Along the Great Ocean Road in Australia

The trip to see the Twelve Apostles and the Great Ocean Road, near Melbourne, Australia started at Federation Square (across from St. Paul’s Cathedral) where I got to see the possible tour options at the tourism office located there.

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station, across from Federation Square

I returned there to take the bus on the day of the tour and a long but rewarding day began.  Along the way we stopped to see some of the flora and the wildlife (koalas, kangaroos and birds).  It was amazing to see koalas and kangaroos just freely roaming around, not in a zoo or animal park.

fern, Australia, flora, vegetation, photo, green, travel

Close-up of a fern in the park where we stopped to see the koalas

Kangaroo, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Kangaroos roaming (or hopping) free along the Great Ocean Road

bird, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Colorful bird!

koala, Australia, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, tour,

Koala doing what they do best: sleep. Tons of sleep.

The Twelve Apostles (who knows if there are really 12 at any given point, one of the more famous ones had collapsed not long before my visit) are fascinating as they “show” the process of water and wind shaping our landscapes.

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Australia, Great Ocean Road, park

A nice park has been set up to help see the Twelve Apostles

As the water washes away softer terrain, these “islands” of stone become separated from the mainland.  Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

You can tell where new ones will appear:  any of those fingers or peninsulas are apostles-in-the-making.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

At some point, the underside of a finger begins to hollow until an arch forms.  The arch eventually collapses separating part of the former peninsula from the mainland (see next photo).  In turn, an arch may form on the newly-formed “island” and, when the arch collapses, it will just leave just a column which over time will also collapse leaving nothing behind.  The cycle of life!

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Here is a finger where a part collapsed creating an “island” arch

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

By now, this “island” has become quite isolated and is developing an arch that will further weaken it

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Columns in the water: former arches, former fingers, former mainland!

Now, the park has very easy trails to walk and get good vantage points, and the tour goes to other interesting spots such as Loch and Gorge.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Loch and Gorge

But what really captivated me was the brief helicopter ride to see the apostles from above.  I had never ridden a helicopter before so there was a double thrill aspect to the experience for me.

Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Australia, sea, photos, Twelve Apostles

Viewing them from high was a real treat

Finally, if you decide to drive the Great Ocean Road and you are not from Australia or the U.K. (or some other places like them), please mind what this sign says as you explore this beautiful road!road sign, great ocean road, australia, driving, photo

Photo of the Week – Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Bridge

I loved the opportunity that arose unexpectedly a couple of years ago to make the long trip to Australia and New Zealand.  It is not often I take more than 2 weeks off work at a time so having a month to go Down Under was pretty special – and yet not enough time by 200%!

One of my favorite discoveries was the incredible natural setting combined with man-made structures that is Sydney Harbor.  Though I could not take a camera up when I climbed the iconic harbor bridge, I did strive to take pictures from the bridge.

The picture here takes me back to that visit and to the incredible setting that is Sydney Harbor.  Here is to returning some day!

Sydney Harbor from Sydney Bridge in Australia

Random Observations during Trip to Australia and New Zealand

As I used to do when my writing was in email form to friends and family, I am going to share some of the random things I observed that caught my attention in my trip to Australia and New Zealand.  These are not earth-shattering observations or anything that is better or worse in the places I visited than what I am used to, just things that caught my eye.  I always find it interesting to hear what others find curious so I will share what I found curious…  Hope no one takes offense!

  • I arrive in Sydney, my first main stop in the trip.  After surviving the strict customs and health things they do at the airport, I leave the secured zone and what is the first thing I see?  Krispy Kreme.  Don’t get me wrong: nothing wrong at ALL with a KK doughnut.  And Aussies sure have a right to enjoy them like I do. But it’s funny that I travel halfway around the world and the first thing I see is an outlet of a doughnut chain founded in the southeastern U.S. where I live!
  • Alright, I get past KK (without stopping), handle a few things (ATM, buying SIM card, etc.) and eventually get to my friends’ place (a train and a metro ride away – plus a short hike).  I shower, unpack somethings, and venture out to combat jet lag.  But first, let me load up on caffeine!  I look around and there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE!  I did not know Aussies were so into coffee.  Not that it should surprise me, coffee is good but there were coffee shops not just in every corner but in between corners and multiple ones at almost every corner.  Wow.  That’s a serious devotion of coffee.

