Thursday, 24 September 2009
We had planned on staying at the Royal Exchange Hotel (another old pub which has been converted into accommodation) for our entire time in Broken Hill, however it was booked out. Apparently Broken Hill is very popular during the week. Had we wanted weekend accommodation, we would have been fine. Alf and Jane had warned me about travelling sales representatives and the importance of making sure Friday night accommodation was sorted out. It seems Broken Hill was a mid-week town. As a result, we had booked into the Imperial for only one night and were then shifting to the RE. So, again it was another pack up of the car even though we were just shifting a couple of streets over. My initial plan for the day was to climb the pinnacles - a small group of small hills just outside town from which we could get a decent view of the surrounding countryside and so Pete, who had flown in at night, could get a look out the beginnings of the outback. HOWEVER - although the Pinnacles have always been on private land, there had never a problem with people driving out and looking at them. But now, the current owners have to decided to start mining the lease on the property again and have blocked access to the public. There is a new fancy website about the Pinnacles but it was too slow to check out with the mobile broadband and it didn't seem to say much anyhow. So we cursed the new owners (if you're reading this - you guys suck) and made alternative plans. I wanted to be back well before sunset so we get some photos up at the Sculptures Park - a small hill outside of town upon which a number of large sandstone sculptures have been erected - so we need something close, yet interesting. Following the advice of the Lonely Planet and the manager of the Imperial, I decided we should check out the Menindee Lakes - a group of lakes about an hour and a half out of town. Rather than try and get an early check-in at the RE, Yvette thought that this would be a good opportunity to test the repack of the car to allow room for Pete. We needed to rearrange things so that there was a comfortable enough space for another person on the back seat. An hour and half drive each way would be a good test. Giving up the front seat for Pete, Yvette was to be the hopefully-not-to-squishy guinea pig. As soon as we could, we swung by the information centre to pick up a key to allow us to drive up to the sculptures (lazy, yes - but I didn't know how much time we'd have when we got back) and then headed out to Menindee. The landscape changed numerous times on the drive, from sparse scrubby plains to a large line of trees which followed a dry and sandy creek. We stopped suddenly when we spied a flock (a herd?) of emus to allow Pete a better look. He hadn't seen an emu in the wild and hadn't seen one at all since a rather depressed example in the Dublin Zoo. The drive was a lot longer than I expected and it was quite a relief to see signs for the lakes. I pulled into the first lookout I could find and despite the large areas of blue displayed on the TomTom, there was little water to be seen. The only thing to do was to head into the town of Menindee and see what else was around. Being a very tiny town, it was easy to find the information centre and we headed in to find out what there was. I didn't want to waste the long drive. A very friendly if slightly mad man with a large white bushy beard explained to us that because of the lack of rain, there hadn't been water in the lakes for years. Boo hiss Lonely Planet. There was however, a reservoir which constantly had water in it and was worth a look. The TomTom would be happy - it was about 20 km down a dirt track. By this stage it was lunchtime and we selected one of the two local pubs - Maidens Menindee Hotel - for a counter meal. The pub was clean and friendly and there were no death stares from any of the patrons. Pete opted for some pork chops while Yvette had some fish and salad. I chose a hamburger. Around the walls of the pub were paintings of the doomed explorers Burke and Wills who apparently had stopped for a drink in the pub before heading out to meet their untimely fate. I hoped this wasn't an omen. After finishing out lunch in the curiously high-walled beer garden (problems with marauding kangaroos perhaps?) we took a few photos, had a quick look at supposedly historical bakery across the road which looked more like a concrete shed, and got back on the road to find the reservoir and with a little luck, some water. Now, I do not like gravel roads. I had an accident on one years ago where I was driving by myself, something happened and I ended up upside down, hanging in my seatbelt. I am not sure if a tyre blew or I lost control on the loose surface. As such, I still get a little nervous when the tarmac gives way to dirt. Still, I was determined the day wasn't going to be waste and 17 km or so out of town (back the way we had come) we found the turnoff. To start with it wasn't too bad, but then we reached the corrugated part and it was a rough and slow going. Out of the left side of the car we saw one of the 'lakes' which would have been huge had it been filled with water, but was now a large, flat plain dotted with dead trees. I assume the trees had grown during the time the lake was empty and had died when it had filled up again. It was quite eerie and alien and almost like something out of a fantasy novel - the 'dead forest' perhaps. We finally reached the reservoir where a large weir held in the water of one of the few rivers which had flowing water. A collection of pelicans and other water birds waited patiently at the outlet as this shallow water flow was the only way any fish could get downstream. The water was similar to that of the Murray - a greenish opaque. There was a large osprey circling and I wondered how it could possibly see any fish. This appeared to be the only area of water around and so after a few photos, we decided we could head back to Broken Hill and have time to check in to the Royal Exchange before sunset and the sculptures. So, after another rough, slow trip back over the gravel we got back onto the main road. One of the worst and most distressing thing about driving in the country and the outback is the sheer amount of roadkill. On the roads after leaving Loxton we had seen almost every native species represented - from kangaroos to emus and even magpies and one poor koala. Even though I grew up in the country and have done lots of long distance driving on highways, the number we have seen has been horrific and confronting. On the road from Broken Hill to Menindee there was even a dead, exploded sheep. These would be the only big red kangaroos I would see After a brief stop at the dry creek to take some photos of a rusted old car on a junkpile, we trekked back in to town to check in to the Royal Exchange. Yvette had managed to survive the four hours or so of travelling okay in the back which was encouraging. We had enough time to check in, dump our stuff and have a little bit of a rest before we had to get out to the sculpture park for sunset. Why did we have to get their for sunset? I wanted photos of the large blocks of sandstone illuminated with the light of setting sun. With the bags and various bits and pieces unpacked, it was easier for Yvette in the back now and we drove the short distance out to the hill. To my horror we got stuck behind a large tour group bus which vomited forth a noisy herd of gabbling tourists at the car park. My heart sunk even further when I saw the tour bus which was already there. Luckily they must have been the Short Attention Span Tourist Company as the passengers had just enough time to whip around and take some photos before they were herded back onto the bus and driven away. Still, there were a number of people like us waiting for the sun to go down and the one shot in particular where the sculpture with the hole in it frames the setting sun. As the sun got lower, the number of people crowding around the vantage point grew. One of the most difficult things about shooting at the sculptures was trying to get a shot without a tourist or a tourist's shadow in it. I mostly managed to achieve this and the departure of the buses made it a lot easier. The sun went down and I swallowed my pride and took the obligatory shot through the hole of the sculpture. As soon as the sun set, everyone got back in their vehicles and left, us amongst them. After the long drive that day I was more than ready for a beer and we did a mini pub crawl of the few pubs still working looking for somewhere to eat. Pete was hoping for some rough local action and perhaps an insult about his long bushy beard. Unfortunately for him (and luckily for us) the locals seem quite used to tourists and the comment was a shouted "nice beard" from a passing car. I'm not sure if they were being sarcastic or not. The second pub seemed like a real local and had Coopers Green on tap and had the menu been a little more accommodating to Yvette's semi-vegetarianism, we probably would have stayed there. As it was we moved on to a pub just across from the Imperial where we had stayed the night before. This pub had been renovated and lacked atmosphere but had prawns wrapped in bacon on the menu which was the best option Yvette had seen. The crowd was young and had fucking awful taste on the jukebox which I attempted to remedy with some Clash but this only provoked a young pair of girls to program some more awful shit. We took this as a sign and decided to call it a night. Pete would have to try again the next night for some beard abuse.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Today was going to be the first of the big drives. It's over three hours from Mildura to Broken Hill, and while I had done days longer than that on the trip, the Silver City Highway was one big long straight stretch of very little. The agricultural plains and vineyards of Mildura very quickly yielded to scrubby bush which suddenly became the typical outback low-laying vegetation with large sparse areas of red dirt. My friend David whom we stayed with in Melbourne had done this trip a number of times and had warned me about the long boringness of it but as it was completely new countryside to me, it was all quite interesting. The only rest stop on the highway is the Coombah roadhouse and is pretty much everything you'd expect from a service station/takeaway/shop in the middle of nowhere. Again the toilets are for 'customers only' although this time there was a poem explaining this on the wall outside. It covered the fact a transaction must occur before facilities are used and those not wishing to enter this agreement could find a suitable nearby bush. There was something about not letting dogs shit there as well but the poem was annoying me by that stage. We bought a couple of postcards and asked for the toilet key.
After a quick meal of leftover pasta we got back on to the long, straight road for the second half of the drive. As we got closer to Broken Hill, the scrubby bush turned into very sparse areas of red dirt with the occasional bush here and there.
