Our arrival in Melbourne coincided with a forecast for ‘the biggest rainstorm in decades’. The rain put an end to our plan to drive along the ‘Great Ocean Road’ but after 8000km of driving I think we were ready for a break. We were staying in an Airbnb apartment in the well-to-do neighbourhood of South Yarra ($98 for a haircut – I’ll wait until we get to Vietnam!). We put on our rain jackets and went out to explore the local area between rain showers. Chapel street was the main road dotted with high-end clothes shops, restaurants and coffee shops and the odd purple blossom tree which looked even more beautiful on a dull day. It was just a bit of drizzle which lured us into a false sense of security “they always exaggerate the weather forecast…”!
The following day we caught the tram into the city centre. We visited the immigration museum which was interesting to see how attitudes towards immigration seem to be cyclic in their bias towards one group or another. We managed a walk to federation square before the heavens opened. We jumped on the free tourist tram to avoid the rain but it was packed, we were already wet and didn’t have a seat. There were still a few points of interest that we still wanted to see – Nicolas building and famous graffiti-ed buildings of Hosier Lane. So, we decided to get off the tram, get back out into the rain and go for it. We came across a ‘gingerbread village’ at the town hall which was a welcome relief from the rain for a few minutes. Major Melbourne landmarks had been recreated in gingerbread! Even if we hadn’t gotten to see much of the real Melbourne, we felt like we had covered most of it albeit in gingerbread form and without getting any wetter! The smell of the gingerbread enticed us into buying some gingerbread men to take back home to eat with a cuppa – it was all for a good cause as the money raised went to the Melbourne Childrens’ Hospital. The rain got heavier and the wind got stronger. We were drenched and cold by the time we headed for the tram home. We were impressed that the children barely complained though – resilience to rain must be in their British blood!
The following day we waited until there was a break in the weather to head to St. Kilda, Melbourne’s seaside town. It was Sunday afternoon and the pubs and restaurants were buzzing with locals. We walked through the town, past Luna Park and out along the pier. Even thought there was no rain, it was extremely windy and quite cold! We watched kite surfers in the bay getting flipped here, there and everywhere by the wind. It got windier as we approached the end of the pier. We had been told that there is a colony of little penguins that live on the breakwater at the end of the pier, but, with the weather, we didn’t feel like staying to watch them arrive at sunset. However, we were lucky again and spotted a number of them sheltering in the rocks right next to the boardwalk. We managed to get some photos this time and it made the windy walk to the end of the pier more than worth it!
We enjoyed a (dry) walk around the lovely royal botanic gardens on our last morning before it started raining again. I’m sure we didn’t get to see Melbourne in its best light but I guess the weather made it easier to say goodbye to Australia!
So our great Aussie adventure has come to an end. In seven weeks we have driven over 8000km (including 1500 in the Northern Territory and several detours and diversions that exceed google maps limit of 10 stops) and still only scratched the surface of this vast country. Around 90% of the journey James was driving, the children only slept around 2% of that time (less than I did) and with our ‘no technology on the road’ rule they kept themselves entertained with pens, paper, a few dolls and our (not extensive enough) music playlist. We had a few cross words with them when they got too giddy or argumentative but on the whole they took it all in their stride.
We have found Australians in general to be very friendly, polite, welcoming and proud of their country. Aside from the diverse wildlife and landscape, Australia, as expected, is an affluent, westernised country and travelling here has been easy and ‘familiar’. The biggest surprise was probably the lack of WiFi, or how bad the connection was when WiFi was available. It made booking hotels and making plans in advance difficult sometimes, but other times it was quite nice to be cut off from the rest of the world. Another surprise for me was seeing people with bare feet in the supermarket! The cost of travelling was not quite as high as we expected it to be, but we have been selective with the places we stayed – usually motels or cabins on campsites and Airbnb – and the activities we paid to do. There was often a ‘family ticket’ price for most activities, sometimes including up to 5 children, which often proved to be a very good saving. We haven’t eaten out as much as we would on a usual holiday, we’ve had our fair share of picnic lunches and ready-to-eat roast chickens from the supermarket. We have, however, become addicted to Aussie pies and ginger beer! The children have learnt that we can buy four ice creams at the supermarket for the price of one at a kiosk and we often just drank water when eating out instead of ordering drinks. Small things that kept us from overspending. When we did eat out, we found it was not too expensive. We did enjoy the fact that the price you see is the price you pay and there is no need to add taxes or ‘compulsory’ tips afterwards.
Now it’s time to move on. We’ve been incredibly lucky in our trip so far, the things we’ve done and places we’ve been. We are all looking forward to a change of pace in Vietnam and Cambodia and a different style of adventure. An adventure that might not be so straight forward, will cost a lot less and will almost certainly feel more foreign. Maybe there will even be a better WiFi connection! Bring it on!
Click here to view the rest of our Melbourne photos.