The Great Ocean Road
November 10 - Kangaroo Island Ferry to Robe
The drive to the ferry only took ten minutes and we arrived early joining several other cars and a large truck filled to capacity with four levels of sheep. The sheep obviously didn't know they were being taken to be someone's dinner because they stood crushed together in relative silence. Just as we were wondering how they were going to fit such a large truck onto the ferry another similar truck arrived and then another large truck carrying lumber joined the queue. At 8:00am we started to board the ferry and the marshals guided the cars with great precision. As the sheep carrier backed into a small space between cars it was obvious that the driver had done it many times before. At 8:30am sharp the boat ramp clanged shut, the lines were untied and the ferry set off on calm waters for Port Jervis, a 45 minute journey.
Unloading was very quickly accomplished and we set the GPS for Robe and a four hour drive that for the most part was pretty boring. We did see a dead kangaroo at the side of the road just as we left Port Jervis and wondered what we would do if we hit a kangaroo. Paul said that the humane thing would be to make sure that it is fully dead so it would not be left in pain. However, I'm not sure either of us could hit a kangaroo in the head with a rock, so we hope we don't see any more kangaroos on the road.
The scenery was more dramatic than picturesque, with various marshes and salt flats between the road and the water. It's an estuary but it's so shallow, it looked more like an inland sea. At one point, carotene in the water colored the salt flats pink. Quite a sight !
By the time we reached Robe we were feeling pretty tired so we went directly to the motel we had booked in advance. The Lakeside Motel was pretty basic but comfortable and our room had a wonderful view of the lake. The owner, Dougal Weir who had spent time in Orlando while backpacking in the States was very friendly. In fact he upgraded our room at no extra charge and gave us complimentary wi-fi so we could update our blog! After a tour of the town which didn't take long as there was not a lot to see we stopped at the local Australian pizza joint for dinner.
November 11 - Robe to Port Fairy
Another bright and sunny day without a cloud in the sky. I wonder when it rains here ?
We didn't think there was enough in Robe to keep us for another day, so the previous evening we had booked two nights in an apartment in Port Fairy. No, really - that's it's name. We knew we had about a four hour drive so we wanted to get started early, which we did at 10:00 am. Hey - Kristine needs her sleep !
Although it was mostly a "driving" day, there were several places along the way that we wanted to stop and see, even if only briefly. Our first stop was Mt. Gambier, which was a busy little town with just what we needed - a WestPac ATM ! Next door was a small and very empty cafe so we refreshed ourselfs with coffees and cornish pasties. Mt. Gambier has a couple of attractions but we were trying to keep moving so we only visited one - a large sinkhole (the Umpherston Sinkhole) which was orginally part of the estate of a rich local merchant who converted it in 1886 into a private garden, orginally with a small lake (now gone). It fell into disrepair during the last century but was restored about thirty years ago. It's a pretty spot although the tranquility is somewhat disrupted by the huge timber mill next door !
We took the faster inland road for the next stretch and enjoyed more, green, rolling countryside, a nice contrast with the salt flats and harsh landscape of the previous day. Next stop was Portland which is a major town on the coast. The town center was very quaint but the beach was adjacent to a large port so not terribly attractive, although judging my the number of people on the beach, it seemed to be popular.
We reached our destination Port Fairy about 3:00pm. Not a name which might be chosen today, but the story is a cutter on a sealing expedition was driven here by a bad storm. The ship was named "Fairy" and the captain was so pleased to have found safe haven, he named the bay "Port Fairy". The town was late named "Belfast" to encourage Irish immigration but when the local economy collapsed, it was renamed "Port Fairy". Quite why a sealing captain would name (or sail on) a ship called "Fairy" seems a little strange, but who are we to judge ?
The Victoria Apartment at the edge of the commercial district was very nice and we had been upgraded to a two bedroomed unit. Didn't really need the second bedroom but it gave us a larger living area and (joy oh joy) a full washer and dryer. We also had internet access, so we got to work on finishing the next section of our blog.
After a walk around town, we headed back for a couple of hours of relaxation before heading out for a very good dinner at "The Hub", a busy restaurant a short walk from the apartment.
