November Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! At home, I would say Happy Holidays, but since here a holiday is a vacation, it doesn’t work quite as well. Although, I have been on vacation since the end of October, so I suppose Happy Holidays is fitting.

After working for two and half years, it was finally time for me to enjoy the holiday part of my working holiday. I quit my job at the apple shed in the middle of October, gave myself a week off to collect my thoughts, and then started around Victoria. My goal was to revisit some of my favorite spots, and discover new ones, ticking off everything on my to-do list. Of course with each new trip, I find new things and places I’d like to go, pinning the location to my map, and saving it for the next time I’m in the area.

My first week I set off for Wilson’s Prom, where I had visited last January. I went with a friend I’d met at the apple shed, and we spent three nights camping out of our cars. Our first day was our big hike, big being a relative term. Neither of us had been terribly active over the past few months, so we landed on a moderately difficult hike. The Darby River hike took us for a climb up to Tongue Point, and then down to Fairy Cove, where we had lunch on the beach, and then back up and over the hill to the carpark. The second day I went for an early morning walk around Tidal River that runs through the campground. We had booked ourselves in for a boat ride around some of the islands adjacent to the Prom, so in the late morning we gathered with mostly middle aged couples, and went for a nearly three hour trip. We saw seals and sea lions, the southern-most tip of mainland Australia, and Skull Rock, an impressive skull-shaped rock. This boat ride was an added bonus that not many people are likely to experience if they visit the Prom, and I think it’s well worth it. It was nearly perfect weather which made for a beautiful day out on the water, and later in the afternoon we walked to Norman Beach for a tan and swim. In the evening, just before dusk, we drove to the wildlife walk, a short loop out by an old air strip, where you get to see lots of kangaroos, emus, and wombats, all in their natural habitat.

This trip was much more relaxing, allowing me to really enjoy camping, whereas my first visit I had tried to squeeze in as much as possible. Something I hadn’t experienced in my previous trip was the abundance of wildlife, and their comfort around their human guests. The magpie, rosella, and other birds in particular were adamant they would be able to get any and all food in sight, swooping and following you as you cook and eat. The wombats scoot around looking for any dropped food, although they tend to be less intrusive. It makes for a wonderful, albeit slightly annoying, dining experience.

From the Prom I drove up to Lake Eildon, near Bonnie Doon, for the night. I had been recommended to visit the lake, but an impending thunderstorm dampened the mood. It also seemed better suited to boating and fishing, and I left my boat at the boat store. I had considered spending an additional night, but with the impending weather, made my way back up to Mount Buffalo, next to Bright. I stopped at a couple of the waterfalls at the base of the mountain, and then stayed at the Lake Catani campsite, which ended up being lovely. It was still a bit stormy up there, so I just went for a walk around the lake and over to the gorge lookout area, and then had one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the car. In the morning I was up early, and climbed to Le Souf Plateu, and opposite it the Cathedral, both equally impressive rock formations on either side of the road. I’d been up Mount Buffalo before, but it was nice to have a little more time to enjoy it.

That was a Saturday morning when I left Mount Buffalo, and was the first weekend Melbourne was out of lockdown, and also Melbourne Cup holiday weekend, so I was keen to get in and out of Bright as quickly as possible. I stopped for some groceries and picked up lunch, and then headed to Beechworth for the weekend. This first week had been somewhat of a test run for the camping experience, so I was able to sort some of my stuff out, do laundry, and then start the second leg of my trip. I stayed through the long weekend, placed and lost my first sporting bet, and then was on my way.

While I had become pretty familiar with the eastern half of Victoria, I hadn’t seen much of the western half, so that’s where I was headed next. I drove west through Shepparton to Bendigo, where I stayed for the night. I don’t think Shepparton is worth staying in any longer than it takes to drive through, but Bendigo had the gold rush style preserved, making for a beautiful backdrop to the moderately large regional city. I stayed at a free campsite near the town, and then went for a drive south in the morning, to Organ Pipes, a naturally formed rock formation that looks like the pipes of an organ, and Hanging Rock, a rock that hangs over some other rocks. Made myself a PB&J for lunch, sat watching some kangaroos, then drove back to Bendigo. I wandered around town, had some wine and snacks, then drove back to my campsite for the night.

In the morning, I had an early start and a quick pass through Ballarat, and then drove along the silo art trail to Mildura. Different artists have painted beautiful artwork on the outside of abandoned grain silos about twenty minutes from each other, which makes the otherwise boring drive much more exciting. The north west of Victoria is unlike the rest of the state, much more dry and flat, like outback New South Wales. The temperature climbed nearly ten degrees to the mid 30s (low 90s for those playing at home). I arrived in the early evening, and hadn’t planned my campsite for the , so after driving to three different ones, I ended up just across the state border in NSW with no toilet, but I was too tired to care. After a too hot, sleepless night, I got a coffee in town, went to the farmer’s and then was on my way, back the way I’d come, to Halls Gap in the Grampians.

