Our plan in Melbourne was to have a bit of a look around the city and liase with Pauls cousin, whose wedding had formed the basis of the excuse for this trip in the first place, and then hire a car and explore the surrounding countryside and the Great Ocean Road before heading back into Melbourne for the wedding it’s self. Cindy, who was one of the Ozzie Sheilas Paul & I met in the Peruvian Jungle a few years previously lives near Melbourne so we wanted to go and catch up with her as well.
Melbourne seemed rather chilly after the heat and humidity of Kuala Lumpar. Our first taste of Australia was a man with a loudhailer trying desperately to flog cut price booze and cigarettes to everyone waiting in the gigantic immigration queue which I took to be a good omen.
Our first day was mostly wasted as we attempted to rectify our jet lag strategy from Malayasia but succeed only in sleeping all day and waking up in time for tea which we took in a nice restaurant called Blue Train on the banks of the Yarra River. We were unimpressed with some of the more modern Melbourne architecture and ended up in a suitably seedy rock bar in one of the suburbs.
The continuing effects of jet lag ensured that I was awake and got up well before 6AM the next morning with an hour to kill before breakfast. I spent the time speculating about the man in the room next to me, for some reason there was a locked connecting door between our two rooms and through it I could hear almost constant bangings and tinklings of one sort or another. Occasionally his phone would ring and he would shout at people down the line. As far as I know he never left his room during the time I was there so my speculation concluded that he was a member of the mafia or a bent cop on the run, the person on the phone was pretending to be his only allay but was really out to double cross him and hand him over to his pursuers. In his room the man was constructing some kind of A-Teamesque device with which to foil his pursuers when, inevitably, they came for him.
After breakfast Paul & I headed off to St Kilda where we spent most of the afternoon sitting eating pizza in a nice roadside cafe preparing ourselves for our visit to Paul’s cousins later on that evening.
At least I was preparing myself, Paul probably didn’t need too much in the way of preparation. In general I don’t like meeting members of other people families ( or in fact people in general ) so the thought of spending an entire evening with someone related to Paul was beginning to seem less and less like a good idea as the afternoon wore on.
Having been unable to think of any convincing reasons why I shouldn’t go I found myself a few hours later sitting in Paul’s cousins kitchen eating some kind of plastic lumps in stir fried vegetables, I ate it all because I was very hungry.
Paul and his cousin didn’t seem to have all that much to talk about and Kerri was being very polite, and consequently not saying much either, so I felt great relief when Jo ( Paul’s cousin ) suggested that we should go and she would give us a lift to a pub of our choice. The rest of the night is shrouded in a haze of gin.
Suffering from the gin the next day we picked up our hire car and navigated our way out of Melbourne and headed off towards Geelong, The Great Ocean Road and the beach. The weather was beautiful; bright, sunny and warm and all of us were excited to be heading off for adventure. Geelong flew past in a pall of chimneys, factories and car showrooms but by mid afternoon we had arrived in a place called Torquay.
Torquay is the beginning of Australia’s Great Ocean Road which winds around the coast for 230 Miles taking in a variety of magnificent scenery and coastal views. Torquay it’s self is a fairly small town but it does have a couple of trailer parks, a supermarket and a few beaches including Bells Beach which is apparently world renowned for it’s surfing.
Having spent the afternoon chilling out and watching Paul eat a plate of giant prawns with huge steel antennae we contacted Cindy and ( eventually – due to my inability to decide on a plan ) arranged to head back into Geelong for the evening to watch a band.
The band turned out to be one man with a guitar and an impressive repertoire of songs which he had written down on pieces of paper so the audience could shout their requests to him.
Previously we’d met up with Cindy and her mates in a cafe opposite the pub and so we spent the evening listening to the music and playing pool. My mouth had developed a strange affliction over the course of the afternoon which was making it really really dry to the point where I could only speak in short bursts before having to suck on sweets to re-lubricate it.
Since I was driving and not drinking I could drink as much Orange Squash as I liked but even this didn’t help. Paul & Kerri arranged our itinerary for the next few days with Cindy and started to become increasingly tipsy. Towards the end of the evening Cindy left to drive home and there was just Paul, Kerri & Myself in the bar with the singer and a group of dodgy looking “dole bludgers”. I noticed they spent quite a bit of time “play” fighting with one another and shouting abuse at the singer who shortly afterwards made a very rapid exit but Paul & Kerri seemed oblivious and slowly sipped on their whiskys.
