It was not quite the New Year yet when I returned from Scotland to Perth. In fact, it was German Nikolaustag, 6th December, but new beginnings can start at any time. Like many women I have been dying my hair for the longest time but for the last year I have noticed that the crown has been brassier than I would have liked. Not a good look! So I decided to stop dying my hair. Radical, eh? Some people advised against it with the usual argument, that I would look like an old woman, daggy, UNATTRACTIVE! Well, I’ve decided to think that looking like an old woman takes more than some white hairs. Ageing skin happens to all as does gravity, a painted corpse is a ridiculous sight and I think that a positive outlook edges itself into your face as much as a negative frown. There is actually a FB group called “Grey and Proud” which I had a look at but left soon after. It’s a good group to look for tips and to see what others have done but it’s a bit too “high five silver sister” for me and everyone tells everyone else how much better they look with grey hair which is not necessarily true either. I saw that some people let the roots grow out and endure the judging looks (she’s let herself go!”) and I didn’t fancy that either, so as I am impatient by nature, I had it cut off! I didn’t want the badger look. Gaby, my friend and hairdresser, advised to keep a little more length on top but the rest is all my own. Now I hardly need any shampoo and the cut is perfect for camping and saving water in these dry lands where many showers cut out after 4 or 5 minutes. As always when you have a radically different haircut or colour, I have noticed that people react differently to me. Kids and younger people, as well as women, smile at me more. Maybe I actually look a bit ridiculous with my short back and sides and Harry Potter glasses? Doesn’t matter, it’s only hair and I like it.
After some lovely days in Perth, staying with Kate and Tim and spending quality time with Jane, Karyna, Alex and friends, I jetted off to Adelaide and picked up the van from its storage place. There I spent two days on my own sorting the van, reading and sightseeing, before Roddy returned from Glasgow. We spent some much needed down time together and then started the van up to hit the road, the Great Ocean Road!
The first week of our journey took us via Meningie on Lake Albert, to Kingston SE and on to Mount Gambier. As before, we spend two nights in each place so we have one day for travel and one for exploration. In larger towns we stay for three or more nights, depending on how much we want to do, or if we need chill time. We have also started again to cycle around those wee towns that are often quite spread out. I have had further failed attempt at fishing which is lucky for the fish. We have seen the inside of spectacular caves and a whole range of cafes, sinkholes and cemeteries.
Mount Gambier is well worth a visit as there is lots to do and its highlight, the Blue Lake, is fabulous. The lake is a normal ‘lake colour’ during the winter months but in summer, almost overnight, it turns the most amazing shade of bright blue.
Nonetheless, it provides the drinking water for the town so the colour change cannot be due to algae or a high mineral content as is the case with the pink lakes. Mount Gambier was also the last town we stayed in in South Australia as the next day we moved on to Victoria via a back road. We almost missed the unassuming sign.
We spent Christmas in Port Fairy and decided to give turkey the body swerve. Instead, we bought two bright red lobsters off the good Portland fisherman Alistair James McDonald who comes from Gartocharn which is were we got married in 2014 at Ross Priory. He became quite emotional talking with us, as he had emigrated as a child and has soft memories of Loch Lomond. T’was a sweet moment. I was glad that the lobsters were cooked and did ask Alistair how they were killed – boiled alive? He said that no, they drown them in fresh water instead. Hm, is that really better? What is the “kindest’ way of killing a lobster? Why don’t they cut their heads off? I guess it’s because the presentation of the lobster with googly eyes and long antennae is iconic.
There are so many more people in Victoria than we are used to in WA and on top of that the summer holidays and Christmas were in full swing so the campsites were packed! In Port Fairy, large family and friend groups had gathered to spend time together and then there was the two of us. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Christmas without the kids. Who knows what next year brings? In a way, though, I loved our non-Christmas. We had both bought each other a present but didn’t have them there. Roddy’s present for me is being made in Scotland (more of that later) and my present for him is at Kate and Tim’s because I couldn’t take it with me on the flight to Adelaide. Not just out personal Christmas was relaxed, peaceful and low key. Port Fairy holds a small town fair and Santa drives around the streets in an open top classic car. Some decorations but nothing big. We enjoyed the beautiful environment, our bike rides and good food.
