Melbourne, familiar faces, tennis, beaches + more

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Thursday, January 12, 2012

When we arrived into Avalon airport we didn't quite realise that we were still another 60k from Melbourne and so that explained why our flights were pretty cheap. We get a bus into the centre and get to our hostel which is another contender for worst hostel of the trip.  It’s looking like Australia doesn’t do hostels well.  A massive dorm (12 beds this time!), filled with stuff everywhere and not clean.  So we spent as little time as possible in that hostel.  Up early to go and explore Melbourne.  We start walking to the CBD when it starts raining – not sure we signed up for this kind of weather in Australia.  Under the rain the CBD feels like you could be anywhere in UK, as it’s a very modern, commercial centre.  But where Melbourne comes to the life is the lanes.  Federation Square which is the main square surrounded by one of the main train stations and art museums.  From there we follow the lanes between the large buildings to discover a lot of colourful street art, boutique shops and a massive range of cafes and coffee shops.  I have no idea how you would choose your favourite cafe as there are hundreds.  We ended up picking Manchester Press as it was a bit off the beaten track and so quieter.  We then go to the Queen Victoria market which is a big outdoor market that sells everything but the food area is what we came to investigate.  There is a huge selection of raw meat and fish, all types of fruit and veg and a good deli section where we get to try some cheese.  But settle on Bratwurst for lunch.  In the afternoon we have walked ourselves out and so jump on the free tram circle loop to see a few more sights – we pass the gardens, the new dock area and get to see a bit more of the centre.

Next is to get a tram out to St Kilda which is where the city meets the seaside to meet Adrian (Jonny’s old flatmate) who has kindly let us stay in his apartment for the weekend and so we can avoid paying a ridiculous amounts for a rubbish hostel for a couple days.  St Kilda is nice with plenty of cafes, shops and a promenade by the beach. It is also known as cake central of Melbourne so I’m very happy to be there.  We head out for dinner with Adrian and Kelly at As Lentil As Anything which serves vegetarian Indian food and you name the price you pay for the food.  We get a platter to share and it is all very tasty, plus the waiter is really friendly - a really good spot for food.  Next we go for coffee and cake and manage to choose apple crumble and caramel slice despite the massive window display tempting us further.  The caramel slice was so sweet (but tasty) that between four of us we didn’t manage to finish it and it was taken home for another time.

Next day we have a wander up and down Chapel Street which seems like the main high street that runs through many different areas towards the CBD.  There is plenty of shops and cafes here and we quickly realise that the thing to do here is go for breakfast as every cafe is full with people having breakfast with friends.  In the afternoon we meet Keith and Cat who have also been travelling around South America and New Zealand.  They have just arrived in Melbourne to find some work to stay for a while and so we spend the afternoon catching up, swapping stories from South America and then realised that we were both in the same town in New Zealand for three days after Christmas Day but never knew and never bumped into each other.  We have a couple drinks by the beachfront and then go on to try another bar but the cafes here are so inviting we go for more coffee and cake.  Maybe that’s a good thing about having less bars in Australia, less tempted to go for a drink and I’m quite happy to have cake every day instead.

In the evening we caught up with Jenni and Max, a couple from our university who have been living and working in Melbourne for about 18 months.  We head to a bar just off Chapel Street called 'The Local’.  It’s a small, well decorated bar with lots of outdoor and the first bar we have actually liked in Australia.  We have a couple drinks and lots of catching up before calling it a night.

We arranged to do the Melbourne thing and meet for brunch the next day.  We met for Chinese brunch at the Oriental Tea House (again on Chapel St – it is the place to be).  The system in the restaurant is that when each set of dumplings is ready the servers walk around with trays and you pick the items you want to eat.  This may sound simple but when they offer different dishes every 2 minutes, it means we got overexcited in the first ten minutes and said yes to everything offered to us.  Then had to slow it down as we have a lot of food on the table.  But the food is good and we all get to try something new.

Then we go for a walk around St Kilda to walk off our lunch. There is a Sunday craft market, lots of people are out on the beach and Jenni and Max have gone up the bay to kite surf.  Always plenty going on in St Kilda and it’s got a good buzz to it especially as the sun is out for the first time in a couple weeks.  We walk up to watch Jenni and Max kite surf but there are so many lessons in action on the beach that we are a bit scared of walking too near the kites as the beginners learn to control the kites – it does not look like an easy sport!  

Monday morning we pick up our car and go off to explore the Great Ocean Road.  It’s about an hour and a half drive to the start of the Great Ocean road.  Our first stop is Torquay which is a holiday town and so is accused of being touristy but we quite liked it.  It has some cafes and restaurants but the main draw is the large sandy bay which seems good for swimming and some watersports.  We sat in shade and had our picnic lunch while watching all the families on their summer breaks – the fact that this was one of the first hot days in a couple weeks probably helped the atmosphere.  We then continued along the road stopping at the odd beach for a walk, paddle or take photos of the impressive cliffs that line this coast.  We visited Aireys Inlet and it’s lighthouse where some of the scenes from ‘Round the Twist’ were filmed (kids tv show) and watched the sea batter the coast.  This coastline is well known for shipwrecks and apparently there are hundreds just off this coast.  Next we stopped at Kennett River as the guide book mentioned that we might be able to spot koalas just off the main road.  We walked about 100m up the road before spotting our first koala snoozing in the tree and then we spotted a couple more around us.  They are the laziest creatures we have seen, they would wake up for a minute at most to chew a few leaves and then fall back to sleep again.  When we were returning to the car, there was a small crowd of tourists taking photos right at the roadside, when we got closer we realised that one koala was in a small tree just above us and so we got the chance for some up close photos as well.  Our final stop for the day is Apollo Bay which was by far the nicest town we had seen on the road today.  We picked up some fresh fish from the docks and then headed to our hostel which was another pleasant surprise.  We stayed at the YHA which was definitely the best hostel we found in Australia and probably in the top ten of the trip.  It was a big purpose built eco hostel but had been thought out really well, with plenty of common areas inside and out, two kitchens and a nice older couple running it.  Finally a decent Australian hostel!  We had our dinner out on the deck then went for a wander by the beach for sunset.  We have been told that the most amount of shark attacks happen at dawn and dusk and so you would wonder why people would be in the water at that time but it is a nice time to be on the beach and so I understand a bit more.  However the furthest I went in was my ankles. 

Moving on the next day, our first stop is a rainforest board walk to give us a chance to quickly stretch our legs under Australian rainforest (didn’t really know that they had rainforest but anyway) which was interesting.  Plus I’m a big fan of boardwalks in Australia as much less chance of stepping on a snake.  Then we drove out to see the Otways peninsula which was slightly disappointing when we got to the point and discovered you can’t see the lighthouse without paying for a tour but we did see lots of koalas and a roadkill snake on the way so the drive still kept our interest.  Finally we are on the main stretch of road everyone wants to see – leading up to twelve apostles.  We stop at a few different viewpoints of the rocky and unstable cliffs along the way.  We stopped at Gibson steps which allows you down to the beach to look up at the cliffs and the sea may look pleasant here but it is far too rough to go swimming in (bearing in mind it does batter these rocks and make the formations).  Then we went to the 12 Apostles view points which allow to see you the several limestone stacks in the sea that have been created by the cliffs falling away into the sea.  One interesting fact is that there is not 12 rock formations and there is no reason for them being called apostles apart from the fact that the tourism board thought that was a better name than the ‘Sow and piglets’.  It’s an impressive sight on a beautiful coast and well worth the drive alone.  Lucky for us (unlike the many, many tour groups here) we are staying about ten minutes down the road at Port Campbell.    Port Campbell was even smaller than Apollo Bay which makes buying fresh stuff for dinner a bit more difficult and the beach isn’t as nice.  But it was such as hot day I went straight to the sea to cool off while Jonny battled with the flies on the beach.  Apparently the flies in Australia are attracted to humans as they are so desperate for water.  Unfortunately this means that they spend their whole time trying to get in your mouth, nose and eyes and can prove to be quite irritating (again being in the sea helps to get some peace).  Then we check into our hostel imaginatively called Port Campbell Hostel.  It was another nice purpose built hostel but lacked a bit of atmosphere as it dealt with groups mostly but we were quite happy with it as it was clean and tidy (and we have had to lower expectations since coming to Australia).  The sunset that night was pretty spectacular which we weren’t prepared for as it had been cloudy all day and so we missed some good photo opportunities at the 12 apostles

In the morning we had our final part of the great ocean road to see, our first stop was ‘London Bridge’ which was called London Bridge even before it collapsed one day leaving a couple of tourists stranded on the new island (they had to be rescued by helicopter) hence that you are now not allowed anywhere near the cliff edge.  This was another impressive rock formation (who knew we would see so many!?), especially considering the amount of rock that had collapsed.  We then continued along to the end of the great ocean road and on to the more ordinary sounding Princes Highway to Port Fairy.  Port Fairy was nice which turned out well as it was a bit of longer drive for Jonny than we expected.  When we arrived we spotted a farm shop that was doing wine tastings for free so we headed in there to try some local wine and pick up a couple bottles and try not to buy anything else – they even had Dean’s shortbread (my favourite) but I resisted.  We then took a walk around the harbour area which was nice, had a coffee and cake break on the main street and then drove around the headland to find a beautiful swimming and snorkelling beach plus some very plush looking beach houses.  No idea what you would do for a living if you lived out here but there seems to be a lot of development going on.  Then it was back the way we came until we reached Warrnambool where we stopped at CheeseWorld.  We were offered some tasting of their different cheddars which were nothing exciting but ok, and then when we saw Babybels in the display we realised that we must be at a Kraft factory and so the cheese lost some of its appeal.  However we did still buy a couple to try with the red wine we had bought earlier.  After dinner we drove out to 12 Apostles for sunset so as not to miss a sunset like yesterday but it was a fairly average sunset.  Although I didn’t realise that we were so far south that we could see the sun dip into the ocean plus the viewpoints are a lot less crowded in the evening and so it was still worth the drive.  Then we went back for cheese and wine to complete our day.

For our last day on the GOR we took the quick way back to Torquay (inland in the hope of seeing some kangaroos – no sightings, not even road kill).  We were staying at Home @ Bells Beach hostel.  The name had let us believe we would be chilling out next to the surfers beach just outside Torquay so when we actually looked at the address we were quite surprised to see it on the main highway in Torquay.  Not an ideal location or ideal hostel but we were used to that by now and in a 12 bed dorm with long-termers is never fun but at least it was only one night.  We headed off to see Bells Beach which was actually a ten minute drive but unfortunately the weather conditions were not on our side and so there was no surf and no surfers.  We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach before going back to the hostel and taking over the lounge to watch tennis for the rest of the evening as the Australian Open was on in Melbourne.

Next day we drive back to Melbourne to drop off the car and to stay with Jenni and Max for the weekend.  Apart from me getting us a little lost on the drive in to Melbourne ( I don’t think it was my fault as we didn’t have a road map which makes things a little difficult) we drop off the car with no bother and then head out to Jenni and Max’s.  They are at work and so we keep Keith and Kat company on the sofa watching the tennis – we all got a little addicted....before heading out to pick up some bbq food for dinner.  So at least when Jenni and Max got home we could say we had planned dinner rather than just watching tennis all day.  We then caught up again over dinner, wine and even espresso martinis which somehow promptly sent us all to sleep.

On Saturday we headed into town to watch the tennis as the ground passes were pretty cheap.  We got lucky in our first ten minutes as we saw Nadal training and then went to queue to get into one of the bigger stands.  After an hour and a half of queuing in the sun we were all beginning to lose hope and so decided to splash out and buy tickets for the Murray match later on in the day so we were guaranteed to see some decent tennis.  After we got the tickets we watched some double matches which are always good as they are so quick, picked up something to eat and then watched the Murray vs Llodra match.  We definitely got value for money even though it was relatively easy game for Murray as he was still forced to make some great shots and Llodra enjoyed keeping the crowd entertained.  The next match was a show match with Pat Cash and Goran Ivanisevic against Mansour Barhami and Cedric Pioline.  This, again, was very entertaining as they performed trick shots, showed off and stole beers from the audience which were then spilt for the comedy effect.  After all that excitement we headed back to the house, exhausted from our day out.

For our final day in Australia, Jenni and Max kindly took us kangaroo spotting as we still hadn’t seen any.  We drove about 30 minutes out of town to a golf course and sure enough, there they were relaxing in the shade.  No idea why kangaroos like golf courses but this should be the first place to check if you want to see them.  They really are the strangest creatures – they look like a cross between a hare, deer and dog but then when you see the strength in their tale that looks like a snake.  We walked up to see how close we could get to the without disturbing them and got some good photos.  Then we headed back into the city to Fitzroy which is bit more rough and ready than the other areas that we have seen in Melbourne but this means that they have some pretty cool street art, cafes and shops.  We stopped for some coffee and cake – possibly the biggest slices of cake we have ever seen which were very tasty.  And then it was time for us to make our way to airport and leave Australia.  We were sad to leave Australia as it has only been a brief visit plus it was very nice to see some familiar faces  and let’s face it they spoilt us well!

We flew back to Sydney to fly to Bangkok the next day.  And now we are onto our final leg of our trip – South East Asia with only about 10 weeks left!
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