Saturday, June 4, 2011

Great Ocean Road

Hi! So I just got back from my Great Ocean Road tour, led by Ride Tours’ owner, Todd. It was AMAZING! The Road is unbelievably beautiful. Like breathtaking, heart-stopping gorgeous. It was hard to tear your eyes away from the scenery. I didn’t really know what to expect on the trip, but I was really excited to escape a city for a few days. It was so worth the money to see the expansive stretches of pristine beaches, riotous waves crashing against the shore, limestone rock formations, rolling green hills and an amazing sunset. The first day was PERFECT weather. Blue skies, wispy clouds, cool temperatures. Even though the second day was rainy and blustery, it just made the sea even more romantic looking. I’ll go into more detail about what we actually did and saw:
Day 1, Todd picked us each up at our hostels before 8am. There were 2 girls from Virginia, 3 girls from Ireland, 1 girl from Canada, and 1 guy from Kent, UK. Everyone was really friendly, and I didn’t feel weird being on my own. Anyway, we first had a 2.5 hour ride to get to the GOR, so all of us slept. We stopped for tea and got to know each other, then continued on our way. Then we got to Logan’s Beach, which is where ‘right’ whales come to nurse each winter. Unfortunately, we were still a few days early to spot whales, but the views were nice. Then we stopped for everyone to buy lunch and so Todd could get supplies for our barbecue dinner, then continued on to Tower Hill to actually eat. Tower Hill is an extinct volcano with a sunken crater, so heaps of kangaroos, koalas and emus live in it. We ate at a picnic table and these 3 emus were circling us. We quickly spotted a koala sitting up in the eucalyptus tree. Apparently koalas sleep for 16-20 hours a day, and are very picky about the type of eucalyptus they will eat. They strip the trees COMPLETELY bare-if they pick every last leaf, the tree dies and cannot regenerate; if they leave even one leaf, the tree is able to repair itself. It was really interesting to learn about this, and even weirder to see totally bare trees. The parks will sometimes put plastic cones along the base of a dying eucalyptus tree to protect it and keep koalas from climbing up it. We went on a small hike and saw some kangaroos and wallabies jumping along in front of us. I, of course, was ecstatic to see koalas and kangas so close to me! After Tower Hill, we stopped for petrol and cheese samples from Cheese World (which has it’s cows/dairy plant right across from the shop). After this short stop, we were finally at the ‘Shipwreck Coast’ of the Great Ocean Road. This part doesn’t really hug the shore, but you can pretty much always see the ocean less than a kilometer from the bus. We kept stopping at lookouts to see the named limestone formations, including the Grotto, London Bridge, Bay of Islands, and Bay of Martyrs. Our final stop of the evening was at the 12 Apostles. There are actually only 8 rock formations, but apparently ‘they’ thought twelve sounded more biblical and would draw out a crowd. The sunset at the 12 apostles is well-known, and well worth seeing. The sky looked like pastel brush strokes. It was an unbelievable sight. After the sun goes down, the ‘fairy’ penguins come out of the water to sleep in the sand dunes. We watched a trail of them come straight out of the water, but it was too dark to get any pictures of them. After this, we made our way to the hostel to shower and cook a barbecue. Todd bought all of this vegetarian stuff for me (I know, I know) and we also had a really delicious green salad. It was a nice change from other tours I have done that do not serve a single green vegetable or fruit. He only bought wholemeal breads too, which I was so happy about (I had decided I wouldn’t buy a single meal on my tour to save money, so I had brought PB, sultanas, muesli bars, apples, etc with me). After talking around the dinner table for a while, we went to shower and then to bed early. The hostel was really clean and nice, but I was freezing from 3:30 til 6:30 when I got up. We ate brekkie (toast, cereal, fruit, tea—I made a few sandwiches for lunch, dinner and tomorrow’s brekkie) and then hit the road for another long day.
