The discovery of Melbourne's wintry countryside by a reluctant sydneysider
Personal reasons forced me to spend many weekends in freezing Melbourne this winter. At the beginning I wasn't happy at all at the idea of leaving my beautiful Sydney with her sunny and crispy winter Sundays in favour of Melbourne's cloudy skies...and yet, I discovered the many joys of Victoria's wintry landscape!
Follow me in my unwilling [but admittedly enjoyable] discovery of Melbourne surroundings! You might decide to buy a scarf and say bye bye to Bondi for a couple of days.
Our first trip led us to Northern Peninsula, where we visited the botanic gardens, had a huge meal at a famous local pub and enjoyed the company of wallabies and koalas at a wildlife sanctuary.
We started early from Tullamarine airport [Saturday morning flights are usually cheaper than Friday evening ones] and headed south through Princess Highway, which is peculiarly empty at 8.30am on Saturday, till we reached our first destination:
Royal Botanic Gardens of Cranbourne, only 15 minutes from Frankston and less than 50 from Melbourne.
Both architecturally and naturally amazing, Cranbourne Gardens are a division of the Melbourne Royal Botanic Gardens, specialising in native flora and including heathlands, wetlands and woodlands. The gardens are also home of many native birds, mammals and reptiles, some of which are considered rare and endangered.
The history of the Gardens is rich and dense; indigenous Australian people, the Boonerwurung, inhabited the area before the European times. Then the site was used for sand mining in the 19th century, supplying the building of Melbourne and its suburbs. From 1889 until the 1960s, the area was military controlled and again used for sand mining, grazing and timber gathering.
In 1970 the site was transformed into a division of the existing Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, with special attention to Australian plant research and conservation. The gardens finally opened to the public in 1989.
Another beautiful corner of the Australian Gardens
Visiting the Gardens can be either a full day natural experience or a leisure 2 hours stroll in the quite newly opened Australian Gardens.
The Australian Garden opened to the public in 2006, attracting 15,000 visitors on the very first day. Since then they've been considered a landscape marvel, winning an astonishing number of Landscape Design awards, both locally and internationally. Most recently they were even awarded World Architecture Landscape of the Year 2013.
The Gardens are open from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm every day of the year except for Christmas. Entry is free and there are many facilities such as BBQ area, garden shop, toilets, sheltered areas and parking.
We would have loved to have a BBQ at the Gardens but the weather was inclement so we found shelter at the famous Kelly's Motor Inn in Cranbourne's High Street.
It was a huge mistake to order two mains, because one was enough, and delicious. We tried the lamb with mash and greens and the duck breast with couscous. A lady next to us was slurping a glorious fish and chips and we have seen mouthwatering desserts which we will surely try next time.
Another activity not to be missed on a weekend in Mornington Peninsula is a visit at the local wildlife sanctuary.
Moonlit Wildlife Sanctuary
Ok, it might sound a bit touristic... but be honest, who doesn't like to cuddle a koala or feed the wallabies? And on a windy chilly day hugging a furry little fella sounds particularly appropriate.
Moonlit Sactuary, opened in 2001, is a 25-acreas conservation biopark, where native Australian animals can roam free in a predator free wetland area where more than 10,000 native trees and plants have been reintroduced since 1998.
Interaction between animals and public is welcome and the wallabies are just delighted to be fed by the visitors. The Sanctuary offers a number of educational activities and ecotours, on top of the classic animal encounters.