Back to the Coastline

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mt. Isa in the rearview, and hills all around (now that it was daylight I could see them), I drove on through the desert. And drove. And drove... And drove. And drove. While coming into the desert was exciting, and the day prior had also been a bit interesting in that I was now looking at the local vegetation to determine what was happening under the surface, leaving the desert now was just tapping my foot and waiting. Except that, thanks to a lack of cruise control, I couldn't even tap my foot. And the lack of power steering made thumb twiddling an extreme adventure sport. So I waited, and my knee locked, and still I waited as the kilometers ticked by. I listened to my music, thank goodness for the iPod. I contemplated the remainder of my stay in Australia and postulated some perfectly permissable plans. And I drove. I almost wished that there were a few kangaroos hopping around the road to pass the time - I almost hit one last night, plus a dingo - but I suppose it's best they didn't. So I did what any Australian does in the outback on a hot and boring summer day. I called into the next town, ordered a pie, and had a beer.

And I continued stopping in small outback towns as they came up, and I grew an appreciation that this was my last time really in the outback as I think of it. I would do the Kimberley in WA later on, but here I am with wheels driving through the desert. I stopped in a town with a dinosaur heritage and not much else. I chatted with locals. I donned my outback hat. And, once in awhile, I wore the aviators with it. And as darkness fell, I was back on the coast, coming into Townsville. Palm trees, bustling streets full of tourists and restaurant goers, and civilization as I've come to know it. That is, until I got to my hostel. The Lonely Planet directed me, as it is wont to do, to a hostel that doesn't exist, but nearby was the Transit Hostel, and they had rooms, and it was already at the point that they were just closing the front desk, so I thought I'd better take it. So it happened that I had two nights in the dodgiest hostel on the east coast. The outback had come with me - and grown mean.

I spent as little time as possible there, as you might imagine. I wandered the streets, grabbed a bit of food and came back just to sleep. The town which looked so alive when I drove in with Betsy seemed quite dead now. Maybe it was later, maybe it looks better through the window, but it was dead. The next day was a bit better. I walked along the streets, along the esplanade, had an audioless video chat with dad and Mariah, and was going to go to dive to Yongala, but there were not enough people and so it was canceled. I had dinner out again at a place called The Brewery, which had some pretty decent beer and pub food. As I sat alone with my six beer samples in front of me, I drew the attention of three English girls who must've admired my late-stage alcoholism. We joked a bit and I joined them for dinner and that passed some time. Back at the hostel, I met a few people that weren't terrifying, and we hung out a little bit as well. We went out to a couple bars and sampled the quiet nightlife, but there aren't really any stories to tell. It was quiet.

I spent the next two days making my way up to Cairns. Although it was only about 300km away, I could have spent at least one more day on the trip. As you travel up you really enter the World Heritage Wet Tropics. Rainforest, mountains, waterfalls, it's a beautiful area to have a car in, and I took advantage. Anything that looked interesting, I pulled in and checked it out. I went 50km out of my way at one point for a waterfall, and luckily I did, it turns out it is Australia's tallest. I also did the shorter run to another set of waterfalls that starts with a "J". The water falls and forms a bunch of rock pools that were very tempting for a swim in the sun. I took photos but with all the stuff in my pockets and no trunks on, I decided to leave it for next time.

I stayed the night in Cardwell, in another hostel that I avoided but only because it seemed pretty dull. I went and got fish and chips, fresh and quite nice, from a crazy old lady at a stand, and was quite amused with her antics as were some Melbourners in line ahead of me. We got talking footy, and I mentioned that Geelong was going to take it, and so I was invited back to have supper with them. The game didn't turn out to be on, but it was nice to have a little company and they were lovely people. Cairns was my next stop the following afternoon, because the weather was not conducive to any sort of outdoor activity (rain, cloud, mist), and I checked into Gilligan's hostel. It's a very nice but pricey place, swimming pool, lockers, movies all the time, you name it. It's more hotel than hostel, but $30/night.

