Surfing, Working, and the Little Things in Between

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve written last, and if you were to ask me what I’ve been up to, I would give you the same reply that I give most people: surfing and working, though there have been a few little goodies thrown in there as well. I’ve been surfing upwards of foImageur days a week, squeezing it into my schedule whenever I can. I don’t claim to be much good at it, but there’s just something about surfing that brings me back for more despite the bruises and wipe-outs. Maybe it’s the feeling of adrenaline rushing through your veins as you paddle for a rising swell, followed by that feeling of actually riding a wave, being pushed by the sheer force of the cold saltwater. Or maybe it’s that moment when you are paddling out and a seal graces you with its presence as it fishes for its afternoon tea. Either way, I am addicted.

Speaking of surfing, I can now say that I have experienced the thrill of being a spectator at a professional surfing competition. On the evening of Easter Sunday, I made my way to Torquay so that I could have a full day to experience the ASP Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach on Easter Monday. Bright and early Monday morning (well, not actually that bright, seeing as I woke up before the sun made its way out of bed), I joined up with another traveler and walked the hour through a beautiful coastal sunrise to Bells Beach. We got there just after the first heat of the men’s Round 3 had begun, with hardly any crowds yet on the beIMG_0694ach, and we got a spot on the beach right next to the area where the athletes come in and out before and after heats, just in front of the interview backdrop. There are definitely benefits to being an early riser.

The women had the day off, and I was a bit upset because I am really into the women’s surfing but know very little about the men’s surfing. That being said, I have absolutely no reason to complain. I got to sit on the beach and enjoy the atmosphere that can only be described as the perfect combination of relaxed and competitive, with a definite feeling of excitement in that salty ocean air. And I got to see some of the best male surfers in the world compete against each other. Adriano de Souza, Kelly Slater, Owen Wright, and John John Florence are just a few of the incredibly talented guyIMG_0669s that put on a show for us while doing what they love: riding waves.

In the afternoon, the men’s Round 3 finished up and the competition went into standby before the commencement of the men’s Round 4. Some friends and I hit the surf shops for some window shopping (and some real shopping too, in their cases) and a bit of lunch before going back toward the beach. We pulled over at one beach on the way back to Bells and I sat on a ledge and took in the sight of locals surfers of all levels and styles just enjoying it all. Unfortunately when we finally did get back to Bells, we had just missed John John Florence’s perfect 10, and Round 4 was finishing up. There was still some good surfing to watch, though.

In the end, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the surfing at Bells. It’s inspiring to watch people follow their passion, and it doesn’t hurt when that passion involved the ocean. So if you don’t hear from me for a while, I just might be following my passion too.




Five [fairly budget-friendly and not overtly touristy] things to do in Melbourne

This past weekend, I had the privilege of spending two days in Melbourne with a friend who has recently become a proud Melburnian. For the short time that I was there, we packed in quite a few fun excursions. Though there were many little moments and lolly (candy) indulgences, there are five specific things that I would highly recommend:

