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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: 'The Prom', Phillip Island and Puffing Billy

Today's Scenery:

Wilson's Prom
Today's Travelling Track:
Walk off The Earth- Magic

Our decision to visit Wilson’s Prom was based mainly on my need to walk around a bit and blow off some steam, and also partially because it is the most southerly point on mainland Australia. As we headed towards it we realised we wouldn’t make it there before dark and decided to stop at the Wilson’s Prom YHA which was in the nearby village of Foster. This was one of the most bizarre hostels I have ever stayed it. Basically just a normal house, it was unmanned and to gain access you had to call the owner, who would then deal with your reservation over the phone, allocate you a room and give you the code to get into the door. Despite this slightly confusing and disorientating process, once inside it was like someone’s seaside holiday home and the size gave it a great community feel (I also enjoyed having power points, lights and warm showers since we had been sleeping in the van non-stop since Sydney)

The following morning we said goodbye to all our new friends and headed to the Prom (referring to it as ‘The Prom’ makes it sound like we were attending a coming of age school dance, but it’s just what the locals call it, honest!) After a fairly long drive into National Parkland, we arrived at the information centre, where maps were available and camping fees payable. Cue somewhat bizarre conversation with bored-seeming National Park worker (B.S.N.P.W)

Me: We’re just after an unpowered site for the night if possible?

B.S.N.P.W: (in mock British accent) an unpowered site? (Back to own accent) love it! So we just need a few details, obviously you’re from the UK? (Starts filling in registration forms)

Me: I am indeed

B.S.N.P.W: I’ve always wanted to go to England, but I’ve heard there’s not a lot of jobs there at the moment with the recession…is that true

Me: Not really, as long as you’re not too specific about what you want to do you can usually find something.

B.S.N.P.W: Oh ok, so the unemployment isn’t as bad as the news makes out?

Me: Well, I have a lot of friends who have been made redundant from jobs a couple of times already and are only my age.

B.S.N.P.W: Oh that’s such a sad story, don’t worry, you don’t have to pay anything for camping tonight. You should tell everyone that story!

Me: (somewhat confused) Urm, ok, thanks….

B.S.N.P.W: Well best of luck both of you in your search for a job

The BF: (mumbled so as not to show his Australian accent) Thanks…

So that was slightly strange and I felt somewhat guilty accepting a handout from someone who had somehow got the impression that we were destitute Brits who had come to Australia to seek our fortune but free camping is free camping so we let it slide.

The BF's pet Wombat
We spent the rest of that day happily tramping around hiking trails and taking in the views. We had realised early on that the hike to the actual most southerly point would take a couple of days, and there was no way to drive closer so we gave up on that idea and headed along a couple of beaches, through a gully which had been partially destroyed by floods and landslides and finally up a mountain to see some panoramas of the area. We returned to our (free) campsite, exhausted and hungry, only to find that the takeaway and general store had closed at 4pm. We were forced to eat our emergency packet food which was upsetting as we felt we deserved a good feast after all our walking, but the BF was rewarded later on when a wombat wondered right into our campsite. After a lot of photography, and demands to be allowed to cuddle it, or take it in the van with us, I managed to pull him away.

Penguins in their nesting box
The following day we headed towards Phillip Island. This was the part of the trip I had been excited about since we had started planning it. Penguins are my favourite animals, and although I prefer the big King and Emperor varieties, this would be my first chance to see the species in the wild. I remembered watching a documentary back in England about Phillip Island’s colony and had wanted to visit ever since. We bought our tickets for the penguin parade as soon as we got onto the island and headed to the main town of Cowes hoping for lunch, and to find a caravan park, before it was time to head over to the penguin beach. We were successful in both, finding a yummy gourmet burger bar and a campsite right in the town and after a bit of a relax, headed down to the Summerland Peninsula. We had read that there was a large colony of Seals off the shore here and that they were visible from the Nobbies (a rocky headland on the peninsula) however we were disappointed when we got there and realised that they were living on an island a couple of kilometres from the coast (unimpressive to people who have been spoilt by the San Francisco Sea lions…) we decided just to head to the Penguins early and were very happy we did so. There were already a lot of tourists there and the information centre was very interesting and taught us a lot about the little penguin species. There were also nesting boxes with peep holes in them, some of which contained extremely cute sleeping penguins.

Trust me, I checked...
Before we knew it we were allowed to go over to the viewing area and The BF and I secured a prime position on the concrete benches. I feel I was very well behaved and patient at this point (and the BF agreed) as we had to wait a whole hour for the sun to set on the beach. Finally, as darkness drew in, we saw one tiny little penguin arrive on the shore. He looked around nervously and scurried his way across the beach. After this all the birds came in groups, and most skittishly returned to the water 4 or 5 times, building up numbers and waiting for any imagined dangers to pass. Finally, they would decide it was appropriate, form a tight knit pack and charge across the beach at speed and into camouflage. We watched this for a while and then decided to explore the boardwalks around the area, where the penguins would hang around, grooming each other and chattering away. We got to see lots of them up extremely close and even saw one little guy collecting materials for his nest. After being slightly too ambitious, trying to pull a live branch off a sturdy looking bush, he knocked himself over onto his back and rolled around for a second before getting back to his feet and (I swear) looking very embarrassed. Finally, the volunteers ushered everyone off of the boardwalks and into the centre again. I was extremely happy and was only slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to take any photos of the penguins (although understood entirely why this was the case!)

Celebrating my victory!
The next morning we headed to the Phillip Island Circuit, where the Moto GP is held. We weren’t allowed on the circuit itself (which is reserved for Hot Laps and Track days) but we decided to go Go-Karting on the scale replica of the original track. When I was a teenager I used to go go-karting every weekend, but I was definitely out of practice and took a couple of laps to warm up. By the end I was having an amazing time though, and had allowed my competitive side to come out, which is why I was so disappointed when the session ended, just as I had managed to catch the BF and was about to overtake him. I was happy to discover that I had the best lap time of the day (although we were the first visitors, so really I only beat the BF….) but decided it was probably best to let the BF drive Turk just in case I decided to start accelerating into corners or overtaking fellow road users in dangerous places.

Puffing Billy
We headed off Philip Island to the Dandenong ranges and the town of Belgrave, to ride the Puffing Billy steam train. Our Sat Nav was being particularly annoying and at one point even tried to direct us onto a ferry (adding an hour onto our journey) just to find a suitable spot to do a U-turn. Later in the day it directed us to a field in the middle of nowhere claiming it was a caravan park. When we (miraculously!) arrived at the train we realised we were one of the select few passengers who were not off of the same Japanese tour bus. This was entertaining as everyone in the group seemed exceptionally excited about the journey. I wondered if they were from some kind of trainspotters association. The train was beautiful and we were allowed to sit on the window frames with our legs dangling outside the carriage as it chugged through the hills. My favourite part was a big wooden bridge it crossed, and all of the level crossings were fun, where photographers always gathered trying to get the perfect postcard shot. After a happy couple of hours and a meander around a lake whilst we waited for our return journey we headed for a caravan park and slept soundly, excited that the very next day we would be in Melbourne!

Turk Meets....Some Highland Cattle
Turk was feeling a little camera shy today, but he had a nice chat with these furry guys!

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