You can't get much more whirlwind than that. We arrived in Melbourne early Wednesday morning after a long, long train ride. Picked up a rental car and began the exciting process of learning to drive on the left while finding our hotel. Then we all slept for a few hours before going for a drive in the afternoon.
We ended up driving to Dandenong National Park, a fabulous landscape of twisting roads and massive trees. Even though the temperature can get almost to freezing here in south Australia, the forest is a rain forest with jurassic-looking ferns the size of trees, and trees that shoot straight up for 30 metres before the first branch appears.
The next day we headed south to the much-hyped Great Ocean Road... and quickly discovered that it is the busiest week of the year for the region. We lucked into a motel room, then set out to drive along the road. It was built after WW1 as a living tribute to the servicemen, and took some 3,000 men with shovels and wheelbarrows to carve this road out of the coastline. It's some of the most amazing scenery in Australia, and we didn't even get to the best part of it. (It was one of those compromises you make when travelling with kids -- Sharon and I could have spent all day going happily from lookout to lookout, but after a few hours the kids felt they were all starting to look the same.) So we stopped at a beach and watched the surfers and kite-flyers, and ran in the wind and sand, and marvelled at the fact that the next land out to sea from us was Antarctica. (We weren't sure if Tasmania was in the way, but decided we could probably skirt around it in our imaginary voyage. Sorry Tasmania.)
On the way back to the motel, we drove past a golf course we'd been told about: kangaroos! Dozens of them, staring at us and thinking we look just as odd as they do. You can't help but look at them and wonder how they must have appeared to the first Europeans to arrive here. They look freaky enough to us.
On the road again on Friday, hoping to get to Phillip Island to see the penguin parade. Our hopes weren't high as we hadn't found a place to stay by mid-afternoon, but we lucked out in a place called Frankston. It was a little over an hour from Phillip Island, but we knew that was as close as we were going to get.
We were a little apprehensive heading to the island, as we'd been told it was overdeveloped and commercialized, with bleachers on the beach to watch the penguins. Turns out there are bleachers, but with good reason: before they were built, people would just drive down to the beach, often running over penguins or crushing burrows on their way. Now it's a serious ecotourism operation, where the penguins come first. You're not even allowed to take photos, for fear you'll frighten the birds.
We took a tour of the site with a ranger, then headed down to the beach to wait for dusk. It was FREEZING! About 10 degrees with a fierce wind whipping off the ocean (all the way from Antarctica, remember). But around 9:00, we started to see the first of the penguins come ashore. Then more and more came, in groups of six to twenty, wading out of the surf, looking around for predators, dashing back in, then eventually making their way across the beach to the dunes where their chicks were waiting in the dens. By walking along the boardwalks through the dunes we could get within a couple of feet of these penguins, listening to them chatter to their chicks and discussing the day's events. It was a real highlight of the trip for all of us.
A great way to end our perigrinations. The next day, Saturday, we returned the car and hopped on a plane. Tonight we arrived in Noosa at last.