Monday, January 30, 2012

Victoria: The Great Ocean Road & The 12 Apostles

Our journey continues! Having picked up our camper van our great adventure could now officially begin. 1st obstacle/challenge......dont get killed. You may or may not be aware but in Australia you have to drive on the opposite side of the road. Since i have driven only in the U.S. i will confess that i was more than a little concerned with my ability to do this well, our second task was to get groceries for our month long trek. The grocery store was a few blocks away, if i could get us there in one piece i would count it a victory. So off we went into an actual roadway for the 1st time in Australia! We took it slow much to the annoyance of the rest of the drivers around me, there were the occasional honks on the horn but i wasn't about to go faster than i was comfortable just because someone was irritated at me. Slowly but surely i began to get the hang of it and we got to the grocery store in one piece. With supplies now purchased we could be underway to the Great Ocean Road. Challenge #2 survive driving through Melbourne and the freeway. Well you know how that ends since I'm here updating my blog, while driving on the opposite side of the road was a little challenging, i truly didn't find it all that difficult and became used to it faster than i expected. The thing that really was the most difficult was fighting the instinct to drive on the right hand side of the road. At busy intersections i found myself thinking about which direction to go or what lane to get into, but in the coming days it would all just become normal to me. I found that the less i thought about what to do the easier it became. So on our way we went and after a long drive we were on the Great Ocean Road. Somethings became readily apparent as we drove to our destination. 1) The thing that really hit us in the face right away and something that would become the "theme" for our trip month was not enough time not even close. We realized very very quickly that in this stretch of road along the coast you could easily spend weeks exploring and not run out of things to do. This one realization would play out everywhere we went, and while it was in one way disheartening it was also very uplifting as well. Knowing that no matter where we went we would likely see something amazing was in a way encouraging, going on a trip like this you want to see everything but when you have limited time its just impossible. 2) Australias amazing beauty was EVERYWHERE! We had only been driving along the coast for maybe 30 minutes and no matter what direction we looked there was something beautiful to see. 3) Unlike any other trip that we had taken, this one single adventure was going to be life changing. When doing something of this magnitude (wether its a month or over a year) where you are constantly around each other and living in such close quarters you can chose to do one of 2 things. You can consciously make the decision that no matter what, you will do whatever you can to make the other person happy and put their needs over your own, or you can be selfish and only worry about yourself and in the end hate each other. We consciously chose to do the 1st option and this experience brought us closer that we ever thought possible. On we drove, we stopped where we could to rest and take photos but for the most part we had a schedule that we needed to stick to. So while i so badly wanted to spend time in many areas along the road it just was not going to happen. We needed to get to the 12 Apostles by sunset as the next day we would be on our way to Sydney. Not being able to stop and explore was heart wrenching for both of us, so we just soaked in as much as we possibly could and told ourselves that when we returned to Australia that we would spend more time here. For now we were deeply enchanted with the beauty of this country, the Great Ocean Road weaves and turns and everywhere you look there is beautiful green blue waters, rugged coastlines that turn into beautiful forests a few miles down the road. Along the way there are little beach towns that you can stop and explore, everywhere there was something to see. As we got closer to the 12 Apostles the forest became more dense so the chances to see some wild life increased. I was on alert as i didn't want to hit anything and there crossing the road was a big Echidna, which is pretty much a porcupine. It was pretty cool to see it there just crossing the road like it was nothing, a few miles later we saw our 1st Kangaroo of the trip which was very exciting. It sunk in all of a sudden......WE WERE IN AUSTRALIA!!! The road was to narrow and there was nowhere to stop so we had to keep going. Sunset was approaching and we still had a ways to go to get to the 12 Apostles. When we got within 15 minutes of the 12 apostles we made a stop at Gibsons Steps. We stopped at the parking lot and as we approached the cliff the ocean started to come into view. At the edge of the cliff the view opened up to show just how massive the cliffs were and below there was a long stretch of beautiful beach that went on for miles. As you looked west in the direction of the 12 Apostles you could see 2 of the limestone stacks and they were unbelievably massive. We spent a little time here but eventually moved on to our final destination. Sunset was close and there was a storm coming in, we arrived at our destination and parked the van. To my knowledge there isn't a way to get down to the beach so you can view the stacks from the beach, so you just have to walk a long the pathways provided. But this doesn't deter one bit from the impact of seeing the limestone stacks right there in front of you. The area was just beautiful and seeing the forces of erosion at work is quite humbling, the stacks rise out of the ocean like giants. It was incredible to think that these stacks were once part of the mainland coastline but through the power of moving water they have been eroded away and now stand apart. The sun began to set but because of the storm coming in most of that golden light was obscured and the sunset was not what i was hoping for. Still the stormy skies did bring a mood to the area that clear skies just don't provide. It was truly exceptional, and i couldn't believe that i was looking at something in real life that i had previously only seen in photos. With a deep sigh of satisfaction we left the 12 Apostles and were back on the road to find a place to stay for the night. We found a campground that was nothing more than a field but it had bathrooms and showers and a spot to stay for the night and it was cheap. Exhausted but incredibly happy we had hotdogs for dinner and prepared for bed, we laid down in our van not really believing all that we had seen and that our adventure was truly real. We lay there looking up at the stars through the sunroof and fell asleep.....thus ended our day. The next morning we woke up early, as i exited the van i saw that we were next to a big grass field. The sun rose into a sky filled with beautiful clouds throwing its golden light onto the field with brown grass. The scene was beautiful, as i stood there i saw something moving in the distance, one dark blob became two then three and then i realized that off in the distance there was a herd of kangaroos grazing in the field. I shot what photos i could the whole time wishing that i had a longer lens, we ate breakfast and we were soon on the road on our way to Sydney. It was an incredible start to the day and to our road trip. Excitement was at an all time high and we could not wait to see what was next.

12 Apostles Pano

12 Apostles Pano 2

12 Apostles Pano 3 B&W

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Victoria: Downtown Melbourne & St Kilda

Its been almost a week since our return to the states, it still feel really odd. Being home has been an adjustment and it has been a bit disorienting, were still somewhat stuck on Australia time (at least i am) so getting to sleep has been a bit of a challenge. Keeping track of the days has also been a little difficult, living in a camper van for a month you stop keeping track of days so everything starts to blur together. Slowly were getting back into the swing of things and things about our trip begin to trickle into our minds to be processed. In the coming weeks i will be updating the blog with a lot of photos and observations, so i hope you're in somewhat of a reading mood. Australia is divided into 6 different states Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territories. When we fist began planning our trip we were very ambitious and were going to drive all the way from Melbourne in Victoria into the outback in the Northern Territories and catch a flight to Pert in WA and then back to Melbourne for our flight home. As we planned more and more we came to the realization that it would be absolutely impossible especially when we realized that Australia is almost as big as the USA. So to go through with our plan would be utter suicide. The decision was made to only stick to the eastern coast and it was the right choice, so we moved on and after much waiting our trip had finally arrived and after a 15hr flight we found ourselves in melbourne. After what seems like forever we finally got through customs and were on our way to our hotel as we couldn't pick up our camper for 2 days. Obviously the biggest thing to hit us right away was driving on the left hand side of the was weird even as a passenger in a bus. Furthermore the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car and that was even weirder. Excited to get underway we checked into our hotel, i got my gear ready and off we went to explore the city. 2nd thing to hit us was that for a city Melbourne felt completely deserted! The was no one on the streets, it was really eerie. Part of it was that it was Christmas Eve and the feeling of no one on the streets only got worse on Christmas Day when there was literally no one out in the city. 3rd thing to really hit is was that for a city Melbourne felt tiny, when i hear "major city" i envision a sprawling urban landscape like NYC or Chicago. This was nothing like that, we were in downtown melbourne and it felt open, like you could breathe. Not like NYC were you are constantly surrounded by people and feel like a sardine. It was a nice surprise for us, everything felt really laid back and not stressful. Another thing that was nice was that there were people on a lot of the corners in bright colored shirts and their sole purpose was to give information to travelers. It was nice to just be able to ask questions and get some detailed info which is how we found a place to eat at 1st day. One of the challenges in going to another country is the language and slang, even in a country that speaks english. The lady that gave us info on where to find food told us to look for an arcade and look for the alleyway that has a bunch of restaurants. Well we heard arcade and I'm thinking a loud building full of teenagers playing video games. Turns out arcade for them is really more like a mall, or a place with a lot of shops. So we more or less stumbled upon our destination. We found this alley way that was full of grafity and more of a place that you would envision a mugging than a place to eat. But there it was little restaurants everywhere and full of activity, places like this were quite common actually as was the graffiti. Melbourne sees the graffiti more like art than a nuisance so theres quite a bit of it. Melbourne also has a central area called federation square, they hold all kinds of concerts and events here and there a major train station right across the street so getting to it was easy. Being christmas eve they televised a christmas eve special and there was tons of people there watching it. Our next day we went down to explore the St Kilda area, we were greeted by a nice surprise when we went to catch a trolley to St Kilda. We saw a sign that said "all public transportation free of charge today. Merry Christmas" Jen and i were astounded and had to ask an official just because we didn't think that it was true. Turns out it was, something like that is just unheard of here in the states i would almost expect to be charged more because its Christmas Day here. So with a little spring in our step we were off and began to explore. There was lots to see in St. Kilda, between the beach area to all the little desert shops to Luna Park which is home to the creepy Moon Man. We walked all over the place it was an amazing time. We also got caught in some freak thunderstorm, it would drizzle and then it would pour buckets of rain and then lightning and thunder then clear again. This cycle went on almost all day and it culminated in a beautiful sunset down by the pier where we waited out the storm while watching lots of australians celebrating Christmas by drinking and swimming naked in the ocean during a lightning storm. There you have it, that was our 1st couple of days in Australia. The next day we picked up our camper van, little did we know of what was in store for us. For the time being all we knew was that we had just had a great couple of days and we were already in love with Australia. I could write so much more but it would take forever to write down my observations and stories and no now wants to be here that long :) so heres some photos to go along with my babbling. ENJOY!!

St Kilda Harbour at sunset

Pier at St Kilda harbour at sunset