My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Melbourne”

Hosier Lane Revisited

Whilst I have no great like for the majority of what constitutes as modern art these days, I have acquired a taste for street art or murals that dot the otherwise bare and drab walls of many modern cities worldwide. Whilst there will always be those that think of it as graffiti, to me there is a big distinction between the two. My home city of Christchurch has been brightened in the aftermath of some devastating natural disasters and the longstanding rebuild that follows, by the colourful, changing and varied depictions that have popped up around the city. Now, when I venture further afield, I notice similar splashes of colour either hidden down alleyways or out in the open for all to see. Melbourne in Victoria, Australia is one such place where I always keep an eye on the walls, and one of its most famous laneways for artwork is Hosier Lane. I visit this place every time I go to Melbourne because the imagery is constantly changing. New images are painted over old, or neighbouring images are incorporated into each other. My last visit was over 2yrs prior, and few of the images from that last visit were evident on this most recent of visits.


57 hrs in Melbourne

There are always places that capture your heart from the minute you reach them, and then there are those that just don’t cut the mustard or just don’t gel with you. Melbourne in Victoria, Australia was one such place for me. On my first visit in 2012, I arrived there straight from Sydney, a city which I adore, and although I enjoyed some of the things I saw and did there, Melbourne just wasn’t for me. I’d read so much hype and it wasn’t living up to my expectations. A return visit in 2015 was a vague improvement but it still didn’t excite me. When Sir David Attenborough, a man I’ve grown up with on my tv screen, announced a ‘Down Under’ tour, I quickly realised that getting to his one and only New Zealand show in Auckland just couldn’t happen. I was disappointed until a new date was added in Melbourne that just happened to be on my long weekend off work. I pounced on the ticket, secured a reasonably priced flight and waited till it was time. So in mid-February I headed across the ditch, the Tasman Sea, unenthusiastic about Melbourne and not sure what I was going to do with myself aside from the show. As it turned out, I fell in love with the place, and had a totally different experience than the two times before. Third time really is the charm.

I found myself at Christchurch airport at stupid o’clock on the Saturday morning, but it meant I arrived in Melbourne early on in the day. I had pre-purchased my bus ticket into the city so I could jump one of the queues and was on the bus with little waiting around. The traffic was reasonable, so I alighted at Southern Cross train station where the Sky Bus city stop is, and from here it was just a short walk to the YHA Central hostel, my bed for the couple of nights. The sky was grey as it always seems to be when I’m there, but it was nice and warm, so although I couldn’t yet check in, I made use of the lockers to dump my stuff, and was soon changed for the heat, and off out in search of breakfast. There’s a ridiculous amount of choice when it comes to eating out in Melbourne, and the city is famous for laneways, hidden treasures and quirkiness when it comes to eateries and cafes. I went with a recommendation from the hostel, and found myself in a crowded little espresso bar squeezed in amongst the locals.

I had arrived in the midst of the Chinese New Year celebrations, and following breakfast, I crossed the Yarra River to Southbank where there was all sorts of festival related performances and food stalls set up to mark the year of the rooster. The banks of the river are a popular place to be, especially the Southbank. It is a nice view across to the city skyline, although the grey skies turned the water a depressingly murky colour. I continued under the main bridge of St Kilda road to where the boat houses were, and being a Saturday, there were many rowing teams out on the river training. Past them, I cut up through Kings Domain and on to the Shrine of Remembrance. I’d been past here before, but hadn’t gone inside, and it was free to enter. Particularly worthy is the viewing platform on the roof offering a 360o view of its surroundings. It was busy and I spent some time just wandering around, and before I knew it, the grey skies had split open and I was being bathed in glorious sunshine. I’ve not really experienced Melbourne in the sunshine and it was radiant. Down in the basement, there is a war museum which was also very popular, and this too is free to wander around.


Not far from the Shrine of Remembrance is the Royal Botanical Gardens. I love walking around public gardens, so usually seek out the Botanical Gardens in any city that I go to. I had lunch at the cafe next to the entrance before heading down the slope and round the familiar lawns and borders. It was by now roasting and the park was full of families and groups of friends hanging out and wandering around. I found a quiet spot next to a pond and duly lay down on the grass to sunbathe. There was just the orchestra of birds and insects (and the occasional passerby) for company. No matter how many times I visit Australia, I’m always taken aback on my return by the cacophany of birds there. Even in the city, the sounds of raucous cockatoos screech at each other, and I’m reminded of how quiet the New Zealand wildlife is in comparison. After a while I moved on, but after my early morning flight, I didn’t need much encouragement to lay back down when I came across another inviting piece of lawn in the shade of a large tree. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday morning.


