Spotting Wild Koalas (And An Emu!) @ Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, Australia

Sitting within the grounds of a 30,000-year-old extinct volcano the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve is home to some of Australia’s most iconic creatures endemic to the region – namely koalas, emus, kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies and more. It was a shame we had to rush our visit to less than 30 minutes (coz we had to arrive back in Melbourne to send off some members of the media to the airport), but even then we were lucky enough to spot not one but TWO types of the unique fauna that roam the reserve.

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Unfortunately the short time we had meant I didn’t manage to get too many pictures. 😦

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As we drove slowly past a section of bush, an eagle-eyed member of the group called out to everyone in the van. “Look, in the bushes.” We craned our necks forward and there, sleeping peacefully on the branch, was our first koala. It looked sooooo fluffy! But while they seem all cute and cuddly, koalas are known to have sharp claws (for climbing trees) and teeth. Another fun fact: koalas are not the brightest; their brains making up just 0.2% of the weight of their body.

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Near the visitor’s centre, there were several more up in the trees – a smaller one, presumably female, and a larger one at the bottom. They weren’t doing much; just lazing up in the trees, but I guess there isn’t much to do except eat, sleep and watch tourists gawk at you all day.

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After a quick sojourn to the souvenir shop, we were all ready to leave – but not before one more surprise. As we drove to the exit, the van slowed down and we saw this guy (or gal?). Emus are the second largest living birds after the ostrich, and like their cousins, can run very fast and have large claws on their feet (I always think of them as modern dinosaurs). We quickly whipped out our phones for a picture, the emu leisurely strolling along the tarmac before ducking out of sight into one of the bushes.

Fun fact: Emus cannot walk backwards.

If you’re planning a visit to the Great Ocean Road, I highly suggest spending more time than we did so you can explore the place more fully. There are various picnic spots and facilities scattered around the park, as well as guided walking tours. Of course, as with any wildlife reserve, observe the rules when interacting with any animals you may encounter.

towerhill.org.au

 

Breakfast @ Alcove Cafe, Port Campbell, Victoria

If you’re spending the night in Port Campbell on your Great Ocean Road journey, The Alcove Cafe is a nice place to grab a quick bite before you leave town. They open from 6AM daily, and the menu has gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options.

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Like many of the buildings in this quaint seaside town, it looks and feels rustic and homely. The prices are, however, quite steep as they cater mostly to the tourist crowd.

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The interior is casual, filled with knick knacks, quirky decor and lots of fun wall art.

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One of my favourites!

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The ice cream bar wasn’t open yet as it was still early, but we could see the creamy concoctions all lined up, just begging to be tasted.

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Opted for a yoghurt bowl with berries, muesli and bananas. It was humongous, and could have easily fed two to three people.

The cafe offered a selection of pastries and bread as well at the counter, plus coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

THE ALCOVE CAFE 

34 Lord St, Port Campbell VIC 3269, Australia

Opens daily 6AM – 3PM

Food With A View @ Forage On The Foreshore, Port Campbell

Located close to the end of the Great Ocean Road, Port Campbell is a small coastal town popular as a base for tourists visiting the Twelve Apostles limestone stacks, which is just a short drive away. Despite its small population (around 5-600), the town is packed with attractions and things to see, from chic restaurants and cafes to vibrant galleries and shops, and of course, beautiful nature.

After a long drive from Melbourne with numerous stops along the way, we were glad to check in to our accommodation at Southern Ocean Villas. After quickly freshening up, it was time for the next item on the agenda – dinner!

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Walking to the town centre, we passed through quiet roads with quaint homes and lush green fields. For a city girl like me, who grew up surrounded by bright lights and concrete buildings, it was a nice and relaxing change of atmosphere.

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Housed in the town’s former post office, Forage on the Foreshore is all about fresh food foraged locally. With gorgeous sea-facing views, the resto exudes chill beach / boardwalk vibes, with a cheerful yellow and blue colour scheme.

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There’s a small souvenir shop next to the restaurant which sells handmade gifts and trinkets. Unfortunately due to the hour, it was closed. (That’s another thing about Western countries that I find in stark contrast with Asian countries, where most of everything is open until late at night) 

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View facing the sea and dramatic cliffs

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The interior is casual, wooden tables, chairs and floorboards, simple deco, a vintage vinyl record player and an open fireplace.

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As with many restaurants that we’ve dined on the Great Ocean Road so far, the menu is big on regional, seasonal produce so it changes from time to time. For starters, we had the Pickled Apollo Bay Octopus with Brucknell Kalamata Olives and Fire-Roasted Capsicum Sauce. Presentation was rustic, but pleasant. The sauce’s vivid red popped against the black plating, and looked great when paired with the greens and the octopus. Meaty and sweet, the protein was great for nibbling on, with a slightly chewy texture and great flavour.

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Digging in to the next appetiser: the Panfried Yumbah Greenlip Abalone with Garlic Butter on a Raw Celeriac and Roquette Salad. Again, slightly chewy as most shellfish done well should be, and I think garlic butter is a great flavour pairing to bring out the natural sweetness of the abalone. The celeriac and roquette salad added an element of crunch and texture to the overall dish. A winner in my books.

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Despite being summer, it was quite windy and cold by the seaside, so I opted for something warm and soothing for mains – Fresh locally caught fish, Mount Martha Mussels, Bass Straight Scallops in Fish Bone Broth. The bread that came with the dish was perfect to sop up the lip-smacking broth, and they were generous with the amount of seafood.

FORAGE ON THE FORESHORE 

32 Cairns St, Port Campbell VIC 3269, Australia

forageontheforeshore.com.au

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Sunset view; lovely pink sky.

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After dinner, we drove back near to the 12 Apostles to try and spot penguins returning from their catch for the day. It was too dark to see anything, but at least we enjoyed the breathtaking view of the sunsetting in the horizon, casting an orange glow across the dark sea.

 

Food Review: La Bimba @ Apollo Bay, Great Ocean Road

It may not have a large population, but the bustling tourist town of Apollo Bay along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria is home to a good selection of restaurants, cafes and eateries. Among them is La Bimba, which serves up contemporary Australian cuisine with an emphasis on fresh ingredients, sourced from local farmers and fishermen.

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Going with the sustainable theme, the interior of the restaurant features tables, chairs and other fixtures built from recycled timber from the region. The brick walls and wood create a cosy, homely atmosphere, coupled with awesome sea-front views and plenty of natural sunlight filtering in from its tall windows.

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Since ingredients are seasonal and subject to availability, the menu changes accordingly so diners will always have something new to try. During our visit, we started off with some samplers of Beetroot Carpaccio, Ricotta, Hazelnut and Saltbush, as well as Beef Tartare, Horseradish, Creme Fraiche, Saltbush and toast.

Refreshing and sweet, the beetroot carpaccio is a great alternative for vegans, balanced out by the slightly sour ricotta cheese, as well as the natural nutty sweetness of the hazelnut and the earthy, leafy flavour of saltbush – a common plant found in the bushlands of Australia. The beef tartare was also good, with none of the bloody, iron-like taste that usually comes with raw meat.

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Served in a crockpot, Portalington mussels, garlic, chilli and cilantro. Simple but hearty, the mussels were plump and juicy, bathed in a garlicky juices. 

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For sharing, Kipfler potatoes, cultured cream and seaweed powder. The peels were left on, giving the taters a smokey taste, while the seaweed powder added a touch of brininess.

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The Corner Inlet Flathead with harissa and coriander was sizable, with firm, fleshy meat.

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Pumpkin, macadamia, grains

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The 1KG Tomahawk steak was a spectacle to behold, swimming in its own juices on a metal serving plate. While the meat was cooked perfectly, it was a lot to finish, even for our group of 8.

If you’re into fresh, local food, then La Bimba ticks all the boxes. Grab a seat by the window to enjoy the sea breeze.

LA BIMBA

125 Great Ocean Rd, Apollo Bay VIC 3233, Australia

Opening hours: 9AM – 3PM, 6PM – 8.30PM (closed Tuesdays)

labimba.com.au

Driving The Great Ocean Road Of Australia: A 12-Hour Itinerary

Possibly one of the most scenic coastal driving routes on the planet, the Great Ocean Road is a 243-kilometre stretch on the southwest coast of Australia, passing through deserted beaches, craggy cliffs and lush rainforests. Built by Australian and New Zealand World War I soldiers who returned from the war between 1919 and 1932, it is also the world’s largest war memorial. The most well-known attraction along the route is the 12 Apostles – a collection of 12 (now only seven remain, because they crumbled into the sea from erosion) limestone stacks rising majestically out of the azure blue waters of the sea.

Ideally, three days is perfect to drive and visit the many quaint seaside towns along the route – but since our itinerary was super packed, we had to fit everything into one. If you’re pressed for time, this itinerary might be useful for a small but all-round taste of what the route has to offer.

8.40AM – SEAPORT FERRY

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Most travellers start their journey from Melbourne and make their way to Apollo Bay, but since we departed from the Mornington Peninsula, we took the Seaport Ferry from Sorrento, docking at Queenscliff. The check in + ride took approximately an hour and 15 minutes, and we went up to the rooftop deck for beautiful views of Port Philip Bay dotted by boats and yachts. The inside of the ferry was cosy as well, with a cafeteria selling refreshments.

From Queenscliff, we drove two hours to the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch. Along the way, we took in the gorgeous coastal sights of Australia’s southwest coast, dotted with beaches and natural cliffs lined by stunning blue waters.

11 AM – GREAT OCEAN ROAD MEMORIAL ARCH 

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The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch marks the ‘start’ of the road, and is one of its most photographed attractions. There are plenty of parking spots for a quick stopover, statues of the soldiers labouring on rocks, as well as information boards on the story of how the road was built. Visitors can also walk down to the nearby beach.

Constructed as a tribute to some 3,000 ANZAC soldiers who returned from fighting in World War I, the GORM arch is the third one to be erected after a truck and a fire caused damage to the previous ones, respectively. It is made from wood with sides of stone and cement, and the original wooden sign from 1939 still hangs above the archway.

12 PM – LORNE / TEDDY’s LOOKOUT

If you want an elevated view of part of the Great Ocean Road, Teddy’s Lookout at the small (but touristy) town of Lorne is a good place to stop by. The beach in town is popular with sunbathers, picnickers and surfers. Naturally, where there are tourists, there are also local scavenging wildlife, such as seagulls…

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…literally all over the green near the beach. They’re used to human presence, and are not afraid even if you walk very close to them.

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Thankfully we didn’t have to hike all the way up, as cars are able to access the hill where the lookout point is.

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The top of Teddy’s Lookout features a small viewing platform with sweeping views of the surf breaking at the mouth of the Saint George River, as well as gorgeous emerald green hills and the road snaking at their feet. Not sure how the place got its name but whomever Teddy was sure knew where to get the best views in town!

1.30PM : LUNCH AT LA BIMBA, APOLLO BAY 

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Like Lorne, Apollo Bay is a seaside town, popular among tourists as a base to explore the rest of Ocean Road. As such, you will find lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, hotels and accommodation here. Apollo Bay is big on natural beauty, so apart from its pristine, warm beaches that are great for surfing, angling and swimming, visitors will also find lush rainforest and magnificent waterfalls here. Being a coastal village, the seafood is fresh, but expect prices to reflect its tourist-centric industry.

A good place for lunch is La Bimba, which offers great views of the seafront as you dine on contemporary Australian cuisine with produce sourced locally. Will put a separate post on the food, so stay tuned!

