I have been living and studying in Australia for the past two and a half years now, long enough to officially fall in love with a place. Melbourne strikes a wonderful balance between urban extravagance and suburban tranquillity. Located at the south-eastern tip of Australia, the city is characterized by really volatile weather, great food, beverages and amazing people. Australians are laid back, easy-going people who know how to have a good time. A standard weekly workload is five days long, the sanctity of the weekend being guarded almost religiously.
There are other cities such as Sydney which are more advanced than Melbourne, infrastructure-wise. But this city has, in my opinion, a lot that is unique in nature. A weekend stroll through the CBD (Central Business District) will suffice in revealing that. The streets are alive with sights and sounds that would not fail to delight you, be it the decorated retail store mascots, street artists, portrait makers who can capture the essence of your features within a matter of a few minutes, instrumentalists playing glorious music, street bands entertaining audiences, skater kids strutting their stuff. When your senses are full and your legs cry fatigue, you can always park yourself on one of the benches, or better, walk down a fair bit along Docklands and watch the Yarra river flow. Personally, I feel there’s nothing better than sitting idly in one of those little by lanes and watch people pass by. Every little symbol, be it the architecture or the graffiti on the walls, represents the multicultural abundance that the city and the country, as a whole, exhibits. If you are lucky enough to arrive during the right season, you might even be able to witness major sports events like the Australian Grand Prix, The Ashes tour or the Australian Open. In any case, at any given time, some or the other famous international musical act can be found in ‘Ozland’. For a music buff like me, the city is paradise!
Now, this is not just all about Melbourne. If you are bound to come to this side of town, I suggest you pass through Melbourne because it’s worth a few days. There are plenty of tourist attractions such as the Melbourne museum, the Melbourne zoo, State Library of Victoria etc. If you were to feel a bit bullish, you can head to Crown, the biggest casino in the southern hemisphere, to try and make a fortune. If you are on a shoestring budget and do not wish to splurge, canter down to the Victoria street market and crack a bargain or two. The city will not disappoint you.
The real deal, however, is yet to come. Melbourne is a conveyance point for the Great Ocean Road, the most fulfilling trip I’ve ever made. The Great Ocean Road is situated towards the southern side of Melbourne. Legend has it that the road was built to provide employment for those returning from the Great War. The road is approximately 175 km long, between Torquay and Warrnambool, which is the south end. This makes for a sumptuous coastal drive that is so spectacular, we often joke that the person driving the car has to have been there at least once, lest he/she is overwhelmed by the absolute beauty. Quoting Alex from a Clockwork Orange, “It was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made in flesh.” It is very important to ensure that you drive safe here, because the road boasts of one of the highest accident rates in Australia.
It is advisable to carry sufficient amount of food because basics can get costlier as you hit the smaller towns. Torquay is one such town, well-known for being a surfer’s haven. It is home to the top surf merchandise labels such as Ripcurl and Quicksilver. Bell’s beach hosts tournaments at a professional level. Participation demands high standards, but you can curl up with a beer at the seaside and watch surfers compete, it is quite a treat.
Next, you’d hit Lorne, which is located on the banks of Erskine River. Since it is surrounded by the sea and populated by forest ranges, it makes for breathtaking scenic viewing. The town is known for retreat and holiday accommodation. The sites to watch out for are the Erskine Falls, Pennyroyal Valley and Lorne Angahook State Park. I’m not sure if the Nirvana single, ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ has anything to do with the Pennyroyal area, but there’s plenty to do here such as go trout fishing, pick your own berries on farms and explore forests while driving around.
The Apollo Bay is one of the major attractions on the Great Ocean Road. The remains of ancient rainforests can be seen at the Cape Otway National park. Other parks such as the Otway Ranges Forest and the Gully State Park are accessible from the Apollo Bay. Next, we arrive at another significant tourist attraction, Laver’s Hill, which is the highest point on the Great Ocean Road, standing at 455 metres. This area is known for the Tree Tops walk, which is exhilarating to say the least. Next in order is Port Campbell, which can be termed as the heart of the Great Ocean Road. Primarily known for fishing, it doubles up as the perfect surfer’s and the beach monger’s dream. Apart from the mesmerizing coastline, there are quite a few wrecked vessels which now serve as launching pads for those interested in diving, also, it’s home to the famous Twelve Apostles. They are situated towards the east of Port Campbell, and bear the silent testimony of the perseverance the rocks have shown to endure the relentless whiplash motion of the waves. Originally being twelve of them, today, you can only see eight intact, which live to tell the tale. The visitor’s centre harbours detailed information about how the Twelve Apostles were formed. The London Arch is another notable wonder of nature, formerly known as the London Bridge. It is a natural arch formed due to soil erosion and was christened as the ‘London Bridge’ due to its double arches which closely resemble the actual bridge. The name was eventually changed to ‘London Arch’ as one of the supporting arches collapsed in 1990.
Warrnambool signals the end of the Great Ocean Road. It is packed during summers, with people crowding the beaches to surf, get tanned, play ball and have a good time. All in all, it is an extremely exotic, leisurely location.
What made the trip memorable for me was the entire experience than just a particular spot. The Twelve Apostles are obviously the highlight of the Great Ocean Road. However, all along the way, we encountered some rather interesting people, delicious food and great hospitality. The feature that struck me the most was the uninhibited way of life that the rural population subscribed to. Be it the unhurried sense of time, genuine concern in tone and manner of behaviour, the knack of conversation, everything was poles apart from the city crowd. It made me want to spend the rest of my life on a cattle farm, away from all the noise, hysteria, and schedules. There was no tightrope to tread on here. It reflected in the conduct of people, they believed in living life to the hilt. The food was unbelievable, right from the little snacks to the full-blown four course meals, accompanied by homebrew beer, I was left wanting more. We ate out a bit as we eventually ran out of homemade food, and we hogged on the local seafood varieties. The most notable stretch was the array of fruit farms. You can pick blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, olives, herbs, mussels, depending on what season it is.
The trip embedded a clean, calm patch within me. In the words of Alex again, it was ‘As clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.’ There are trips that I have made which hold not much sentimental value, as if I sleepwalked through them. This one, on the other hand, filled me to the brim with joy and newfound hope in humanity. This is one place you should visit, doubtless. Put it on your list of ‘100 things to do before I die.’
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/globetrotter1937/132440649/]