I had visited the Grampians National Park and mountain ranges my second week in Australia, almost exactly two years ago, but was glad to have another visit and be able to spend more time there. For five nights, I stayed at the YHA in Halls Gap, and it was even better than I remembered it. The owners and hosts were lovely, and it’s a new, clean building that was relatively empty when I was there, which I enjoyed. My first full day I was very ambitious, climbing into the north end of the park, to climb Hollow Mountain, Mt. Zero, and to see Beehive Falls. Hollow Mountain was by far the most impressive of my trip there, and probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In addition to being almost entirely straight up, and therefore straight down on the decent, there three parts where the path stopped and there was simply an ‘up’ arrow painted onto the side of a boulder. Now, I learned very early in life, from attending many second grade birthday parties, that no form of rock climbing was for me. And when I watch the Princess Diaries movie, a quote that always stuck with me was “I’m a synchronized swimming, yoga doing, horseback riding, rock climbing type of girl,” because I’ve never related to anything less. So needless to say I was not excited at this prospect. And mind you this only required me to hoist myself up a few steps per climb, but I nearly gave up after the first rock because of how scared I was. But I’m glad I stuck with it, as the view from the top was very rewarding, as was the satisfaction of overcoming a fear. But I still don’t see a big rock climbing career in my future.

After all of the climbing, I stopped at two different sites of Aboriginal cave paintings, which were incredibly interesting and beautiful to see.  I went to Beehive Falls on my way back into town, and then walked through the Halls Gap botanic gardens to Venus Baths, where I soaked my feet before a well earned dinner and sleep. 

Day two in the Grampians, I had a slow morning, but then visited Mackenzie Falls, a walk I had done  my previous visit.  You climb down a steep staircase to the foot of a massive waterfall, and then I continued my walk along the water and through the bush to Zumsteins and then back again. I stopped at another waterfall which was far less impressive, and then ended the day watching the sunset at the Reeds and Balconies lookout.  I met a lovely older couple from Melbourne who were eager to chat with me, and we stopped stories of favorite hikes and travels. 

The next day, Tuesday, I did one of the more popular hikes, the Pinnacle, and was happy I had an early start, as I rushed to beat a school trip to the trail. This was another trail I had previously hiked, but the view from the top gives a magnificent view over Halls Gap and of much of the surrounds. I was learning to pace myself so I rent back to the hostel to do some laundry and have lunch, and then in the afternoon, climbed Chatawqua Peak just behind the YHA.  I met a couple at the top who had just moved to Halls Gap from South Africa via the Cayman Islands. 

The hostel only had a couple of people staying, and the owners generously invited me to join them for a barbecue dinner.  It was nice to sit and chat and enjoy delicious food and wine, a treat I usually don’t have while I’m on the road.  I knew Wednesday was predicted to be rainy, so I had already planned to have a chill day.  I wanted to catch up on some reading, writing, and movie watching.  I called home, and relaxed all morning. For lunch I drove to the town of Stawell, to a Peruvian restaurant I had passed, and was as delicious as I predicted it would be.  Per the recommendation of the hostel, I booked in for a wine and cellar tour at Seppelt Winery, thirty minutes from Halls Gap.  They’re known for being one of the oldest wineries in the region, and for their five kilometers of underground cellar and tunnels that were originally used to cellar their bottles, and are now private function areas.  Then I enjoyed a tasting of most of their menu, and left with three bottles, a Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz.

That night back at the hostel, I met a fellow American, who had moved to Australia within the last eight months for work, and had been living mostly in Melbourne. A very nice Midwestern boy, he made it sound like it would be relatively easy for him to make a permanent move to Australia, which I found frustrating.  Not that I’m declaring my intention to stay forever, just that it sounded like a much easier process than if I do choose to stay longer than this year. And he confirmed that I have zero interest in skinny white boys in tech.

After five nights, I left the Grampians and drove south towards the coast. I made one final climb to Mt William, which was a bit boring after the week I had, just being a steep paved road.  But still a good bit of exercise on a brisk Thursday morning.  I continued on to Port Fairy, the farthest stop from Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road.  I had a little walk around town, walked out to Griffiths Island and around to the lighthouse, and then to the pub for a pot of beer.  I had planned to camp about thirty minutes back the way I’d came, but I didn’t much like the look of it, so I drove back, and eventually found a park to stay at.  I wasn’t sure if camping was really allowed, although I suppose I’m not really camping, just sleeping out of my car.  And it was threatening to rain, with the wind already howling. I think my life would be a little easier if I didn’t worry so much about finding the perfect spot to spend the night, but I ended up not having a very restful night.  

