Was New South Wales actually named because of what it reminded settlers of? I assumed not until the rain storm we drove through leaving Sydney heading south down the coast. It was definitely a downpour that wouldn’t have been unusual somewhere along the western part of the M4. Surprisingly for me, it’s not the only rain we’ve had in Australia. The barren, sweltering land that I expected to find has been non existent in any of the driving we have done over the last week. In fact if it wasn’t for the wildlife we have encountered I’d be struggling to believe this was in fact the land down under. Kangaroos, Koalas, Parrots, Coccatoos and Penguins all wild, all within 50 meters. If New Zealand got the scenery, Australia definitely got the animals.
Our first nights stay was in Canberra, where we saw Kangaroos albeit not as easily as we expected: we were told that Canberra was so over run with Australia’s most well known symbol that they have to perform an annual cull. However, when we got to the park that was suggested would have the largest population we couldn’t see a single one, have walking around for a bit we cut our losses and headed back to the car slightly demoralised. Still with a long drive to Melbourne ahead of us we decided to try one more area we might find them before hitting the road properly. Government House, home to Australia’s governor, was also home to loads of ‘Roos. Obviously not literally; they were enjoying the sunshine in the grounds. Not particularly bothered by our presence they just sat and watched us watch them. A few got up and hopped around, a couple even had a little box before a bigger one came and told them off.
After that item on the list was ticked we set off to get to Melbourne, the distance of the tip hit us about 45 minutes in when the sat nav instructed us to “stay on this road for 548km” at least it wasn’t miles, with a couple of stops we made it to Melbourne just before dinner time. We were back in an Airbnb for the first time since California however we didn’t get into our room for 90 mins after arriving. Unfortunately some others staying in the same apartment as us had taken our set of keys from the safety deposit box meaning leaving us trapped outside. When we contacted our host he apologised but couldn’t get hold of the other couple so had to drive across town to let us in, which took a while. When we did finally get in we were without a key so didn’t dare leave again. Instead we got a take away pizza and settled into our air bed. After a good night sleep we woke to find our key returned leaving us free to leave the apartment. We headed out on a run through the botanical garden to the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground and back. It was a very scenic city with river side paths running through that were lovely to run on, particularly as the sun was back out. When we got to the MCG, Suzanne didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for all the Victoria Cricket legends immortalised in statues so she completed a few laps of the 100,000 seater stadiums while I took some photos with Dennis Lillie, Shane Warne and Sir Donald Bradmon. The run back took us through the Olympic Park and the Australian Open tennis courts. A sport fans paradise!
After a quick shower and some breakfast we were back out to explore the rest of the city. We walked through federation square, where the city were celebrating Buddha Day, past the Flinders Street Station building with its famous clock to the Grand Young and Jackson Hotel. The said clock had just struck midday, good enough for me to go to the bar and enjoy a drink with the pubs famous attraction; Chloe. An early 20th century nude portrait of a 19 year old French model bought by the owners of the pub almost 100 years ago to entice people through the door an investment that is, obviously, still paying off today! Once we’d got our eyeful and Suzanne had taken the necessary photos we went out to explore the rest of the city. Walking through it gave you the sense of enjoyable and trendy atmosphere in the city. Commissioned graffiti filled alleys next to art galleries next to high rise office buildings. We walked round the busy Queen Victoria market area seeing everything from kangaroo meat to Japanese pottery.
After a successful afternoon exploring, we got back in the car and headed 90 minutes out of town down to the coast and Philip Island. The area has a resident penguin population, and every evening at dusk they emerge from the sea cross the beach and head back to their own nests. After waiting for about 45 minutes, the first raft of penguins washed up on shore, after some hesitation and waiting around for a few mates they crossed the beach together in sall groups. This happened for about 30 minutes as all the penguins found their way home for the night. Our walk back from the beach took us on boardwalks over their nests and we got to see them chilling before bed, some in pairs some on their own but all having a good chat (seriously they were loud, if that carried on all night none of them would have got any sleep).
The next day we set off for the real reason we had picked up our car and headed south: The Great Ocean Road. Stretching along the beautiful southern Victoria coast line, the road wound around bays and over headlands. The 440km took us three days to complete while we leisurely stopped at towns and scenic points to take in dramatic cliffs and golden beaches. We visited surf city at Torquay, the birthplace of surfing brand Rip Curl and Quicksilver where I treated myself to a new pair of beach shorts (when in Rome). A little while down the road was the lighthouse from one of my favourite childhood TV shows Round The Twist standing proudly on top of a large cliff exactly as it had always done in the end credits. As well as the scenic coastline we also explored native bushland and rainforests with giant trees and waterfalls. In these dense forests areas we meticulously looked for koala bears, which proved pretty difficult to spot. The first three we did come across we’re just balls of fur curled up in the trees, no doubt tired of having their photo taken by nosey tourists, however after a bit of scrambling through bush we got a fantastic view of a grey bear sat on a branch munching away on gum tree that Zan had spotted while we walked back from a quick toilet stop. The koala was as interested in us as we were of him and sat, bold as brass, staring at us while he had a mid morning snack. We were so pleased with our find that we were desperate to share the koala with others, when another car pulled up next to us we walked the family up to our vantage point to boast about our achievement. Bear Grills, eat your heart out!
To end our great ocean road drive we had booked at surf lesson at the most westernly town, Warranbool. Without really thinking anything of it we had booked it online at 5.30pm the night before and were keenly waiting at the beach the next morning. Realising when we arrived that there was no physical shop to meet any instructor at we didn’t actually know who we should been meeting and where. As 11 am came and went we began to think that the automated system may not really be set up to work particularly well in low season when there aren’t too many surf lessons and so the booking he previous evening wouldn’t have given the company long enough to sort out a plan. After waiting for half an hour we cut our losses and decided to go and find somewhere we could contact the company from. We were lucky to ask for info in a local cafe who took pity on us and called the surf school on our behalf. As we had kind of already realised, the company only picked up our booking that morning and couldn’t get anyone over to the town where we were in time. They did however offer us a lesson at the next town along. Slightly annoying but we accepted and made our way along the coastal road into Port Fairy. When we eventually did get on Surf Board (just loosely classing that as a vehicle by the way so one more to the count) our instructor was great, he gave us a few pulls and pushes to make sure the waves took hold of us and we both quite quickly managed to stand up. He spent the rest of the lesson giving us pointers and getting some shots with the gopro.
After a couple of days driving we’re now in Adelaide, driving into South Australia we had to surrender our fruit we were carrying and but we gained half an hour in time which seemed a bit unnecessary (both confiscating our fruit and changing our clocks). The drive north was fairly uneventful compared to the previous few days although the rain did reappear this morning, right on queue to soak us during a run, so even if there had been much to see we wouldn’t have been able to see it. In that respect they could have just called the whole country New South Wales.