The journey back which should have taken 30 minutes took around 2 hours thanks to Paul navigating us in precisely the opposite direction from the one we needed to go in but the drive was fun since there were random pockets of thick mist everywhere and the roads were totally empty.
The beginning of The Great Ocean Road is marked by a wooden arch spanning the road, we all cheered when we passed under it. It is a very twisty road winding around narrow cuttings in cliff faces, to the left there is usually a steep cliff down into the Ocean which sports large breakers crashing against the base of the cliff and the rocks. To the right is either another cliff face or slightly flatter bush which judging from the numerous Koala rope bridges across the road has a large Koala population. There are small towns or campsites every 30 miles or so and our guide book pointed out numerous nature trails and bush walks which you could take into the countryside.
We stopped at Erskine falls, as recommended by the guide book, to look at the waterfall and maybe wander down the river a bit. The falls were beautiful and the river disappeared off into interesting looking bush country. I tried to follow it down by jumping from rock to rock in the actual river for a while but ineviatably got soaked due to a misjudgement of the grip afforded by soaking wet moss on steep inclines.
Further on down the Ocean Road the terrain to the right seems to level off into farmland whilst the sea cliffs seem to rise even higher out of the sea. To me they resembled a lot of the cliffs around the North Devon & Cornish coasts except they were lighter in colour and slightly “newer” looking.
We met Cindy in her local bar in Lake Bolac, her instructions had been “Go to the bar and ask the barmaid to give me a call and I’ll come down and meet you.”. “Which bar is it” we asked. “Hah, there’s only the one”.
The bar was in fact trying to pass its self off as The Lake Bolac Hotel and consisted of a large lounge area with tables and seating, a pool room and a bar.
From outside the bar we could see the rest of the thriving Lake Bolac town centre which consisted of a filling station ( behind us ) and a kebab shop and another take away to our left.
The bar/hotel it’s self looked a little intimidating and I felt sure that as we went in all conversation would stop and heads would turn to stare at us in deadly silence, maybe a drunken fly would cut the atmosphere with some half hearted buzzing. We would approach the bar and awkwardly wait for the landlord to return from some business he had in cellar to serve us. Maybe we would have to ring a loud bell at which point a voice behind us would say
“Don’t look like they is from around do it boys ?”
“Strangers, I’ll be bound” would come the reply and we would hear chairs scraping, maybe the odd prosthetic limb dragging across the floor to stand behind us.
Luckily in the event it was nothing like that at all, although there was an interesting floor ash tray built over the entire length of the counter and the bar was entirely full of men dressed in dusty looking checked shirts and beards betting on horse and cart racing, we hardly got a second glance.
We sat, as unobtrusively as possible in the corner, and busied ourselves reading the various achievements of the townsfolk, as told through ripped out newspaper articles, decorating every inch of the walls. A lot of the stories involved fishing and unusually large fish.
We were very please to see Cindy when she arrived and had a few games of pool before getting some food in the restaurant in the other room. The food was quite nice and certainly plentiful.
Cindy introduced us to some of her friends she used to teach with, and they took the mick out of Cindy for being on a permanent holiday.
After the meal the bar seemed to be filling up rapidly as people drove in for their Saturday night entertainment, we stayed a little longer and then headed back in the car to Cindy’s ranch.
I don’t think there was a moon that night because it was very very dark indeed, and the only thing I could see on the drive back to Cindy’s house was the back of her car vanishing into the inky darkness ahead, which swallowed up everything outside the main beams of our headlights.
Pretty much as soon as we got into the house we all realised how tired we were and were having great trouble keeping our eyes open.
Cindy introduced us to her cats and some very nice Australian chocolates and then the rest of the Cindy clan arrived and we introduced ourselves to them before essentially conking out where we sat.
I slept in the nice pink room, which must have been very relaxing because it was very late when I woke up next morning. I think Cindy had been out on an 80 mile bike ride, sheared a couple of hundred sheep and rebuilt a few thousand k’s of fence by the time I got up.
I don’t think Paul & Kerri were up all that much before me because I found everyone having breakfast in the kitchen.
