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The colours of the pacific were gone all to soon and we were on our way to our next stop in Australia. Melbourne is the state capital of Victoria, its also known as the sporting capital of Australia. The city plays host to many international sporting events, including The Australian Open Tennis Tournament, the Australian Grand Prix and the worlds longest running surf competition, the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach. Its also home to the world famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the largest stadiums anywhere in the world. Unfortunately I had timed my visit right in between the Grand Prix and the Rip Curl Pro, so didn’t see either!
Melbourne is a fantastic cultural city with so much to offer and like most Australian cities, always has things and events going on. We were staying just out of the CBD right near the amazing Victoria Street Markets. Every Wednesday during the summer the Market puts on the Suzuki Night Markets which were incredible! The huge market is alive with people, arts, music, brilliant food and an electric buzz. We spend a good few hours just wandering around the market stalls and sampling some of the great food. The live music around the market was put on by mostly amateurs and semi-professional musicians, who by most accounts I would pay to watch! In fact one of the bands I stayed and watched for ages, I even ended up buying their CD. If you ever get the chance, check out The Pierce Brothers, they are going to be huge!
Any time you go to Melbourne there is sure to be some sort of event going on. While we were there the Melbourne White Night Festival had just begun. The festival runs for just one night at the city is transformed into a massive festival site. Buildings all over town are lit up in a fashion which totally changes their appearance, it is like a totally different city. Over 80 free events are put on celebrating music, food art and light. Many of the main streets in the city are pedestrianised and thousands come out to see the art and live music. The famous Flinders Street Station was transformed into a beautiful live music venue, with lights being beamed up onto the outside of the building depicting a scene from a stunning theatre. It is a fantastic, very different event which really took the city by storm. The White Night event is actually a phenomenon which began in Paris and has since spread around the world, Melbourne being the latest venue.
The rest of our time in Melbourne was spent walking around the city, taking in many of the sites, including the docklands and also a day trip down to the beach at St. Kilda. Probably my favourite day in Melbourne however came on a day tour to Philip Island which is an hour or so south of the city. The small island which is connected to the mainland via a bridge is famous for two things; the original Australian Grand Prix site and more importantly, penguins! Much of the island is a wildlife reserve, where many different types of birds and also koala’s are found. However the most famous of all the islands inhabitants are the the worlds smallest penguin. At the islands Penguin Parade centre, you get the chance to get up close and personal to these adorable little guys. For years every single night huge numbers of penguins will appear out of the sea water, walk up the beach and home again to their partners. It happens like clockwork and you can almost set you watch by them.
As the sun was setting, we all descended down onto what looked like a small amphitheatre cut into the dunes on the beach, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first penguin. In the main centre there is a screen which states the estimated time of arrival of the first group of penguins, it said 8:28pm. As we were sitting on the beach in the cold, searching the waters edge for shadows to appear a few little bumps came into view. At about 8:27pm the smallest head popped up out of the water and had a look round. He then stood up walked to the sand and then suddenly a group of about 10 did the same and followed him. The all waited in a group until each had got out of the water, they they in a group walked all the way up the beach right past us and into the sand dunes. As they made their way across the sand, another group, larger than the first appeared, then another and another. Soon hundreds of tiny penguins were marching across the sands and up the hills making their way home. It was a fantastic sight, as a huge lover of penguins myself it couldn’t have been a better evening.
The following day we left Melbourne and began to make our way across the state heading towards Adelaide in South Australia. Although this is a huge distance, to fly this section would be a huge mistake as what lies in between is not worth missing. We began a tour which would take us along one of the most famous stretches of highway in the world and without a doubt one the best drives I’ve ever been on. The Great Ocean Road runs 243km from Torquay and Warnambool. The road was build between 1919 and 1932 by Australian soldiers who had returned from the war. It winds its way around the coast, through forests and past some of Australia’s greatest attractions.
The first big attraction we stopped at was the famous Bells Beach. Bells is where surfing in Australia began, its also home to the worlds longest running surf competition which started back in 1961. Every year the event has run and is a crucial stop on the World Championship Tour. The Rip Curl Pro runs each easter and pulls in the top surfers in the world to compete for the chance to ring the famous Bell. Unfortunately when I was there, the water was like a lake so I didn’t get to see Bells at its best. It was still great to get the chance to go there and see where a lot of surfing history has been made.
The next big stop along the road was the Twelve Apostles, one of the most photographed sights in Australia. The Apostles are a series of limestone towers which lay just of the coast of Port Campbell National Park. They were formed by erosion of the cliffs to form caves. Eventually those cliffs were eroded to become arches, when the arches eventually fell the remaining stacks were still standing and are now what are as the Twelve Apostles. Despite their name, there only has ever actually been 9 limestone stacks. They are a beautiful site, the colour of the limestone glows in the morning and evening light to create some incredible pictures which have been seen around the world. The limestone formations can be seen for quite a way down this section of coast, including one formation called London Bridge. Funnily enough the arch of London Bridge did actually fall down a few years ago, leaving a small island now just out to sea.
After traveling the extent of the Great Ocean Road, our next stop were to be the beautiful Grampian Mountains which lie just before the boarder to South Australia. These beautiful mountains were named after their Scottish counterpart and attract hundreds of visitors each year. We had a day of amazing walks around some areas of he mountains which had some incredible views down the valleys and hills of the national park. The park is also home to hundreds of Kangaroos which cover the hills and slopes of the mountains. We even got to see a couple of kangaroos literally boxing which was an incredible sight! I have of course heard the stereotype of the boxing kangaroo but didn’t realise how real that phrase actually was. They really went for with with fists and kicks, I would not want to get on the wrong side of an angry kangaroo!
We stayed the night in the mountains before making are way across the boarder, into South Australia and eventually made it to Adelaide by the evening. Luckily some friends we had met while traveling through Africa a year before had offered to let us stay at their place just outside the city. Staying at Chantelle and Erin’s house was a welcome break from the hostels again! We were only in town for one full day and unfortunately the weather wasn’t great. However, luckily for us, Adelaide happens to have some superb rainy day activities, in the form of wine tasting and the world famous Barossa Wine Valley. The Barossa is home to some of the worlds best known wines including Wolf Bass and Jacobs Creek. It was the perfect way to spend the day. Chantelle took us to about 4 or 5 wineries in the valley where much to my surprise you can do wine tasting for free. I didn’t spend a cent and had far more wine than I care to write about. For the sake of my reputation, lets just say that myself and the Barossa became very well acquainted.
It was the perfect way to end our trip along the Great Ocean Road, Chantelle and Erin’s hospitality was fantastic and despite having to take a flight after far too much wine I was looking forward to the next and final stop on this incredible journey.