely different perspective would be from the lookout from Mount Cootha. Its best to visit this place just before sunset and enjoy both the day and night views. We went to this place on the occasion of Australia day and were to witness the wonderful fireworks show from a totally different perspective. Overall a good place to visit and chill.

January 15, 2017

Melbourne: The Most Liveable City in The World Part 2

1. Melbourne Cricket Ground

The MCG or simply known as THE G is sits exactly at the heart of a sport loving Australian. Simply the biggest and the one with great history , it is a place not to be missed. Home to Crickets matches in Summer and Australian rules football in the winter season, it has that wow factor associated with it. We went for a guided tour which charges 23 dollars per head and lasts upto 45 minutes. All the guides are generally well into their seventies , with our guide being eighty years of age and very knowledgeable about the grounds its history and so forth. The Ground doest meet the expectation and is a grandiose piece of art. There was a ongoing domestic match between Victoria state and Queensland, which the former won very easily during our guided tour itself. The guide took as to various viewing galleries, commentator stations, museums and so on. On days with some international matches scheduled the guided tour would be canceled.

2. Melbourne Museum + IMAX

One of the best museums that I have visited. Its quire vast and requires majority of the day to explore it at a leisure phase. There are various themes within this huge museum and ranges from rainforest, human body, arts, history, fossils and so on. The exhibits at many places are not just display pieces , but an experience wherein visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves to understand and get a feel of things. Separate entry fee is $14. Within the museum building is the huge IMAX theatre of Melbourne, which showcases documentary movies during normal works hours on weekdays and Hollywood blockbusters on the other time slots. When we were visiting we were shown the movie exploring space, stars and planets and it was very interesting to watch with the added effect of IMAX 3D. We bought combined entry fee to the museum and IMAX at $27.

3. Eureka Tower

To get the best birds eye view for general public would be to go to the viewing gallery 300 meters above the ground. This viewing gallery provides a 360 degree view of the entire city and it is recommended to go at the time of sunset to enjoy the daytime and night views along with the sunset. But rest assured many tourists also think on the same lines and it would be generally crowded during this time. We didnt get the perfect sunset thanks to the clouds, but got some great views of this sprawling city.  Entry fee is $20, with the additional $12 for the glass box entry which in my opinion is only worthy for those having fear of heights. There is also a room, not having any windows and lets you feel like flying 300 m above the ground.

4. Phillip Island

Though not technically within Melbourne, this island is in the eastern side of the city and close to a couple of hours drive from the city. The best thing about Phillip Island is not to be missed "March Of the Penguins". It does definitely sound like a show wherein the little penguins and trained to give some sort of performance, but believe be it is nothing like that. The human contact is kept at the minimum possible level. Everyday at sundown thousands of little penguins make their way back into the island in big and small groups and it is just awe-inpiring to see all those tiny beautiful creatures. Photography is strictly banned including non flash photography in order not to stun them. So literally it is see with your own eyes to believe it, with hundreds of penguins you can watch up close and personal.

5. Victoria Market

One of the best markets in Melbourne to buy local souveniers, food, vegetables, cloths etc. This market is as good as it gets to a street market that everyone is so used in Asian countries. The prices are not dirt cheap and sometimes are more expensive than budget supermarkets like Kmart etc, but nevertheless a good place to visit.

6. Yarra River Walk in CBD

The best walk in Melbourne would be the walk along the Yarra river in the CBD area. This area is packed with eateries, people and with lots of street shows especially on weekends. The views are great with the beautiful Yarra river flanked on both sides by super tall buildings.

7. Yarra River Trail
The more rugged version of the Yarra River walk mentioned above. If you think that the Yarra River walk is too "developed" for your liking , then this would the perfect answer for you. This trail takes you to more remote places upstream of the Yarra river and is perfect place to go for a run or mountain biking. There are lots of trails following the various rivulets of Yarra river mainly concentrated on the North Eastern side of Melbourne such as Ivanhoe, Viewbank, Hiedelberg etc. This was my favourite place to go for a long run with horse ranches , kangaroos, cookatoos for company.

8. Melbourne Central

The shopping hub of Melbourne especially for the shopaholics. Situated in the CBD area of the city. Can spend a lot of time exploring this mall. The place not to be missed is the central atrium with jawdropping views of the glass dome structure.

