Melbourne & the Great Ocean Road!

I'm currently under a shady tree on a gorgeous sunny day overlooking they Sydney harbor, complete with the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, and boats galore. It might be heaven. But I must think back to my quick stop between Queensland and NZ to Melbourne & the Victorian coast of Australia. I'm going to try to combine them a bit, because to be honest, I didn't do THAT much in Melbourne. Didn't matter- still loved it. So, unfortunately, this is another long one, and I'm going to have to split up the pics, b/c there are just too many.

As soon as I checked into my hostel, I realized that I wasn't going to be spending too much time upstairs (no wifi, fairly crap rooms), and I also realized that time was getting short, so if I was going to do a tour of NZ, I needed together it booked stat. So, first thing I did was to walk into the travel office & met an awesome lady who excitedly got me booked on a Top Deck tour of the South Island (the supposed "last spot" for an actually good deal- departing in 4 days!), and then booked me for my tour on the Great Ocean Road. I quickly booked my flight to Christchurch (in three days!), lamented the fact that I wouldn't have any time there to see a former work colleague, and then ran out to grab a late dinner.

As the next day dawned, unfortunately the weather looked a bit ominous, but I had some slightly stressful car news from home to deal with before heading out to start my exploration of the town. I finally got out and hopped on one of the TWO free options Melbourne offers guests to get around it's very cool city. I of course chose the cable car option, as I wanted to compare with SF. Imagine if the F-Line muni car was free, and looped up Van Ness to make a circle. That's basically what this was. So cool! It even nicely stopped for five minutes at the Parliament so I could snap a pic. :). Eventually I made my way around to the main center of town & started wandering around. Really cool mixture of older classical Victorian architecture and super modern additions. They even had a Krispy Kreme store!! No HDN, so I resisted this time. I had a lovely lunch at one of the original pubs of Melbourne, complete with a famous painting of a naked lady in the upstairs bar, and the wandered across the river to a new waterfront development. Seemed like a fab happy hour spot, but the rain was really threatening, so I took refuge in the aquarium. So, I think they're currently doing some work, but honestly, it was a smidge of a sad excuse for an aquarium. I mean, they had cool stuff- I was there for feeding time for the penguins, and THAT was super fun, and it was really cool to go see all the stuff I'd just seen in the wild up on the Reef, but they just didn't have that something special it seemed. They do have a shark feeding experience (I didn't dare), and their shark tank / tunnel walk was pretty good- huuuuge rays & sharks.

Anyway, after only about an hour, I was through, and the rain was still threatening. I hopped back on the free cable car to check out the big gardens next to downtown- the Fitzroy gardens. Soo pretty! I was dodging an Asian tour group for a bit, but lost them by checking out the little conservatory & then Cook's Cottage. So, one thing you need to know about Australia: they looove them some Captain Cook. He wasn't actually a captain when he "discovered" Australia, and this cottage which someone bought IN ENGLAND and had shipped over to have re-built as a gift to the country wasn't actually even his house ever, but... details. He's everywhere here, and admittedly seemed like a cool guy. It was his father's cottage, but they use it as a museum to talk about what life was like back in the day, and also to tell you all sorts of fun stories about Cook. At $5 for entry, it was totally worth it. I then set out looking for the "model Tudor village" located also in the gardens, thinking they would have a bit more historical buildings to show off, but hilariously, it's literally a little, teeny village that some school donated. The houses were all maybe a foot high? Anyway, the rain started at this point, so I started scurrying back towards my beloved free transport. It really started raining right about when I hit one of the big cathedrals, so I checked it out- lovely- but I really should've gone to find the awesome Australian museum that was not far away. But, at this point, I called it a day and rushed back to the hostel. On Chris's advice, I did brave actual public transport that night for dinner in the adorable neighborhood South Yarra. This was a place I could def see hanging out in if I lived there- so well chosen Chris!

The next morning, bright and early, I headed down for my tour of the Great Ocean Road. This was actually a post-war project to give the retuning servicemen work, but has turned into a tourist boon, and it's awesome. Once again, this was a perfectly nice small group, with another really nice tour guide. I stayed awake for us to finish pick-ups in town, but once we crossed the bridge & got on the highway a bit- nap-time! Our guide woke us up as we got to the town of our first stop: Bells Beach and the official start of the GOR. Luckily he did, because shortly thereafter we ran across two different groups of wild Kangaroos! He said we really were lucky, as you don't often see them in that area. One had a joey, and one even hopped away just to show off. Too cool (but I didn't get a pic, sadly). Then we went down the road & stopped at an overlook of Bells Beach, site of the famous last scene from "Point Break". Turns out, we didn't have a storm, but we had PLENTY of wind. This became a theme for the day, as well as us dodging/racing clouds. Anyway- there was one mad surfer trying to get to the break in terrible, choppy surfing conditions, but we didn't stay long enough to see him actually catch a wave. Looked intense to me. Then we got on the road properly, and the gorgeous vistas really began. It's a bit like Hwy 1 up the California coast, but of course also very different. We stopped in various little towns along the way, saw a few surfers, and mostly beautiful beaches & rocky shorelines.