  1. Watch an AFL (footy) match. I’ll admit that I’m as much a fan of watching sports as I’m a fan of playing them. However, after watching my first footy match at Etihad Stadium on Friday, with Fremantle beating Collingwood 116 to 46 (go Freo!), I can say that there is definitely a certain appeal to this particular game. Anyone who’s been to Melbourne (or Victoria, for that matter) during footy season can attest to the fact that Australians love their footy, and why not? It’s a fast-paced, exciting game with plenty of energetic fans on both sides. And, as my friend enjoyed pointing out, there are plenty of fit guys in short shorts, though I assure you that’s not why I went! For just $25 for general admission, it’s definitely something worth doing!
  2. Indulge a little at Pancake Parlour. As an American, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve never been to an IHOP. However, after visiting Pancake Parlour, I just don’t know that it would measure up to my new expectations. We went for breakfast and I had a simple chai latte and two pancakes with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. The pancakes were beautifully cooked and deceptively filling, and the ratio of ice cream to pancakes was nearly perfect! If you’re in the mood for something a bit more extravagant, or if you arrive a bit late for brekky, worry not! Pancake Parlour offers more than just pancakes, and it even has a rather tempting cocktail menu. With it being open from morning until late in various locations throughout Melbourne, you really have no excuse not to check it out.
  3. Enjoy the scenery at the Royal Botanic Gardens. One thing that stuck out to me about Melbourne is that it seems to be quite an active city. I guess that makes sense considering what a popular city it is for sporting events. At the Botanic Gardens, it’s quite easy to get into the fitness groove or simply enjoy a bit of nature. People of all shapes and sizes seem to walk and run along the “Tan,” a 3.8 track that encircles Kings Domain and the Gardens. But that’s just on the outside. Take a walk into the Botanic Gardens, and you will find various walking paths surrounded by lovely areas of grass, trees, and water. We even found a little waterfall area that my friend had never noticed before. Want to know what the best part of the experience is? It’s completely free!
  4. Take a walk through the Queen Victoria Market. I do love a good local market, and the Queen Vic Market is no exception! Whatever you’re looking for, you’re likely to find it here. I was amazed at the vast amount of stalls selling nearly everything, including fresh meat, local produce, lollies, baked goods, tea and coffee, souvenirs, clothing, jewellery, crafts, kitchen appliances, cleaning products, soaps, and more! There is even a decent selection of takeaway food at quite reasonable prices. It’s easy to spend a bit of money here if you aren’t careful, especially if you’re a sucker for local produce like I am, but one could find enjoyment just walking through aisle after aisle of stalls and enjoying the great atmosphere. Open five days a week, on Tuesday and from Thursday to Sunday, this is another bit of Melbourne you won’t want to miss.
  5. Get your chocolate fix at a Max Brenner chocolate bar. A chocolate bar, you ask? Isn’t that too good to be true? No! It really exists! Though is it a bit pricey, this place is well worth the extra cash. My friend was ranting and raving about this place and treated me to their milk chocolate-covered strawberries. Lucky me! They also offer a variety of hot chocolates, fondue, sundaes, waffles, and other goodies. If your mouth is watering, then be sure you don’t pass this place by on your next trip to Melbourne.

As you can probably tell, I had an amazing time exploring the city by foot, tram, and a teeny bit of driving, and I would love to visit again soon! There is just so much to do in Melbourne, it’s no wonder they call it the most liveable city in the world!

[Photos will be uploaded soon, I promise! My camera battery was flat, and I packed the wrong charger, so I have to go through the somewhat tedious process of uploading photos from my phone. Bear with me; they’re coming!]

Phillip Island Hopping

What a weekend! This past weekend, I headed off to Phillip Island for a few days to experience its beauty, good surf, and, of course, penguins.

Friday morning I took the bright and early train out of Warrnambool and hitched a ride with a tour bus from Torquay to Phillip Island. We stopped briefly at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay before driving a bit further to catch the ferry from Queenscliffe to Sorrento, and we really could not have had a better day for it. The sky was bright and sunny, the water was blue, and the view was really amazing. I also learned an interesting historical fact that I will share with you history lovers out there: the first shot of World War One was fired at Port Phillip Heads.

Once we got across the bay, we stopped by the Maru Koala and Animal Park, which had a variety of captive wildlife and farm animals including, of course, koalas, kangaroos, and cockatoos. It is nice seeing Australian animals, but I think I was more amused by the amount of photos the tourists were taking. Now that I have seen Australian wildlife in the wild, seeing them in a sanctuary just is not quite as good.

A bit of a drive later, I got dropped off near Sunderland Bay on Phillip Island, where I was met by my host. He was quite hospitable, and his house had an amazing view with only about a two-minute walk to the water. I went off on a sunset walk to orient myself a bit and soak it all in.

The next day started off quite interestingly. My accommodation and food was provided in exchange for my help with various chores, the first of which required me to bike to Surfies Point to check the surf. Somehow missing the boardwalk that I was meant to take, I ended up going on a long, hilly bike ride to the other side of the island and back, which I later learned was about 10 kilometers. Needless to say, I was a bit exhausted and missed the best surf conditions. That didn’t stop us though, and we went surfing for a few hours at Crazy Birds until the good surf had pretty much all gone with the receding tide.

