Melbourne, Australia

After a brief stop in Sydney for drinks with Aasa and Erin, I hopped on a bus and made my way to Melbourne – just in time to see the clean up from the Melbourne Cup festivities, but sadly not the big race itself. One thing the journey helped crystalize – in case it was not already clear – is that Australia is big and taking a bus for 12 hours really sucks if you’re:

  • Alone
  • Without reading material
  • Presented with few (and poor) entertainment options

Next time I am in Sydney and need to get to Melbourne, flying is in order.

Anyway, in spite of traveling alone, I did have a pretty interesting seat mate. The bus was pretty empty, but I was still seated next to a fellow who turned out to be a cowboy from the Northern Territory. Although I generally am allergic to cowboys and cowgirls because of their affinity for horses, I didn’t end up swollen, red and itchy this time. Instead, he peppered me with questions about Canada and other places I’d been, and then told me some tales about his work on the cattle station where he and some others are responsible for …. 8,000 head of cattle. Now, I’m certainly no expert on herd size, but that seems like a lot of cows. Moo.

After arriving in Melbourne, I found a place to stay: Melbourne International Backpackers. It was mostly in the city center, surrounded by motorcycle shops (hello, Ducati) and the sprawling Queen Victoria Market. The location was great, but the hostel was a bit dingy. It was like an old rooming house that was in the process of being converted into a hostel. It has promise, did its level best to be clean, but it lacked natural (and artificial) light and was filled with too many people who treated the facilities with disdain.

Nonetheless, being the heart of the city made it easy to catch trams all over the city and to access some really great local beaches. I quickly fell in love with the panoply of different neighbourhoods, and the terrific variety of music and cuisines that seemed to lurk around each corner (and down each alley).

Because the hostel was well located, I was easily able to track down Avis and secure myself a rental car for my trip along the Great Ocean Road. Having mostly mastered left-hand driving in New Zealand, I was set to step up my adventure by renting a car with a manual transmission. In spite of that request, when I arrived I was actually given a Prius. That seemed equally fun because with its onboard computer, you can be really obsessive about fuel economy and charging the battery – which I, of course, embraced.

From Melbourne, I travelled to Torquay to get on the Great Ocean Road, only sometimes indicating a left-hand turn with my windshield wipers on high. Once on the Great Ocean Road, I passed Bells Beach and remembered the ending of the movie Point Break. After a little longer behind the wheel, I decided to take a break at an enormous and nearly perfectly flat beach around Fairhaven. As I strolled along the beach and jumped into the icy surf, I spotted a neat light house in the distance. So, as I returned to the car, I set out to find it. It wasn’t hard: it was the Split Point lighthouse and is bright white but for its brilliant red top.

After a little picnic at the lighthouse, I headed for my final destination of Port Campbell, where I could see the 12 Apostles, a series of towering rocky obelisks that stand in the ocean, just off the sheer cliff faces around Port Campbell. I reached there just before sunset and it was a pretty spectacular place to watch the sun begin to sink into the western sky. After admiring the Apostles, I was ready to find a place to begin my FLQ/Sopranos virtual reality ride…in other words, I’d planned to sleep in the rental car, and when you’re in a hatch back, most of your sleeping body ends up in the trunk.

I drove through some farming towns, snapped a few pictures of seemingly manicured pastureland and then retired to a night of James Cross inspired rest. The next day, I returned to Melbourne, spend the day playing on the beach and then packed my things and headed for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.