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Published: April 12th 2015
The following blog and photos explain how we got to this perfect moment in time at Melbourne's Centre Place laneway.
This post finds me in Melbourne, Australia for Easter weekend; but the story begins some months before in Roos, England over the Christmas holiday.
Julia and I were vising her family in Roos for Christmas, and one of my gifts was a Xmas card requesting that she set aside the Easter weekend for a surprise holiday (combined xmas and birthday gift). Not much more was said about Easter Weekend until two weeks prior to departure, when I sent her an email outlining what she needed to pack – but still gave no clue as to where we were headed (in fact I stipulated that I would not discuss the trip/destination and that it would be cancelled if the topic was raised)… All along I’d given hints and clues that suggested a weekend in New Zealand – perhaps Wellington.
Two days before our departure I gave Julia her first scavenger hunt clue that was disguised as an early birthday gift – an empty travel scrapbook with the request that she collect memories along the way to fill the book on our return. The gift also included the next clue, which was not to be opened until
31 March - Merry Birthday and Happey Xmas
The first clue to help Ju plan what to pack and lead us to the first destination for her next clue.
our first morning at our destination.
Afternoon of Thursday (2 April) arrived and Julia was to meet me at work at 5pm with our luggage. At this time she still had no idea where we were going, she only knew we’d be to our destination by 10:30pm. I met Julia and presented her a large foil wrapped chocolate Easter rabbit (yet another diversion to my real intentions) with the explanation that the rabbit would guide us to our destination. We set out and I directed Julia in circles through the suburbs of Auckland – to her credit she was confused about our route, but did not show any frustration with the maddening directions.
Finally I set us in the direction to Auckland International Airport, for our 6pm appointment with the prepaid carpark. Julia progressively got more and more excited as we got closer to the airport, still not certain if it was going to be a domestic or international flight – she squealed with delight when I told her to turn right towards the international terminal.
I couldn’t keep the secret of our destination much longer – yet another squeal when
2 April - AKL airport
I added an Easter bunny mascot to the jumble of clues and activities to keep Ju off the scent of what was up...
we went to the ticketing desk for Melbourne – she’d never been to Melbourne before but had been wanting to as long as we’d been going out.
Through immigration and security - we set ourselves up in the bar and knocked back a couple Coronas while we waited for our 8:30pm flight. Julia used the time to flood Facebook and Messenger with updates to friends and family. While she was busy with social media I slipped off on an important errand.
The flight was uneventful, but not the most pleasant as we were in fixed position seats and were set next to a coughing guy who spilled his beer on Julia. Arriving in Melbourne around 10:30pm we were delayed leaving the airport as the baggage system had broken down. Once we had our luggage we set of in a cab to the city, where we were dropped off at our hotel – Citadines on Bourke. Now approaching midnight (local time) we crashed into our 21st
floor bed – after admiring the skyline.
3 April (Easter Friday)
We woke early (still on Auckland time) groggy and tired and found
that it looked like the early morning was shaping up for a lovely weather day. Julia opened her first clue that led us to Captain Melville (a restaurant and bar in Melbourne’s oldest public houses). From there the clue pointed us to the nearby Hertz rental company - we were renting a car for the day.
We were on the road just after 8am and the next clue had us heading southwest to Geelong’s waterfront. The most memorable part of the drive was the large and straight freeways – an uncommon sight on road trips in New Zealand.
Geelong’s waterfront was stunning, we took in the public art, a pavilion that holds an old carousel and the beautiful harbour. Twenty minutes later Ju had found her next clue that pointed towards Anglesea by way of Torquay.
Torquay was a quick 10 minute stop to check out the world famous surfing town and beach. If I was a surfer I might have been more impressed, but as I’m not we’ll move on.
Our scavenger hunt clue was directing us towards Anglesea golf course; but the car’s satnav had other
ideas. I though it strange when the Satnav directed us off the main road onto a side road, which then turned into a gravel road that finally turned into a typical outback dirt track. We saw roadkill kangaroo, Australian bush and the back side of a coal fired power plant… finally the Satnav said we were a minute from our destination and should turn left. That was a complete fail – the left turn presented a closed service/maintenance gate to the back of the course! Thoughts of horror films of lost backpackers in outback Australia flashed through my mind. We decided to disregard the satnav and returned to the main road.
Finally, we arrived at the golf course and found what we were looking for – wild kangaroos hanging out on the golf course greens! We’d earned our next clue that pointed us to Teddy’s Lookout in Lorne.
On the way to Lorne we passed through a large timber gateway over the road – we were on the Great Ocean Road! One of Australia’s great road trips.