Broken Hill is separated into north and south areas by the train line and a large pile of dumped rocks from mining - the north being Broken Hill and the south imaginatively called Broken Hill South. Driving in, the place looks like a mining town and by that I mean everything looks dry and dusty, there are piles of machinery in various states of repair lying around and lawns consist mostly of dust and rocks. However, once you're in to the city proper it seems like any other town, apart from the fact that all of the streets in the centre are named after minerals. There is Bromide St, Chloride St, Beryl St and so on. We were on the delightfully named 'Oxide' street staying in a beautiful old hotel called the Imperial which had been converted into an accommodation-only establishment. There are a few of these kinds of places around. Having been in decline since the price of zinc dropped in the 70s, a lot of the numerous hotels around town have been turned into other things - one of them is even a church. At least the buildings have been preserved and not knocked down. We checked in and I was going to have a little lie down, but I was looking through the various tourist brochures and came across the ad for Bell's Milk Bar. Now, Bell's Milk Bar had been recommended to me by David and is an old-fashioned milk bar that is not a retro establishment but a surviving milk bar from the 50s. We quickly got ready and headed over to the south side for some of the best milkshakes we've ever had. I had custard flavour and Yvette plumped for banana. Just before sunrise we headed up to the top of the large pile of rocks in the middle of town upon which a restaurant and a miners' memorial has been built. We watched the sunset although Yvette decided it was better from inside the car and out of the wind. Back at the hotel Yvette started preparing a risotto as we waited for our friend Pete to fly in. About 8.30 I headed out to the aerodrome. It's an odd drive at night as the street lights of town finish and there is a few kilometres of darkness before you are suddenly at the turnoff to the aerodrome. I turned in and at the first roundabout was a very large and very unimpressed kangaroo who reluctantly moved out of the way and allowed me into the carpark to pick Pete up. With Pete in the car, it was back to the hotel where Yvette had cooked up a delicious three-cheese risotto. It was time for a few beers and wines and catchup with news from the big city.
The plan had originally been to have a quick look around the Loxton Historic Village setup which was an attraction in town with a colonial town mocked up and I assume, actors running around. However, neither of us were really in the mood and we wanted to get to Mildura in order to be in time for an afternoon trip on a paddleboat down the Murray. So after another quick look around town and a refuel, we were on the road again. The landscape changed again as we got closer to Mildura with scrubby outback giving way to crops and the occasional vineyard with a couple of glimpses of the big river out to the left. We stopped for a short break at Lake Cullalleraine where I think I may have smacked the muffler into a stupid-arse pointless flower bed near a rest stop whose toilets were for 'customers only'. While I understand it would be annoying to clean facilities if people who are using them aren't giving anything to you, I would still be more predisposed to be a customer after using said facilities. So after the muffler smack turning around, we found the free rest stop which was much, much nicer being on the shore of the lake. We were immediately assailed by coots (a noisy and rather annoying water fowl) who were obviously used to travellers feeding them. I pulled out some of the biscuits from the hotel room we had taken and threw them out. Suddenly, out of the trees and the reeds came a very noisy family of apostlebirds, or what I knew as happy families. I hadn't seen these since the last road trip I did between Mackay and Brisbane where at one rest stop near Rockhampton there seems to always be a large flock of them. Apostlebirds are hilarious. They are constantly chattering and squawking about seemingly nothing and seem to fight and share in equal measure. I spent a bit of time feeding them and watching their antics.
From there it was a quick trip across to Mildura where we arrived in plenty of time to check in to the caravan park, unpack, have a bit of break before heading down to the Paddleboat Rothbury for a two hour trip down the Murray. Luckily, we arrived just before a tour bus of pensioners turned up and we managed to board and pay and grab the seats right up the front at the top. A few seconds later and we would have been too late. The trip down the river, through Lock 11 and back is a slow affair travelling at only 4 knots (about 10km/h) but the weather was fine and not too hot and it was nice to be driven around by someone else with a bit of commentary on the way. Apparently there are over 140 species of birds along the Murray and admittedly we were only on one section, and it was the middle of the day, but we still only saw a maximum of perhaps 12.
A little bit weary from sitting in the sun for two hours, we drove straight back to the caravan park where we took advantage of the cooker to make some pasta with chorizo and capsicum. Afterwards, Yvette rearranged all our belongings in order to make room in the car for our friend Pete who was meeting us in Broken Hill and travelling with us across to Dubbo. I meanwhile did some laundry which had built up since staying with Gavin and Pia. Having clean clothes is always nice when you're on the road however it means that my overnight bag was now full to bursting. Time for Spicks and Specks and then bed.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Gavin and Pia get up way to early for the likes of we holiday folk, so they had already left by the time we had managed to drag ourselves out of bed, coffee, breakfast, shower and pack. In fact they would have had to have stayed home 'til 11 to witness our morning faffing. We drove the few kilometers over to Beej and Tracey's to say one last goodbye and then we were off. Out of the city again - on the road - free. As much as it was lovely to catch up with our friends, it felt great to be getting out of the city and back in to the countryside. For some reason, the TomTom decided that the quickest way to get through the city was to go through the city. So, we got one last extended look at Adelaide before the seemingly endless drive through the northern suburbs. These seem to suddenly disappear however and suddenly we were on the highway with the Barossa off to one side and fields of grapes and canola (given the unfortunate name 'rapeseed' by Europeans). This gave way surprisingly quickly to scrubby outback - the first bit of this type of countryside we'd seen and was perfect for clearing the city cobwebs from our minds.
It was a fairly easy drive and around lunchtime I decided we'd stop in Blanchetown for some food and a break. Apparently known as 'the entrance to the riverland', this was our first proper view of the once-mighty Murray River. And while the river is still quite amazing and beautiful, Blanchetown isn't. We drove down to the river and 'lock 1', the first of the many locks and weirs along the river. There were Pelicans everywhere waiting for fish to be funneled through one part of the weir. I assume this is easier than trying to find fish in the Murray as it is quite muddy - practically opaque. Oddly enough, large fish were jumping out of the water right in front of us which they seemed to ignore. This was the most interesting (and active) part of the town and there was nothing else to really speak of and certainly nowhere that looked like it would serve food. So we pressed on to Kingston-On-Murray and in particular the Banrock Station winery. Now Banrock Station wines do not pretend to be anything other than what they are. They are decent quaffing wines and price themselves accordingly - around $9 a bottle. Their building however is spectacular and is grander than anything we saw in McLaren Vale outside of Adelaide. On a slight ridge, the view overlooks the countryside for miles (see pic at the top of this blog) and when we arrived there were two storms off in the distance adding to the majesty of the place. After a brief tasting of their reds (and their white shiraz) we grabbed a couple of emergency bottles and got back on the road to Loxton enjoying more views of the Murray along the way. We arrived in Loxton about 5ish and checked into our room which was a fairly standard motel block but it had a view (again of the Murray) and we had been given complimentary beer which was waiting for us in the fridge. After unpacking, we took a little stroll around the town which seemed quiet and mostly unspoilt. Unfortunately there were only a couple of postcards of Loxton, none with the name 'Loxton' on it and no magnets to add to our collection of places we've stayed in. We then went down to the pub for a couple of beers and some food. That night we opened the Petit Sapin cheese we'd bought at the Adelaide market and had that with some red wine while watching Good News Week.
Monday, 7 September 2009
We needed a day off and had decided to book in for two nights at Robe. It's always nice to stay at least two nights in a place as it means you don't have to get up, get packed and get gone by the criminally early 10am. After the drives of the past few days and the fact that the weather had become so windy that it was blowing metal signs down the street, it was a perfect day to stay in, turn on the heater, read and nap. Which is exactly what we did, with a quick trip out to buy the local papers (the 'local' being the Adelaide Advertiser - a dreadful rag that will waste about two minutes of your life, or ten minutes if you're into AFL). Feeling much better that evening for having done nothing, we went down for a couple of pints* of Coopers downstairs before again eschewing the pub restaurant for some very local, and very overpriced Chinese food. Even though we'd spent the day doing very little, we still opted for an early night.
The wind which we'd hoped would ease by today continued unabated. We did manage however to get a brief period of non-rain in which to pack. We did a quick drive around the town which was actually our first proper look at the place. We found the other pub which I now suspect is the place recommended to us as it had rooms opening onto an upstairs verandah which overlooked the sea. Robe seems like quite a nice place, well on its way to being completely fucked up with shitbox houses designed by f*ckhead architects being built all over the place. Which is a shame really. I imagine it was quite pleasant about ten years ago.
From Robe we headed to Kingston SE. The 'SE' or 'southeast' was originally to distinguish it from the other Kingston already in South Australia (now officially called Kingston-on-Murray). This was a refuel stop but unbeknown to us it was also the home of The Big Lobster. Apparently one of Australia's best "Big Things", it was actually pretty cool.
Having looked at Google Maps, I decided the coastal road would be the nicest and would hopefully get away from the neverending acres of pine forests. It also promised some large lakes right next to the road which due to a lack of recent rain, were nothing more than large areas of low-lying land. Still, it was an easy and pleasant trip to Meningie with not too much traffic for a Sunday. We stopped there for the obligatory two hour break and had a pie and quiche from the local bakery. I also bought a sausage roll which I didn't feel like after the pie, so I threw it whole to the waiting seagulls out of curiosity to see how long it would take them to devour it. The pastry was immediately removed and one seagull managed to grab and swallow almost the whole of the sausage middle which was quite a feat as it was still quite hot from the bakers. Perhaps it burnt his little tumtum...