The lower section of the gardens contains a large Ornamental Lake where there was plenty of bird life to watch and plenty of people-watching to be had. From here I returned to the Yarra River bank, and followed it back towards the city. Crossing the St Kilda Rd bridge to the north side, there was an ecological and sustainability market taking place, and I took a wander through it down to one of the many kooky statues that lines the river bank. From there, I cut through Federation Square to visit Hosier Lane, one of the city’s famous laneways. Every time I come to Melbourne I visit this lane as I am a fan of street art, and with every visit there are newer artworks painted over the previous ones. It is an ever changing gallery. From another recommendation from the hostel, I ate dinner at nearby MoVida Next Door, a tapas-style eatery that was small but popular. The only seat was at the bar, but I very much enjoyed the food and drink that was brought to me, and I watched with interest as they went through their ritual of cocktail making.


That evening I retraced my steps to the Botanical Gardens for an outdoor cinema experience to see Disney’s Moana. With no forward planning, I had little of comfort to sit on, but it’s not an experience that I get to have often so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I arrived in the late evening, and found a spot on the hillside with a reasonable view of the giant inflatable screen. As the sun set and dusk set in, I was quietly surprised to see an ever-increasing number of fruit bats fly over. I’ve seen them before in Australia, but they were another thing I had forgotten about here, and I was mesmerised watching them silently flock over us as I waited for the movie to start once darkness had taken over. I wouldn’t have gone to see this movie in the regular cinema, not being particularly attracted to it, but I actually enjoyed it. By the time it was finished, the city was alive, and I wandered back to the hostel through the bustling city streets.


One of the things I loved about Melbourne this time, which was new since my first visit, was the free tram service within the boundaries of the Central Business District (CBD). For any trip within the CBD borders, travel on the trams is free, meaning I could save walking from one corner of the city to the other. I still had my MyKi (public transport) card from my previous trip but in the end I didn’t need it. On Sunday morning, I took a couple of trams to reach the Queen Victoria Market which is on the northern limit of the free tram zone. On my last visit, my partner and I had gone to the summer night market here which was my favourite thing about my last trip to Melbourne. Since my visit to Adelaide a few years ago, I’ve been jealous of the awesome food markets that these two cities have. I wasn’t going to be around for the Wednesday night market this time around, but although the Sunday market wasn’t as open or as filled as the night market would be, it was still a bustling and fun place to wander around. The outdoor area was set up to celebrate Chinese New Year, and there were performers playing drums and dancers and warriors showing off their moves. This was the one place where I got caught out for not having cash on me. Australian cities are a paradise for card payments, so I didn’t bother bringing any cash on the trip, swiping away with my Pay Pass foreign currency debit card everywhere I went. But here, it was predominantly cash-only and I was forced to get breakfast from one of the few places that accepted my card, and unfortunately the food was disappointing. All around me I could see and smell delightful food, but it remained outwith my grasp.


Whilst Melbourne was already starting to get under my skin and win me over, I was ecstatic to find myself in a giant branch of H&M, my favourite clothes store from when I lived in Scotland. Last year, New Zealand finally got its own branch in Auckland, and I can’t wait for the Christchurch branch to open as part of the rebuild when the new city mall opens, but in the meantime I have missed it. When I was back in Glasgow last year, I made sure to include a shopping trip in the branch there, and I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity here either. With my H&M hunger satiated, and my card balance a little lighter, I headed back to the hostel and then onwards to the Plenary on the South Bank.


As part of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Plenary was a large auditorium, and I excitedly walked along the river bank in anticipation of the coming show. For this was the whole reason I was in Melbourne: to listen to the legend that is Sir David Attenborough. The tickets were not cheap, and I had purchased the cheapest seat I could get, meaning I was as far away from the stage as it was probably possible to be, and I was at an awkward angle for seeing the tv screen. When the man himself came out, he was so small he could have been an imposter and I would never have known. But when he spoke, there was no mistaking him, and he commanded our attention with his intriguing stories about his life and his work across the decades. I have grown up with this man on the tv, and for me his voice and his face are synonymous with any BBC nature documentary that has been made in my lifetime. I have previously read his auto-biography which is definitely worth getting a hold of, and when it comes to opinions on the natural world, climate change and conservation, his is an opinion worth listening to.


After a thoroughly pleasant few hours listening to Sir David, I meandered around the local river bank, admiring the skyline from a slightly different viewpoint. I continued along the south bank unhurried before stopping for dinner at a food court near the St Kilda Rd bridge, then under the clocks of the Flinders Street Station, I met up with one of my previous work colleagues who now lives in Melbourne. We went off in search of cocktails, but instead ended up sitting outside an Irish pub enjoying a pint. It was cloudy again, but it was still warm enough to sit out and enjoy a drink. Despite being a Sunday, the city streets were still mobbed as we headed back through town after our catch up, and I was excited to discover a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar as we approached the train station. After my friend left to catch her train, I back tracked to get myself an old favourite which I enjoyed before heading back to the hostel.


