I’m currently sitting in a hotel room perched above Apollo Bay, on the southern coast of Australia. It’s our last day of a two week trip that took us from Sydney down the East Coast to Melbourne, to the tip of the ridiculously scenic Mornington Peninsula for a wedding in Portsea, and lastly to the Great Ocean Road. The first huntsman spider I’ve seen outside of the zoo is currently hanging out above the door in the bathroom. And yesterday we drove up a pathway in the Great Otway National Forest, where high up in the eucalyptus trees we spotted wild koalas.
The drive from Sydney to Melbourne takes you along some pretty coastline, but the Great Ocean Road, with its rugged cliffs, beautiful and accessible white sand beaches, lined with what looks like the world’s largest christmas trees, is by far the most scenic road I’ve ever travelled (it’s similar to California’s Pacific Coast Highway, but surrounded by tropical rainforest and koalas!). The drive begins in Torquay, the surfer’s capital of Australia. Sadly we arrived two days early for the Rip Curl Pro competition at Bell’s Beach. The plan for this morning is to try surfing for the first time, although we’ve just been told of some recent shark spottings in the area. Eek.
It’s quite strange flying 23 hours across the world to arrive in a country so culturally similar to the US and England. On our first day in Sydney, we took a long walk through the Botanical Gardens, around the Sydney Opera House (what an architectural masterpiece!), into the downtown, and then to Surrey Hills for food and bars. It’s a stunning city, and one that’s often hailed as the world’s most liveable city if not for being nowhere near anywhere else. But it requires a trip into the countryside to realize just how far away from home you are. We spent a night in the Yarra Valley wine region, and during a quick morning run we came upon a huge group of kangaroos, watching us from a distance. That was worth the entire trip alone. Any of you avoiding Australia because of arachnophobia or a fear of snakes will be relieved to know that I searched every nook and cranny in every road-side bathroom and beach path, and disappointingly came across nothing of the sort. I’m told I was lucky to see a huntsman, so all the talk about Australia as teeming with dangerous insects is just that.
If home wasn’t 23 hours away, I’d move to Melbourne in a heartbeat. Perhaps our wonderful hosts’ Shauna + Chris’ hospitality had something to do with it. We stayed in their vertical loft in an industrial alley-way of St. Kilda, just five minutes away from the beach, with streets filled with vintage clothing shopts, cafes, and record stores. They threw us a roof-top BBQ with new and old friends, and directed us to St. Kilda’s best breakfast (The Wall Two 80) and gorgeous mid-century-styled restaurant, Ilona Staller housed in a ’30s art deco block. Anyone who doesn’t drink coffee may be baffled by Australia’s hardcore barista culture. They’ve got barista competitions, and Australians will search out their favorite barista, and remain as loyal to them as New Yorkers are to their doctors. As a tea drinker, I definitely felt that I was missing out.
They’ve also got the world’s longest traffic lights. If you miss the green, you’ll be waiting for the next one for a painfully long time. It’s the only time I’ve seen very friendly people turn into road-raging maniacs. No one lets you cut in without a fight. Thankfully national radio station Triple J made the red lights more bearable. They may play a bit too much Mumford and Sons and Alt-J (who, after listening to a 45 minutes live recording, are now at the top of my least favorite band list), but they’re an indie station unafraid to play both indie pop, rock, and metal. Unlike so many indie stations worldwide, who seem to think it’s cooler to play only the unlistenable and esoteric. Anyway, I shall refrain from my usual musical rantings and allow the photos to do the rest of the talking.
First visit to the spectacular Sydney Opera House
Some very sleepy people outside the Sydney Opera House
Waking up to this view of Sydney, after spending the night in the Taronga Zoo.
Golden orb weaver spider + its gigantic web.
Inside the Sydney Opera House
My new favorite machine! Testing my blood alcohol level after a wine tasting in Yarra Valley.
A ’30s-esque house in Apollo Bay.
Koala in the wild.
Only in Australia!
Bell’s Beach, just off the Great Ocean Road
A Cockatoo waiting for food. These birds are everywhere!