4.15 PM : CALIFORNIAN REDWOODS @ OTWAY RANGES 

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One of my greatest regrets from my trip to San Francisco was the fact that I didn’t manage to see the giant Californian Redwoods. This trip was my second chance, and the experience did not disappoint.

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Located five minutes away from Beech Forest, the Redwoods of the Otway Ranges were planted by the local government some 85 years ago. Today, they tower over 60 metres high, forming a shady canopy with minimal sunlight hitting the forest floor. Staring up with mouth agape, I was struck by just how large and tall these trees are – despite being comparative ‘babies’ to older redwood trees that can live up to 2,000 years old. Redwoods are basically living fossils, and some have survived longer than many human civilisations. When you think of the sheer history and the things these trees have lived through, it’s just… overwhelming.

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The landscape, surrounded by ferns and shrubbery as well as small, flowing streams with crystal clear water, create an enchanting atmosphere.

6 PM: 12 APOSTLES HELICOPTER TOUR

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We finally arrived at the highlight of our trip at Port Campbell National Park – the 12 Apostles. And we had the best seats in the house to catch the most beautiful scenery in Australia – aboard a helicopter!

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It was my first time flying in a heli and what an experience it was! Strapped into the backseat, the roar of the rotors was deafening even with headphones on, so it was difficult to hear what the pilot was saying. Even so, the views spoke for themselves, as we gently swerved over the majestic landscapes of foamy white waves crashing against the cliffs. At certain points, the heli banked sharply, blurring the line between the sky and the sea into an endless blue – it felt like floating in space, but also quite dizzying.

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It was a short ride lasting less than 20 minutes, and we were back on the ground in no time. After some more photos, we departed for our night’s accommodation in Port Campbell.

So there you have it – a 12-hour or so itinerary for those who want an all-round experience of the Great Ocean Road and its awesome sights. I hope this guide and the suggestions of places to visit has been helpful, and Happy Travels!

 

Riding The Cable Car To Arthur’s Seat, Mornington Peninsula

Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is a popular weekend getaway spot for Melburnians who crave relaxation, nature and a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.

One of the must-do activities while in the Mornington Peninsula is a ride on a gondola at Arthur’s Seat Eagle. The cable car takes visitors from the base at Dromona up to the peak of Arthur’s Seat – a 314-metre-above-sea-level hill which offers expansive views of the surrounding nature as well as Melbourne from afar.

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Dromona Base station.

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Originally, Arthur’s Seat had a chairlift service (the kind you see at ski resorts), which was opened in 1960. After several accidents and safety concerns, the service was closed and they decided to build a gondola system instead. The new service started operations in 2016.

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The ride up was cool and relaxing, and we could observe the surrounding bush and countryside as we slowly made our way to the top. If you’re adventurous, you can actually go on walking trails, some of which take you through exotic and indigenous gardens complete with picnic and camping facilities.

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Once at the top you will be rewarded with scenic views of the surrounding countryside, Melbourne in the distance, the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, as well as Port Philip Bay and its azure blue waters. Low lying clouds made it appear as if the sky was blending into the water – a spectacular sight.

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While you’re at the lookout point – check out interesting plants indigenous to the region, like these kangaroo paw plants. No points for guessing how they got their name.

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Getting There 

By car: Access is by the Nepean Highway or by connecting from the Monash Freeway (M1), to Eastlink (M3) [use Frankston/Mornington Peninsula Exit] and on to Peninsula Link (M11) [use Portsea Exit].

Exit off the freeway at Arthurs Seat/Dromana (C789) to access the Base Station or continue up Arthurs Seat to the Summit.

By Public Transport:
Take the Frankston Line Train to Frankston station. Catch the Portsea Passenger Service (Bus #788) to the Dromana Visitor Information Centre. The Base Station is a 15 minute walk away.

Base Station
1085 Arthurs Seat Road
Dromana, Victoria 3936

Summit Station
795 Arthurs Seat Road
Arthurs Seat, Victoria 3936