Mount Gambier & Melbourne – day 283

Having woken up in one of the strangest hotels that we’ve stayed at in a long time, we showered in the communal bathroom (slash laundry room) and headed out to the Blue Lake. The town of Mount Gambier is situated in the flatlands below an extinct volcano and the main ‘tourists’ attraction is the Blue Lake. In all honesty, we only stayed in Mount Gambier as it was a major town that suited us for our visit to Naracoorte and made it easy to drive back to Melbourne later today. However, when in Rome… The 75 metre deep luminous lake is beautiful and well worth the detour on our way out of town. During the summer months, the lake turns an insane hue of blue whereas during winter, when we visited, it was more of a steely grey. However, if you looked closely at the shoreline, you could see shimmers of bright blue water reflected in the sunlight. Perplexed scientists think that the colour of the lake water has to do with the calcite crystals suspended in the water, which form at a faster rate during the warmer months. Whatever the reason, it was beautiful and peaceful as we wandered around to various viewpoints around the lake, stopping at one to have some breakfast before getting back into the car.  As we left the town, we saw the sign for the local sinkhole garden. A 50 metre deep sinkhole that forms one of the many caves that worm their way through the limestone beneath the town. The sinkhole has been planted as a garden as was great to be able to descend to the bottom of it, looking up at all the layers of limestone. As we walked around the top of the sinkhole, a grown man came towards us looking at his phone with a perplexed look on  his face. Jayne asked him if he was okay to which he replied ‘yep – just trying to find a Pokémon’… Our first insight into this next craze! Fast forward a few hours of driving through the Limestone coast along flatlands of endless green fields, trees and dead kangaroos. Suddenly, the landscape began to rise up from the western plains and we got outstanding view of the Grampians. A beautiful and unique set of rock features, we didn’t say a word to each other as the impressive natural features grew closer and bigger. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and explore any of the many walking trails in the area but we will definitely head that way when we come back to Australia in the future. Another two hours of driving, including an argument that I was driving too slowly (I was driving at the sped limit!!) and a traffic jam coming into the city, we were back in Melbourne, returning the pink monstrosity to Thrifty, pulling into the parking bay just as he was closing for the day! Perfect timing as we had no idea what to do with the keys had he already left! Put our luggage in a locker at the bus station and went to the Greyhound booking office to buy our bus tickets for central Australia. Decided to go to watch the new Ghostbusters film as we both were keen to see it and had some time to kill before our coach to Canberra. It was actually surprisingly good for a remake – it was almost as good as the original film! Who knew Chris Hemsworth could be so funny! The female cast made a formidable comic team in their own right although Kate McKinnon stole the show as the oddball physics geek. Back at the bus station with some food for dinner, we waited for our night bus to Canberra, watching people pass through the station and being fascinated by the security guards opening up all the lockers, checking the contents and re-locking them once they knew they were safe! Boarded the bus at 22.00 and settled down into our seats, slightly uncomfortable as you have to wear seat belts on coaches in Australia and they kept cutting into my neck as I tried to sleep…

Saturday 16th July 2016

Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay – day 280

An early start to catch our 6.31am train from Shepparton to Melbourne. Tracey very kindly dropped us off at the station and it was an easy (and quiet!) 2.5 hour journey through the countryside, catching up on writing blogs and continuing our ‘spot-the-kangaroo’ game. Arriving in Southern Cross Station just after 9am, we headed straight to Thrifty to see if we could pick up our car rental early. A couple of signatures later, we had the keys and directions to find our small automatic car… It’s bright pink!!
Navigated our way out of the city with no problem and we were on the highway heading towards The Great Ocean Road. Driving through quaint villages, calm seaside towns, pockets of rainforests and vast expanses of green, the views of the sheer limestone cliffs were a perfect background to the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean. We stopped at several places along the route to Apollo Bay to look at the viewpoint and take photos, timing it carefully to avoid the sporadic downpours of rain.IMG_9721After about two hours of driving and photographic detours, we ended up at our first ‘official’ stop of the day – Split Point Lighthouse. Since both of us grew up watching the children’s television programme ‘Around the Twist’, it was a must-see for both of us to see the lighthouse and house that was used during filming.IMG_9725 The walk up to the lighthouse was beautiful, even though it was slightly soggy and windy! I did a tour of the lighthouse, climbing to the top and looking out whilst Jayne decided she’d rather keep both her feet on solid ground, especially after she scared herself last time she climbed a lighthouse in Cuba.

