Road trip – Warrnambool to Grampians

Our adventure along The Great Ocean Road had come to an end but we still had a lot more driving to do. Our first stop of the day was an unplanned one, but seeing a sign for Hopkins Falls we decided to follow it. Turned out to be a great little stop with a nice view of a waterfall. At the lookout we discovered a ‘Fotopol’ a brilliant invention! It was basically a permanent tripod for people to attach their cameras. It allowed me to take some really nice photos of the waterfall using a long shutter speed to make the movement of the water look silky smooth. The sturdiness of the Fotopol and the use of my wireless remote combined to create some great snaps.
Tower Hill Reserve was next on the agenda. The reserve was home to an extinct volcano believed to have erupted 30,000 years ago, but now a new habitat for many animals. We walked some of the many trails. The peak climb took us 30 minutes and led us to the highest point of the reserve with views of the surrounding area. The lava tongue boardwalk took us 30 minutes which led us through swamp areas and we spotted lizards, a snake and emus along the way. Journey to the last volcano took us one hour and lead us to the centre of the volcano but to be honest there was not much to see. We spotted a koala sitting in a eucalyptus tree near the picnic area and ash had a brief encounter with a snake near the information centre.
On returning to our vehicle I unlocked the doors and the key broke in the lock! I couldn’t believe our luck, stuck in a national park in the heat. We called Jucy who told us that even though we paid for the full insurance cover the key wasn’t covered. They gave us a number for a mobile locksmith and informed us that we would have to pay. How very helpful of Jucy rentals! We had to wait 2 hours for the locksmith to turn up so we went into the back of the van and cooked up some soup. There we were sitting in the national park carpark enjoying our soup and an Asian tourist took this opportunity to take a photo of us. Eventually the locksmith turned up and managed to cut us a new key for the hefty price of $100. But don’t worry, we did what we do best and complained to Jucy who later reimbursed us. After this setback we quickly got on the road again and headed for Grampians but a bigger obstacle was about to come into play.
The roads were straight and long heading towards the Grampians and we could see the mountainous landscape in the distance. We spotted smoke ahead and soon realised we were heading straight for it. We passed a Fire Marshall who informed us that it was a controlled fire and we had nothing to worry about. He advised us to slow down from 110kmh to 50kmh, to put our headlights on and he’d radio the other Marshall’s to let them know we were heading in their direction. Smoke was everywhere and even though we shut all the windows and vents we could feel the smoke filling our lungs. We carried on down the road only for the smoke to get thicker and all of a sudden we were in a thick blanket of smoke and could not see a thing. I couldn’t see the bonnet of our own car never mind the road ahead of us. The smoke was making us cough and the heat was unreal, even though visibility was zero, it was safer to keep on going. I was driving at walking pace when all of a sudden I had to hit the brakes hard and we stopped inches away from hitting a bollard. It was a bit of a panic but the car was becoming very hot so all I could do is keep moving and Ash suggested beeping the horn as we crawled along the road. Eventually visibility started to improve and there were flames near the side of the road. We could just make out the shadows of some of the marshalls fighting the fire. As soon as we cleared the smoke I put my foot down and wound down the windows, air never tasted so good. It was a very scary experience and one we will not forget. We were very lucky nothing was coming the other way. Ash did manage to film some of it, so we will try and upload some footage at a later date.
We stopped at Lake Bellfield before spending the night at Lake Fyans holiday park in the Grampians. It was a very eventful day and we enjoyed a relaxed evening star gazing with views of the Milky Way.

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4 Merlin Attractions of Sydney

Since we are in Sydney for a while to work and enjoy the festive season we plan to try and enjoy the sights and things sydney has to offer…in other words have FUN!!!
So as well as the Sydney Aquarium here are some of the places we have enjoyed since being here:

Madame Tussauds Sydney

The smallest of all Madame Tussauds but the youngest too, being just over a year since opening. Since we had a merlin annual pass it cost us absolutely nothing to enter and we have not managed to see the London attraction we thought it would be a good first attempt.

You have 9 rooms altogether and 60% off the wax figures are Australian so it’s great for learning about the culture. You have History, World Leaders, Sport, Music, History of Madame Tussauds, Culture & Sciene, TV, Film and A-List.

I have to say apart from Mark Webber and Shane Warne I had no idea who most of the sporting hero’s were as they were immortalised at a younger age but it was good to read up about them. The world leaders room was impressive being surrounded by such influential people. My favourite room has to be the music room and the film room as I loved seeing Sandy from Grease and getting dressed up next to her but in the film room you have beautiful Heath Ledger and E.T.