In the evening, my host took us–myself and the German girl who was also staying with him– to the Nobbies and to Pyramid Rock. We walked along the boardwalk at the Nobbies and had a stunning view of Seal Rock, the Blowhole, and the rugged coastline. There were also penguins spread along under the boardwalk and in nest boxes alongside it. After visiting the Nobbies, we took a back road known to locals but very few tour companies, and we witnessed some more of the beautiful coastal sights, including Pyramid Rock. Overall, it was quite a nice evening.

Sunday brought about some nice surprises as well. It was Open Day, meaning that residents of Phillip Island could go into all of the island’s nature parks–the Koala Conservation Centre, the Churchill Island Heritage Farm, and the Penguin Parade–for free. However, I got the privilege of getting a free entry wristband when my host found an injured possum in his garden and took it to the Koala Conservation Centre to have it transported somewhere where it could be helped. And I made sure to use it for all it was worth. After walking around in the Koala Conservation Centre and visiting a local plant nursery, I took the long but satisfyingly flat bike ride to Churchill Island. What struck me the most about the island was the contrast between green farmland and the blue water. The history of it didn’t stay with me very well, as I was content to just take in the scenery.

In the evening, we went to the Penguin Parade. I had not originally been planning to visit it, as it is heavily commercialized and I did not want to pay for it when I could actively be involved with Little Penguin monitoring efforts in Warrnambool. However, since we were all given free admission, it would have been a shame to pass up. There were definitely more penguins coming ashore than one would ever see in Warrnambool, but there were fewer than usual and many tourists left about fifteen minutes after the first sighting. We stayed until the very end and waited for as many penguins to cross the beach as we could see. As tourist-ridden as it was, it was an experience I am glad that I could have.

And now a bit of reflection: I am not going to lie and say that traveling is always a comfortable experience. It can be very enjoyable, as my Phillip Island trip was, but it can also take you out of your comfort zone. I always find, however, that traveling and experiencing new ways of living and thinking, whether I fully agree with them or not, changes me for the better. Staying inside my little bubble of what I know and have always known can feel wonderful and safe, but it is not until I push myself out into the world that I learn more and more what it means to really live. So I want to thank the people that I encounter in my travels, whether our paths cross for a moment or for a lifetime, for teaching me new things, expanding my boundaries, and inspiring me to lead a fuller and more beautiful life.

More Penguins!

Okay, okay, I know that I have already written a post today, but I have some more exciting news! I just helped out with another Little Penguin breeding survey, and this one was even more eventful than the last! Without giving too much away, I thought that I would share some of the highlights with those of you who are seabird lovers like myself.

This was my second time assisting with the breeding survey as a part of the Middle Island Maremma Project, which I mentioned in an earlier post. This time, I was able to get a bit more involved and check some more burrows to feel whether there were any penguins. Two of the burrows that we checked contained shearwater chicks, and I got to hold one of them briefly before putting it gently back into its burrow.

Upon reaching into one of the burrows, I discovered a temperamental molting adult penguin and brought it out so that we could weigh it. Prior to molting, the penguins are quite fat, and they lose over 50% of their body mass during the molt. Another penguin that we found had just finished molting and was much thinner than its molting counterpart.

We also examined two penguin chicks. One of the chicks was still covered in down, and the other was nearly ready to leave its burrow. Both chicks were weighed, and the latter chick was microchipped.

I cannot thank those responsible for this monitoring enough for allowing me to be a part of this! It is really interesting, and I leave every time with the feeling that I would absolutely love to do more work like this!

Torquay Time

After a few full days of work last week, I had a nice three-day holiday in Torquay. From where I was staying at the Bells Beach Backpackers, I was practically next to the surf outlets and only a short walk from the center of town and the main beach. I don’t know whether I was more excited to go outlet shopping or surfing!

