The Maxwell’s epic adventure continues!
The second part of our trip was 10 days in Australia. Friends of ours from the US flew over and met us for this portion of the vacation, making it extra exciting. It’s impossible to see all Australia in such a short time, so we focused on Melbourne, The Great Ocean Road, Cairns, and Sydney.
We started in Melbourne, which is a beautiful city with impressive buildings, gardens, and a river. We did a lot of walking in Melbourne- strolling along the river, through the Queen Victoria Gardens, and around the Central Business District. It was oppressively hot while we were there, especially after the cool breezes in New Zealand. We visited an old gaol (prison) and participated in the gaol “experience” where the guards lock you up. Otherwise, we were just wandering and preparing to start our adventure on the Great Ocean Road.
We spent three days on the GOR, located on the southeastern coast of Australia. Our first day we drove from Melbourne to Apollo Bay, the second day to Port Campbell, and the third day to Warrnambool. My goal was too see koalas, kangaroos, and the Twelve Apostles (rocks in the ocean). I was very successful on all three accounts.
The first day of travel was a little restricted because the fire risk was so high. We were advised to avoid the bush. (By the way, they really do call the woods “bush,” McDonald’s “Maccas,” and say “crikey” and “mate.” I loved it.) We started our drive on the hunt for kangaroos, but it was too hot for them to be hopping about. We were lucky to see three sleepy koalas in trees! I thought koalas would be difficult to see in the wild, but we saw well over a dozen through our GOR drive! We saw famous surf spot Bells Beach, visited a lighthouse, and ate fish and chips (and chicken nuggets) for dinner.
Our second day took us on a hike through the rainforest (the fire risk had lessened), where we saw some impressively large trees. We also visited the Cape Otway lighthouse. A storm was coming in and the wind at the top of the lighthouse was out of control. A hat and a pair of sunglasses were lost while we were on the deck. The wind was so strong that it was difficult to move forward into it; I found it to be exhilarating. On this day, we also hiked to a waterfall and spotted two kangaroos in the distance. We weren’t sure they were kangaroos until we saw them start hopping away. We learned that kangaroos are larger and like fields, while wallabies are smaller and prefer the bush. This knowledge is mainly how we were able to differentiate between them. That afternoon and for sunset we visited the most famous spot on the GOR, the Twelve Apostles. These are limestone rocks that jut up from the sea. There used to be twelve, but some of the apostles cracked and crumbled into the sea over the years. The wind was really strong here too, and I enjoyed watching people try to deal with the gusts as they took pictures. I would step up for a picture, and then had to immediately back away from edge of the lookout because it was too much to handle.
The next morning, we visited some other rock formations- London Bridge and Lock Ard Gorge. We hiked on Shipwreck Beach and found two old anchors half buried in the sand. For lunch, we left the GOR and headed inland for lunch in Timboon, where we visited a cheesery (my pick) and a whiskey distillery (Jared’s pick). We stayed the that night in Warrnambool, but didn’t venture far into town. We went to Pickering Point for one of the better sunsets on the Australia portion of our trip. The point is filled with rocks that work as funnels when the tide comes in. There were several fun moments when Jared would be getting a picture and then suddenly started sprinting away from the waves.
Rather than head straight back to Melbourne at the end of our GOR experience, we headed north for Grampians National Park. The road leading into the park was packed with wallabies. We were out of the car, walking to see an echidna (hedgehog-like animals, that we mostly referred to as enchiladas) when a wallaby hopped up to the side of the road. I never got tired of seeing these guys jumped across the road; I loved that this one hopped out to surprise us. At Grampians, we hiked to Mckenzie Falls and also went to the balconies overlook, where large rock shelves jut out over a gentle, green valley. The overlook used to go out to the rock balcony, but a fence had been put up at some point. The fence was rather easy to climb over, and Jared and I took turns walking out on the ledge. It felt amazing to stand on the rock and have nothing around you.
We flew from Melbourne to Cairns (northeastern Australia) the next morning. It was raining. It continued to rain for the entire day. Our plan was to drive up to Daintree Rainforest, and despite the weather we followed through on our schedule. We hiked through the rainforest and kept our eyes open for the elusive cassowary bird. However, we were the only living things not wary of the rain, and we didn’t spot any wildlife. However, we were in a rainforest; what did we expect?!
We spent Christmas Eve diving on the Great Barrier Reef. We had three dives, and I felt comfortable with the procedures since we had so recently been in Palau. This was the largest dive boat we had ever been on, which really isn’t saying much since we usually just flip off of speedboats. There were 16 certified divers, dozens of snorkelers, and at least 20 people doing introduction dives. The water was packed, but divers were always first in the water. Palau spoiled us on seeing aquatic life; however, we spotted a ray and the largest bumperhead parrot fish I had ever seen. The rumors are true though, and the coral was the best we’ve seen.
I don’t always photo/video bomb, but when I do it’s while scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
On Christmas day we visited Barron Gorge National Park, went on a hike, and saw a rather impressive waterfall. In true A Christmas Story fashion, we had Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The remainder of the evening was spent walking along the beach boardwalk. We had intended to walk on the actual beach, but it is prohibited because of the crocodiles that live in the area. I was excited about this prospect, but never saw one.
We ended our time in Australia in Sydney. Our hotel was just under the Harbour Bridge, and a five minute walk from spectacular views of the opera house. My main goals in Sydney were to see the opera house and walk across the bridge. Sydney has a lot of other attractions like wax museums and aquariums, but they didn’t really appeal to me. I did enjoy walking around The Rocks, a historic neighborhood with unique shops and restaurants. We explored the gardens, went on a harbor cruise, saw the opera house from every angle (I peeked in the windows, and it looks a little dated inside. I was surprised.), and took a lot of sunset pictures.
On our last evening in Australia (December 27), Jared and I were walking across the bridge after getting sunset pictures. I was talking about how I questioned our decision to not spend New Years Eve in Sydney. When else would we have the chance to see such an epic event? We had decided not to because of the expense and the cost to our nerves to deal with all the people. Jared stopped on the bridge to get one last picture of the opera house lit up at night, when one of the yachts in the harbor started setting off fireworks. The show went on for about ten minutes, and while was nothing compared to Sydney on NYE, it was the same size as a modest town in America. It was perfect. I got my fireworks over the opera house; though it was still a few days before NYE, I felt like it was my NYE. I was so happy that we were in the right spot at the right time. This spontaneous fireworks show was the best part of Sydney for me!
I still loved our time in Australia, and it seems a bit unreal that we were just there. The more we travel, the less impressed I am with large cities. They start to seem similar to me after awhile, and I find myself preferring parks and outdoor adventures over museums and architecture. This was especially apparent after spending the first part of our trip surrounded by the outdoor splendor of New Zealand’s south island. But then again, fireworks over Sydney Harbor is pretty fabulous!