Not too much has changed in Sydney (apart from the exchange rate) since I spent many months dodging work here in my youth no less than 10 years ago. Sydney has always been a favourite place of mine, the city is clean, the scenery is spectacular and the beaches just top it all off. We spent a good 5 days in the city hitting all the well known hotspots, the opera house, Milsons point, Darling Harbour and even managed a tour of the botanical gardens one day with a group of old ladies. One of our favourite things though has to be the 6km walk from Coogee to Bondi beach along the cliffs, it was amazing.
We decided to rent a camper of sorts for our road trip through a company called ‘spaceships’. Our spaceship, Ursa was simply a 7 seater Toyota with the rear seats swapped out for a bed with two storage cupboards underneath it. To get down to Melbourne we allowed 10 days which is probably 8 days more than anyone else gives it but after the trip we actually wished we had had more time for the journey. The plan was to hit up the Blue Mountains then hug the coast all the way to Melbourne to drive the Great Ocean Road camping for free in Ursa wherever we could and to spot as much wildlife as possible.
The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains were our first stop, they lie roughly 90 mins out of Sydney and are a popular stop on the backpacker trail as well as a hot day trip from the city. The Blue haze that give the mountains their name comes from the eucalyptus oils in the trees evaporating into the atmosphere. We took in the views and then did a couple of hikes, the main one being a 3 hour canyon hike that took us deep into the mountains where the scenery changed from a very dry eucalyptus forest to a dense wet jungle, it was very strange. We found a free camp nearby for the night, a car park/rest area that fortunately was full of other campers so we weren't too nervous on our first night.
We then headed back out to the coast to Jervis Bay, an area that a friend had recommended to us that also boasts the whitest sand in the world at Hyams beach. The area didn't disappoint and we were blown away by the squeaky white sand and crystal clear water although it was a bit too cold for us to go for a swim. Just north of Hyams beach is Huskisson, a cute little town also worthy of a look around. Unfortunately we couldn't venture south of Hyams beach as the area was closed off due to a bush fire, a little alarming considering it was only just spring time. We spent the night at another free roadside camp where we were greeted with a kangaroos in the field next to us first thing in the morning. Georgina was over the moon at her first roo sighting and even though it was just a crappy lay-by it turned out to be a very good place to spend the night.
We took in a few more small towns along the coast before heading inland to Canberra, Australia's capital city. A man we met later said to us you haven't seen road kill until you've driven to Canberra and he was absolutely right as the road is completely littered with dead kangaroos and wombats, I've never seen anything like it. Canberra itself is an odd city. It is hugely spread out across both sides of the Molonglo River and doesn't really offer that much. We did go for a walk around the parliament building which was interesting until we got kicked off the organised tour for not registering and during our time there the annual ‘Floriade’ flower festival was on so we also checked that out.
Making our way back to the coast we stopped at a few more small towns such as Narooma and impressive beaches in the Eurobodalla National Park, all of which were deserted until finally hitting the town of Eden. During the whaling years a resident pod of killer whales actually worked in tandem with the whalers by hounding other whales into the bay for the whalers to kill in return for their lips and tongue. The lead whale at the time, ‘old Tom’ now has a museum ($10 aud) dedicated to him in the town full of other whale and whaling facts which is definitely worth a visit.
We then spent a couple of days slowly making our way down to Wilsons Prominatory via 90 mile beach and easily the best free camp spot we found - right next to a lake with an incredible sunrise in the morning.
Wilsons Prominatory National Park is a large peninsula just east of Melbourne that is now fully protected. It's free to enter and offers some great short or long hikes as well as great opportunities to spot wildlife. We opted for the aptly named picnic beach for our lunch where we spotted a beautiful red and blue bird before heading back out via a stop that offered a short loop walk absolutely full of kangaroos and wallabies. We also found 3 emus and a whole flock of noisy cockatoos.
Phillip Island lies between Wilsons Prom and Melbourne and is a fairly small area but with one big attraction…..the Penguin Parade, our main reason for making the detour here. Each evening at the parade you can observe the smallest of the penguin species, the blue penguin emerge from the sea after a hard days fishing to return to their burrows on the hillside. After paying the $26 aud entry fee, you gain entry to the main complex where you will be advised what time the penguins will be coming in, usually around 20 minutes after sunset. You then wander down to the beach to take a spot either on the sand at the front or on the rows of benches on the hillside and wait for the little guys to emerge from the sea. Sure enough, right on cue the first group of penguins emerged from the sea, not stepping a foot further until the whole group had all docked safely and then moved in a big huddle up the beach before hopping into the bushes to climb the banks to their homes. It was a surreal sight to be honest. After most of the groups had returned you can then view them in their burrows from the boardwalks and special viewing holes dotted along the hillside. After the event, we had mixed feelings about the whole experience, on one hand the penguins habitats are protected from any joe bloggs coming down and destroying them for an instagram photo but on the other hand the whole complex seems to have been built smack in the middle of an existing colony and the penguins do get hassled as they walk along literally next to the boardwalks by the baying camera crowd. Maybe if the boardwalks had been built a good 10 feet in the air or something we would've felt a little easier about the whole thing.
The Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road, southwest of Melbourne is a stretch of Highway built after the war by the returning soldiers that hugs the spectacular southern Victoria coastline. Starting at the town of Torquay, home of the infamous ‘Bells Beach’ famed for its massive surf the road passes through a couple of picturesque small towns all the way to Warrnambool. Most people attack the road via a looong day road trip from the city, however with more time we spent a night at a camp a few km from the famed ‘12 apostles’ which allowed us to visit at sunset and then stay late to watch the Blue penguins return from a hard days fishing. Also along the road we visited the many other ‘rock based’ attractions such as Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge. We had also researched a little back road just off the main road that would be a good spot to look for Koalas in the wild and sure enough we managed to spot at least 4 along the route to add to the couple that we saw just driving along the road.
Of Australia’s big cities, most people either prefer Sydney or Melbourne. I’m a Sydney fan myself however the relaxed European feel combined with its lane style boutique shopping and beach suburb of St Kilda had Georgina won over. We landed on the AFL Grand Final weekend with local team Richmond Tigers playing for the Championship so the city was buzzing. We did watch some of the match in the popular Federation square opposite the famous Flinders street train station (which was all scaffolded up for restoration) and I wasn’t impressed with Australia’s famous pastime. There didn’t seem to be much skill involved and there were more fumbles than a teenage disco! I’ll stick to proper rugby thanks, and by that I mean Union, not that league rubbish they play oop north! After a couple of days exploring Melbourne by foot we feel that we had taken in most of the city, highlights included the graffiti clad walls of ‘AC/DC Lane’ and the shabby theme park that is Luna Park in St Kilda, mainly to laugh at how bad the rides looked. Our next leg of the adventure would take us on a short trip over the Tasman sea to neighbouring New Zealand.