Lorne is a lovely little see side resort town that was packed with holidaymakers
and tourists – we were traveling on one of the busiest weekends for the Great Ocean Road. From what I saw I’d love to return to Lorne for a relaxed visit. Through the backside of Lorne we reached Teddy’s Lookout – an observation deck that looked down at the twisting and turning ocean side road below. After a few photos and back in the car we had our next clue – we were going to hunt koala at Kennet River.
Koala while common in the north are very rare in the south (or so I’m told), so Kennet River is unique in that there is a large concentrated population in the valley forest. Arriving at Koala Café we say bus and van loads of tourists craning their heads up searching the branches for the elusive critters. A quick glance around indicated that the koalas were not in residence as the tourist had lost interest searching the trees and were focused on a few colourful parrots in the trees. Julia and I were not going to give up, we wanted to find a koala…. Sure enough with just a few minutes of searching Ju spotted a hidden koala
hiding in the crotch of a branch high up in a gum tree. We were carful to not draw anyone’s attention while we took a few photos – we weren’t satisfied however and head up a back road to search the trees further out of the village. About a kilometre up the road we were treated to a few of the critters hanging out in low tree limbs just over the road.
Now that we found our koalas we could open the next clue that sent us to Melba Gully Rainforest by way of Apollo Bay. Apollo Bay wasn’t much to write home about nor was the lunch that we had neither of us could finish our unappetising dishes.
Back on the road we left the coast and went inland into Australian rainforest and farming pastures and fields. The first and only time that day that we had an hour free of other tourists was at Melba Gully. After so many hours of driving it was great to stretch the legs and hike through a rainforest with Australian plants, which actually weren’t much different from New Zealand rainforest. I’d highly recommend anyone stop off
at this little gem as they pass along the Great Ocean Road.
Back at the carpark I gave Julia her next clue, we were to set our course to Gibbson steps. Up to this point in time the ocean road scenery, while spectacular, was not that much different from what you might find on a New Zealand coastal drive. That was all about to change.
The Gibbson steps carpark was a foreboding sign for my plans at an upcoming stop. The carpark was chockerbock full of vans, busses, cars and tourists milling about – out on the main road cars lined the edge of the road for a couple hundred meters; but I digress, back to Gibbson steps.
The trail from the carpark takes you to the edge of a cliff, with an overlook down to the sea and beach 50metres below and a couple limestone stacks of similar height standing out in the ocean surf. Roughly carved into the vertical limestone cliff face is a narrow stair that leads down to the beach. We were lucky and found that the tide was out so that we could walk on the
beach and take in the monumental scenery – I’ll leave the photos of this timeless and unique geological feature to speak to this.
After a stroll on the white sand beach (with hundreds of other tourists) we made our way back up the stairs to the car and the next clue – a direction to the Twelve Apostles (just down the road).
The Twelve Apostles are the famous group of limestone stacks that you’ll often see in advertising campaigns for Australia. This is by far the largest tourist stop on the Great Ocean Road – this was reflected in the size of the full carpark and visitor centre. We snaked our way with the line of tourists from the carpark, through the under road pedestrian tunnel and out to the long (narrow) view platform which was heaving with tourists – there were cameras everywhere, digital cameras, cell phone cameras, cameras on selfie sticks, ipads, video cameras etc etc etc… not since Angkor Wat have I seen so many cameras fixated on an awe inspiring wonder. Similar to Gibbson steps, but on a grander scale the Twelve Apostles are a bucket list must for anyone
who appreciates natural wonders and beauty. Again, I’ll leave you to enjoy the photos of the scenery.
As you enjoy the photos, Ju was getting “hangry” (hungry angry) as we were now approaching 4:30pm (a very long day), and to add insult to injury she was getting jostled by the over eager tourists that come from a culture where there is zero personal space. This was all not boding well for my final clue and my plans for the last planned stop of the day at Loch Ard Gorge. Back at the carpark and unsuccessful in our hunt for an ice cream cone Julia cracked open one of her last clues of the day.
On to Loch Ard Gorge, we found the smaller carpark nearly full and buzzing with tourists coming to the end of the daylight hours. It was apparent that we needed to be in and out of the park fast so that we could find food and drink in the nearby village. My clue was going to take us down to the extremely romantic and pictures beach of Loch Ard Gorge, which prior internet research suggested that it would be nearly
vacant of tourist…. Boy was that intel wrong. We could see from the clifftops that the beach was buzzing with activity. Julia had no interest in going down and I knew it would be foolhardy to push the matter. I was disheartened my final clue of the day was going to come to not, due to throngs of tourists, a bad lunch at Apollo Bay and a generally long day traveling… I quietly considered my options and suggested we finish up the day with a quick diversion down a trail to Thunder Cave – Julia was very good natured about the request and pushed through despite all.
