The scenery on the Great Ocean Road in Australia reminded me of the blown Murano glass scupltures in Venice , Italy. This post was really inspired entirely by the photo below. Like a glass-blower, nature purposefully highlighted the scene with a sizable dose of reddish-orange limestone (two colors opposite on the color-wheel and therefore complimentary :). My tour guide on the Great Ocean Road shared all kinds of facts and stories, with a handful of local lore thrown in for good measure, but it was this drive’s likeness to the another beautiful road that makes me smile inside; the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in California also possesses a constant gag-me-there-is-just-no-end-to-the-pretty-landscape feeling and the Great Ocean Road was actually specifically built to model the PCH.
On a sadder note, this photo of the 12 Apostles is one of those “enjoy now, it won’t be there later” shots. Originally there were nine limestone formations ( nicknamed the 12 Apostles) and in the intervening years they are crumbling into the sea. These austere sentinels stand guard over the southern Australian coastline and when I visted there eight were still standing. Now, two years later, just seven. :(
Quick Travel Tips: Great Ocean Road and the Pacific Coast Highway
Where: Daytrips for the GOR leave at least every other day from Melbourne, . The PCH is best done in a rental car with friends and a picnic basket. How long: All of the highlights can be driven on both of these in about 7-10 hours…but that doesn’t make for a hugely enjoyable day if they’re done in one shot like that! Personal Recommendations: On the PCH drive, stop off at the Winchester Mystery House – it’s a “roadtrip into the paranormal” and a bizarrely intriguing side-trip. On the GOR, sitting inside the Loch Ard Gorge with the swelling sound of the ocean ebbing sticks with me to this day, make sure you make it that far on the road!
If Australia’s primary cities were siblings, then Melbourne is the country’s “red-headed stepchild.” The town is unapologetically alternative and has a unique vibe unlike anything else I’ve yet encountered. While Sydney relies on beauty and cleanliness to stay a favorite, my first impressions indicate that Melbourne is an “anything-goes” type of city.
I am still traveling with new friends, so I arrived in Melbourne with Pauline and Linda. The enormous diversity in Melbourne struck us first. A wash of cultures and subcultures filled the streets — Asians, hipsters, punks, businessmen — everyone commingles on the city’s streets.
Shops dot the corners of the CBD (Central Business District), but I found my favorite cafes were all tucked away on the narrow, vaguely European side-streets running between the tall buildings. Linda and I explored together on our first morning in town. We got a bit lost (normal for me) and sat on a tram for 35 minutes going in the wrong direction. Heh. We finally realized that we were in some random Melbourne suburb rather than the CBD.
Once we righted ourselves on the tram, we landed in the center of the CBD. I was starving, so we headed straight to a crowded side-street filled with fragrant coffee shops and petite cafes with tables and chairs spilling onto the sidewalk. We scored cheap but delicious pastries to munch on as we explored.
We also hit up the Queen Victoria Markets. Your random fact for the day: Queen Victoria Markets is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere! The market expanded in all directions and contained a tad bit of everything possibly interesting. We loved the farmer’s market section and we scored affordable fruits and veggies by choosing the pick of the bunch from the hundreds of stalls. The market also sells clothes, souvenirs, and the such. It was an exhausting thought to see it all, so instead we wandered the stalls for a couple of hours and browsed through all the intriguing offerings.
Exploring St. Kilda, Melbourne
Rounding out the first few days, the three of us repacked our backpacks and headed out of the city center for a bit of downtime. Melbourne has a dead-simple tram system that reaches into every corner of the city. It was a cinch to find a backpackers hostel in St. Kilda, and we landed in Coffee Palace, which my guidebook said was decent. Truth be told, I wish we had taken longer to compare options. The hostel wasn’t clean. In fact, it was straight-up gross. But unfortunately I had prepaid, so I made the best of it. I slept in my sleep sack to protect myself from the rumored bed-bugs, and tried not to touch anything unless it was absolutely necessary! Other backpackers have said good things about Nomads, so I would likely stay there in the future.