In the morning, I drove to Warnambool, the next and biggest town along, and had a delicious breakfast.  I hadn’t really planned anything for the day, but did what I do best and did some shopping.  I stopped at a small art gallery, and then just happened to see a movie theatre, and remembered that the new James Bond film was out that day.  So I treated myself to an 11am viewing, and loved it.  In high school, my best friend and I saw an average of one movie a week in the theatre, but I hadn’t really been back much since, so this was a real treat.  Then I went for a wander around an antiques warehouse, which was overwhelming and really more like 100 garage sales all in one place.  I drove back to Port Fairy because there was a bookstore that I wanted to visit, which probably wasn’t worth the drive but was still nice. I went for a little walk at a nature reserve, and then back to Warnambool where I picked up Thai takeaway, and headed to a different campsite. I got there just before dark, and again, didn’t really like the look of it, although in hindsight it was perfectly fine.  I drove another thirty minutes to a campsite by a lake, and ended up having the best sleep in my car so far.  

Saturday I made my way east along the coast, stopping at a small waterfall, and then to Port Campbell, where I had the worst pancake I’ve ever had.  I made stops along the way, at all of the many rock formations along the coast. The Grotto, London Bridge, Loch and Gorge, up until the Twelve Apostles.  My second week in Australia, I made a similar trip with a group of ten friends I had made, so it was nice to go down memory lane, and be amazed at how that had been almost exactly two years ago.  Despite being relatively good weather, I was getting cranky and tired of being in the car, so I drove straight through to Apollo Bay, where I had booked in at the YHA for four nights.  I had a little walk around town, and got pizza and beer for dinner.  Apollo Bay had been my favorite town along the Great Ocean Road, and while it still had the beautiful backdrop of the mountains against the ocean, it seemed more touristy and posh, less like a quaint beach town.  The hostel also wasn’t as nice as I remembered, and while at one point I had considered staying long term to work and live here, I decided there were better beaches in Australia where I could spend my time. 

I spent most of the next two days inside, as the weather was absolutely abysmal.  It was nice to just relax and not think about how the next few hours would be spent. I walked around town a little more, and got fresh fish and chips, as well as the locally famous scallop pie.  Now when I think pie I still picture a large pumpkin, pecan, or apple pie. But here in Oz, meat pies are sold at nearly every bakery, servo, and cafe, and come in a whole variety of meaty flavors: steak and pepper, minced curry, bacon egg and cheese.  While these repulsed me my first year and a half here, I’ve come around to the idea, and while they may not be my first choice for a meal, they have their moments. 

On my final day in Apollo Bay, the sun finally came out, so I decided to retrace my steps to Port Campbell and enjoy more of the sights along the way.  The highlight was a delicious lunch in Port Campbell that redeemed the pancake incident, and then I detoured through a patch of California Redwoods. It was nice to have a taste of home, albeit these being much smaller than what I’m used to.  But still very nice. I also enjoyed Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet, where the Australian famous kids tv show Round the Twist was filmed.  I met two girls from Melbourne back at the hostel, who were in the middle of walking the trail between Apollo Bay and the Twelve Apostles.  We each decided that we couldn’t do what the other was, me never dreaming to go on a multi day hike out of my backpack, and them not wanting to solo travel by car.  But it was still nice to have some good chats and make new friends. 

Wednesday I drove further east to Torquay, the surfing capital of Victoria.  The global companies Ripcurl and Billabong were founded here, local Bells Beach is home to one of Australia’s biggest surf competitions.  I drove to a couple of beaches, watched some surfers, and decided I probably don’t have a big surfing career ahead of me.  I got Mexican food (a rarity and almost impossible to find good Mexican food here), and drove to Bunjil’s Lookout, where I would be camping for the night.  It seems a bit out of the way, but has a beautiful view and nice facilities.  After a good night’s sleep, I drove back to Torquay, did some shopping (one of my favorite hobbies and the reason I am seemingly unable to save money), and then drove on to Geelong, the biggest regional city before Melbourne. For those interested, its pronounced “juh-long”, and I only clarify because they first many times I saw it I thought it was “GHEE long”, which would’ve been embarrassing to say out loud.  

I went for a late lunch and a drink at Little Creatures brewery, which had become a favorite beer of mine. I found another antiques warehouse, this one slightly more impressive than the last.  I went for a stroll down along East Beach, which has a great swimming area and esplanade, although far too windy to be enjoyed that day.  I took a lovely stroll through the botanic gardens, and decided that I would very much like to come back to Geelong, perhaps when it’s not so hot and windy.  I drove back to my same campsite to enjoy an early dinner and another sound sleep. 

