On Christmas Eve morning, we took the airport shuttle out to Tullamarine to pick up our rental car. Having booked a small manual car, we were a little surprised to be handed a large automatic. We plonked our bags in the boot, took our seats, and realised neither of us knew how to turn the car on. Oops. Out came Google: “how to drive an automatic car”. After a few tries, we got it working and spluttered our way out of the car park. Ideally, we’d have liked a nice open space to practice but tough luck, we were straight onto the freeway. And Melbourne drivers are not patient! After much honking, sudden breaking and a couple of wrong turns, we finally managed to get Pod I onto the right road and things only got better from there.
We arrived in Torquay around 12 so decided this would be a good lunch spot. We found a lovely little cafe on the seafront and enjoyed some tasty food before entering the Great Ocean Road proper.
And what a drive it was! The road winds along the coastline for miles on end, past ragged cliffs and endless beaches, through rainforest and national parks. We stopped a few times to snap some pics (hard not to!) but made a beeline to Kennett River where we were told we could see koalas in the wild. We wandered around the eucalyptus trees, distracted by the brightly coloured parrots that were very excited about the grains fed to them by tourists – one even landed on my head!
We eventually found a koala and I could have melted it was so cute. It just looked so cosy and cuddly and sleepy, I couldn’t cope. On the recommendation of some nearby children, we then walked through the local campsite and spotted a couple more nestled high up in the top branches.
Later that afternoon, we arrived in Apollo Bay and checked into the YHA – the loveliest and homiest hostel we’ve stayed in. But before we could relax on their mega comfy sofas, it was time to do our big Christmas food shop! We managed to buy just about everything we needed but missed the fishmongers by minutes. Not sure what to do as the supermarket had run out of fish, we chanced it at the fish and chip shop, who turned out to be more than happy to sell us a couple of salmon fillets and a handful of fresh prawns.
On Christmas Day, we exchanged gifts (yes, we did!) and I even got a special delivery from James via Ari. We treated ourselves to a very decadent home-cooked breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon, avocado and fresh orange juice, and then, it was my turn to drive! Fortunately, I was able to practice in the deserted side streets and car park before we set off on an adventure down to the 12 Apostles and other famous features.
Our first stop was the lighthouse at Cape Otway. We turned off the Great Ocean Road down a narrow potholed roadkill-strewn track, struggling to see anything from the strobe-light effect created by the sun glinting through the tall trees. Unfortunately, once we made it all the way down, we realised the lighthouse was closed and so was the access down to any part of the surroundings. So that was what the red CLOSED sign was all about at the junction!
Back up we drove, only to come across half a dozen cars parked in the road, on a bend, heads craned towards the top branches of a eucalyptus. As I drove past, a little distracted I must admit, I heard a faint “P, watch out!”, followed by a soft shdonk. That would be my wing mirror hitting a parked car. Shit. I park further up the road, run back to the car I bumped, and blurt out, “I’m so sorry, I was distracted by the baby koala!” But he was parked in the road, on a bend. In any case, no harm or damage done, so we were then able to coo over the ridiculously cute baby koala clinging onto his mummy’s back, swivelling his head in bewilderment at these strange creatures looking up at it.
On we drove, stopping at viewpoint after viewpoint, in awe at the landscapes and battling the head, crowds and flies. And then who do we bump into amid the hordes at the 12 Apostles? None other than Lewis, from Warwick, who’d kindly given us a whole bunch of tips for visiting Melbourne. The world really can be a small place.
Back at the hostel, it was time to get our cook on. Another aperitivo, of course, and garlic-fried salmon with kale and roasted veg, which apparently looked so good they warranted a photo by the Chinese lady next to us! A delicious meal it was, made even better by a bottle of sparkling pink and fantastic company. We can safely say we had a very merry Christmas!
The next day, we drove up to Ballarat, West of Melbourne, where a wildlife park boasts the oldest wombat in the world: Patrick, 31. Now, we’d known about Patrick for over a year, have followed his shenanigans in Facebook, and were very excited to meet him. We didn’t however expect to be able to feed kangaroos! Sadly, Patrick was asleep but we did catch a glimpse of him through his window. And got a cardboard cutout! What more could we ask for.
Back at the airport, we were picked up by family friends Sybil and John for a lovely couple of days in Inverloch, in East Victoria . They absolutely spoiled us, showing us the local highlights and giving us our first Aussie barbie experience. We didn’t quite manage to do all we could have due to a spectacular migraine flooring me for most of the afternoon. But we made up for it the next day with a close encounter with Desmond, one of the koalas at the Maru Wildlife Park. We even got to pat him! Thanks again for having us 🙂