A Month In The Land Down Under – Part 1
Hello from day 9ish of our life on the international road – I presume were somewhere between 8 and 9 as we forever lost November 19th 2015 to the international date line. Time is bizarre construct, and we tend to feel it most apparently so during times of travel. To me, travel time is equivalent to dog years- days feel like weeks, weeks like months, months like eternities. On a dozen occasions Web and I must pause to reassess where we currently exist within each week, posing the question “what day is it actually?” – channeling a bit of Jeffery “The Dude” Lebowski where we can. Alas, here we are, somewhere out there in time and space, staring out over the choppy waters of the Tasman Sea as Melbourne turns to gold in the ever expanding distance.
Thus far Web and I have covered about one thousand miles in Australia, via train, bus, foot and camper van. This count doesn’t even include the lengthy 5,500 miles on our home-country road trip and the eight-thousand-something miles chewed up in fifteen hours aboard the great mechanical bird in the sky. Without much of our path preplanned, we mostly stumble our way day to day into people and places. I appreciate this scattered form of vagabonding, I’d like to think the universe takes care of you a bit once you decide to surrender yourself to its curious ways. As we see it, we will end up where we need to go; and besides, we would never know the difference otherwise now would we? For now it seems to be working itself out, and I plan to coast along on this pony as long as I can.
We arrived in Sydney on a Friday morning, after a dizzying yet fairly pleasant half-day in the air, to a heavy 108-degree day – which was luckily an anomaly this early in the season. Though no one saddled with thirty pounds of backpack wishes this kind of temperature upon themselves, in a way it complimented our dazed and confused state of mind. Not much capable of much else we proceeded to drag our jet-lagged bodies directly to the seaside. While Bondi Beach seems to own up to its reputation, it is quite cluttered with beachgoers so we opted for a welcome escape to the local hangout of Tamarind Beach, just around the corner on the costal walk. Here we lazed away, sprawled across the sandstone rock , clamoring for a spot of shade as ecstatic pups and surfers alike chanced the turquoise tides.
Sydney is a premier world city for a reason, and the high cost of living reiterates this for those who call its beach-bum-chic streets home. Luckily, one of our fellow travel circuit friends was gracious enough to host us during our weekend stay in his quaint British inspired townhouse in the Paddington neighborhood. As South African Native and a two-year Sydney local, he was a top-notch tour guide for the water locked city. In the following days we wandered the iconic harbor, ventured London-esque side streets, and climbed aboard swift ferries to little-known neighborhoods.
While Sydney is no-doubt spectacular, I often feel that cities are cities in a way – they are all fairly similar in their daily grind, people cluttered together like sardines constantly rushing to and froe to their desired destinations. The small towns and their surrounding landscapes are where you experience a country’s raw culture. With this mindset we took a daytrip to the Blue Mountain region that lies just outside of Sydney proper. Our Coloradan nature often takes hold and we inevitably find ourselves seeking the high country at one point or another. We settled on a jaunt to the glow worm caves. Inside the tiny worms constellations lit up the dank cave; I always find it curious how nature repeats itself in obscure ways. At the opposite end of the tunnel we opted to continue the 7k loop through the national park. An epic view of the hazy blue, plateaued peeks rewarded us about half way through. With our souls sufficiently healed by the mountain air and a glass or two of wine we headed back towards the bustling streets.
In pursuit of the south, we collected our minimal belongings and jumped on a caravan relocation to Melbourne. Relocations are the ultimate win-win for a flexible traveller. Caravan rental companies need their vehicles transported to different cities in order to fulfill their reservations, so they allow willing participants to deliver their vans to a particular city by a certain date at a far reduced rate. Often times the camper vans cost no more than $5 a day and may even include petrol reimbursement. Don’t plan on getting a leisurely tourist trip out of the relocations, but if you have faith in the art of vagabonding and are keen to drive long hours when necessary then it’s a real perk. Needless to say not the ideal choice for a compulsive planner, and it’s best to have backup plans and an adventurous spirit.
