Saturday, 7 July 2007

Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road

I am now a very big proponent of sleeping on board ships. It was a very comfortable sleep in our little onboard cabin. Only downside, space is at a premium. Oh, and having an arrival time of 7am was a little bit of a downer too. Who wants to get up that early when they’re being rocked in a snug little bed? Especially when it’s a grey rainy day out and you have no clue how to get from the dock to your hostel.
Trams are a very convenient way to get around town for not too much money. It just means asking a few people for some help to get to the right place. And possibly the hardest part is learning which way is North. Remember, there was no sun showing through the clouds to give us a hint as to compass points.
Only about an hour to get to the hostel, and it was much to early to check in, so we had to sit around until noon before we could check in. Travel bags can really cramp your ability to travel around a town until you have a place to store them. I ended up curled up on a couch, out cold. Laurie wrote letters and postcards. I’m learning something I’ve always known... I’m not good at letter writing. I really have no urge to write. Unless I have a keyboard, and then I just go. I’m also lazy... I’d rather do a mass thing like this and just have everyone read it, and that way I don’t have to wonder who I’ve told what to. Laurie on the other hand rarely goes a week without sending a small handful of postcards out, sometimes leaving me a corner and telling me to fill it in with something. And with much encouragement I do.
Melbourne really got the bad end of the deal, as neither of us actually had any urge to visit it in the first place. The only reason we went there was to take a tour down the Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide. The rain and the business of the last week made us reluctant to do much in Melbourne. So our greatest accomplishment in Melbourne was taking the tram and finding a chinese noodle house “Sushi Noodle House”. We moved from there across the street to a cozy little cafe called “Verve” where we spent the afternoon with coffee and a newspaper, with nothing better to do than people watch... a most entertaining way of spending a day. When dinner time approached, we began a leisurely walk back to the hostel with our left-over soup in hand for dinner. (Chinese soup is invariably served in such massive portions that two people could barely finish a bowl between them... and yet we have this habit of each ordering our own)
Bright and early the next morning, we packed up and headed out on our tour. We were greeted by a middle aged man named Bill. As we walked up to him and introduced ourselves, Bill gave a startled look to Laurie and said “I thought you were a boy!” No, he wasn’t referring to her new haircut, but to the names on his list of people on the tour... He had assumed he was picking up a couple, and told Laurie her name was spelled wrong for a girl. After some debate and sarcastic comments, we threw our bags in the trailer behind a mini-van and climbed into the very back of the van. Only 6 people including us were on the tour, and so we left town at what Bill claimed to be an un-precedented early hour of 7:30am.
At this point, I’ve seen so many sights in Australia, I can’t even recall the exact order of things we saw on the Great Ocean Road, but I’ll try and do this justice. The Great Ocean Road, it turns out, was a make-work project during the depression years, meant to give gainful employment to returned soldiers. It follows some of the most scenic coastal areas in Australia, including many natural limestone formations. Having travelled the East Coast of Canada, we started joking about having seen a better version of the limestone formations already. The sights include:
Bells Beach in Torquay, where an annual worldwide surf competition occurs.

The official sign at the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. Which has been replaced once to widen the road and once after being burned in a forest fire.

A monument to the men that built the road, erect just this last April.

In Otway National Park, with it’s thousand year old giant Gum trees we took a walk down Maits Rest Rainforest Boardwalk. The Baby Giants are close to 600 years old. These trees are the only ones in the world with a completely predictable growth pattern that allows you to measure the exact girth, and calculate a year for every millimeter of circumference.
The Twelve Apostles (note how similar they are to the flowerpot rocks at Hopewell Cape), began with 18 when it was first named, and now there’s only about 8 still standing. There’s another group of similar rocks down the road called the Martyrs. We didn’t bother stopping for pictures of them.
Shipwreck Cove. Ah, we must include the romantic story of this place. The Loch Ard, an iron-hulled clipper (sailing vessel) was attempting the dangerous passage to Melbourne through an area of hidden reefs, and heavy fog. A storm hit the ship just off Mutton Bird Island and just like more than 80 other vessels that litter the ocean floor in this area, it broke up and went down, killing all but two of the 55 people on board. Eighteen year old Eva Carmichael clung to wreakage and was washed into the narrow opening of the cove. There she was rescued by the only other survivor of the shipwreck, a young 18 year old ship’s apprentice officer named Tom Pearce. They managed to find a small cave to weather out the storm, and survived long enough to be rescued. Tom received a lot of press and acclaims for surviving and rescuing the young lady, the press tried to make a love story out of it, and Eva went home to Ireland never to see Tom again.
London Bridge. Unfortunately the Arch fell down a few years ago, stranding two people on London Bridge that had to be rescued by helicopter a few hours later. Turns out they were having an affair and skipping out of work, and so refused all press subsequent to the horrifying event.
We stayed overnight at Tims place in the Grampians National Park in Halls Gap. Only a year ago a forest fire devastated the area, and tourism has been slow to recover. Now it’s becoming clear that that was a very good thing for the natural vegetation. Over thousands of years the aborigines of australia, all throughout the continent, have had a habit of starting fires. They live in an area and deplete every resource, until there’s no meat animals left, and hardly any edible vegetation. Then they decide to move on, burn the whole area and don’t return for at least 10 to 15 years. The freshly burned area quickly starts to recover, because the trees only burn on the outside and quickly restart a fresh layer of growth, certain weedlike plants regrow within weeks, and seeds from some plants only sprout after a forest fire. The fresh new grow attracts animals to the area, a number of plants begin flowering in amazing displays that only occur within a year after a fire... the entire ecosystem is geared towards regular forest fires and regenerates extremely quickly. Even these days, all traditionally owned land is regularly burned.
We went up to the top of one of the mountains and walked about a kilometer to a lookout point, not sure what it was called... possibly Devils Gap (Laurie couldn’t remember the name either)

And the final stop was McKenzie Falls.
Where we saw a kangaroo
And then a joey peeked out at us! Best part of the day!

About noon, we picked up some meat pies at a little shop, and climbed aboard a greyhound bus to finish the trip to Adelaide.

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