As the plane swept over the last remnants of land that was New Zealand, I felt a bit saddened by my departure. The reasons for my melancholy state were twofold. First: New Zealand was the first overseas country I had ever visited and I think most people will agree when I say that your first anything usually holds a certain amount of significance in one’s life. Second: There were still parts of New Zealand that I had yet to explore and really wanted to. However, I had to keep reminding myself that New Zealand was the first country of many that I hoped to explore while on my tour of the world world tour and in order to visit each country that I deemed important enough to see, I was going to have to make a few sacrifices at each individual stop in order to maintain the health of the whole trip. Being excited about seeing Australia was also making my departure from New Zealand much more bearable than it would have been otherwise.
I arrived in Melbourne in the mid-morning and caught a shuttle to the suburb of St. Kilda. I had heard good things about the laid back beach lifestyle of this particular suburb and decided it was a good spot from which to start my exploration of the Melbourne area . My friends from Queenstown had caught up with me by my last night in Christchurch and twisted my arm to get me to go out on the town with them. My airport shuttle left from the hostel at 3:30 a.m. so I reasoned that I might as well just stay up until it was time to catch the shuttle. Makes sense, right? Anyways, the night out combined with my irritating ability to not sleep on planes had me rather tired when I arrived at the hostel. So, when I looked over to my right while standing at the reception desk I wasn’t sure if that was really a friend of mine from New Zealand that had left two weeks earlier. We locked eyes….nothing. I’m still staring and giving my best ‘hello’ smile. Waiting for some recognition. Nothing still. Not only does she not crack a smile, but she looks like she wants to punch me straight in the nose. But wait……after a good 5 minutes of staring, well it was probably more like 5 seconds, Georgie realizes that out of all the hostels in Melbourne I have randomly chosen the same hostel she’s staying at and we launch full bore into getting caught up on what’s been happening to each of us over the last couple of weeks. I’m told Megan, another friend from NZ, is staying here as well. It’s always nice to see familiar faces when you’re traveling to strange new lands. This holds true even more so when you are not expecting to meet up with someone you know and are completely shocked to see them. After the catch-up session, I climb the stairs and begin the search for my room. Got it. Now….time to crash. I had told Georgie that I’d accompany her and Megan on a walk around the neighborhood that afternoon. But, good intentions fall by the wayside and my body’s cry for sleep rises to the forefront. I pass out for most of the day and catch up with Georgie and Megan at dinner instead. The rest of the night is mostly spent getting to know my new roommates. I’ve lucked out and drawn a room that has some pretty cool people. It’s always a toss-up when you check into a hostel room. You never know what type of roommates you are going to get. Usually the actual experience of rooming with strangers for a few nights is just fine. Sure once in awhile you get the inhumanly loud snorer or the prick that acts like he is the only person staying in the room. That comes with the territory when staying in hostels. However, sometimes those roommates can also become travel companions, pleasant short term acquaintances, or maybe even lifelong friends.
The next few days were spent exploring St. Kilda, finding a gym to work out at, attending my first live cricket match, and meeting up with Georgie and the Birmingham boys. Tom, Luke, and Andy were friends I’d made in NZ that were looking for work in Melbourne at the moment. The second day I was in Melbourne I went to a women's professional cricket match at the MCG, a large and world-famous stadium situated near Federation Square. There were hardly any people in the stands so I was able to get next to the field while the players were warming up. I had a great time talking with the players and got a few smiles and laughs out of them as well. I inquired to one of the girls if I could get a picture with her to commemorate my first cricket match. She said that she couldn't before the game, but afterwards she would get me in a picture with the whole team. I was pretty excited about this prospect, which helped me sit through 3 1/2 hours of less than exciting play. However, about 5 minutes from the end of the match the player that promised me the team photo hurt herself diving to catch a ball and had to be helped off the field. So much for the team photo. I tried to get the attention of some of the other players as they were leaving the field so I could get a photo with one of them, but to no avail. A team photo would have been nice, but you can't have it all I guess. Enjoying a cricket match at a famous stadium for free while sipping on a few beers (Which were extremely overpriced. And I thought American sporting events overcharged for beer.) isn't a bad way to spend your first full day in Australia.
After the weekend Nick and I decided to rent a campervan to take on a drive down the Great Ocean Road. Nick set up the rental and informed me that we had it for three nights and must have it returned by 3:00 on the fourth day. So, we were off. The Great Ocean Road is a stretch of highway southwest of Melbourne that runs along the sea and is the entry way to both endless miles of wilderness and loads of beaches that are home to a countless number of surfing enthusiasts. Our plan was not to plan, which we pulled off with spectacular success. As a result, we drove aimlessly down the road deciding to decide where to stop whenever the moment struck us. Our initial attempt at camping on the first night of the expedition was at a campsite outside of the small town of Lorn. The sweet old lady at the information center told us of a campsite a few kilometers out of town that could only be reached by a decrepit dirt road. After wandering through the forest for about six kilometers we reached the ‘campsite’. Which turned out to be nothing more than a pullout at the end of the dirt road that was split in two by a billabong. We were the only brave souls who were attempting to spend the night here on this particular evening. My mind even started wondering if the sweet old lady hadn’t sent us on a wild goose chase. The scene reminded me of something out of a horror movie where the seemingly nice, polite townsfolk sucker the tourists into becoming feed for the grotesquely horrible being that lives in the woods/house cellar/abandoned factory/etc. Our two main goals for the trip were to see koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat. Not more than 20 seconds after I said, “This campsite will be worth it if we see a koala.”, we heard a low snorting sound that sounded something like a hog, only it was coming from above. And there it was….our first koala not more than 30 feet away yelling down to us from his perch in a nearby tree as if to say ‘Look up here! Look up here!’. After gawking at the koala, we decided this campsite wasn’t so cool and proceeded back down the dirt road to the highway. We ended up driving on until dark and parking on a pullout for the night. Curiosity got the best of us during the evening so we took a stroll through the nearby town. By town I mean about 30 large vacation homes and a general store. As we walked through the streets we wondered why there were no people around. Sure, it was 10 p.m. but we thought you would see some signs of life. That’s when we saw a four legged figure in the dark up ahead of us. At first glance I thought it was a dog…but it looked a bit different. It was slinking towards us with a hungry look in its eye, almost like it was sizing us up for an attack. We went behind a boat parked on a trailer on the side of the road and the dog started circling around like it was trying to get behind us. At this point I happened to see a large branch that had fallen out of a tree and immediately picked it up. The dog stopped and stared at us while we slowly backed up the street the way we had come from. I had mentioned to Nick that the dog looked suspiciously like a dingo to me. But I was unaware that they lived in this area of Australia. After returning to the pull out and sharing our encounter with some fellow campers, they assured us that it was, in fact, a dingo and that we were lucky it didn’t pounce. Dingo or not, it looked like it had plans on making us it’s next meal. So, I considered ourselves lucky to be able to escape the encounter with either of us uninjured. When the morning came we were off on the rest of our Great Ocean Road trip….