…Motoring & Magnificent landscapes, Massive Mammals, Missing Marsupials, Motorbikes, Melbourne and Mosquitos
Motoring & Magnificent landscapes:
The big road trip has begun! After the great Bathurst 1000 experience, it was back to work for the kids (sorry) and on the road for us. We’re already up to 2,500 km in Aussie Dieter (aka the motorhome – all vehicles 2, 4 or 6 wheel have to have a name) and only just scratching the surface. What a treat it is too. Except for inevitable traffic around cities, the roads are just AWESOME. Some roads go for as far as you can see and it just helps to ensure you realise what a big country this is – and they have their fare share of big trucks and road trains that just get on with it!! What’s more amazing is that you can feel like you’ve travelled across Europe in one day – not due to fatigue I must add, but to the variety of environments you drive through. Take today for example, we started at the coast, travelled alongside it for about 130 km (without having to turn off and only occasionally master a corner) took in the Coorong National Park and its salt-flats which resembled some of the coastal salt-flats in Spain, and then headed through some Tuscan-esque scenery when the vineyards started to appear around McLaren Vale, and the some rolling hills and dry stone walling reminiscent of Yorkshire – gobsmacking and means that nearly 400 km of driving never quite seems to feel like a long way.
The Great Ocean Road certainly lives up to its name. Stunning views at every turn and luckily for us, not busy at all as we seem to have missed the busy holiday times. Only snag is you need to stop every now and then to soak up the views. Mad people like us even dip in the sea – well, just because it’s there – and it’s so tempting and gorgeous but flipping freezing. I suppose it’s virtually Antarctic waters so to be expected. Still lovely though and must be great for the circulation (if the heart keeps going).
What we’ve also loved so far are the small towns that feel like you’ve been transported back in time. Shops alongside the road with timeless architecture, hotels that look and feel like they operated in the same way and style since they opened in the late 19th century. One particular example in Eden was not only a delight to the eyes but the food was just amazing – best salt and pepper squid I’ve ever tasted – and no frills. Just lovely friendly people and a great view of the bay – and the occasional whale.
Talking of which, a glimpse from a bar is not enough, so as soon as we settled into Jervis Bay (one of the world’s best places to watch humpback whales on their annual migration from the antarctic to Hervey Bay in Queensland) we booked onto a whale watching trip. Now, not being overly blessed in the past in these things – ‘where’s whaley’ springs to mind – my hopes of actually seeing something were not that high. The ride on the rib was great – speeding around in the bay – the dophins were lovely, etc etc and so that in itself would have been a nice day. But NO. Hold on a minute, there they were in all their splendour. Mother and baby swimming along, jumping up and around, giving us a good wave with the tail (well, probably saying ‘keep your distance – I am 3 times the size of your boat remember’) and how magical it was too. Just mesmerizing. I think we could have stayed there for a week.
Now, I know we’ve only done a couple of thousand kms so far, but I am a little disappointed at the number of kangaroos that we’ve spotted. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Moose watch game we used to play in Norway and Sweden on the big bike trip. With a reported population of around 25 million, you’d have thought we seen a few Skippies by now. We saw quite a few very squashed ones at the side of the road in the Blue Mountains, and a few other similar road kill since then, but only a few actual live ones in a field only a couple of days into the road trip – which elicited such excitement that you can maybe understand my disappointment at the lack of sightings since. However, other exciting spottings have occurred and I will keep you reliably informed as we go:
- Kangaroos – a handful in a field
- Wallabies – a few at the side of the road and a few more on the road into a campsite close up
- Wombats – only an unfortunate flattened one on the road but they are BIG so will surely spot others
- Possums – one in a tree watching us have a sandwich and cuppa – it didn’t get anything so didn’t hang around
- Penguins – loads at Phillip Island Penguin Parade. They waddle up the beach full of fish, have a chat, then waddle up to their little homes for the night. They are the cutest things you have ever seen. Especially the ones that have had so much fish they keep falling over. They style it out well though and realise you are laughing with them not at them. Total dudes.
