We awoke in Apollo Bay to the morning marine haze. Alongside the oceanfront roadway, we collected food and coffee for breky as we watched mountain bikers roll back into town. It dawned on us that the area around Apollo Bay was featured in an Aussie mountain biking magazine that we had picked up before our train ride. The magazine had compared riding in this area, around the town of Forest, to “The Forest” in Rotorua, New Zealand that we rode last winter. That’s high praise, indeed, and the Apollo Bay area is on our list of places to ride if we make it back to Australia with our bikes.
From Apollo Bay, we drove to Queenscliff to take the car ferry to the Mornington Penisula. On the drive, we stopped to check out a protruding lighthouse (Split Point) and furry koalas sleeping in the crotches of limbs on trees. (We may have just lost our PG rating there!) Once we left Adelaide, we had not seen many tourists. Past Apollo Bay, as we neared the Melbourne metropolitan area with over 4 million people, the tourists were everywhere.
Traffic slowed us up a bit and we arrived in Queenscliff for the ferry ride to Sorrento around 1 pm. Lemon’s at the food bar in the Queenscliff ferry building made us imagine that the ferry was going to Sorrento, Italy, but, alas, that was not to be. Once in Sorrento, we scrambled to find a map and explore the wine country of the Mornington Peninsula. With the new maps installed in the BeckBeck system, we rolled up over the gentle ridge into the wine region’s web of country roads and its peek-a-boo vineyards tucked in amongst the forested, rolling hills. This area gets enough moisture to stay green even late in the summer.
The Mornington Peninsula, or “The Peninsula”, to locals and Melbournians, extends south from the Melbourne metropolitan area for about 60 miles. The Peninsula was another of the wine regions recommended to us by the winemaker at Williams-Selyem. The climate here is much cooler than the other wine regions we visited, holding promise for Pinot Noir and other wines that benefit from cooler weather growing conditions. On the day we visited, the temperatures were indeed cool, in the 60’s, with marine haze and low overcast clouds.
We visited Paringa Estate, Eldridge Estate Wines, and Stonier Wines. The Australian Pinot Noirs that we tried, up to this point in the trip, had been hard differentiate as Pinot Noir, tasting more like a generic red wine. This was not true on the Mornington Peninsula, where the wines were easily distinguished as quality, varietal Pinot Noir. The white wines were different here, also. At Stonier, we had the first Chardonnay that we really liked on the trip.
The Peninsula is 45 minutes by car from downtown Melbourne. The cellar doors reflect this. Throughout Australia, we were usually the lone visitors in the tasting rooms. On the Mornington Peninsula, we were usually not alone in the cellar door tasting rooms, even on a weekday. And, for the first time, there was often a small general tasting fee, usually 2 AUD.
We had a long conversation with one of the owners/winemakers at Eldridge Estate Wines. The couple that owns and runs the winery are both school teachers, she told us. Their winery was their hobby-cum-business. In asking about the double trellising technique they were using in their vineyards, she said that they learned the technique from a viniculturalist who is based in Oregon. The conversation turned
to the international nature of winemaking with us mentioning our list from the Australian winemaker at Williams-Selyem. Williams-Selyem was familiar to the winemaker. She was on its mailing list, just like us! In some small way, this brought a full circle to our Australian wine tour.
After shutting the cellar doors down on yet another day, we headed up the peninsula by road, and the occasional pedestrian packed sidewalk, to our hotel in downtown Melbourne. The BeckBeck system struggled with poor maps and the complex, commute traffic clogged road network in the outskirts of Melbourne. Feedback from the driver did not seem to help. Indeed, the driver’s inputs often lead to a full system meltdown. Typical of many of our travels, we often never know where we are; yet we always seem to go pretty much directly to our destination.
It looked like there was help coming to alleviate Melbourne’s traffic woes. We passed by a newly constructed and yet to be opened elevated toll road. The road couldn’t be missed. Sloping up from the sides of the road at an angle was a 15-foot high orange, translucent, Plexiglas windscreen/sound barrier. Backlit by the sun, the road, with its bright, florescent orange wall, was a shocking bolt dissecting the city. This was out first indication that Melbourne is a very architecturally adventurous city. We would have stopped and taken a picture, but it would have given the pedestrians on the sidewalk we were driving on a chance to reload their weapons. You can find a link at the end that shows a picture of the freeway (it was much more dramatic from our angle with the sun behind the barrier) and another interesting freeway we traveled on.
As we neared the Melbourne City center we started to notice signs indicating that we had entered a toll road.
“It’s a toll road. Where are the toll booths?” asked the further confused BeckBeck CPS.
“I don’t know. I’m just trying to avoid turning on the windshield wipers for a lane change for the seventeenth time in the last mile.” I replied.
“Lane change? I thought you were weaving, like usual,” continued the CPS perched in the left front seat.
“Hey! It’s not weaving if I have the turn signal on,” I shot back.
“The windshield wipers usually don’t count as a turn signal,” finished the BeckBeck.
As I said, it’s pointless to talk back to the BeckBeck system.
In any event, we later learned that the tolls on Melbourne’s toll roads are all electronically monitored. It’s just like the FastTrak system except that all cars must use them. There are no tollbooths where you can pay by hand. We’re not sure what this means for us. It doesn’t look like rental cars are exempt, but they sure didn’t make much of an effort to tell us that we needed to pay tolls. I guess we could end up with a nasty little bill in the mail at some point. Who knows, maybe we’ll go straight to jail if we return to Australia in the future.*
We crossed under the Yarra River and into the heart of downtown Melbourne in the midst of the Friday afternoon rush hour. Along our journey, one of the American tourists we met (for some reason, American tourists are always insistent on talking to other Americans!) had said that the driving in downtown Melbourne was a nightmare, the worst place ever. Well, perhaps it was our clever and unexpected use of the pedestrian choked sidewalks as a roadway, but we did not find driving in Melbourne to be particularly challenging. The BeckBeck system skillfully guided us to our hotel. At least that’s what Becky told me.
Our hotel, the Hotel Lindrum, is a boutique hotel on Flinders Street. The hotel is housed in a historic city building that was remodeled and transformed into a beautiful hotel. “Historic,” in hotel parlance, is a code word for no cars. Flinders Street is a no stopping zone during rush, which means you can’t stop in front of the hotel. Furthermore, there were enough barrier objects on the sidewalk to render the hotel car bomb proof and to foil our use of our favorite automobile thoroughfare. By random chance, just before the hotel, we whipped into the public car park. If we had missed this, we would probably still be circling the streets of Melbourne.
After settling into our quiet and comfortable high-ceilinged room we headed out on the streets to find some food. Melbourne is a beautiful city at night. Its many architecturally interesting buildings, both old and new, are illuminated with spotlights. The city is also a vibrant, energetic party scene with streets full of young, fashionable urbanites celebrating the end of the week by consuming vast quantities of food and beverage at the many restaurants and bars. We must have been caught up in Melbourne’s energy, as we made it back to the room well after midnight. As expected, cricket was still on the TV.
* It turns out that a couple of months later we did receive a bill for the toll road.
Melbournes East Link Toll Road: