Saturday, 3 December 2011

Aus (1) - Melbourne to The Grampians

Melbourne riverside

When I finally arrived in Melbourne at 2am after the hassle with Air Pacific, I went straight to the hotel and slept. I had two full days to explore the city before picking up a hire car and hitting the road (and in Australia these are very long roads). The next morning I walked towards town and grabbed a coffee. The couples on the table next to me were all dressed up. When you see a bunch of rough looking guys in suits with wide-knot ties they're either Championship footballers, estate agents or there's a wedding. But it wasn't just the adjacent table. The whole city was full of suits and glamorous women. It was the Melbourne Cup day. Now, I find horse racing tedious (though I appreciate it provides gainful employment to men with bad teeth and growth hormone deficiencies) but here it captivates the city so much that it's declared a public holiday in the Melbourne metropolitan area. Big screens were erected for the event and the riverside was buzzing.
Just like NYC, but they drive on the left
Melbourne was born when John Batman bought several hundred thousand hectares of land from the Aborigines. Buying or selling land was a foreign concept for them so Batman managed to secure the land for just some tools, flour and clothes. I shouldn't laugh but it's funny when you see information signs that describe how "Batman took advantage of the Aborigines".

Melbourne has a great food scene: I had some great value feeds in Chinatown and apparently it's one of the best places to get Modern Australian (Mod Oz) cuisine, although I don't really know what that is... as one of my friends said, "Mod Oz is just... food". I burned a lot of these huge meals off by walking around the compact city centre and its many parks.

I picked up car and headed for the principal wine region of Victoria, the Yarra Valley. I decided to stay in Healesville, for the lack of a better option and like most of the wine towns I've been to it was the standard mix of fancy B&Bs, Cellar Doors and swanky bistros. I tried to hire a bicycle to attempt to repeat my trip around Marlborough in NZ but in the end I had to admit defeat and take the car. That meant wine tasting but no drinking and, as with most things, spitting out is the least preferred option (ahem...).

I drove south to the Great Ocean Road, 250km of beautiful road hugging the Victoria coast. I passed through small surf towns like Torquay and Anglesea before arriving at the lovely village of Lorne. It was a Saturday and happened to be the first hot weekend of spring, and everyone from Melbourne had made the trip to the coast for surfing and beach time. I walked along the beach to the pier where a group of people fishing had attracted an audience. One guy had snagged a huge 1.5m wide Bull Ray and spent at least half an hour dragging it to shore in order to take the hook out.
Bull Ray at Lorne
This piece of coastline is good for spotting koalas and while driving out of Lorne I kept my eyes peeled for them in the trees. At Kennett River I took a short walk through the forest, looking off into the distance, but this fella was right over my head when I got back to the car: 
Koala, Kennett River

Further down the Road, I passed the 12 Apostles, beautiful rock formations rising out of the ocean, now whittled down to just 6 stacks by the waves. After another close call with fuel I arrived in Port Fairy, a quaint town of sandstone cottages, a little marina and a lighthouse. Black Wallabies hopped around the scrubland near the ocean. At sunset the sky was black with Short-tailed Shearwaters coming back to shore for the evening.
The 12 Apostles
Lighthouse, Port Fairy
The next morning I went to nearby Tower Hill Reserve to walk around the volcanic caldera. There were more koalas here and they seemed completely oblivious to me creeping up close and taking photos. I also saw my first wild emu, which was a lot scrattier than I expected - nothing like those in the cartoons - and my first kangaroo, which comically chased an emu across the carpark. Ever since I arrived in Aus I'd been paranoid of leaving food in my room lest it attract spiders, insects or some other creature with anger management issues. I got chatting with a local family about my mild (I would say healthy) nervousness of Australian animals and they did nothing to put my mind at ease. In fact they pointed out that koalas, which I thought were quite cute even if they did smell of piss, have sharp claws and can attack when you're too close. Also they mentioned that, given these were the first hot days of spring, snakes would be coming out of hibernation and warming up on the paths. Awesome.
A scratty emu 
After gingerly walking around the reserve, I drove inland to Hall's Gap, a very popular one-street village in the mountains of the Grampians National Park. So popular that it has only 300 residents and around 6000 beds. The mountains aren't spectacular, they're all less than 1000m, but they rise quite dramatically out of the flat expanse of wheat fields of the Wimmera. I stayed a couple of days at an eco lodge on the edge of the village, walking in the hills and watching the kangaroos graze of the cricket pitch around the back of the lodge.
'Roos at Hall's Gap

No comments:

Post a Comment