When most people think of Australia, they think of the cosmopolitan cities, or the baking orange sands of the outback. When I had the opportunity to visit the city of Melbourne a few years ago, I was eager to see what the country was really like. The trip was eye opening in so many ways, the culture was fascinating. I loved being in Melbourne, the city had a raucous sports scene, wonderful ethnic restaurants, pedestrian-friendly city lanes and great markets. I also discovered that Melbourne is gateway to several other great sights in the province of Victoria. We took a few day trips to historical areas as well as places of great natural beauty. It was the perfect way to experience the most the region had to offer.
My favorite excursion was to Phillip Island, in a more rural part of Victoria. The island is best visited by car, as Victoria's rail service (which is quite excellent), does not offer direct service there.
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The drive to Phillip island was beautiful, rural Australia is full of gently rolling hills punctuated by small farms and windmills. Following the scenic drive, we arrived at our first destination, the Churchill Heritage Farm. The difference from the vibrant Melbourne area was striking, and was a welcome change. There was a beautiful view of the sea and the hilly Australian coastline behind it. The air was fresh and clean, with a nice sea breeze coming in. The gently sloping fields were a rich green, with shaggy brown cows scattered about. Though Melbourne was only 90 minutes away, it felt like another world.
The farm offers many demonstrations showing the public how they operate. They have all you'd expect, cow milking, pens where you can get close to the animals, and the like. However, Churchill farm offers a distinct Aussie flavor which you'd be hard pressed to replicate elsewhere. An excellent example of this was the sheepdog handler who also showed pony tricks. The show was clever and interspersed with the handler's sharp Australian wit.
The highlight of our visit was undoubtedly a spectacle known as the penguin parade. Phillip Island is home to a species of penguin called the Little penguin, which is incidentally the smallest in the world. Each night, they would return from the sea to their dwellings on shore, and there was a special spot where visitors could watch.
We were led to the viewing area, and waited with anticipation. As darkness fell, the spectacle began. The surf gently swept along the coastline and slowly, the penguins emerged. They came one by one, then in slightly larger groups. Soon enough, the beach was filled with a great crowd of tiny penguins heading for their burrows. They seemed so delicate compared to the vast ocean from which they came. Every person watching was mesmerized, anything spoken was reduced to a breathless whisper. Such was the power of the sight which lay before us. Gradually, the parade ended. The beach was now empty, the only reminder that the penguins had been there was a set of footprints rapidly being washed away by the waves. Photography was prohibited, further demonstrating the fragility of what we witnessed. We were left in awe, the spectacle had capped off our trip perfectly. Phillip Island is full of charm and enchantment; even in a land of great natural and cultural wealth such as Australia, Phillip Island shines.
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