When we first got to Melbourne, we marveled at the weather. It was nice and warm, although it was pleasant warm, not like sticky hot Florida warm. The air is pretty fresh, clean, and relatively dry. Our hotel is pretty nice, although they tell people they have high speed internet, then charge an arm and a leg extra for it. We got settled and went foraging for a quick lunch as our first tour was less than an hour away. I found this cute place called Schnitz that served all different kinds of schnitzels. I ordered the veggie one and promptly asked the lady to "put the most Australian toppings on it." Apparently, that means eggplant, some kind of really good mayo sauce, lettuce and tomato. Not bad. Also, the "chips" here (fries) seem to normally be the nice big steak fry kind that I like, so I'm pretty happy about that. We set off on the bus tour. The bus driver told us all about the city sights as we passed them, and just kept on talking about Aussie life in general on the way to our first stop. Having long rhetorical conversations every day must get old after a while. He told us about some Aussie politics and such, but I'm pretty sure we all fell asleep on at least part of the ride to the first stop. Our first stop was a place called Warrook farm. We had Devonshire tea (scones, jam, cream, and tea) which was a little bit out of place I think, and then went to see the animals. They have a few very large fenced-off areas where the animals live with lots and lots of space, trees, and even a pond. I saw one of the largest peacocks I have ever seen in my life (over 4 feet tall without plumage, and the plumage itself was over 10 feet tall). I also got an opportunity to actually pet a kangaroo. These aren't wild animals, but they aren't tame either and there aren't any animal handlers around. Rachel and Shanaenae went near them, but wouldn't actually touch them. We then went on a tour of their gardens, which were nice. I don't really know any flowers or their names though, so for all I know, it was all stuff we could see at home. We then crossed the bridge onto Phillip Island. Next stop on the bus tour was a Koala Conservation Park. We walked around for a while and saw some Koalas, many of which were even awake. According to the bus driver, koalas sleep 20 hours per day, so to see so many moving was a treat. When we were done with the koalas, we went to this small beach town called Cowes, pronounced like the animal. We stopped for dinner at this cute little burger joint and had some really awesome "chips" again. These were even better though as they had some exciting "Tuscan" salt/herb mix on them. I also had a blue milkshake, but it really only tasted like vanilla, so I was a little disappointed. We walked on the beach and I put my feet in. The water was a lot colder than I expected. On the way to our final destination, we drove along the cliffs and saw some great scenery (the Nobbies) and some animals (mostly wallabies and birds). I had heard about all the seals at the Nobbies, but there didn't seem to be any there today. Our final destination was the Penguin Parade. Phillip Island is home to one of the strongest colonies of Little Penguins (yes, that is their real name). Apparently, elsewhere the penguins all get chlamydia and end up sterile, but it has yet to hit the ones on Phillip Island. This time of year, there are tons of baby penguins living in the penguin burrows. Their parents go out to sea in the morning, spend a few days eating as much fish as they can, and then return around dusk to regurgitate the food for their children. Then, repeat. Because they don't all go out and come back on the same day, on any given day there are thousands that return to feed. Around dusk, the first dozen or so of the penguins come ashore. They sit in the shallows of the water, working up courage to make the trek across the beach over to the rocks and the relative safety of the brush. They are safe in the water from predators, and blend in with the rocks, but the few meters across the tan sand are pretty dangerous because they are exposed and don't blend in. They keep safe by staying in groups and by waiting until it is dark. We saw them venture in, but then a seagull scared them back out to sea. This occurred several times before they finally made it. For quite some time, packs of adorable penguins would come in on the waves, scramble around trying to determine if it was safe, and then make the trek across the beach. We couldn't photograph it, as the flash apparently hurts their eyes, but I wish I could have. Because even the adults are little (hence the name), they are extra cute. Plus, the way they waddled in, only to run panicked back out to where the ocean pulled them back was hilarious. We had a premium seating area, so not only did we get a great view of when they got up the courage to cross the sand, but we could walk home with them. After the dangerous part (crossing the sand), the penguins stop and preen a few meters from where the premium viewing area is, and we even saw two of them mate. Then, they all waddle quite some distance, given their size, to their burrows. It really is like a parade as there are a few major "highways" that they all take before breaking off to go to their individual homes. And because there are so many of them, there is a constant flow of "traffic." We got to walk home with them as the boardwalk to the premium viewing area run right alongside one of the highways. We were no more than a meter from them. We could have reached out and touched them, although that is illegal and I'm pretty sure I don't want to miss parts of the trip because of incarceration. All in all, it was an amazing experience that I highly recommend to everybody. Even though I thought we had only paid for the regular experience, I was very glad we somehow ended up with the premium one. It was worth it.
Tomorrow: The Great Ocean Road.