Victoria I -- Melbourne and Otway Rain Forest

 

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Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia (pop. 3.8 millions, 2007), after Sydney. For that (and not only that), it's been living in the shadow of Sydney since... a time too old for anyone alive to remember. Well, Melbourne had its glory days back in the 1850s and 60s, during the Victorian gold rush and was the most populous and most important city in Australia for quite a few decades. When Australia was federated in 1901, Melbourne, then still the largest city in the country, fought bitterly with Sydney to become the capital city. At the end, as we all know, nobody won, the capital was forced to settle in a ridiculous spot in the middle of nowhere, later known as Canberra (even today Canberra is still kind of a remote spot and can easily be the most inaccessible capital city in the world). Anyway, then Sydney just took off and never look back; they built the marvelous Harbour Bridge, then the gorgeous Opera House, and pretty much left Melbourne in the dust. Well, this is not to say that Melbourne is inferior to Sydney in any cultural, economical, or political sense, at least not on paper. Melbourne is constantly lauded as Australia's "sport and culture capital," "gourmet center"... but to me it just lacks the energy, the excitement, the sunshine, the smiley faces, the waterfront... to say it all, it's a bit short on the glamour and charm to allure strangers like me.

Just take the weather for an example, it's notoriously unpredictable. One minute there is a glimpse of sunshine on the fastigium of the church like a miracle, the next minute it's all gloomy, and the next minute it starts to rain... not very tourist-friendly.

St. Paul Cathedral is one of the most well-known Melbourne landmarks. It's almost as old as Melbourne itself. A few months after Melbourne was established in 1835, the first christian service was founded on the bank of the Yarrar River, where the cathedral now sits. In 1848, a bluestone church was built on the site. Then in 1885, during the hay day of Melbourne, the little church was torn down and up went the Gothic cathedral. The cathedral used to be the tallest building in Melbourne, but you see, today it's no longer so dominant in the busy skyline of downtown Melbourne.

The interior. The cathedral is not quite as vast as its older cousin in London, but still impressive.

Melbourne is famous for its Victorian style buildings in the city center. The best known of them all is the Flint Street Station (1st pic), the busiest commuter hub in Melbourne. It was built in 1853 and was the busiest passenger station in the world early in the 20th century.

On the street of Melbourne, you find things you expect in a cultural capital: a funky art museum sits among solemn Victorian buildings (1st 2 pix); talented street artists; statue of national cricket hero built with sand...

 

Great Otway National Park is some 3-hour drive southwest of Melbourne. It covers a wide range of landscape, from forests, mountain ranges, to beaches. Here we're focusing on the temperate rainforest. Compared to the Daintree Forest in Queensland, the Otway forest is not as chokingly dense as and don't have that steaming humidity. Walking in the Otway forest is quite pleasant, with waterfalls here and there.

To take a good look at the forest, the Otway Fly Tree Top Walk is not to be missed. This is the longest (600m) and tallest (25m) forest canopy in the world. Standing high up watching the tree ferns underneath our feet shrunk into clusters of small green blossoms, a splendid view. Well, just make sure you don't have acrophobia or a faint heart.

The Otway forest has a simple two-layer structure: the lofty Myrtle Beech on the top and the dense Tree Fern covers the ground. Myrtle Beech is one of the tallest tree in the world, reaching up to 55m. It's an excellent timber.

Tree ferns are not really trees -- its trunk is made of fibrous roots. They are primitive -- unlike flowering plants they reproduce by bearing spores on the underside of their leaves.

One night we stayed in the small town of Apollo Bay. At about 10pm, we went into the forest and found one of coolest thing we've seen in this trip. Turning off all flash light, we were amazed to see thousands and thousands of twinkling stars, in the dark, behind the bushes, and on the mountain floor. The beech forest was dense and we didn't see the moon or any star above; but down here, we're in the nightly sky, with stars gleaming all around us. That dreamy feeling is just unforgettable.

Ok, so I'm gonna wake up from the dreamy mood and try to explain this in scientific terms. These are glow worms, the larvae of a species of small flies that emit bioluminescence. The trick is to a special kind of enzyme to catalyze the oxidation of their waste, or to put it simpler, burn their poop to emit light. These worms secret small threads of silk hanging around, and then light up to attract insects. When small insects, mayflies, mosquitoes, moths, or even snails are trapped, the worm pull the silk up and have dinner.

The next morning I returned to roughly the same spot and try to take a better look at these twinkling stars under daylight. We spotted something likely to be the debris of the silk, and found a larva of some insect. But we wasn't sure if that's what responsible for the breath-taking view the night before.

Creatures we spotted in the rainforest. First is a Splendid Fairy-wren, which is appropriately named for that brilliant blue feather. In the last 2 pix is a Australia King-parrot. This is a female, the male would have completely red facial feather.

An Australian Magpie (3 pix), a very wide-spread bird found all over Australia. In the last 2 pix, our little eucalyptus-loving friend, the Koala.

Miscellaneous shots.

 

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