Day two was cold and gray, but that didn’t detract from the beauty of the Road. In fact, I thought it made the road look even more amazing-really misty, huge waves and a beautiful hazy horizon. We stopped at Loch Ard Gorge first, which was the site of a fatal ship wreck in the 1800s. It was easy to see how the ship, the Loch Ard, sunk. The waves were insane, the currents were wild, and the rocks were jagged all over the place. There is a story of the only two survivors finding shelter in one of the damp caves on the beach (which is really far down from the cliff/Road). After this, we returned to the 12 Apostles to see it in a different light. It was not as striking as it had been at sunset, though it was still d steps that lead all the way down to the beach. It is pretty steep and pretty far down, but it was a nice stop. I found amazing seashells (green and black zig zags, turquoise, purple, etc) and stuck my feet into the Southern Ocean (!). After this we drove for an hour through tall old-growth forests, and went on a Temperate Rainforest walk at Maits Rest. It was so cold inside the forest, but I loved it. The trees were mossy and 200+ years old. This might have been my favorite stop (beside the 12 Apostles sunset). The next drive took us through amazing green hills that were filled with mist (and sheep). On the right of the bus the whole day was the amazing ocean and we even saw a rainbow peeking through the gray clouds! [[[I kept oohing and ahhing over everything, and the guy from Kent was like ‘do you not ever see beaches where you are from?’ I was like ‘I live close to the beach in Florida and in Perth, but it is so different (and flat-the waves and the topography) compared to this.  He thought it was funny that I was so enamored with the sight of the waves. ]]] We stopped in Apollo Bay for lunch, which is a charming main street nestled in rolling green hills, and overlooking the Southern Ocean. Lorne is a nice beach town that is famous for a New Year’s Eve music festival, and a ‘pier to pub’ swim each January, which is apparently the world’s largest attended open water swim. We then made a quick stop at the ‘Round the Twist’ lighthouse, which knows fame from an Australian kid’s television show from the 90s, that was only really famous in the UK and Ireland. The Brit/Irish people on our tour were SO excited and sang the very strange theme song. Our last stop was at Bell’s Beach, which is home to Quicksilver and Ripcurl, and the site of the world’s largest surfing competition. We watched surfers for a while, then drove through Torquay, where the actual surf shops are. All that was left after this was a 1.5 hour drive back to Melbourne. The sun set on our drive, so we all fell asleep again. We dropped everyone off at their hostels and I checked back into mine. Overall, it was a GREAT trip. I am so glad that I chose to cut into my time in Melbourne and go on the tour.
Now I am just getting ready for bed. Tomorrow I am waking up at 6, going to the markets, going to the Botanical garden, and then exploring a few artsy alleys near Federation Square. I have to leave for the airport around 10:45 and then it’s back to the grind. I am excited to get back to Perth, because (so far) it is my favorite city in Australia and I have less than a month left to enjoy it.  It’s always nice to get away for a few days, but it makes ‘home’ just a bit sweeter. I don’t even like thinking about leaving my life here, even though I am excited to see you all. Okay, going to sleep!
1 month from today I will be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi on my way to the City of Lights!
BHAPpy, I’ll be in Florida in 40 days!
Dana xoxoxo
On the plane back to Perth, so I thought I would add a little addendum to last night’s post. I woke up at 6am today so that I could fit in a few things that I didn’t want to miss. The only problem was that I didn’t realize that Melbourne doesn’t get light until nearly half past seven! So, I walked to the Queen Victoria Markets which, while “open”, wouldn’t be fully set up until after 9am. I decided to speed walk down to the Botanical Gardens, which are pretty far from my hostel. I made it there at 7, and then realized they didn’t open til 7:30. Luckily, a guard opened the gates at 7:05, so I watched the sun rise while wandering around the gardens. I also made a quick stop at the Shrine of Remembrance, which sits high atop a hill and looks out over the city. The city was lovely at night-with Federation Square and all of the skyscrapers lit up. After the gardens, I made my back to Flinders Street, which has many small intriguing laneways. Some of the alleys are filled with cafes and shops, but a few are filled with amazing street art and graffiti. I had been told not to miss these, so I went up and down a few taking pictures. It was really cool to see the art covering walls, windows, trash bins, etc. After the laneways, I decided that I should get back to the markets to make my purchases. I walked around and looked at all of the food stalls, (which looked like an awesome way to shop for your food), while I waited for the merchandise vendors to finish setting up. I finally was able to buy what I wanted then I headed back to the hostel to get my bags and go to the airport bus. I was way ahead of schedule, so I walked down this one street so I could see the Old Victoria Mint and the Supreme Court. Then I sat in a cafĂ© and drank a chai latte to kill time. Finally I decided just to take the bus to the airport and wait for my flight while reading magazines. Now I am on my flight back-I just slept for a while and now I am bored-2 hours to go!
