After we wrote the last blog, we spent the rest of the day driving, through Canns River, then along the coastal road through Lakes Entrance, Sale, Meeniyan, Leongatha – where we stopped for coffee and to buy some flowers for Barb – and eventually arrived at Barb and Rod’s house in Boronia at about half past six. It was lovely to see them – Dani and Casey had come round for the evening and everyone was busily preparing dinner when we arrived, so we were treated to a lovely home-cooked meal of beef casserole and Moroccan chicken, with very artistically arranged mini pavlovas for dessert – Dani has taught me all the tricks of arranging the fruit cleverly, so I’m going to be adding that to my dinner-party repertoire! We had a lovely evening, drinking wine and white port and chatting for ages, and felt rather bad when we realised it was almost midnight and most of the people round the table had to be up for work in the morning!
It was absolute luxury to stay with Rod and Barb for a couple of days and have our own room and bathroom and a proper bed to sleep in – electric blankets and all! – and we were very grateful for their warm hospitality. When we went into our room, as well as towels on our bed, Barb had left us a couple of little presents – a funny little book of Aussie slang, and a CD of Rod’s diving photos from Truk Lagoon, which is somewhere he’s just been and we’re interested in going. It made me feel very at home, as my mum often leaves little pressies waiting on our bed when we go home to stay with her! Their house is lovely, with a big open-plan kitchen and dining room, and lots of space in the driveway to park our campervan – and even an outdoor plugpoint, so we could plug in and keep our fridge running – very handy!
We chatted about our plans for the next day and gathered a list of places to go in Melbourne, and we all talked about going on the evening tour at the Old Melbourne Gaol, which is meant to be very spooky! We had all agreed we wanted to do it, but then Barb and I went to book tickets online, and found it was sold out until later in the week, when Chris and I were planning to have left – so, bad luck, we didn’t get to do that!
We woke up later than usual in the morning, what with all the luxury of sleeping in a proper bed, and had a leisurely breakfast with Rod, who wasn’t working till the afternoon. It had been raining overnight, but by the time we set off, it was starting to clear up, and we actually had a mostly sunny day, which was lovely! We drove down to St Kilda, which is a suburb of Melbourne on the bay, and used to be an old-fashioned seaside resort. It still has the feel of it, with lots of lovely old buildings with wrought-iron scrollwork on the verandahs, lots of lovely little cafes and shops, and the main reason we were there – Luna Park, an old-fashioned amusement park, complete with Ghost Train, Love Boats, and a brilliant old bone-shaker of a wooden roller-coaster. We posed for photos outside the entrance under the huge face of Mr Moon, and then went in and wandered around, enjoying the smells of popcorn and candyfloss, and the chaos of all the hundreds of kids running around (school holidays have just started!) We went to buy tickets for the roller-coaster, and joined the queue, but we were nowhere near the front of the queue by the time we realised our parking ticket was about to run out – so poor old Chris had to duck out of the queue and sprint off to put another couple of dollars on the meter! He got back in time for us to ride the roller-coaster – in the front seat, no less, which we had to robustly defend from a little boy in the row behind us who asked us if we really wanted to be in the front, as he’d gladly swap with us!
We wandered back to the van just before the second ticket ran out, and drove a bit further into town looking for a free parking space, so we could go and have some lunch. We parked and walked down the road to the most amazing little European-looking cake shop, with a window full of delicious-looking cakes – we went in and perched at one of the cramped little tables, and had coffee and a pie, and then a cake each – I had a pavlova slice and Chris had most of a French Vanilla slice, delicious! We waddled back to the car, stuffed to the gills with cake, and drove into the city centre. We were heading for Federation Square, but when we got there we realised we had no chance of parking anywhere close, so we decided to follow the route of the City Circle tram and find somewhere a bit further out to park and get the tram back in.
The trams are fabulous – a lot of them are swish modern ones, but quite a few are still the old wooden ones, including a route called the City Circle line, which uses all old vintage wooden trams, that loop round a route covering all the major tourist sites, and is free to use – it’s even supposed to have sight-seeing commentary as you go round, but that was a bit hit-and-miss while we were on there, we only actually heard it for a couple of stops! Anyway, we found a parking space, jumped on the tram and headed back towards Federation Square, passing the Parliament building and various other sights – it’s a lovely city, full of old buildings and green parks, very pleasant.
