The last leg of our mainland Oz tour would take us from Adelaide to Melbourne through highlands, shipwrecks and winding ocean roads. The Great Ocean Road, in fact.
A reasonable number of travellers boarded the groovy bus in Adelaide. The route went east and up, to Brambuk in the Grampians. A wilderness area at high-ish altitude, the Grampians offer plenty of opportunities for walking and hiking in the woods and mountains. As the wind had turned, and now was blowing from the south, all the way from Antarctica, the temperature dropped. So low, in fact, that some travellers bulked up in long-legged trousers, jumpers and/or jackets, and some even wrapped themselves in gloves and woolly hats. Of course, the fact that we were chased up in the middle of the night did contribute to the chillier air. Yes. The middle of the night. Not early in the morning. Not early as fuck in the morning. The middle of the night. Breakfast was at 4 o’clock each night, in order to catch the sunrise. The first one was, in all fairness, a rather beautiful one, preceded by a nice walk in the forest and mountains. However, the tour guide both dillied and dallied, and we reached the intended lookout spot some 15 minutes after the actual sunrise. So one could question whether the horrifically early start was worth it.
There was no reason to question the waking up in the middle of the night for the next sunrise, though. First of all, it was some 15 minutes drive from our accommodation, so there was no need to get up, have breakfast, load the trailer and so forth two hours before. Therefore, one could easily save brekkie and all other morning to-dos until after sunrise. Secondly, the sunrise wasn’t all that. So, we could have gotten two more hours of sleep, alternatively three, for those who could have opted out.
The more stops we did along the way, the more I realised that we were going in the wrong direction: Gorges, cataracts, waterfalls…. all stunning and beautiful, and would have been awesome had we not been seeing plenty before; grander, bigger, cooler and, most importantly, without as many bloody tourists.
Grate Ocean Road
Yes, the Great Ocean Road is scenic. The Shipwreck Coast is dramatic and harsh, and the limestone cliffs amazing. But there are tourists everywhere, posing for selfies, blocking the view, chatting and shouting. The stop at the Sow and the Piglets* was horrible. I got a quick photo and got the hell out of Dodge as soon as my anxiety could muster. The sunset visit was less crowded and had better lighting, making the afternoon stop completely inexplicable and worthless.
By far the least enjoyable part of this trip, on many accounts, the Adelaide – Melbourne stretch at least offered a visit to Brambuk Cultural centre, where one could read up on the atrocities committed to the original inhabitants of the land. The Massacre, they call it, and justly so. Although, the Europeans called it anything but. Euphemisms ruled in the Orwellian doublethink. The endgame was complete genocide, but they used terms like integration instead. They indoctrinated the aboriginal children in concentration camps they called “missionaries”. They placed those with fairer skin in white families in order to wipe out the bloodline. The Stolen Generation, so called. A truly dark chapter, one of many, in European colonial history.
The saint killed a….
The tour eventually came to a stop in Melbourne City centre. Our bus driver dropped us off at a random spot, beset by road work, pointed at a possible tram station some kilometre away, claimed that the tram there would take us to St Kilda and left. Roughly 45 minutes later, we had both reached the tram station AND formed a rough idea on how to pay the fare, and an additional 45 minutes later, we were checked in at Base, St Kilda. So that’s what you get when you buy a trip that supposedly includes transport from your Adelaide accommodation to your St Kilda one, with certain bus drivers.
14 years ago, I stayed at the very same Base Backpackers in the very same St Kilda. I loved it then. There were nice, same-aged, like-minded people everywhere. Red Eye Bar was pumping with fun activities and affordable shots. It was festive and easy-going. But the place has changed. Now, there are noisy, drunk kids everywhere. Red Eye Bar is playing loud, obnoxious ‘music’ and have silly venues and tacky shots. It’s crowded and smothering. Yep. The place has changed in 14 short years. Not me. The place.
Last time, I didn’t see much of the neighbourhood, though. But this time around, we had one evening and a full day to explore at our own pace. That day was Christmas Eve, and I actually started with a morning run in the parks and by the beach. We had a stroll, a beer, watched Donald Duck and handed over Xmas prezzies. For dinner, we forwent any traditional ham, sausage, rice porridge and pickled herring and instead had the most incredible oven-baked barramundi with pasta pesto. A stroll by the beach and out to the old pier ended Christmas eve, complete with watching the penguins come home from a day at sea to roost among the rocks of the pier. A daily event that nevertheless draws a crowd, and triggered several bursts of squee from my penguin encounter virgin companion. When everyone else in the land celebrated Christmas with their families, we left Victoria for Tasmania.
Adelaide to Melbourne. Our last adventure with Groovy Grape. We left a smokey Addie. The fires the day before were pretty big. Several lost their homes and livelihoods. More got smoke inhalation damage to their lungs. First day towards the Great Ocean Road was more a transport day. We saw a lot of public bathrooms which were surprisingly interesting. An old jail had been converted into a rest room. Yes the loo signs were aptly striped.
Our goal for this leg if the tour was the Grampian mountains. A fantastic cluster of valleys and crests. Trees and bushes. All with the scars of bush fires. The oh so needed bushfires. When controlled and small. As the customs of the aboriginals prescribed. But the white man did not listen to the advise from the former care takers of the land…..
In the Grampian mountains we got to visit the Brambuk national park and Cultural centre. It hit me straight through my heart. I cried. I could not accept the genocide we were shown. The English sure did a number on the native Australians. They wiped out a complete culture. For example, out of a group of 1000 individuals only three remained alive after the arrival of the English. That only took one year. One year to kill 997 individuals. Persons who had survived the harsh conditions of this land.
The ocean road paled in comparison. It was very beautiful but i could not let go of my experience in the Grampians. It took a day or two for me to bounce back. I bounced back in a very happy way. As a child, I spent my summers with my brother and sister in our parents’ summer house in Sweden. Wherever we lived in the world we would always spend glorious wild summers in Scandinavia with our godfather. In the mornings they showed Swedish summer kiddie tv shows. And one particular from Australia. “Around the twist”. Siblings living with a rather unusual father in a light tower. So many adventures and weird things happened to them. And now I got to visit that light tower! Well, not visit it but stand on the outside and touch it, because a visit to the top cost 10 aussie dollars and i felt that to be a rip off. 10 dollars to walk up, walk around and the walk down. Nope, I had enough of squeezing my 180 cm tall body from the 12 apostles visit. Try to take a picture without 10 selfie sticks peeking in on the view.
But I saw the light house from the Twist-series. I was happy again. And to spend a nice, warm, sunny christmas with my husband was a great way of celebrating christmas. Oh yeah, I saw penguins! Real live penguins! Wild penguins jabbering, chattering and walking around. I guess I squeeed a bit and weeeeed a lot. So much that we got our own guide. A lovely penguin expert who were a volunteer in the Penguin Team. A group of penguin lovers who turn up every sunset and sunrise to protect the Grumpy (yes they are called Grumpy) penguins. He heard my joy and started to tell us about these little buggers. What a Christmas. Fantastic.
*) That’s the original name, and I’m sticking to it. There’s not even remotely 12 of them, not by a long shot.