The Boys Down Under
I was sooooooooo excited to be seeing Jonny and Dad I could hardly sleep the night before with excitement. Jonny had been in touch with Pam and she was picking me up first from my hostel, and then we would head to the airport. I spotted Jonny’s head first, then him striding along confidently in his snazzy jacket. Dad soon followed and that was it, our holiday had just begun!
The boys were pretty tired and couldn’t stop talking about their flight. It sounded like it was the most exciting thing that had happened to them in a while, haha.
It’s worth saying here I think, that Melbourne is a foodie’s delight. Therefore, a lot of what we did was centered upon where the next meal was coming from. Sampling some of Melbourne’s exquisite cuisine was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
So, without further ado…Our first stop with Pam was a lovely Cafe in Windsor named Journeyman. It was a GORGEOUS breakfast – I had a panacotta fruit salad which was beyond this world, and the boys and Pam had eggs benedict. We all ordered coffees and sat down to a wonderful welcoming breakfast.
From there, we headed to Fitzroy. We were staying at an Airbnb place off of Brunswick Street. I had only booked the apartment about a month before the boys were due to arrive. I was getting quite stressed because it was hard to be in contact with either of them as they were both so busy. Trying to organise an apartment, as well as researching what to do and see in Melbourne, The Great Ocean Road and a trip to the reef, all whilst being on my own road trip down the East Coast felt like near on impossible. I therefore left it very late to book a place to stay, and my stress levels only increased once I saw that the majority of listings were already taken for the dates we wanted. I am not a big planner usually but this was a special occasion and i wanted it to be as nice as possible. I was worried that our place was going to be in a dodgy end of town and not be pleasant at all. Luckily, the opposite was true and the apartment was just lovely. Set in a quiet road just off Brunswick Street, the studio apartment was fully furnished with a big double bed and four other comfy sofa beds. We met Tanya, our landlady who was very welcoming and made us feel right at home.
We had arrived a little too early to check in so this gave us a great excuse to drop our bags and check out what the famous Brunswick Street had to offer. I remember it being excruciatingly hot that day, like 42 degrees hot. Walking around, it felt like someone had opened the oven door on the city and we were in dire need of somewhere with aircon. Luckily, we found a beautiful place named The Vegie Bar where we chilled out – quite literally – with some fresh iced juices and had a much needed catch-up.
The rest of the day was spent trying our best not to pass out from heat exhaustion. Luckily we made it. Fortunately, Melbourne is the type of place that cools considerably as the sun drops. It was still warm but the temperature had plummeted to a much more comfortable figure.
We spent a total of three full days in the city, exploring the busy CBD laneways, visiting the Docklands, walking along South bank and eating our way through many exquisite dishes Melbourne had to offer.
On the 22nd December, we left Melbourne for our Great Ocean road trip. We picked up our 4×4 wicked camper van and set sail on our way.
Our first stop was the iconic Bells Beach in Torquay. I was sort of expecting it to be warm. You know, it is mid-summer. But apparently not as the beach was freezing. I had to wear jeans, a fleece and a jacket just to wander around and not catch my death. Many surfers were hardcore and decided to brave the crashing waves. I was not a bit envious and I bet they were thinking how lovely it would be to have a nice cup of tea and a warm bath. Haha, maybe.
We stopped off at a little cafe named ‘Bottle of Milk’ and ordered some coffees to warm us up before heading on to a town named Lorne where we would be resting our heads for the night. Lorne was a night town but very touristy. We made our way to a free campsite in the woods. I expected it to be a bit of a drive but getting to Erskine Falls was like a scary movie. We drove deeper and deeper into the ever darker forest on a winding, dusty track for miles. No cars passed us and all we could hear was the tree leaves rustling and animals howling. The track eventually opened up into a small campsite with no amenities. One tent stirred in the breeze but otherwise the place was deserted. The boys were scared and said that they couldn’t stay here for fear of getting murdered during the night, haa.
I was happy enough to stay but down the mountain we went, back to a campsite we had seen in Lorne on the way.
The next day, we travelled to Aireys Inlet to see the lovely lighthouse there. On our way we stopped at Teddy’s Lookout point to see a helicopter extracting gallons of water from a near-by river to help put out a raging bush fire on the other side of the hill. We didn’t think much of it at the time, apart from that it was cool to see the emergency services in action, but much later on we learned that that same bush fire had become uncontrollable and had burnt over 80 houses in the area. We road had been closed and the area deemed impassable. We had passed just a day or so beforehand so we were very lucky indeed not get to get caught up in that.
The Great Ocean road is very ruggedly beautiful and boasts some seriously stunning views. At Kennet river, we branched off the road to see if we would be lucky enough to spot some wild koalas in the eucalyptus trees. I was expecting to have to search thoroughly for them, and even then just catching a glimpse would be exciting. It turns out these creatures were only a few metres away from where we parked the car! Dozing and completely unperturbed by the hoards of tourists congregating around them, snapping selfies, the koalas were well within touching distance and it was magnificent to see them so close up.
After we had our fill of sleeping koalas, we drove a way up the hillside to see if we could spot any more. We only saw a few but it was nice to stop at a look out point and take some funny photos. Our next stop was Apollo Bay which was one of my favourite places. It was warm when we arrived and we took some time to explore the small town. We had been directed by the tourist information desk to a place called Forrest, several kms north of the bay. Hoping to get a nice cosy pub meal there, it turned out nothing was open. Not even the pub. We came across a few old lads sitting outside a guesthouse and asked them for directions. They invited us to stay for a beer, and shouted us a few bottles, a comfy seat and warm conversation. It was lovely to hear about their stories of the area, where they had come from and how they enjoyed living here.
After saying goodbye and thank you, we set off to Stevenson Falls to camp for the night. The campsite was very welcoming and we built a fire before realising that we did not have any food. We tossed and turned the idea of heading back down to pick up some groceries, but decided that as it was getting late, we would rather do without. I managed to dig out some very soggy bread in the cooler box (some ice had leaked) and toasted it on the fire with some vegemite. Oh the luxury!
I woke up on Christmas Eve to the stories of a monster in the night. Apparently the boys heard an almighty growl and rustling coming from the near-by trees and were convinced it was the boogie man coming to get them. I laughed about that one, especially as I was sound asleep throughout it all. After visiting the falls, which weren’t far from the campsite and were very beautiful, we headed back down to Apollo Bay to organise an adventure. We were going kayaking with a sea lion colony off Marengo Bay. This had to be one of the highlights of the whole trip, and I have since been telling everyone I meet who is going to the Great Ocean Road to make it happen. There were about 6 kayaks in total, with 2 people in each. Dad and I went in one, Jonny and the instructor in another. We paddled out about 5 km (Dad did most of the work admittedly – my rowing days are over for now!) and as we rode the big waves we saw a cluster of sea lions with their front flippers up on the surface of the water. It looked a bit like kelp for a while until we drew closer and the flippers disappeared and turned into some dive bombing sea lions! We got so close – they came right up to the boat and were very inquisitive. The waves were pretty high and they seemed to very much enjoy ducking in and out of the water with their streamlined bodies. They are so agile and have the most alert eyes. Of course they have to be alert for the presence of sharks. Apparently we didn’t have to worry here though because the colony was much too small to attract the big boys. They go after much denser populations, and so easier targets. The whole experience from start to finish was extremely magical and is something I will look back on very fondly.
After about an hour, it was time to leave the sea lions alone and head back into shore. We got the chance to surf kayak in the breaking waves which was also a lot of fun. A truly wonderful, if not chilly time had by all.
As it was Christmas Eve, we wanted to make tracks to the 12 apostles so we continued on our way after our ocean adventure to a ghost town of a place named Princetown. It was the stop before the 12 apostles and we were planning on holding up there in order to see them on Christmas Day. We met a couple at a sweet little (very Aussie)cafe run by Sharon and her family. Sharon was very strange and the boys had fun antagonising her, not that she seemed to mind. We did stay for three cups of tea and biscuits so I think that softened her a little. Anyway, the couple we met on Christmas Eve in that little Princetown Cafe said that they had driven allll the way from Melbourne in one day just to see the sunset at the 12 apostles tonight. I hadn’t even thought about how magical that might be so we followed suit.