I sent my friend Beej a text telling him we were on our way and we climbed back into the car for our last bit of countryside for a couple of weeks. The trip into Adelaide from the south goes through the Adelaide Hills and even though a lot of it is highway, it is still quite a pretty drive. It also drops you right into the Eastern suburbs and it seems to go from 100km/h to 60 a little too quickly. Luckily Beej and Tracey (and their lovely new bub, Campbell) live in Kingswood which is in the Eastern suburbs and from the end of the highway to their place was only ten minutes. We unpacked and grabbed some of the cheese we still had from the Dandenong markets and Apostle Whey, some wine and some salami and headed down to the park for an impromptu picnic. Unfortunately the weather had followed us and we had only sat down for half an hour before it got too cold and inclement to stay. A quick repack and we were back and enjoying drinks and food out of the wind and the rain. It was great to see Beej, Trace and Campbell again and nice to think we'd be staying in one place for at least a week.
* the pints we had were proper pints as you would reasonably expect. However, in South Australia what is known in the rest of the country as a schooner (425mL) is called a 'pint'. If you actually want a pint of beer (570mL), you have to ask for an 'imperial'. If you ask for a 'schooner' you will be given a 285mL glass, known in Queensland as a 'pot' and in NSW as a 'middy'.
Friday, 28 August 2009
That night, the wind that had been following us off and on since the Mornington Peninsula returned with a vengeance and quite a bit of rain. Given that we were in a little caravan park cabin, it probably sounded worse than it was, but it was enough to wake us both up. This did not bode well for the day ahead.
We woke up early that morning to take advantage of the hotplate and cook up a big breakfast of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup. The wind had eased, but the day was still uncertain about what it wanted to be. The only definite was 'windy' and the clouds streamed overhead changing the day from grey to blue every couple of minutes. Amazingly, we had a window of no rain in which we were able to pack the car in relative dryness. We thought we'd broken the curse. However, the wind and the rain started again almost immediately and I had to run through the rain to return the keys to the woman who ran the park.
The drive from Nelson to Mount Gambier was again the awful kilometers of pine plantation and it was a relief to reach the city's outskirts. By now the weather had fined up again and we decided that the aquifer tour of the famous blue lake would be a good idea. This is a walking tour of the old pumping station right next to the large crater lake Mt Gambier uses for its water. By the time we started, the weather had changed again and down at the lowest point they take you to, it actually began to hail. Just little tiny bits of ice, but enough to completely chill us and to ruin any photographs of the blue lake which looked decidedly grey. By the time we'd got back to the top however, it was fine again. Kooky.
After this, we'd had enough of touristy stuff and decided it would be nice just to head off to our hotel room in Robe, so we left Mt Gambier and got back on the Princes Highway. The area we were driving though is called The Limestone Coast by the tourist board of South Australia. Taking out the fact the Coonawarra is just north of Mt Gambier and the odd limestone cave here and there, the area and in particular the town of Milicent is overwhelming uninspiring. Especially after The Great Ocean Road. It wasn't 'til we got off the highway and headed towards the coast again to a tiny town called Beachport that the drive again became pleasant. We stopped at Beachport for a break and did the tourist drive outside and around the little town which has amazing views of the coastline. The wind however, made the sea more threatening than anything else and we didn't stop to take a closer look. I imagine in summer the place must be glorious. From there we drove on up to Robe beside what look to be lakes on the map (and indeed are called lakes - Lake St Clair, Lake Eliza) but are really just large, flat dry areas at the moment.
The town of Robe is tiny and you are in the main part before you realise. We'd booked in to a pub called The Caledonian which is an old pub with low ceilings. We'd booked in for two nights in the standard hotel rooms which are smallish rooms directly above the pub with shared bathrooms. After the drive of the last few days, we were pretty tired and Yvette took a nap while I had a bit of a look down the main street. Robe is obviously a tourist town and I would think in Summer becomes incredibly popular. The main street which isn't very long has a ridiculous number of overpriced, city-style restaurants, an exclusive menswear shop and a trendy homewares shop promising "beautiful objects for everyday living". I can't imagine any local wanting or needing these shops and yet there they are, lying in wait for the idiot fucking tourist who can't be satisfied with just going to a lovely country town and enjoying it for what it is. I don't know who's at fault - the people who set up these businesses exclusively for tourists at the expense of the feel of the town, or the small-minded, city-dwelling tourists themselves. Whoever it is, I wish they'd all just die in large, multiple pileups inside their city 4WDs.
I did a quick lap of the main street (which is only thing you can do in Robe) looking for somewhere that wasn't charging stupid money for dinner. Even the pub we were staying in had a 'chef' rather than a cook and were charging accordingly. I popped into the local pizzeria which doubled as the DVD rental shop for a coffee and after a quick look at the menu decided this would do nicely for dinner.
That night we had a couple of beers downstairs in the pub and then went across the road to the pizzeria for some surprisingly rather good pizza. I was still tired from the drive and didn't even stop for another beer on the way back to the room.
Friday, 21 August 2009
The glorious weather of yesterday had completely deserted us and we woke to grey, overcast skies. By the time we got around to packing the car, it had begun to rain. It seemed we hadn't escaped the packing in the rain curse we'd picked up in Sydney. If there's an old Gypsy woman out there I inadvertently offended, I'm sorry. Can we stop it now please? It's really getting quite tiresome.
We only had two things of interest to see today - Portland (and its cable tram) and Cape Bridgewater. Annoyingly enough, by the time we'd reached Portland, the weather had fined up. Which was just as well I guess as we were taking a ride on the Portland Cable Tram - an old Melbourne-style tram built in 1996 to attract tourists to Portland. The back carriage is actually an original old wooden Melbourne tram which was found in NSW being used as a chook pen. The trip around town is slow but the sun was out and Portland, even though it is a working port town, does have an element of charm. I couldn't for the life of me get a Redgum song out of my head the whole time though:
Said she came from Portland, where the ashen skies and leaden ocean, left her like the local boys - barren of emotion.
The town however decided not to be poetic and the skies were perfect blue and as such the ocean was far from leaden. The long pier that leads out to where the tugboats are moored is accessible by car, so we drove right out the end and had a good close look at the port, the large pile of woodchips and the giant vacuum cleaner thingy which they use to load and unload ships. I was expecting very little from Portland (especially after having known the Redgum song for 20 years) and was very pleasantly surprised. A lot of the original buildings remain and the volunteers who run the tram are wonderful. After a little drive around town, we headed down to Cape Bridgewater to look at The Petrified Forest. Not true petrified wood in the traditional sense, it is a large area of forest (now just stumps) preserved in sandstone-like remains. It is actually quite otherworldly as once you leave the carpark and get into the forest proper, there is no vegetation save for some grey-coloured clumps and just sand like lumps and circles everywhere. There is a large windfarm in the fields behind it and looking back with only orange sand and rock with large white monoliths behind them, it feels like another planet. Add to this the sun had come out and the wind had dropped which meant it had become unseasonably warm and we both felt more than a little odd.
This was the last bit of coastal scenery we'd see for the day as the road to Nelson heads inland. The Great Ocean Road well behind us now, the drive had become much more pedestrian. Just outside of Portland there are massive pine plantations which stretch for kilometres in all directions. Driving along beside these large areas of monoculture is quite dehumanising as the ordered repetitiveness seems more like an industrial wasteland than a forest. It was truly unpleasant, as were the acres and acres of plantation recently felled which looked like the remnants of a nuclear blast. Given the beautiful drives we had done in the last few days, this was truly depressing. As it was, it was a relief to finally reach Nelson and book in to a little ensuite cabin in a caravan park.
We have been trying to keep accommodation costs to an average of $100 a night or less if possible and so now and then we've been going the budget option of which this cabin was. It wasn't awful by any means but compared to our cute little cottage with alpacas the night before, it wasn't much. Still, it was clean and warm (and most importantly, dry) and there was more than enough room to spread all our crap out, cook dinner (stovetop - yay!) and write blogs and diaries and postcards. The best thing was that there was virtually no-one besides us booked into the park that night so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. It also bordered the forest, so it was like camping only with warmth and indoor plumbing. It was made even more special by the appearance of a wallaby who turned up just after we'd unloaded the car. We fed it a couple of pieces of bread which it quickly devoured and then I thought I'd try it on some Weet-Bix Crunch biscuits. It ate two of them before doing this weird little stand-up, scratch tummy thing followed by coughing and hacking. Yvette was filming it but unfortunately stopped before it eventually threw up. Wallaby barf. It would have been a huge hit on YouTube or Funniest Home Videos. I'm not sure if it was the Weet-Bix but Yvette gave it some water which it drank before wolfing (or is that wallabying?) down the rest of the biscuits I'd thrown out.
