Road trip Aussie-style

Trip Start Aug 03, 2007
Trip End Aug 01, 2008

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Having semi-recovered from our quick bout with unhappy tummies, we started our true road trip. Deciding how to spend our 3 weeks in Australia was tricky since it is such a huge country with many amazing places to see...but we opted to rent a car for total freedom on the road and head south from Sydney along the coast (both James and I have visited Australia in the past and have been to the Gold Coast and Brisbane). Tortas, our little blue Toyota rental car in NZ was an oldie but goodie, but this time we were upgraded to a nearly brand new Hyundai Getz (almost as small as a clown car). CD player and all! James has spent most of the time behind the wheel and I have to give the guy props for his calm, cool driving the first day we had the city, in the rain, on the opposite side of the road and car, and this time a manual transmission. Although he had much time to practice in NZ, the manual transmission just ups the challenge that much more!
Fortunately the rain stuck around for only a few days so as we continued to drive further south we had brighter, sunnier days. In terms of our plans, all we knew was that we were going to drive along the coast from Sydney to Melbourne and then continue on to Adelaide. We didn't really have any idea what we would see between those cities so it was a true road trip! The coast is just amazing...beach after beach, surf everywhere, and clear water and soft sand beyond belief. We spent about 6 days driving from Sydney to Melbourne which is about 650 miles. There is a portion of the drive referred to as the Grand Pacific Drive, about 220 miles of beachside towns and a fancy bridge that winds along the mountain over the sea. We tried to do as much "bushwalking" (known as hiking in the US and tramping in NZ) as we could since there seemed to be one national park after another along the coast. Australia is known for its many spiders and snakes (some of which are quite deadly) and we definitely entered spider territory on more then one occasion. In fact, we were walking along one trail that was so full of webs crossing the trail at head height that we opted to turn around sooner then planned because I was starting to freak out. I am pretty sure the spider we saw the most wasn't the deadly kind, but we still kept our distance. We also came upon a rather long, intimidating black snake on one of our walks and it gave us quite the scare. James claims it was about 4 feet long...fortunately he was the one who spotted it first so he kept us calm as we waited for it to clear the path before us. This was during a walk in the Wilsons Promontory National Park, a gorgeous coastal park in the south of the country. We spent time at Squeaky Beach also in the park, the name referring to the squeakiness of the white sand. Beach time has been limited for us though since we are both pretty anxious about too much sun exposure here (something about more direct UV rays or less ozone layer or something along those lines...)

Most of the towns we drove through along the coast were pretty small but the tiniest one we stayed in, Yanakie, had 1 general store and 1 gas station (located at the general store)! Although we had bought a tent for camping along the way, we've ended up spending many a night in actual caravans/motor homes in various campervan parks and it has been so much fun! We got into the habit at first because the weather was so unpredictable but then we started to really enjoy being in a mini home! They are perfect for a short visit as they have small kitchens, a TV, bed and the deluxe ones have their own bathroom. It is so nice to be able to do your own cooking and we have also loved eating fish, fish, and more fish. Being along the coast, there is often fresh seafood in nearly every town so we have taken full advantage of that. Meat pies are also another favorite here in Australia. 
The last stop before heading into big city life in Melbourne was to Phillips Island which is about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne. It is a getaway for many city folk and is known for its "Penguin Parade", the evening ascent of the fairy penguins (one of the smallest species of Penguins in the world) out of the water and onto the shore where they nest for the night. We visited a wildlife park to get up close and personal with the famous Aussie animals since we were having trouble spotting them in their natural habitat. The kangaroos and wombats are nocturnal and since we didn't do too much driving during the night hours, we didn't see them along the roads. (This was actually probably a good thing since they often get hit by cars as they try to cross the roads). At the wildlife park we were able to feed the wallabies (small kangaroos), kangaroos, and pretty much anything that ate grass. We were a bit frightened by the emus as they were hungry fellas who seemed intent to pursue you for the feed in your hand. The koalas were definitely our favorite animals to see and fortunately they were awake and active when we visited. It is said that they spend about 80% of the day sleeping, 10% of the day eating and the remaining 10% of the day just sitting. As you can imagine, these activities don't require a whole lot of brain power which is good because their heads are quite unique: despite the large size of their heads, 40% of the space inside is just fluid so it is the only mammal on earth whose brain doesn't fit its skull! Since I'm on the topic of animal facts, did you know that the kangaroo's hopping is quite an efficient means of travel? While hopping, they use less energy to breathe than one standing still because of the way their abdominal organs move within the body. Instead of using muscle power, the air is pushed out of the lungs by the impact of the organs against the diaphragm at each landing. That is so cool. Do you feel like you are watching Animal Planet?

Enough for now...onto Melbourne.
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