The minute we arrived there was a thrill in the air. We stopped at a cliff edge just short of the main event where there were steps leading down to the beach. The sun was hazy with heat and dissipating light and we were surrounded by crashing waves. It really was stunning and so nice to see some of the apostles from a different perspective down on the beach. I dabbled my feet in the cool water but Dad was too scared to even take his shoes off for fear of being stung by a jelly!
We drove the short distance to the 12 Apostles and parked up. The car park stands opposite the walk way to the apostles and it wasn’t long before we were looking at the real thing. The sun was setting to our left, later disappearing into the sea. We watched in awe as the pillars of sediment changed colour with the setting sun. It was easy to imagine how this landscape changes continually along the coast with the brutal battering of forceful salt waves. Up on the viewing point, on top of the cliff, the almighty waves still looked huge despite our great height. Sea spray spun out of each wave and the roar was immense. Of course, the place was busy but we managed to bag ourselves a spot where we could watch the proceedings without distraction.
We stayed until the sun dipped its head, and after Dad was well and truly over getting bitten by the mozzies, drove back to Princetown to set up camp. A lovely campsite it was, but unfortunately we were ravaged by even more pesky mozzies all night (I think there was a river near by) so we all woke up itching like Baloo from the Jungle Book.
It was CHRISTMAS DAY and we were on the Great Ocean Road! It felt very bizarre and not at all as it should but we dealt with the day almost like it were just another to begin with.
After bunking in our 4×4 for a few days, it was a welcome relief to see a luxurious queen sized bed for each of us. We bought some snacks and low and behold found National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in a local petrol station. It was fate and it had to be done. We spent the evening curled up on the sofa with cups of tea and chocolate, well at least I did anyway. I slept like a log that night and the boys had to wake me when it was time to start packing our things. Today was the turn of The Grampians National Park.
Jonny did most of the driving whilst I slept more in the back. I awoke to a pleasant little town named Halls Gap. The Grampians are situated North of the coastline and landscape was very barren and busy – lots of dry dirt and shrubbery. We took some time wandering around the bustly town, into the visitor’s centre and also into the public swimming pool; at 25 degrees warm, Jonny and I had fun splashing around like we were 8 years old again.
Afterwards, we made our way to a look-out point around 10km up the hill. We hopped ourselves over the barriers and sat on a look-out ledge for a spectacularly epic photograph. It had to be done. That night we camped again and made another fire. I think Dad was in his element and enjoyed the outdoorsy experience but I think Jonny just wanted a nice warm bed.
The next day sparked our last day on the road, where we drove towards Crescent, an old gold-mining town. We wandered around, had lunch and had a little dig for gold before making our way back to Melbourne. We had essentially driven a big loop and had packed a lot in.
The next chapter of our journey was our flight to Cairns and the experience started off a little scarily. There was bad weather up in tropical north Queensland and a tanoy announcement requested that 5 passengers disembark from this service so that they could carry more fuel. Dad was even more of a wreck with that announcement and to be honest I wasn’t much keen on being in a cyclone in a plane either. Nevertheless, 5 passengers disembarked with the help of a $200 compensation fee and we boarded the plane with slight trepidation. The flight was fine of course, bar a few hairy moments of turbulence. We landed in Cairns in one piece as were welcomed by torrential rain. On the plane we met a lady named Mary who ran a B&B place just outside of the city. She invited us to stay and we promised we would give her a call.
We rented a car when we arrived and checked into our lovely exotic hostel called Tropic Days. It was a pity it was raining almost the entire time we were there because it was a beautiful place. It’s funny how the boys were expecting sun, sea and cocktails on the beach when they knew we were going up to the reef – Cairns doesn’t even have a beach so that was out of the question and they visited right in the rainy season. Seeing as we hadn’t organised any reef experience, we decided the best thing to do was rock up at the reef terminal at 7am in the morning to see if any cruises had spaces left. I was very worried that we wouldn’t be able to see the reef at all at this rate, and I sooo wanted the boys to experience it as I had – no tourists and no schedule. Low and behold, a cruise did have space and before we knew it we were off to the middle of The Great Barrier Reef. I was in a bit of a bad mood because this was the opposite of what I had wanted – a great big boat full of tourists and no personalised experience. I cheered up as soon as I got in the water though and realised that there was still so much to see and that I was very lucky to be privileged enough to experience this. On a side note, it was also nice to see a different side of a reef trip – I had heard so much about the excursions from Cairns and it was good to see it with my own eyes. I would still suggest to everyone to depart from the much quieter Mission Beach though.
After a day spent milling around Cairns getting Thai massages and souvenir shopping, we jetted off to the Atherton Tablelands in our posh car so the boys could understand what a dream it was. Unfortunately, things did not start off too well as it was thundering down for most of our drive. We stopped off at Babinda boulders just like I had done with Uncle Brian’s Tour, except this time the river had risen considerably and it was flowing at an alarming rate. I heard on the news before to be aware of crocs moving into new territories due to the rising water levels and this river looked pretty croc infested. We decided it was best to move on but I was upset because I wanted them to experience it as I had in all its glory.
Next on the list was Josephine Falls and again we prepared for a swim and were instead greeted with an alarming gulf of water descending down the waterfall. To swim in there would be fraught with peril. Never mind though, it was nice to see it as it should be – alive and wet and free.
Our next stop, and luckily somewhere we could actually swim in was Milla Milla Falls. The boys enjoyed the waterfall and it had stopped raining long enough for us to enjoy a long swim.
Afterwards it was the turn of Lake Eacham which has to be my ultimate favourite I would say. I don’t think I got out from the moment we arrived to the moment we left. I say that I wanted the boys to experience all that the tablelands had to offer, but I was more than happy exploring it again as well. This time we also popped along to Lake Barrine which I hadn’t a chance to go to with the tour. The lake is splendid although not really for swimming. A little tearoom overlooks the whole expanse of water and we sat and had a cup of tea watching the weather cheer up.
We stayed the night at On The Wallaby hostel in Yungaburra and had a nice pub lunch at the oldest pub in Queensland. In the early evening we went down to the pond to attempt to view platypus and amazingly we did! Tiny little creatures these ones but there it was bobbing around and occasionally diving under, going about it’s business of catching dinner no doubt. We met a lovely girl named Bridget at the hostel and she spoke to us for almost the most part of the evening. After she retired to bed we sat down to a game of cards against humanity with a New Zealand guy who spoke of losing his friend in the devastating earthquake in Christchurch.
The next day brought about slightly better weather and we ticked a few more waterfalls off the list as well as a spectacular view across the rainforest. We drove all the way up to Port Douglas that day and realised the change in temperature as soon as we got out of the car – it was baking! We wandered round a little and then made it back to Cairns where we would be staying with Mary who we had met on the plane. Her house was nestled in the middle of the rainforest and was very beautiful indeed. We had two lovely bedrooms and a bathroom and a shared outdoor space. Each morning Mary cooked us a hearty meal and spoke of her lifetime of stories.
Whilst we were there we managed to squeeze in time to get Jonny his skydive, visit the falls near Mary and make it back in time to see the fireworks for New Year’s Eve In Cairns City. It truly was splendid. I would have been happy not doing anything if it meant spending time with these two but how wonderful we got to share more experiences of Australia. It’s funny now talking to them because I can mention places we have been to in Melbourne and they know where I am talking about. It’s great to have a reference point like this.
The end of the boys time stops there really because all we did was fly back to Melbourne, share a king sized bed between us all (don’t mention the snoring!) and then Pam and I waved them off the following morning. I got quite upset leaving them actually and I didn’t expect that. It was the most wonderful two weeks and I absolutely loved it. I hope they felt the same although it’s probably a dying memory of theirs now that they are back to full-time work.