And then I booked myself onto a 5-day reef tour. I leave on Friday and get back Tuesday, and it'll be the longest I've ever been at sea in my life. I just really, really, really hope I don't get seasick too badly. And that there is lots of life on the reef. This time of year, we should be right in the whale migration lanes and our company (Taka Dives) has a license to actually get out and dive with the whales, so that would be amazing. Plus we head out for some sharks (and a feeding, too, if I believe... hopefully no Dean on the menu) in the Coral Sea, where there is a one kilometre dropoff. It will be an eery feeling to not see the bottom and be some 30m from the surface. And we do some day dives, night dives, pretty much everything but a wreck dive. Anyway, after booking this, I started looking for work and cheaper accommodation until Kirsty gets here on the 16th. Not much there for short term, but I think I can get a job on a farm for a spell. Though I just realized that by the time I get back, I'll only have a week. All I know is that the money is dwindling and a cash injection is needed. Plus, I didn't get off of either of my parking tickets in Melbourne after all that headache. And the reef trip is not cheap, but hey, one of the main things I came to do was see the reef, and I'm doing it properly.

So that's what's been going on. As for Cairns itself, it's nice though smaller than I'd expected - only 100,000 people. Still, that makes it easy to get around even if job opportunities are not exactly plentiful. There's no beach, which was a surprise, and in fact the coast is largely mangrove mudflats that are inhabited by crocodiles. Which, and I didn't know this either, can be found up to 30km from shore. Yikes! Which reminds me, I should go and look up some crocodile wrestling moves, so I will leave it at that. With one last note. I'll be heading up to the Daintree rainforest for the next few days to see Cape Tribulation and everything I can up there before I return to Cairns for my dive. So now you know everything that I know. Which, unfortunately, is very little and can't be used on a resume. See you in a week!

Back to the Coastline Photos

The Chewy Red Centre

Monday, July 23, 2007

If you were alive three thousand years ago and living in Australia, you’d probably think that the Earth ended at the coasts of this sprawling continent. And when you found its centre, a massive red monolith rising impossibly from the desert sands, well, it’d probably be a holy ground of sorts. Even today, with Australia tucked away and all but forgotten in a corner of a small planet orbiting a small star in an infinite (and growing) universe, that sense of awe is palpable. It is a place to be beheld, and it has a presence that nothing short of two eyes and your own beating heart can do justice. It glows and lights the colour of the sun before the sun has crossed the horizon; it pulses and fades to black as the sun sets and the sky darkens. Somehow, it connects the earth to the sun, you to the universe. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I left from Adelaide on Thursday, July 19 to begin my 4000 km journey to Cairns through the desert and virtually deserted middle of Australia. Me, Betsy, a jerry can, 15L of water, and a road map that said “Ernest” on it. This is my story.

My target for the first night was Coober Pedy, some 800km and change from Adelaide. I had a bit of a late start as I got everything packed and made sure I had all the supplies I could manage, but I made decent time up to Port Augusta. From there, new ground, straight north into increasingly barren land. Green faded to olive, olive to brown, all the while the brown soil faded to red. It would be a lie to say the entire ride was devoid of scenery. First of all, there were several times where I was struck by the desert beauty enough to stop. Some of those photos even survived my now-desert-experienced purge of redundant and uninteresting pictures. There was a lake. There were salt flats with boulders and small mounds. There was an outback town with 22,500 sheep, an estimated 2,000,000 flies, and 30 humans, plus a windmill that looked very rustic in the sunset. And there was a LOT of space in between.

As soon as I hit the desert and empty roads, the speed moved up. 110 wasn’t good enough; not only did I want to cover as much ground as possible in the daylight, but I needed to check in before 9:00 or I didn’t have anywhere to sleep. I would’ve called to tell them I’d be late, but there was only one small pocket of telephone coverage (signposted and all) which I only reached when my adjusted speed had me arriving well on time. Plus, I was quite a bit more entertained at 130-140. Not that there was nothing to do. Road trains, three trailers long to pass and get out of the way of. Bounding and stupid kangaroos. And, at that speed, cameras and cops. I arrived in Coober Pedy, the Opal town, with an hour to spare.