After breakfast the plan was to get out and explore the countryside with Cindy as our native guide, there were some impressive mountains ( the Grampians ), eucalyptus forests and waterfalls fairly close to Cindy, around a small town called Halls Gap. A nature centre where we would be able to feed deer and kangaroos was also mentioned.
It was at last my turn to drive the car and I was looking forward to it, we all piled into the car and headed off down what Cindy said were the best roads, since we were a little reluctant to risk the cost of smashed windows, scratched paintwork on the gravel tracks which also passed for roads in these parts.
Cindy and the others didn’t seem to think too much of my driving technique and I was sensing some nervousness, and terror, emanating from the back seat but I ignored this, and the various loudly shouted tutorials about gears and other pointless technical matters which was vocalised most loudly by Cindy.
To start with the road was a single track along which you could reach some quite impressive speeds down the long straights. Once we began to approach Halls Gap we climbed up a little into some hills along some exciting twisty turny roads. The backseats seemed keen to emphasise the importance of the car remaining on the road and not in the ditches at the side of it.
Halls Gap was a small town with a huge car park and an extensive gift shop. Having, eventually, parked the car we had a quick wander around the gift shop and bought some important supplies in case we became stranded in the outback. Jelly babies and bottled water.
The first stop on Cindys itinerary was a lookout point where we could look back at the way we had come, this was up a hill with some nice challenging corners and gradients. I find it very hard to work out exactly how fast cars will go around corners without slipping off, but the best policy seems to be trial and error. No doubt I will work it out eventually.
The viewpoint was quite high up and offered a marvelous view over the countryside, which appeared to be mainly flat, apart from the hill we were on and and another hill opposite. A bit like the Malverns but a little bit higher. Cindy pointed out the wildlife park we might be visiting later and other points of interest in the surrounding landscape.
Next stop was a waterfall where an entire Asian family had been killed the previous month. Almost every pool of water in Australia seems to have attendant stories of various deaths in the previous few months. In this case it appeared that some of them had decided to go swimming and then started drowning as the cold water paralyzed them. The rest of the family jumped in to save them and then also drowned as a result of the cold water.
From my previous experiences taking unplanned swims around in Welsh quarries at night I know that cold water can make a huge difference to your ability to swim but to lose a whole family like that seems a little careless to say the least.
The waterfall was down a huge hill, about 1 million steps were involved and every one of them seemed to have a middle aged Asian lady standing panting on it. It was looking like it might be quite busy down at the waterfall.
It was quite busy, a whole crowd of people had set up camp around the drop pool, which was maybe 15 metres across and fed by a pretty impressive waterfall cascading into it at the far end.
Cindy forced me to take my shoes off and stick my feet in the water, it was icy cold but this wasn’t putting off the hordes of people diving into the pool and swimming around, despite the huge sign saying this was a really bad idea.
I wouldn’t have minded going for a splash about myself but didn’t have a swimming costume so had a clamber around the rocks to get under the waterfall instead, this was fun.
We chilled out by the pool for a little while before beginning the long and arduous trek back to the top where the car was. For some bizarre reason, which I can’t fathom, although I started off last I reached the top ages before the others. Cindy appeared first and very kindly bought me an ice lolly which was just the thing to cool down after such a long climb.
Everyone suggested, in different ways and at different times that maybe I was getting tired out by all the driving and would I like to have a break ? I wasn’t falling for this, not with all those fun twisty roads to drive around on.
We set off for another viewpoint on the opposite side of the hill to the previous viewpoint. This one looked out over an endless sea of forest. We could make out one or two logging roads here and there but other than those it was virgin forest.
This lookout incorporated a watch tower for fire watchers to keep on eye on the whole thing exploding into flame. Apparently many Australian trees rely on fires to spread their seeds and so store up vast supplies of highly flammable oil in their leaves and branches just waiting for the slightest excuse to burst into flame.
It was now late afternoon so we decided to go and see the wildlife park Cindy was talking about. It was ran by some friends of hers ( everyone within a 100Km radius of her house seems to be a friend of hers ) so she was sure there would be no problem getting us in.
When we arrived it had just closed, but true to her word this was not a problem for Cindy who talked us into getting a quick look around and handfuls of general all purpose animal food with which to feed the deer, kangaroos and other wildlife in the park.