Fortunately, what the hostel lacked, St. Kilda made up for in style and spunk. The town’s Sunday market on the Esplanade had cute local crafts and funky works of art. By the time I visited the Sunday market, I realized that my stateside friend had backed out on meeting me in Oz. As a sort of token to this yearlong round the world trip, and a commitment to go it solo if necessary, I bought myself a sterling silver pinky ring. It’s cute and has little etches and the woman who made it was so happy to help me pick out one that I liked.
During my handful of days in St. Kilda, I came to love Veg Out Time. It’s an affordable vegetarian restaurant just half a block from the hostel. They serve a delicious sweet-potato curry over brown rice. After so long cooking basic foods in hostel kitchens, it’s nice to have something so hearty and nutritious and tasty to boot!
After a few days in St. Kilda, I said adieu to Pauline and Linda. They are here on their Aussie work visa for a year, so they need to earn a bit more money before they can continue traveling. They found a farm in a small town a couple of hours outside of Melbourne and they plan to earn money by picking seasonal fruits on the farm! As a fun way to end our time together, the hostel had dress-up karaoke on our last night hanging out. It was so hilarious and such good fun.
I mean, I just don’t think I can truly express the levels of bonding that take place over listening to five drunk guys serenade the crowd with rollicking versions of every hit the Backstreet Boys made. It was priceless! I will miss these ladies and the fun times we had. But I am continuing my own travels around Australia after Melbourne, so parting ways was necessary.
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks in Melbourne, mostly because I got sick, hung out with friends and did a few day trips. Though I had pondered doing one of the bus trips traveling from Melbourne to Alice Springs, for timing purposes I booked a flight instead. So, right now I write to you from the center of Australia. They call it the Red Center, and in a few short hours I leave for a three day camping and hiking adventure in the Australian outback. It’s a completely off-road adventure and we won’t have any internet access. Which means I won’t share any stories until I am back here at the hostel. (Consider this your warning Niki and Lisandra, please don’t act on your threats to call the embassy when I am offline for a week!)
It’s going to be an adventure, and I don’t actually know what to expect. Other backpackers have shared their stories of visiting Uluru and the other sites, but none of them had rain during their trip. And by all accounts, we’re going to get it. The forecast calls for rain throughout Australia’s red center — and that is not normal! In fact, it very rarely rains, just a couple days a year. (UPDATE: Holy smokes did we get some rain! It rained on Uluru, Ayers Rock, which made the whole weekend a muddy and sopping-wet camping adventure).
The sporadic updates these past weeks are on account of a couple things. I visited with my friend Row and it was such fun. Row couchsurfed with me in Los Angeles over the summer, and he finished his own yearlong RTW trip just last week. He’s back home and invited me to crash on his own couch this time around. The only downside, I caught an unholy cold during that epic storm of the century. And though I fought it hard, I lost my voice for several days. I denied that it was happening though, and likely made it worse. I had a sore throat and had started to lose my voice, but continued talking until it was truly and totally gone. Neither a peep nor whisper passed my lips for two days. That got tough during a client call, where I was sitting on a sidewalk at 5am in front of an office building pilfering their wifi… the internet here is truly awful. But other than the issues doing my work from this couchsurfing spot, it was nice to be at a real house with a stove and coziness while I nursed my voice back.
We went on a few adventures around Melbourne and I went on a day trip of the Great Ocean Road. But as time clips along, I left behind my friend and continued onward. It was a right proper plane ride to get to Alice Springs — Australia is huge! It looks small on maps because of the types of map projections we use, and on account of it having no attached land masses, but it’s actually fairly comparable to the continental U.S., which most don’t assume.
Anyhow, I continue to log the nitty-gritty planning details on my Australia Travel Guide, which should come in handy if you plan your own trip! More soon, cross your fingers that it doesn’t rain on me in the Outback.