After our trip through Flinders Ranges and Barossa Valley, we were ready for some sea fog and salty air again. We drove down the coast south of Adelaide, to start our drive along “The Great Ocean Road”.
It’s winter here in southern Australia. We could feel this as the nights fell upon us in our campervan. Every single evening we took full advantage of our 20 dollar investment in the electric heater. Without it we simply could not have enjoyed this part of the journey. In spite of the fact that we are used to much colder winters in Europe. But when the outdoor temperature goes below zero degrees celsius, it just gets too cold no matter if we all sleep inside the cabin of the van, and are covered in good sleeping bags. I did not leave the heater on through the night. You never know what might happen, and I preferred to be on the safe side. So it was rather cold at five in the morning to crawl over to the switch, flip it on and then back to bed for another couple of hours, while the heater made the cabin livable. But it worked just fine.
We spent three days driving the 250 kilometers along the road which carries the name “Great Ocean Road”. There were quite a few highlights, but one of the greatest moments was “The Twelve Apostles”, which are a group of small islands just along the southern coastline. The coast itself consists of limestone formations, and as the ocean eats its way into land, the cliffs crumble apart and fall into the ocean, forming spectacular islands, arches and bridges. It’s quite a scenery, but you have to remain within the fenced paths and observation decks. The cliffs are very porous and every year many tonnes of limestone fall into the ocean. A couple of years ago the so-called “London Bridge” crumbled and fell into the ocean. This was a large piece of limestone that connected the main land with one of the islands. It happened while two tourists were on the island. A reminder to all of us, that even though there are marked and fenced paths, nature CAN and WILL run its own course and be unpredictable. The two frightened tourists did get a bit of a shock, but were rescued by helicopter. We did not have any concerns as we enjoyed the fantastic views from the observation decks together with all the other guests though. And nothing fell down during our visit.
Another highlight was Cape Otway, with its national park and magnificent, old lighthouse, which is the oldest of its kind in Australia. Built in limestone, without the use of mortar, it rises high on the very edge of the cliffs of the cape. Needless to say we had to climb the narrow stairs to the top to enjoy the view. Such an old lighthouse is not built with all kinds of modern safety measures, so I did have some concerns with Antons excitement and jumps on the VERY narrow top platform, which only offered a 130 year old iron fence between us and the abyss far below. I managed to make him understand that running was not encouraged up there and that we would have to wait with his excitement until we were back down on solid ground. The view was stunning and we tried to spot some whales. When we bought the tickets at the entrance we heard that several other guests had in fact seen some whales that morning. We saw none. It didn’t matter. It was a great experience all the same.
On our way to and back from the lighthouse we drove through an eucalyptus grove. We wondered why people would stop, get our of their cars and look up into the treetops. Like lemmings we did exactly the same without knowing what expected us, but it had to be interesting as so many did it, right? We then witnessed a big group of Koalas having their afternoon meal of eucalyptus leaves. We had seen Koalas in the Wildlife Habitat up in Queensland, but this was wildlife Koalas in Gods free nature! And we were able to get very close. They just sat there, lazy, munching leaves as they observed the circus of excited tourists taking photos from the ground below them. We also got some pretty good shots which you can see in our photo section. On our way through to the lighthouse Anton was sleeping so he did not see the Koalas the first time. We hoped that they would still be there on our way back. They were, and thus Anton had a fantastic encounter with Koalas that he will not forget anytime soon. No touching, which is strictly forbidden, but still a great and memorable moment!
Now we have arrived in Melbourne. Thursday, late afternoon we arrived at one of Alexandras old friends from her schooldays, who now lives here. Alexandra and Bettina had not seen each other for 15 years, so it would be interesting to see how it would work out. Bettina lives with her family in a lovely, big and modernised victorian house not that far from the city center of Melbourne. Immediately we felt at home and comfortable because of their incredible hospitality and insistence that we simply kicked back and relaxed.
Friday we went to Queen Victoria Market, which is one of Melbournes biggest markets, offering everything your heart desires within cheap crap. But it is also one of the best foodmarkets I have seen so far. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, delicatessen etc. And not only in limited quantities. The range was stunning! 95% of the products are made or produced in Australia, which is a great indicator of just how big this country is and how isolated the Australians are. It simply pays off to grow and produce most of the food here. The remaining 5% are the very special and/or unique products that are not grown or produced here. Delicate spices, tea mixtures and the like. We were helping Bettina shopping for the Saturday afternoon get-together they had invited to. Bettina and her husband Roger know many german-australian families in the area, and a few of them were invited to come over, with all their children. Also Alexandras grand-cousin Erich and his family were invited. They did not know Bettina and Roger, but as we were there and were to stay with Erich and his family at their house afterwards, they felt it only natural to invite them as well, so that we could all get to know each other. True australian hospitality!
The house of Bettina and Roger is one of those cozy and rare buildings that have a lot of rooms full of life, with quite a high level of noise because of all the children, and yet the parents just remain calm, relaxed and in complete balance with the surroundings. And after having cooked a wonderful dinner for 20 people the kitchen obviously looked “challenging” to even the toughest dish washer. But also this was simply ignored for a while as we enjoyed a glass of red wine on the couch by the fire. I admire such people tremendously! We thoroughly enjoyed our days here!
We are currently staying with Sandra and Erich. When they heard about our journey, and that we would be staying for a while here in Melbourne, they immediately offered us to stay with them in their house. In Europe it is my experience that people, including myself, are much more reluctant when it comes to opening their homes to other people who are almost strangers. Here in Australia we have been invited by people several times even though we had only just met them. Erich and his family are relatives of Alexandra, but it has been many years since they last met and a lot of water has run under the bridge. Children have been born and families started. So we were a bit anxious as to how this would work, when we would crash into their daily life of work, school, sports practice and all the logistics involved with that. But their house is also HUGE, and thus we do not feel that we are interfering. And once again we are guests, staying with a family that insists that their home is also our home during our stay. We even got the car keys! We feel comfortable and at home, and hope that we are not too stressful to have hanging around.
So, the coming weeks we are tourists in Melbourne. We will meet with former colleagues, get to know the area and simply just live here for a short while. We have gotten our commuter cards for the train and metro system and we are ready to explore!