In the summer, it gets so hot here that the residents started setting up their homes in their opal mines. The town is insanely dry, and wouldn’t exist at all except for the fact that some teenager found opal and struck it rich many years ago. Now it’s still being found, and people will add ‘wings’ to their underground homes in hope of finding opal there. It wasn’t hot now, not even warm, but I was staying underground for the warmth. I checked in and grabbed a gyro at a little Greek place. The owner (Maria) was very nice and brought me some fresh tomatoes, olives, and beautiful feta with bread when I finished. Then, I chatted with an Iranian girl and an Italian photographer (he works freelance for magazines like National Geographic and Time) in the hostel before calling it a night.

That was a lot for one day, but I was really packing in a lot of stuff. I woke up the next day before sunrise and was driving down a dirt path to see the Breakaways and moon plain and the dog fence before returning to the Stuart highway for my journey. The plan was to see all that and make Yulara in time to check in and go see Uluru at sunset. The dirt road was fun, I felt quite adventurous out there. I think I drove past the moon plain without knowing (there were a few spots that looked quite moonlike), and hit the dog fence. The dog fence is the longest fence in the world, 5600km long to be exact. It’s not much to look at, but it runs from Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland all the way to the Bight in WA, and protects the sheep to the south from the dingos to the north. Apparently farmers built their own fences individually and then as more had fence built, they joined together to become a huge border.

The dog fence past, I came upon some towering hills. I parked Betsy beside the tallest one and hiked up to the top. It was a cool view and a good little morning exercise besides. Then, further down the dirt road, were the salt and pepper mounds. One is quite white, the other a golden brown, hence its name. They were pretty neat to see and worth the offroading (I’m proud of Betsy, by the way) to get to. Plus, I’d already covered a lot of ground and it was only 8:30. I crossed the border to the Northern Territory at high noon and was delighted to see a realistic speed limit – 130! That made me a lot more relaxed about going 140. After hearing from so many people how the most exciting thing was a junction in the road, I was surprised how quickly I came on it. I wasn’t bored at all. Actually, that day I was listening to the One Percent Doctrine, and I found it quite interesting. So not only was I doing all this traveling, I was reading too.

After a false start at 2:00 where I thought I was mistaking a mountain for Uluru, I finally came on the real deal at around 3:30. Plenty of time to check in, shower, and drive down to Uluru for a few photos and sunset (with, you guessed it, some more photos). I had dinner and a beer at the resort hotel/hostel, and they had live music – someone playing two didges and an acoustic. This was what I class as a great day. The next day worked out pretty well, too. I went back to Uluru at sunrise and was going to climb it but the trail was closed. Figuring the wind would calm later in the day, Betsy and I drove over to the Olgas, part of the same formation that Uluru and that mountain I’d mistaken are from. They were quite pretty and it was a beautiful 7km walk into the Valley of Winds – appropriately named, I should say. I also walked the gorge there to kill some time, it was nice too, the domes are so massive as they tower on either side of you.

Then, back to Uluru where I was hoping the winds had died. My hopes were realized when I saw tiny silhouettes on the red slopes. The climb was on, and what a climb it was. There are lots of signs discouraging, but I guess being this remote they don’t want to kill the tourism. Or maybe they figure people will climb it anyway, so they might as well mark the safest route. Either way, I was surprised how steep and treacherous it was. There was a chain to hold for the entire first half up, and it was lucky, for there were plenty of places where a slip or tumble would pretty much mean death. 52 people have died climbing it. But I wasn’t leaving without trying. I made the hike to what I thought was the top only to realize I was only halfway – after I’d had my triumphant photo taken. This is no rock. It’s a space station. Thankfully, the second half was more gradual and no chain was required. I made it to the summit, enjoyed the views, found a small alcove out of the wind, and ate my orange, looking out over the Olgas 50km away. Then, back down, and I had done everything I wanted to for the day. I grabbed some gas for an early start tomorrow, had a shower and dinner, watched an AFL game with some very excitable WA supporters (the one woman reminded me of mom watching hockey), and tucked myself in to bed.