Web and I rattled along down the east coast in our far too large six-person camper. Continuous self-reminders to stay to the left could be heard as we snaked along the lush rolling hillsides dotted with vibrantly purple flowers that fed down to the sapphire sea. The colorful fishing towns tucked away in the coastal folds were reminiscent of my favorite sleepy seaside villages of New England. Our ooing and awing increased in volume as each remote beach’s beauty seemed to surpass the last. Once we finally pulled up for a nights rest we were surrounded by lazy kangaroos, scratching their bellies like half asleep drunks – I will say stepping in kangaroo poop was a first, no doubt.
The stretch from Lakes Entrance to Melbourne inspired little, reminded me of those dreaded American Midwest stretches of drive. The ones where you’re not quite sure if you are indeed awake, where a map isn’t even necessary on the bone straight roads so long as you know your general intended direction. We kept ourselves from disintegrating into drooling blobs with a collection of audio books – a genuine life-saver. Travel and technology are a dangerous romance, while the positives aspects are undeniable, we must be wary to put our reliance aside at times and feel things out for ourselves. Indeed the pesky issues of map illiteracy, enduring an inedible meal, and unsavory sleeping situations can be remedied with the help of the vast interweb; but these things, too, are the meaty part of travel, the character building, philosophical babble we often hear about. The truth of it is that it’s important to fumble around, make mistakes and correct them with your own mental tools – don’t alleviate too much of the challenge in the process. With that being said, Google Maps is wondrous, trip advisor leads us to worthy destinations, and social media keeps us connected with our loved ones (even if we do toe the line of those ever irritating humblebrags). Use responsibly.
After a few hours of grumbling and moaning “are we there yet”s we arrived in Melbourne. Luckily enough Web has a wider group of extended mates then anyone I know, and while I poke fun at him each time a name I’ve never heard surfaces as one of his “good friends” I am endless grateful his social nature leads us to forming memorable bonds while on the road. We dodged the steep lodging expenses in both Sydney and Melbourne thanks to Web’s connections to our gracious hosts, and we were sure to scrape up as much local knowledge as we could manage to collect.
Like other rival cities, Melbournites claim their turf is thee place to be, while their northern brethren insist there is no place like Sydney. Melbourne has the laneways and the coffee they say. Well Sydney has the harbor and the beaches they’ll retort. A person’s loyalty to their dwelling of choice is indeed as predictable as the reality that both metropolises are worthy of their steadfast followings. While Sydney boasts a certain enviable style, adorned with wrought iron porches reminiscent of New Orleans, and a stunning harbor occupied by boats from around the globe; Melbourne feels less overtly flashy, a city that’s comfortable with not trying too hard. Melbourne’s grittier charm is one you won’t find in tourist pamphlets. In Melbourne, a day well spent consists of wandering the graffitied laneways until you find a pleasing hole-in-the-wall joint for your third flat white of the day. Slow and unplanned movement is what vagabonding is truly about, accepting the lack of plans and destinations, welcoming the confusion or fleeting boredom, feeling the emotions of the local bustle.
Before our southern decent to Tasmania we collected our next campervan relocation and drove the fabled Great Ocean Road. Though not very creative in nomenclature it is quite accurate in it’s greatness – jagged rust colored cliffs give way to the fine sandy beaches and off into the brilliantly blue horizon. By now Web and I were eager to traverse the Bass Strait aboard our overnight ship, to explore some of the lesser-frequented territory of Australia. Often native Australian mainlanders don inquisitive looks and let out a chuckle when a traveler mentions Tasmania as a desired destination. I’m curious to see if their hesitations uphold, or if they prove to be as inaccurate as many American’s idea that anywhere outside the coasts is obsolete. My guess is the latter, as most misconceptions about off-the-beaten-path corners of the globe often are unfounded.
Right. Off we go then!