See you from Perth,
Dana xoxoxo

Melbourne Day 1

Last week went by really fast. On Friday night I went to Chabad with some friends. It was really small, and felt like a family dinner. I’m used to the Chabad at UF which hosts hundreds of students every Shabbat, so this was pretty interesting-people from all over the world, of all ages. The rabbi’s wife was so sweet and welcoming, it was a nice experience.
On Saturday, the dad’s parents came to town, so we had a barbecue for dinner. Then the five year old slept at my house and we went to bed at 7pm. It was so nice to get a full night’s sleep. We woke up the next day and went to brekkie with the grandparents at Tarts (best soy chai lattes). The mom came home from Singapore in the afternoon, so I hung out with a friend in the CBD.
On Monday, I packed for Melbourne and babysat, and then a few friends came over to cook dinner (shakshuka) and hang out since I was leaving for 5 days. They ended up staying til the middle of the night, and since my taxi was coming at 5am, I didn’t sleep at all. I went to the airport and had a very uneventful flight to the east coast. When I was disembarking from the plane, this girl said hello to me and I realized I had met her at this party a few weeks ago. She is from Paris and is also spending a few days alone in Melbourne, so we decided we should stick together.
I went to my hostel to check in then explored the area and the Queen Victoria markets. The markets were dingy and just like every other market I have ever been to, pretty much. Then, I walked to the tram and took it all the way down to St. Kilda to meet my friend. Her hostel’s travel consultant told her that it would be cool to go see the penguins that come onto the St. Kilda pier every night at sunset, so we hurried to walk down to the beach before the sun set. On the way we passed Luna Park (who also owns Coney Island!), and we walked the long way, along the beach, to get to the pier. It was starting to get really cold, but we sat on the pier until we saw the penguins emerge from the water. They are each about one foot tall, and a bit blue-ish. They are so cute!!! And they bark at each other, which is a funny sound to hear coming from a penguin. Anyway, then we grabbed a quick dinner and coffee to warm up, and then I headed back to the tram. On the tram, the police harassed me because I didn’t know how to buy a ticket. He was threatening to fine me, and embarrassed me in front of a tram full of people. I said it was an honest mistake and immediately offered to pay the fare, but it took him almost five minutes to relent. Eventually I paid the $3.80 and made my way back to my seat. Finally I made it back to my hostel and relaxed until I went to sleep.
Today I woke up and realized I pretty much had to cram all of Melbourne into one day. I walked down into the CBD and wandered in and out of shops, then met up with my friend for more exploration. We started at Federation Square, which is this really amazing complex (architecturally), which stands opposite the largest train station (Flinders Street Station), which stands opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is such an interesting intersection. Anyway, then we decided to hop onto the free City Circle Tram, so that we could see some of the sights along the Yarra River, such as the Docklands, New Quay and Harbour Town. There were such unique buildings and sculptures everywhere (including a Cow up a Tree sculpture, which I loved). We hopped of the tram to get coffee and then decided to walk up and down the pedestrian bridges that span the Yarra River, between the north and southbank of Melbourne. We went into the aquarium so my friend could buy a ticket to walk underwater with sharks on Saturday. Then we explored a few famous laneways (Centre Way and Degraves St). After that we grabbed lunch (Indian for me) and then split ways. I walked up to Fitzroy, which has a major road, Brunswick, that is famous for vintage shops and boutiques. I wandered in and out, but the sun was starting to set (at 4pm), and I didn’t want to be lost that far out in the dark, so I tried to find my way back to the cbd. Of course, I got lost, but that I meant that I got to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Parliament House, Princess Theater, and Fitzroy Gardens. I wish I hadn’t felt rushed, but I just ran out of time. I hopped onto the tram and then walked back to my hostel. I am just relaxing tonight-I leave for my tour of the Great Ocean Road at 7am, and it will be a long two days. I am so excited for the tour. I really like Melbourne a lot, but it is basically like any other large city. The buildings are really nice to look at, the food is pretty cheap, there is a lot to see, but I’m pretty glad that I didn’t just stay in the city for my whole holiday. I mean, I definitely could spend more time exploring all of the gorgeous parks and gardens, but really I saw what I wanted to see. On Saturday morning, before my plane, I will walk to the Botanical Gardens and explore them.  Alright, more updates about the Great Ocean Road coming soon! Until then,
Dana xoxoxo