  • So I pick one coffee shop – a hard thing to do with so many around.  I ask for a coffee.  I get a blank stare.  I repeat myself.  The young woman has an accent (eastern European, perhaps) so I assume my own accented English is too new to her ears.  I repeat my request “a coffee, please”.  She asks if cappuccino, latte, or flat white.  I didn’t want either of the first two and the third option sounded like a cup of milk – just white, flat white, only milk.  I say no I just want coffee.  It occurs to me that perhaps I needed to explain that I meant coffee with nothing else.  I get a blank stare.  Eventually, the other clerk joins us and I repeat the last statement.  I succeed in getting black coffee.  I wasn’t sure what the deal was but, heck, I got my black coffee.  Only to discover it was horrible.  And then it dawns on me:  perhaps black coffee here is not as good as say, PR, France, Italy, hence they must always add some amount of milk and/or foam.  Got it.  But I still didn’t know how I should have asked for black coffee… Nor did I get what a flat white was… (until later and then I loved them).
  • It is not “how are you doing?” but “how are you going?”.  At first, I wanted to say by bus or by train until I caught on.
  • There are these “stores” called TAB in Australia.  I wasn’t quite sure what they were and my friends explained they are sports betting places.  Mind you, not glitzy or big like casinos (they have those too) but like small stores.  And they can be quite a common sight in Sydney and Melbourne – one every couple of blocks?  (an exaggeration on my part but it felt like that!)
  • Air travel is a breeze here.  Not sure if that is good or bad but for domestic flights, just show up 30 minutes beforehand.  Security doesn’t even require shoes off.  My belt and shoes set off most US airports’ machines.  Not here.  Nada.
  • Driving:  in some places, it felt like these were the best drivers in the world and, in others, pretty bad.  No locations shall be named…
  • The times I ordered salads, not once did I see regular plain lettuce.  I love these countries!
  • More than a couple of times, I think I was fed some mis-information by eager-to-share-knowledge guides.  Like Lake Taupo being the largest lake in the southern hemisphere.  It IS the largest freshwater lake in Oceania (616 km2) but that is a far cry from Lake Victoria (69,485 km2)…  Another was the “world’s longest bridge” somewhere between Dunedin and Christchurch…  I didn’t buy either of these claims but I wonder how many I “bought”!  Now, I am sure Dunedin DOES have the world’s steepest street (it is so according to the Guinness Book of Records, I checked).

Dunedin’s most famous street

  • Constant references to something being the x-most in the southern hemisphere.  It felt like everything wanted to claim something.  Best example:  the Christchurch airport signs telling the travelers that the company that runs the airport was the 1st airport company in the southern hemisphere to become carbon neutral.
  • Rainfall in the north island of NZ is measured in inches but in the west part of the south island, it is measured in meters!  (I am raising this not because they used different measurement systems when giving me these data points but because it points to the significant difference in rainfall amount.)
  • Train restrooms were clean (as opposed to those in many other countries I have been to; ahem, Europe…).
  • Power outlets have a small switch immediately next to them to turn them on.  If you don’t realize this, that electric razor you are trying to charge up won’t be doing anything the next morning!
  • Upon arriving at a motel or B&B in NZ, the person at reception ALWAYS offered me milk.  It took me a while to develop a solid theory on why (outside of “they just love drinking milk here perhaps”):  since it was winter and the rooms had electric kettles, maybe it was in case I wanted tea/milk or coffee/milk?
  • Many places had windows with 2 positions for closing the window.  One was to entirely shut it but the other was to leave a slight crack open yet have the window locked.  It was hard to see that the windows were slightly ajar.  At first, I wondered why motel rooms had a draft…  I figured it out on my own, thank you very much.
  • Every motel or B&B I stayed at had towel warmers.  I loved that since it was very cold.
  • Airlines had a bit of an obsession that the safety card in the seatback pocket must always be the FIRST thing in the pocket.  Before landing, flight attendants requested this and/or would fix it for you if they noticed the items in the pocket were not in the right order…
  • Public restrooms in every town’s central area!  And easy to find!

Do you share any of these random observations?  Any others from your travels down under??

Along the Great Ocean Road and within Melbourne

Distances in Australia are enormous and, perhaps, they feel more so because there are a lot of vast empty lands in the middle (as opposed to us in the US where we have Kansas in the middle!).  Yet my trip to Melbourne from Sydney felt short indeed as it does not require traversing the country.  I wanted to get a good feel for Melbourne and no better way than visiting people who actually live there.

