overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Over the Hills and Far Away

Written by Anthony Groves. Uploaded 29 November 2006.

Australia, Country 26, Diary entry 2nd-17th November 2006, Total distance in Australia: 12000km (estimated)

Final guest-writer of the trip is Anthony who joined Martin from Sydney to Melbourne.

24 hours travelling is never conducive to a good mood but I was happy to get out of Sydney airport and find Martin in a backpacker hostel downtown. I wasn't sure what to expect from this trip, but opted for the relative normality that travelling round Australia could afford since I wasn't brave enough to venture into the wilds of countries unknown to me as others had!

Sculptures by the Sea exhibition at Bondi BeachIt was warm and sunny, as you would expect from Australia, so after a quick reviving coffee we wandered into Sydney centre to get a brief look around. Starting with the Botanical Gardens we had a laugh at the giant fruit bats (or flying foxes as they are more commonly known) hanging around in the trees and generally spooking the kids and Japanese tourists. Wandering up to and around the iconic Opera House, it occurred to us that lots of Australians are mad - they all seem to go jogging at midday in the blazing sun around the city centre (mad dogs and Aussies?) I know it's only early spring but it was still pretty hot! After the obligatory beer and more obligatory siesta we investigated the local eateries (yes, it's a constant theme in the diary entries for a reason!) then spent the evening drinking and rocking with some younger British backpackers.

Rain fell overnight so the next morning was grey and damp, setting the scene for the next few days. We investigated Kings Cross area where we were staying, and discovered that they use the word 'Bohemian' a lot to describe the area... The day was spent relaxing, eating and drinking beer (well, we were on holiday). Yet more rain followed the next day but we didn't let it stop us exploring more of the city, particularly Chinatown. Finding one of the food courts at around lunchtime we thought it would be rude not to try the local delicacies. Faced with an extraordinary choice of styles and flavours we had a mountain of food at great value, but it was lucky Martin could accurately translate as their description of lamb was actually goat!

Australia v. GB rugby leagueThat evening we made our way to the Aussie Stadium for the Tri-Nations rugby league match between Great Britain and Australia. There seemed to be twice as many British supporters than Aussies, which made for a great atmosphere when we soundly beat them! Martin got a bit over excited when we got hot dogs to keep out the cold that he opened his ketchup blister pack the wrong way round and ended up looking like someone had punched him on the nose. I only wish I could have stopped laughing long enough to get a good photo!

Car in front of Opera House and Harbour BridgeSunday was spent as all good Sundays are, taking it easy, moaning about the cold and rain and sorting things out at the local internet café. After a 'bohemian' lunch of pizza and falafel we drove over to the world famous Bondi Beach to see what the fuss is all about. Since the wind and rain reminded us more of Bognor Regis in mid winter, we spent most of the time exploring a sculpture exhibition on the headland above the beach, then spent the afternoon taking photos of the local Sydney landmarks in the pouring rain before we went and admired the neon excess of Chinatown after dark. Sadly, 5th November Bonfire Night passed without a bang or a whimper, being a particularly British celebration.

Canberra parliamentThe next day was time to move on and exciting for me to finally get on the road with Martin. After meeting friends from England for lunch who had just arrived, we set out for Canberra and I finally felt part of the great trip. Arriving at the capital we found a hostel to stay in, based entirely on their promise of an 'all-you-can-eat breakfast'. We took a wander to find dinner and as we were in one of the popular suburbs of Kingston we had an excessive choice of restaurants, I counted 9 Asian and 9 Mediterranean, all pretty much side by side! Apart from the options for consumption, Canberra struck me as a fairly unexciting and dull place, so after our not nearly excessive enough breakfast we went off to take the obligatory photos before carrying on our travels. It was drier and brighter so we stopped the car in front of Government Building for some quick snaps before being moved on by the armed police, but with a smile! We also took a short drive around the national embassies which are all built in the architectural style of their home countries, making for some interesting and varied buildings side by side.

