Well, here we are again, slowly making our way across the bottom right hand corner of Australia. This chapter is brought to you from the picturesque state of Victoria (go straight north from the island of Tasmania and you can't miss it).
11 Mar 1997 - Enroute to Melbourne
A long drive today, out from Miner's Cottage and east through the "Big Desert" towards Victoria. That’s what I love about this country - they're so elemental and unsubtle. There's the "Big Desert" and just south of that the "Little Desert", and no prizes for guessing which one covers the most territory. To give you another example, we had great fun on our drive reading some of the road signs. Classics included:
"If you drink, then drive, you're a bloody idiot" Or how about- "Dozing drivers die".
Yup, no doubt about the hidden message there.
Anyway, tonight we're staying in the Grampian mountains (an Australian's idea of a mountain is most people's idea of a large hill). They are quite spectacular nonetheless, simply because they simply 'appear' out of the dead flat plain (and disappear just as quick on the other side). One moment you're driving across this dead straight desert road and then next your winding around these hairpin hill climbs.
This is another of Australia multitudinous nature reserves and our first surprise is a kangaroo viewing area. This turns out to be a patch of grass with a load of roos just lying their, prostrate in the midday heat. They're incredibly tame - we could walk right up to them without them moving an inch. We felt quite foolish for all our previous roo-snapping expeditions after stopping here.
On the other side of the hills we descended into the town of Halls Gap. I don't know who Hall was, but he (or she) sure knew a gap when they saw one. Here's god's recipe for the area (atheists should always spell god without the capital G):
Take one rock plateau, say 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside. Make it about 5 miles wide and 1,000 feet deep.
Tip said plateau at an angle of about 30 degrees on it's long side.
Now knock out a bloody big chunk right in the middle of it.
Put a small town in this gap.
Quite impressive as you drive into town.
We're staying in the Pioneer cottages, a few miles the other side of town and quite out in the back of beyond. Our log cabin can easily sleep 10, but is still nice enough. The view out the front door is quite spectacular - fields, hills (s'cuse me, mountains), majestic sweeping mobs of kangaroos, etc.
I drive back into town later on to grab a Chinese take away. While I'm waiting I take a wander in the park and nearly trip over a few grazing roos in the dark. Back in the cabin, I spend a fun 20 minutes trying to swat the flies that snuck in the front door with me (is the only purpose in a fly's life is completely annoy human beings?)
12 Mar 1997 - Melbourne
More driving, more countryside, more heat. We approach Melbourne. We've been looking forward to spending some time in this city. We've been reliably informed (by the New York Times no less) that Melbourne and Sydney have become the de facto worldwide centers of cuisine. Cities such as New York, London and San Francisco have become poor second-cousins by comparison. Being fond of the occasional bite to eat, we reckon we could enjoy ourselves in a place like this.
We check in to the South Yarra Hill Suites, in one of the high-restaurant density parts of town. Very nice place it is too. It's been about 40 oC (104 oF) all day today, so I go and jump in the pool while Lynn takes a walk to check out the local stores. Turns out this place is Lynn heaven - loads of great bakeries and clothes shops with outfits that actually fit!
Tonight we eat at the Café Antico, which is a treat because we can actually walk there from our apartment. We celebrate the fact by downing a bottle of Preece Chardonnay in short order.
13 Mar 1997 -Melbourne
We head off to explore downtown Melbourne. This city is blessed with a great tram system that makes getting around easy and fun. On our drive through the city center yesterday we came across a street that appeared to be dedicated to motorcycle shops. Being an ex-biker (a temporary situation I hope) I felt the strong urge to review that latest developments in biking hardware. Strangely enough, Lynn felt more drawn to the fashion stores, so we went our own separate, happy ways for an hour or so.
After some intense research, I can now reliably report that street bikes are currently just as large, appealing and lethal as they ever were, only with fatter tires.
We rendezvoused on the steps of the state parliament building, which looked a lot like the shots of the capitol building in Washington DC that you see in all the movies - lots of steps and columns.
After managing to spend an entire afternoon being totally unproductive, I jump in the car to grab a takeaway for dinner and discover one of the downsides to this city - the traffic! It takes me ½ hour to get 1 mile down the road and back.
14 Mar 1997 -Melbourne
Another lazy day. I fall out of bed at about 8:30 or 9:00, and that only because Lynn's bugging me about wasting the day away. We drive down to the coast about 5 miles from here to pay a visit to St. Kildas. Not much to report, except that the Tasman Sea is a lot warmer than the Indian Ocean.
In the afternoon I take a tram back into town (there are a couple of minor engineering details I needed to review on the motorcycle front) and later meet Lynn for coffee and one of the (many) cafés. She surprises me by declaring she'd like to go grab a glass of wine (in the afternoon!) and I practically fall over myself in my eagerness to comply. We walk over the river to the "South Bank Center" and see what Walter's Wine bar has to offer.
Dinner tonight is anther short walk, to the Golden Triangle Thai restaurant this time. We do the BYO (that's Bring-Your-Own [bottle] to the uninitiated) and have a fun time doing a bit of retrospection on our lives. The restaurant is next to one of the tram lines (which all run down the middle of the roads) and Melbourne has this quaint "restaurant tram" upon which you can dine, drink and watch the city go by, all for the princely sum of $75 a head. We wave to the tram dinners as they trundle by and they wave back.
15 Mar 1997 -Central Victorian High Country
A day of driving. We slowly depart Melbourne, but it seems to take for ever to get out into some real countryside. We're heading for the hills and a quite country retreat to get some mellow time after the hustle and bustle of 3 days in the city.
This being Sunday, it's biker's day and they're out in force. Weekend motor biking seems to be a popular pastime in this country (and New Zealand also), and I'm happy to report that most of them are riding real bikes, not those ridiculous Harleys and Honda Goldwings. Every other town we drive through has a great mass of bikes and bikers all hanging around the local pub. I'm jealous.
A stop over in Alexandria for lunch (I have chicken and chips, or chook as they call it here) and then on to Mansfield where we're staying tonight - in the "Alpine Country Cottage". We assume that with a name like that I'll be out in the country with views of rolling hills, but we're sadly disappointed. It turns out to be just on the outskirts of Mansfield and not a particularly attractive outskirt at that. So we go back to the tourist information center and sign ourselves up for the "Wombat Hills Country Cottage" instead, if you can believe a name like that.
The wombats have taste as it turns out. We stay in a delightful little cottage, overlooking those rolling hills we were expecting all along. Lynn has just returned from a run as I type this and reports that there and some very wired looking angora goats around here, lots of hills but no wombats spotted yet.
Tomorrow we face a long day's driving in our continual eastward haul towards Sydney. This takes us to our final stop on our grand tour, a new state (New South Wales) and a new chapter in this journal.