Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Grand Slam Plan: P...P...P...Pick up a Penguin

The one possible advantage to being at Oakdene was that in the morning we wake up still cross and waste no time in getting ready to leave. There's no one here so we leave the building unlocked as instructed and set out a good half an hour ahead of schedule to the ferry at Queenscliffe. As luck would have it, we arrive five minutes before the 8.00am car ferry leaves for Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula and despite being booked on the 9.00am, they are only too happy for us to drive on and be on our way. This is advantageous as we want to drop our big bags off at Flinders before we head to Stoney Point for the passenger ferry to Phillip Island.

It's a relief not to be travelling by car and as we wait for the ferry to Phillip Island we spot enormous pelicans perched high above us on the telegraph poles. They left a present for us on the bonnet of the car which we found when we returned the next day - a big present!

The ferry takes us across clear, blue waters via French Island to Phillip Island where everywhere seems to have borrowed its name from the Isle of Wight. Today's or rather tonight's big highlight is the parade of the little penguins at Summerland beach so we carb up in a local pizza/pasta joint before checking in at our b&b, Glen Isle at Cowes. This came highly recommended by Susan and Degsy and as well as being a polished operation, Ian and Madeline were delightful and friendly hosts. Madeline immediately offered to drive us to the penguin event and thoughtfully left us a plate of cheese and biscuits in case we were p...p...p...peckish on our return.

Before we start the main event there's a lovely beach to walk on with a large and sleepy seal to chat to. Unbeknownst to me though, I am being made a meal of by mozzies and come back with about eight absolute belters which itch like mad. Trip to the pharmacy in the morning then.

If we thought we had left the Asian population behind on the Great Ocean Road, we were wrong and I am now confident that the streets of Beijing are completely empty because they are all here. Big Foot has booked the VIP tour which is worthwhile and full of information as well as getting the best vantage point. Also I might have caused a diplomatic incident if we were packed in tight with folks who despite the wardens' requests, persist in using their cameras with flash which confuses the little penguins.

As the light fades, thousands of little penguins, or fairy penguins as they are sometimes known, throw themselves on to the beach amongst the rocks and breaking surf, right themselves and waddle in small or large groups (but never alone) for a few paces, before stopping and regrouping and setting off again. They are making for their burrow holes in the dirt of the dunes where their chicks will be waiting for them to regurgitate whatever they have consumed during the day whilst in the sea. Sometimes they walk - well, waddle really - in a quite upright way but at other times, they get their heads down and barge their way through like front row forwards! The parade of penguins is a unique and amazing sight and Australia's second most popular natural attraction after Uluru or Ayres Rock.
Waking up after an itchy night with some of the worst mozzie bites ever, Madeline of Glen Isla instructs me to rub banana skin on the bites before we dive into the pharmacy for deet-laden remedies. Pills, spray, ointment - I take everything. Madeline has kindly delivered us into town ready for the ferry across to Stoney Point where the pelican-pooed car is parked. 

Rather than driving straight to Flinders we call into Merrick General Store which is a foodie paradise.  We choose crispy fresh baguette, with local cheese and pate, two sorts of cake - because we can't agree - and delicious, utterly delicious freeze-dried strawberries dipped in chocolate. Then we taste a couple of rose varieties before choosing the local one and of course, they find us glasses and cutlery to go. 

The beach at Merrick is narrow and windy with rather too many weeds for swimming but lovely to sit in the sand and savour our fab picnic with only the occasional walker passing by. This is the ultimate Thursday-in-February lunch! Then back to Flinders via a beach or two. Everywhere is very quiet. The season, as such, finished on Sunday and the beaches are deserted and a lot of the cafes and shops are shut. But the weather is the best we've had on this trip. Mid-twenties with a breeze. We check in at Flinders Hotel - nice room with a patio (we have been upgraded apparently) and sort out our stuff which has been crammed into various suitcases and there's a little washing to do to get us through to the end of the trip. 

After a walk to the cliff where we see an amazing array of very confident birds including cockatoos and parakeets, we walk up the hill, past the closed shops and cafes to Cook and Norman Trattoria. We have a main course each and share a pudding and the food is sublime. We wash it down with Shiraz and Pinot and ...oh dear...grappa. But it's a softer one than normal and quite lemony.  No hangover. 
It's a perfect morning. The weather here is mid-twenties, maybe a bit more, there's a constant breeze and this is the playground for Melbourne's well-off and well-heeled, though we're not at the top end of Mornington Peninsula where the big Aussie dollars play at Sorrento and Portsea.

After another eggy breakfast of the highest standard (diets for us both when we get back) we set off to explore the area via the General Store to stock up on delicious treats for lunch on the beach later. Then off on our voyage of exploration - it's amazing! after nearly three weeks it still gives me a tremendous buzz to drive off we don't know where! The 'where' turns out to be Ten Minutes by Tractor, a winery whose name has charmed Big Foot (actually much better and rather smaller foot now, thank goodness!) for months ever since we started planning this trip. He says we needn't stop, but I urge him to, knowing that in the fullness of time, when we have returned, he will mention that we passed it but didn't stop  - or worse, that I wouldn't let him stop!

The operation is very slick and we are charged for a tasting, not much but enough. The lady running the tasting is American and had been the sommelier at Heston's in Melbourne. She is very knowledgable but they are better known for their Chardonnay and it's not my bag so not sure she is impressed when I don't want to try it.

Anyway back on the road and we head to Somers beach where allegedly you can swim with dolphins. We have a lovely afternoon on the beach with our gourmet picnic and lots of swims in the sea but the dolphins weren't playing so as the heat of the sun starts to wane we make our way back to Flinders in time for a busy Friday night Aussie dinner in the pub. Children everywhere, lots of young folks drinking jugs of ale and delicious mussels for me. Then a stagger home to bed. My last day as a sixty year old - not bad!

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