Nope, definitely not Kansas - we were in the Land of Oz! We had nearly a month in Australia to chill out, visit friends and family, and westernise a little after seven months in Asia. Much as I love South-East Asian food, the first steak and chips with a glass of red wine (bought as soon as possible when we arrived at the airport) tasted pretty damn great. We had a little bit of a stressful time at Melbourne airport on our way to Brisbane, which I reluctantly have to accept full responsibility for... We got back into the airport from a quick jaunt into Melbourne on our layover, ready for our 8 pm flight to Brisbane, but the only 8 pm flight on the departures board was to Adelaide. After a bit of chuntering and grumbling about how the airline must have messed up or cancelled the flight, the sinking feeling dawned on me that I had actually managed to book a flight to entirely the wrong city. Oops! I'd love to give some excuse other than downright stupidity for my mistake, but unfortunately I can't - so stupidity it is. All's well that ends well, we managed to book
a last minute flight to Brisbane the same evening, so with no harm done other than a slight lightening of my wallet, we got up to Queensland.
We were in Brisbane mainly to see a load of my extended family who were all descending there at the same time, and had a nice few days catching up with them, visiting the city and the beach. We then picked up our mobile home for the next two weeks - the infamous Wicked camper. Wicked effectively run a business model based on controversy; paint offensive enough slogans on the side of a van, get enough people to complain for the media to pick it up - bam, free advertising. Our particular model was an ancient Mitsubishi van with 400,000 km on the clock, a beer deck on the roof, and a large painting of two Rastas with the word 'STONED' in big letters on the side. Not very subtle, sure, and we got some judgement from the odd older person and family on the road (though every teenage boy we passed loved it...), but definitely not the worst one out there - and it's hard to complain too much at $20
a day. Fortunately the only really offensive slogan on our van ('Thou shalt not steal - God is watching, you thieving c**t') was only written in small letters on a sticker on the door...
Time to hit the road - we had an interesting half hour or so in a quiet suburb while Tania got the hang of driving on the left / manual transmission / roundabouts (only initially and after that just very occasionally stressful for the non-driver - there was also a very amusing clutch-control parking incident later in the trip that I'd love to provide the photo of, but I don't think the story or picture would pass Tania's proof-reading / censorship...). We had a two day drive down to Sydney, taking in Byron Bay (the drugs capital of Australia - we fitted right in with our van) and Port Macquarie on the way. Sydney was mainly more of visiting friends around the city, which was great, as well as doing the obvious touristy bits - I must have seen the Sydney Opera House at least five times by now, but it doesn't get any less beautiful with repeat viewings. We also took in a really
interesting (well, interesting to us, anyway) tour of the nuclear research reactor in Sydney thanks to our friend Matt who works there - it's not every day you get to stand over a pool and watch the blue glow of uranium fissioning below you!
Onwards towards the south, and the temperature dropped off, down to single digits at night - after months of 30 degree minimum temperatures, we were bloody freezing most of the time... After a quick stop in Canberra (dull place!) we headed to Melbourne. We only had a day there, sadly, but loved it - a very cool city, foodie, arty and quirky. We had tickets for an Aussie Rules Football game there, Melbourne vs Collingwood, in the awesome MCG stadium. Aussie Rules, if you've never seen it, is a great sport - a little ridiculous at times to our untutored eyes as the game descends into farcical scraps for the ball on the ground, but physical, fast-paced and very entertaining. We had a little flutter on the game so we would actually care who won, and sat down ready to back Melbourne only to find ourselves surrounded by Collingwood fans (who have an unsavoury reputation
- the Millwall fans of AFL). So we cheered at reduced volume as Melbourne thrashed them... A very enjoyable game - definitely a sport I'd be hooked on if I lived in Australia.
Next was a drive I've always wanted to do - the Great Ocean Road. A stretch of coastline to the west of Melbourne, it's one of those roads where every turn reveals another jaw-dropping vista. In particular the Twelve Apostles, at the far end of the road, are just stunning - a set of huge isolated cliff islands dropping vertiginously into the raging surf below. A fantastic drive - only the Pacific Highway in California that we drove at the beginning of our trip compares in our experience of ocean views. But to us, the Great Ocean Road wins, just because of our wildlife experience halfway along. We'd read that there was a particular dirt track coming off the Great Ocean Road where you have the best chance in Australia of seeing wild koalas. We started heading up the track, and before I'd even had the chance to finish saying 'I bet it's still pretty unlikely we'll actually see one though', Tania shouted 'there's one!'. And
there he was - just chilling out in his gumtree. Awesome! And then we saw another... and another... and another... In the end we were keeping score to see who could spot the most - I think we saw six of the little guys in the end. An animal I've always wanted to see in the wild, and a definite highlight of our road trip.
After the Great Ocean Road, the wildlife bonanza just kept coming. Our next campsite was in a national park, and was amazing - completely free, all the facilities we needed, and we were the only people there. And the wildlife was everywhere - emus, any number of parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, fruit bats, and hundreds of kangaroos, who came within metres of the van once they were used to us. We went on a walk once it got dark to try and find some echidnas (no luck there, sadly) and I almost trod on a snoozing kangaroo's tail, sending him leaping off into the bushes. They may be a pest and just a part of the landscape to Australians, but we happily spent hours and hours just sat there watching them bouncing about without getting
bored of them.
We were dropping off the van in Adelaide, and of course we couldn't visit South Australia without seeing their famous vineyards. We booked a wine tour in the Coonawarra region, and had a fantastic afternoon. We loved the way tastings are set-up in Australia - no tasting fees, no entrance fees, just a big ol' wine list at each place and a free rein to try as many as you want. We only tried about half of the wines at each place, and we were still very merrily sozzled well before the end. Probably worthwhile for them doing free tastings, because some of the wines were amazing, and we ended up far exceeding our intention to buy one bottle and purchased bottles from three different places on our way back down the road.
That was it for the road trip - we dropped off the camper, amazed that the old can made it over 3000 km without any problems at all, and jumped on a flight to Perth. Perth was our final stop in Australia, to visit my family on that side of the country. We had a lovely, albeit very alcoholic, weekend with my
cousin and her husband, who showed us the sights (by which I mainly mean bars) of Perth, in between which we worked our way through a large selection of their impressive beer collection. After a few days with my aunt down in Mandurah, where we mainly relaxed, collected ourselves and drew a deep breath in preparation for diving back into Asia, that was our time in Australia up. Time to hit the backpacker road again - off to Indonesia!
(Thanks a lot to Jenny and Jason; Helen and John; Arthur and Lauren; Sheena, Guy and Henry; Julie; Mark, Elaine and Dale; Anne, Peter and Jarrod; Sarah and Ollie; Matt and Connie; Nicola and Brim - and Usta, obviously - Caroline, Barry, Jacob and Caitlin. Thanks for letting us stay / feeding us / meeting up with us and it was lovely to see you all!)
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