Melbourne & The Great Ocean Road – Australia
In what I consider a feat of endurance we arrived in Melbourne at 6.30am on a Monday morning after sitting on a bus for the past fifteen hours on a 900km road trip down from Sydney. Logically this is a great money saver as you don’t need to pay for a bed for the night at the hostel and it’s cheaper than flying but still I wouldn’t describe the experience as a ‘hoot’. Tired, none of us could be arsed with anything but the first thing we needed to do was to get ourselves from the city centre to St. Kilda, a trendy, seaside suburb of Melbourne. Trams are the public transport of choice but we had no idea how to pay for a ticket and so we just hopped on and hoped for the best. The price we paid for skipping the tram fair was that St. Kilda appeared to be a right dump but then trendy places tend to sit at either end of the extreme and the Mecca for hostels is likely to be at the lower end. Again, we were tired and probably a bit too fast to judge with the hostel itself being excellent. We spent most of the day pulling ourselves back together and organising the next leg of our journey. It became the norm that we would arrive at a new destination and would then have to spend a bit of time booking the next leg of the journey before exploring our current destination. It worked particularly well for Phil and I as we usually let Laura take control of such matters while Phil would use his unfair weight advantage to sit on top of me and pummel me with farts.
Being recently graduated students we wasted no time later in the day and headed straight to the Elephant & Wheelbarrow pub for the Neighbours trivia night. For those that don’t know Neighbours (certainly at the time) was a hugely popular daytime Australian soap in the UK, and one of our main reasons for visiting Melbourne was for this night which offered the chance to meet some of the cast. It didn’t disappoint! The night went a little like this; walk in, get seated at a table with fellow excited people, take part in a quiz about your favourite soap, meet some of the cast, dance, wobble out. Usually one of the cast members would be there with his band but because it was New Year he was taking a break. Besides getting some pictures with D-List Australian celebraties we found ourselves having a fantastic time drinking and mingling with fellow backpackers which had been a first for us as we had been keeping ourselves to ourselves up to now. We were soon to discover that once you have eased into the ‘backpacker circuit’ it becomes almost impossible not to bump into people or get enticed out for a cheeky beer.
The following day was obviously a write-off which we used to catch up on sleep before heading to the city centre to finalise booking some tours. Going out into Melbourne with a fresh pair of eyes and loaded on sleep was a revelation and led to a complete change in my opinion of the place. On arrival I saw it as just another not so interesting heap of glass and concrete which couldn’t be compared to Sydney and it can’t be compared but Melbourne is just as good. There is a simple way to distinguish the two cities. Sydney is naturally spectacular, yes it has the bridge and opera house but it’s the location that really brings the wow factor. The opera house would look amazing anywhere in the world, what really makes it unique is it’s position in the world. Melbourne on the other hand although lacking one of the most beautiful harbours in the world, still sits along magnificent coastline and the city itself is packed full of charm and character. Old colonial buildings mixed with shiny new skyscrapers. Trams running down wide tree-lined roads and as with all Australian cities, it was spotless, safe, and had the feeling of a town instead of a city. And Melbourne has plenty to see. One of the most entertaining amusements is the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly took his last breath. A throughly entertaining visit I must say, made even more so that Ned Kelly is a real life Australian legend who was finally hung in 1880 for being a thief and a murderer. There is nothing good to say about him other then the idolised legend he leaves behind.
I find cities very same same but Melbourne is a city that makes a person want to get out and explore. After the Old Melbourne Gaol put on such a good show it gave me confidence that other recommended places to visit would be just as good and my God they were. The War Memorial just outside the city was a beautifully and thoughtfully constructed park with incredible views of the city skyline. The Museum was fantastic, modern, and packed full of interesting stuff. Not just stuff, but interesting stuff like the world’s oldest remaining computer, the fourth ever made apparently. How do you define the first computers I don’t know and maybe I’m getting carried away but my point is that the museum was actually interesting. There was then Victoria Market. Are you beginning to understand me? Sounds like any other city right? Memorials, museums and markets. Yet this market was epic, it was huge and even had actual real-life camels parked up outside for some strange reason. Why was it so awesome other than the camels? Food obviously! There were food stalls covering cuisine from every known part of the world I’m sure. Naturally I wolfed down a Mexican burrito before turning my attention to the Kangaroo burger stand. Oh yeah, kangaroo meat. Its delicious.
It got hot in Melbourne, up to 43oC on our final day which is a temperature that causes Phil to stop. He had one thing to keep him moving on this particular day though and that was to ride the Puffing Billy steam train up in the Dandenong ranges. This was top of Phil’s list when we originally planned our trip and up to this point nothing else mattered, other than the penguins on Philip Island of course. The problem is that steam trains are not the best idea on hot summer days through highly flammable eucalyptus forrest and so steam had to be replaced with diesel. When travelling in open side carries through picturesque forrest on a hot and sunny day it doesn’t really matter what is pulling you along and once the train journey came to an end we headed back to the city in high spirits. The heat persevered through the afternoon with our only plan being to find a park and snooze under a tree until 5.30pm. The problem was getting Phil to the shaded park for every time we passed the open front of a shop he came to a standstill as he attempted to recharge in the blast of the air conditioners thus delaying our desire to collapse in a sweaty heap somewhere a little more comfortable than a shop doorway. Why 5.30? We were booked onto a tour to visit some of the key Neighbours sets including Ramsey Street of course. Our time in Melbourne started with Neighbours and would end with Neighbours, such was life for us at the time!
Friday 11th January 2008 was when my addiction to group tours began. This was the first and still remains one of the very best and even though it was only two nights and three days it couldn’t have been spent with a better bunch of people on a better stretch of road. Leaving Melbourne at 7.30am everyone on the bus was as usual quiet and kept themselves to themselves until we stopped for a coffee and Dom (from Udders AKA Huddersfield) walked straight into a glass door. Such an event is a surefire way to break the ice and from that point on the whole group never stopped laughing until we reached Adelaide a few days later. If you were short on time and wanted to see as much of Australia as possible then two nights in Melbourne, two nights along The Great Ocean Road and two nights in Adelaide would about do it. It is ridiculous how much is packed into this comparatively short stretch of coastline. Built by soldiers returning from the First World War, the road rounds and clings to cliffs offering incredible views of ocean, forest and bush. The Australian Nation Heritage listed part of the highway is basically a 243km long rollercoaster ride with a total of 1000km to cover between Melbourne and Adelaide. In only three days we visited Bells Beach, Torquay, The 12 Apostles, Port Campbell, Bay of Martyrs, London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge, Mackenzie Falls, and Mt Zero in the Grampian Mountains, before a final 600km sprint to Adelaide. Port Campbell was just a sleepy fishing town but was blessed with a small but incredible bay with a sandy beach and our hostel right next to it. I had my first helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles for just $60 which was the only way to see one of the worlds most spectacular coastlines. I don’t know where we stayed on our second night but I do know Phil got cooking on the BBQ while Dom and I tried to ‘walk on water’ (run as fast as you can along the top of a swimming pool before sinking; as stupid as it sounds) with the others in the pool whilst enjoying a few cold beers. I was already travelling with two great friends and we had just made a minibus load more in a part of the world that was spectacular without even trying. And that’s Australia, no matter where you go.