"" Writer's Wanderings: Australia - The Dandenongs

Monday, April 12, 2010

Australia - The Dandenongs

Getting into Melbourne was nothing compared to our morning of trying to get out. Our GPS lady wasn’t quite sure where we were since the Hilton complex was new and not exactly charted yet. The highway interchanges were complicated for someone not familiar with the area and on top of that we kept reading signs that said “toll” and seeing cameras mounted above us but no toll booths to pay a toll. Between trying to find our way out of the city and going in circles and suddenly realizing we were passing through toll areas that needed some sort of gadget or method of payment, I was near panic and imagining the fines we were racking up if we didn’t pay. Did I mention it was also rush hour?

Bob caught a number to call for information about CityLink and I took his cell phone and connected with a wonderful Aussie who cheerfully took me through the steps I needed to register the car with their system and pay automatically by credit card. It would even take care of the toll areas we’d passed through several times as we circled. Apparently the cameras record license plates and somehow automatically register them in the system when you pass through.

We finally found ourselves on a road heading out of the city. It felt like we’d been released from a slingshot. Quite a bit more relaxed, we found a Hungry Jacks (Australian for Burger King) and remembered we hadn’t had breakfast yet. It felt good to get a little caffeine in my system before heading out again.

Our goal was the Dandenong Mountains just about an hour’s drive outside Melbourne. We’d been there once before on a cruise excursion by bus. Unfortunately when our bus got to the highest point where we could look out at the city, the view was obscured by clouds. This time as we arrived at the Skyhigh Mt. Dandenong Observatory it was a little better but still hazy and with a discolored layer of smog like most cities generate.

We walked around the area and enjoyed the English garden. The maze was closed but I don’t think we would have paid the fee to go in anyway. On the way to the top, we had stopped at an information center near Ferntree Gully and a wonderful lady there outlined a route for us that would take in what we wanted to see and do. On the list was feeding the colorful Rosellas and the ever noisy cockatoos. She had suggested that we stop at Sherbrooke Trail if we didn’t see Rosellas out at Grants on Sherbrooke which used to be a picnic area but now is a full-fledged tourist stop.

We missed Grants somehow on the way up but we did find the Sherbrooke Trail that was to lead to some waterfall. It turned out the waterfall was more of a trickle over some gently sloped rocks or at least that’s all we saw. We did manage to run into a lyrebird but by the time I got my camera on, it was hidden again in the underbrush. They look a bit like a peacock but less colorful.

Since we had no birdseed, we didn’t even try to attract the Rosellas at Sherbrooke but on our way back, we found Grants and stopped for a snack and some bird seed. We sat in the picnic area for quite some time and saw nothing but suddenly a whole flock of Rosellas surrounded us and started feasting on the birdseed we had in hand. They were joined by a dozen noisy white cockatoos one who found Bob’s Iphone very interesting.

While we could have stayed much longer and enjoyed the birds, we needed to tear ourselves away so that we could get to Belgrave in time to catch a ride on Puffing Billy, Dandenong’s century old steam train that takes you on a ride on the side of a mountain with views looking over the valley. It is run by several hundred volunteers who seemed to truly enjoy their work. This is one ride where you are NOT told to keep your head, arms, and legs inside the car although I don’t know how anyone could have sat on the narrow ledge for even the short twenty minute ride. We stayed on for about a two hour return trip ride and thoroughly enjoyed the ride, the fresh air, sunshine, and of course the lovely views—even the glimpses into backyards.

Once we were done with our ride, we opted to stay in the area a bit longer and eat dinner—hopefully to avoid rush hour traffic on our return to Melbourne. Bob had caught sight of a sign advertising Schnitzel Night for $12.50. That was one of the cheapest meals we had seen outside of a fast food place. We were way to early but the Micawber Tavern had a nice little garden area where we could sit and get something to drink while we waited. At six we eagerly sat at a table and ordered.

The schnitzel is chicken not veal in Australia and this restaurant offered all sorts of toppings for it. The chicken is flattened with a mallet, breaded and fried and then the toppings are put on before serving. All of that rests upon a stack of French fries and salad. Needless to say it was very filling. The price was so affordable that we actually splurged on two cappuccinos as well.

Our return to Melbourne was much easier. Less traffic and only one mistake that sent us through a tunnel three times. Ah, but my “cloudy” bed was so nice to return to and since we decided to stay in the city the next day instead of our planned trip to the Yarra Valley, we rested well knowing we didn’t have to navigate Melbourne’s highways in the morning.

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