December 28, 2016

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean road is considered to be among the best natural attractions of Australia , along with the heavy weights such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Uluru. So we got an opportunity to visit this place on a day with pretty good weather. I have mentioned pretty good weather because even though it was summer with clear sky, it was still windy and cold. This is one of the road trips in Australia where the journey to the destination is much more interesting than the destination itself.

We started early in the day. The initial journey is quite monotonous till Geelong, the second largest city in the state of Victoria. After Geelong does the fun start with the great ocean road starting from Torquay and hugging along the coastline for the remainder of the distance to the Twelve apostles/Port Campbell. If one directly gives as the destination as Port Campbell/Twelve Apostles in navigation maps, then they would be directed to a route totally different and faster than the Great Ocean road. We infact returned on this route, which is majorly 4 lane, unlike the Great Ocean Road , which is primarily 2 lane. This route was built by the returning soldiers of Victoria after the First World War or the Great War as it was known back then.

The total distance between Geelong and Port Campbell is 213 kms, but one should also consider the innumerable stops along the route. The route is very picture-some and one cannot resist pulling over and enjoying the view every now and then.

The first stop was the "Twelve" Apostles. There are infact only 8 of these limestone rocks standing after relentless pounding by the sea. We had views of these beautiful nature's pieces of art from various different angles. It was just plain breathtaking setting with vertical steep coastline and these limestone pillars rising dramatically from the sea. This kinda reminded us of the similar limestone formations in Krabi, Thailand. There is also a main visitor centre and a walking circuit which takes the tourists right into the middle of the sea on top of a steep cliff to provide some great views of the rocks formation.

After twelve apostles we visited some more sites further down the road towards Port Campbell stopping at spots having views of equally innovative names like Razorback, Loch and Gorge, Island Arch, London Bridge etc. After spending considerable time at these spots it was time to return back to Melbourne. We took the shorter and faster route via Colac. We decided to take a long circuitous route back home with a ferry ride from Queenscliff to Sorrento giving some great views of the Port Phillip bay. Overall this circuit is without dispute the best place to visit in the state of Victoria.

November 8, 2016

Mt Dandenong : Melbourne's Private Hiking Backyard

Mt. Dandenong is definitely Melbourne's favourite hiking and picnic spot. We got to know about this during our trip on a weekend. There are close to 4 hiking trails in here and on a normal weekend you can expect them to be jampacked with couples, families with small kids, friends climbing up the mountain. This is quite in contrast to the hiking trails in India, which are generally deserted. Hence gives a idea of how much of importance a general Australian gives towards fitness.

Lyrebird Trail
1000 step trail

Mt Dandenong is around 50 Kms from the CBD and considering the never ending expansion of the city of Melbourne, this area has been gobbled up by the city and now forms a suburb of greater Melbourne. The ride to start of the hiking trails is great with winding roads and dense forest. We parked the vehicle at the visitor centre and started the climb. We decided to climb via the Lyrebird trail and return back via the 1000 steps trail, also known as Kakoda Memorial trail. The most famous of all the trails is the 1000 steps trail, which was developed in honour to the Australian soldiers who fought in the Pacific islands during the 2nd world war. 

The climb up via the Lyrebird trail is steep. Even though one way distance is 1.5kms, it is mentioned that it takes close to 45 min to climb up the hill. The good thing about Lyrebird trail is that it is wide and hence can accomodate a lot of simultaneous hikers unlike the 1000 step trail which is narrow. The trail is through dense forest chirping with birds, a must visit for any nature lovers. Near the top the 1000 step trail joins the Lyrebird trail. Unfortunately there is no spectacular view from the top.  We returned back via the 1000 step trail, which has a lot of spots dedicated to the fallen men. 

Trails In Mt Dandenong Range
From there we went towards the Skyhigh, a spot from where one gets great views of the CBD. There is an entry fee of $5 and they are quite a few spots to visit apart from the viewing platform. There are parks, mazes, a restaurant and other attractions. One can spend close to 2 hrs in this place. After this we returned back to our home. 

View from the Skyhigh With Melbourne CBD looking like a distant fairyland !!!!!