Snow gum at Kosciuszko National ParkWe headed up into the Snowy Mountains but as the landscape became more sparse and barren we found more rain as the temperature dropped. Stopping at the Information Centre and asking what there was to do in less than perfect sightseeing weather, we found the options were rather limited - museum or shopping. Ignoring the fact that the cloud was so low we wouldn't see any peaks we headed for the snowfields and an ideal lookout point. After driving through the ski resorts, which were ghost towns like something from a Stephen King book, we found the end of the road at the top of the valley. With glimpses of a view of Australia's highest peak Mount Kosciuszko in the distance through clumps of cloud, we got a clearer view of patches of snow on the lower slopes across the valley. It was mostly just cold and damp rather than rain, and having expected Australia to live up to its reputation as a warm and sunny place, I think I ended up wearing every item of clothing I had brought with me, all at the same time!

After that we wound our way slowly back down the mountain, then followed the Snowy River through breathtaking scenery. After hitting the border from New South Wales into Victoria we found an ideal campsite alongside the river and pitched up the roof tent. At that point I discovered that the neighbourhood ants were about an inch long so decided not to sit down or even stand still for very long. Martin then treated me to bush tucker, Pitwood style, and we had a beer as it got dark and enjoyed the peace and quiet - that is until the local kookaburras started 'laughing' and we realised we were completely surrounded, so we hoped they were friendly :) Sitting on a camp chair with a book and a beer, it occurred to me how surreal it was that we were in the middle of nowhere, miles from civilisation, out of contact, yet Martin was sitting at a picnic bench tapping away on a laptop...

EchidnaThe next morning started off gloriously sunny and it was great to be wakened by the sound of parrots in the trees around the tent. Once we had warmed up with a tea and breakfast (it had been a really cold night!) we packed up and headed once again down the valley, following the river and occasionally stopping to admire the scenery. We stopped off at Little River Falls, which were little more than a trickle as the snow melts were over, then a bit further along went to admire Little River Gorge which was spectacular. As we drove further down, mountain wilderness gradually gave way to an upland farming landscape, although the traffic was less than dense, averaging one or two cars every hour. The highlight of the day came when we spotted an echidna at the side of the road and stopped for photos - considering it was a completely wild animal, it didn't seem to be very bothered by our proximity and carried on snuffling in the undergrowth for its lunch. Feeling it was time for lunch for us as well, we headed on down to Buchan where we stopped at the cave reserve. After a quick look around the information centre we discovered that we had missed the last guided tour of the main system that day, so opted to carry on with our travelling. Heading now for the coast, we were disappointed not to be able to find the annual Nowa Nowa Nudes art exhibition, described by the Lonely Planet as "stirring"... (Well, what do you expect from two lads nearly in the prime of their lives?!) Putting our disappointment aside, we stopped at Lakes Entrance for a coffee and to celebrate reaching the coast, as well as stocking up on food (oh yes, that again!) before running along the coast road and heading for Wilson's Promontory. Being the official map-reader, I whiled away the hours by finding the silliest place names we had passed, and although Suggan Buggan was a good contender, Mount Little Dick won the day, although we couldn't decide if this were a place name or an instruction... ;-)

Ant at Wilson's PromWe finally arrived at Wilson's Prom at sunset, which made for difficult driving for Martin but stunning views for me. 'The Prom' as it is known is the southernmost tip of mainland Australia and is a fairly undisturbed wilderness teeming with wildlife. This was apparent on the road into the National Park as we drove slowly to avoid the wild wombats and wallabies finding their evening snacks along the verges (and apologies for the purely unintentional alliteration!) Once we found the campsite in Tidal River (with toilets and showers and free bbq's - luxury!) we were shocked to see a sign saying it was completely full and had no free pitches, although it looked mostly deserted to us. Selecting our own spot at random, we pitched the tent and took our rations to the bbq site and cooked up a feast of steak, lamb and pasta with giant mushrooms and capsicums (in the local lingo, surely a great Aussie barbie at its best). We found out from some other campers that it had been full to overflowing the night before as it was a state holiday in Victoria for the Melbourne Cup, but why anyone would get so excited over a horse race as to declare a bank holiday each year is beyond me, but I wouldn't refuse the day off work either; so that explained the misleading sign. As night had fallen the temperature was rapidly dropping so I was wearing a jumper under a fleece and still shivering, so much for hot and sunny Australia! View from Mount OberonI guess being this far south meant we were that much closer to the Antarctic... A couple of possums wandered up to see if we had any scraps left from the bbq for them but they soon learnt that they were less than likely to succeed with us eating! While Martin opted to stay warm with a good book in the tent, I enjoyed a second beer and stood in the peace and quiet admiring the incredible starscape above us. Being so used to a profusion of street lights at home, you quickly forget how incredible the night sky is with so much less interference. A snuffling sound behind me caught my attention and I turned to see a wombat come wandering across the grass towards me from out of the gloom, occasionally stopping to pull up a tasty root before carrying on. It stopped only three or four feet from me, seemed to contemplate my presence for a second, then carried on around me as if I were no threat at all. This country may have a reputation for having some of the nastiest and deadliest creatures all waiting to kill you without a moment's hesitation, but it also has some of the cutest and friendliest wildlife too. This was confirmed only 5 or 10 minutes later when I spied a possum walking across infront of me, which also stopped as if to contemplate me. It was only when it was five feet or so away that I realised that it had a baby clinging to its back but rather than running away in fear, it gently walked off after deciding I wasn't a threat. I turned in thinking that this is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Crimson RosellaThe next morning we were woken by bright sunshine and a raucous cacophony from the local seagulls, with a dozen or so all deciding to carry out their spring courting and mating rituals within a ten feet perimeter of the tent! Deciding that it was having a much less enamouring effect on us (make your own jokes) we got up and decided to go for a long walk up the local peak. Mount Oberon is 558m and although not the highest on the Prom, it does give some outstanding views over the coastline and some sandy coves. After a pulse-racing hour's walk up the track we sat and enjoyed the views for some time, mesmerised by the isolation and peace. After coming down again, we meandered along the road to Squeaky Beach for a spot of lunch (where a Crimson Rosella decided it wanted to join in with our sandwich preparations) before taking a walk in the chilly surf. As a perfect example of Australian names being completely literal, squeaky beach is so named because it squeaks as you walk on it, even with bare feet, like walking on lino with new trainers!

Ant at Squeaky BeachWith sunblock reapplied to cover the neck going rapidly crimson, we bade farewell to the Prom and began the next leg of the journey, stopping briefly on the way out as we spied wild emus in the scrub alongside the road. Further attempts at finding the silliest place names were cut short when we plummeted to new depths with my visual representation of Duck Point... We were heading to Phillip Island, less than 100 miles from Melbourne and with most place names copying the Isle of Wight. We found a campsite in Cowes and headed to The Nobbies and Seal Rocks off the south western tip to see Australia's largest colony of fur seals (although 1.5 km offshore means they are just bobbing specks on the island's shores) along with a raucous colony of Silver Gulls. Having whiled away a spare hour there, we headed to the Penguin Parade, Victoria's most visited tourist attraction, to see the dusk return of a colony of Little Penguins from the surf to their burrows in the dunes. They really are cute little fellows so we enjoyed the experience, despite the commercialisation of the whole setup for tourists.