November 12 - Port Fairy
Paul woke up early to find the second bedroom apparently WAS being used by other guests - ants - thousands of them, which overnight had swarmed all over the kitchen work areas and were also in the cupboards and even in the bathroom and some of the other spaces. We had no ant spray (and it WAS 6:00 am) so Paul just let them be and went about checking his e-mails.
When Kris got up an hour or so later, she set to work and cleared away many of them with plain old water, but in the end admitted defeat and at 8:00 we called reception who sent a cleaner to finish the job. They claimed this had never happened before and I'm sure that's true. The good part was that although a few more appeared the next night, their numbers were much diminished.
Once that little crisis had been resolved, we set our for a day of local sightseeing. The day before we had seen that there was a short "bay tour". It was actually quite pleasant although the bay is pretty small, so it only took thirty minutes.
Kris decided she would like to see the next town down the road, Warrnambool. On the way, we saw a sign promoting a game reserve - this time inside a large crater. The crater was pretty cool and there was a nice road through the park, but apart from a few emus, we didn't see much wildlife.
Warrnambool turned out to be a bit of a non-event. It was a busy little town but there didn't seem to be much to see or do. After driving around for a while we stopped for an indifferent lunch at a small café and then headed straight back to Port Fairy.
That night we decided to try the best fish and chips in the South West (see photo). Well, we did and they weren't. Oh well !
November 13 - Port Fairy to Apollo Bay
Next day - ant free - we headed down the coast, finally joining the Great Ocean Road a few miles past Warrnambool. This road was started after WW1, presumably to provide work for returning soldiers -"diggers" as they are known.
The stretch of road between Warrnambool and Apollo Bay starts inland but later gets nearer the coast and there are series of stops along the way where tourists can get out and admire the scenery, the most famous (but not necessarily the most spectacular, in our opinion) being named the Twelve Apostles. We never did find twelve ! The stops seemed to come every 300 metres, so we stopped a LOT.
The last stretch before Apollo Bay is through dramatic forest, with tall trees and steep valleys. The driving can be a bit scary, as the road twists and turns unexpectedly and sometimes, especially when going downhill, the turns sometimes have an unexpected sharpness to them. The big fear is always another car coming too fast the other way and swinging out on the curve, just as you come round. Still, it was a very pretty drive although we were glad to see Apollo Bay swing into view.
We finally arrived to find our hotel was overbooked but fortunately the motel next door had space so we really can't complain. After checking in, we really didn't want a large meal so we bought a bottle of wine and a coooked chicken at the deli and headed out of town looking for Paradise Picnic Site which sounded like the perfect spot for dinner. The road took us into a very pretty valley - very lush and green with a small stream and we found the picnic area.
We enjoyed our dinner but it was begining to get dark and the night creatures were starting to stir, so we headed back to our motel. At the motel, we finished the wine sitting it in our spa for two. Very romantic but we are not posting photos on the blog!
November 14 - Apollo Bay to Melbourne.
The second half of the the Great Ocean Road runs along the coast - sometimes dipping down to small towns and beaches and sometimes hugging the cliff like the Pacific Coast Highway, to which it has been compared. The road is pretty and sometimes dramatic, with some extreme bends and unexpected turns. The local drivers also add to the excitement by irgnoring all commonsense and overtaking anywhere, anytime, sometimes passing more than one car at a time. No dramatic overviews this time, but very pleasant overall and stunning in a few spots.
The Great Ocean Road ends at Torquay, one of Australia's premier surfing beaches and we pressed on as the big city was getting close. We passed through Geelong on our way to Melbourne and for the first time since we have been in Austalia were reminded what a large city looks like. In this case - not very attractive and very busy. We didn't stop !
So fifty kilometers later, the big city skyline finally appears on the horizon.
Melbourne ! The first thing we hit was a traffic jam. One of the bridges over the Yarra River was under repair and with one lane closed, traffic had come to a crawl. And this was Saturday ! Fortunately, the delay wasn't too long and we followed our GPS to the hotel. Trouble was, it seems as though some of the roads may have changed and we couldn't always exit where the GPS told us too, so we took rather a circuitous route.
We checked in to the ALTO on Bourke Street and parked the car. It was clear that we weren't going to be driving in Melbourne. Thanks but no thanks ! The Hotel ALTO is obviously geared to a business clientele but because it was a weekend, we had a pretty good rate. Our room was OK, but there wasn't much of a view !