I can be a bit shy in new situations, but somehow I ended up pushing out of my comfort zone a little bit and asking some of the boys at the hostel if I could join them on their Thursday evening surf. Turns out it was a good call on my part! We headed down to Jan Juc, and I got some really great tips (though very humbling, let me tell you) from some more experienced surfers. I had to swallow my pride, but it was well worth it, and I am now extraordinarily motivated to surf as much as I can.

The shopping wasn’t terrible either. I managed to get a decent sale on a pink Rip Curl wetsuit, which I am completely excited about! And I bought a cook book. Random, I know, but I have decided that I aspire to being a better cook among other things.

I have been to Torquay before but only to stop through for some surfing and shopping for the day. The nice thing about being able to spend several days there was that I could go off and explore a bit. I went on a walk through town and walked along the beach, climbing around on some rocks and enjoying the view from Point Danger. There were a few clouds in the sky, but it was beautiful nonetheless. One moment you can be walking along a swimming beach watching people and seabirds relaxing on the sand, and the next moment you will be observing all the surfers at the lineup against the background of steep cliffs. It is quite nice, and it is even better when you can go back to enjoy it at sunset with the company of a good friend.

Torquay was awesome, but Warrnambool had a nice surprise waiting for me when I came back. One of my friends here has been going on about spearfishing, so he showed me the ropes yesterday morning. We went a bit past Thunder Point to make sure we were out of the Merri Marine Sanctuary, climbed down some rocks, chucked on our snorkeling gear, and swam out to attempt to catch some fish. I was not skilled enough to catch anything, though he caught a few before they slipped away, but I thoroughly enjoyed the view through my mask as I swam around for nearly two hours. The water was almost completely clear, the reef was amazing, and I felt like a mermaid swimming around rocks and through kelp forests. Would I do it again? Most definitely!

To sum it all up, I am totally loving life and enjoying all the great things that come my way. This afternoon, I will be participating in another Little Penguin breeding survey, and then who knows what the next exciting thing will be, but I do not doubt that it will be pretty cool!

Penguins and Reefs

DISCLAIMER: The following work involving the Little Penguin population on Middle Island was done under the supervision of experienced members of the ongoing project. Please do not attempt any of this without authorization!

What an exciting week it has been, though I can hardly believe how quickly it has passed! On Tuesday evening, I went to Middle Island with a few other volunteers to count the Little Penguins as a part of the Middle Island Maremma Project. We divided into pairs and each pair went to a different part of the island. Myself and another volunteer were stationed at the “penguin superhighway,” which overlooks the reef and a steep rocky path that the penguins climb. There were not many penguins, and I only counted five where I was. The penguin season is coming to a close–the peak of it was in January–and I have been told that many if the penguins are moulting early this year, which may be factors in the low penguin numbers.

On Wednesday morning, I got the awesome opportunity to participate in a Little Penguin breeding survey. We went along Middle Island and checked each of the artificial burrows for penguin chicks. Some of the burrows contained shearwater chicks, but there were not very many penguins. I did, however, get the opportunity to take one of the penguin chicks out of a burrow so that we could assess its development. Even though I had been told that there was not much going on compared to other seasons, I thought it was really interesting, and I would love to do more work like this in the future!

Yesterday was quite hot, and I took advantage of a two-hour break in the middle of the day to go for a surf. It turned out that the surf was not so great, but I did what I could! During the short swim I had afterward, I saw two stingrays swimming several feet from where I was. This might be a normal occurrence for the average Warrnambool beach-goer, but I had never been in the water with stingrays before, and it was quite an experience.

This morning, I had another chance to get my feet wet (literally!) with some more volunteer work. The Friends of the Merri Marine Sanctuary (FOMMS) group has just re-launched their Sea Search program, which serves to assess the health of the reef here. The two Parks Victoria summer rangers picked random sampling areas yesterday in the low and mid zones, and today we analyzed algal and invertebrate abundance and diversity in those areas using quadrats. I got to meet other people with similar interests to myself and learn about the identification of common plants and animals living on the reef. I really cannot complain!

