Travelling with family is different. It’s a challenge, it’s enlightening, it’s fun, it’s strange, and it can be a bit of a struggle. Particularly when said family completely fills up a silver Toyota RAV4 and spins across several hundred kilometers of Australian coastline and outback in two weeks. Perhaps the most fitting adjective for the first leg of my family vacation, though, is awesome.
My parents arrived in Sydney on a Friday morning, accompanied by my aunt and uncle. Due to financial complications because of an injured right knee (see previous post), I opted to put one last shift in at work and forego the airport reunion. I rationalized that a 3 p.m. finish wasn’t too bad, and arranged to meet them all at my work around that time.
It’s been nearly a year since I left Canada, so a year since I’d seen the parents. Seeing them appear in Sydney, tourists on the streets I’d come to know, to love, and the streets that were as close to being called home as anywhere, was surreal. They looked, for all purposes, the same. I’m sure I did, too. Yet somehow it seemed as though this year away had removed me more from the life I had grown up with than all of my previous moves, trips, and time spent abroad. I didn’t feel any less close with them, but the reality of the fact that I’ll be spending a lot more time away from “home” really hit. Perhaps these big blasts of reunion time, once a year or two, is what we’ll be forced to become accustomed to.
A couple of days of being tourists in Sydney happened to coincide with the city’s International Fleet Review, when tens of thousands of other people were also playing tourist in downtown Sydney. A few plans spoiled by road and ferry closures still resulted in a great evening perched on top of a hill watching a fireworks display that was echoed down the harbour, part of one of the largest events the Sydney Harbour has ever seen.
We then packed ourselves and our stuff into the trusty Rav rental and headed off for the coastal drive towards Melbourne. We stopped overnight in a small, picturesque town called Eden. What commenced when we got there was a rather desperate search for food, as our 8 p.m. arrival appeared to coincide with the closure of all eateries in town. We wandered down the empty street to the Fisherman’s Club, and lucked out with late night dinner offerings extended to 8:30 p.m. Each of us ordered some form of fish and stuff, and I stared at the wine list for approximately 10 minutes, nearly refusing to believe that you could buy a bottle of wine for $15. I’d become far too accustomed to Sydney prices, where you’d be more likely to get a glass for that amount.
We made it to Melbourne the following evening and began to explore the city. I’d been there before for a few weeks and enjoyed playing tour guide to some of the excellent spots I’d discovered on my first go. Graffiti covered walls in alleyways, shiny rainbows of apples at the Queen Vic Markets, and delicious Pho coloured our short time in the surprisingly captivating city.
We spent two days navigating the curves of the Great Ocean Road that stretches west from Melbourne. Cute seaside towns, dramatic rocky coastline, and rather remarkable winds encouraging our journey.
We visited some of the most popular rock formations that dot the coast, including The Twelve Apostles (there are currently some number less than twelve left) and London Bridge. When London Bridge collapsed in 1990, two tourists were trapped on the remaining rock. This made me rethink my previous comment of how cool it would be to be present when one of the Apostles or another rock formation collapsed into the sea.
A major highlight of the Great Ocean Road is koala bear spotting. Kennett River is well-known as prime koala bear spotting, and spot we did. Take along some old bread and you can also have the pleasure of brightly coloured packs of birds careering at your head to feed.
Another excellent spot to try to catch sight of those furry little balls that spend most of their time in trees, asleep, or casually munching on eucalyptus leaves, is on the road out to the Cape Otway Lightstation. The lighthouse itself is average, but the bears on the gravel road on the way there were amazing. We saw many more than we had at Kennett River, including a baby hanging off the back of its mother while they went about their business in the trees. The most remarkable thing we saw – and heard – was two koala bears fighting over the same branch of the tree they inhabited. The deep, throat, guttural growling sounds they were making was unlike any sound I’d heard. Generally sleepy and rather slow-moving creatures, it was quite strange to see the aggression that emerged. Their scuffle was resolved relatively shortly (the koala on the branch in question managed to hold down his turf) and the challenger retreated to a neighbouring branch. They both returned to their munching in peace.
After taking the inland track through Colac back to Melbourne (which saves a significant amount of time on the return journey), we woke early and prepared for the next leg of our trip: a flight to Alice Springs for a few days in the Australian Outback.