Watch this space reader for updates. Good thing, though, is that we’ve not yet seen any of the more deadly critters – snakes or spiders – but the walk around the reserve at Phillip Island gave us a sense of how vigilant we need to be with ample ‘poisonous snakes beware’ signs. The more cynical amongst us might consider that they could be an alternative to ‘keep to the paths’ signs. NT friends, just a thought….
Well, it was hardly going to be a blog without any motorbike references was it? The trip to Phillip Island also enabled us to have a quick squint at the circuit. Timings didn’t permit us, unfortunately, to manage the MotoGP which was being hosted a week or so later, but it was good enough to be there and take it all in. There was a gathering called the ‘blessing of the bikes’ not (bizarrely) at the track but in a town nearby where thousands of bikers gather to mark the start of the biking season (they have a biking season – what’s up with the cold and the wet??) and we saw some interesting bikes going around but not many. I think we’ve expressed before that we’re not the biggest fan of the feet forward/armchair/ namby-pamby types of bikes and there seemed to be those in abundance. Lots of bikers coming together though which is good especially since cars are still clearly the main passion it seems.
The opportunity to spend a bit of time in Melbourne was great in lots of ways.
- Getting to know the city. It was strangely unfamiliar at first. No ‘big icons’ like Sydney and so you needed to get up close and more personal – which is actually it’s style and what it’s about I think
- Tram system. Great for us as we were in the inner suburbs and yet within a 10 minute walk we were on a tram that took us right into the CBD. It allowed us to explore and was by far and away the best way to see what’s what before you set off on foot. There were some really cool art trams as part of a special art event but a particularly swanky and lovely experience was a ride on the Colonial tramcar. A beautiful old tram that serves up a 3 course meal whilst you enjoy a trip around Melbourne and out to St Kilda. A proper treat.
- Walking the lanes was a particular highlight – just mooching about the ‘back lanes’ of central Melbourne which are full of great independent shops and eateries and some fabulous old arcades which seem little changed from when they were first established. Far more interesting than the main streets so reminiscent of every city you ever will have visited and so much more in keeping with the artistic and personal vibe that Melbourne has at its heart
- Melbourne gaol – a National Trust gem (yes, National Trust) that enables you to see conditions of the cells and also provides an excellent tour guide who illustrates the more final moments of one of Australia’s alternative hero/villain Ned Kelly. Quite chilling to stand underneath the trap doors and realise that numbers of inmates had met their end above the very spot you are in – especially since hangings there happened right up until the 1940s. Some more positive points though: 1) good health care in the prison hospital – especially for those who, if outside the prison, would not have been able to access any health care at all. 2) babies arrested at 6 months and sent to prison. What? you say. Yes,but only because their mum’s had already been sentenced and this meant baby and mum could serve their sentence together (excellent early social care agenda I must say) and 3) the building of a separate woman’s block which all female staff – quite something for those times.
- Brunswick Street – great place to eat and enjoy a drink or two and a really young vibe (goodness knows how we got away with being there then). We found an excellent Mexican restaurant and then visited a great bar which had an open mic night and some very talented individuals. We got talking to one such individual – a kiwi Martin Bryant – who has given up a job in law to pursue his music ambition and performs under the name The Heart of Katherine – do look him up on Youtube, he is very good indeed. A top bloke too.
- Catching up with new people. Our friend Rachel’s Aunty Chris and Uncle Peter extended such lovely hospitality – a lovely meal and great conversation and tips for our trip – to the extent that we felt we’d known them for much longer. We can see clearly why they are Rachel’s favourite Aunty and Uncle and why she is so special to them too.
Now I’ve never been the luckiest where biting insects are concerned but I never believed I was quite so popular. Clearly I’ve offered myself up as an 8-course tasting menu over recent days but, as the saying goes, just man up Turner (and use more repellent, bite cream and soothing spray….)
Next stop Adelaide and the Barossa Valley with Will and Nicky – woo hoo!!!