In the morning I had to check out of the hostel but my flight wasn’t until the evening so I had plenty of time to explore some more. Leaving my belongings in the lockers, I decided to take up the suggestion of my best friend who lives in Sydney, and make use of the rental bikes around the city. She had noticed them on her last visit there, and this was another new initiative since my last visit. For a daily fee, you can rent a bike from one of the many city bike stations for up to 30mins at a time, and unlimited times during the day. Whilst the bikes were heavy to manoeuvre and not very comfortable to ride, I loved my day spent cycling around. Following a back injury whilst mountain biking 3.5 years ago which has left me with chronic back pain, I’ve barely been on a bike since. But I felt it was time to get back on the saddle, and decided I’d use the bikes to go to St Kilda which was outwith the free tram zone. Unfortunately, due to a combination of a couple of bike stations being out of order at inconvenient locations, as well as heavy traffic, it took a little over the allotted 30mins allowed to get to St Kilda. If you go over the 30mins, your card is charged extra, and so I had to pay an overtime fine both to and from the city. Whilst there are plenty of bike stations around the CBD, they are fewer and further between to the south. St Kilda is also as far south as the stations go.


St Kilda is a worthy excursion from the city on any visit to Melbourne. With enough time, I would recommend heading even further south still, towards the Mornington Peninsula, but with a small beach, marina and a cute little town centre, St Kilda is a nice wee place to visit. I noticed some street art as a I wandered towards the town centre, where one of the tram lines terminates in the main street. I had a coffee and cake in the oldest bakery in the town, an eclectic mismatch of furniture and equipment, and then set off to the small St Kilda Botanical Gardens. After reaching the waterfront, I picked up another bike from one of the stations and set off as far down the coast as I could manage before turning around to be back within the 30min limit. It was blowing a gale here and the sea looked stormy, and there was a clean-up process under way for a music festival that had taken place the day before. Being a working day, it was however relatively quiet.


Jutting out from St Kilda is a long pier which acts as a breakwater to shelter the local marina. Near the end is a large cafe, access to the yachts and boats moored there, but also a small colony of Blue Penguins, also known as Fairy Penguins. These are the smallest of the penguin species, and normally spend their day out at sea feeding, coming in to shelter amongst the rocks during the night. Still, there were plenty of eagle-eyed tourists nosying around the rockery looking for a sighting. As it turned out, there were a few of them hunkered down in the rocks if you had a beady eye to spot them. Frustratingly, despite the barriers and the signs stating not to disturb them or clamber over the rocks, there were still plenty of people ignoring these to stick their phones right up into the holes to get a close up photo. One really irritating English guy was loudly shouting down his phone to his mate about how he’d found some penguins. When he wasn’t loudly yelling down his phone, he was up over the barrier, jumping up the rocks to take a photo of them. I was livid, but I’m too introverted and self-conscious to pull strangers up about their inappropriate behaviour so I stewed internally. Ironically, as he left with his girlfriend, I overheard him say to her that he hoped people wouldn’t abuse the access to the wildlife and scare them away! But from an acceptable distance and quietly, I was able to spot about 6 little penguins and also some water rats which are also a rare sighting. Then, when heading back to the cafe, my attention was drawn to a small crowd of people looking down to the rocks below, and there in the broad daylight, completely exposed and unfazed by people, there was a solitary penguin out in the open preening itself.

After lunch in a St Kilda eatery, I picked up another bike from a bike station to pedal back to the CBD via Albert Park. This was a little more direct than the roadway I had followed on leaving the CBD, but I was still tight on time to get the bike back to a station. I still had a few hours before I needed to get the Sky Bus to Tullamarine airport, so I grabbed another bike next to Federation Square and biked up and down the river, dodging the crowds on the busy Southbank promenade. I had an absolute ball using the bike system in Melbourne, and it was well worth the daily fee. The only downside was the 30min restriction per bike use, and the 5min downtime between consecutive bike rentals but I loved it, and the Yarra river particularly lends itself to exploring on wheels. Eventually though, I had just one more thing I wanted to do before leaving, and that was go to the Lindt cafe which I had noticed the day before. I wasn’t even hungry but I ordered one of their special summer sundaes and forced myself to eat it just because. Reflecting on my trip, the spots of sunshine and lack of rain had definitely made a big difference over my previous two trips to Melbourne, but with the addition of convenient and free public transport, and the bike rental network, as well as the vibe of the city celebrating the Chinese New year, I had felt totally different on this occasion, and I was sad to leave the city behind. Finally, I could see what all the hype was about.

