At 74 miles across, Melbourne is one of the largest cities in the world. For someone visiting, that can be intimidating. How in the world can a person be expected to experience all this town has to offer when it’s just so big? Public transportation in Melbourne is good, but when you’re on a mission to see it all, a tour is the way to go. I chose Gray Line, because it’s a trusted, global brand with lots of options. Plus, Gray Line was the chosen tour company in a Jennifer Aniston movie I watched recently… and if it’s good enough for Jen, I’m all in!
I booked the Gray Line Puffing Billy with wildlife and winery lunch tour and woke up bright and early for my pre-8am pick up. I was energized and ready, though… the sun was shining and I knew that the wildlife was waiting!
Grants Picnic Ground, Sherbrooke Forest
I got a real taste of Australian culture with a Bush Billy tea set up by our lovely bus driver, Deb. Have you ever tried Vegemite? Made from leftover brewers yeast, this thick, black sludge is an Aussie favorite. It’s not so much a Texan favorite… but I’ll keep trying!
Thankfully, there was a tray of lamingtions and a tin of tea made of Australian-grown tea and gum leaves to wash away the salty, yeasty spread that looks, but most definitely does not taste like chocolate.
Take a moment to go for a walk among the mountain ash trees in the Sherbrooke Forest. It’s the world’s second tallest tree, but the tallest flowering tree. The flowers attract bugs (ew), but the bugs attract birds, so you’re in for a treat. The birdcalls and flutter of colorful wings make this forest a magical place, full of movement.
This forest is home to many types of birds, but keep an eye out for the elusive lyrebird. It has the body of a skinny chicken, but lyrebird males have the tail feathers of a peacock and make full use of it while trying to find a girlfriend. These special, ground-dwelling birds can mimic over 30 birds in one performance. Thanks to humans in their environment, you can now hear chainsaws and mobile phone rings added to their song as well. Cats are a danger to these birds, but a cat curfew imposed several years ago achieved its desired effect and lyrebirds are increasing in numbers again.
Cockatoos, rosellas and king parrots, oh my! Get up close and personal with these gorgeous (albeit, noisy) birds. Earn favor by buying a plate of birdseed, and wait for your new friends to flock. Cockatoos can bite, so watch out for your fingers!
The Puffing Billy is a steam train, which was launched in 1900 on 2’6” tracks as a low-cost way to open up remote areas. And it worked until 1953 when a landslide blocked part of the track. A plan was made to close the line and a farewell day was organized. However, when 30,000 showed up to say goodbye, a dedicated group of train enthusiasts came together to save the Puffing Billy.
Through years of hard work and the dedication of over 900 volunteers, the Puffing Billy is still around for us to enjoy. Step back in time as you board the Puffing Billy. Sit on wooden benches, or let loose and sit in the window with your feet dangling over the edge. The steam engine chugs through Sherbrooke Forest as you take in the beauty of the Dandenongs. Sit on the right side of the train for the best views.
Lunch is served and it’s wine o’clock at Fergusson’s Winery. Enjoy a spit roasted lunch, cooked in the dining room with a delicious assortment of vegetables and a glass of wine from the family’s vineyard. Much better than typical buffets, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Master Chef was trained at La Varrene in Paris and is a published author.
Don’t sit around enjoying the food for too long, though. Head down to the cellar door for a wine tasting. Planted in 1968 by the Fergusson brothers, these old vines are producing great wine. And with wines named after children and dogs, it’s easy to see that this family is proud of their product. I brought a bottle home with me and I’m looking forward to sharing this Yarra Valley wine with my family.
Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery
Did someone say chocolate? The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery was one of my first stops when I moved to Melbourne. Since moderation is not something I’ve mastered, though, the chocolate I bought is long gone, so I was elated to go back for more. Grab a spoonful of free chocolate and browse the over 250 different chocolate products. I’m a big fan of the Kitchen Garden line in the honeycomb and lavender flavor. Also, as someone with a super sweet tooth, I love that the Chocolate Therapy line allows me to smell like chocolate in addition to just eating it. Bring on the body butter!
Make your purchases, grab an ice cream cone and head back to the bus. This sweet day is not over yet!
Depending on your source, between 80-90% of mammals living in Australia are found only here. And so, a visit to a wildlife sanctuary is a must-do when visiting this country. A sanctuary visit can be a full-day activity, but Gray Line has arranged it so you don’t miss a thing! Hop off the Gray Line bus and meet your Healesville Sanctuary volunteer. Their mission is to show you as much of this bushland haven is possible, so stick with them and you’ve got it made!
Our guide, Stephanie, was amazing! She was a fount of knowledge and was patient in our quest for the perfect photo while encouraging us to keep moving so we’d get to see everything.
Hold onto your hat as the birds of prey swoop over your head at the Spirits of the Sky presentation. Learn how kangaroo moms juggle three joeys… think I’m clowning around? Come face to face with the platypus and learn the indigenous people’s story of its creation. Look for the cube-shaped poop of the wombat. And figure out if the echidna is coming or going, since its feet and face and eternally going in opposite directions.
Make like a kangaroo and hop back on the bus for a relaxing and scenic ride back to Melbourne. The Gray Line Puffing Billy with wildlife and winery lunch tour was an amazing experience with so much Melbourne in just one day!
Note: I received this tour at a discounted rate, but as always, all opinions are my own and I wouldn’t recommend anything to you that I don’t love!