Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Auzzie Auzzie Auzzie

G'day mate! A pleasant overnight flight on Singapore Airlines put us Down Under this morning and we found ourselves at the Greenhouse Backpackers in central Melbourne. And I finally learned what Julie had been talking about all this time through Asia – why don’t the hostels there look like hostels here? It’s true; these facilities are mass-producing backpacker experiences in a large-scale efficient manner. Big buildings taking up multiple floors, dedicated front-line staff, industrial stainless-steel kitchens and big common areas.  However it all comes at a price – I’m suffering sticker shock from Asia. That fact would become all too evident in a month when I went to pay our VISA bill. ouch. Should’ve spent longer in Asia.

Anyhow, I’m writing this half a year after the fact so this is going to be a super quick summary of 3 weeks in Oz.

First off, Melbourne’s a cool city and I was really looking forward to meeting up with a friend from MacDon who happened to be down there visiting MacDon’s Australia office.  Bruce & Julie & I met up one afternoon and had a great time hopping around pub to restaurant to cafe lapping up the tasty Auzzie wine.

We moved out of the downtown to a trendy little suburb called St. Kilda while we studied the maps to figure out how to see the Great Ocean Road and all the rest.  We debated getting one of these little campervans but after looking at how cramped they were inside we decided against it and just rented a car. We didn’t make it too far out of Melbourne that first day, nor the next day as we got trapped in the outlet shops of the major surf-wear brands in Torquay. Finally as we entered the G.O.R., it started raining and it didn’t stop for days so we were quite happy that we weren’t stuck in a van in the rain.  As such we aborted the Ocean Road and headed towards the wine regions of South Australia.  It’s a long freakin way! A solid 12hr day took us Wynn's Estates, Coonawarrafrom Lorne all the way up to Murray Bridge, with a short stop in the Coonawarra wine region near the South Australia-Victoria border.  We discovered a new blend Shiraz-Viognier in a little shop in Penula, but unfortunately it’s not exported.

I cannot describe how excited Julie Jacob's Creekwas to see the sign “Jacob’s  Creek” as we drove through the famed Barossa Valley wine region.  We sat at the tasting bar in Jacob’s Creek’s visitor centre for nearly 4 hours I think tasting their entire line-up. We got to know the fellow (a commercial pilot trainee) serving us pretty well and he offered to show us around Adelaide, but we didn’t have the time to do so. Suddenly we realized that we were running IMG_9204out of time and Julie still wanted to go to Wolf Blass and Penfold’s, so off we went!  I had  forgotten about the little 1/2 hour time change between Victoria and South Australia and if I’d have remembered I wouldn’t have had to try to drive as fast from one winery to the next. And we also probably would have stopped into Penfold’s instead of just taking a picture of the building.

Penfold's WineryThat half-hour time difference hit us once again the next morning when we awoke @ 5:30am to drive from Adelaide to the south coast to catch a ferry to Kangaroo Island. As we were leaving town I was trying to figure out why the clocks around us were all “off by 30 minutes” until I finally clued in and remembered the guide book saying that South Australia has it’s own time zone.  We had a lot of time to kill at Cape Jervis waiting for the ferry, and nothing was open to serve us breakfast.

Kangaroo Island is a large island south of Adelaide that’s home to many species of wildlife.   I saw my first wild ‘roo driving there – nearly hit them as they bounded across the road but we had to wait until the very end of our tour to see a kangaroo on kangaroo island. Just like deer, they don’t come out until late afternoon to feed so our bus driver pointed out the brown roos as our bus drove past them in the fields.  We opted for the bus tour of the island since getting your car over on the ferry is expensive and then we didn’t really know where to go, plus we were super tired after being up so early.  Australian Sea Lions @ Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island Seal Bay is home to a large breeding population of Australian Sea Lions and with a guide you can go down onto the beach to see them. It’s pretty neat. Especially when one decides to walk straight through the group of tourists.  A buffet lunch finished off with fresh fruit doused in island Nose to nose with wedge-tailed eaglecream set us up for the bird of prey show hosted by Crocodile Hunter’s cousin Dave Irwin.  Julie got up close and personal with a  laughing kookaburra while I got a visit from a little barn owl. I wanted to hold the eagle but apparently cannot do that.

The tour wrapped up with some views of rocks. Remarkable Rocks, but they’re just rocks. The landscape around them was more interesting to me.

So, now we’re heading back to driving along the southern coast of South Australia and we stopped in a lovely seaside town of Victor Harbour and stayed in a grand old hotel for a good price. It was a cool night so we were glad to have a big comfy bed complete with a mattress warmer.  We’re getting too spoiled I think!