We managed to cook the food we'd originally planned on making in Port Fairy and it was delicious. Steak sarnies for me, tofu sarnies for Yvette. Our little, moderately-priced cabin was quite homely with the smell of cooking and the warmth from the rather noisy reverse cycle air conditioner in the wall. Life was good.
Ah - sleeping with no alarm is a truly wonderful thing. Having arrived in the dark last night, we got up and had a good look at our surrounds. The little cottages seem to be original buildings on the edge of the farm. In the paddock right next to us were alpacas who gave us the bored, superior and slightly idiotic look perfected by creatures such as llamas, alpacas, camels and certain upper-class toffs. Our plan today was to check out the Budj Bim National Heritage park. This is an area between Port Fairy and Portland which was a large aboriginal community which were permanently settled. The used the shallow rivers of the area to trap eels which they would smoke and trade with the other aboriginal countries. Evidence of smoked eels from this area has been found as far north as Queensland. There are remains of eel traps at Tyrendarra which is where we went to have a look. After parking the car at the carpark, we crossed a little bridge and looked at the path which meanders through what is an area of low water strewn with smallish basalt rocks. Luckily little wooden bridges have been built enabling a mud-free walk. The path is a large circle, however at one end, a neighbouring farmer's bull had somehow gotten into the area and was sitting on the path. As we approached, it stood up and didn't seem at all interested in moving. In fact, it seemed rather intent on protecting its little dry patch where it was sitting. If the neighbouring paddock was anything like this land, I don't really blame it. In deference to the large quadruped, we headed the other way around. It was easy to imagine people working in the fast flowing water, channelling the eels into a narrow area where they were caught in traps made from reeds. By the time we had walked around the whole path, the bull had not moved. Indeed it showed even less inclination towards moving and it could have been my imagination but he seemed quite prepared to defend his little patch of dryness with violence. As such, we decided to walk back the way we had come even though it meant walking all the way around again. I considered attempting a rock throw at the bull from the safety of the carpark but settled for the thought of just having a big steak for dinner instead. Stupid bull. On the way back to Port Fairy we stopped in at another little lookout place on the coast called The Crags. Similar to the outcrops we had seen the day before on a much smaller scale they were still impressive enough for photos. Back in PF we had a drive around the town for the first time. The town has preserved quite a great deal of the original buildings somehow which makes it a rather eclectic and attractive little village. After grabbing some pies from what seemed to be the best baker in town, we headed to a little spot on the other side of the river for some lunch and a bit of a rest. A cheeky magpie with very little fear started eating the crumbs under our table and I couldn't resist giving him some gingernut biscuit which he ate with glee (and a lot of crunching with his beak). Who knew maggies were fond of sweet biscuits? The next tourist destination was the Tower Hill Reserve which is a massive volcanic crater which has water in it an island in the middle. Okay, the island is still connected to the land, but you get the idea. You can drive down into it and park in the centre. The area was cleared by settlers but has been slowly been turned back in to what it originally was and is now a haven for wildlife. We saw what I thought was a wallaby but what turned out to be a very young kangaroo, still all fluffy and looking like it had been made especially for Japanese tourists. This was before the wildlife walk we did on which we saw no animals. On the way back we saw the same kangaroo again but this time with its whole family - two adults, one with a joey in her pouch and an older sibling. In the car park itself we saw a tree with three koalas in it - a young one having a feed of gum leaves and two adults, one with a little baby koala in her arms. As we drove out of the park, taking it very slow, I pulled over to let yet another impatient Victorian drive past only to see a small flock (a herd?) of emus on the plain beside the road. I was chased by an emu in a park when I was a small child and still have a minor dislike of them so I was glad they were a reasonable distance away. I must admit it was pretty impressive to see five of them all just doing their thing in their natural habitat. We drove back to Port Fairy and bought the obligatory postcards and fridge magnets and had a bit of look around for somewhere cheap to eat that night. Unfortunately PF has the same problem as Apollo Bay and a lot of the menus are city prices. The Stump (now called the Caledonian) is apparently the oldest continuously licensed pub in Victoria (although another pub in Portland also likes to claim the same honour) and we had to have a look. They had Fat Yak on tap which I heartily recommend if you ever see it around so we grabbed a couple of those and looked at the menu. The bartender must have had us pegged as she pointed out there was a bar menu available at the front bar where the meals were only $8. We decided this was a much better option than microwave meals and after heading back to the cottage for a short break, we came back for some food and some more Fat Yak before trundling back to the alpacas and our cute little cottage for a spot of blog-writing, diary-writing and Spicks and Specks.
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Our still-eager host, Brian knocked on our door at 8.30 with our breakfast - cereal, fruit, toast with homemade jams and orange juice. Having breakfast delivered is a truly magnificent thing. I think someone should start a home delivery breakfast service. Think about it - you wake up slightly hungover with no real desire or ability to fix some food so you'd just call the local café and order bacon and eggs or pancakes or whatever and they'd be 'round in less than 30 minutes. They could even offer asprin and Berocca for those in need. After a leisurely stuff-around, we packed the car and were about to leave when Brian told us about a whale which was supposedly in the bay. Now Yvette and I have had incredibly bad luck with sea mammal spotting. We've been to Merimbula (the supposed whale-watching capital of Australia) and saw zip, we've been to Hawks Nest where dolphins are rumoured to be in abundance and not seen squat, so we were a little sceptical. Especially when we stood on the verandah looking at bugger all while Brian gesticulated earnestly saying, "There! There!". Dubious, we jumped in the car and headed down to the beach for a closer look. Needless to say we couldn't see a thing. After a while searching with binoculars Yvette spotted something that looked like a large log in the water. It turned out to be the whale. Now, I've watched a lot of creatures, from Tawny Frogmouths sitting dead still to Koalas sleeping in the forks of trees and nothing was as boring as this whale. It did nothing. There was no breaching, no leaping, not even the promised frolicking. It couldn't even be arsed to put its tail out of the water. It was just like looking at one of the large dead logs (albeit with barnacles) that you see in Tinaroo Dam. It truly was a fail whale. After a quick double-back to take a final look at Apollo Bay, we headed off on the next section of the Great Ocean Road. Now, the most spectacular road part of TGOR is the bit we'd just done. From Apollo Bay to Port Fairy, the road heads inland through the beautiful forest of the Great Otway National Park which is lovely, but can't compare to the winding road cut into the cliffs. It does however have the most famous parts of the road - the 12 Apostles and the other sandstone juttings along the shoreline. Here's a piece of tortured English about the road from the Tourism Victoria brochure:
Bold words aren't enough to capture the overwhelming scale and spectacle that epitomises the Great Ocean Road around Port Campbell. Vast sea-canyons, gorges, blowholes and battalions of cliffs; simply being close to such leviathans is invigorating.