The first animal we met was an Emu making threatening “stay the hell away from me” noises, luckily this was behind a fence so we weren’t scared off.
The next animals we met were a herd of deer, who charged towards us the second we got through the gate, they had guessed we were carrying food and weren’t going to run the risk of any other animals getting to it before them. One enterprising deer managed to knock all of Kerri’s bags of food out of her hand whilst the rest of us held our hands out and let the deer slurp up all the little food chips.
We ambled slowly through the park past a cornucopia of wildlife, some of which was behind fences but the majority of which was wandering around trying to decide if we presented a threat to their existence or were a, slightly untrustworthy, source of food. After a good 10 minutes of carefully scoping us out some tiny kangaroos plucked up the nerve to approach and gobble the food pellets from our hands.
Feeding kangaroos and deer was all very well but Cindy was determined to see us try to feed one of the Emus. She was trying to tell us it was perfectly safe, and doing an incredibly unconvincing job of it as she slowly edged towards the emu enclosure. One of the emus was already attempting to kick its way through the fence and attack us, it’s head was snaking about and making random powerful looking pecking motions as it attempted to convince us of its intention to kill and eat us all. Cindy gingerly held her hand out in the general direction of the large, evil looking, beak. The beak whipped towards her hand which she simultaneously whipped backward just as the emu grabbed a pile of the seeds from her hand, but was prevented from moving on to eating her fingers. See, she said, they’re totally harmless. Now it’s your turn.
We all fed the emu and none of us lost any fingers but I’m sure that was more down to luck than anything else.
Back at the entrance, the parks owner, Barb’, said she had a baby kangaroo she was rearing out the back and we should come and have a look at it. Kerri and Cindy started making odd cooing “isn’t it lovely” noises as Barb took it out of its little sack ( which is nailed to the wall to simulate a kangaroos pouch ). Barb put it on the floor so we could watch it hopping gingerly around and Cindy and Barb caught up on the last 10 years of neighborhood gossip.
This time, as I made to get in the drivers side of the car there was an, almost unanimous, I voted against, decision that it was now someone else’s. anyone else’s, turn to drive so Paul drove us, very slowly and carefully, back to Cindy’s.
Cindy’s mum had made us a delicious snack which we ate out in the garden. The garden is between their house and Lake Bolac, which is quite a large but shallow lake that gives their town its name.
We threw tennis balls for the dogs to chase and played with an American football amongst ourselves. Cindy’s dog is a hill climb champion, having beaten all contenders in the years annual dog hill climbing competition. This competition is as simple as it sounds and involves the dogs running up a chosen hill as fast as they can. The other dog was Cindy’s brothers dog and probably wouldn’t have recognised a hill if you’d spent two weeks slowly explaining the concept to it in appropriate doggy barks. It was big and dumb and liked to watch people throw balls, but immediately lost interest once you had done so.
The BBQ was cranked up, tinnies handed out and we were introduced to various members of Cindy’s cat menagerie, including one hated cat who apparently lived for weeks at a time killing small animals in the surrounding bush, and only came home to bully the other cats and beg for food, it was very friendly but looked like it lived on a diet of pure steroids.
Night fell and the BBQ slowly produced a feast of snags, burgers, potatoes and mountains of other delicious food, Cindy and her family were extremely welcoming and very amusing hosts so the evening passed well, finished off in the garden whilst we smoked our night time cigarettes and crushed large bugs attracted to the lights from our candle.
We get up slightly earlier the next day and spend the morning walking the dogs around some sandbars going out into the lake and trying to see some of Cindy’s favourite sheep, which are unfortunately scared off by the large, dumb dog before we can see them properly.
Cindy said her step dad was building a shed out in one of the fields which we went and had a look at. The term shed doesn’t really do justice to the immense structure of steel girders which has been erected, warehouse would have been more accurate.
After another tasty meal courtesy of Cindy’s mum. We had to take our leave and head back towards the coast for some more sightseeing down the Great Ocean Road but we arranged to meet up with Cindy again in Torquay later on in the week where we would attempt to repay some of the marvelous hospitality she had shown us over the last two days.
We had intended to go and see a treetop walk from Lake Bolac but we were running out of daylight so just headed into Port Douglas, a small village just off the Great Ocean Road, just before dusk.
