When we woke in the morning, we heard guests from another room talking to Wayne, saying that their moving cut out half way through last night. They agreed that it was probably the storm, and Wayne went to flip a breaker. I was planning on telling him myself, but considering the net result was that I’d fried a surge suppressor and nothing else was damaged after the power came back on, I figured I’d let them run with their assumption.
We breakfasted with the other couple, whose names escape me now so I shall just dub them “The Melbourners”, and Lanaea tried her first taste of Vegemite. The look on her face told me she’d never end up intentionally putting it in her mouth again. After a quick tally with Wayne, we headed off for our now regular flat whites and hit the road.
Our first intended stop was the Cape Otway Lighthouse. Unfortunately, it was under construction and we couldn’t climb up it, but the original keeper’s houses and whatnot had been turned into something of a small museum. Honestly, just mildly interesting in terms of a destination; the true delights — for us non-Australians — was the prevalence of wild koalas hanging about. When we first heard them roar, I thought it was a wild boar or something; I had no idea such a deep and thrumming bass roar could emanate from such a small critter. At this point, I felt truly like a tourist.
After a bit of wandering and goofing about, we ran into the Melbourner Couple on our way out. We’d eventually run into them for the rest of the morning, playing leapfrog up the coast to the Twelve Apostles.
We continued up the coast, stopping periodically for snaps, catching some air, and spotting contingents of the Coffin Chasers, until we arrived at the Twelve Apostles. It really is some breathtaking scenery, particularly with the recent rains provide a heavily textured backdrop of deep navy blue and dense white clouds.
Through some series of events which are not entirely clear, there’s not necessarily twelve apostles. First there were Gog and Magog, and later the 12 pigs, or some words that meant “pig”, and eventually, for tourism reasons, it was decided “apostles” sounded better than “pig.” And, there’s not twelve — they are continually eroding, so when one falls, they have to extend their count to include the next earthen tower up the coast. So, don’t get caught up in the name. Go for the sight.
There’s only so long you can jostle among the continually arriving and departing throngs of bus-borne tourists.
The next stop on the list was Port Campbell, for grub and another flat white. It’s a sleepy little town, perfect if you have nothing on your agenda aside from eating at some slightly overpriced mediocre restaurants. (For some reason, it’s quite rare to pay at the table in Australia. You almost always pay at the register.) There might be more to Port Campbell, be we didn’t wait to find out, and decided to strike off inland, toward unknown destinations via an undecided route.
It could’ve been the recent rains, but that portion of inland Australia was positively beautiful. Not 12 Apostles beautiful, but still quite striking. After an hour or so of lush greenery on small rolling hills, the land flattened in agricultural fields. It seemed an entirely different country, like falling out of the rockies into the great central American plains (although without dropping 10,000 feet in the process).
By far one of the most striking experiences of inland Victoria are the highways. Normally, you’re speeding along at a solid 125kph or so. Occasionally, the road drops down to one lane — not one lane in each direction, but one lane total. The first time this happened, I pulled half the car off onto the soft shoulder and dropped my speed precipitously so cars coming the other direction would have some road to work with.
The other car didn’t slow.
Eventually, I got used to sliding halfway off the road at 125kph, zooming past other cars doing the same, throwing roster tails of rock and sand as the left side of our rental car kicked around on the shoulder.
Once we hit the town of Ballarat, we decided to find a place to stay for the night. We tried a Lonely Planet recommendation — George’s Hotel — which I would heartily recommend against. First we had to wander the casino integrated into the ground floor just to find an employee. They told us we had to go next door to another hotel; they had out-sourced their booking desk. The girl at the Quality Inn next door was slow as can be with every thing she did, and when she did do it, did it wrong. First, she tried running Lanaea’s card multiple times, never succeeding in getting an authorization. Eventually, we had to yell at her to stop so it wouldn’t get disabled for fraud. After putting the room on my card, she magnetized our keys cards after unsuccessful attempts and calls with supervisors. It honestly took about 45 minutes or so.
She directed us to a parking garage so tight it took around 20 three point turns to get the car in, and after hiking through the back alleys and kitchen to the actual hotel lobby, we trundled upstairs only to find that our hotel room was outside of the protective smoke-doors at the end of the hall, and the place reeked. Neither of our keys cards worked. We attempted to exit the place via a different hallway, although through the same style glass door we’d entered, after which the door locked behind us. After a brief exploration, we realized all the doors in this hallway were locked. From the outside. Lanaea banged on a few doors until we an employee in the casino heard us and let us out.
We headed directly back to the front desk to cancel our reservation, and decided on heading back the last hundred kilometers to Melbourne. We arrived back at the Melbourne Central YHA, which turned out to have one room available that they’d been turning down to those that called in and were saving for “emergency” walk-ins. We fit the bill, and we relieved.
The rest of the night was spent relaxing in Bertha Brown’s, the bar adjunct to the hostel on the first floor. The beer was good and relatively cheap, and the food delicious. After chatting with the bartender for a bit, he came over, introduced himself as Dan, the owner, and hung out at our booth, comping us beers and telling us everything he could about Melbourne. He actually took the time to go through an entire “bar guide” of all the CBD bars and give us the local’s impression of each. Seriously, this guy was way cool, and made my day after the debacle in Ballarat.
His summary of Melbourne? “Sydney’s like the smoking hot girl, but a bitch. Melbourne’s like the beautiful, classy girl with personality.” And of places to go: “Melbourne’s all about the lanes. The best and the worst are hidden there.”
After a few more days of Melbourne, I’d heartily agree.