Mutton birds return to the Griffiths island, which is connected to Port Fairy by a causeway, every night in summer to feed their young after being out at sea during the day. They travel up to the Arctic in winter to catch the Northern summer and return to the same place in September to breed. Apparently when the parents deem the fledglings to be old enough they leave for the north, leaving the young ones behind. They, like human teenagers, initially enjoy their “empty” but after a few weeks they realise that they have run out of food so they fly after their parents (No idea how they find their way…). Switch hemispheres and it sounds a bit like Jane and me – only kidding, Jane.
We saw wallabies, which are like kangaroos but smaller and calmer, and two huge eels in the ocean inlet. I couldn’t get a good photo because I didn’t dare to get too close as the rocks were slippery and the water choppy. The eels were, however, about one metre twenty long and thirty centimetre thick. I think they might have been mating as they were twisting around each other slimily, making more slimy eels. Boak!
Finally we reached the western start of the Great Ocean Road, one of the most beautiful stretches anywhere. It’s mainly famous for the Twelve Apostles, one of the most iconic images of Australia. There are fewer than twelve stacks nowadays as the rocks are crumbling and tumbling under the heavy, constant assault of the Southern Ocean. The site was awash with tourists as was to be expected, however, the Twelve Apostles are a spectacular sight that makes you forget the others. There are many other stop-offs along this stretch of coast where you can see eroded cliff structures, arches and column rocks but the Twelve Apostles really are the bees knees.
The road snakes its way mainly along the coast but occasionally goes up into the hills in the Great Otway National Park, where you find yourself in a beautiful temperate rainforest, huge trees, amazing fern trees and lianas – think Tarzan. Outside the rainforest wine and dairy are big here and you get the feeling of prosperity despite the many droughts. Houses and towns are evidence of this as they are well kept and look solid.
The various small towns along the Great Ocean Road felt relaxed and groovy. There were many tourists like us but it didn’t feel too resorty. There were long-haired surfers as well as people of all ages, coffee shops, shabby-chic shacks and cottages. The most spectacular stretch of road was possibly between Apollo Bay and Lorne. Here the road was windy with sheer walls of stone on the left and the Southern Ocean on the left. Dramatic!
And was it not the weekend of the Falls Festival. This is a big festival up the hill at the waterfall near Lorne,r which attracts big names, some of them international. All tickets had been sold ages ago! Zut alors!
Due to the festival the town was packed and the roads congested but retained its happy relaxed feeling. The people were friendly and inviting. Roddy and I began walking uphill through the forest to the falls but gave up after a while as it was just too hot. At the start of our walk we saw a chubby girl in a bikini standing in the distance on flat rocks in the low flowing river doing yoga exercises all by herself. I thought it was one of the most Australian things I had seen. I loved seeing that girl there. People here don’t judge as much as they do in Europe. I can think of many situations there where people would have said, “Why is she wearing a bikini? She should cover up. I don’t want to see her flabby flesh!” But somehow, here it’s different. The girl was clearly having a zen time to herself and we didn’t linger – don’t worry, we didn’t perv on her or disturb her peace. Overall people are more inclusive, anything goes. In Melbourne we came across an afternoon New Year’s party in a lane, lots of booze, food, no doubt drugs and groovy tunes. Most people were young but as soon as they saw us, a guy came over and asked us to join in. I felt downright square next to these groovy young things and I am quite sure that in Europe we would not have been asked – excluded by age and perceived squareness factor. Here, no one gives a toss about that. You wanna groove? You groove!