Hosier Lane

Across the road from Federation Square, nestled between a collection of buildings, lies the apparently unassuming Hosier Lane. Take a wander through it, however, and a world of art is opened up before your eyes. Although evident in many parts of Melbourne, Hosier Lane is crammed with an ever-changing display of street art. This is not graffiti, this is most definitely a highly expressive art form, and it is very impressive.


The Princes Highway snakes its way south out of Sydney, leaving behind the sprawling suburbs of Australia’s largest city, and winding past the green expanse of the Royal National Park. Just an hour down the road lies Wollongong, sandwiched between the New South Wales coastline where it meets the Tasman Sea, and the Nepean mountain range that stands tall behind it. It was a perfect stop for breakfast on the first day of our road trip, and we navigated through the streets to find the beach and waterfront where a little harbour nestles next to Flagstaff Hill. In the sheltered waters of the harbour, people swam, kayaked and made attempts to stand-up paddle board. It was such a beautiful day and we ate our food staring out at the pelicans as they passed by.


It wasn’t much further down the road to the little coastal town of Kiama which was buzzing with people. On a little peninsula to the east of the main street, stands a lighthouse which towers over a rocky outcrop where a blowhole creates an impressive spray of sea water high into the air when the tide is right. Even at the wrong time of day, there were several decent-sized sprays emanating from the ocean below. There was a decent crowd enjoying the sunny morning.


For a while, the route south cut inland and we skirted past several settlements of varying sizes. We took another detour off the main road to go down to Jervis Bay. By the time we reached Huskisson on the western shore, a more inclement weather system had started to appear from the south-west. A popular place to go dolphin-watching, and with a lot of accommodation options, and several beaches in the area, it was bustling. Following lunch, we made a brief stop at the beach near Vincentia, and then steadily made our way back towards the Princes Highway.


The clouds had come and gone whilst we’d rested at Huskisson, but the further south we travelled, the closer we got to a front of dark clouds haemorrhaging rain drops. By the time we reached Batesman’s Bay, we were in the middle of a thunderstorm, and what I had hoped would be another stop was quickly abandoned. It was hard for the windscreen wipers to keep up with the deluge that hammered us as we took the turning onto the Kings Highway heading inland.


As we climbed up into the hills, the route got wetter and wetter until finally it eased off, although the heavy black clouds framed our journey the rest of the way as we exited New South Wales and crossed into the Australian Capital Territory. We briefly swapped states again as the border snaked across the road, before we crossed it once more, finally arriving in Canberra. Two days later, we again crossed back into New South Wales to the north of the capital, following the Barton Highway until it joined the M31, the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne.


The temperature gauge began to climb into the 30s early on, and by the time we reached the famous ‘Dog on the Tucker Box’, a quaint rest stop on the Hume Highway, it was sweltering. There were plenty of people at the cafe which stood next to the well-photographed statue, and we struggled to find a spot in the shade to eat our lunch. It reminded me of Queensland the year before – the incessant heat that saps your energy and threatens to make you irritable. By the time we reached Corowa on the banks of the Murray River, Australia’s longest river, it was 37oC. After a fantastic meal and catch-up with friends, we all took a walk to the river and I paddled in the Murray River at sunset with a cacophony of parrots above our heads.


On our friend’s recommendation, we stayed on the NSW side of the Murray River and headed west to Lake Mulwala which has a slightly eery feel about it thanks to a flooded forest. Large sections of the lake appear as a graveyard to hundreds of trees that poke out the water as a dead reminder of the past. Again the thermometer was starting to climb into the 30s making it uncomfortable to get out of the car for long. Crossing south across the bridge at the head of the lake we entered our third state, Victoria, and carried on through reams of farmland to Benalla, another quaint little place with a quaint little lake. From here, it was mere minutes to reach the M31 again and rejoin the Hume Freeway for our final leg to Melbourne.


We passed sign after sign for koalas, wombats and kangaroos, and as we reached the outskirts of Melbourne in the early afternoon, the temperature hit 40oC. For the second time in my life, we arrived in Victoria’s largest city, and wound our way through the northern suburbs to reach our accommodation. Unfortunately, by the time we had checked in, a thunderstorm had rolled over the city, and after hiding in one of the city’s plethora of eateries, we got caught out in the rain.


That night, we took part in a Melbourne summer tradition and made our way to the Queen Victoria night market. Thankfully the rain had cleared away although the heat was again unbearable, as we wandered through the ever-increasing crowds of locals and tourists who crammed into the space to enjoy the food, the music and the market itself. It was an enjoyable experience and I would have loved to have had enough space in my stomach to try more of the food on offer.