My friends in Melbourne lived in a penthouse pretty much in the central business district of town, enjoying a view of the Yarra river and the Crown casino.  I think my friend Matt chose this apartment for a reason…

Melbourne, Australia, CBD, Crown casino, Yarra river, travel, photography

The view from the pad!

The next morning after my arrival I made my first stop the information center in Federation Square, a relatively new and modern square next to the Flinders train station by the river.  There I found way more information than I needed but that would have been very helpful had I decided to spend 2 months in Victoria, the state where Melbourne is… I wish I had had all that time!

Melbourne, Flinders, train station, Australia, photo, travel

Flinders Train Station

The information office was very well organized and the folks there were extremely helpful.  My first objective was to see the Great Ocean Road that heads out west from outside Melbourne by the ocean so I scheduled it for the following day.

The Great Ocean Road and my first helicopter ride to see the 12 Apostles

The tour on the Great Ocean Road ends at the Twelve Apostles which are remnants from the mainland that water has eroded over time so they look like massive columns of rock coming out of the water, no longer connected to land.  The number 12 is just used ’cause it sounds cool but now there are <>12 (I don’t even remember how many they said).  In fact, 2 days before I went, one collapsed so I missed ever seeing it – well, I saw it in a pile of rocks.  Hence, it is safer to say <> 12 since the number could change any day!

Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, Australia, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The Twelve Apostles (well, some of them)

I decided that a neat way to see the apostles was to get in a helicopter for a 15 minutes and fly around.  I had NEVER been in a helicopter so the exhilaration went beyond seeing the Twelve Apostles.  I soon found out how hard it was to admire the view and take pictures at the same time while trying to look around fellow passengers and also not blocking their own view!

Great Ocean Road, Twelve Apostles, Melbourne, Australia, helicopter, travel, photo

An apostle as seen from the helicopter! Great vantage point!

Wildlife along the Great Ocean Road

An unexpected surprise in the drive along the Great Ocean Road was seeing kangaroos, koalas and birds.

Koala, Australia, Great Ocean Road, wildlife, Canon EOS Rebel

Koala in the wild – asleep!

Australia, wildlife, bird, colorful, Great Ocean Road, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

One colorful Australian bird along the Great Ocean Road

Using the free city bus is a great idea

After booking the Great Ocean Road tour, I took advantage of the free bus the city has for tourists to hop on and hop off at the various important sights in the city. Taking a bus is a great way to orient oneself in a new city, to see some places that one may have decided “check, don’t need to come here”, and to actually get off and visit places that seem interesting or make a note to come back another time.  With this, I discovered the Victoria Market which sold just about everything but, unfortunately, as closing right as I got there.  I did manage to get a couple of souvenirs and fruits and made my way back to the city center proper.

I did not get to visit the art gallery in Federation Square which I was hoping to see but got to see the Immigration Museum where I gained a good understanding of the Australian immigrants’ story.  What a long-ass and possibly horrible journey to make it to Oz through the roaring 40s!!

Some food was enjoyed too

Other things I did was enjoy chocolate at the chocolate stores in the Arcades (the city center has this beautiful arcades from early last century with shops and that’s where this chocolate shops are).  I also, based on my friends’ recommendations, enjoyed great soup from a little chain store called Blue Bag – the red lentil soup was excellent.

Witnessing a sports match – with all that it entails…

On my final night in Melbourne (and Australia), I got to go to a football/soccer match at the MCG between Australia and Japan.  It was great to be able to watch such a match with the local crowd though that required being careful on leaving as we had to walk through a minefield of a kind…  Let’s just say, there seems to have been over-drinking during the match 🙂  I got to try one of the famous meat pies during the match which was good but by the time we were done with the match, I was hungry again – should have had 2!   That’s when I tried vegemite – on the salty side but the butter made it better.

I can help but compare…

Anyway, I have struggled in my mind to compare the cities of Sydney and Melbourne but can’t find a way to properly explain how they felt.  Sydney has the harbor right there which was more in your face than Melbourne‘s proximity to the ocean.  Sydney felt fast-paced, Melbourne more laidback.  I enjoyed them both and feel like I need to go back to keep studying what makes them different – how conveneeeeenient!  🙂

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