November 4, 2016

Melbourne : The Most Liveable City in the World

Australia which literally means the southern land would be our home for some time. It was time to explore a new country and Australia was the choice based on a lot of personal parameters. It has the lowest population density among all nations , considering the massive and sparsely populated bushlands and is quite well known across the world for its natural beauty.  This country is truly multicultural with a quarter of the population being foreign born and half of the population having atleast one parent born overseas. A good example of such a society would be the celebration of Deepavali and Oktober Fest being held side by side in the heart of Melbourne city. Most of the cities of Australia are the best to live in the world, with Melbourne taking the crown for 6 years in a row. So what makes Melbourne the undisputed winner comes down to just one parameter "Quality of Life", which I was truly impressed with.  An average Australian's priority is to have a good life and not just to earn and make a living out of it, with the government and the infrastructure supporting it.  Interests such as traveling, sports, food are a norm and not restricted as a hobby. Where else do you find public holidays for sporting events like finals of Australian football or for a horse racing cup !!!. When we landed in Melbourne from Hong Kong, the first thing we noticed were the endless green grasslands engulfing the city, with a lot of friendly people. The only factor which can be considered negative about the city is its weather. I have experienced instances wherein it would be blazing hot during the day and freezing cold during the night. "4 seasons in a day" is a terminology usually associated with Melbourne's weather.   In this blog and the subsequent blogs I would be exploring the city of Melbourne which would be our temporary stopover for 2 months.

1. Shrine Of Remembrance

One of the best structures in Melbourne and also a place from where one gets an awesome view of the Melbourne skyline.  This building is initially built to commemorate Australians who have laid down their life during the First World War, but subsequently it is used as a memorial to all the Australians who have served in a war. There are 3 different levels in this greco roman structure. The main sanctuary with impressively high ceilings is at the ground level. The centre of a shrine acts like one big pin hole camera allowing a ray of light to fall on a plaque to honor the servicemen and women. In the basement is a very expansive museum detailing the history of the wars fought by the Australians and finally the balcony above the sanctuary is a spot from where one gets really good views of the city.  Entry is free.

2. Flinders Street Station

The gateway to the Melbourne CBD. With all the metro trains making a stop in here. The heritage train station is the one not to be missed. It was the first railway station in an Australian city,  and was completed in the year 1909.  The yellow colored building is a true symbol of Melbourne and it is quite heartening to see that the station has gone through various modernization process without affecting the heritage value of the structure.

3. NGV Australia and International

National Gallery of Victoria or NGV in short are present in 2 different locations. The first one is NGV Australia right opposite to the Federation square and concentrates on displays from Australian history and artists from this country. There are innumerable number of galleries and most of them are free to enter. The other building NGV International is huge and the biggest of its kind art gallery in Australia and situated in St Kilda road , opposite to the Shrine of Remembrance. It has exhibits from innumerable cultures and nationalities. It takes atleast 3-4 hours to cover this gem of a place. One would find European renaissance paintings, Japanese porcelain art, Indian bronze statutes, aboriginal arts and so many other collections. Is a must visit place in Melbourne. Further NGV international also doesn't have an entry fee.

4. Old Treasury Building

Old Treasury to the Right and to the left is the newer one
Underground Cellars

This building is built right next to the parliament building and dates back to the same era of 1860's. Initially built as the treasury building, but now converted to a museum, surprisingly concentrated on the criminals of Australia and the gold rush era. This museum is mildly interesting and in my opinion not a must visit. There are cellars in the basement which used to store bullion and also there is a room which seems to hold a a lot of real gold , protected by a shatter proof glass. Not sure if it is real gold or not though. Entry is free. 

5. Hosier Lane

Even the garbage bins are not spared !!!!!
Throughout Melbourne one would find captivating and colorful street art spread across the length and the breadth of the city , majority of them are illegal in nature. But right in the heart of the city , there is a lane wherein graffiti is legal and is a major attractions for visitors to this city. In Hosier Lane one would expect to find some new art every other day.

6. City Tram Circle

In Melbourne the CBD is a free tram zone and whenever you want to go anywhere within the CBD one has to just hop into a tram without any charge. Apart from the regular trams there is heritage tram specifically designated for tourist usage, known as the city tram circle, taking a complete loop around the CBD stopping at major tourist spots and also provides pre-recorded guidance about the various attractions. 

7. Royal Botanical Gardens

The biggest lung space in the heart of Melbourne. One would find various types of trees and flowering plants within this space. Includes different ecosystem such as marsh, lakes, desert etc. Interesting place to explore. Entry is free.

8. Parliament House

This 150 year old building is currently used as the parliament for the state of Victoria. However in the past it was also used as The Parliament of Australia, before the one at Canberra was developed and built. Free guided tours are provided on weekdays, which last for around 45 mins and the guides are quire informative explaining the details of the upper, lower houses and the history of the parliament. The building is quite majestic reminiscent of the Victorian architecture.

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