We got off at Federation Square and went for a wander around – it was built to provide the city with a central focal point, and has an arts centre, a few cafes and restaurants, lots of open seating space, and a big visitor information centre. We wandered past a theatre group doing a piece about ants, with actors in ant costumes scurrying around the foyer of the arts centre collecting newspaper-wrapped ‘crumbs’, and passsers-by stopping to deliver crumbs they’d found outside in the square. We went over to the visitor centre and spent ten minutes collecting brochures about Melbourne and also the Great Ocean Road, which were very handy – we went through them with Casey that night and collected all his suggestions about where to visit along the way.
We then got back on the tram and stayed on it round the rest of the loop, which took almost an hour, and took us round the docks and various other bits of the city centre. We got back to the car just before our parking ticket ran out, and moved a few blocks closer to the Old Melbourne Gaol. The lady at the ticket desk sold us concession tickets rather than full-price ones, as there was only just over an hour left, and suggested that we should go down the road first to where a Watch House tour was about to start. The police Watch House is two buildings down from the Gaol, and was used up until 1994, as a short-term lock-up for people recently arrested or awaiting court, and overnight stays for drunk and disorderlies and that sort of thing. The Watch House Experience tour was supposed to give you a taste of what it would be like to be locked up there for the night – we were greeted by a chap in uniform who ushered us all into the booking-in area and handed out pre-printed ‘charge sheets’, and made everyone read out what they were in for – then we all had to stand against the wall while he checked us over, and then men and women were sent into different cells, we all sat on the benches giggling, and he slammed the door and turned off the lights – most unnerving, being sat there in the dark with a bunch of strangers, you can imagine just how scary it would be to be in jail for real with a load of unpredictable, possibly drunk strangers!
We had a look round the cells and the exercise areas and then headed back across to the Gaol, where we wandered around on our own for the last hour or so. It’s on three floors, very dingily lit, with iron walkways running down the middle and small, stone cells along the sides, with huge, thick wooden doors. The scaffold where they used to hang prisoners, including Ned Kelly, is still there on display, along with various gruesome displays of nooses, hoods, shackles, a cat-o-nine-tails, and descriptions of exactly how people were hanged. There’s a list of all the people executed at the gaol, with dates and their crimes, and in lots of cells there are individual displays telling the stories of different prisoners, often including their death-masks on display – when someone was hanged, they were then beheaded and a plaster cast made of their head, so phrenologists could examine it and try to work out if there were different characteristics of head shapes that all murderers (for instance) had in common. Like I said, gruesome! There was a display all about Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang, including some replica armour and a helmet that you could try on. The top floor had lots of displays about the period during WW2 when the Gaol was used to lock up soldiers who were arrested for being AWOL, including video interviews with some of the soldiers about their memories of it. It was all very interesting and well done, with lots of individual human stories, which I think is always what makes that sort of thing interesting.
By the time we were rounded up at closing time by a guard with a bell, it was the middle of rush hour, so we took an hour and a half to get back to Barb and Rod’s. Casey and Dani had picked up some kangaroo for dinner – steaks and a roast – which was very exciting for us Poms! It was lovely, actually – red meat, quite like beef, but very lean and with a gamey sort of tang to it. Then we had doughnuts made by Dani in an electric doughnut machine (like a cheese toastie maker, that you pour batter into) that she’d been given as a random present ages ago, and used once – so we were a good excuse to get it into use again! The doughnuts were yummy, and we sat for ages after supper, polishing off the doughnuts and showing the others lots of photos of our trip, and then looking at Casey and Dani’s wedding photos, and then at ours.
We headed off in the morning feeling sad to leave, we’d really enjoyed our couple of days’ stay and it had been lovely to see them all again! But we were looking forward to the Great Ocean Road, and it was turning into a lovely day by the time we reached the coast. We spent the afternoon driving along the stunningly lovely Great Ocean Road – it really is spectacular, and we were really lucky to be driving along it on a clear, sunny day. In a lot of places the road runs right along the sea front, either on a level with the beach, or winding up along the cliifftops. It was built between 1919 and 1932, as a memorial to the war dead of WW1 and a way to provide employment for thousands of soldiers returning from the war. You can see that in lots of places it has been hewn from the rock, and it was all done with picks and spades – an amazing feat of hard work and perseverance. It winds through lovely little seaside villages, and past countless beaches and inlets, with lookout points scattered all along the road. We stopped often, and got out at lookouts to admire the view and take photos – we drove up to the lighthouse at Split Point and looked out to sea from the point there, we stopped at the Memorial Arch across the road (and stayed in the car till the tour group ahead of us had taken their photos and buggered off, so we had the place to ourselves!), and then we took a detour off the main road to visit Erskine Falls, which were lovely, although the steps down to the lookout were rather muddy and slippery – you can see it’s been raining a lot before we got here!