After a couple toasted bagels, I was heading off to King’s Canyon, my last real stop in the red centre as such. The canyon is about three hours from Yulara, and I wondered how good it could be. I got there just before noon and found there are two trails, a short 1.5km along the canyon floor and a more challenging canyon rim circuit that was 6.5 km. I took the short one first figuring I’d get some nice photos from the bottom up while the sky wasn’t washed out, but that particular hike was pretty missable. The rim hike, which starts with a steep climb up to scare off would-be hikers, was absolutely spectacular. I don’t know why this place doesn’t get more press, really. You get to the top and look down into the canyon, and that’s pretty. But what amazed me was the top of the rock walls are their own little ecosystem. With the moon hanging in the midday sky, the red rock below and all around forming little domes, and ancient vegetation growing out of the flat, it was surreal beyond imagining. The walk also did a great job of showing how extensive this desert oasis is and how it has served to hold many plants that are otherwise extinct from the days of the dinosaurs. On a hot summer day, there was also a small pond held by the canyon surrounded by what looked like rainforest, that I’m sure would’ve been a lifesaver. Even in the winter, where the desert was still mid-20s, it was a sweaty climb. I’d hate to do it anywhere near 40. Though I would. This place is worth it.

I finished my quite excellent hike and drove into Alice Springs. There were two options: double back down towards Uluru and stick to the sealed roads, adding an extra 150 km to the trip, or else taking a dirt track through the desert. With the price of gas in the desert as high as $1.80/litre and the day almost gone, I took the dirt road. Man, was that a bad idea. When they say dirt road, they don’t mean nice gravel like back home. They don’t even mean washboard like it gets before the grater comes along. No, this is in a league of its own. The washboard is now more like a series of mountain ranges, rattling fillings from my teeth, the dirt is generally sand, so you can’t go too slow, and well, let’s say that it was a mistake. That said, two positives came from it. One, I was thinking of taking a 1000km dirt road from Alice to Halls Creek. That is firmly off the table. Two, I got to stop and see the site of a meteorite strike. The meteor was the size of a fuel drum and the crater was huge in comparison. Very cool, and I just got back into the car as the sun was setting. There was one other car there and I had visions of Wolfe Creek as I felt very alone and isolated at that particular park.

So, now I’m in Alice Springs. I shared a dorm the first night with some guys from Holland. We went out for a couple beer at Bojingles, a local pub that streams a live radio cast as well as webcam. Not sure who would watch, but maybe someday, bored at home, I’ll see what’s happening back in Alice Springs. They met a Scottish and Danish girl and also introduced me to a German girl that was looking for a ride to Cairns, though unfortunately she’d just bought a plane ticket since she couldn’t find a ride. After closing that place (it was a Sunday night), we went to the casino, the only place still serving drinks. We got ‘randomly’ pulled over en route and breathalyzed, but our driver only had one beer, so no problems. I didn’t wind up drinking or playing at the casino as I didn’t want to break a 50 there, but Leen did and he won $40 on Roulette. It was a fun night all in all.

The next day, the Dutch were gone and I met up with the German girl, Maike, and two other girls from her hostel, and we drove to the desert park, a little eco sanctuary for the desert. I was skeptical, having seen plenty of desert already, but it was one of the best $20 I’ve spent here. The park was really well done, informative, interesting and even fascinating, and best of all, it made the time fly in a town where there appears to be quite little to do. There are a lot of aborigines up here, I’m noticing more as I go further up, and more art and crafts from them than I’ve collectively seen in all the rest of Australia. Lots of ranchers and ‘bogans’ too, but I’m fairly impressed with this city in the middle of the desert. It’s no Vegas, but it’s probably as close to Vegas as it is to Perth, so the remoteness is impressive, too. Back to the park though, they had a great show on the desert birds, lots of animals including a great nocturnal display, and the information on the vegetation and what it has done to survive were all fascinating. Maybe it’s because the desert is such a harsh place that those mechanisms are especially interesting, but I know my dad would love it here regardless. I also didn’t realize how much life and variety there was in the desert, and heard some cool survival tips that sustained the aborigines for so long. That night, I had a drink with Maike, we climbed Anzac hill to watch the sunset and look out on Alice Springs, and caught up on some blog and photos.

