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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: Melbourne

Today's Scenery:
Melbourne's Trams

Todays Travelling Track:
Coolio- Gangster's Paradise

Myself and the BF had both been enthusiastically looking forward to Melbourne for the whole trip. We had been told it was a city with a great vibe, an emphasis on food and drink, and a vibrant alternative culture, all of which are things which greatly appeal to us. The city definitely didn’t disappoint.

We were staying in St Kilda, a seaside suburb a few Kilometres outside of the city and a hub of backpacker activity. It seemed like a long time since we had been in real civilisation and relishing the prospect of an interesting, imaginative meal, we parked the van, dumped our things in our hostel and immediately headed out to lunch. We found Acland Street, which served as our base for the next few days. The street is a foodie’s paradise, chock-a-block with restaurants, cafes, bars and takeaways and is lively at all hours of the day and night. We had lunch in Fringe, a relaxed looking bar/restaurant with an innovative menu. I had an amazing duck gnocchi and, despite it being 11:30am, a pint of Heineken (and in Victoria a pint is actually a pint unlike other Australian states.) Giddy with happiness and beer we decided to explore St Kilda a little more and went to look at Luna Park, the famous old school theme park just off Acland Street. The Palais theatre opposite caught our eye and we noticed that British comedian Ross Noble was performing there that evening. We were in a somewhat impulsive mood and decided that we would go and buy tickets (we were also well ahead on budget as the previous week had proved to be very cheap indeed) but were told that tickets were far cheaper if paid for by cash, so we scurried off to an ATM. As we walked down the street a girl coming in the opposite direction caught my eye. I thought she seemed familiar but couldn’t quite place why. I realised she looked just like Claire, a girl who had worked with the BF on Hamilton Island…then I realised she was looking right back at us. It turned out it was in fact the actual Claire, not just a doppelganger. She had nothing to do that day and uttered the immortal words “let’s go for a drink and catch up!”
The Graffiti Lanes

We headed to Fitzroy Street (via an ATM and the Palais to get our tickets) which turned out to be a cheaper, less classy version of Acland street with all the same character and charm (I tend to quite like scummier areas as I spent 3 years as a student in Brighton and also find they are usually far kinder on the budget…) and to a café/bar called Banff. Drinks were ridiculously cheap (although the beer was New Zealand Gold, which no one had ever heard of) and the food menu was interesting and very reasonably priced. We ended up at Banff for the next 5 or 6 hours drinking beer and chatting to Claire, and later another friend Cindy who arrived just as Claire was leaving. We soon realised that the time on our Ross Noble tickets was fast approaching and Cindy decided to join us for the show, which I don’t really remember thanks to the beer. The BF assures me that I seemed to enjoy it at the time! The plan had been to head out for the night after the show, however as we sobered up and our hangovers started to kick in we decided that wasn’t such a good idea and headed back to our hostel instead. I spent the night feeling extremely ill and vowed that I would never drink New Zealand Gold again!
Coffee Art!
Over the next couple of days we explored the city and met up with other friends and family members of the BF. It seemed that everyone we knew in Australia had moved to Melbourne and we had no shortage of people to hang out with or things to do. We managed to largely avoid touristy activities (aside from going to the immigration museum which was really interesting) and instead spent the next few days in the manner we had become accustomed; eating nice food, drinking nice drinks and enjoying nice company. It was nice. We had a hilarious lunch in china town with our friend Sarah and experienced one of the angriest waitresses I’ve ever come across. She dropped everything onto the table from a height of at least 20cms and brought us about 14 sets of cutlery as if she was trying to convince us that we didn’t actually know how to use chopsticks. Later that day we headed to Chapel Street, another interesting hub and took advantage of happy hour at a number of pubs along the road, including one that we later realised was a gay bar, and a really cool hip hop club which played awesome 90s music!

After a few days in Melbourne our livers and wallets were suffering somewhat and it was definitely time to move on. We had found it to be the most liveable place we had visited and decided to make it our backup plan if we couldn’t find jobs in ski resorts. On our final morning we went for a slightly hung over breakfast on Acland Street one last time, got the van serviced (which seemed to take an age) and headed off towards the Great Ocean Road!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: 'The Prom', Phillip Island and Puffing Billy

Today's Scenery:

Wilson's Prom
Today's Travelling Track:
Walk off The Earth- Magic

Our decision to visit Wilson’s Prom was based mainly on my need to walk around a bit and blow off some steam, and also partially because it is the most southerly point on mainland Australia. As we headed towards it we realised we wouldn’t make it there before dark and decided to stop at the Wilson’s Prom YHA which was in the nearby village of Foster. This was one of the most bizarre hostels I have ever stayed it. Basically just a normal house, it was unmanned and to gain access you had to call the owner, who would then deal with your reservation over the phone, allocate you a room and give you the code to get into the door. Despite this slightly confusing and disorientating process, once inside it was like someone’s seaside holiday home and the size gave it a great community feel (I also enjoyed having power points, lights and warm showers since we had been sleeping in the van non-stop since Sydney)

The following morning we said goodbye to all our new friends and headed to the Prom (referring to it as ‘The Prom’ makes it sound like we were attending a coming of age school dance, but it’s just what the locals call it, honest!) After a fairly long drive into National Parkland, we arrived at the information centre, where maps were available and camping fees payable. Cue somewhat bizarre conversation with bored-seeming National Park worker (B.S.N.P.W)

Me: We’re just after an unpowered site for the night if possible?

B.S.N.P.W: (in mock British accent) an unpowered site? (Back to own accent) love it! So we just need a few details, obviously you’re from the UK? (Starts filling in registration forms)

Me: I am indeed

B.S.N.P.W: I’ve always wanted to go to England, but I’ve heard there’s not a lot of jobs there at the moment with the recession…is that true

Me: Not really, as long as you’re not too specific about what you want to do you can usually find something.

B.S.N.P.W: Oh ok, so the unemployment isn’t as bad as the news makes out?

Me: Well, I have a lot of friends who have been made redundant from jobs a couple of times already and are only my age.

B.S.N.P.W: Oh that’s such a sad story, don’t worry, you don’t have to pay anything for camping tonight. You should tell everyone that story!

Me: (somewhat confused) Urm, ok, thanks….

B.S.N.P.W: Well best of luck both of you in your search for a job

The BF: (mumbled so as not to show his Australian accent) Thanks…

So that was slightly strange and I felt somewhat guilty accepting a handout from someone who had somehow got the impression that we were destitute Brits who had come to Australia to seek our fortune but free camping is free camping so we let it slide.

The BF's pet Wombat
We spent the rest of that day happily tramping around hiking trails and taking in the views. We had realised early on that the hike to the actual most southerly point would take a couple of days, and there was no way to drive closer so we gave up on that idea and headed along a couple of beaches, through a gully which had been partially destroyed by floods and landslides and finally up a mountain to see some panoramas of the area. We returned to our (free) campsite, exhausted and hungry, only to find that the takeaway and general store had closed at 4pm. We were forced to eat our emergency packet food which was upsetting as we felt we deserved a good feast after all our walking, but the BF was rewarded later on when a wombat wondered right into our campsite. After a lot of photography, and demands to be allowed to cuddle it, or take it in the van with us, I managed to pull him away.

Penguins in their nesting box
The following day we headed towards Phillip Island. This was the part of the trip I had been excited about since we had started planning it. Penguins are my favourite animals, and although I prefer the big King and Emperor varieties, this would be my first chance to see the species in the wild. I remembered watching a documentary back in England about Phillip Island’s colony and had wanted to visit ever since. We bought our tickets for the penguin parade as soon as we got onto the island and headed to the main town of Cowes hoping for lunch, and to find a caravan park, before it was time to head over to the penguin beach. We were successful in both, finding a yummy gourmet burger bar and a campsite right in the town and after a bit of a relax, headed down to the Summerland Peninsula. We had read that there was a large colony of Seals off the shore here and that they were visible from the Nobbies (a rocky headland on the peninsula) however we were disappointed when we got there and realised that they were living on an island a couple of kilometres from the coast (unimpressive to people who have been spoilt by the San Francisco Sea lions…) we decided just to head to the Penguins early and were very happy we did so. There were already a lot of tourists there and the information centre was very interesting and taught us a lot about the little penguin species. There were also nesting boxes with peep holes in them, some of which contained extremely cute sleeping penguins.

