My week consisted of birthday calls and celebrations.
If you’re a fan of your Birthday, I’d recommend moving to a drastically different time zone. I received calls, texts and notifications between the 16th and the 19th, each from family and friends who were certain they had reached me on my b-day. My answer to each of you is, yes, you did, and thank you!
Here in Australia, the team was more than happy to put me in the spotlight (my favorite) on the 18th, with a cake — to which I responded with my normal grace of mumbling, practically forgetting how to sit down and almost tumbling out of my office chair as my coworkers sang (trust me, there’s a video). On the night itself, Andrew and his wife took me to the immaculately decorated George’s Place (name after the greatest George of all, Costanza) for some trivia, where we summarily wiped the floor with the opposition.
The real treat would be my first foray outside of Melbourne over the weekend.
A two-day, one night tour of the Great Ocean Road and Grampians.
You may have noticed a word above that is not normally in my travel lexicon — ‘tour.’
I typically abhor group tours. I don’t like the pace or lack of independence. But, being in a new place with vastly different climates, animals and driving sides, I determined that I would best maximize my time by signing on and enjoying it.
I rolled out of bed for my 7:45AM pick-up and met the driver/guide, Pete. I was the last person on and, thereby, up front for the ride. My fellow passengers were two french women, some American college students, an older German couple, a Thai family and an American woman with her octogenarian mother (or, my spec script for Murder on the Orient Express 2: Australian Boogaloo).
From the start, Pete and I hit it off. An avid traveler who was working three jobs to launch his business, he clearly loved the outdoors and nature in general. As he learned that my politics weren’t of the gilded suntan variety, he relaxed a bit more and we were well underway.
Pete explained to us the history of the Great Ocean Road and how, originally built by soldiers returned from World War I, the road itself was now the world’s largest war memorial. As we moved further outside of Melbourne, the landscape began to change and we made it to our first stop, the surf coast.
Coming from Florida, I was used to the ocean and beaches, but not like this. The Southern Pacific was a shimmering blue, with massive strands of kelp swirling beneath the waves.
As the name would suggest, surfers abound. And, despite my best efforts, and the pleading insistence of her exasperated daughter, I simply could not convince our minibus’s elderly matriarch that I was not, in fact, a tour guide. So, handing out paper towels, water, or whatever else she asked for, and trying to answer questions as best I could, we snaked our way down the coastline. (Pete, the real tour guide, thought this was quite hilarious).
We made a quick stop to look for some Koalas, but alas, none were to be seen.
After a quick lunch, we moved inland.
It’s amazing how different things look after a few minutes driving in Australia. The coastal shore gave way to farmland, and, eventually, dense temperate rainforest. The forest, known as Maits Rest and part of Cape Otway National Park is one of the oldest on the planet. Massive green ferns cut out nearly 90% of sunlight and huge, hollowed-out beeches dominated the upper canopy. Pete recommended walking barefoot through the green and barefoot I walked, with each breath feeling rejuvenating as we went.
Allegedly, the forest is home to a rather vicious, carnivorous snail that sneaks (slowly) up on its prey to deliver a piercing blow with its one sharp tooth. Fortunately for all, the snail is nocturnal and we barely managed to escape with our lives.
As we drove on, the scenery changed yet again.
We had arrived to the shipwreck coast — home to the famed 12 Apostles. These rock formations, originally known as the Apostles, were later re-named the 12 Apostles for obvious, albeit ill-informed, reasons as there were only ever 9. One has since tumbled back into the sea, leaving 8.
Numerical semantics aside, the views were the highlight of the day.
We stopped several times along the road, with each vista truly more breathtaking than the last.
Stopping one last time to view the sunset over the waves, we turned inland for a dinner stop. After dinner, Pete started to get serious.
I, he informed me, was to be on ‘road watch’ as we drove into the bush. Having my earlier wildlife aspirations spurned (no koala and no carnivorous snail), I was excited to see what Australia at night would have to offer.
“ON YOUR LEFT!” I yelled as the 23rd kangaroo of the night bounced out of the underbrush and right into the headlights.
Pete, being experienced at this game managed to swerve at the last moment, leaving a confused ‘roo to hop across to the other side.
As the entire van slumbered and we plowed deeper into the wild and toward the mountains it became somewhat of an odd silence, only punctuated every two minutes by quick lines like: “Wallaby on the right,” “Possum,” and “WTF is that?! Oh, an owl with something in it’s mouth.”
Australia truly comes alive at night and, with no animals harmed in the making of this story, we arrived to our site a little past ten.
Moments after my head hit the pillow and seconds before I fell asleep, a single thought crossed my mind, “Maybe tours aren’t THAT bad.”
Part II coming soon!