23.09.2010 - 26.07.2010 7 °C
Originally we had booked to go to Melbourne for just 2 nights because we were planning to head to Tasmania, but because of time constraints we had to cut out Tasmania. What to do in Melbourne with just 3 days ? We made a rough sketch to check out the Great Ocean Road and to go for dinner at an old friend's place in the Melbourne burbs on Saturday night.
We arrived after midnight. At 5 °C, it was bloody freezing which was a bit of a shock compared to Asia. There was a huge queue through immigration – ever seen "Border Control" ? , well they were filming it then and there.
Our hotel of choice was of convenience – the nearest to the airport – Formulae 1. It was so basic and souless, that it bordered on kitsch. The bathroom had a sort of alien space pod - moulded toilet and shower. And we had this cross bunkbed above the normal bed.
The next morning, we picked up our small car and headed south towards the ocean. There is a toll road from the airport to Melbourne and you pay via phone or internet within 48 hours of using it, similar to the London congestion charge. We took the highway which would bypass Melbourne traffic, and turn right at Geelong – may be do a little bit of surf shopping in Torquay. Both Ripcurl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rip_Curl) and O'Neill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Neill) had originated from this sparsely populated area. Within an hour we were off the main urban highways and onto a windy steep road in deep dense lush dripping forests with roadsigns warning of kangaroos.
The roads were empty, well tarmaced, well signposted and people drove at a leisurely pace and there was so much space. Another shock after Asia. We refamiliarised ourselves with priviledged western infrastructure.
We managed to completely miss Geelong and hit the coast about 100km west. The rugged scenery and huge waves were breathtaking. The first main town we came to was Lorne. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorne,_Victoria). We stopped to have a quick look around. There seemed to a hotchpotch of relaxed, slightly surfy cafes, craft shops and clothes shops ranging from surfwear to vintage. The sea air was bitingly cold, so we end up going into thrift shops and buying some winter woolies for us to recycle when we left Melbourne. Cockatiels and ravens were flitting around our heads. There was an air of carefree expanse.
We popped into the tourist office. The guide seriously loved his job, he spoke to us for ages about what to do and where to stay locally. Even with the cold weather, all the cafes seemed to keep their doors wide open. I guess fresh sea air can only be a good thing. After a lovely coffee and toastie, we headed further west on the Great Ocean Roads towards the Twelve Apostles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Apostles_%28Victoria%29). Having visited Australia 5 years ago, we knew it was dead easy to get around. We didn't have a guide book for Australia but Julian had printed out 3 bits of paper of the area and we had some maps free with the Avis car.
We drove all the way to Wye River, snaking down the coastal road, stopping periodically to try and spot whales. It really is a beautiful drive. I know it sounds so British, but the heat in Asia had felt oppressive, so it was nice to feel the cold.
We didn't quite make it to the 12 apostles before dusk so we headed back to Lorne and booked into the Pacific Grand Hotel overlooking the sea. It was an old victorian building with huge glass doors opening onto balconies.
Slightly fed up of restaurants, we went to the local fish and chip shop and ordered Battered Blue Grandier, with calamari and scallop and chilli sauce. We parked up as close to the sea as we could and sat in the car, listening to the radio and the waves crashing on the shore and devoured our fish supper. The windows steamed up and we smelt like saucy sea creatures but it was the best fish and chips we have had ever.
Day 2 in Melbourne, consisted of us driving east up to Mornington Peninsula. We went for a boardwalk around this lighthouse and we got on this cute ferry which took us across to the Yarra Valley side of Melbourne. Most people seemed to going in the opposite direction for the weekend. This was all wine country and we were planning to drive to the main Yara Valley area but as soon we got close to Melbourne, the traffic started piling up and we realised we were running out of time for our dinner party. We had to rush straight back to the airport, drop off the car and then get a cab to our hotel – the Radisson, Flagstaff gardens to Duncan's who lived in the Hamptons which was 40minutes away in Hamptons.
About 8 years ago, I worked with Duncan in IT for an insurance company. We even sat next to eachother when he was applying for a visa to Australia. He moved to Melbourne with his wife and 3 young kids about 7 years ago. He bought a tumble down house on a big plot and the builders and the spreadsheet told him that it was cheaper to bulldoze the old house and build from scratch rather than renovate. Cate and he meticulously designed the perfect family home with pool, but not a fuddy duddy boring house but a really cool hi-tec house with little British (there's that word again !) eccentricities and tonnes of light which allowed the chi to flow and his kids (and new dog) to run about free. They had a huge staircase (very against Ozzie convention) in a vast hallway with light streaming through which then lead up to huge landing. The landing was very innovative – it was a fab communal play areas for his kids with sofas and a tv. It meant the mess was always kept upstairs.
We have been doing renovations for years (9 houses in 15 years) and we are in the middle of one now. With old houses and it is nigh impossible to get the finish right because the house moves and creaks and nothing is straight. With Duncan's house, the finish was exceptional. A real advert for a new build ...and in fact family life ! I took pictures to steal interior decorating ideas for our own place.
Duncan and Cate had made a delicious lasagne and had invited a couple of friends around – Janette and Peter. A really nice down-to-earth couple who regailed us with funny anecdotes and the usual aussie straight talking. For me, with Duncan and Cate, it was nice to gossip about the old gang and talk about what people were up to now. We had such a lovely time. Real kindred spirits.
On our final day in Australia, we were total zombies and only had the morning really before we had to move on to the next country. We took the red circle line tram (which is free!) to the city centre and had lunch at the buzzing lanes. It was teaming with cool and funky sorts. The sky was bright and a mixture of modern high risers emblazened with familair logos such as PWC. We tried to get into the Tim Burton exhibition but the queue was way too long, so we sauntered down the Southbank of the Yarra River. It was a nice sunny day and whole families were out cycling and walking about town. At the north, there were plastic boards with different countries and how many immigrants from that country lived in Australia. We noticed some of the boards like Israel, Croatia, USA had been spat at !!
Auckland – one night. Didn't leave the airport as we got in last thing and left first thing but must comment on how great this airport hotel was. The hotel was called Ventura Inn & Suites Auckland Airport. And also on the radio – the following joke was bloody (by the way I was born in Bangladesh so am brown and am used to in London everyone being super politically correct) :
The background was, kiwis were getting their knickers in a twist about the fact that schools in NZ were teaching chinese as a second language. Rather progressive and forward thinking, I reckon. Anyway as a response, the DJ hooted "If learning Chinese makes you a Communist, then learning German makes you a Nazi and learning French .....makes you an arsehole."
He then proceeded to laugh for about 5minutes. Gotta love the kiwis (-: