Back to the burbs

After checking out of the hotel and temporarily leaving the bags in their care, we headed to the shops to buy a newspaper and one last postcard. Then there was time for a little more flying foxing in the playground (and some filming for a video production the kids had devised) before picking up the bags and walking back down to the station.

Wooden newspaper reader, outside newsagent, WarrnamboolDaniel reading newspaper, Warrnambool
Ugh. Gastro alert.

Sending an SMS to somebody I discovered that my phone’s predictive text can’t spell Warrnambool, but can spell Waspman. What use Waspman is in messages, I don’t know.

Back in car B on the 11:45am train back to Melbourne, this time there were no double bookings. Lunch from the on-board snack bar (I’m not sure it’s quite worthy of the term buffet) was quite a decent ham, cheese and salad sandwich for me, and sausage rolls for the kids, as we watched the countryside pass by. I’m quite intrigued by the stone walls around (I think) Camperdown, I assume are same type of dry stone walls found in England, some of which are hundreds of years old. (Intriguing link: Dry Stone Walls Association of Australia.)

Dry stone wall, near Camperdown, Victoria

By the time we got into Geelong, the train was getting pretty full. I noted as we passed through Little River that my phone was reporting the location as “Little Rivr“. I guess if the founding members had been inspired by the name on a mobile phone instead of on a road sign, they’d have been the Little Rivr Band. Sounds very Web 2.0.

The burbs of Melbourne started to appear — as did various groups of gunzels, huddled with their copious cameras by the tracks at various spots along the way from about Laverton onwards. I don’t know what they were waiting for, but it probably wasn’t our train from Warrnambool.

This year we didn’t get to watch the Melbourne Cup en route, but we were back in town as scheduled at 3pm, and home by 4pm, our short but relaxing break over.

As has become tradition, I tracked the costs for the weekend (at least roughly).

  • V/Line tickets $49.40 — suburban travel included… but I’ve subsequently spotted in the small print it’s only meant to be an hour either side of your trip. Better than nothing, but not very practical especially given they recommend at least 30 minutes to make a connection.
  • Hotel 3 nights $474 — managed to avoid the mini-bar and the phone… it was very comfy, but not cheap (though not ridiculously expensive either)
  • Car hire $77 plus about $10 of petrol
  • Groceries and snacks, about $15+$8+$14+$10+$15
  • Flagstaff Hill dinner and show $98
  • Lunches and dinners, Nandos $35, Train $8, Cheeseworld $27, Bojangles $43, Cafe at beach $36, Taco Bill’s $65, Train $15
  • Postcards, newspapers and stamps $7
  • Souvenir t-shirt $25

So a total of (roughly) $1031. Yikes. Not exactly bargain-basement (it adds up quicker than you’d think, especially with accommodation and attractions, and now the kids are bigger and eat full-sized meals), but all in all cheaper than previous jaunts, due in no small part to not having to buy air fares. More short local(ish) breaks like this would be good, I reckon.

A day at the park

(Backdated to the day it happened.)

Does it drive country people batty to have such restricted access to weather forecasts? Maybe it’s just capital city people like me who are used to being able to get an up-to-date weather forecast on-demand (without having to get online): on the TV news bulletins morning, noon and night, by PocketNews SMS.

But these tell you nothing about regional areas. I was only able to find out about the local weather if I managed to catch one of the evening TV bulletins — not exactly easy when you’re on holiday. And not having access to the morning paper at the start of each day meant I was mostly flying blind, with no idea what was going to happen weather-wise.

All I had to start with was the web forecast from Saturday morning, before we got on the train. At that point it was expected that the Sunday would be rainy, so that’s the day I had the car hire organised. But it turned out that was wrong: Sunday was sunny and warm. The rain hit on Monday instead.

Monday, as it happens, was the day we had flagged to spend exploring the adventure playground and the foreshore area, which is where we headed after returning the car (cue the alarm going off again and more “No worries”), stopped in Target to buy more hankies (very sniffly noses required it), got a copy of the Standard and checked out the view from Cannon Hill. The cannons point out over Lake Pertobe, still ready to defend the town from invading Russians, should they ever show up.

View from Cannon Hill
Click to view larger

The weather didn’t make the playground impossible, but it was a bit trying, with rain showers on and off for most of the day. We’d periodically have to stop the flying foxing (?) and take cover in one of the playground shelters.

Lunch was in a cafe close by, and afterwards we explored the beach, which despite the cold wind and drizzle, was nice to see. The kids wrote stuff in the sand, including a curiously enthusiastic expression of the liking of tacos.

Jeremy, Isaac and Daniel at the beachMore tacos!

Trish had recommended the breakwater, but it just looked a little too far away, so we returned for some more time in the playground, which was a lot of fun, and certainly good exercise. We also took a look in the Tourist Information Centre, and tried out their telescope, which is certainly a quick way to use up a $2 coin.

After some time back in the hotel, we went and ate — perhaps inspired by the earlier writing in the sand — dinner at Mexican restaurant Taco Bill’s nearby, which was rather delicious.

Mmmm… Tacos…

Martyrs, apostles, emus and pizza

(Backdated to the day it happened.)

The Friday before leaving for Warrnambool, I’d tried to find a hire car company based in central Warrnambool — that is, reasonable walking distance from the hotel. The hire car aggregator sites like DriveNow couldn’t help me, so I looked at the big companies’ web sites, in conjunction with the tourist guides and Yellow Pages.

Avis, it was claimed, had a branch at the Warrnambool airport, the location of which I was not aware of, but in any case it had evidently closed. Budget had apparently previously had a conveniently-based branch, but had left town. Likewise Thrifty, also departed. This left Rent-A-Wreck (no thanks), Hertz (located conveniently some 5 km west of the city centre) and a couple of companies that were close to the CBD, but turned out only to hire out buses.

So I could hire a bus if I wanted, but getting a car within walking distance was going to be tricky.

At one point I was seriously considering abandoning the train + car hire idea as All Too Hard, and just driving all the way down.

As far as I’m concerned, if you have a hire car business in a town that gets tourists, you’re an idiot if you don’t locate it close to the centre of town and the hotels and motels and the railway station. Do you really expect people who want to hire a car to drive a car (or muck about with taxis or other transport) to get to you?

Or at least you should make it clear in your advertising that you can pick your customers up. That was how Coastal Car Rentals, a small mob located not too far from Hertz, won my business.

They were much more relaxed than the big companies, anyway. Run by a bloke called Gary and an offsider who may or may not have been his brother, they seemed to say “No worries” an awful lot, and that nicely summed up their attitude to the whole transaction. They picked us up from the hotel, skipped joyfully through the paperwork, and sent us on our way with no troubles. (And the next morning they took back the car with no fuss, and dropped us back in town. “No worries.”)

We drove west initially, to the Tower Hill reserve, to get acquainted with some nature. First we had a look around the Worn Gundidj Visitor Centre, which highlighted Aboriginal culture. I came away with a rather nice t-shirt, and managed to set off the hire car’s burglar alarm while dropping it off before our walk. This became a pattern for the following 24-ish hours — it would blare its false warning of car thieves several more times before we handed it back.

Then we set off on a walk called Journey to the Last Volcano, rated as one hour of moderate walking.

Emu poo
Beware of emu poo!

Strolling along, watching out for emu poo was quite fun. There was a fair bit to see (I mean scenery, not poo), though the emus themselves kept their distance. After some climbing, which for me stretched some muscles I’d forgotten I had, we came to the extinct volcano’s crater, and walked around the rim. There was a good view of the surrounding countryside too.

We headed back to the car, and thence back to the hotel to recharge the batteries. Both the human batteries and the one on the camcorder. Then off to Cheeseworld we went.

Cheeseworld is a terrific idea. A museum, restaurant, shop, and cellar devoted to all things cheesy. The problem is that overall (just like in ’98, in fact) it’s a tad disappointing. It sullies the cheese theme with perhaps just a tad too much other stuff. Perhaps they found they could not live by cheese alone, but the range of cheeses is also slightly disappointing.

Giant milkshakesCheese!
They make big milkshakes at Cheeseworld / Very pleased to get a packet of chilli cheese

Nonetheless, we had lunch there, including huge milkshakes, and while waiting for the 1:30pm cheese tasting looked around the museum — which to be honest had a touch of the Pissweak World about it.

After enjoying a few cheesy samples, we bought a packet of delicious chilli cheese and some white chocolate fudge and headed further east, along the Great Ocean Road.

The intention was to look at some of the highlights of the GOR. The beauty of doing it “backwards” from Warrnambool is you don’t have the long long drive from Melbourne to get to the good stuff.

So, in no particular order, we took a look at the Bay of Islands, London Bridge (now apparently officially London Arch after bits of it fell down), Loch Ard Gorge (where the ship of the previous night’s tale was lost), the Bay of Martyrs and of course the Twelve Apostles (even though there’s only eight now).

Most of these weren’t particularly busy, but the Twelve Apostles was bustling with fellow-tourists, in cars, buses and even helicopters. It’s all got so big that since my last visit, they’d moved the carpark and built a big new toilet block well away from the cliff face, on the other side of the road, connected by a pedestrian underpass. I assume the Apostles are pretty much the end of the day tour route from Melbourne, as it’s a pretty long drive, and from there they turn around and go home.

The Twelve Apostles
Click here to view large

One notable thing at many sites was the use of signs reminding drivers to stick to the left hand side of the road. I suppose it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that some might need reminding.

Keep leftDriving

Everything was, of course, quite spectacular. And as a bonus, unlike last time we had been there back in ’98, it wasn’t freezing cold and blowing a gale.

We headed back to Warrnambool, stopping at Peterborough to get some postcards and a newspaper, and somewhere in the middle of nowhere where I did one of those pan shots of the road and a remote CFA station, while two cows looked-on suspiciously.

CFA fire station near Allansford, Vic
Click here to view large

On Trish’s recommendation we dined at the Bojangles pizza restaurant, which was excellent, though the waitress inadvertently caused some dissent by giving the kids copies of the Kids Menu rather than the adult one. They decided they were hungrier than that, and ordered a (small) adult pizza each. Very tasty.

Then it was back to the hotel for a few cartoons on the Simpsons Channel — aka Fox 8 — before a well-earned bedtime.

Double-booked on the 1pm

(Backdated to the day it happened.)

Mixing it with race-goers at Southern Cross StationAfter mixing it with the race-goers on the train and at Southern Cross station, the 1pm train to Warrnambool left right on time, with only one catch: an old bloke who reckoned he should have one of our seats. We compared tickets — my handwritten one from Bentleigh station vs his more authoritative-looking one courtesy of V/Line’s computers. Neither of us were wrong. No matter, there were spare seats, so he found one and happily settled down for the ride.

A lady with a huge psychology textbook got on, also querying the seats. Sigh. She too found another spot to sit, though a little later this caused more confusion when someone else with that seat turned up. And at each station, the conductor could be heard reminding people that this was a reserved seat service and that people should please sit in the seats written on their tickets. Well, we couldn’t all do that.

In due course the conductor arrived and took a look. Indeed, apparently multiple people had indeed been allocated seats 80 and 81 of car B. (A little later the third double-booking also showed up). The conductor checked her manifest for car B. We weren’t on it. Sigh. She blamed whoever took the booking, and suggested we check the return seats at our destination.

The train rolled on. Either the cars on the Westgate Freeway were going slowly, or we were going fast. I think the latter.

The snack bar opened. The old bloke got a chicken burger. It looked pretty horrible, and given he had only just got out of hospital, I wondered if he wasn’t tempting fate. We’d eaten superior chicken burgers at Nando’s just before we’d got on the train. But the kids and I did get some train snack food, coming away with junk. Delicious, but junk. A later foray was more successful, coming back with a rather tasty slice of fruitcake.

Apart from eating, a variety of time-passing mechanisms were employed, from books to iPods to Nintendo DSs to gazing out the window at the passing landscape. But I enjoyed the trip more than driving — in my book, 3 hours on the train is better than 3 hours on the road.

After rolling into The ‘Bool just after 4pm, we quizzed the booking office. It appears the bloke who wrote out the ticket made an error, writing car B when it should have been car C. Ahh, that explains it. We got re-issued tickets out of the computer for the ride back.

Warrnambool roundabout

We loaded up with our backpacks (1 x big, 2 x small) for the walk up the hill to the hotel, the very silly named Best Western Olde Maritime. It was rather nice though — the boys particularly liked the multi-level room — and ideally located for the station, Flagstaff Hill, the shops and the Adventure Playground.

Warrnambool ATM queueA quick run for supplies was in order: negotiating the many roundabouts, in and around Liebig Street we found a bank machine (and noted the Warrnambool way of marking out the queues for them — why they don’t do that elsewhere is beyond me), and a Coles to buy some snacks and, following Eva’s advice from last year, breakfast supplies. Why bother with having to shower and dress and pay exorbitant amounts for hotel breakfasts when you can buy a few bowls and spoons and fruit and cereal for a fraction of the cost, and eat in your PJs?

Then we headed for a brief visit to the Adventure Playground. That was what we’d really come for, and over the following days, rain or shine, we spent a great deal of time there, riding flying foxes, slides, merry-go-rounds, as well as other equipment which I have no idea what to call. But this was only a quick go, as we had an appointment up the hill.

We were booked into the Flagstaff Hill maritime museum dinner and evening show. The dinner was in the adjacent restaurant, and then we got Shipwrecked.

It starts with a video presentation introducing the Loch Ard and some of the passengers and crew, then a walk in the darkness through the village, holding lanterns. Very atmospheric. (For wimps or those with limited mobility, you can get a ride down in a wholly non-atmospheric carnival ride train thing. Bleuch, you miss half the experience. I thoroughly recommend the walk.)

Then they seat you down at the bottom of the village, facing the lake, and project onto water the story of the Loch Ard’s sinking on the 1st of June 1878, and the only two survivors. A terrific presentation, which had the kids impressed at the special effects.

I have my doubts about how “world-famous” the Loch Ard peacock is, but if they’re right about it being the country’s most valuable item recovered from a shipwreck, it was amusing to hear our guide noting that as a junior employee several decades ago she used to casually dust it off each day.

Anyway hopefully we all learnt some history. I was impressed that the two on-site lighthouses aren’t just for show — they are actually operational, and still used as navigation aids.

Flagstaff Hill was great stuff, and after that we headed straight to bed for a well-earned rest.

Going to the ‘Bool

It’s our annual short break time again. Going to Warrnambool today with the kids for a few days. Lake Pertobe adventure playground definitely on the list of things to do, as is the Flagstaff Hill maritime museum.

Going down by train. The fare’s amazingly cheap, and V/Line’s online booking looked good, but I had to ring them to get the reservation number, and picking up the ticket from my local station was wholly unimpressive — apparently some suburban stations don’t have “V/Net” (V/Line computer) access, and the bloke had to ring up and write out the ticket by hand. No matter.

Hope to hire a car while there, and maybe look at the 12 Apostles or perhaps try the Portland “cable” tram*. But jeez they don’t make it easy. According to Yellow Pages and Google, Budget, Thrifty and Hertz all have branches there, but it turns out the first two (which were quite conveniently located) have deserted the ‘Bool, leaving only Hertz, which is a long hike from the hotel. Grumble. Why the hell can’t they understand that people wanting to hire cars probably didn’t arrive by car?

Oh well, I’m sure we’ll find enough to do. Hopefully the weather is okay.

Be good while I’m gone.

*This is not an entry for the Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks — it’s really powered by diesel.