Finally, I began the first leg of my trip out of the outback, leaving Alice Springs early the next morning. The drive north was pretty uneventful but I was at the Devil's Marbles by noon. The photos don't do it justice, it's a really cool scattering of boulders and rock formations. The boulders are in piles and precariously perched upon each other. I tried to set my timer up to take some photos of me at the top, but I couldn't get far enough even running, climbing, and throwing myself on boulders at full speed. The timer only goes for 30 seconds, after all. Luckily, I solicited some other backpackers to take my photos. I probably played around on the boulders for 45 minutes before I went back on the road. I had to make Mt Isa tonight, where I anticipated some climbing and hiking tomorrow. So I set off again, covering a total of over 1200km that day (Mariah, that's like driving to Calgary and back again in the same day). I made Mt. Isa by nightfall, had some pizza, and discovered that this mining town has no hiking of any sort not much else to it besides outback charm. I would be leaving the next morning for the remaining 1000km to reach Townsville on the east coast once again. And I will be saying goodbye to the outback until I head to Darwin in a few months.
Central Australian Outback Photos

The Deep South (Adelaide)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I left Melbourne, finally, after stopping and saying goodbye at Stalactites. Well, that’s not quite accurate. I TRIED to leave Melbourne. But, first of all, I took two wrong turns getting to the freeway and then, for some reason, took the M1 towards Geelong instead of the M8 (mate) towards Ballarat and more importantly, Adelaide. It was a while on there before it occurred to me, so needless to say, I didn’t leave Melbourne until 4:00. The drive was uneventful, I was a little groggy at the low speed limits, but it started pouring rain and that helped. When it dried up and I was tired again I decided I was going to go a reasonable speed and stay awake. No wonder so many people die of fatigue on the highways here with low speeds, long distances, and little scenery. Anyway, I made it to Adelaide just fine and was happy to meet up with Dave again for the first time in two years just about. We would be having a good time in the week or so to come. Incidentally, these photos are out of order as I had a memory card mishap and had to recover them.

The next morning, Saturday July 7, we went out to the markets to get some supplies, not to mention lunch. Sushi, yogurt, olives, piroski, chocolate, cheese, crackers, you name it. We did a lot of eating and snacking and supply gathering. Dave and I left shortly after for his dad’s place on the Yorke Peninsula, where we stayed the night and ate even more. I made my Greek salad, we had some steaks, and also some soup, and I haven’t been that painfully full in a long time. And I haven’t even started on about the wine and beer. We all chatted for some time and then Dave and I headed out to a real country pub or two and played some pool (both crazy Aussie rules and regulation rules). The one pub, the better one, closed early because there was a band playing at the rugby oval, but we walked by and it wasn’t that interesting.

I was still stuffed when I woke up the next morning. Breakfast this time was bird’s nest, bacon, and pork chops. Pretty nice. Then Dave’s dad (Vlad) took us out around the peninsula to look around, it was a nice drive and quite interesting as a recent storm/king tide had taken all the sand and they were definitely in shock. We also passed by some seals sunning themselves and having a good time by the looks of things. We drove back to Adelaide, passing through Belinda’s hometown and actually running into her mom and grandfather walking on the street and then having Belinda’s dad accidentally run into us on the street. Ah, small towns. It was a nice stop though and we followed it up by driving some distance to a famous candy store and stocking up. On the way home, Dave and I decided we’d head out to the Flinders ranges tomorrow for a couple days in the mountains before coming back home, and got that sorted out pretty much on the fly.

So it was that Monday afternoon (the 9th) found us driving the long road up to Wilpena Pound, a circular valley surrounded by arid mountains on all sides. We arrived when the sun departed, discovering two hard and fast rules that would shape our experience in the Flinders.

1) No matter what you order in the solitary ‘pub’ of the ‘resort town’, there’s always a worse dish to try the next evening.
2) Counting sheep qualifies as entertainment in the absence of all other forms of amusement.

As you may have guessed, there was one place to get food from, it wasn’t terrific, and it also had nothing else to do but sit, eat, and drink. With a big day of driving in the bag, though, and a big day of hiking ahead the next morning, drink wasn’t really an option beyond a couple beer to help the herd of sheep along. Dave was in bed by 9:00 and me at 10:30.

