Dirty old town (bah-humbug!)

Let’s not beat about the bush – we don’t much care for Melbourne.  Or, to be brutally honest, and in the spirit of never calling a spade a spade when in reality it’s a bloody shovel, we find the place crowded, chaotic, noisy and dirty.

OK, I admit we’re not in a positive frame of mind.  We stayed the night in a city centre apartment where our sleep was disturbed by the sounds of drunken revelry in the street outside.  Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than the sound of every other bugger in the neighbourhood having a great time at a party to which you’re not invited.

Of course, we prefer places that boast more trees than people, more critters than cars, more bird species than burger joints.  Melbourne fails on all counts.  To make matters worse, after more than a month in Tasmania we’re highly sensitised to the people-to-trees ratio and similar indicators of rural tranquillity, and can’t help looking back wistfully.

Moreover, following the long march prompted by our car breakdown on Flinders we can hardly move thanks to the combined effects of tweaked muscles, inflamed joints and lactic acid overload.  In short we are feeling irritable and out of sorts, and ill-prepared for the urban jungle that is Melbourne.

We are also, I will confess, suffering from a severe case of bah-humbuggery.  Christmas is fast approaching, and signs of it are everywhere.  This evening we sit in a street-side Starbucks, drinking mocha and watching the world go by while we rest our aching limbs.  The streets are rammed with folk getting into the festive spirit, giggling girls in Santa hats, half-cut guys in the full Father Christmas gear, green-uniformed elves roaming the street like gangs of unpaid extras from a Lord of the Rings movie, and screaming kids, all kitted out in reindeer antlers, presumably auditioning for a walk-on part as Santa’s Little Yelper.

I find this all rather distasteful.  This trip to Oz was about getting away from it all, and the last thing I need is to have the modern world in general and Christmas in particular thrust into my face, to be reminded so brutally that the big day is just a fortnight away and I still haven’t got Julie a present.  And anyway, it’s unnatural: the lead up to Christmas is meant to be cold, dank, gloomy and miserable, yet here we are sitting in warm late afternoon sunshine witnessing scantily-clad festive shenanigans all around us.

Of course, the fact that it’s a warm early-summer’s day and the locals are having a good time isn’t strictly Melbourne’s fault, but someone has to be held accountable.  Bah-humbug!

To be fair, Melbourne has two saving graces.  The first is its grand historic buildings, from banks to shopping arcades, which suggest that in its earlier days this was a city of real style and elegance, a place to be reckoned with. The ANZ bank, for example, is imposing from the outside …

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… and stylish inside:

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Here’s an interior from 336 Collins Street:

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And here’s a detail from one of the shopping arcades:

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Even the station is impressive:

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The second thing in Melbourne’s favour is the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are an ocean of calm amidst a sea of chaos.  We take the hop-on-hop-off bus, though in our case hobble-on-hobble-hobble-off might be more accurate, and soon lose ourselves amongst the flowers:

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The lake is a focal point of the gardens:

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The gardens also give us a chance to do some last-minute birding.  The lake sports an old friend from Tasmania, the Pacific Duck:

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We enjoy watching as a Yellow-wattle Bird raids blossoms for nectar …

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… and listening to the ringing call of the Bell Miner, which is sometimes referred to locally as the Bellbird:

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Even butterflies are here in force:

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We spend a happy afternoon wandering the paths of the Royal Botanic Gardens, exploring its grounds and immersing ourselves in its tranquillity.  We really like this place, and probably what we like most of all is that while you’re here you can forget you’re in Melbourne altogether.  I guess that just about says it all.

[10 December]

Gardener’s world (plus bonus platypus!)

One of the surprises of this trip has been the gardens. Tasmanians are clearly into gardens.  Often when we are on the road we pass a stunning example of a domestic garden, a well laid out and lovingly tended riot of colour.

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But there are also larger gardens, belonging to institutions or to individuals who have opened them to inform and give pleasure to locals and tourists alike. The very first place we visited in Tasmania, just an hour or so after picking up the car was the excellent Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, which I wrote about at the time and have been described as a national treasure.  And the day we left Hobart to go Bruny Island we dropped in on the way at Inverawe Native Gardens, Tasmania’s largest landscaped native garden.  Here the owners have created a “sustainable, waterwise, low chemical and low maintenance garden” on a plot of some 22 acres, and have planted over 10,000 Australian native trees and shrubs:

The main reason for visiting Mountain Valley was of course to see the Tasmanian Devils, but as all the action takes place after dark this left the daylight hours to explore the area. During this time we were able to have a look at two other, very different gardens.

The spectacular Kaydale Lodge Gardens, just a few kilometres up the road from Mountain Valley, are set in about 5 acres of grounds:

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However unlike Inverawe the focus is European rather than Tasmanian flora. The couple who created the gardens have spent most of their married lives on the project and now, increasingly, their daughters are taking over the mantle.  The results are outstanding:

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It would be great (though sadly impossible for us) to see the gardens in the different seasons to see what new splendours they have to offer.

The next day we took a longer drive to the Tasmanian Arboretum, which covers around 150 acres and features Tasmanian plants, southern hemisphere conifers and deciduous trees from temperate areas across the world. This volunteer-led project is in its infancy, and it will presumably be many years before the trees reach full maturity.  Already, however, it was looking good with some great vistas to be enjoyed around the lake:

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As an added bonus, the lake at the Tasmanian Arboretum provided us with good views of two platypus. They were close enough for Julie to get some good shots:

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This makes eight platypus we have seen during the trip, which far exceeds my wildest dreams. Despite Susie’s assurances I was afraid I wouldn’t see any so it feels like all my birthdays have come at once.  Thanks, Susie!

[24 November]