Friday morning I drove through Melbourne, down and around to the Mornington Penninsula.  There’s a ferry I could’ve taken just across Port Phillip Bay, but that would’ve ended up being more expensive, and I’d been on it before.  The Penninsula is home to beach huts, vibrantly painted little boxes on the beach, for their private owners to better enjoy themselves, and protect them from the sun when enjoying the beach day.  I’ve seen very few owners actually use and enjoy them, so more often anybody can sit and relax in front of them.  The area is also home to some of the wealthiest holiday homes for residence of Melbourne, so to go from relatively modest country houses to massive, vacation mansions is quite the change of pace.  I drove all the way down to the very tip, to Port Napean and Cheviot Hill.  With existing bunkers and tunnels to be explored, this was a point of defense during World War II, but is perhaps better known as the spot where one of Australia’s former prime ministers, Harold Holt, vanished and presumably drowned.  And at the time, no one thought much of it, with probably exemplifies the Australian relaxed and unbothered way of life.  

It was a beautiful day for a stroll and some exploring, so I spent a few hours down there, and then drove up to Mount Martha, to a car park by the beach that I figured would be a good place to park for the night.  I got to watch a magnificent sunset, and another girl in a caravan and I mutually assured ourselves that we’d be ok for the night. Turns out there was some big swimming competition in the morning, and that was one of the most popular spots for kayaking, swimming, and early morning beach time, so I was woken up nice and early. That worked out fine because I had already planned to go for an early morning dip.  While at first shockingly cold, I adjusted and swam back and forth between the buoys, before deciding that was quite enough of that.  I had another delicious breakfast in town, and then drove to Came Schanck lighthouse (my memoir could probably be called “Lighthouses, Botanic Gardens, and Waterfalls, oh my!”  This was by far the less impressive one I’d seen, bit still made for a nice drive.  

My next stop was Melbourne, the big smoke!  I’d arranged to stay with my friend Hayleigh Saturday night, so arrived in time for us to do some shopping, grab drinks, and enjoy a dinner of catching up.  I’ve managed to see her a handful of times since I left Melbourne, and it’s nice to have had a steady friend for most of my time here. I’d booked in for the next two nights in North Melbourne, where I had first lived upon my arrival.  I spent Sunday afternoon walking through Carlton to Fitzroy, and then spent two hours waiting for my food delivery. The joys of the big city!   In the morning, I set off for the CBD, and after quickly realizing that my old converse weren’t going to get me very far, turned most of midday into a shopping expedition for new shoes.  By the time I was done, I had just enough time to grab a late lunch at ChinChin, and then head to the National Gallery of Victoria, the best free museum in Melbourne. They didn’t have any special exhibits on, but it was still nice to take in a bit of culture.  I stopped in Chinatown on my way back and grabbed some bakery goodies for dinner.  

Tuesday I was off to Bruswick, where I lived for most of my few months in Melbourne. I had breakfast at Neruda’s, a deliciously authentic Chilean cafe, and then strolled up and down Sydney Road.  Unfortunately, my favorite used bookstore wasn’t open, but it was still nice to see the old neighborhood.  I grabbed lunch at A Minor Place on Albion St, a few blocks from where I used to live, and the drove back through Melbourne, to an American grocery store south of the city. I stocked up on LaCroix sparkling water, and all of my favorite orange snacks: CheezeIts, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and Goldfish, and then continued on to Mt. Cannibal Flora and Fauna Reserve.  I had been told this was a beautiful walk just off of the highway, which is was, but perhaps not worth the journey out of my way.  I drove north towards Kinglake, and paid $15 to stay at the Gums Campground, which I gladly would’ve paid more for. I had just enough time to heat my pasta, eat, and clean up before the rain came.  

Wednesday, 24 November, and it was only halfway through the day that I realized Thanksgiving was this week.   Perhaps I have been away for too long.  I meandered through Harrietville, a cute little town I’d driven through before, and then through the Yarra Valley to Jamieson.  I had planned to drive up Mount Buller and spend another night camping and exploring, but rain and storms were imminent, and I was exhausted.  I had been invited to return early to where I’d be staying for the next week, so I headed back north to Beechworth.   It’s a little presumptuous of me to say it felt great to be home, because it’s not really my home, but it is where I spent most of the last eight months.  I needed this time to decompress, relax, veg out, do all of my laundry and clean out my car, and start my next adventure.  This was the first real traveling I had done on my own sine being in Australia, and felt that I had now thoroughly explored all of Victoria.  I felt very satisfied knowing I had seen all I wanted to in the state where I’d lived the last two years, but also knowing there were many more places I’d be happy to see or revisit.  Victoria will always be my home in Australia, but I was excited to explore a new state!

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