The hike to St. Mary’s peak the following morning was well worth the previous night’s boredom, however. As Dave and I climbed the trail, we saw a distant mountain that looked to be the highest. However, both of us ruled it out as being St Mary’s. Too far, too steep, and Dave didn’t think it would give a good view of the pound. Still, we climbed on as the trail got steeper and steeper, using my itchy shutter finger as an excuse to catch our breath. Dave remarked often on how unusual it was that the scenery was so green and there was running water. It was beautiful to me in the mix of green with red soil and an almost cloudless blue sky. When we finally did reach the top, it was a spectacular panorama with an old river valley (I assume) that looked surreal, the pound, and the other side of the mountains, too. We took turns sitting on ledges and taking photos, had lunch, and made our way down. I lost the trail for a second en route and though I knew it was right behind us (we’d literally just passed a marker), Dave thought we should just go on and intersect the trail below. And so we went down. Eventually, I’d resigned to the fact that we’d have to rejoin the trail above us and backtrack though Dave felt it was still below us. I’d just convinced him when I noticed the trees below seemed to be spaced unusually and pointed this out. We’d found Dave’s trail below, but not after some scrapes and thorns and muttered death threats.

That night, the boredom was exasperated by the fact that the restaurant decided to stop taking orders until an hour and a half after we arrived. It seemed a poor system (better to just queue it and explain the delay when taking orders, I felt) but Dave was livid and whinged his way into a few chips… oops, I mean fries. I catch myself once in a while. We took them back to the room to kill some time and watch TV. Dinner was finally had, and wine, and finally bed. We were going to walk again the next morning, but both our knees were pretty sore from the amount of big boulders on the hike. So, home we went.

Dave had some of his own things to catch up on, so I took the next few days to go into Adelaide on a train and explore. Not much to see, I admit it, but it has a certain small-town charm that reminded me of Saskatoon. Or rather, four Saskatoons with mountains and a beach all stuck together. Belinda had friends over both those nights for dinner, Dave and I went to see Transformers (excellent!) and we visited a bit too. We went out for dinner Friday night to Dave’s dad’s for a steamboat, which is some sort of thai preparation technique using a pot with hot coals in the middle to keep it warm, and that was fun and delicious. I bought Dave and Belinda dinner in Glenelg (the beach suburb) the next night, and we worked that off by taking a trip up into the Adelaide hills early the next morning to climb to the top of Mt. Lofty. It was a short walk but a brisk pace. Calories were burnt.

By now, I was getting anxious to set out on my travels and get work somewhere in the Queensland district. So, I ran errands, posted looking for someone to split petrol in hostels, ran more errands, and booked myself for a Barossa valley tour, which meant waiting another day more than intended. Those two days were very productive and I got lots of stuff done which I won’t bore you with.

Wednesday, the Groovy Grape Barossa tour. I got picked up from the side of the highway since I wasn’t in a hostel downtown and we headed out. The group was a bit groggy at first, but slowly people warmed up. I like to think the giant rocking horse was responsible. At any rate, by the end, we were having good fun, especially Ray, a guy from India living in Melbourne. We stopped at Jacob’s Creek, which is ridiculously huge. We saw signs saying that sections of land/vine was theirs 10 minutes before coming to their cellar. But they export a LOT. We also stopped in at Vinecrest, my favourite for the day, and I bought a bottle. The wine after I did not like at all, and finally Bethany, which was decent but not great. On the way home, I got a call from mom, Mariah, and Nicole which was nice. I also had a call enquiring about a ride to Cairns and a call from Dave about dinner that night, so I was a popular man on the way home. Dave and Belinda took me out to dinner at a Mongolian restaurant called Kubla Kahn, which had a big heated plate that they cooked the food you assembled on. A neat concept and a unique place to have out last dinner together. After that, it was time to wrap things up and venture deep into the heart of the continent. 4000 km, one car (hopefully), and one iron will. Is it enough to get to Cairns? Would I have company or go it alone? Find out next time on this station.

