After the warm-up provided by the St Kilda penguins, we headed down to Philip Island to see their famous ‘Penguin Parade’. As sunset approaches, the tourists line up to see the smallest penguins in the world emerge from the sea, cross the beach, and climb up to their rocky burrows. It was adorable. We saw thousands of the little things! The fairy penguins (yep, that’s really what they’re called) seem to be big believers in safety in numbers, so after weeks out in the sea fishing and swimming, they meet up in the shallow waters to cross the beach in groups of around a dozen or more. We visited during moulting season, which means the penguins have to stock up on extra fish so they can survive up to three weeks in their dry burrows until their feather coats regrow. And that makes for chubby penguins! Some of them were so belly-heavy they toppled over as they waddled across the beach! And as they meet up with their buddies at home, they make the most incredible noise. I think I’d always imagined penguins as silent (or tap dancing, a la Happy Feet), but these little things were growling, squeaking, hooting galore. Amazing!

Philip Island also offered another wildlife wonder. After two earlier unsuccessful missions, we finally found koalas! The pesky little things are incredibly hard to spot – just a ball of fluff, curled up completely still and camouflaged amongst the branches. Even once I knew where they were, I often couldn’t find them again when I turned away. After honing our skills in the conservation area, I think we’ve got the knack now, as I spotted one high in the eucalyptus tree in the neighbouring forest. 10 points for me!

In fact, my wildlife tally is doing pretty well compared to Joe’s. We went hiking in the Dandenong Ranges, our first proper expedition into the ‘bush’. We got the heartrate going by racing the crowds up the 1000 Steps, then headed off on one of the less well-trodden trails. As we were walking along, a kangaroo appeared. It was there for just a second before it hopped off into the bush and despite my flailing and silent hand signals, Joe was looking the wrong way and missed it completely. He then spent 20 minutes clambering further into the bush and waiting around, camera poised, for Skippy to reappear – all to no avail. He redeemed himself later though, as our alleged trail appeared to disappear into the undergrowth, with an overgrown fallen tree crossing our path. In full Indiana Jones mode, Joe clambered over the tree and into the undergrowth and declared the route passable, so we persevered, feeling like extras in ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ among the giant ferns and plantlife. As we swept branches out of our path, I expected at any moment to walk into the sticky web of a giant Australian spider, or to see the wriggle of a camouflaged snake. But we survived intact, apart from one leech-like creature which stuck itself to my finger (prompting girlie squealing, of course). Joe eventually came to my rescue, unhurriedly and laughing.

Our time in Melbourne was rounded off brilliantly with a sailing cruise up the bay, thanks to a birthday treat from my brother. We got to see the city skyline from the water, and have a play at steering the boat (I was pretty much just spinning the wheel at random, a bit like when you pretend to drive a car, but it seemed to do the trick). Two weeks in Melbourne have flown by. Next stop Uluru to see a totally different side of Australia.