Melbourne and The Great Ocean Road

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September 7th 2009
Published: September 7th 2009
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We waved a fond farewell to New Zealand after a few last days in Christchurch (attempting to sell the car - not sold yet but with a car market to deal with it for us) and got on the plane for Australia, first stop Melbourne.

The main reason to call in for a few days at Melbourne was to visit Sarah's uni friend Em who has been living out here since 2006 with her Australian boyfriend (now fiance) Jimmy. They have a flat in the Windsor area of the city and kindly took us in for a few days and showed us a good time.

On our first evening we went out for dinner and drinks in the St Kilda area, which is an area full of funky bars and restaurants popular with Pommie backpackers. We were ate at a seafood restaurant called Clay Pots, which was very, very good sharing a couple of large, whole, grilled fish between the four of us. An excellent introduction to Aussie cuisine.

The next day was a Friday and whilst Em and Jimmy had to head off to work, we took the opportunity to explore the centre of Melbourne. Melbourne is a much bigger city than we were expecting, it's growing really fast and is now nearly as big as Sydney and is home to quite a few large corporations so the city has a skyscraper skyline. It's supposed to be a bit more cosmopolitan than Sydney and has a very varied immigrant population with large Greek and Asian communities reflected in the many different types of food on offer!

We started off the morning with an iPod walking tour entitled "Dirt, death and disease in Melbourne", which included some pretty gruesome stories about some famous Melbourne murders and details of "Smellbourne" prior to its relatively late introduction of a sewerage system. This was a different way to see the city and allowed us to walk around most of the city centre.

After lunch we hit the shops. Melbourne has a reputation as the premier shopping destination in Australia, and there certainly are a lot of shops, including some high end brands such as Bulgari and Tiffany. The backpacker budget doesn't quite stretch that far so unfortunately it was just window shopping for us.

Em and Jimmy had planned a full itinerary for the weekend to drive out along The Great Ocean Road to the west of Melbourne with a couple of stops along the way. That evening after Em and Jimmy got home we set off for the hour or so drive down through Mornington Peninsula to the coast where Jimmy's parents have a beach house in a small coastal town called Portsea. Em and Jimmy are set to get married here in February so it was good to see the venue. We stayed the night there and had a bit of a "boys night in" watching Aussie Rules Football, eating pizza and playing poker (high stakes - AUD$5!!!). After a wonder along Portsea beach on Saturday morning we boarded the ferry to cross the bay to Queensferry. It was a very windy affair, sadly we didn't really get beach weather whilst we were here but, hey, it is just the very beginning of Spring here so we can't really expect much more.

Our final destination on the Saturday was Lorne, where a friend of Jimmy's also had a beach house (lucky lot these Melburnians!), as this was only about 100km from Portsea we had a fairly leisurely drive down stopping for an Aussie pie for lunch and taking in the town of Torquay, home to Bells Beach - the most famous surfing beach in Australia. The surf was pretty flat but there were a handful of surfers braving the cold. The Great Ocean Road officially starts at Torquay and runs for several hundred kilometres along the Southern Victoria coast, hugging the shoreline and providing stunning views of the beaches and sea en route. One of the first sights was a huddle of kangaroos hanging out with some cows in a field, our first Aussie classic. That evening we experienced another Aussie classic, the BBQ complete with snags and beers kept cool in a stubby holder.

The Sunday saw us clocking up most of the kms of our road trip with some stops at key sights along the way. Firstly, we stopped at Kennet River to say hello to some Koalas and Kookaburras, the former of which are so darn cute. They sit around all day snoozing in the trees only to interrupt their 20 hours of sleep to munch on Eucalyptus leaves, which make them a little bit high! Next stop was the Otway National Park for a stroll through the temperate rainforest. We then visited the Cape Otway lighthouse, the oldest and most significant lighthouse in Australia protecting ships on their journey through the narrow Bass Strait between the mainland and Tasmania. It didn't wholly succeed in this objective as their have been several shipwrecks since it was built in 1848, including a couple of incidents in which hundreds of convicts died. Our final stop was The Twelve Apostles near Port Campbell, which are natural rock formations in the sea just off the cliffs formed by the erosion of the sandstone cliffs (another Geography geek moment for Sarah). The stacks are pretty spectacular jutting out of the turquoise sea, just a shame that it was poring down with rain at the time so we didn't hang around to gawk at them too long. We returned on the inland road to Melbourne just in time for some Thai food for dinner.

Melbourne is a really exciting city and we really enjoyed our road trip along the coast. We're quite envious of Em and Jimmy's lifestyle here in Oz, what with the beach house and plenty of access to diving, sailing, water-skiing etc. We had a great few days in Melbourne, largely due to Em and Jimmy's hospitality and all the cool things they showed us or recommended (so a big thanks to Em and Jimmy).

Next stop Sydney before we head off up the coast overland to Cairns over the next 5 weeks.

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