Adelaide, Flinders, Barossa Valley Photos

Phillip Valley Road

Thursday, July 05, 2007

We’d been going out on Wednesday nights for two weeks in a row and the hijinks that occurred on these nights were well documented and retold at work. As such, more and more people were wanting to come out. Also, this was quite possibly my last Wednesday in Melbourne, certainly my last Wednesday at Stalactites, so it was a bit of a farewell as well. I knew Kirsty had something up her sleeve as she seemed to dodge questions I asked related to “the plan”. I thought maybe a cake or a few people shouting surprise or something. So I was a bit surprised when we met up and she led me to where we were going to be meeting and spending the night. And it wasn’t a restaurant or pub or anything of the sort, but a hotel room that the staff had all banded together to rent for my farewell party; A two-room suite on the 13th floor overlooking the old exhibition centre. I mean, to say I was touched by this doesn’t even begin to cover it. Kirsty and I grabbed some drinks and snacks, ran into up Eva in Melbourne Central, and picked up the rest of the crew at Stalactites: Andrew, Heather, Paris, Bianca, and even Nicole came out.

We all walked to the hotel with a few shot glasses in hand for the apple pie shots I was hoping to jury rig from bizarre Australian alcohol. We hung out for a time in the hotel room, discovering that the shots in question were not remotely tasty and then made our way to the pool just after it closed. The hotel staff let us hang out for 15 minutes in the sauna and pool and we put them to good use. The guys jumped in the pool for a swim and we all hung out in the sauna before heading back to the room. We basically hung out all night there, except for Nicole and Paris who had to go home, and everyone stayed the night too. We did venture out just long enough to grab some food at China Bar after an elevator split us up, and all in all it was a special night that made me realize why I love it here in Melbourne so much.

The next day we finally got out of the room by noon. Andrew and Heather had to go into work, but Kirsty and I didn't need to be at work until 6 and Bianca didn't have any work. So we went and grabbed a bite for breakfast - waffles and juice from the Tropicana. While the so-called "Best juice in the world" was not pleasant, the waffle was probably the best I'd ever had. With a second helping, the three of us wandered up to the aquarium to visit Ferg and his fish. There were all sorts of cool sea creatures, some of which were downright scary, and it was well worth a stop there. Plus, Ferg gave us the VIP tour both around the aquarium, and then up at the top of the oceanarium, an area normally closed to the public. It was really cool of him to take some time out of his busy day to do that for us and we were all quite pleased with ourselves for taking the plunge and visiting Ferg.

I worked my last shift after a quick stop to get changed and shower, a Thursday 6-5AM, after which Kirsty and I were supposed to get a little sleep before meeting Carol and Ferg at Carol’s house to do a winery tour of the Yarra Valley. As you can imagine after a night of party and a night of work this was going to be taxing, so Eva repaid the shift I covered for her so she could go away for a few days and Cathy repaid me covering the restaurant for her when I had to get Nick’s present sorted out. Which meant that both Kirsty and I left Stalactites by 1:00. We met up with Ferg, Carol, and Harry the next morning and set out for a wine tour courtesy of Ferg and Kirsty driving us around. We stopped at a vineyard called Yering Station and had quite a bit of wine there. Because Kirsty was driving, Carol and I took turns finishing her wine. So we were feeling it a bit by the time we went to Ferg’s family’s vineyard and his home, had a platter of fruit and cheese and a tasting of all the Ferguson wines. They’re really nice wines (especially the shiraz), biased though I may be, and we followed that treat up with a beautiful lunch before continuing our tour of the vineyard and finally heading down to Phillip Island where Ferg’s family has a beach house. I had some ‘port’ in hand.

We met with Nicola, Lee, Afra, and Gordy (a fellow Canuck from Ottawa) as we were leaving. After a long drive down in the rain, we would’ve been happy for any shack with a bit of legroom, so you can imagine our excitement when we arrived and saw that we would be staying in a beautiful beach house for the weekend. We stretched our legs, uncorked our spirits, and had a bit of party, a bit of Trouble (the game), and a good time was had by all. But mostly by Kirsty, who drank so much (i.e. 3 coolers) that she was “crook as a dog”. The next day we wandered into town for some tea and lunch and then went to see the place where the penguins come in from a day of fishing to sit, relax, and forget about things in their burroughs. My pictures didn’t turn out and the penguins were not coming anywhere near us, but we did get to seem them quite closely as we headed up the boardwalk home. Even so, those photos also didn’t turn out. Ah well, what you do? Make some food with Ferg and Haz and have a good night.