Perhaps the copywriter should have worried less about being bold and more about pulling their head out of their buttbutt. Before we reached the "invigorating leviathans" of the apostles, we decided to visit the Cape Otway lighthouse right at the end of Cape Otway (natch). Self-described as "the most significant lighthouse in Australia" they do charge you to visit the area but it is well worth it as there are some original buildings still there and a little museum of sorts. Plus you can climb to the top of the lighthouse. What makes it "most significant" is never really explained. I would say the lighthouse that stops you running aground would be the most significant. The lighthouse itself is not very tall but even still, once you are on the top, looking over the cliff tops to the crashing sea below, a little bit of vertigo can set in. They have a guide at the top in case you have any questions and ours told us about the UFOs he regularly sees (but apparently doesn't tell anyone about anymore). I shouldn't be too rude as he did give me a free souvenir magnet back at the giftshop afterwards. After a climb, and a short wander around the grounds, we headed back to TGOR and on to the famous apostles. On the track back to the main road we stopped and watched a koala eating gumleaves in tree branches above us. This is actually more unusual than it sounds. Given that koalas spend 20 hours of the day sleeping, the chances of seeing one of the actually doing something is remote. From here, the road heads north back into the hills before back south again. Avoiding turning down the the mysteriously named towns of Blue Johanna and Red Johanna (warrior princesses perhaps?) we powered on through Princetown, eating leftover pizza in the car in order to get to the 12 apostles. Now I knew this was a popular location but I was not prepared for the sheer amount of goddamn f*cking tourists that were there. There is a huge carpark built on the northern side of the road and an underpass to get to the various viewing platforms. When we saw the numerous cars and tourist coaches I was dismayed. Traveling in Winter has been brilliant so far - very few people on the roads, accommodation is easy to find and most places you have to yourself. Not the 12 apostles though. Still, it wasn't too crowded and there was room enough to take photos. I'd hate to think what the place is like in peak season though... For all my bitching, the rocks truly are spectacular. The scale and the beauty of the sandstone means you can stare at them for ages. Which we did. Although some of that time was waiting for the sun to come out from behind the clouds. The weather had been fine at the lighthouse, but had clouded over just before we reached the parking lot. After finally exhausting the majesty of the view (and my patience with idiot tour groups), we headed off north this time to try and locate a local cheesemaker we had seen advertised in the aforementioned Tourism Vic brochure. After a little diversion courtesy of the TomTom, we popped in at the Whey Apostle Cheese Factory, a small, privately owned business that not only make their own cheese, but run their own dairy farm to provide the milk needed. We did the obligatory tasting of all their cheeses and settled on some herb and garlic fetta, some brie and some stinky blue (for me). Yum. Our cheese urge sated, we headed back down to TGOR and on to the Loch Ard Gorge which is where in 1878 the ship Loch Ard on its way from London to Melbourne struck a reef and the crew of 54 all perished save two, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, who washed ashore on a beach at the bottom of the cliffs. Tom proceeded to climb the cliffs and walk about 6km until he found some passing stockmen who helped to organise the rescue of Eva. Eva never saw Tom again and went straight back to Ireland where she promptly married and settled down. The cliffs here are quite spectacular and the sun had now come out and we managed to get some of the picture postcard golden afternoon light on the sandstone. Unfortunately the cattletruck tour buses were going the same way as us and there were just as many people as before. As such, we decided to completely skip the London Bridge viewing station and continued on until we saw a little turnoff to something called The Arch which was much better as it only had a tiny carpark completely unsuitable for the hulking behemoths packed with slack-jawed gawkalots which had plagued us today. For a full ten minutes we had the little area and viewing platform to ourself and although it wasn't as grandiose as the apostles, it was a lot more special. By this stage we were getting a little bit of sensory overload from looking at gorgeous, orange-lit cliffs and besides the sun was getting quite low and I had to drive directly into it. We did make one more stop at the Bay of Martyrs however for that one last photo opportunity. The last part of the drive was a bit of a struggle driving directly west into the setting sun. At times I couldn't see the road properly and just hope that everyone else obeyed the rules of the road (not something one should automatically assume in Victoria). We had booked in for two nights at Clonmara which has a couple of little old cottages on a working Alpaca farm. I had assumed they'd have a cooktop and we stopped in at the Coles in Warrnambool to get some supplies. Unfortunately the cottage only had a microwave. Luckily the cottage was incredibly cute and was quickly forgiven. We heated up some microwave meals we'd had with us in case of emergencies and ate a very ordinary dinner before an early night after almost 9 hours of travelling and sightseeing. It was nice to go to sleep knowing we didn't have to get up and pack up and be out by 10 the next morning.
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Surprisingly, the day was fine (but very windy) when we woke up. So far, most of packing and leaving has been done in the rain. Hopefully this was going to be the change in fortune that would stick.
We'd decided to wait until after peak hour to leave as we were heading west along a busy road, over the Westgate Bridge and then on to Geelong. The TomTom mostly behaved itself (it seems to get confused on straight highways of more than one lane) and we were out of Melbourne in very little time at all. Leaving Melbourne felt good. Even though we both loved the city, big cities are no longer our thing - especially after all the time we'd spent in the country beforehand. For all its good points, Melbourne does nothing to impress those leaving (or arriving I guess) from the west. It is a concrete and steel mess of roadworks, construction and industrial clutter. In a lot of ways, reaching Geelong is a visual improvement.
Our first stop was the Wathaurong glass and arts factory on the outskirts of town. A wholly Indigenous -run operation, they make beautiful glassworks for construction, awards and decoration. Although we loved the pieces, we decided against trying to ferry one around the country. They do have a website and apparently there is a business in Port Douglas that sells their works (although I imagine their markup would be huge).
It was time to begin The Great Ocean Road which really was the impetus for this whole trip. Originally the plan was to nip down to Victoria, drive along here and then head back up. Everything else from Adelaide on was added later. So it was with great expectations we headed down to Torquay which is where the road officially begins. Torquay is a beautiful, as-yet-unspoiled seaside town (which is odd, being so close to Melbourne) with a large parkland in front of some lovely beaches. It is pretty much nothing like its namesake in the UK and I think someone is missing a great opportunity by not opening a Fawlty Towers there.
After a quick lunch in the park, spoilt only by the wind (which would become a constant, annoying companion on our trip across) we began. Much has been written about The Great Ocean Road. It is an amazing engineering accomplishment that provides an almost constant, breathtaking view from Torquay to Apollo Bay. Winding and climbing, you hug seaside cliffs and scoot across little bridges over seemingly pristine bays trying to keep one eye on the road, and the other on the view. Occasionally we'd stop at laybys and lookouts to take in the splendor and to marvel at what we were doing. Making only one tourist stop at the Split Point Lighthouse (a fairly ordinary and unimpressive lighthouse) most of the day was spent driving slowly along the road, allowing people behind us to pass as much as possible. There was no way I was going to be hurried along. Even still, we made Apollo Bay in reasonable time and arrived while it was still light. We checked in at the Harley Reef B&B, a B&B in the style of a quality motel. I gathered that the regular owners were away and the place was being looked after by a friend. A rather eager seventysomething called Brian. He was friendly enough and seemed to take delight from pointing out all the various things inside the room. After unpacking and a wee rest, we headed down into town to see what Apollo Bay was all about and to possibly find some dinner and drinks. One thing I have noticed about the towns we have visited that are 'tourist towns' is that the price of meals matches those in big cities. Even the pubs are doing food for between $22 and $44 which seems a little ridiculous. After a slow walk down the main drag, we managed to find a pizza place that seemed reasonable and headed back to one of the pubs to work up more of an appetite with a couple of beers. The second pub on the strip had two local beers on tap and we just had to sample a pint or two each to get a proper feel of what they were like. They tasted and felt good. After a quick meal of some quite delicious (and reasonably priced!) pizzas, we wandered back to our funny little B&B and very quickly fell asleep. The next part of the Great Ocean Road lay ahead...
This entry is guest written (or guest blogged?) by Yvette. Thanx sweetie.
Friday 31st July 2009 -
Melbournites make out that the Mornington Peninsula is a world away, where the rich relax in their beach houses and you need a weekend to find the vineyards, so we prepared for the worst and left Melbourne early on Friday 31st July. We were shocked to find that half an hour later we were there, admiring the Mornington Peninsula's green rolling winter hills and spectacular water views. TomTom even found the Nepean Country Club without resorting to dirt tracks and a couple of boom gates later all our belongings were strewn across the massive apartment we were to call home for a week thanks to the generosity of Gloria and Col Robinson. With plenty of time to spare we took a drive down quiet country roads to Flinders and wondered if the cows meandering in their cliff top paddocks appreciated the views as much as we did.
Saturday 1st August 2009 -
One Saturday a month Rye market transforms Rye's foreshore into a market lover's paradise. We arrived early to find market stalls stretched out along the beach front park, selling everything from fresh apple juice to jewelry and clothing. With no room left in the car for more books and knickknacks we settled for a bag of fresh licorice and enough veges for the week and headed across the road to the Op shop in search of swimmers for the indoor heated pool back "home". Only in Rye can you find designer and vintage swim wear for $3 a piece. Back home and we decided we were too lazy to go to the pool and opted for a spa instead. Not very water-wise, but much fun!
Sunday 2nd August 2009 -
Rye was so good that Sunday morning we had compiled a list of local markets to check out. First cab off the rank was Dromana Drive-in Movies Market (Yes the Drive-in still operates, but why on earth anyone would go there in winter is beyond me). It was miserable! Wind cutting our faces and rain trying so hard, but failing to wet it was embarrassing Thor. There was an odd variety of stalls and an even odder collection of stall holders. One woman had all the contents of here van laid out so far away from the other stalls that I couldn't help myself, I had to take a look. She was nuts and I don't mean in a good way. Once she started talking at me (there was no conversation to be had with this woman, it was just a continuous monologue) I realised that the other stall holders must have banished her from the market and she'd set up illegally on the outskirts. Luckily Barky turned up 10 minutes later to see what was so interesting so I deflected the attention onto him and quietly slipped away before she noticed. Sorry B. We did manage to find some great things amongst the old plumbing supplies, boxes of lace, and second-hand fare of the rest of the stalls and walked away proud new owners of the "Psycho Beach Party" DVD (not nearly as bad as it sounds), a couple of Uncanny XMen records (B's purchase not mine), and a Bon Iver single. Not bad for a handful of stalls in a drive-in. Inspired by our bargain shopping prowess we tried our luck at the fancier Rosebud market. It was big and happy, the sun was finally shinning and there were market stalls as far as the eye could see, yet all we could find worth buying was the Rotary Club's bacon and egg roll, which though very tasty was technically a sandwich. We retired to the spa and the DVD player.