I learnt about the history of the lighthouse on the walk up to the top, ranging from the four different ways that they had lit the torch over the years, to where the lighthouse was made (Birmingham, England). I also learnt how they communicated with ships in the olden days, including a network of underground telegraph networks between lighthouses along the coast. I also learnt that this particular lighthouse had a special design of having 2 metre thick walls at the bottom and half metre thick at the top (something to do with sustainability and protection from the elements). The cast iron staircase was beautifully ornate and the lighthouse itself was in great condition. The view from the top was stunning – could see for miles, although the female tour guide assured me that the view wasn’t very good today. Looked out to sea in an attempt to spot a passing whale but the water was too rough to spot any definitive shape. Waved down to Jayne who was walking around the pathways taking photos.IMG_9835Back down at the bottom, we walked to various viewpoints nearby, looking at the cliff formation and admiring the volcanic rocks jutting out from the water. A walk along the beach exposed some caves in the cliff that the lighthouse guide said were safe to visit but the tide was still too high to go exploring. A quick mess around in the playground attached to the car park and we were back in the car and on the road again.IMG_9751IMG_9888IMG_9906IMG_9919Had been told to head towards Erskine Falls as, not only was there a beautiful waterfall, there was a chance to see koala bears and they had also had snow yesterday which made the place even more magical. The windy road though the forest canopies revealed no koalas but we had plenty of snow – we even made a new friend… Augustus the Australian Aboriginal Snowman – the twin of Henry the Himalayan Snowman Sherpa from Nepal.IMG_9931The road down to the falls were barricaded with signs saying ‘do not enter’ (which some people were ignoring). Decided that neither of us had decent enough shoes to navigate icy snowy paths that were already labelled as ‘dangerous’, so we got back in the car and continued on our way, still searching for koalas. Jayne got me to do a u-turn in the town of Kennett River as she saw ‘koalas’ flash up on her MapsMe app. 5 metres down a side road and we got out of the car and found four koalas hanging out in eucalyptus trees. They were so cute and fluffy, with gorgeous shiny black noses – I want one!! There was also an array of birds (cockatoos, king parrots, rosellas), clearly tame from tourists visiting the area as they perched on people’s heads if they stood still for too long… (e.g. longer than 2 seconds!).IMG_9963IMG_0006Drove the rest of the way to Apollo Bay and checked into our YHA hostel. Feels very weird knowing that we are going to be sharing a room with strangers after so long of being able to afford private rooms (thank you SE Asia for turning us into princesses!!!). Dropped the bags off in our dorm and headed over to the supermarket to buy supplies for dinner, breakfast and lunch tomorrow. I think it is going to be kind of nice popping into the shop everyday to get something for dinner, although we are going to have to be careful that we don’t use each supermarket shop as an excuse to impulse purchase useless items, especially whilst we have the car and don’t have to carry our backpacks much!! Jayne made a lovely Thai green chicken and vegetable curry for dinner which we ate chatting to a Chinese girl who had decided to stay at this hostel for a month for free in exchange for work. Sat in the lounge warming up and watching the wood fire then heading up to our dorm to watch a couple of episodes of Modern Family before climbing into our separate bunk beds.

Total distance driven: 211km

Wednesday 13th July 2016

Melbourne – day 277

None of us were in a hurry to get up this morning, all waking up gradually around 9am. Pottered around, getting showered, dressed and enjoying the nicest hotel room we have stayed in during our entire time travelling and the room has probably ruined us for the rest our our trip around Australia, especially as we are only going to be staying in youth hostels!! Packed up our bags, including the champagne and chocolates that we never got around to consuming, before checking out and heading to the tram stop. Travelled down towards the Main Street in St. Kilda for a bit of good ol’ people watching. The Art Deco buildings were beautiful as we wandered down Acland street, looking at backpacker hostels sat beside fine dining restaurants and Polish bakeries next to designer clothes shops. Found ourselves a table outside one of the cafe bakeries and we each ordered the biggest fruit Danish any of us had ever seen – Jayne had raspberry, Tracey had apple crumble and I had blueberry. Clearly novices in the area, the ladies at the next table looked and laughed as we tried to organise our tiny table to accommodate our pastries, meringues and coffee – ending up with stuff balanced on our laps. We only ate the Danish and put the rest in our bag for later on. Feeling slightly nauseous from our brunch, we walked towards the beach passing by Luna Park. Built in 1912, it retains the feel of an old-style amusement park, with the creepy Mr Moon’s gaping mouth swallowing you up as you enter. It is home to the heritage-listed scenic railway (the worlds oldest operating roller coaster) and a beautiful baroque carousel. We kept walking along the palm-fringed promenade, looking at the market stalls that had braved the grey storm clouds to set out their merchandise. Crossed over the road and headed towards the beach, walking down the St. Kilda pier enjoying the beautiful view of the city across the water full of yachts and boats. We even saw some people snorkelling and swimming in the water whilst we spotted starfish from the pier. The kiosk at the end of the pier is an exact replica of the original which burnt down on 11th September 2003 (a year short of its centenary). We then walked amongst the rock wave breakers, looking for small penguins and rakalis that make their nests in the gaps between the boulders. Saw a rakali, a native water rat which is often compared to otters or ring-tailed possums.Got back on the tram to Southern Cross station and stored our bags in a locker for the day before catching the City Circle Tram. Designed primarily for tourists, this free tram service travels around the city centre, stopping at many sights along the way with an audio commentary. We fortunately got window seats straight away so enjoyed the hour long circle ride without being squashed as it got busier in certain sections. Hopped off one stop short of the full loop to visit the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium. A really beautiful aquarium, it is home to rays, gropers and sharks, all of whom live in a 2.2 million-litre tank which could be viewed from a seated area and a see-through tunnel. Spent time chatting and eating our meringues on the steps whilst watching the fish swim by and teaching Tracey how to tell the difference between female and male sharks and rays. The aquarium is also home to one of the largest Australian saltwater crocodiles as well as two different types of penguin in the icy Antarctica display. We went to the recommended 4D cinema towards the end to watch ‘Ice Age: No Time for Nuts’ which was slightly strange as there was no relevance to the aquarium – seemed more of a money making scheme to get people inside (it was included in the admission ticket price). Not sure what our favourite display was as there were so many fantastic ones although it was nice to see a huge amount of walk through tanks and pop-up bubble sections throughout the aquarium for kids (or grown up kids like us!!). A quick stop in the gift shop at the end for the obligatory silly hat photo selfie…Ran out of time to visit the Eureka Skydeck as we needed to eat something proper for dinner (having consumed nothing but pastries and coffee all day). Headed back to the restaurant in the train station that Tracey and I went to the day of the AFL game, making sure we didn’t over order like last time! Caught the 18.30 train back to Shepparton, unfortunately having reserved seating so we were sat in the overcrowded carriage next to a bunch of cackling teenagers who squealed, laughed and were generally annoying for the 2.5 hour train journey. Tracey stuck in her headphones to drown them out with music and Jayne fell asleep (clearly still slightly broken) as I took the occasional selfie, much to the amusement of the Indian woman opposite us. 

Back at home, we watched a little bit of TV before heading to bed. 

Sunday 10th July 2016

Melbourne – day 276

I drew the short straw in having to write about today. But, that would be the only complaint, for the day was full of activities and memories and there is so much to blog about. 
The remaining slice of pizza from last nights feast was left out on the counter. While myself and Katherine considered this to be a normal thing to do with a bit of good pizza, Tracey was horrified at the idea that we would actually eat it. It had chicken on it, thus was contaminated and riddled with salmonella. So, after halving the pizza and feigning dysentery, abdominal pains and fever we got the 96 tram outside Tolarno Hotel to take us in to the city where we could grab an 86 tram. A quick switch-a-roo (be prepared for many Aussie puns in the blogs to come) and we were heading out of the city to Northcote. We planned well for the journey and had plenty of time to grab a coffee and a bite to eat. Tracey was now full of energy (and caffeine) and was all excited about the prospect of learning magic and pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The magic workshop was brilliant. Not only was being taught magic cool, interesting and fun, but the three of us (mostly the other two) raised the atmosphere of the room. They were hilarious and Simon enjoyed his routine more as a result. It became ridiculously funny when Tracey became the magician for a routine: picked a kid in the front row to be the ‘willing’ volunteer, and the ensuing spectacle had me in tears and many others in fits and roars of laughter, except the kid and his mother (although she wanted to laugh too). With new found magic skills and a sense of grandeur, Katherine was going to practice her levitation skills on one of the staff after the workshop. Too old to enrol in Hogwarts, Kat has nevertheless mastered the ‘I’ll show you a magic trick if you buy me a drink’, in a transfiguration showcase where a shoddy routine transforms into wine. Needless to say it was hilarious and Tracey recorded most of it on her phone. Comedy genius, we would use it for more laughs later in the day. 

Back on the 86, we were soon jumping off in front of the Royal Exhibition Building. Built for the international exhibition in 1880, this beautiful Victorian edifice symbolises the glory days of the industrial revolution, the British empire and 19th-century Melbourne’s economic supremacy. It was the first building to fly the Australian flag and Australia’s first parliament sat here in 1901. It now hosts everything from trade fairs to car shows and was our first UNESCO site in Australia. We considered going in to the museum, but decided that we’d prefer to save the money, enjoy the nice weather and walk the city. So, passing Parliament House Building and the Treasury we started getting back in to the heart of the city and visited ‘The Lanes’. 

A spectacle of graffiti, ranging in small detailed pieces to large stretches of wall and buildings, all were colourful and a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. The usual tags and slogans that one sees in London, were nowhere in sight. The lanes were crammed with people taking photos, standing back to admire artwork in an unusual setting and strolling the alleys like they were a museum. It was truly incredible and we even stopped to watch some new art being created, the distinctive smell of spray paint finally deterring us down the hill, past the queues of people visiting Magcon (???) and out in to the sunshine again. 

The hip and happening Fed Square was opposite St. Paul’s Church. So, after a wander through it’s beautiful architecture, mixed coloured brickwork, mosaic floors, stain-glassed windows and memorials, we headed across the road to use the loo, grab a drink and plan ahead for the rest of the day. 
With the weather holding and forecasts for tomorrow not looking as good, we walked. A stroll across the Yarra river, past some cute little ponds, grand statues and memorials, we powered up a hill to look down into the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. There was nothing playing and the place was deserted. It granted us a glimpse of the city skyline and what it would be like to be here with a picnic in the summer watching a concert. The Royal Botanical Gardens were brilliant. I realise that everything today is brilliant, amazing, fantastic, etc but that’s how the day was and the gardens are a must see for anyone. The variety of flora was incredible and the layout meant you could walk around happily for hours seeing different things and not get bored. We however didn’t have the luxury of wandering aimlessly for such a period of time, hand-picking what we wanted to see at each junction and sign post. We spent a nice bit of time in the herb garden smelling all the different leaves and a chunk of time in the greenhouse that had three Titan Arums, two of them mature and having flowered in recent years. The Shrine of Remembrance was adjacent to the gardens and while I skipped the crypt for a sit down (must be salmonella poisoning), the dastardly duo said it was very nice and then dragged me up to the top. Beautiful views of the city, slightly higher and less obstructed than the music bowl, we could see planes zooming around, helicopters descending in to the mix of skyscrapers and the sun shine off the millions of glass windows. Walking back into the city we all stuck our hands in the decorative water feature wall of the National Gallery of Victoria, an otherwise plain and nondescript building. We saw that The Arts Centres Theatre – the one with the Eiffel Tower looking structure above it – was about to do a short run of ‘Funny Girl’. It won’t compare with the one I just saw, so I bragged a little. 

Something on Tracey’s bucket list for a while has been to have a drink at Ponyfish Island. An extended bit of concrete on the bottom of a bridge support over the river has been turned into a quirky little pub. After ordering a round of drinks, I went back over the bridge to the bank where some wedding photos were being shot, to take my own stunning shots of the gruesome twosome. Afternoon turned to evening and vision went from clear to fuzzy, as drink after drink we replenished Tracey’s wine glass and drank most of the cauldron of mulled wine that was on sale. We sent Simon the video of Katherine’s magic performance and photos to Tracey’s friends to make them jealous. The hours melted away with the occasional banter between Simon and Tracey on FB Messenger sending us in to tears. 

The black swans had swum upriver for the night, the canoeists were up and down with the little lights on their boats pinpointing them until passing around the bend and we finally hustled down the Southbank to find chips and our next adventure. We were about to slide down some ice, in a big tube and while it now seems simple and childish, it was great fun and the bumps, bruises and pains have been worth it. 

Plus, Elmo playing the bagpipes helped Tracey forget her pains with a cheeky squeeze of the bum. 

Passing some more graffiti along the Southbank, we hopped on a tram back to St. Kilda. A quick trip into the hotel to dump the bags, we went for another drink. The Prince of Wales pub is apparently the oldest gay friendly pub in the area. While the style of the pub has changed over the years, it was a laid back, relaxed place with live music blaring and Aussie footie on the tellie. We had one drink before leaving and picked up dinner down the road. Burgers for those two, I went for a souvlaki (a variety of the kebab kind). A few coconut M&M’s thrown around the place and we all passed out after the day. 

Saturday 9th July 2016

Shepparton & Melbourne – day 275

A lovely lazy morning. Not sure either of us slept very well after being used to sleeping alone for the past three weeks – obviously both used to more room in the bed, we kept bumping into each other! Took our time getting up, washed and dressed before settling down on the sofa to watch TV. Jayne couldn’t believe how many adverts for selling products there were on ‘The Morning Show’ and I got to point out that they are the same adverts, clearly filmed on a Monday, that are broadcast all week long. Attempted to talk to Jayne about the upcoming weeks, trying to get some input into what we are going to do and if there was anything she felt I had missed in my planning. However, clearly jet lag was kicking in and it was similar to talking to a brick wall… Decided to cut my losses and started on the laundry that she had very kindly brought all the way across the world for me!!! Made us some noddles and cheese sandwiches for lunch as we both vegetated in front of the TV whilst I pottered around doing little jobs every now and again. Tracey’s parents came and collected us at 3.30pm and drove us to the train station to meet Tracey to catch our train down to Melbourne. Thankfully, we had unreserved seating so we were in a relatively quiet carriage which meant we had the four seats to ourselves. Sat chatting for the entire journey, looking out the window for kangaroos and basically laughing at Jayne every time she took a ‘power nap’ (if you can call it that when she practically passed out every so often!). Even though Jayne was in a semi-comatose state, we were still able to get some witty banter going between the three of us, so much so that as we got off the train, the lady opposite us said we had made her night cause we were so funny. She also told me that she absolutely loved my British accent and could have listened to it all night, which is a rarity because it is normally Jayne’s Irish accent that everyone loves. Once at Southern Cross station, we headed towards the Etihad stadium and found a relatively quiet spot on the bridge, looking out over the dockyards. There was no wind and it was a perfect evening to watch the winter dock lands fireworks. Tracey was right – it was missing some classical music to coincide with the explosions and flashing lights, however it was brilliant! Met up with Ashleigh and her boyfriend afterwards for a quick chat. They had missed the fireworks by minutes as they had gotten on the wrong tram… Said goodbye and headed ourselves to St. Kilda to check into our hotel. Tracey had won a two night stay in a studio at the Tolarno Hotel – complete with champagne and chocolates on arrival – it was perfect! After dumping our stuff and exploring the studio (with balcony) we grabbed our coats and went for a walk down the street. An eclectic mix of homeless people, drug addicts and young professionals, St. Kilda was an interesting place to be on a Friday night. Decided to go to the famous Topalinos restaurant for dinner, sitting by the window so we could watch the world go by. Tracey and I ordered the most delicious pasta dishes, whereas Jayne ordered possibly the biggest pizza ever! Washed it all down with a bottle of wine before stumbling across the road and falling into bed. 

Friday 8th July 2016

Shepparton – day 269 (K)

A chilled out morning whilst Tracey was working her second job at the florists. Had a massive craving for beans on toast so I made some for breakfast whilst I pottered around the house, killing time until Tracey got home at midday.
Had some lunch, got dressed in Magpie colours before getting in the car and driving an hour to Seymour which has a more regular train service to Melbourne. On our way, we drove past the famous stumps. Dressed by a couple of local people, the tree stumps get a change of outfit based on the time of year – bunny outfits at Easter, Santa costumes at Christmas etc. Today, they were dressed up in football outfits. Very random but, apparently, really famous to the area.
Arrived in Seymour, parked the car and caught the train to Melbourne, looking out the window for kangaroos the entire way! Saw absolutely loads of them even if they were significantly smaller than the ones we had seen in the field a couple of weeks ago. A really quick hour and a half later and we pulled into Southern Cross station. Decided to make our lives easier and have dinner in the train station so after checking the train times to get us to Melbourne Cricket Ground, we found a pub and ordered some food. Turns out that we had completely over ordered and stuffed ourselves with far too much yellow food… I even had to keep the skewer in my burger as it was too big to keep it together with just my hands! Took the city train circle line four stops to get to the stadium. After walking all the way around to our gate, we had our page checked and found our seats. Tracey wasn’t too pleased as we seemed to be surrounded by the fans of the opposing team whereas I was just excited to be at an AFL game! Knowing full well that I was completely oblivious to what was going on, my plan was to just clap when Tracey did. However, clearly got over excited cause I began clapping straight away. Tracey prodded me sharply in the side and said ‘stop clapping – we are the other colours’ to which I replied ‘the yellow team?’… Turns out they were the referees!! The game was, apparently, not very good with both teams being equally good (or equally rubbish) and the scores were relatively low. On the plus side, the lack of ‘real’ action gave me ample opportunity to ask loads of questions. Got into the game and began cheering for the correct team!! Although when one of the players made a bad kick in the fourth quarter, I shouted ‘you dipshit’ which came out incredibly posh and made all the supporters around us laugh out loud. Fortunately, Collingwood won so we were both cheerful as we made our way back towards the train station that was incredibly busy. A fast train back to central station and we caught the train back to Seymour. An easy train journey and car drive back to Shepparton before falling into bed at 1.30am… 3 days to go.Saturday 2nd July 2016

Melbourne – day 252 (K)

Managed to get about three hours (light) sleep before waking up to the annoying girl shuffling around in her sleep next to me. Unable to get any more shut-eye, I watched the sun rise through the tinted windows of the plane and read my book as the air stewards gradually began waking people up in preparation for landing. Having arrived on time, I sailed through Australian immigration although, disappointingly, no visa stamp in my passport… Having watched ‘Border Control’ back in the UK, I was incredibly excited to see signs saying that they were filming for the new series. Having also seen the Australian customs be extremely tough on the TV show with imported items, I declared my Toblerone chocolate and my shoes (that may or may not have had traces of Nepalese dirt on them) on my immigration form. Directed to lane number 2 after picking up my bag to be searched by the guard only to be laughed at when I explained my food item was a chocolate bar and my shoes had already been cleaned. So, I clearly won’t be on an episode of ‘Border Control’ but at least I’d declared everything properly – it is their problem now if my Toblerone bar is harbouring some unknown virus… As I walked through the exit doors looking for Tracey, I suddenly saw a huge sign saying ‘Ninja’ running towards me. A stranger spotted it first, stating ‘that’s a big sign!’ as I said ‘it’s mine!’ before running to give Tracey a massive hug. 
Had a coffee at the airport and finding out that Jayne had just arrived in Cologne, Tracey and I chatted non stop. So much so, that it took us forever to leave the airport car park as we kept getting distracted and confused following the random ‘exit’ signs. Slightly disappointed by the lack of kangaroos on the road (which looks very similar to the Irish countryside), it suddenly dawned on me that I was in Australia! The furthest away I have ever been from home… EVER! Chatted the 2 hour drive to Shepperton away, looking through my ‘welcome to Australia’ gift pack and, in what seemed like minutes, we were parked up outside the house. Met the absolutely huge, but gentle, Chilli and had some lunch (ah, cheese! I have missed you so much!!) before heading out for a car tour around town. Had a cup of coffee around Tracey’s parents house (sampling her dads home made saki – it’s delicious but potent!) before coming back to the house to have a shower and get into my new fleecy pyjamas (thanks Tracey!).Spent the rest of the evening eating cheese, drinking wine, watching movies and catching up. Feels weird to finally be here in Australia but equally feels like I’ve been here forever. Missing Jayne so much – can’t what till she gets here. 20 days to go!

Wednesday 15th June 2016