We didn’t see much sun for the rest of our holiday. The next day was overcast and threatened rain hour after hour. We went up the Eureka Tower so that my partner could get an aerial view of the city. I had done this on my last trip here when I had been on my own, and wasn’t overly impressed with it, but it helped my partner get his bearings and so we spent a bit of time there before heading along the Yarra river to Federation Square to get a tram pass to allow us to go to St Kilda. This was another place that I had seen but my partner had not. Just like last time, it remained overcast, although there were a few hardy souls lying on the beach and playing in the water. Last time I had failed to meet up with a distant relative due to having the wrong contact details but this time, getting caught in the rain on the way, we managed to find ourselves in the right location and I made two family members very pleased in the process.


Back in the city, we found ourselves at Hosier Lane, one of Melbourne’s most famous lanes, which is adorned with an ever changing array of street art. Over many years, every reachable inch of this lane has been transformed into a myriad of artworks, and over time, some of them are updated or replaced. Even as we wandered up it and its adjoining lane, a couple of artists were busy creating something new. Melbourne is famous for its street art and sculptures, and whilst Melbourne will never be anywhere near the top of my favourite cities in the world, I do love its quirky arts culture and its impressive choice of dining. Unfortunately, we lucked out with our choice of restaurant in Chinatown that night, and left rather disappointed.


Our final day of the trip was another grey one. My partner was keen to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground so we caught the tram and joined a stadium tour. Whilst I would rather watch paint dry than subject myself to what I find to be the world’s most boring sport, I couldn’t fail to be impressed with the stadium and its history, which was just as well as the tour was over an hour long. The lady member who led our group round was quite entertaining and it was interesting to get her female perspective, especially as she will never be able to sit in the special reserved area for those members who have been with the club for over 50 years, all because females weren’t allowed to become members until relatively recent times.


After lunch down a busy lane full of eateries, we headed to the Old Melbourne Gaol which housed the infamous Ned Kelly and which continued to be used as a penitentiary until surprisingly recently. We took part in a brief role play session, pretending to be criminals and being locked in a cell, before being let loose to wander through the dark corridors and around the tiny cells. Always keen to get the most out of every available opportunity, I even dressed up as Ned Kelly upon finding a dress-up set in the lower corridor.


Finally, killing time before heading to the airport for our overnight flight home, we wandered through a couple of Melbourne’s malls before being pleasantly surprised with the Penguins of Madagascar movie. After a quick trip to Max Brenners for a sickening cup of liquid chocolate, we made our way back to our hotel, grabbed our belongings and made our way to the airport for a long wait to check-in and an even longer flight home to New Zealand.

Terra Australis – Victoria

I had expected something more exciting than what I got. Having taken long cross-country trips in other countries, I had somehow presumed that the countryside between Sydney and Melbourne would be immensely dramatic and beautiful. In reality, it was 12hrs of a mix of rural and urban landscapes that were nondescript and forgettable. The sky was blue as we travelled across New South Wales, but slowly the clouds drifted in, and as if knowingly, became very dense around the state border with Victoria. After several hours, I questioned why I hadn’t flown. The train pulled into the outskirts of Melbourne in darkness, and after failing to get my bearings, I was thankful that I didn’t have to go far. Getting off the train at Southern Cross station, I merely had to round a few corners to catch the bus out to the airport. I checked into the motel, and waited, and waited. Finally I got the call I was waiting for: my partner and his friend had arrived, and we could start our holiday together.

Picking up our hire car, the 3 of us wandered around the streets of Melbourne in search of breakfast. Renowned for its food options, we eventually settled on a pancake parlour downstairs on Bourke Street. Filled with fuel for the day, we set off on the long drive to Phillip Island. Travelling with 2 blokes that were keen on motor racing, it seemed inevitable that we should head to Phillip Island where the Grand Prix circuit was. As it turned out, right next door was a miniature version of the track for go-karting, so we signed up and waited our turn. I’m not very good at go-karting. I certainly like to think that I am better than I actually am, but aside from the 2 women who were clearly scared of everyone buzzing past them, I was effectively last of the main group of competitors. I was gutted, especially because my partner likes to remind me how terrible I am at it. Further along the island at the western tip is Nobbies centre where there is a seal viewing platform. It was overcast, and cold compared to what I’d been used to in Sydney, and the seals were on a rock offshore, making them difficult to see. It was too early to view the penguins coming ashore so we headed back towards Melbourne and our city-centre apartment.