After lunch at another of these cute towns, it was time to cut in-land & up, quite a bit and very quickly. It was time for wild Koala spotting. Now, call me crazy, but I thought this was going to be difficult. In fact, we turned into this little neighborhood & bam! Some several were just hanging out, up in the trees! Even cooler than that, a few were actually awake! One was heading up a tree towards another, which apparently meant a little getting-busy was about to be happening. We were told to maybe leave those ones alone (you can see them looking down at one of our group who ignored this request & tramped into the woods to get a closer look), but on down the path were all the others not 10 feet above us. Again, one was actually awake and moving around quite a lot, but honestly, the sleeping ones were just too adorable. Notice that they look different from the Queensland ones- bigger noses, browner, and I think a bit bigger too. Still so fluffy though!

After we'd had our fill, we next visited a little pocket of rainforest that exists down there, which was cool. Very different from the Daintree up north which I'd just seen, but still otherworldly & pre-historic. They had all these cool examples of trees which had grown on top of an older, fallen tree, and eventually the older trees just dissolve away, leaving these great hollows. I'm standing in one, but nobody I asked actually bothered to show the tree (in three attempts), so you can't really tell where I am. After the rainforest, we headed back out to the coast for the coolest part of the day (even better than wild koalas!). The area of the Twelve Apostles & London Bridge is a constantly evolving limestone cliff. The road seems to be normal & flat, but off to one side it just drops off. We got to the lookout for the 12 Apostles and the guide explained that helicopter rides were possible, and the when he said the price I thought, huh- not bad. I got off the bus and my buddy of the day (a super nice gal from Denmark named Jayne- all Danes seem to be really nice people!)- she looked at me and said, "what do you think? I think we should do it!" Well, twist twist- I agreed. So off we went to the heli-pad for our quick aerial tour of this gorgeous place. We got split up, but I got upgraded to a tour all the way down to London Bridge (which actually DID fall down!). Holy crap. Amazing- must do, just gorgeous. We got mostly lucky with the sun & cloud situation, and the pilot even pointed out all 12 of the "apostles"- many of which are no longer actually standing. I think there are about 8 still up, but it depends on who you ask & what they count. But there were other coves, arches, and islands that were awesome too. Basically the whole 20 minutes were just ridiculously beautiful. Oh, and to top it off? The farmer next door likes to spell out funny words in hay so you get sheep spelling stuff out. Heh.

We barely made it back on the bus before we move on to the next stop: the site of the wreck of the ship Loch Ard. This story (and place) are so awesome, it could almost be it's own post! In a nutshell, back in 1878 (I took pictures of all the signs telling the story) a ship with all kinds of immigrants had been sailing for months and were 3-days away from landing in Melbourne, so they had a celebration. That night they hit a storm, got slammed into the cliffs, and promptly sank. (The island they hit is the sea-horse-shaped one you can see from my aerial shots.). Only two survived the swim to shore- a young crewman who had ALREADY survived three previous shipwrecks, and an 18-year old girl. How this isn't a move already, I don't know. Anyway, they made it through this narrow cove to a sheltered beach, either slept in separate coves or didn't, depending on who tells the story, then in the morning he climbs the cliffs to find a nearby farmer for help. No, they didn't get married, in fact she eventually went BACK to Ireland, apparently b/c he wouldn't marry her b/c she was above his station or some noble nonsense. Again, it all depends on who's telling the story. So awesome. I's quite a beautiful spot, too.

As if that all wasn't good enough, next up is the fallen "London Bridge". So, they named this formation because the arches looked like the bridge in London, and you used to be able to walk out to the edge, across the bridge. Randomly, one day back in the nineties I think, without any warning, the middle part just collapsed. Miraculously, nobody was in the act of crossing over, so nobody died, but two people were stuck out on the now-island. The awesome part of that story is that they were apparently work colleagues who were married, but not to each other. A news helicopter got there before a rescue one could get to them, and, well. Nobody knows what happened once they got home, but it can't have been pleasant! Hahaha. Australia really does have the best stories!

Unfortunately at this point, we turned island for the long drive back. Gorgeous hills & sunset, and I swear I glimpsed more 'Roos, but again, no quality pics.

The next day I really only had a half day to explore Melbourne, so I decided to check out one of their beaches, and meet some friends who were in town as well. Unfortunately, the friends got waylaid, but I had a lovely stroll through St. Kilda beach. Maybe not the best beach I've ever seen, but a good city-beach, and super cute area around it! Another place I would def recommend for a meal & some shopping. So, even though it was super fast, and maybe not so many really touristy must-do's like Sydney, I totally enjoyed Melbourne!

Attached are the pics from the city & such- will add the Great Ocean Road pics next. And after that: my completely awesome Top Deck tour of the South Island of NZ, in many parts I think.