Monday 3rd August 2009 -
Berkeley is your typical tourist. Lighthouses, lookouts, scenic drives and historic buildings inspire him to jump out of bed early on holidays and coax the lazy one to do the same with freshly brewed coffee. If you threw in a helicopter ride I don't think he'd know what to do with himself! Monday held the promise of a look out, with the hint of a cable car ride, and there was no way that the overcast sky was going to deter B from reaching Arthur's Seat where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Melbourne. We wandered around on the hazy cloud covered mountaintop that is Arthur's Seat, discovered the cable car was closed for renovations, peered into the distance trying to find a cityscape, took some photos, read a bit about the traditional landowners who used the area as a meeting place and then discovered we had exhausted all that Arthur's Seat had to offer. We took one last look from the lookout and could just make out the coast below then jumped in the car in search of lunch. One scenic tourist drive later and we were perched with the magpies in the beer garden of the Flinders Hotel munching on a seafood platter. Flinders is a bit posh. Not as rich as other parts of the Peninsula, but wealthy just the same. So it should have been no surprise that we found a couple of Scanpans in the op shop after lunch, for $3 each.
Being a total tourist day a visit to the lighthouse was on the cards. Victorian Councils charge for everything they can put a meter on, so to park at the lighthouse you must pay and to visit the lighthouse you must pay again. However the scenic walk around the cliff where the view of the lighthouse is just as good is free. There were crazy people surfing in the rocky inlet below and the ocean was kicking up huge waves. Surprisingly quite a few people were wandering about on the walk and I wondered if anyone ever paid to get up close and personal with the lighthouse. Exhausted we went home and cooked our market bought veges in our new second-hand Scanpans and marveled at how great they are.
Tuesday 4th August 2009 -
Nepean Country Club is kind enough to provide all it's guests with a list of entertainment for the week when you arrive, so we booked in for the Poolside Cafe's $6 pancakes on Tuesday morning. Can you call pancakes entertainment? Kath and Kim were manning the counter when we arrived for our breakfast feast and the chance of getting soy milk was nonexistent. However the gym instructor "Tony" (if there is a stereotype for gym instructors Tony is it) cooked up a mean mountain of bright fluffy pancakes. The woman sitting across from us obviously had a bit of a crush on Tony, wearing her exercise lycra to breakfast, complete with pink headband, and trying hard to pretend the children at her table didn't really belong to her. I didn't have the heart to tell her that Tony's steroid use may have had a negative effect on his libido. We retired to a full day of eating, napping, reading and watching DVDs.
Wednesday 5th August 2009 -
Given the choice between a spa treatment and a horse ride on the beach I'll choose the horse ride every time. So on Wednesday I arrived at Gunnamatta Trail Rides in Rye and got aquatinted with a lovely chestnut called Kaytain. We set off along the trail that was to take us to the beach, up and down over soft sandy dunes and through lush green farmland. There was a lot of walking and under the close instruction of our guides a bit of trotting till the group got the hang of the rising trot. Kaytain with his long gait had to settle for something between a walk and a trot for most of the ride but once we hit the sand and waves we were flying on a smooth and easy canter that was so much fun I laughed out loud. We rounded back again to the waiting group that weren't allowed to canter their horses because they hadn't mastered the rising trot, and Kaytain took a quick dip in the icy waters to cool his legs. I imagine if it was summer I would have ended up in there too, saddle and all. Back again we rode, with Kaytain periodically turning his head for me to scratch his nose, crossing roads, following trails and on into the stables where I had to coax my poor stiff legs over the saddle and down off the very tall back of Kaytain. I hit the ground with a thump, my legs almost gave way and I suddenly thought the spa treatment might have been a better option after all! Even though I found it difficult to sit down without pain in the following days the ride was definitely worth it.
Content from my horse ride we drove to the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery and arrived just in time for a guided tour of 9 Shades of Whiteley, the regional tour of the Brett Whiteley retrospective. I'm not an art critic or writer, so I'll transcribe part of the brochure on 9 Shades of Whiteley:
"This exhibition traces his life and career from his earliest work in 1955, with 'Self portrait at sixteen', to just a few months before his death in 1992, with 'Far North Queensland - Port Douglas'. Nine phases of Whiteley's art and life are presented: Early works, Abstraction, Christie & London Zoo series, Lavender Bay, Portraits, Birds & landscapes, Sculpture, Late works, and the Brett Whiteley Studio."
It was a small but wonderful exhibition, enhanced by our guide's obvious love of Whiteley's work.
With daylight on our side we thought we'd have a quick squiz at how the other half live and drove down to the wealthiest suburbs of the Mornington Peninsula, Portsea and Sorrento, where the houses are big and the hedges surrounding them are even bigger. We saw grand old homes large enough to be hotels and bold new architectural monstrosities that only the designer could love. Satisfied by a full day of tourism we sank into the bubbles of our spa and sipped on cold beer.
Thursday 6th August 2009 -
Thursday was our last full day on the Peninsula, so we did what any self-respecting tourist should do and went to the Red Hill Brewery for lunch. We had been waiting patiently all week for a taste of their brewed on site beer selection and food matched menu, but they had been teasing us with the lazy opening hours of Thursday till Sunday only! It was worth the wait. The four beers on tap were all exquisite, with the Golden Ale my personal favorite. The lunch menu was seriously devoid of vegetarian fare, but a bowl of crumbed mussels and some potato patties hit the spot. B matched his Wheat Beer with a steak sandwich and we were both happy and full by leaving. Inspired by good food we went in search of the apple orchard that had sold us fresh apple juice at the Rye market and were disappointed when we discovered they don't sell to the public from their shed, so we travelled on in search of an open cellar door instead. We were looking for the famous Yabby Lake vineyard to taste their Pinot Noir, rated in the top ten wines in the world, but again we were turned away at the gate with a menacing sign telling us that they do NOT sell to the public. Luckily we managed to finally stumble upon the Dromana Estate vineyard and stepped inside for some wine tasting. Mornington Peninsula is famous for it's Pinot Noir, though B & I wouldn't know a good one if it slapped us across the face. Being primarily a Shiraz drinker I expect my reds to be big and bold, not quiet and shy like a Pinot. None the less we did find a bottle that wasn't offensive to our Shiraz pallet and left quite proud of ourselves. It was time to start packing for our dreaded 9AM checkout.
Many heartfelt thanks to Gloria and Col for the Birthday/Christmas present of a week in luxury at the Nepean Country Club.
Friday 7th August 2009 -
An early start and an hours drive later we arrived in the strange, multicultural, traffic chocked suburb of Dandenong (not to be confused with the ranges of the same name). Neil in Cobargo had told us about Melbourne's Dandenong Markets with such passion that we had to see them for ourselves. It was bustling and diverse, with a great deli stall selling homemade salami, a cheese stall and fresh bakers, among the usual fruit and veg stalls, seafood, butchers and a whole other side of clothes, shoes, jewelry and nicknacks. Cheese, salami and fresh bread in our possession we drove up to the Mia Mia Gallery and Cafe set in the beautiful surrounds of Westerfords Park, Templestowe.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
After a bit of a driving tour looking at the mountains from the warmth and dryness of the car, we drove to the William Ricketts Sanctuary, a protected area of forest containing the sculptures of the well-meaning, but slightly odd William Ricketts. Ricketts spent a lot of time with aboriginal communities in the outback and this informs his works. He also had an odd Christian philosophy which mixed with the aboriginal imagery produced some interesting works. The sculptures are quite amazing though having been fired but not glazed and put into the forest where they have begun to darken, grow moss and become part of nature. The rain had started to become a little annoying by this stage and we headed back to the carpark and down into the Churinga café and lounge for a Devonshire tea which had some of the best scones I've had in a long time.
That night we were booked in for Jamon Sushi which is a very expensive sushi place in South Yarra, apparently one of the posh areas of Melbourne. This is one of David's favourite food places in Melbourne and has been for nine years or more. Over this time he has gotten to know the chef quite well and has taken some brilliant photos of his work. The food was quite nice and I tried smoked eel (unagi) for the first time ever. It's actually quite nice. However what wasn't nice at all was some kind of crab miso which was made of the crab's offal and the membrane separating the meat from the guts. Had other people not been there eating it, I would have probably refused however I felt my manliness was under scrutiny and had some on a piece of lavosh-like material. It was disgusting. Absolutely foul. It tasted like the gross orangey crap you occasionally accidentally eat from the heads of prawns. The most amusing thing of the night was having a smoke outside watching a guy exit a minimart wearing trackies and ugg boots take a wizz on a wall and then climb into his BMW 4WD. South Yarra may be posh, but money obviously does not buy class. Then again, he was a BMW driver so what can you expect?