Melbourne was noticeably colder than it had been in Sydney, and the weather hung cloudy and grey over the city the next morning. The 3 of us took a wander along Flinders Walk which followed the north bank of the Yarra river west from Birrarung Marr Park. I was struck immediately by the strange and colourful artwork and statues that popped up across open spaces in the city. The city had a totally different vibe to Sydney, and it oozed culture. After stretching our legs, we packed into the hire car and headed first west, then south round the expanse of Port Phillip Bay, skirting Geelong and joining the Great Ocean Road at Torquay. Torquay is infamous for its surfing culture, and the streets and waterfront were busy with people. West of here, we stopped at Bell’s Beach, the filming location of the final scene for Keanu Reeve’s surfing movie Point Break. The surf was up and everywhere we looked people were riding the waves. We spent a little time at another beach just round the coast before heading west to Anglesea.


On negotiating the final corners en route to Anglesea, we found ourselves amidst a mass of cyclists. They were on the road, parked at the side, and filling the town’s cafes. There was little place to stop amidst the crowds, so we pushed onwards, the road hugging the coast for large sections. At Airey’s Inlet, we stopped to visit the Airey’s lighthouse. A proud lighthouse, it stood tall near the rocks being battered by the rough sea of the Bass Strait. It was a pretty, well maintained lighthouse, and it was only a year later, after reading an article that I realised that this was the lighthouse from a children’s television programme that I had loved growing up: Round the Twist. I have no idea how popular it was in its native Australia, but I know that in the UK it was a hit: half an hour of silliness based around a haunted lighthouse that could create all sorts of chaos for the family of inhabitants, a single father with his three children. Looking back at photos, I can indeed see that it is that lighthouse, but at the time, the surrounding vegetation and buildings which were missing on the programme, hid the history of the place. For my partner and his friend, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t know the connection at the time, as I would have probably begged to stay longer, taken more photos, and generally made them cringe whilst I ran around singing ‘have you ever, ever felt like this? Like strange things happen, are you going round the twist?‘ As it was, we had a lot of kilometers to travel, and not much time to do it in, so we pressed on.


The road continued to hug the coastline for some time, though we could see some rainclouds closing in ahead of us. It was still relatively grey behind us, but up ahead, it was looking distinctly black. At Devil’s Elbow, after a brief respite to take in the view, the road curled inland and looped back on itself before hitting the coast again. Lorne came and went, and the road kept going as far as we could see, curling along the coastline. The rain clouds grew closer, but even without the sunshine to brighten everything, the coastline still appeared very dramatic and very beautiful. Passing through various settlements without stopping, we finally took a breather near Kennet River. I had read that this was a good place to go looking for koalas and we headed up a dirt track behind the local caravan park. Looking up into the trees, everything looked dark and grey amongst the grey sky backing it all, and it was difficult to make out anything. We followed the road up the hill, and got a surprise when a wallaby jumped around the bushes, then eventually a koala was spotted. It was well camouflaged, but after getting an eye for them, on the way back down the road we saw loads. We had driven past many on the way up without seeing them, and now they were everywhere. Mostly, they were sleeping, but every now and again, one would move around amongst the branches, and I got giddy and excited for finally seeing them in the wild and in their native habitat.


The last section of our long drive for the day continued amidst intermittent rain showers. We managed to get somewhere to stay in Apollo Bay, a lovely motel just across the road from a gorgeous expanse of beach. The boys settled into an afternoon of watching motor racing on the television, whilst I went out exploring. I’m always at my happiest by the sea. There’s nothing I love more than to pound the beach whilst the waves crash in next to me, and get lost in my thoughts and drift a million miles away. After the last rain shower that we had driven through, the sunshine finally broke through, and I walked the beach towards the boat harbour in sunshine. But just as I approached the boat shed, from nowhere appeared another lot of rain clouds and the heavens opened and dumped a ton of rain down on me. I got soaked. My partner rushed out in the car to come and pick me up, but I was quite happy wandering around, so I made my own way back to the motel. On my return after drying off, we took a drive to the Cape Otway lighthouse. Unfortunately, after winding along the long road to get there, we arrived after closing time, and couldn’t even get near the lighthouse, viewing only the top of it in the distance through the bushes. On the drive back to Apollo Bay we found lots of koalas overhead in the trees, and we spent some time watching them lazing about in the branches.


The following day we backtracked slightly to Skenes Creek to take the inland road to visit the Otway Fly. It was a long drive through immense thick beech forest, a stark contrast to the openness of the ocean road that we had followed until now. The Otway Fly was a relatively unique experience: a walk amongst the canopy of the forest giving a bird’s eye view of the trees and shrubbery below. There was also a dino walk detailing the species of dinosaur that have had fossils located in the region. Not long before there had been high winds blast through the region, and littered amongst the forest path was evidence of those trees that had succumbed to the pressure. Several months after visiting this place, a similar treetop attraction opened up in the South Island of New Zealand. Having visited both, the Victorian one is definitely the one to visit.