Another big English breakfast started the day today – they make better English breakfasts here than in England! The bacon here is fantastic - Oh so good!  We made it all the way to Mount Gambier today, driving beside massive sand dunes in one spot, arid dried-up lakes in another before the landscape turned into hills and large tracts of pine forest.  The area around Mount Gambier is full of ancient volcanoes and sink holes and other limestone features.  WeJulie lauged that I convinced her to climb another mountain spent 2 days touring the area, climbing some mounts and descending into some caves too.   As a spur of the moment, we hustled to the coast south of town to catch a sunset and to see these little fairy penguins come ashore on the rocks at Cape Northumberland.



It took us a week, or more, but we hit the Great Ocean Road today under sunny skies.  This coastline is amazing and there’s fantastic scenery all around it, let alone the interesting formations worn into the limestone cliffs. We saw all of the highlights (12 Apostles, Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, etc.) and you can see them too by clicking into the smugmug photo gallery.

One activity that was suggested was the Otway Fly Treetop walk, which is like walking on a boardwalk except you’re 40m up in the tops of the gum trees. As usual we’re always making these plans when the day’s half done so we barely got to the place on time. We Otway treetop walk. Not the best footwear for a hike! pulled up to the gate at 4:25 only to read that “last entry at 4:30pm” so Julie hops out of the car and runs to the ticket office, which turns out to be like half a kilometre from the parking lot. I park the car and run in as well, but neither of us wore good shoes or warmer clothes. So we quickly walk through this forest preserve as the sun goes down making it quite cool in there. It’s a neat thing to do though and we’re glad we just made it! And speaking of just making it, I decided to take a short cut back to the main road and took us down this gravel logging road through the hills of the Otway Ranges. Saved some time I think, but it’s a heckuva windy road that requires full driving attention – let your passenger control the radio!

As you drive along the Great Ocean Road, there are a multitude of tourist traps, notably the helicopter tours. We’d watched the helicopters fly past while we were at the 12 Apostles and were debating taking a ride ourselves. We looked into it and we just could not justify the hundreds of dollars for a meagre 15-minute ride. We’d both been on helicopter rides before (Julie up to the Franz Glacier here in NZ, Andrew around Mt. Rushmore) so it wasn’t that click to view photos of our plane ride over the Great Ocean Road much of a novelty. While in Apollo Bay we saw a sign for plane rides though and they’re a lot more reasonably priced. So we booked with the pilot for a 45min morning flight along the coast in his Piper aircraft. It was a pleasant flight and a great treat to see all of the interesting formations we’d seen the day before but this time from totally different perspectives – once from the ocean side and from the land side on the way back. The coastline is so jagged in spots but rugged in others and the evidence of erosion so drastic.  We were lucky to have sunshine on the way out, but hit a bit of turbulence flying over the Otways on the way back.

Arial view of Loch Ard GorgeWith that highlight, we drove away from the Great Ocean Road having thoroughly enjoyed its scenery and fantastic landscapes.

Bidding farewell to the GOR 

Andrew had made contact with another former Mordenite who was living in Victoria so we made plans to drive up to Ballarat to visit his friend Kelly who’s teaching at the University there.  We managed to find her place tucked into the hills and we had ourselves our very first Aussie barbie!  It was a great visit and pretty cool to reconnect with an old friend was down here “dauwn unda”.

Melbourne, take 2

We continued crashing at friends’ places upon our return to Melbourne where we connected with Andrew’s friend Megan and our new friend Ted (whom we met in Mabul) and took off on another wine tour.  This time we explored the Yarra Valley just northeast of Melbourne. There’s heaps of great wine in this country, and even though I’m not a wine drinker, I’m slowly becoming one on this trip. Julie’s full on into it though, and our trunk (sorry, “boot”) is getting quite full of bottles! The worst thing about going on these wine tours is that you find a bottle that you quite like but then learn that you can only buy it directly from the winery.  (that’s our excuse for not taking any of it back to Canada to share!)

Julie and I haven’t done much cooking at all during this trip but we took control of Megan’s apartment and invited over Ted to join in our Christmas dinner, as all of us were ‘orphans’ for the time-being.  We ventured into the fantastic world that is the Queen Victoria Market in downtown Melbourne to source our ingredients. This is a fantastic market! Heaps of fresh fruit stacked in massive piles, luscious green veggies and big Mediterranean fellows shouting out their bargains - “cherries! 8 dollars a kilo!”  That night we all shared  in a super tasty meal of yearling beef roast with potatoes & veggies, along with various chocolates, Italian cake and 5 bottles of wine from the various wineries we’d sampled 2 days prior.  Super good time Christmas cheers!and a great bit of Christmas cheer down under.  And it was funny how word of our cooking spread to Canada and back so quickly, since Megan’s mom and my mom go to church together.

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