This past weekend I was fortunate enough to flee Melbourne. Piling in to a steaming hot Mazda with black interior, I was calmly escorted to various Australian outings to the tunes of Men at Work, Rainbow, and Electric Light Orchestra, with some Michael Jackson sprinkled in.
Though I was probably taxing on my Driver (thereafter named for his privacy), he patiently answered my mostly absurd questions about Australian planning, animals, and music. We were also fortunate enough not to wait for any extended period of time to enter or buy tickets for our activities, really more for his benefit as I would have made him miserable. Certainly the weather was contributing any way it could – Ballarat and Bendigo both broke 40 degrees the days we were there.
If I had to do it all again, I’d say we agreed to make it about ten degrees cooler and give ourselves three days to really see everything, and catch the beer festival we narrowly missed.
Firstly, we set out on Friday morning and drove straight to the highlight of the trip – the Ballarat Wildlife Conservation Park. Although it was originally a quest to get a photo with a wombat (one person, per wombat, per photo), all pictures were cancelled due to it being just too darn hot out. Walking into the wildlife park, we were immediately informed about a free guided tour leaving imminently, which turned out to be a great time. We saw several more animals and learnt a lot more than a single photo op could have. Also, we got to meet the wombat anyway, and several dozen kangaroos (which like Canada geese, poop everywhere).
Fun facts: Kangaroos are frigging strong and these ones at the park have it down to a science. They sit under the picnic table were tours start and have no qualms about sniffing and scratching pockets and purses for the little food bags given at the front desk. They have sharp-ish small claws and long, doe-like eyelashes, and soft little tongues to tickle your hand with. Not unlike a very large, friendly-though-awkward dog.
The kangaroo “feed me” face.
We also saw Tasmanian devils, a breeding pair, and heard just a sliver of their awful cries. That’s not me being facetious – they sound terrible and I suggest you look it up as a sound effect at your next Halloween party.
Could be lifted clean off the ground just with its jaw power. Cute?
I also saw a dingo, a sleepy koala bum, and a very large, pre-historic crocodile. We also saw a young southern cassowary, the third largest flightless bird with a reputation of being the deadliest bird on earth. I’d like to show you a photo and ask you if you’d disagree.
Eh? Try shooing that away.
(Actually, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection specifically states to never approach cassowaries, so don’t listen to me on that one).
Other experiences were going to the Ballarat Art Gallery to the Romancing the Skull exhibit. An interpretation about skulls in art, bones as a medium, and as a symbolic connection to death, piracy, and danger, this exhibit also had a virtual reality portion (for free!). I’ve never tried VR before, and with my head I wasn’t sure how it would go. I am happy to report everything was completely a-okay. Thankfully.
For dinner we had pizza in a scorching hot, wood-fire oven restaurant, with lemonade. Instead of sticking with tried-and-true, I boldly tried an eggplant-laden pizza and literally bit off more than I could handle. An early night, early morning, and on to Bendigo.
Bendigo is the pretty younger sister of Ballarat, if I had to describe it. Just as historic and influenced by gold mining, Bendigo has a charming village-feel in its city centre. And a huge library, always points for me there.
We drove on to the Central Deborah Gold Mine and purchased tickets for the mine experience – a 75 minute tour underground in a former gold mine. Considered an active site, we donned hard hats, lights and utility belts and buckled in for the coldest part of the trip. The wet smell of rock and absolute darkness towards the end of the trip were very cool, and helped anyone appreciate the tough conditions of miners, chemists, and pioneers in this region of the country.
We emerged from the earth, and promptly bought some mango smoothies. The night market we were planning to go to was also cancelled due to the heat, and the evening was split between tennis at the Australian Open, a BBC show called Would I lie to you? and yummy thai food. Early the next day, it was all over. My Driver gently rolled me out of his car and dumped my belongings outside of my apartment for me to get to work on time. Thanks Driver for a great weekend 🙂