round the edges there is a lot of shore to disembark on in Australia. We have put our first foot on Australian soil in the very north and started with exploring the Northern Territories and the parched outback (read more about it here). Time to head to the fabled southern shores. After disembarking in Melbourne you immediately notice that this is again a very different place, no longer in the tropics or the desert and not nearly as uninhabited. Luckily you no longer have to sail a ship around the famously treacherous coasts of the continent or cross it with one of the famous exploratory expeditions. Currently Virgin Australia succeeds quite nicely in connecting the populated fringes of the country.
Virgin brings us to the city of Melbourne, and what at city! If it weren’t thousands of miles away from everywhere on the globe, it would definitely be one of our favourite cities to stick around in for a while.
Melbourne has everything you can wish for in a metropolis and we get to discover that in the following days. Melbourne is filled to the brim with amazing little neighbourhoods and corners, cozy bars, hip restaurants, and those cool little stores to go with it. If that weren’t enough, the city is set on a bay and with its relatively mild climate this means almost all year round water fun. Not enough? There is a river traversing the city, only enhancing its visual appeal. Beach walks, riverside strolling, some of the oldest buildings in Australia, Federation Square, the first Australian Luna Park, loads of theaters, plenty of hipster areas and a great chinatown. You can stock up on vegetables and little bites (such as the locally famous “dim sim’s”) at its great markets, such as South Melbourne Market or Queen Victoria market. Or bask in the sun in one of its parks such as Flagstaff gardens.
Melbourne even has a real casino. Not a bad idea apparently, as it attracts high-rolling Asian tourists and caters to the Australians’ nationwide addiction to the “pokies” a.k.a. slot machines. And if you prefer wildlife watching, Melbourne has its very own penguin colony at St Kilda pier. At dusk hundreds of little penguins jump out of the sea to tuck in for the night. They might be noisy and smelly, but oh so cute. After watching this amazing migration, you can proceed to the St Kilda neighbourhood, again with loads of cool spots, restaurants and bars. If you get bored in Melbourne, maybe it is just you.
The city also feels very European, maybe that is why we immediately feel at home. However, as everything in Australia, it doesn’t come cheap. Firstly, public transportation is terribly expensive, but a place for the night might actually break the bank. We sleep in a youth hostel for one night, but decide to switch to a cheap hotel we locate through booking.com. We feel a deal at a hotel is generally better value than the quite expensive youth hostels here. To be fair, the Australian youth hostel scene is not for us anymore, filled with legions of hormone driven twenty-something Europeans, striking for gold and pursuing happiness in fabled Australia. We do not really get how they manage to hold on to any of the money they work for under Australia’s youth working holiday visa. The youth hostels, the hostel’s organised tours, the junk food and the beer they seem to drink by the gallon are all terribly expensive. And when you find them all huddled together for an early morning TV screening of the Lion King, it becomes pretty clear to us that we are just too old to get it anymore. Well, whatever, at least now we are old enough to rent a car without any problems.
And that is what we do the next days (read more about our money saving car rental tips here). If you haven’t yet managed to locate your dream house in urban Melbourne, you will probably fall in love with a property along the Great Ocean Road. Our dream house for these few days will be our little rental car. Avoiding expensive accommodation and the need to buy a tent, we decide to sleep underneath a cheap Target fleece blanket in our tiny car on the free but magnificent campsites we find through our favourite app: Wikicamps Australia. Each time we are utterly alone, the first night on a hill in a eucalyptus forest with view on the incoming sea, the second night in the middle of a rainforest under an impressive mountain ash next to a gurgling river. You have to go to some trouble to sleep cheaply in Australia, but at least we wake up with kangaroos bouncing right in front of our car-window.
If you would like something a bit bigger for yourself, start house hunting with cruising past green-blue waters, raging waves, raw cliff faces and eroding rock stacks. We start off in one of the surfing capitals of the world, Torquay, where we see the first ripping waves and surfers. We also swing past Bell’s Beach which is still closed down thanks to the Rip Curl Pro Surfing competition.
If you are looking for the perfect tree to set up a (temporary) dream house, you will probably pick a Eucalypt as almost every tree here is one. But they might redefine your idea of what a Eucalypt is supposed to look like. You have them in all sorts of foliage, shapes and sizes, from looking like ashes to looking like pine trees. Quite a few of them are also pleasantly fragrant. In a mid-sized contortioned type you can find the cutest creatures with brains the size of a walnut: K-O-A-L-A-S!!! Sleeping, plucking leaves and chewing is about all koalas do, so they don’t exactly need to be big brained to manage that. They turn out to be quite a bit more common than we expected in this wonderful land, but we still can’t stop being excited seeing them!
Not every animal here is as cuddly though. Suddenly a small snake slitters in our path. Kate doesn’t really react on Maarten’s clear “LOOOOK OOUT!!!” and almost steps on one of the most dangerous snakes in the country (and that means something here). The Eastern Brown Snake almost cuts our Ocean Road adventure short. Thirty centimeters of pure misery.
If you haven’t had your fill of impressive trees while driving? You can have a walk through one of the temperate rainforest walks, such as Maits Rest. Colossal trees overgrowing each other and thickets of ancient ferns. Definitely a great short walk!
Between the Eucalyptus trees,
you can also find patches of apple orchards. You can try their produce out on the quirky Apollo Bay market, where every other stall seems to peddle delicious apples. Here you can also find sea view houses with big windows on a hill behind the beach, cool shops with trendy gadgets and a hipster vibe.
We stroll past the water across rocks and beautifully eroded stones with beautiful shells, seaweed and than suddenly sea lions! And then in the next frame dolphins! It keeps on getting better. You could stop every other meter for beautiful vistas over the rugged coastline and rolling waves, for a glass of wine on a majestic beach or to take a wave on a surfing board. The latter only if you really can that is, because this coast has treacherous currents and heavily pounding waves. We see one too many overly brave tourists walking purposefully toward the waves, sliding into the water and returning after 5 minutes of trying not to drown.
Our journey ends at London Arch and the famous Twelve Apostles rock stacks. A last mesmerising view over the Bay of Islands at sundown and it is time to head back.
Or at least not before we make a last detour, past Great Otway national park and the Lighthouse Road Koala colony. But now we really have to head back. Time to say goodbye to the menacing cliffs, cozy villages with cool shops, grand beaches, the amazing waves and its surfers, the dazzling sunsets and beautiful mansions. The car has to be put back in its stables in Melbourne and we are already looking forward to our housesit in Albury! Read more about that here!
Would you like to drive along? Have a look at our pictures here.
Would you like to read more about our journey through the inhospitable outback and our time in Darwin, Alice Springs and Uluru? Take a look here.