Saturday, 8 August 2009
Yvette's favourite uncle died the last Wednesday before we left Cobargo and she decided to fly back to Sydney for the funeral. Luckily flights are quite cheap at the moment and managed to get a good deal on a return flight with Virgin Blue. She'd booked to fly out Tuesday morning and back Wednesday night. What we hadn't counted on was that David was going to a concert on Wednesday night and I would have to drive out to Melbourne airport by myself and pick Yvette up. I had the TomTom which made me feel a little better and David suggested he drive out to drop Yvette off on Tuesday morning and I could get an idea of the route. So we left about 9ish and it was quite an easy drive which took about 40 minutes. Having your airport a long way from the city does have its advantages in that Melbournians are not plagued by incessant aircraft noise the way we were in the inner west. It does, however mean that a taxi fare from the airport costs a small fortune. I don't know which is better. When it was overcast and the planes would fly lower and the sound would bounce off the clouds, we'd curse the planes in Sydney, however when we needed to pick someone off, drop someone off or catch a plane ourselves, we knew it was only 15 minutes drive or a $20 cab fare.
After dropping Yvette off, David decided we should have a look at the ill-fated, poorly executed development known as Docklands. Conceived along the lines of Darling Harbour, it is one of the rare occurrences where Sydney got it right and Melbourne buggered it right up. The old docklands area has been revamped and has shops, restaurants, a little amphitheater and is on the water. Nice enough, but do Melbournians really need another area that has shops, restaurants and amphitheaters? What was needed was a reason to go there and so a giant ferris wheel was built. Not as large as the London Eye, but considerably bigger than any fairground attraction. Unfortunately the wheel broke down a few months after opening (the owners blaming the extreme heat Melbourne had in summer) and is now sits like the giant white elephant it is quite possibly only attracting people such as David and myself who come to marvel at the complete stuff up and at how many people there aren't. The Docklands is actually a nice area and I imagine when it's not winter and it's not freezing cold in the shade, it would be a pleasant place to be. If you can imagine what Brisbane's Southbank would look like would be like after one of those bombs that kill all the people and leave the buildings intact hit it would look like, you'll have some idea. On the large projection screen near the amphitheater they were showing a Mets game but David wasn't interested enough to stick around and watch it. If you look at the photo of the statue of Kylie on my Flickr site, to the right of her bronze botbot you'll see Perez about to pitch.
After a little more of a driving tour around the city with David pointing out various buildings, we headed to Dights Falls inside Studley Park. These are very shallow, man-made falls on the Yarra but what is so amazing is that you feel like you are out in the bush when in fact you are only a few kilometers from Collingwood or Fitzroy. We took a few photos and then drove up to the lookout past the wealthy houses of Kew. From there, we went back to David's house and grabbed some of his photography gear and went down to the beach huts of Brighton. The light was fading fast and I managed to grab a couple of really nice shots of the huts before David gave me a lesson on flash photography. We started with one external flash and then went to two as the light disappeared altogether. This is what we were doing f you're wondering why there are so many photos of me on Flickr. Also the reason for some of the looks is that it was freezing cold down there. I'm sure if you zoomed in, you'd see the tears in my eyes. I felt a bit of a wuss though when a girl in a two-piece bikini walked past us after her evening swim in what passes for surf in Melbourne. She didn't even wrap her towel around her for crissakes. David and I packed up and headed back to Bentleigh where I grabbed some of the worst roast chicken I think I've ever tasted from one of the takeaways on the high street. Most of it went into the wheelie bin where it continued to stink like an ill-considered fart.
Wednesday was going to be a lazy day. David had to go into the city about 4ish to meet a friend for the concert and I'd made plans to catch up with my friend Emily for lunch in Hawthorn. There was one important thing to do however, and that was to go to USA Foods - The All American Grocery Store (located in nearby Moorabbin). When Emily first moved from London to Melbourne I did a bit of an internet search for shops that stocked UK foods in Melbourne of which there are a couple. I thought, well there must be places doing the same thing for American foods. Oddly enough, there were none in Sydney but one in Melbourne. I had considered ordering some stuff from them, but when you add postage to the already expensive prices, it was hard to justify. However, as I was in town now, a quick visit was entirely justified. Why American foods you may ask - don't we have enough Americanisation here already? True enough, but even though you can get Oreo cookies in Woolies and Coles now and even Hershey bars and Reeses Pieces in some corner stores, what has failed to make it into the country is two of my favourite food creations - Hostess Twinkies and Cap'n Crunch. Now I have written at length about Twinkies on The Road To Hell, so I won't repeat myself here, but one of the things we are severely lacking in this country is a decent range of highly sugared breakfast cereals of dubious nutritious value. Sure we have things such as Fruit Loops and Cocoa Pops but we can not hope to compare with such brilliant creations as Trix, Lucky Charms (which have marshmallows in them!), the three flavours of Cap'n Crunch (including Peanut Butter Crunch) and Cookie Crunch which is a breakfast cereal made to look and taste like tiny chocolate chip cookies. Genius. Unfortunately, as these cereals were never introduced when I was a kid, there will be little hope now as Australia deems it has a child obesity epidemic. Tip for parents: if your child is fat it is your fault, not the food companies or the advertisers. Take some fucking responsibility for fuck's sake and stop letting them spend all afternoon on the computer or the Playstation. Oh, and say "no" once and a while. (Climbs down from soapbox).
David doesn't share my obsession for things American and watched with bemusement as I filled my basket with things I hadn't tasted since I was 12 and in L.A. I ended up with some Trix, some Cap'n Crunch, 4 Twinkies, a Hostess Cupcake, some instant mashed potatoes claiming to be as good as the real thing (as yet untried), some cinnamon Tic-Tacs, some apple strudel Pop Tarts and some Altoids mints (curiously strong donchaknow?). Of all of this, the only thing David would even try was a Twinkie and I'm sure that's only because of how well known they are. By this stage it was getting on and we had to get back. We also just had to go by a JB Hi-FI for a quick look.
Around 12ish, I once again put my fate in the hands of the TomTom and drove across town to Emily's place in Hawthorn for lunch and a catch-up. I'm sure it was quite disappointed as it found no dirt roads it could send me down en route. Em made a delicious lunch of garlic bread and cheeses and paté and we had some wine and chatted about stuff.
I left about 3 to get back before David left. The next few hours were spent working up the courage needed to drive through Melbourne, by myself, at night, in the intermittent rain. It started off well enough. The TomTom said it would be about 35 minutes, so I left a little early to allow for delays along the way. What I'd failed to take into consideration was the sheer amount of roadworks that seem to happen everywhere at night in Melbourne. Most of the freeway was being closed down to one lane in one direction which did nothing to help my anxiety. In a way I guess the slowing down of traffic was a good thing but it meant that I couldn't just pick a lane and stick to it. Also, for some reason the street lights weren't on for one section. By the time I reached the airport pickup zone, my nerves were a bit frazzled. This wasn't helped by parking in the wrong area and being rudely beeped by some asshat in a van. Once I had someone else in the car however, it was a bit easier and the drive back was quite a lot less stressful.
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Now that I am no longer a Sydneysider, I am no longer geographically obliged to be rude about Melbourne. I am free to be impartial. Possibly even complimentary.
Seriously though, Melbourne is a wonderful city. A lot of people have likened Sydney and Melbourne to two sisters. Sydney is the more attractive sister, while Melbourne, being a lot plainer, has had to become interesting. This could be one reason. It could also be that Sydney has better weather and that Sydneysiders have a lot more outdoor options (including real beaches) and have not developed an indoor, café/restaurant culture. It could also be decades of corrupt Labor government in NSW in the pockets of developers having no vision and very little care for Sydney's progression. There is also the NSW Hotelier's Association who seem to think that New South Welshmen like to drink in giant beer barns with loud, offensive music, 360˚ televisions, TABs and wall-to-wall pokies. Their chairman recently suggested (and I'm paraphrasing here) that Sydneysiders wouldn't want poofy little winebars.
So yes, Melbourne does seem to have a superior eating and drinking culture. It's okay to be a reasonably priced, excellent food restaurant. It doesn't have to be in fashion, or the place to be seen, or even in the right suburb. Could I live in Melbourne? Well, if they could only do something about the weather...
After nearly a month out of a big city, it was both exciting and annoying to be back in one. Exciting in that there were lot of new things to see and do (and flashy shiny things), annoying in that there were lots of people. And city people are not as friendly as the country folk. Especially old Mediterranean women who seem to think it is perfectly acceptable to bump, push, poke and generally jostle anyone in their immediate vicinity.
Sunday was market day. There was a local car boot markets at the railway station carpark near David. It was a real mix of utter rubbish and some genuinely interesting stuff. I bought an old Champion Ruby tobacco tin for Yvette. From there we caught a train into the city. One of the odd things about Melbourne for a Sydneysider is that there are level crossings everywhere. Cars and trains run on the same level throughout the city. This also means at some stations you walk over the train lines. To someone from Sydney and previously London, this was just plain weird. And a little bit freaky quite honestly.
Bentleigh is not very far from the city and we were in the city in no time and walking up towards the Queen Victoria Markets. I stopped along the way as David pointed out and explained a hook turn to me which is what Melbournians do when they want to turn right in front of trams. Sometimes. It sounds confusing if anyone explains it to you, but when you see it in practice, it's actually quite straightforward.