And the fun does not even end there. In the afternoon, I went for a surf with a friend and then spent some time at the breakwater. While looking over the wall at my friend swimming below, I saw “Sammy the Seal,” the seal that often stops by when fishermen are around. It was swimming right below where I was standing and surfaced several times, giving me an excellent view of this amazing creature.

I supposed I can say that I am having the time of my life!

Australia Day Weekend

Koala ClimbingThis past weekend was Australia Day weekend, with Australia Day being on Sunday, January 26. I think I did a pretty good job of celebrating it the Australian way, which included prawns (not shrimp on the barbie, mind you), snags (sausages), my first lamington, and some great people. In the evening, I worked and chatted with some real Australians and a handful of holidaymakers who, like myself, are making the most of the Aussie lifestyle.

Yesterday was a public holiday and the icing on the cake of my wonderful weekend. I enjoyed an ice cream and a swim in Port Fairy and then spent a while at Tower Hill, where I got the closest that I have ever been to a koala. In case you were wondering, I did not actually pet the koala because, as cute and cuddly as they may seem, they are still wildlife and should be respected as such. There were also some pretty awesome views near Tower Hill, which you can check out in the Gallery!

Fun for Free: Snorkeling in the Merri Marine Sanctuary

I have always been told that the Merri Marine Sanctuary in Warrnambool has some pretty nice snorkeling spots, but I have never experienced them for myself until yesterday. The Merri Marine Sanctuary boasts some amazing ocean views, especially along the walkway that runs from Stingray Bay to Thunder Point. SnorkelingAnd that is just above sea level. Under the water, there are even more amazing sights to see, and you can even swim to the outskirts of Merri Island–just not Middle Island, as it is off limits to the public–and see things from a totally new perspective!

Now that I have gotten a taste of snorkeling outside of the swimming pool–yeah, that’s what land-locked Americans do–I am hooked! One of these days, I am going to go spearfishing, though I have to find somewhere outside of the Merri Marine Sanctuary, as it is a no-take zone. But fear not, there are plenty of aquatic adventures yet to be had, and I will keep you posted on the best of them.

Want to see more photos? Be sure to check out the Gallery!

Australian Open

After a long and uncomfortable few days with temperatures of up to about 43˚C (109˚F) in Warrnambool and even higher in some places, it has finally cooled off! I worked a few days during the week, got to the beach on Monday and Tuesday, and spent the rest of the heatwave trying not to melt.

With the return of cooler weekend temperatures came an exciting opportunity to go on a spontaneous trip to the Australian Open in Melbourne. I have to admit that I do not usually follow tennis, but this seemed too good to pass up.

A few of my friends picked me up bright and early, and we made the three-hour road trip to Melbourne. We were a bit upset to learn that ground passes had already sold out, but we made the most of it and caught up with a few other friends for lunch near Flinders Street. On a second attempt later in the afternoon, however, ground passes had just started selling again, and all five of us got in. It really could not have worked out much better!

The first match we watched was between Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov won, but I do not remember the score because I was still trying to work out how points are kept in tennis. It was pretty exciting regardless.

We stopped in for about 45 minutes to watch a doubles match between Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan and Robin Haase/Christopher Kas. At that point, I was getting a bit hungry and sleepy, and I still was not sure how the scoring worked, so I was mostly trying not to doze off–tennis fans, please do not hate me for that comment!! The rowdy Australian guys next to me definitely kept me awake though! They love their sport!

After a walk around, we split up and two of us went to find seats for the 7:00PM match between Kei Nishikori and Donald Young, while the others got dinner.  We ended up getting really nice seats just two rows back with a great view of the action! And, with the help of my friend, I finally figured out how the point system works, so I started getting really into it. The first set was pretty close, and Young was doing really well until he started losing his focus. For the second and third sets, Nishikori stepped it up, and the match ended after the third set. I do not really know whether hard-core tennis fans would say it was an intense game, but I certainly enjoyed it!

Overall, I would say that the Australian Open was an awesome experience, and I got a taste of the sporting scene in Melbourne. Now I just need to go to a cricket match, footy match, and surf competition before I leave Australia.