Anyway, back to Lorne! Roddy is not a beach goer much but that’s ok – “the oak and the cypress don’t stand in each other’s shade” as our wedding vows stated (from Rumi Gibran’s “The Prophet”), so I go to the beach myself with my tent and enjoy the ocean. I don’t go as often as I would like to as we spend so much time travelling or it’s too cool but I do love it when I go. In Lorne the surf was just right and I spent many happy hours there with everybody else and my book. The beach was very narrow but the water was lovely with just the right level of wave action.
In the campsite I indulged my love for parrots as a pair of black cockatoos were busy in the tree next to our van munching their way through the seedpods, eating and dropping pods for hours. I tried to get a decent photo, which was difficult due to the limitations of my camera lens but I did try. I guess other campers thought I was off my trolley for hanging about under that tree for that long but I really love my camera and fancy myself as the new David Attenborough.
As the coast here in Victoria is a surfing mecca, we made a detour across the very up and down hilly hinterland to Bells Beach, a famous surfing beach and visited the surf museum in Torquay before heading for The Big City.
From the motorway, Melbourne looked like New York – sky scrapers reaching up and up, quite an impressive sight. I am a sucker for a glittery sky scraper and we loved the city. It’s much bigger than Adelaide, and Perth, too, is small in comparison but it nonetheless feels like a very liveable place. Lots of art nouveau architecture but also many Victorian mansions and administration buildings. I particularly loved the amazing Mutual Union building opposite the town hall in Swanston Street.
Many wide avenues with plane trees down the middle, creating shade. It felt like you could have been in Paris or Berlin. Lots of green parks and many little lanes populated by hipsters and hippies.
We watched the brilliant fireworks on New Year’s Eve but as we were knackered we opted for the early ones at 9.30pm, which were probably meant for the young and the infirm. We gave the proper ones a miss – is that bad? Travelling takes it out of you! Bloody Grey Nomads!
The Yarra river winds its way through the city skirted by a lively riverside restaurant and café culture, many art galleries and museums, as well as street art. I wandered around lanes that seemed to have invented street art such as the ACDC and Hosier lanes. Packed as they were with other tourists, I managed to get some good shots.
While Roddy went off to explore the cemetery, I did my own thing, finding those fabulous old-fashioned shopping arcades and buying myself yet another silk scarf. You can never have enough silk scarves in my opinion. I did, however, reject a poncho (I love ponchos too!) that was made from possum wool. They kill the possums in New Zealand where this is legal, then they shave them and spin the fur into wool! The wool feels as if the scarf were alive and just about to move; it’s also slightly scratchy. I just couldn’t go there.
I wouldn’t say that I really know Melbourne now as it’s just too big to grasp in only a few days but what was noticeable was its internationalism. Melbourne is truly multi-cultural. Sitting in a park or in Federation Square, it is striking to see all humanity walk by. The Asian influence is obvious, but there are all skin tones, bone structures, eye shapes, body shapes, sexual orientations, fashions and life styles and every type of undefinable fusion. It’s beautiful. Taking the bus from our campsite into town, we observed this cultural mix too, especially driving through Footscray, which seems to be one of those slightly derelict, yet very political and progressive up and coming suburbs. We eavesdropped on three older Italian women who were clearly local. They seemed to be neighbours and could have been plucked straight out of an Italian village. Their clothes, haircolours and hairstyles were so uniquely Italian, as were their gestures and, of course, they spoke Italian. When they left the bus though, they were pure Aussie in thanking the driver.
Trams are a big feature of Melbourne. Apparently they have always kept theirs, which is as it should be anywhere. We took the tram to trendy, shabby-chic and pink St Kilda, went to the Luna Park funfair where we had a hilarious ride on a 106 year old wooden roller-coaster, followed by fish & chips on the main strip.
Another day we took the tram to the Port to check it out as we were due to drive there in the van the next morning to get on the Spirit of Tasmania for our sailing to Tassie. Melbourne was great and it’s definitely a city where I could imagine living. When we get back for a few days at the start of February after Tassie, I will tick a few more items off my must do list, including the Victoria Markets which were closed around New Year. Can’t wait!