We didn’t get nearly as far in the first day as we’d expected, and by 4 o’clock we realised we weren’t going to make it as far as the campsite Casey had suggested, so we flicked through our maps and brochures and tracked down a Big 4 caravan park at Wye River. When we arrived there, the chap gave us our choice of sites, as they had a big field to one side of the park with its own camp kitchen and shower block, and no one else camping on that side! So we had a quiet night, and the lovely modern shower block to ourselves, which was a nice surprise.
We got up the next morning and made breakfast, and then headed off along the road again, but we didn’t get far without stopping – the whole stretch of coastline called the Shipwreck Coast is absolutely stunning, with amazing rock formations jutting out from the cliffs, and we stopped every few hundred metres for another thing to look at! We stopped at Castle Cove, at a lovely lookout over the beaches – then we got to the 12 Apostles, which is the big tourist draw of the Great Ocean Road, and I have to say that they are every bit as impressive as you expect them to be. We pulled up to the visitor centre, and the big car park with a walkway under the road across to the viewpoint, and walked across past the airfield where helicopter flights over the 12 Apostles were leaving every few minutes, and I was sort of feeling that it was all a bit touristy – but then we came round the corner and got our first view, and were totally blown away by it, it’s absolutely beautiful. The huge waves, and huge rocks, and the sense of the power of the sea, to carve out these amazing shapes from solid rock – it’s wonderful.
We walked around the walkways for half an hour or so, enjoying the view from a few different angles! Then we carried on down the road (via a stop at the visitor centre for coffee and some over-priced but irresistible gourmet chocolates!) and stopped at every point along the way. First was Loch Ard Gorge, a little beach and caves in a narrow inlet between tall cliffs, where the only two survivors of the shipwreck of the Loch Ard were washed up and sheltered before they were rescued. Then London Bridge, an amazing arch of rock – it was a double arch until 1990, when the first arch collapsed just a few minutes after some tourists had walked across it. They were stranded on the newly created island for hours until they were eventually rescued by helicopter – at which point they begged not to be dropped off anywhere that the TV cameras would be able to catch them, as they were actually a couple having an illicit affair and were panicking that their husband / wife back at home would see them on the news! Brilliant little bit of colour added to the story by my Rough Guide – the official information boards at the viewpoint don’t tell that bit of the story! After London Bridge, we stopped at The Grotto, where you can walk down lots of steps to a quiet little corner where a hole in the rock looks out over some quiet pools to the waves crashing beyond. Then to the Bay of Martyrs, where we could see another set of formations like the 12 Apostles, with the sun sparkling on the waves between them.
We dawdled around the scenic viewpoints for hours, and then eventually carried on to Port Fairy (lovely name!) and past it, looking for somewhere to stay the night. We came off the Great Ocean Road at the end, at Warnambool, where the restriction about sleeping in vehicles ended – on the GOR, you have to stay in proper campsites or van parks, you can’t park up and sleep in picnic spots and rest stops. As we were out of that area, we started looking for a picnic spot, and eventually ended up at a lovely quiet spot in the forest, at the Sawpit picnic area, with a few other tents and vans scattered around. We had internet reception for the first time in a couple of days, so Skyped and chatted to Ed, and replied to emails – I’ve sent my email to work confirming I’m still coming back in August, and I had a reply from my boss, so they’re still expecting me back, which is good!
This morning we woke up early and Skyped Mum and Dad for a chat, as they’d been out yesterday when we called. Then I made bacon and egg rolls while Chris snoozed in bed (well, he did till I misjudged the eggs and set off the smoke alarm, upon which he had to jump out of bed and do some emergency battery removal!) We’ve spent the day driving, with a quick stop to take photos of an emu we saw wandering along the side of the road – yay! – and also a stop at a pharmacy to get some painkillers – I woke up a couple of days ago with a really sore shoulder, I think I must have pulled a muscle or trapped a nerve in my sleep, but it’s now really painful and jars every time I move – not ideal! So I’ve got some painkillers to get me through the weekend, and if it’s not better by the time we’re in Adelaide, I’ll see if I can find an osteopath and get it sorted out.
We’ve just arrived in Kingston, and are now settling into the holiday park for our very last night in our campervan! Tomorrow night, we’ll be at Karen’s in Adelaide, and we’re really looking forward to a few days with her and to seeing the rest of the Adelaide family. Then it’s off to Alice Springs, then Darwin, then Singapore!