The wax figures were impressive, some needed looking after a bit more but from first glance the faces are so real and I can only imagine how much work goes in to making just one figure. There is plenty to see and do around the attraction with presentations every hour, wax hand making, personalised trophies and videos to show you how the wax figures are made, so for $40 you get to see all this and keep the children entertained but also educated and the staff at the time were nice and didn’t have any issues.

Wildlife Sydney

Wildlife was very interesting, I actually rate it higher then the Aquarium due to the fact I find there is too much to take in at the Aquarium where as in the wildlife attraction there is just enough and the creatures aren’t stuck behind a cage, they gave plenty of space and some even jump/fly around the enclosure quite freely.

The butterfly sanctuary is amazing and if you stand very still you might be lucky enough to have one land on you. The butterflies are kept in a very well heated room to reflect that of their living conditions so it can be quite humid in there but they were amazing to see their size and how beautiful their wings are in colours.

There are many creatures to see here from Cassowarys, Wallaby’s, Birds, Snakes and my favourite Rex the Crocodile. He has a selection of viewing points: one high up looking below, one looking directly in to his enclosure and you even get to see him underwater when he wants to take a dip. We got some great pictures of this and the presentation on him was fascinating as we found out quite a bit about where he came from, why he was here and you can even catch him being fed. Another great presentation was on the Koala rooftop, they tell you all sorts of information about the koalas and what they eat, how the give birth and more, this is another worth while presentation to take part in and at the end you can even pay to get up close to the furry little tree dwellers.

Sydney Tower Eye (Centre Point Tower)

Based in the Westfield shopping center off Pitt Street and found on Level 5, easy to get to and never much of a queue as its open from 9am – 10pm. There is sometimes a slight queue once you enter though which is for the 4D experience in which you get to watch a cinematic view of Sydney and what it has to offer, worth one visit especially with children but you don’t need to see it more then once.

Next you have a security check before entering the lift to get to the high point. You can feel your ears popping as you ride the elevator up to the top floor, gives you an idea of how high you really are. Once we were up we all burst out of the tiny lift eager to see the view, and what an amazing view it was.

You got a 360° view of Sydney and on a very clear day like ours you could see as far as the Blue Mountains as well as Watson’s Bay and Bondi Beach, the people from above looked so small like ants running around the city. The very historical building QVB looked so good from this view and the Bridge in its iconic form nestled in between tall office blocks. You only need to spend 30 mins there to appreciate the view but they do have a cafe and a gift shop so you could spend longer. I recommend seeing the tower both in the day and at night time so maybe visit around 7pm on wards as you will see the sun setting and the lights all turning on to the night so best of both.

Manly Sea Life Sanctuary

The last of the five Merlin Attractions but one to still consider visiting, Manly is just on the note shore adjacent to Watson’s Bay. To get there from the city you are best travelling by Ferry which takes 30 minutes but it is a great journey, very scenic, but is going to be the quickest and cheapest way to get there. Once you are off the ferry you only need to look to your left and it is right on the beach. It is only a small aquarium but it is unique to the Sea Life Aquarium on Darling Harbour.

The sanctuary deals with rescued creatures and ones that need to be nursed back to health for re-releasing back into the ocean. It is a great place to lean about sharks too especially for anyone who has a passion for marine biology, it informs you on the unnecessary harm humans are to Sharks and how killing Sharks will effect the ocean. It really is eye opening to see and I couldn’t recommend it more.

Asides from sharks the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary also has a selection of Lizards, Jellyfish, Sea Horses, Sea Turtles and mini Penguins. The mini Penguin presentation was great to listen to, the lady told us lots of information on the special breed of Penguin, where they live to live and more. While she was doing this the Penguin were being very noisy for such small creatures, trying to get our attention but also to make other Penguins aware what was around them.

I would like to recommend people go visit this attraction as it is always the least visited due to people wanting to go to the bigger aquarium. Being a keen sea life enthusiast I have learnt more from this aquarium and seen more on our impact on the sea life then in the darling harbour site. They had a raft made up of plastic bottles found just on the Manley beach area and it was enough to fit more then a few people on and they apparently tested it and sailed it on the ocean to raise awareness of how much we litter the oceans with. Go check it out and after wards you can enjoy the rest of your day on the beach, visiting the shops and eating good food all before heading back home.

To read our review on the Sea Life Aquarium of Sydney check out our previous posts.