I am a much better rainy weather writer than a blogging regular, which is quite apparent from my sporadic posts. This means, however, the weather has been friendly for the most part and we’ve been spending time exploring. Cyclone Ita was petering out over New Zealand as I wrote the last post and now my inspiration comes from rainstorm in Fiji, complete with a severe rain warning from the Fiji weather service. I can’t comlain though-I am drinking coffee in an open air restaurant overlooking the Blue Lagoon on Nacula Island, Fiji. A combination of American Top 10, 90’s hits, and Island music plays through the sound system at times being drowned out by the pouring rain on the metal roof. The sand floor bar and restaurant has been open since 7:30 am, and the sounds of German, Japanese, Aussie, Kiwi and English accents surround our table. The resort dog, Charlie completed his breakfast rounds lounging from table to table hoping for some scraps and now is curled up under his beach cabana not minding the downpour. My feet are perched on the coffee table and just beyond my toes lies a white sand beach and a relaxed turquoise that extends to the horizon. A good place to recount our travels in South Australia from Adelaide to Melbourne via The Great Ocean Road.
Neither Ravi or I had experience driving on the left side of the road so we were a bit nervous picking up the rental car but also knew we didn’t have too much city driving and soon we would be out of the more metropolitan area as we made our way some 1000 km on long stretches of highway to Melbourne. What we didn’t expect was how long the long stretches of highways actually were and we ended up with ample time to get aquainted with the left side driving. Signs reminding drivers to “Stay Left” or “In Australia we drive on the left” showed up like post it notes throughout our drive. Being in the passenger seat was more difficult to get used to because it always seemed to feel like the car was going to vere off into the ditch (for the most part the roads lacked any shoulder for wiggle room like most highways have in the states) no matter how close we were to the center line. I never really did get used to that but knew logically that we weren’t in any danger of capsizing into the shrubs, trees, cliffs, or farmland that butted right up to the edge of the road. Other than the lack of shoulders, kangaroos, wombats, and koalas crossing the road, and the wierd hook turn in Melbourne driving was straighforward and not too different than back home.
The first day of our drive we didn’t make it too far out of Adelaide as we stopped at the Cleland Animal Park and winery in McLaren Vale. We did happen to spot what appeared to be wild emus on the side of the road which was pretty cool. From what we read in tourism brouchures it seemed like finding accomodation would be pretty easy along the way. What we soon discovered though was that what the brouchures described as the “hub” for various lodging, activities, and restaurants was really anything but that. We also discovered quickly in the small towns along the way that stores and restaurants closed early. On the first night we planned to stay in a town that supposedly had lots of lodging but when we arrived we found a very expensive for what you get hotel and a hostel. Only this hostel was a hostel (nursing home) for the elderly, not the travellers hostel like we expected! We saw another place on the main road that said “hotel” so we stopped in and asked about a room, the server at the bar gave us an endearing laugh and taught us that a “hotel” generally is a bar in Australia. Some have “accomodation” which we learned was what we were actually looking for. With our new vocab we backtracked to Port Elliot and pulled into a beautiful YHA (a hostel chain in Australia and NZ) that luckily had one room open due to a cancellation. At this point we were tired, hungry, and ready to relax so we checked in and made a beeline for the Indian restaurant down the street that we hoped was still open which it was. They could accomodate our Vegan tastes and made excellent channa masala, curry, dahl, and naan. I know it may seem strange to include such details of our food but when the only other option is a pub where we would likely only be able to eat an iceberg salad and french fries, finding an Indian restaurant in such a small town is worth including.
Day two from Port Elliot started with a bit of a detour off our planned route through rolling farmland due to a GPS miscalculation, but we just went with it and enjoyed the drive. Our plan was to kayak and hike in the Coorong National Park. Both of us expected the National Parks in Australia to be similar to the parks in the states where there is a visitor center and well marked trails. The Coorang had a couple of well marked trails but no visitor center, no kayak rental that we could find, and otherwise was very sparsely populated. From what we observed the right way to see the Coorang is with a 4WD truck equipped with a snorkle and an outback popup. Our little Toyota seemed out of place amdist the plethora of trucks. Lesson learned. We did find a nice trail through the dunes out to the beach and had a good run. I enjoyed the drive which was more of the same dunes, farms, and rolling hills. There are a lot of birds that pass through the park so if you are a birder it is a destination as well as if you like driving on the beach. Knowing what I know now we should have booked a kayak tour as I think that would have been the best way to see the park. Should you find yourself in the Coorong hire a 4WD or book a kayak tour and bring your binoculars to watch the birds.
Learning from our difficulty finding lodging on our first night of our road trip, Ravi did some pre-planning and found a hostel in Mount Gambier past the Coorong. We made our way inland to stay at the Mount Gambier Gaol (pronounced Jail), which was the town jail since the 1800’s and was purchased and renovated into the hostel a few years ago by a local family. The family has obviously poured themselves into the renovation and have created a unique, well kept boutique accomodation. The owner greeted us, gave us a history of the property, and gave us some info on what to see in the city, the primary attraction being the Blue Lake which we ran around the next day before making our way back to the coast and the famous Great Ocean Road.
Our next destination was a more touristy beach town called Apollo Bay. Leaving Mount Gambier we stopped at a handful of beautiful coastal rock formations including the famous 12 Apostles. As we got closer to Apollo Bay the road began to wind through a huge Eucalyptus forest. Even with the windows rolled up we could smell the fragrant trees as we drove. Just after dusk I had to slam on the brakes as a koala wandered into the road. I am used to seeing squirels and deers, but looking out for kangaroos, koalas, and wombats on the road was new. We made it to the modern and eco-friendly Apollo Bay YHA just in time to grab some takeaway and beer before the establishments closed down for the evening. We ended up staying in Apollo Bay for two nights as we wanted to make sure we had enough time to look for Koalas in the wild nearby and not feel rushed.
The following day we went searching for Koalas and immediately became enamored with the little creatures we found sleeping high in the trees. A short walk up a gravel road into the forest lead us right into their habitat. We found one at eye level near the road and just watched it sleep for quite awhile. Wild koalas coupled with the soothing smell of the eucalyptus forest made for a memorable day.
Our last day of the drive we officially drove the Great Ocean Road, a stretch of beautiful and rugged coastline with plenty of gorgeous viewpoints, various colors of blue, and sandy beaches. We stopped at a couple of beach towns a long the way and watched the surfers and sunbathers. The last stop before Melbourne was the famous surfing area Bell’s beach. The Great Ocean Road was indeed beautiful but the road before was just as breathtaking if not more so. I think we have hundreds of beautiful beach photos but I will only post a few here.
We drove into Melbourne, dropped off the car, and hopped on the tram to our hostel in St. Kilda, our base for the few days in Melbourne. Driving in Melbourne was definitely more crazy and I had the experience of doing a hook turn which I had read about in my driving in Australia google search but was hoping to avoid. Luckily I only had to perform one of these seemingly bad idea traffic manuevers! Fortunately I didn’t cause an accident and we were happy to be rid of the car when we arrived in the city. Between the koalas, delicious eucalpytus forests, countless shades of blue, beautiful scenery, and sleepy coastal towns we enjoyed the drive and were thankful to get to see a good strech of South Australia.