The moment your sites are set on your next travel destination, it's normal to want to run out and buy the latest & greatest guide books. There are so many to choose from; Fodor's, Frommer's, Lonely Planet, or Rick Steves just to name a few. However, when the destination is Australia, it's imperative to trade in those guide books for the Aussie Slang Dictionary. If you can't speak their language, how are you going to ask for a "grog" (beer) or where's the
"dunny"? (toilet) And trust me, you will need to know this. The Aussie's are also famous for stringing several words together to make one. For instance, a common greeting is, "howyagoinallrightmate? "In other words, "how are you today, feeling pretty good friend?"
Dictionaries in hand, my friend Callen and I set out for the land down under. Luckily for us, we had friends who lived there, and were willing to put us up for our 3 week stay. This is one of the perks of working on cruise ships, I have forever friendships with people all over the world, including Australia. The seasons in "Oz" are the opposite of those here in the U.S., so when we hopped on a plane in June, it was currently winter in Melbourne. Do not let the 20 hour plane ride deter you from discovering the land of Uggs, AC/DC, Vegemite, Meat Pies, and the Didgeridoo.
Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, the smallest of the mainland states, and is also known as the cultural capital of Australia. Their winter is very comparable to our winter's in Seattle, so this made packing easy. We had done our homework before leaving, and knew that driving the Great Ocean Road was at the top of our "to do list". This thrilling coastal route stretches over 160 miles along the southwest of Victoria. The twists and turns would be challenging for even the most skillful driver, but this "Yank" insisted on taking the wheel. After all, how many times does one get to drive on the wrong side of the road? Sorry, the other side of the road. The GOR is lined with forests and mountains on one side, a raging ocean and dramatic cliffs on the other. It's about a 10 hour drive, so plan on staying a night or two along the way to really get the most out of this experience. There are plenty of coastal towns to choose from.
First stop, the 12 Apostles. These limestone formations were once connected to the mainland cliffs, but separated after centuries of erosion and a relentless ocean. They stand a whopping 150 feet, and each one has its own unique characteristic. Sadly, only 8 of the original 12 remain, and in fact, the formation known as "Judas" in the foreground, collapsed just 4 days after I took this photo.
I "reckon" when you think of Australia, a couple of fuzzy marsupials come to mind. You are sure to see kangaroos and koalas if you just look hard enough. If you take a side trip to Grey River Road, you are sure to see koalas dining on their staple diet of eucalyptus leaves. Just an FYI, please don't call them bears, they are marsupials, and the Aussies will kindly let you know it. For "roo" sightings, just head to the Anglesea Golf Course. Good luck playing 18 holes in under 4 hours. In my opinion, it's impossible to concentrate on the game when it's "chock-o-block" (overflowing) with tall, hairy, bouncing animals.
Another great activity is to take a "walkabout" through Melba Gully State Park. I recommend taking the night tour, or just exploring on your own. The gully is full of glow worms, and if you have a head lamp, you are sure to see them along the fern banks. I was so enthralled with my luminous friends, that I hadn't realized I was under the entire blanket of the southern sky. I was looking right into the milky way and the famous Southern Cross. This was far better than any fireworks show back home. There's something so incredible about immersing yourself in another part of the world, allowing it to embrace you and show you all of its beauty.
Next on the "to do list" was a visit to Sydney. It's just a quick hour and a half flight to this metropolitan city. After stopping for a little "brekkie" of coffee and a vegemite sandwich (you cannot find peanut butter anywhere down here), we took a ferry ride around Sydney Harbor. The Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge are even more breathtaking in person. We didn't sign up for the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb this time around, but you can bet I will be up there during my next visit. The weather here is about 15 degrees warmer than Melbourne, so this makes for great beach weather. If you have a free day, take a ferry to Manly Beach. This silky white sand was a nice alternative to the driftwood laden beaches back home.
Staying in hostels is a great way to meet new people and stretch your travel dollar as well. Sydney offers so much diversity, the national parks, museums, history of the Aboriginal people, restaurants & pubs, and the best beaches for sunbathing, surfing, and sports. Just make sure to bring your "togs" (swim suit).
Our next stop was the Great Barrier Reef. We hopped a 2-hour domestic flight to Airlie Beach, an Aussie resort town on Queensland's Whitsunday Coast. I was on a mission to scuba dive here. I had only been twice prior to coming to Australia, but there was no way I was leaving here without going under. There are plenty of certified dive shops to choose from, so read the reviews and make sure they have a great reputation. How do I put into the "blogesphere" the appropriate words to describe the "reef". The water combines such harmonious shades of blue, that it's hard to decipher where one coral reef ends and another begins. It is the largest living thing on planet Earth and is even visible from outer space. It is comprised of thousands of reefs & hundreds of islands with over 600 types of coral. It's home to countless species of fish, mollusks, starfish, sea turtles, dolphins, & sharks (that last one scared me). So here goes nothing!
Once you relax into the idea that you are indeed breathing under water, you can fully take in this spectacular world beneath the sea. There's a feeling of weightlessness. All you hear is the sound of your own breathing, and the acute awareness of each inhale and exhale. This is home to the world's largest coral reef ecosystem, so everywhere you look is magnificent. Most of the sea life seems to be just as curious about you as you are about them. We saw huge cod fish with lips that would make Angelina Jolie jealous, sea turtles, octopus, sting rays, tropical fish, and yes.....reef sharks. These are generally harmless and pose little threat to divers unless provoked. The best part of the dive however, was hearing the "songs" of the male humpback whales. These sound waves can travel more than 10,000 miles. Unbelievable!
On the boat ride home from our day at sea, a pod of humpback whales decided to join us, frolicking, breaching, & swimming along side us as if to say thank you for visiting.
Only about 10% of Australia's land mass is habitable, however that 10% offers an abundance of culture, wildlife, history, fun-loving "blokes" & "sheilas", incredible beaches, coastlines, & landmarks. Good onya, Australia!