Melbourne, Victoria, 2023

Gorgeous beaches, nocturnal animals, indigenous art, and temperate rainforest!


After a two-week tour of New Zealand in December, 2023, we flew to Melbourne to spend Christmas with Graeme’s family. Graeme’s brother and sister-in-law Ken and Faye graciously hosted us at their home in Mornington. Located about 45 miles south of the city on Port Philip Bay, Mornington was once primarily a seaside vacation town. It is now part of the ever-increasing Melbourne metropolitan sprawl, but still has gorgeous beaches and remains a favorite tourist destination, with close to 8 million visits a year.

Mount Martha beach boxes

On our first day Connie and I took a short drive to a local beach where we came across a row of brightly colored “beach boxes.” Sitting on public land but privately owned, these small bathing huts are only for storage and day use – no overnight stays allowed. Built from 1862 through the mid-20th century and with only around 1300 of them on Victorian beaches, they are in high demand. According to a TV news report one was sold in Mount Martha in 2021 for A$650,000 (around US$425,000).

Moonlit Sanctuary

Our next outing was an evening at the nearby Moonlit Sanctuary, which has a wide variety of Australian animals and birds including many nocturnal species. We started our guided tour at dusk and continued until well after dark when many of the residents were at their liveliest. We enjoyed hand-feeding wallabies, kangaroos and small squirrel gliders. Other highlights included wombats, koalas, potoroos, an echidna, and a hyper-active Tasmanian devil chomping on and crushing a large meat bone.

Squirrel Glider

Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda

A highlight of our visit was the new Chelsea Australian Garden at the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden in Olinda. In 2013 a team of Australians competed at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in England, in its one hundredth year. Designed by Phillip Johnson, the exhibit featured a natural landscape of Australian plants and rocks with a billabong and waterfall. The team won the gold medal in its category and was unanimously awarded Best in Show, bettering all 550 entrants in all categories. Graeme’s nephew Vaughn (Ken’s son) was a member of that team and is now General Manager of Phillip Johnson Landscaping.

Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda

Ten years later in June 2023 the Chelsea Australian Garden at Olinda opened in the Dandenong Ranges Botanic Garden. It is based on the award-winning exhibit but scaled to 20 times the original size. We were privileged to have a personal guided tour of the garden by Vaughn, who was project manager of the entire implementation. The garden has 15,000 plants from over 400 native Australian species representing several different climates all over the country. I think Vaughn knows every one of them! We thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

Wartook, Victoria

Female Gang-gang Cockatoo

Graeme’s sister Judith has lived for many years in Wartook, about 200 miles west of Melbourne and adjacent to the Grampians National Park. To avoid driving through heavy city traffic we opted to take a longer route including a 40 minute car ferry ride across the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. Judith was in the process of packing to move into a retirement community in the city of Horsham, about 30 miles north, so we were only able to stay one night. We enjoyed dinner with Judith and her son and daughter-in-law, and we got to see her new place before heading back to Mornington the next day. Regrettably, I neglected to take photos except for some of a pair of gang-gang cockatoos in a nearby tree before dinner. However, there are more Wartook wildlife photos from our 2019 visit here.

Badger Weir Picnic Area

One of Graeme’s favorite memories of both his childhood and as an adult living in Australia was family picnics at the Badger Weir Picnic Area, now part of the Yarra Ranges National Park. Back in the day there were large open-air wood-fired grills for cooking lamb chops and sausages, with stacks of firewood available for public use. There was also an abundance of brightly colored crimson rosellas that would land on your shoulders and eat breadcrumbs from your hand. On each of our last three trips to Australia we’ve tried to spend a day at Badger Weir, only to find that it was closed for various re-construction projects after major storm damage. On this trip we were finally able to visit.

Badger Weir Picnic Area at Yarra Ranges State Park

Located near the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary about 35 miles east of the Melbourne city center, the picnic area is still a wonderful place to visit, but it has lost some of its former charm. The grills are now all stainless steel and propane-fired, and there wasn’t a rosella to be seen. However, the walk along the creek through a dense temperate rainforest of towering mountain ash, gum trees and 20-foot high tree ferns is still well worth the effort.

Christmas Dinner

On Christmas Day we joined Ken and Faye with their entire family at the home of son and daughter-in-law Matt & Carmen on a hilltop in the outer suburb of North Warrandyte. We enjoyed catching up with Carmen’s parents and the rest of the family. Christmas dinner started with a range of cold seafood appetizers – crayfish (rock lobster), huge prawns, fresh oysters, and Morton Bay bugs (like lobster tails). The main course included barbecued ham and beef, roasted vegetables and a variety of salads. Among many desert options was a delicious Christmas pudding with vanilla custard sauce. Carmen’s mother Jan graciously gave Graeme the recipe (source of the photo).

“Connection” at The Lume

With a population of 5.3 million the Melbourne metropolis is now Australia’s largest city. One area that has undergone major redevelopment in the 35 years since Graeme lived there, is the Southbank area across the Yarra River from the city center. Along with many office buildings and casinos is the very large Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center.

“Connection” – Immersive Indigenous Art Exhibit

On this trip we met up with Graeme’s cousin Rosalyn to visit “Collection,” a spectacular, immersive exhibition of indigenous art at The Lume, located in the Convention Center. In addition to a conventional gallery of gorgeous paintings by First Nations artists, Collections featured continuous 360 degree video highlighting many of those same paintings and others, in the context of their country, culture and community. We were able to enjoy a delicious meal at the restaurant at one end of the exhibit hall while watching the entire program all around us. It was an unforgettable experience.

Flinders to Cape Schanck

Flinders Pier

Toward the end of our stay in Mornington Ken and Faye took us on a tour of the south-east side of the Mornington Peninsula. We had an excellent lunch at Merricks General Store (in the town of Merricks), and drove through the Mornington Peninsula National Park to Cape Schanck. We watched teenagers jumping from the Flinders pier, divers and surfers from the West Head Lookout, and paragliders launching into the fog just off the Flinders golf course.

French Island

Mangroves and black swans at French Island

For our last day trip Connie and I drove to east Stony Point for a ferry to French Island. With access only by passenger ferry and a daily supply barge, French Island remains isolated and largely undeveloped. The French Island National Park occupies about 70% of the land. We thought it might be interesting to walk along a trail that parallels the western shore in the national park, expecting expansive views of Westernport Bay. Unfortunately, we found that the entire trail goes through a dense tea tree forest with nothing to see but the trees. There was one raised viewing platform, from which we could see the bay in the distance, and we did see one lone echidna on the trail. After cutting across to a road to walk back to the ferry terminal we also came across a five-foot long red-bellied black snake crossing the road. That and some bird-life was the extent of our adventure.

The next day we boarded our flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport to fly home. All in all it was a wonderful ten days and we were very fortunate to have such generous hosts in Mornington, Wartook, and North Warrandyte.

Video and Photos

The 8-minute video below gives a good overview of our December 2023 trip. It is best viewed on a big screen with sound on. Photos can be selected from the thumbnails below the video.

Next: Sydney & Canberra, 2019


Photo Gallery

Click on any thumbnail image below to see the full-screen photo.  Use the left and right arrow keys to advance through the photos, or press P to start a slide show.  Press ESC to exit.

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