Trust me, I checked...
Before we knew it we were allowed to go over to the viewing area and The BF and I secured a prime position on the concrete benches. I feel I was very well behaved and patient at this point (and the BF agreed) as we had to wait a whole hour for the sun to set on the beach. Finally, as darkness drew in, we saw one tiny little penguin arrive on the shore. He looked around nervously and scurried his way across the beach. After this all the birds came in groups, and most skittishly returned to the water 4 or 5 times, building up numbers and waiting for any imagined dangers to pass. Finally, they would decide it was appropriate, form a tight knit pack and charge across the beach at speed and into camouflage. We watched this for a while and then decided to explore the boardwalks around the area, where the penguins would hang around, grooming each other and chattering away. We got to see lots of them up extremely close and even saw one little guy collecting materials for his nest. After being slightly too ambitious, trying to pull a live branch off a sturdy looking bush, he knocked himself over onto his back and rolled around for a second before getting back to his feet and (I swear) looking very embarrassed. Finally, the volunteers ushered everyone off of the boardwalks and into the centre again. I was extremely happy and was only slightly disappointed that we weren’t able to take any photos of the penguins (although understood entirely why this was the case!)

Celebrating my victory!
The next morning we headed to the Phillip Island Circuit, where the Moto GP is held. We weren’t allowed on the circuit itself (which is reserved for Hot Laps and Track days) but we decided to go Go-Karting on the scale replica of the original track. When I was a teenager I used to go go-karting every weekend, but I was definitely out of practice and took a couple of laps to warm up. By the end I was having an amazing time though, and had allowed my competitive side to come out, which is why I was so disappointed when the session ended, just as I had managed to catch the BF and was about to overtake him. I was happy to discover that I had the best lap time of the day (although we were the first visitors, so really I only beat the BF….) but decided it was probably best to let the BF drive Turk just in case I decided to start accelerating into corners or overtaking fellow road users in dangerous places.

Puffing Billy
We headed off Philip Island to the Dandenong ranges and the town of Belgrave, to ride the Puffing Billy steam train. Our Sat Nav was being particularly annoying and at one point even tried to direct us onto a ferry (adding an hour onto our journey) just to find a suitable spot to do a U-turn. Later in the day it directed us to a field in the middle of nowhere claiming it was a caravan park. When we (miraculously!) arrived at the train we realised we were one of the select few passengers who were not off of the same Japanese tour bus. This was entertaining as everyone in the group seemed exceptionally excited about the journey. I wondered if they were from some kind of trainspotters association. The train was beautiful and we were allowed to sit on the window frames with our legs dangling outside the carriage as it chugged through the hills. My favourite part was a big wooden bridge it crossed, and all of the level crossings were fun, where photographers always gathered trying to get the perfect postcard shot. After a happy couple of hours and a meander around a lake whilst we waited for our return journey we headed for a caravan park and slept soundly, excited that the very next day we would be in Melbourne!

Turk Meets....Some Highland Cattle
Turk was feeling a little camera shy today, but he had a nice chat with these furry guys!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: Canberra, The Snowy Mountains and the Victorian Alps

Todays Scenery:
The view between parliament house and the ANZAC museum

Today's Travelling Track:
Rage Against the Machine- Killing in the Name of

Oh dear, I really have a lot of catching up to do on this blog. As I write this we are currently in Coober Pedy, an opal mining town in the middle of the desert, on our way up to Ayres Rock and Alice Springs and yet according to you guys we’ve only just left Sydney! My apologies, time to get myself organised and write some blog!!