Wrapping up and cleaning up took a long time, partly because most were too tired to do anything. Plus, Ferg took a LOOOOOONG time to pack up. But we did get out of there and finally, Haz, Ferg, Kirsty, Carole, and myself hit the bowling lanes (and McDonalds) for a couple boys-vs-girls game. My first score was very good, beating all but the Ferg. My second game score was more traditional, shall we say, and coupled with Haz’s performance, the girls took the trophy for the night. And then, we called it a night. Back to Melbourne, back to pack for the next mini-trip down the Great Ocean Road.

Which, as it turns out, was the very next day. No rest for the weary. Kirsty and I headed out pretty early, foregoing a few errands I’d hoped to run since sleep was necessary in order to salvage the day. The trip was quite beautiful. We stopped a few places along the coastline to admire the scenic cliffs dropping off at the continent’s edge, looking out towards Antarctica. We stopped at a lighthouse, hiked down to Erskine Falls, and were meant to stay the night with some friends of Kirsty’s family in Lorne but we couldn’t get a hold of them. So we made our way down to Apollo Bay and stayed the night after some hotel shopping (which was actually a lot of fun) in a bed and breakfast. It was a beautiful place. We went to grab some groceries but as we sat in the car outside the store discussing what we needed to get, the store closed. As well, the place we wanted to eat had shut the kitchen, so we wound up eating at Buff’s, which was a great choice anyway. We had some king prawns, lamb rump, and ravioli, not to mention dessert. I was quite stuffed, but it was a great first day for our roadtrip.

The second day we continued our drive, spotting my first wild koala en route! We stopped and toured the Cape Otway lighthouse and saw the twelve apostles for which the Great Ocean Road is famed. The sun was at a bad angle for photos from the viewing platform, so we drove down the road, parked, and tramped through the brush to an otherwise inaccessible cliff to get more photos. I thought we’d driven far enough to be able to look back at the apostles but we wound up right in the middle of them. Still, it was fun and we got some nice photos. We drove on to see the arch and gorge, where Kirsty got soaked as I tried to line up a photo (buahahaha!) and then we stayed at her aunt and uncle’s house and met some cousins and other family. All very nice people, her uncle looks exactly like her dad and her aunt went through their Canada photo album, which made me miss home a bit. I got a phone call that night from Nick’s mom that she was coming to the house the next day and going to have company, so we got back the next day, I bought them some flowers, picked up Nick’s present and Kirsty’s (a photo collage of finishing uni for Nick, and a 1m long Mt. Cook cloud panorama for Kirsty), and drove to Nick’s to pack my stuff.

I met up again with Kirsty and Ferg later and we went to an Irish pub for a drink and then to a place for some really nice pizza while we waited for poor Carol to finish work. We also sat and listened to some buskers that were pretty darned good and Kirsty bought a CD before we finally did meet up with Carol and returned to PJ O’Briens for some more drinks. I stayed at Kirsty’s mom’s that night and the next day was a flurry of tourist activity. We went to the NGV to see the exhibits at the gallery there (though we didn’t pay the $20 for the Guggenheim), then saw the Pixar display at ACMI, did the ferris wheel on the Yarra, and Kirsty went to work at which point I got a bunch of ridiculous stickers made to give to her. I also picked up cards for her, her parents, and Nicole, plus a few little knickknacks to give out. I met Norm for a beer and a tea before I was to leave tomorrow, and I met Andrew, Heather, and Bianca for a few drinks at El Greco cafĂ© in the casino. We waited for Kirsty to be done at 4AM since the trains had stopped running, hung out for a bit, and then I went home and to sleep. The next morning, packing (where, oh where are my pajama pants??), stopping by the restaurant for a last goodbye, and so ended my stay in Melbourne.

Great Ocean Road Photos
Yarra Valley, Phillip Island Photos
Final Melbourne Photos