Rejoining the Great Ocean Road heading west, it remained inland for some time, finally swinging back towards the coast at Princetown where we stopped for lunch. Our first afternoon stop was near Gibson Steps, a viewing area which allowed us our first view of the sea stacks that make this coastline famous. The sea was relatively calm, but with no protection from the brunt of the Bass Strait, it is easy to see how rough seas shape this dramatic coastline. A little further along the coast is one of the area’s most famous and most photographed views: the 12 Apostles. I’m terrible company at famous sites: I’m obsessed with photographing things from every perceivable angle in the hope of getting that one photograph that amazes everyone. Mostly I just bore people who are subjected to looking at my holiday snaps, and I annoy whoever my travelling companion is. This may account for why I enjoy travelling on my own because then I can carry on with my hobby to my heart’s content. Thankfully my partner and his friend managed not to get too annoyed with me, although I did concede a little bit of ribbing, but like many places I go to, this was somewhere I’d seen in magazines and travel sites for years, and I was enjoying soaking up the essence of being there myself.


The afternoon was pressing on, and every few kilometres there was yet another reason to stop on the road, so my partner had to put his foot down and limit our rest stops. We parked up at Loch Ard Gorge and had a wander round the clifftop walks there, viewing more sea stacks, and I climbed down the steps to the beach within the gorge. We had a quick break at Port Campbell and continued on west to London Arch (what used to be London Bridge before the section connecting it to the mainland broke off a few years ago). There was a seal hauled up on the beach having a snooze, and further along the coast in the Bay of Islands region there was a plethora of long-beaked corellas. They were nesting on the cliffs of the numerous sea stacks that littered the coastline. Eventually, in the lowering sun, we reached the end of the Great Ocean Road, turned onto the Princes Highway, and reached our final destination of Port Fairy.


We had a lovely little cabin near the Moyne River and there was a beautiful sunset which I watched whilst wandering back from the beach and marina. The following day, we crossed over to Griffith Island which is attached to the mainland by a man-made walkway. This has created a couple of canal-like structures to allow a marina to be built, and allows access to the island which is a bird sanctuary. I had read in our guidebook that the island was also home to a small colony of swamp wallabies, but the vegetation was so thick that I looked in vain. Halfway round the island, the boys were walking ahead of me when I spotted one off to their left. They completely overlooked it and I excitedly called out to them. The wallaby simply regarded us for a while before sitting back down, and it was clear to see how well camouflaged they were when sitting down. We saw a couple more from a distance on the return leg back to Port Fairy, and then there was the long drive back to Melbourne.


My partner flew back to Christchurch early the next morning, and I left his friend to spend some time with his sister who lives near the city. I took a train to Frankston, and then caught a bus out to the Mornington Peninsula town of Sorrento. It was a lovely drive for the final section, and Melbourne looked so far away, barely visible across Port Phillip Bay on the distant horizon. After finding my accommodation down a back road, I dumped my bag and headed back into town and across the peninsula to Ocean Beach. Whilst Sorrento itself had been so calm and quiet, the wind was whipping up waves to slam on to the expanse of the unsheltered Ocean beach, facing onto the Bass Strait. The tide was in, meaning that I could only walk some sections of the coastal walk that linked the tip of the peninsula to Ocean beach. It was a wild and rugged coastline similar to what I’d seen along the Great Ocean Road, battered by the immense storms that can rage off the Bass Strait. It is a notoriously treacherous stretch of water, and I could see why. I followed the coast as far west as I could until the tide stopped me, then I backtracked and headed east until I came across a road that took me to Blairgowrie, the next town along from Sorrento. I cut back across the peninsula to the sheltered beach that faced onto Port Phillip Bay, and slowly made my way back to Sorrento. There were gallahs everywhere, a bird that I associated with the tv soap Neighbours, and I was amused to see so many of them feeding in the parks.


Whilst I was in Australia, one of the AFL players John McCarthy had tragically died by falling off a balcony at a hotel. Coming from Sorrento, his funeral was held in his home town, and on the day I was leaving, the town centre was closed off to allow a procession to pass through before his funeral service. I ate my breakfast at a cafe waiting for the bus, and everywhere I looked were fellow players who I’m sure were famous, but I had no idea who they were. Everyone wore black, and looked sombre, and there was a hush over the locals as they passed by. The bus dropped me back at Frankston station, and I again caught the train into Melbourne, checking into my hostel, and quickly jumping on a tram to St Kilda. Having loved another tv series shown in the UK, The Secret Lives of Us, which was set in St Kilda, I wandered around the streets and the beachfront, looking for places that seemed familiar. It had been several years since the programme had last aired, so nothing jogged my memory. It was a nice waterfront to walk around nonetheless and it afforded an alternate perspective of the Melbourne skyline which I could really appreciate for the first time. There was always some clouds overhead during my stay which seemed to grey the buildings somewhat. It was never going to have the harbour-front allure of Sydney, but there was certainly some charm in the place, and wandering along the Yarra river as the city lit up produced another stunning view of the place.