The Queen Vic Markets are absolutely amazing. The first part we walked into was the deli section which was like streets and streets of tiny deli shops all joined together. Imagine if there was a little town whose only income derived from delicatessens and you have some idea. Cheeses I'd never heard of, salamis hanging everywhere - to tell the truth it was almost overwhelming. Almost. After a quick, head-spinning look around we decided to come back to delitown and grab some stuff before we left. The rest of the markets has fresh food (meats, seafoods, vegetables and fruit) and then a general merchandise area which is massive. If you can imagine Paddy's Markets in Sydney, only less shit, you'll have some idea. After a very entertaining look around and a Spanish doughnut (which is more like a fried dough stick sprinkled with icing sugar) we actually didn't buy a thing. I was tempted but some not-very-genuine Arsenal and Mets clothing, but decided against it. Yvette wanted some Ugg boots but it was hard to tell which were real and which weren't. The stallholders were unhelpful to the point of rudeness. After a quick lunch we popped back into the deli section and grabbed some salami and cheese, grabbed a few veges and headed back into the city. We decided to try and make the Southbank Arts and Crafts markets before they closed and headed over the bridge near Flinders St Station and down into a large collection of stalls. The Southbank markets are quite well run in that stall holders are allowed a stall only once a month. That way, every weekend is different. The quality of things for sale vary from arts to well, crafts of a dubious nature. A lot more polished and certainly less chaotic than the Queen Vic Markets, it was still an interesting look-round. After the markets, we had had quite enough of walking around and headed back to David's and made some pizzas with the goodies from delitown.
Monday we decided we'd go and see the Dali exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Quite a comprehensive look at Dali, it features his work not only in drawing and painting, but in film-making, jewelry design and set design. The only real disappointment was that 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' and 'Persistence of Memory' weren't there. Oh, and that the Gallery had decided to let two groups of school children and a woman with a crying child through at the same time as us. I felt like asking for a refund or at least a discount. Seriously, the larger a group of schoolchildren, the further down the evolutionary ladder they slip. Either that or they'd learnt their crowd manners from the aforementioned old ladies. Still, the art was amazing - the hordes and the noise could not spoil that.
That night we headed down the Espy in St Kilda for dinner and for a look at the pub, famous for being the venue for RockWiz (and the opening credits of Secret Life Of Us). The pub is fantastic and is now one of my all-time favourite pubs ever. For one thing, it has Hoegardden on tap, for another it has been mostly untouched. No asshat interior designer has fucked it up with blonde wood, chrome and glass.* After a huge meal, some beers (they have Fat Yak on tap too!) we sat around until the band came in and threatened to play. It seemed that setting up and showing off in front of the WAGs was to take as long as their actual set. We never found out however and left before they managed to play a note. I wasn't particularly upset. David then took us a bit of a night drive around the St Kilda area before heading back to Bentleigh.
*Seriously - have interior designers never been into a real pub? They are not meant to look like they belong in a magazine. They should look and feel like a drunkard's living room. If you are an interior designer and are reading this, please punch yourself in the head until you pass out.
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Waking up in the Black Cockatoo cabins, over looking The Prom (as locals supposedly call it) was fantastic. The clouds were low over the horizon and the sun was just peeping through so we could pretend it was sunrise when it was in fact about 8 o'clock. After a leisurely breakfast and a slow car pack, we reluctantly left. There was still nobody around, both the cabins and main house still having no sign of life.
The plan was to head along the coast road into Melbourne, however I needed a BP service station (more on this in later posts) and I had also noticed and amusingly-named town which needed visiting - Poowong. Those who know me know that my humour leans towards the juvenile and dictates that even vaguely rude-sounding towns must be visited. Smoo Cave and Twatt (both in Scotland) being prime examples.
The TomTom again decided a gravel track would be more interesting and sent us through some gorgeous countryside en route to the scatologically-themed town. Poowong is tiny. There is a Post Office, a service station, a café, a hall (called Poowong Hall), a large building of indeterminate purpose with a giant "POOWONG" painted on it, and a general store. It was to this last shop I headed to hopefully purchase lots of postcards, write "Hahahahahahahaha!" on the back, and send to everyone I know. The shop seemed deserted and it was only after triggering an old-fashioned bell upon entering that a small, buggy-eyed woman appeared from somewhere out of the dark recesses of the building. I asked her about postcards and she said they didn't have any but they did have a bumper sticker for $5. Her tone implied that she knew exactly why I wanted postcards and that quite possibly I was not the only one who had ventured off the beaten path simply to visit a town that starts with "poo". I of course played dumb and pretended to be passing through on the way to Korumburra, but I think her eyes gave her magical powers and she saw straight through me. After the obligatory photo outside the mystery building, Yvette tried the local café for postcards. Apparently the Post Office had them, but being Saturday they were shut. She seemed oddly surprised that people wanted Poowong postcards. Was the hilly dairy country really that interesting? On the way out we passed the Poowong Milk Depot which gave us one last giggle.
Heading down to Inverloch took us through the beautiful mountainous dairy country from which we could eventually see the south coast again. As it was Saturday there were more cars on the road then we had been used to which was a little annoying, but somehow we coped. The town of Inverloch seems geared towards summer visitors from Melbourne. There is a lot of touristy shops and real estate agents with windows full of weekender properties for wealthy Melburnians. Enticed by the promise of 50 different kinds of pies advertised by the local bakery, we parked and headed in. Although there did seem to be 50 pies listed on a large board, not all were available, in particular the two vegetarian ones Yvette was interested in. Do vegetarians not visit the south coast in Winter? In the end she settled for a bacon and egg pie which apparently could have used some cheese.
After a not-very-successful attempt to make some brewed coffee in the car (the brewing worked, the coffee tasted awful) we took the winding, scenic route along the coast road via Cape Paterson. It was quite windy and therefore quite cold and we only stopped once at Eagle's Nest lookout to look out over Venus Bay and to take a few photographs. The road continued on until it turned into the Bass Highway which took us in towards Melbourne.
The freeways into Melbourne are wide and easy to navigate and it was surprising to see so much farmland so close to the city. Coming from cities such as Brisbane and Sydney whose urban sprawl-cancer spreads in all directions, it was heartening. This time the TomTom was good and took us directly where we needed to go, quickly and without any strange detours or road choices. We arrived at my friend David's place about 4pm and after unpacking and catching up decided the local pub would be a good place for dinner. A little overpriced for a suburban hotel, the food was still good and the servings massive. Coupled with a Guinness and a Carlton Draught it was just what we needed. David's spare bed futon is insanely comfortable and even though it wasn't a long day of driving, we slept very, very well. Again.
Monday, 27 July 2009
Next stop was Port Albert which seemed practically deserted. Perhaps it was the cold wind coming off Bass Strait, or perhaps it was because hardly anyone seemed to live there. We found the aforementioned fish and chips and they did live up to their reputation. Toughing out the cold, we found a table and ate our food under the watchful glare of a gang of rather forward seagulls. After lunch, we drove past the accommodation I had been looking at online and were both glad we'd decided to look further afield. I'm sure Port Albert is lovely in Summer but in Winter, it's pretty much a ghost town. A windy, cold ghost town.
After a small detour to check out Port Welshpool, another possible stay and another deserted coastal town we were happy we weren't staying in, we hugged the coast road around to Yanakie. In Toora we took a quick detour up a rather steep hill to check out a rather impressive wind farm. Obviously they knew what they were doing when they chose the location - the wind was blowing hard and the noise from the windmill blades was incredible.
I had programmed the location of The Black Cockatoo cabins into the TomTom and we had been using it to guide us around. When I asked for directions it asked me if I wanted to avoid unpaved roads and I said 'no', assuming that the cabins might be on a dirt road. What it then decided was that the quickest way to get to where we were going was to get off the Princes Highway and follow a gravel track called Black Swamp road. As we drove along, surrounded only by farmland, cows and hedges, meeting no other traffic and with no mobile phone reception we wondered what the TomTom was thinking. Still, we didn't break down and it was a very pretty drive. Eventually we met the main road we probably should have come in on and in no time we were at Black Cockatoo Cabins.
After 7 hours on the road we were looking forward to a lie down and possibly a hot bath however there was nobody in the reception area which seemed to be the back door of the owner's house. Two bemused dogs watched us through the window. After leaving a note, I found a receipt for our night's accommodation which had the cabin number so we headed down, found the key in the door and unpacked.
The view was stunning. The front of the cabin was all glass and looked out onto Corner Inlet on the eastside of Wilsons Promontory. Neither of the two other cabins were occupied and with nobody in the main house, we were completely alone looking out over farmland and water. It was a little bit odd, but liberating and absolutely wonderful. We were even more glad that Port Albert and Port Welshpool had been avoided. I really was quite tired after the drive and had a bit of a lie down while Yvette filled up the bath for a long overdue soak. We collaborated on an easy dinner of pasta and finished the night with watching So You Think You Can Dance before crashing out.