PelicansAnother hot, sunny morning greeted us - this is more like I expected it to be! We meandered to Newhaven at the entrance of the island where the local fishmonger feeds the resident pelicans at 11.30 each morning. Of course they were there waiting, along with the usual crowd of tourists, although we didn't see any eating any pigeons, gulls or small children... The final drive to Melbourne began, with nothing exceptional to note about the route, apart from stopping at the Worm Museum, which had been raved about by Bill Bryson in his book Down Under. As museums go, it didn't sound the most enthralling so we didn't go in but simply stopped outside and wondered at, firstly, why earthworms here would grow up to 12 feet long (yes, that's not a mistype) and secondly, why anyone thought that that was interesting enough by itself to set up a dedicated museum to the colossus of the worm world... Finally entering Melbourne, it was almost a shock to find so much traffic in one place after the isolation and peace we had experience over the previous few days since leaving Sydney. We found the backpacker hostel Martin had selected (known as The Nunnery, I have no idea why he chose this particular one) and were delighted to find it was a converted Victorian style mansion with bags of character and just a short walk from the city centre. It apparently was built in the 1880's and had been the residence of the Archbishop of Melbourne for some time in the early 1900's. What added to the appeal were the convent and girls' school next door, neighbouring pub the other side and leafy park across the road (now I'm understanding his selection process!) By the time we pulled up outside, an intermittent problem with the rear lights blowing a fuse had extended to complete loss of indicators, so the local cars soon learnt to keep clear of an enormous truck careering around with two loony Brits waving their arms out of the windows in a vague indication of where they were probably intending to go ('right turn, Clyde'!). We went for a wander around part of the city to re-establish Martin's bearings and to see what had changed in the seven years since he was last here, which included a stroll through the Crown Casino. It was unbelievable to contemplate how much space the building took up, as well as the myriad of ways for them to relieve punters of their money, which made people-watching quite fascinating. We passed rows and rows of 'pokies', fruit machines based on poker card games and apparently a national obsession, as well as all the different card, roulette and dice tables more often seen in Bond movies. That evening we headed out for a bite to eat (I've stayed off the subject of food quite well, I thought). Fancying something a bit different, and finding that Melbourne has simply hundreds of restaurants (not to mention thousands of cafés), we opted to eat at an Afghan restaurant to see if it remotely resembled an Afghan meal that Martin had in Pakistan earlier in the travels. We marvelled at the kitsch memorabilia lining the walls (we were sat under a picture of an Afghan hound, no less) but thoroughly enjoyed a great meal, even if the curry was a bit hotter than expected! We then went on to find a local hotspot by the name of Pugg Mahone's (obviously most Australians don't know the Gaelic translation from where this 'corruption' comes) and washed down the meal with several pints of Kilkenny into the small hours, whilst enjoying the local nightlife and resident Irish performers (who still do all the cheesy classics that all Australian people seem to love!?)

Ant at Melbourne AquariumSaturday didn't start particularly early, but we eventually had breakfast at a local café then headed into the city centre to find out why half of the roads were shut for the day. It turns out that the local large department store was holding a Christmas parade before unveiling their Christmas window displays, which apparently is a BIG THING in Oz. After battling through the crowds of children and Japanese tourists we avoided the fuss and visited the Aquarium (I think Martin was having withdrawal symptoms from lack of diving since he got to Oz, so we went to see some fish). On the way back we passed the window displays, without the crowds, to find the cheesiest and most amusing displays I have seen in a long time. Sharky - wonder where they got this idea from!!Christmas and hot weather really don't go together in my mind, but I couldn't help humming the carols all the way back through the city! Dinner that night was courtesy of The Mother and Father Pitwood so we went to Martin's favourite Thai restaurant around the corner and had a sumptuous feast until we were so bloated we couldn't even fit in a beer on the way home!

Albert Park GP circuitSunday started grey and wet so after pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast, we had a quiet morning updating diaries, sorting photos and reading. Once it brightened up we headed for St. Kilda via Albert Park, where they hold the Formula 1 Grand Prix each year. The track runs on roads around the park, most of which can be driven on throughout the rest of the year, so I drove a lap in the 3.5 tonne beast that has carried Martin all this way - I don't think my time qualified for next year's race but it was great to see the track first hand. We then stopped for a large lunch along the St. Kilda café strip, spending the next hour or two drinking beer and people spotting - it seems a lot of people go there to see or be seen, making for some amusing moments. On the way back through the city we stopped off at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a shrine to international sport as well as a state-of-the-art arena. After watching Victoria soundly whooping Tasmania for half an hour we felt the rain returning so headed back to the car. As it turned into a wet and stormy evening we abandoned our adventurous eating habits and ordered gourmet pizza delivered to the hostel!