We got to Thunder Cave and it was perfect, it was an amazing scenery and best of all there wasn’t a tourist in sight… We took a few photos and then I gave Julia my last clue – it suggested that there was an easter chocolate treasure nearby – I proceeded to throw a tin (marked with an “X”) filled with a chocolate treasure and a final secret clue under a bush just off the trail. Ju quickly found the tin, but struggled to open it as I’d sealed it
D1 - to Anglesea via outback roads
The satnav tried to turn us into the next Australian lost backpacker horror film... we could of stayed on the main road, but no... it wanted to take us through gates and over dirt tracks?!?!
with tape. By the time she’d opened it and started to read the clue my arch nemesis for the day showed up – a van load of camera happy tourists. Shit, shit, shit… my plan was backfiring … the final clue (and Ju’s personality) required privacy.
Ju had read the clue and because I hadn’t been able to verbally finish the message Ju looked puzzled and a bit bewildered. I hastily suggested we quickly move down the path to the next quite spot (Broken Head lookout). Julia said yes and we rushed at speed to the lookout. I could see that the tourists were now about two minutes behind us and we’d reach the dead-end of the path – in front was miles of ocean and behind was the parking lot swarming with tourists. I had acted quickly – I grab Ju by both hads, said I wanted to ask her something, gave her an abbreviated proposal and then got down on my new and produced a ring box and asked her a question I’d been wanting to ask since December – “Would she go on a life of adventures and marry me?”
Ring on her finger, her face glowing and our camera’s full of photos from that very special spot we strolled arm and arm back to the carpark in search of our first dinner as an engaged couple.
The lovely dinner was nearly forgotten as we updated family and friends of the news.
Dinner and happy messages of love sent across the globe we set off for the 3 hour drive back to Melbourne. We arrived back at the hotel around 10pm for one final surprise champagne and boxed flowers in the room.
What came before, was the most interesting so the following will be very abbreviated.
Today consisted of a stroll along Melbourne’s river front to Docklands. From there we caught a tram to the Markets where we purchased a photo from one of the stalls. Then we were on to exploration of the award winning and internationally renowned laneways for lunch.
That evening we dined in Chinatown and then I surprised Ju with tickets to that evening’s show of Dirty Dancing the musical –
We took an early morning trip out to St Kilda’s community where we had breakfast and brows the market stalls. We returned to the city for a return boat ride down the river to the old seaside community of Williamstown for a stroll along its old residential streets. We headed back to the hotel that evening to rest and prepare for a surprise dinner at Prahran Hotel Restaurant and Bar (where I’d reserved a window seat two months earlier). Prahran Hotel was a special place for us both as early in our relationship Julia had sent me a photo of the hotel asking if we could go at some point in time – while it took 16+ months I was able to make that wish come true. It was a lovely dinner that wrapped up over an apple crumble J… we made our way back on the tram a bit more tipsy than when we arrived.
That morning we took the gerbera daisies (Ju’s favourite flowers) that had been delivered to the room the first night down to
the river and released them to make their way out to the ocean (as we couldn’t bring flowers back to New Zealand). A quick tram ride to Port Melbourne followed where we caught up with Julia’s cousin and her partner for brunch. Back at the hotel we collected our luggage and walked to the train station to catch the airport bus and closeout this surprise Christmas and birthday gift that twisted into a surprise marriage proposal.
A few key points left out in the story above, but pivotal to the story and recorded her for when my memory fails:
When I purchased the airline and Dirty Dancing tickets in early December I had no idea that it would involve a proposal – though the thought was in the back of my mind.
On one of our last days in Roos at Christmas, I casually asked Julia’s mom if she knew Ju’s ring size – Madge was instrumental in producing that key information and suggestions on Julia’s likes/dislikes when it
D1 - Great Ocean Road arch
This stop was packed with tourists, busses, cars, bikes - a sign of things to come.
came to rings – though she didn’t fully appreciate my intentions at that point in time (nor to be honest did i).
When I got back from xmas holiday my mind was made up – I was going to ask Ju for her hand…. Just as soon as I had a suitable ring and way of presenting it.
The hunt for a ring was long, but very fun. I started with a collection of Pinterest images and buying advice for loose diamonds. As fully educated as one could be for their first ring purchase I set out to the cutthroat world of main street jewellery shops - I was thankful I’d done my research – while a nearly overwhelming process, I was able to slowly widdle down the list of contenders to two rings and some hard negotiation.
Through summer (January, February and March) my plans for the proposal solidified… would I propose in NZ (no), how about Melbourne (yes), at Prahran hotel (yes…. No, that’s a
terrible idea Ju wouldn’t like all that public attention), where to do it???? (ah ha, the Great Ocean Road – a new place neither of us had been at and a place that will still be standing for a millennium or more)
And where did I slip off to at Auckland Airport while Julia was on social media???? I was at collection point in the airport to pick-up “My Precious”, which sat in a velvet string bag in my pocket from Auckland to Sydney.
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