Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Melbourne, The Great Ocean Road and Adelaide II OR The Last Australia Blog

Hello one and all,

Apologies for this ridiculously belated post, but I felt I couldn't get the blog back to normal without finishing off the last chapter of my incredible six month adventure! And even though I have been back in the UK for a whole month now, I wanted to share the the last 3 weeks of my trip with you because it was a really wonderful time.

So, I left off in Sydney, having climbed the Bridge, celebrated my birthday, and took enough photos of the Opera House to fill its own album. I spent eight days in Sydney, wandering round wide-eyed (believe me, you never get used to seeing icons like the Opera House) and then flew to Melbourne, via an airline that makes Ryanair look like Airforce One. Melbourne has two airports: Tullamarine and Avalon. A word to the wise - if a city has more than one airport, do the research to find which is closer to said city. Do not choose an airport based on the argument that it has a prettier name, or you may find landing in a field outside a large shed, 55km away from your destination. But I digress.

Melbourne has a reputation for being a more 'European' city, which I imagine is due in part to its cafe culture and pokey sidestreets, which have the obligatory restaurants spilling out onto the cobbles. It has trams (more on that later) and a wonderful suburb called St Kilda, which is known for its hippy dippy culture and seaside loveliness. St Kilda has a rather fantastic street called Ackland St, which is famous for its cakes, so I felt right at home. I stayed in St Kilda for my first few days and split my days between exploring St Kilda itself, and tramming it into Melbourne to explore. Melbourne is quite simply one of my favourite places in the world. Not only because it is beautiful and cosmopolitan, but because it has that vibe that certain cities emanate. San Francisco is another of my favourite cities and I genuinely think it has something to do with the energy around it, the atmosphere, the very feeling you get when you step off the plane - either that or I really have a thing for trams.

Having gorged myself on cake for four days and bohemed around St Kilda, I moved to Fitzroy, a suburb in the north of Melbourne, famous for Brunswick St - another pocket of Bohemia in Melbourne. I stayed with the lovely family of a long time friend of mine, and Lou arrived back from Darwin a day or so later. Fitzroy is another lovely area - gorgeous cafes, folky music nights, vegan shops etc. We had a wonderful stay with our fab hosts and then planned the next part of our journey - The Great Ocean Road.

We opted to do a relocation deal with a car rental company, and got a steal of a deal, paying just $5 a day to rent a 4WD camper van. As a Ford KA driver myself, I am used to driving a tiny bubble of a car and I consider myself to be a fairly confident driver. However when we were walked through the car park to the car we were hiring, I was left speechless at the BEAST I was expected to drive 1200km to Adelaide. It was quite simply the biggest car I have ever seen, let alone driven. But drive it I did, all the way, all 20 hours or so to Adelaide. And it was without doubt, one of the real highlights from the whole trip.

The Great Ocean Road is a road stretching about 150 miles along the coast, starting at Torquay (near Melbourne) and ending at Warrnambool (no, I can't pronounce it either). It has some of the most spectacular coastline imaginable, with breathtaking rock formations such as The Twelve Apostles and London Bridge. It is one of the most popular scenic drives in the world and for good reason. I drove eleven straight hours on that road and barely blinked.

After the Great Ocean Road ended, Lou and I started looking for places to camp for the night. It is illegal to sleep in your car/camper in an ordinary car park and there are fines in Oz for those that do so, but by 10pm, neither one of us cared about the idea of being caught. We picked a random town along the way and pulled up outside a hotel, drew the curtains in our car and tucked ourselves in. By 7am, the sunrise had woken us up and so I jumped out of the back, pajamas and all, to stretch before driving again. It was as I climbed into the front seat that Lou pointed out that the entire hotel restaurant in front of us was staring at us in bemusement, at which point I put the car in gear, waved, and pulled out. It was a fine moment for blondes in big trucks everywhere.

We spent the next day road tripping along to Adelaide, passing The Big Lobster (made ever more famous by Bill Bryson's Down Under) which is a giant concrete lobster in the middle of a town in the middle of nowhere. What makes the Lobster particularly stand out from Australia's weird and wonderful collection of 'Big Things' is that the man who built it misread the plans and used metres instead of feet - so the thing is about three times the size it should be and it stands above Kingston in all its ferocious glory.

We arrived in Adelaide later that day and I was happily reunited with my Aussie family. We spent a wonderful day wine tasting in the Barossa Valley, and I even managed to see the actual Jacobs Creek! Lou then went up to Alice Springs, while I spent time catching up with my pals in SA. I spent Australia Day camping on the Fleurieu Peninsula with my godsister Sammy, and then a couple of days later we had my farewell meal at a fabulous Indian restaurant in Adelaide. I left Australia on the first day of February and so ended my wonderful six months away. I want to end this by saying a huge thank you to everyone I met along the way - every single one of you contributed to what was the most incredible six months of my life. I also want to thank everyone back home - whether you were there when I had a wobble, or there to send me a Christmas card, or even just there cheering me on - I am so grateful to have friends/family like you. THANK YOU.

And to anyone out there who is wondering about travelling - anyone who is stuck, or bored, or lost, or looking for something more - GO TRAVELLING. I cannot recommend it enough. I had my doubts about going out there on my own, but I can genuinely tell you that going was the best decision I have ever made. Do it. Take the leap. Believe in yourself.

Life is out there.