 The BF was extremely unenthusiastic about visiting Canberra. Despite my protests that it was the capital city of his country and should hold some kind of special place in his heart he was pretty determined that it was going to be boring and characterless and persuaded me that it wasn’t worth staying longer than one night. In all fairness he was probably right, I felt that we were able to see everything of interest in our short stay, however there were a lot of things I really liked about the city:
1. Everything was free- we went to parliament house, the royal mint, the ANZAC museum and drove around all of the embassies and we didn’t pay a cent for any of it. We also found free parking a 5 minute walk from the centre of the city.
2. Driving around was easy- the crazy spiralling circle design of the roads meant that none of them were ever at all congested or busy, they were however somewhat confusing
3. The food was excellent- we walked from our caravan park to Richmond, and found an array of reasonably priced Asian restaurants and pubs and had a fantastic Malaysian meal, the next day at lunchtime we went into the commercial centre and found an number of cafes and restaurants. We ate at a bustling bakery/takeaway/café which served amazing, simple food in massive portions at local bakery prices.
4. Everything was very clean and shiny- nothing really looked old or disused.
5. Some of the architecture was stunning- it may have cost a ridiculous amount to build, but parliament house is quite breathtaking and there are great views from it to the ANZAC museum and vice versa.

 So Canberra was a pleasant surprise for both of us but not the sort of place really worthy of a proper holiday.

Lake Jindabyne
Returning to New South Wales we decided to check out a few of Australia’s ski resorts. We are planning on spending a few months in this area after our road trip is over. We drove to Jindabyne, a pretty little town on a very attractive lake. Obviously since we were visiting in the spring it was far quieter than it would be in the midst of the winter season but a few of the shops and restaurants were still open and we spent a happy afternoon browsing a variety of snowboarding gear and meandering around the lake. The next morning we drove up to the resorts of Perisher Blue and Thredbo to see the actual skiing areas, although it’s very hard to visualise how they will look in snow. The drives themselves convinced us that ideally we’d like to find a resort with staff accommodation next to the slopes; Jindabyne was over 40km from both and we could imagine the roads to be difficult in snow. After a stunning but scary drive on an extremely narrow road which wound through the ranges (and upon which motorcyclists and trucks decided it was appropriate to charge around blind, narrow corners at about 150km/h) we arrived in the town of Mansfield. The next morning we drove up to Mount Buller and did our final ski resort town inspection.

At this point I had started to go a little bit crazy, even though we’d visited lots of mountains we hadn’t really had time to explore any of them properly or let off any steam. Now, whilst the BF can quite happily spend a whole (non-hung-over) day lounging around in bed, I am the kind of person who would get bored of this relatively quickly and need to go for a walk or a run or a cycle ride, all of which were great activities to do in the towns we were passing through. We decided to head down to Wilson’s Promontory to spend a couple of days hiking around and to expel some of my hyperactivity. After another beautiful but scary mountain road we ended up in the town of Healesville, where the BF told me there was a famous wildlife sanctuary. After the tense, winding road I had become restless and annoying (I am as bad as a child, honestly) and we decided to stop for some lunch. When I suggested an upmarket winery the BF was surprisingly enthusiastic- I think the idea of forcing some alcohol on me was appealing as it was likely to calm me down…

 The Innocent Bystander turned out to be one of the most confusing places I have ever entered, with an artisan bakery, cheese tasting, wine tasting and restaurant all in one building. Lines of people snaked in various directions and the smells of all the delicious food wafted around temptingly. The building was like a giant converted warehouse with open kitchens all down one side and decking with extra seating on the other. Eventually we located a waiter who spent some time using a piece of space-aged high tech equipment to find us an empty table (which ended up being the one literally in front of him). The food was quite pricey but we decided to share one of their gourmet pizzas and a serve of homemade fries and even managed to steer ourselves away from our usual carnivorous leanings and order an entirely vegetarian pizza, with pumpkin, goats cheese and pinenuts. With a glass of sparkly wine in my hand and chaos all around me I finally managed to calm down. The food was amazing, and due to the waiter making an error and bringing us the wrong pizza (resulting in us waiting about 3 minutes longer than we should have done) we ended up only paying for the chips and wine. Good result in my eyes. So if you’re ever in Healesville go to Innocent Bystander, I promise you won’t regret it! 

Turk Visits....Poop Fell On Me Creek
Turk had a little giggle at this hillariously edited sign