For the last week of our time in Australia, we rented camper van and took a road trip through Victoria. We started in Melbourne, went down the Great Ocean Road, the Surf Coast, and through Otway National Park and finished with a camping trip in The Grampians National Park.
Torquay and Bells Beach
On the southern coast of Australia, there are two of the world's best surf beaches. The waves were much bigger than we could attempt, but there was still plenty to see in the area. Torquay is where Quicksilver and Ripcurl were born, and there is a surf museum and large shopping area full of all the brands associated with surf culture. I got a new pair of Reef sandals for $5.
We watched the surfers and walked down the beaches, then continued on.
A darling little fishing village. Spent awhile walking around the wharf. Mike was incredibly patient as I took a zillion pictures of old boats (one of my favorite subjects). We made some stirfry at our campsite and camped out in the van (which felt very spacious compared to our NZ rental).
Otway National Park
The moment we got off the main road and into the rainforest, we saw several wild koalas in the trees right off the road. We parked the van and I got out to take a picture, and surprisingly, the little guy stood up and began lumbering down the tree trunk all the way to the ground. I didn't get too close because they can be aggressive, but he sure was curious. We drove to a trailhead where we did a hike through the jungle. Parts of the trail were covered by a nice boardwalk, but the rest was very dense. I actually felt pretty claustrophobic with the low branches and giant leaves and humid heat. The sounds were incredible, loud squawking parrots, hundreds of cicadas, and lizards crawling through the dead leaves. I jumped a few times when mistaking a lizard for a snake. And found myself nervous to pull leaves out of my hair in fear that they were the killer red back spider. It's a funny shift from hiking at home, where you keep your eyes out all around for huge bears and cougars. Not sure which I prefer.
12 Apostles (and other cool rock formations)
The 12 apostles are a series of large cliffs standing tall out of the ocean, they are an icon of Southern OZ, and found on many postcards. They were beautiful but really crowded with tourists. Around the area there are other parks with all kinds of coastal caves, blowholes, and miles of sharp cliffs. There is nothing blocking the massive waves from Antarctica, and they crash constantly across the southern coast. After taking in the sights we continued along the road, which runs the length of the coast winding above the cliffs. We made a stop at a couple really touristy places, including a whale nursery viewing dock (no whales, wrong season). When we saw the roadside sign stating "cheeseworld" we had to stop for a cheese museum, tour, and shops.
Grampians National Park
After driving a long time through desert plains, Grampians NP sticks out of the ground like two massive, tree covered shark fins. We had a pretty big letdown after driving all day only to find the road to our campground closed about 20 miles before we would arrive. We thought about camping out until morning in hopes it would open up. Luckily, we asked a local who let us know that there had been a flood and landslide and the road would probably reopen in about four months. We followed the detour route for another two hours and decided we really wanted to have a straight up American BBQ when we finally arrived. We stopped at a little red grocery store with cartoon roosters painted on the walls. It had a huge poster advertising chicken feed. As we walked up to the doors we were greeted by a nice lady who took one look at our van, gave us a strange look, and said, "sorry, we are closed. Just about to have a staff meeting." It wasn't even 6 pm. As we made our way back to the van, we were pretty bummed and about to give up on our dinner plans when we noticed the neighboring building, a supermart. How could such a small town have two grocery stores back to back? We took a second look and realized that the first store was actually a feed store, had a good laugh, and picked up our Budweiser and dogs. When we arrived at our campsite at
Halls Gap, we were greeted by hundreds of wild kangaroos all over the park. As we cooked the hot dogs, the cute little guys perked up and watched closely, but they just love eating grass and didn't get aggressive at all. I also saw several kookaburras and was shocked at how much they really sound like loud laughing monkeys. Another group of birds that visited our camp a bit too often was a gang of cockatoos. They look cool but they were real punks. They surrounded us every morning as we ate cereal, tried to get in our van, and even jumped on Mike's shoulder to snag his pbj. When we refused to feed them, they began the really ridiculous antics: squawking and fighting with each other, hanging upside down to drink from our faucet, chewing on our extension cord, and trying to steal our towels. Little buggers.
Across from the camp was a row of cute shops along a little creek. We had a nice time checking out the stores and I discovered a new fascination with coffee flavored ice cream.
Brambuk aboriginal cultural center was full of artifacts and history of the area and the aboriginal people who had been living there for hundreds of years. It was fascinating to see how similar the struggles in Australia are to those of the Native Americans. You could also participate in a guided bushwalk to learn about the medicinal plants. The center offered boomerang classes and traditional bush food (emu, kangaroo, and crocodile).
Sadly, the same nasty weather that blocked the main road into the park also caused landslides that closed off many hikes. Upon checking into the ranger station we learned that the hike we had our eye on (the wonderland loop) was blocked. However, they provided us with a map of hikes that were safe to tackle. We settled on Boronia Peak and made our way to the trail head. We had bright blue skies and lots of heat on our steady climb to the summit. The last 50 yards or so was a rock scramble to a 360 degree lookout featuring views of lakes, forested hills, cliffs, and farmland. We took a well deserved break and as we started in on our oranges we were joined by a school group of 20 or so thirteen year olds. We could almost watch the chaperone's hair go gray as his class carelessly hopped around the rocky peak with steep falls on every side. More than a few times he mentioned all the paper work he would have to fill out if any of his students fell. We extended our break until the school group was a good ways in front of us and then made our descent back to camp where we refueled on leftover hotdogs and baked beans.
After our camping trip we returned our van to Melbourne and flew back to Sydney to spend our last two nights on Bondi with Jessica and Chris. To our surprise, when we arrived to their apartment there was a package waiting for us. It was a gift from our wonderful friends Britta and Jeremy, full of Valentines candy, travel supplies, and a nice card. Britta had emailed Ray and sent the package to her work, so thoughtful! For our last evening, we decided to have something we would soon be missing: cheeseburgers! Then we packed our bags and set our alarm for a jam packed travel day to Thailand