From Sydney I drove to a place called Perisher up in the mountains, as I drove up through the small towns I got lots of strange looks walking around in my shorts & flip flops whilst the locals were in their full winter gear.
One of the towns I drove through was a little place called Berry, as I drove in to the town there was a side road that caught my eye.Adam would have been in his element lined up on either side of the road were Toyota MR2s, this would have been strange enough in most places but in Oz it was exceptionally weird as I hadn't seen one MR2 the seven weeks I'd been here, they like their yutes & muscle cars too much and wouldn't be seen dead in a little girly hair dressers' car.I assumed there was some sort of Jap Crap Geek Meet, so thought I'd stop and take some snaps to show Ad. When I stopped there was no w*** about, very weird!!!
In the last town before I entered the National Park I had to stock up on food & water and hire snow chains.Apparently the weather conditions change so quickly that it is illegal to drive in the National Park without chains. Nervous, nah!
As I drove up the winding mountain pass the scenery was breath taking, it was nowhere near as picturesque as The Alps but the rapid change in topography from scrub, to pine, to nothing but snow and rocks was impressive in its own right.
In the National Park you are not allowed to free camp, so I had to stay at the only camp site run by the NP.I was the only guest mad enough to be camping in these temperatures, except for a Kangaroo that was trying to intimidate me in to giving him my dinner and the possum that tried to get in my van!
I managed to eat my dinner without having to donate any to the local wildlife.In my thermals and beanie wrapped in three sleeping bags I watched a film before bed, although 'In To The Wild' probably wasn't the best choice!
From Perisher I drove across country rather than back track on the highway.Cross country was a literal term, I drove for nearly an hour on unsealed roads (dirt tracks) the only sign of 'civilization' was a couple of cow girls herding their cows along the same unsealed road.It would have made a great photo I'm sure, me, parked in the van surrounded by a hundred odd cows!
As I continued south I discovered the beautiful sealed road heading towards Victoria. You may think that beautiful is a strange word to use for a road, but after over an hour of driving on pot holed roads with a thin layer of gravel causing the van to under steer more than usual, whilst all the time thinking I'm not insured to be driving on unsealed roads, a sealed road is beautiful!!!
As I crossed the state line in to Victoria, amongst the dozens of signs telling you to do this and not do that there was a huge sign stating that I was officially in 'The Wilderness'.Although the small town of The Wilderness had the name, the 1500 inhabitants, hotel, supermarket and a BP made it feel quite far from a wilderness.Still if nothing else 'Gary is in the Wilderness' did make quite a good Face Book status!
I stayed in the National Park campsite on the edge of town and aside from the possum stripping bark from a tree and dropping it on the roof of my van all night it was an uneventful night.
I continued south where I stumbled across a small vineyard, the proprietor kindly opened up his cellar and let me taste all of the reds they produce whilst we put the world to rights.I probably shouldn't have but I drove in to the camp site on the edge of town where I treated myself to a couple of beers and curry for one.
The following day I a fairly leisurely drive down to Melbourne, I stopped at a small place called Lakes Entrance to have lunch and clear the van out as I was off hiring it in Melbourne.It was horrible having to pack everything back in to my backpack again, I'd grown kind of fond of my little chubby van.Plus I wasn't too sure all my stuff was going to fit in my bag!
I was on the harbor side clearing the van out in the typical Australian manner, everyone that passed said hello and a couple asked me about my trip.It was then that it dawned on me that this is it, the last leg of my Australian tour in a few days I'd be flying off to New Zealand.None of the towns or cities that I had visited whilst I was driving south across Australia had really left me feeling that I could live there but I was sad to be leaving Oz, the climate, the way of life, the greatattitude that everybody has really appeals to me.
I dropped the van back at Travelers Auto Barn and walked to the hostel, it was only a ten minute walk, but with my hugely over stuffed bag trainers and coat strapped to the outside and two bags of food the walk took a little longer.
Melbourne is a funny old place it's not like any other city in as much as there are no real attractions, London has Big Ben, the Wheel etc. Sydney has the bridge, the Opera House, Melbourne has, well nothing.This might sound a little harsh but its true aside from the Olympic Village which unlike Beijing is being used there isn't any attractions.It's not until take a walk around the city and talk to the people who live here that you realise that Melbourne is the attraction.It is the atmosphere, the markets, the quiet little coffee houses, the restraints and the bars & clubs you could easily miss if you don't know where you're going.I got a couple of good tip offs so I think I managed to sample a small slice of Melbourne and I think I know why people love it so much.It's like London but cleaner and without the attitude & the scallies.
The YHA I stayed at had a strange atmosphere, it was only a couple of months old so it was very clean and new it just didn't feel right.It didn't help that there was a strange old lady staying on my floor who stole my Marmalade!I nicked it back & kept it my locker after that!The hostel was in the middle of the Business Centre so it was quite quiet at the weekend, except for the trams which thundered down the middle of the street shaking the hostel from the foundations up and keeping me awake.Not too sure I would have been very happy if I'd booked in to the posh hotel next door or bought one of the swanky apartments on the opposite side of the road.
About an hour drive outside of Melbourne there is a place called Philip Island which is inhabited by Penguins. For a hundred bucks you can get a tour bus which ferries you down there and so I have been told there is a very touristy show where you all sit on a flood lit grand stand and a narrator tells you all about the penguins on a loud speaker.One of the locals had told me not to bother with Philip Island but to head out to a suburb called St Hellier, where the penguins can be seen for free.So I headed out on the train and waited for dust when the parents return to their nests.Perched on the rocky break water of the marina in the pitch black with 12 other randoms we waited patiently.With the illuminated Melbourne skyline across the water we were privilege to see half a dozen penguins, tiny little things, the adults were only 33cm tall (about a foot in old money).It was an amazing sight, as it was pitch black we were all whispering pointing them out as they clambered up the rocks just feet from us.What a bargain at $3.60 for the tram!