Montage of Great Ocean Road, Grampians, Adelaide
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Happy New Year, Australia
Life goes on, doesn't it? As of this posting we will have been in Australia almost fourteen weeks; it is nearly six months since we left Paris. We've just celebrated the end of the year holidays and welcomed in the New Year, 2008, in Adelaide. That it is Adelaide where we did these things is a surprise; but we'll get to why and how that happened.
Let's go back a bit. At the end of September we arrived in Sydney and took two weeks to find a car before setting off for Melbourne. Through the web (Craigslist, as usual) we'd found a place in Abbotsford, a suburb about five kilometers from Melbourne's CBD (that's Central Business District, or Downtown in Oz Speak). When we settled on Melbourne it was as an after-though or acceptance of second best: we had really wanted to spend six months going all around Australia. Dispairing of finding the car we wanted we looked around for a place to stay and took a place for October 24. That had the unfortunate effect of rushing our trip: what we would have liked to do in four or even six weeks we crammed into two!
We more or less took the south-east coast route but went inland to see Canberra and the Snowy Mountains. On the coast we passed through a dozen or more holiday resorts, stopping in Woollonggong and Orbost, where we had comfortable quarters and in Hobart Beach and Wingan Inlet where we camped (among others) and got to know some kangaroos and Jan met a tick up close and ended up at a clinic. Fortunately for us, as far as finding a place to stay, we were well past the end of the season.
In the afternoon of October 24 we were still several hours to the south east of Abbotsford and rushed as much as traffic would allow us to get to our meeting with the landlady on time. Only after we met her did we learn that she too had been rushing home along a very parallel track; she taught art at a university two hours to the southeast of Melbourne. That night we spoke with here, she left for Japan, and we moved into a very nice apartment in Abbotsford,
We had two immediate concerns: getting a permanent parking place and getting bicycles. The second we solved in two weeks, buying one used and one new at K-mart. We knew before we came that we'd have to rely on street parking and everyday we moved the car, until at last we were offered the use of an otherwise unused space. Even before those were taken care of we started to explore, starting with our immediate neighborhood, which is part of the Yarra district. This is named after the Yarra river, which we found running through a park just two blocks from our place.
Our first real outting to Melbourne was to the Botanical Garden and the nearby World War I shrine. There we learned that a large Rememberance Day ceremony would take place on November 11 and we came back for that moving ceremony. In subsequent weeks we explored more of the center, going several times to the State Library, several museums, and the Victoria Parliament. Our only excursion out of town was over a very long weekend: We spent three nights at our friends country place, Villa Nobile, 2.5 hours north of Melbourne and on the way back made a one-day tour of the Gold Country.
It's not trite to say that all good things come to an end, because they do. Some happen slowly, such as the decline of the Roman Empire (that was good in comparison to what followed) and some happen quickly, such as our six weeks in Abbotsford and Yarraville. We were very comfortable there and hadn't by any means exhausted our interest in Melbourne and its sites. But on a Friday we cleaned house and on a Saturday morning loaded the car. The latter was a feat: we had not only everything we'd come with but more, and the biggest part of "more" was two bicycles. We did fit them in and set off by noon.
Our plan, nothing unusual here, was to go to Adelaide by the most indirect route that time would allow. A direct route would have taken us to Ballarat and farther west to the Grampians, but we'd been to Ballarat (as part of the Gold Country tour). We hadn't been to the Great Ocean Road nor even to much closer Geelong, the "West Hamptons" of Melbourne. So packed we set off to Geelong, wondering if we'd get farther.
In an hour we were in Geelong and we made a bit of a detour to see the center. Out little stop allowed us to see from a distance a fun fair in a park; not too much different from what we are used to in the USA. Then we continue on the twenty kilometers to the southern coast, hitting it at Torquay, the first of many coastal towns that live off of holiday makers. While the business is the same, the look-and-feel was neither that of the north Yorkshire coast or of New Jersey's coast. North Yorkshire is old, Victorian, somewhat decayed, and very dense. New Jersey has what is one continuous beach devided among twenty or thirty towns, lying shoulder-to-shoulder, and a bit honky-tonk. This part of Australia's coast mostly lacks people and mostly lacks sand: there is a built-up stretch, usuall less than a few kilometers, and then nature for 20-40 kilometers.
From Torquay we were soon at the starting point of the Great Ocean Road. Before seeing it we expected that it would have been over hyped, but it wasn't: its a spectacular piece of coast line in many places. Perhaps our appreciation of it was increased by the fact that we saw the best of it in heavy rain accompanied by strong winds. From the coast we went inland, not but a half-day's drive, to the Grampians. Compared to Switzerland (not to mention Nepal) Australia is pretty height challenged. But for us, who spent so many years in New Jersey, where the hightest point is under 550 meters, Australia has plenty of peaks; the Grampians are twice as high as anything in New Jersey. There we made four hikes, two of them long, over 2.5 days. (You can see we were pretty rushed)
Our last three days before reaching Adelaide were spent on and along the Great Western Road and crossing the Little Desert. It has its interest but after a visit we know why my people and groups swing right through. But it got us to Adelaide where we had taken a place for three weeks, which would cover from before Christmas to after New Year, Jan in particular had worried masses of Ozzies would be roaming the country in this holiday period and that we would be best off with a confirmed place to stay.
Adelaide turned out to be a delight. It has wonderful museums, good food, and is light and airy. There we went to two international tennis matches, went out to the beach twice (swimming once) and biked lots and lots. And there we'll leave you, as we get ready to move off on a long journey up through the center that will take us to Ayers Rock, Alice Springs, Darwin, and on to the far north-east coast.