The Twelve ApostlesThe following day we headed out to the west of Melbourne to explore the Great Ocean Road, a 200 km stretch of stunning coastline with breath-taking scenery. This included the 12 Apostles, giant stacks of limestone standing out in the sea having been detached from the cliffs by wave erosion and gradually and constantly changing. We also stopped in at Loch Ard Gorge to find out more about one of the many shipwrecks along the stretch of coast as well as admiring more of the scenery, made more dramatic by the giant surf and pounding waves due to strong winds coming in off the ocean. London BridgeOn reaching Port Campbell we found a campsite but expecting a cold and windy night we opted for a cabin for the night. On finding the only bar in town, which seemed to be the only place cooking food that evening, we made full use of their hospitality and showed the locals as well as some backpackers how the English love to drink a succession of pints through the evening, rather than the tiny glasses of drink that normally get served here. It was warmer in the bar than back in the cabin, so we were fortifying ourselves against the cold...

Flinders Street Station, MelbourneThe next day started later than expected and on the quiet side. We drove back to Melbourne and had a lazy kind of day. That evening Martin insisted we should go back to the casino and partake in one of the many restaurants at their all-you-can-eat buffet, and I wasn't going to argue! On the way through town we stopped in at the Sofitel hotel to use the toilet. It seemed a strange idea to me but Martin insisted we had to go to the bar on the 35th floor. After finding the express lift which only seemed to take us up a few floors (apart from my ears popped to tell me it was further) we strolled nonchalantly past the bar and into the loo, where I was greeted by the most unexpected sight - one wall of the toilet was entirely glass, floor to ceiling, giving immense views over the eastern half of the city. It really was spectacular and surreal at the same time... After an hour of complete over indulgence at the casino we took the slow walk back through the city with distended stomachs and could only manage one beer when we stopped at another Irish bar.

Street sculptures, MelbourneYet another wet day greeted us, so we made use of the morning catching up on washing and reading, before heading into the city for lunch (faced with another large and varied foodhall, sushi won again!). We went into the Australian Centre for the Moving Image to see what was there and found an interactive exhibition of animation and computer games. Needless to say, the hours flew by before we felt we had stayed long enough! Reluctantly I started packing my stuff together in preparation for flying back to Sydney the next day, whilst Martin investigated customs and shipping options for the next leg of his travels. For our last night together we opted for the extravagance of a local Lebanese restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed their 'Special Banquet' although we really struggled to fit two pints of Guinness on top at Pugg Mahone's on the way home.

We spent a couple of hours in the morning at an exhibition at the ACMI then, via the foodcourt for lunch, we headed back to the car for a relaxed drive out to the airport. I really enjoyed my time over the last two weeks and feel in my own small way that I have shared in Alex, Maz and Martin's big adventure, after keeping track with the diaries for so many months. It also gave me a chance to see more of this amazing country that you wouldn't necessarily get to see on an ordinary holiday. Now I'm off to Sydney for a holiday, whilst Martin carries on with his exploration!

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Comment from Sheila
...and I didn't even get a name check..;-)
30 Nov 2006 @ 23:31:24

Comment from The Father
Well done Anthony. Almost as good as Martin's last guest diarist! How come Lara got away with it and didn't have to write her account of touring Malaysia?

Nostalgic to read your description of visiting many of the places we went to with Martin when he was backpacking round Oz in 1999 – Squeaky Beach, Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road, especially
01 Dec 2006 @ 09:48:32