So where too first ? We really had no idea so after a certain amount of confusion on our part, we managed to join a free city bus tour - really a "tourist bus" but we just stayed on all the way round, for a tour which lasted about ninety minutes. Apart from two extremely noisy indian kids who seemed to be trying to shout down the driver (in urdu) it was a great way to get oriented. By the time we were done, we were getting hungry so we walked to Chinatown, where we had rather a good chinese meal.
We then headed to a cinema to see the Michael Jackson film "This is it" which Kris wanted to see. Although I wasn't expecting much, it actually turned out to be very good, although at $17 each, much more expensive than in the US.
The cinema itself was inside a new mall, which was built around an old "shot tower" where lead shot was once made. Incredible that in order to save the building, the mall had been built AROUND the old shot tower. Superb !
November 15 - Melbourne
So now we have all day to see the BIG city ! Trams are a big deal in Melbourne - they are the major means of public transport around the city center, so we bought a one day pass and set off !
First stop was the historic Queen Victoria Market, over 125 years old, selling mostly clothing, hardware and souvenirs, but surprisingly, very little food. Paul bought a hat !
We headed to an exhibition about Leonardo da Vinci which really amounted to a celebration of his achievements. There were some very gruesome exhibits of dissections and body parts based on Leo's original drawings. His study of human anatomy led to his interest and subsequent drawings of robots. There were a number of kids at the exhibition who were having great fun playing with the interactive reproductions of these robots. Unfortunately the Robots were made of wood and string, and the kids paid no attention to the "Handle with Care" signs - consequently many of the Robots were no longer interactive! Finally, copies of many of his most famous paintings were on display enabling the viewer to understand how Leo's study of anatomy greatly enhanced the realism of his paintings.
After a glass of wine at a riverside café we decided that a cruise down the Yarra River to Williamstown would be a nice way to pass two hours. The cruise took us to the Docklands area which is being revived with fabulous and expensive modern condo buildings very much like Canary Wharf in London. The cruise's narrator talked about the buildings and operation of the busy harbor and as we neared Williamstown we saw many expensive yachts and what appeared to be a pretty colonial town. It was tempting to get off but we decided to stay on the boat for the return trip as we still had lots more to see in Melbourne.
Back in Melbourne we wandered along the dock and stumbled upon a Polish Festival with the usual tents selling Polish food and arts and crafts. As we wandered away from the Polish dancers we found ourselves in the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI) - a "museum" about film, TV and now computer games. We both love the movies and we could have spent a whole day in there, but once again time was pressing, so after staying for about an hour we dragged ourselves away.
Back to the hotel and then out for dinner in the Italian district known as Carlton, with Lygon Street the main thoroughfare. The place was bustling and after an excellent meal al fresco, we strolled along Lygon Street people watching before riding a tram back to the hotel.
November 16 - Melbourne
A morning of chores. First we shipped a suitcase to Canberra to Kris' friend, John Forrest, so we wouldn't have to check luggage on our flights to and from Tasmania. Then, we both needed haircuts so off to the stylist for a quick trim (Paul) and a styling (Kris). Like shearing sheep !
Once again time was pressing so we did a quick tour and tried to take in the highlights. We jumped in a taxi (with a broken meter - really !) and rushed to the Town Hall for a lunchtime concert "Organ-ic Lunch" performed for the Air Force Band (actually forty musicians, all playing wind instruments) and a very large organ (Organ-ic - get it ?). It was a free concert and ended with "Pomp & Circumstance" by Elgar. Always makes us patriotic and we had to stop ourselves from singing along!
Fresh Haircuts !
( Holding the camera in front of you to take your own photo is not a good idea! )
Once freshly shorn, we headed down to the NGV. Sounds like a fast train but it's actually the National Gallery of Victoria - a large and modern art museum. No photos allowed inside - of course !
We strolled through downtown, admiring the Christmas decorations and making a quick stop to post our wish list in Santa's mailbox.
FINALLY (three hours of blogging later) we get to go out for dinner. We headed back to the South Bank to join the young and trendy (like us) who were grazing along the river.
Coming next - Tasmania.