The weather couldn’t make up its mind for much of the rest of my stay in Melbourne. Clouds of varying density circled above, and threatened rain, sometimes following through with the threat. I spent a day wandering around the south aspect of the city, heading first along the south bank of the Yarra river towards the Botanical gardens. I spent some time wandering amongst the beautiful gardens and lakes, before following the King’s Domain down towards Queen Victoria gardens. Following the river downstream I decided to go up the distinctive Eureka Tower for an up high view of the city. Melbourne CBD is a tightly packed meshwork of streets and alleyways, with an overwhelming modern design to many of the buildings. However on closer inspection, nestled amongst these highrises are some surprisingly old fashioned buildings, which juxtapose with their modern neighbours. The Eureka Tower itself I felt jarred somewhat in the skyline, a rather odd looking building that stuck out like a sore thumb. Having said that, it did act as a handy directional marker when negotiating the criss-crossing streets of the city, and at its base I was amused with the giant bee sculptures that were crawling all over the walls of the building at its entrance.


The following day I had arranged to meet an old university friend at the Melbourne Show. It was a massive affair, immense barns full of livestock for judging, reams of fairground rides, food stalls, and shows and performances occurring at every turn. One of the things that summed up the craziness of the place was the sight of a man playing a guitar on the back of a bull at the entrance, and in one of the massive food halls, I made friends with a giant banana. My friend had 2 young girls, and it was interesting to experience it all through their eyes. Granted, the youngest one was too little to be aware of what was going on, but the older one who had been born in the Caribbean, was fascinated with the livestock. Time passed quickly but eventually it was too much for the little ones, and their mum took them home. I hung about for a few more hours to watch the night shows of stunt motorbikes and fireworks displays before catching the tram back to the city.


It was an early rise for a day trip to Wilson’s Promontory National Park. At over 200km away from Melbourne, it was a long drive, but I had joined a small tour group and we got about getting to know each other as the hours passed. It was showery as we approached the National Park, but we made a stop to see some kangaroos. There was an emu wandering about the shrubs as well, and the kangaroos were hunkering down against the weather, so they were relatively hidden from us. Further along the road, we made a stop in order to take a hike through the forest and up to a rocky viewpoint. On a good day, we would have soaked in a spectacular view along the coastline and out to sea. As it was, we got rained on at the summit whilst we ate our lunch, and the low cloud denied us of an extensive view. Nonetheless, it was still possible to see how pretty the place was and as we headed back down the track to the van, the sun broke free and stayed out for the rest of the trip. We walked down to Leonard Bay and enjoyed a stroll along the beach as the wind blew in from the sea. By now the clouds had lifted, and we could see Great Glennie Island in the distance offshore. At the far end of the beach, we followed the path up onto the rocky peninsula, and cut over the headland towards Tidal River. Tidal River itself is essentially a large campground that nestles on the southern bank of the river of the same name. The walk took us along the north bank upstream where I saw my first kookaburra. I love the simple things that make me happy like spending time out in nature and seeing wildlife that I’ve never seen before. On crossing the bridge over the river we happened upon a wombat out for a late afternoon stroll. He went about his business of mowing the grass nonchalantly, showing little care for the group of people stood around him photographing him from every angle. We stayed with him until eventually he crossed the path and disappeared under a bush. I was chuffed; it was my first wombat. Little was I to know that I would see scores of them over the coming days. We got a final wander along another of the beaches in the area before boarding the bus for the long drive back to Melbourne in the dark.


I spent several evenings in Melbourne sampling the amazing food that the city has to offer. There is simply too much choice. I had one of the most amazing Greek dishes ever at a restaurant in the Greek quarter where the owner insisted I get myself a Greek boyfriend (ironically my ex is Greek!). Another night I was undecided which style of food I wanted so I wandered through Chinatown only to find a Vietnamese street market down an alleyway. Every stall served a different food, and after eating one of the offerings, I worked my way down the whole alleyway, sampling the food at each stall. It was all so mouthwatering and to die for. The alleyway was packed with people squeezed into doorways and crammed against the neighbouring buildings waiting for and eating the delicious food. Another night it was the Italian quarter that was picked for dinner and during the day I wandered past cafes crammed full of people. It was unbelievable what was packed down some of the alleyways.

Eventually though it was time to bid Melbourne farewell. I had an early flight to catch to Hobart on Tasmania for the next leg of my Australia trip, and I was excited to be heading off to a place I’d dreamed about visiting for years.

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