We booked up a great little 2 story cabin and ate a nice fish & chip supper, before getting totally plastered on wine and beer which we had stocked up on on the way down.
Since there was nothing else to do in Port Douglas we played cards during, the course of which Paul revealed that he was the worlds greatest card player and would spend the rest of the evening lecturing Kerri and myself on correct card playing technique.
Eventually we all became so drunk that the cards were abandoned and everyone collapsed in heaps.
Surprisingly I felt fine the next morning with no trace of a hangover and even more surprisingly I was up at 9AM before either of the others. I went out to buy some bread and cooked a nice fry up which set me up nicely for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately Kerri wasn’t feeling quite so hot and wasn’t showing much sign of getting up so I went off the to the tourist info place around the corner to go on the internet and find out what we could go and see.
The best option for the day seemed to be a place called Crater Lake which was a wildlife reserve in the crater left by an extinct volcano. It was a bit of a drive from Port Douglas but the weather was dull and drizzly so we hoped this would clear up en-route.
On the way we stopped off at a nondescript town which had a large outdoor clothing shop. No one had really considered it might rain in Australia, or be cold so Kerri wanted to buy a fleece and I was after some new shoes, since the ones I was wearing were beginning to fall apart.
A man in one of the outdoor shops we visited didn’t want to sell Kerri a woman’s fleece since he claims that “there’s no such thing a woman’s fleece dahl but we got some small ones out here”.
The weather had by this time deteriorated into a constant gloomy drizzle so Crater Lake looked quite deserted with only another one or two cars in the car park. Luckily just as we pulled up the rain lifted slightly.
The car park was full of wild emu’s on the look out for some easy food, they mainly hung about in gangs but occasionally you would come across one blundering towards you, they are big birds and can be aggressive but they mostly kept there distance and would, eventually, back off if you happened to walking the opposite way to one down a narrow path.
A nearby sign post outlined various colour coded walks which we could take through the park, they were of varying lengths so since we didn’t have that much else to do we decided to try the longest one we could see.
Before we set off Kerri spotted a Koala far above our head in a tree, we immediately crowded around the bottom with our cameras out clicking away for all we were worth. The tree was quite large though and the koala was doing a good job of hiding it’s self in the sparse foliage.
The path was well signposted and colour coded so we walked for a little way around the bottom of a hill and then began climbing up a wide track through a lightly forested area towards the top where we thought we’d be able to see one of the craters lakes.
Soon after we began climbing we noticed a gang of Kangaroos bouncing down the track towards us, we saw them at around the same time they saw us and both of us stopped in our tracks 20 metres apart to plan what to do next.
I didn’t know whether Kangaroos were aggressive, or even dangerous, or not and neither did Paul or Kerri, but after a hurried conference we decided they were “probably” harmless and we’d be alright if we approached them slowly.
When the Kangaroos saw us moving towards them they all bounced off into the trees at the side of the path, it was amazing how quickly the trees ( which were only sparse and quite widely separated ) swallowed them up from view. No more than 10M away they were more or less invisible to anything except people looking hard for them.
This was quite exciting and spurred us on wards to the top of the hill.
Future Joe says, and here this account ended. But it was not the end of this stage in the holiday, oh no. I will attempt to bridge the narrative until the next officially documented stage of the holiday begins again, in Melbourne, three days later.
The first thing to correct is the fact that what I have been referring to as “Crater Lake” in my original account is in fact called Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve. It is a inactive volcano, which last erupted in what sounds like quite an explosive fashion. The crater, in which the lake sits, was created in this explosion, 34,000 years ago.
At the top of the hill, in fact we had climbed to the edge of the crater we must have been able to see the lake. I have no recollection of this, or photos, but logic dictates, this must have happened.
We wandered around the lake, in a circle, back towards the car park, seeing many more kangaroos, Emu’s and Koalas along the way. They were gamboling happily around our feet and eating from our hands. The surviving photos do not show this, but it surely was what happened.
We must certainly have also seen many; chestnut teals, musk dusks, and spoonbills. Although I did not manage to photograph any of these.
Previously I claimed that we were staying in Port Douglas, a small town off the Great Ocean Road. No such town actually exists, according to Google Maps, although a town called Port Campbell does exist. I am going to assume this is in fact where we were staying. Port Campbell does have a holiday park, with static caravans and a tourist information centre. It also looks familiar, so I think this is a fairly safe bet.
In the evening we returned, through the constant drizzle, to our cabin in Port Campbell. We then proceeded to play cards and once again, get very drunk.
The next day we needed to drive back down the Great Ocean Road to put us in a position to host Cindy the following day.
First, we visited the 12 Apostles.
These are natural rock stacks and arches which you can easily view, quite quickly, from viewpoints along the road.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to Otway Fly, this is a suspended aerial walkway through the forest canopy.
Kerri says that she is terrified of heights. An aerial walkway, through the forest canopy is necessarily high, the walkway its self is made from, hopefully, strong steel mesh. You get a great view, all the way down to the ground, far below.
A lot of the walkways would bounce up and down, very excitingly, if you jumped up and down on them., Kerri didn’t like this. She did complete the walk though, despite her fear.
From the walkway we saw many trees and a lot of very large ferns on the forest floor.
There was a gift shop, I bought a chopping board made from an Australian wood which exudes natural anti bacterial sap. I think I gave this to Lucy as a Christmas or Birthday present.
After we left the Otway Fly we spent some time trying to get somewhere that involved driving down dirt tracks, after several 10’s of miles of doing this we gave up when the dirt track we were on ended suddenly in some kind of gravel pit. The gravel pit was not where we had wanted to go.
Having managed not to smash the car up on the dirt tracks, I was driving once again, as soon as we got back on the Great Ocean Road a lorry shot a very large stone from its back wheel directly into the windscreen in front of me. I actually ducked. This cracked the windscreen, which was annoying.
We headed to an unknown caravan park, in an unknown, or at least unrembered, town. I do remember we secured a nice bungalow in among some trees towards the end of one the aisles of bungalows.
Since Cindy was coming to visit us we cooked something to eat, probably spaghetti, and drunk some fairly large quantities of wine. I have no recollection whatsoever of the evening, Cindy wasn’t drinking as she would have been driving, she would have no doubt thought the food was delicious.
The next day, I am just outright guessing now, we must have driven back into Melbourne, explained away the large crack in the cars windscreen and found some accommodation.
I do remember that we found a nice serviced apartment, it had a kitchen and was very nice, and very cheap between the three of us.
Paul & Kerri had to go to Paul’s cousin’s wedding the next day, so we would have probably wanted to go out and have something to eat and then go for a drink somewhere and get drunk. I have a vague recollection we ate somewhere near the river again, possibly.
Kerri did not appear to be much relishing the idea of spending the day at a wedding. I do remember that.
We must have got drunk, because I was surprised I woke up the next day, quite early. I went out and bought bacon and eggs and things like that and made a fry up in which absolutely everything ended up stuck to the pan.
Whilst Paul & Kerri were out at their wedding I spent the day wandering around Melbourne. I visited Melbourne prison, where the infamous Ned Kelly was hanged, I quite liked Melbourne prison.
Next, I rode around on some trams, so far as I could tell they were free.
At some point, since I have a photo of it, I must have gone up the Rialto Towers. It was, at some point, the tallest office building in the Southern Hemisphere. I am unclear on whether I did this alone or with Paul & Kerri.
In the evening I walked to the Italian Quarter in search of spaghetti. I found a very nice cafe and spent quite a long time enjoying my spaghetti, drinking coffee and reading a book.
Later in the evening I thought I might go to the cinema, there was nothing I especially wanted to see at the cinema so in the end I didn’t. I wandered the darkened streets of Melbourne instead until it seemed like a good idea to go back to the apartment.
I remember at some point having breakfast, alone, in a cafe in the main business district of Melbourne. I am going to invent the idea that Paul & Kerri were still fast asleep after their wedding knees up and wouldn’t get up to make me any breakfast.
Anyway, I remember that breakfast was doubly enjoyable, firstly because it was nice and the coffee was nice and the cafe was nice. Doubly because I was surrounded by thousands of people dashing to work whilst I was on holiday.
In the afternoon we visited some kind of huge market, I bought things. Kerri bought lots of things.
As to the rest of stay in Melbourne, I remember not a thing.