What do a lot of international backpackers do here in Australia, from what I seen in the ‘backpacker’ district on Victoria Street? They either rent huge camper vans or cars, or they buy their own. Then they road trip! It can be north, along the beautiful Australian coast, passing the peaceful and quaint Byron Bay, zooming through Bisbane (aka “Brisvegas”), seeing places such as the Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, and Surfer’s Paradise. Or South along the bluest coast. Or west through the Australian outback, where miles and miles of desert stretch endlessly. So what better way to spend my Easter break (yes, Australians get a week off following Easter Sunday)? ROAD TRIPPING IT MYSELF. But let me bring to light how the whole idea came along.
It is the second week of classes. My Junior German (German 101, essentially) class was having an informal get-together at the Broadway Café/Lounge one evening, where, by the way, students can get a really nice burger with fries/wedges/or vegetables for $5! Great deal! My Australian friend in the class, Amelia, was the only other first-year to go to the event. So, we sat down at the table with less than eight people and all three of the German tutors (tutors being the equivalent of a T.A. back at UW). Then, over 2 jugs of freshly made Sangria, we all started discussing travelling plans for the break. I told Amelia and Maggie (one of my German tutors) that I wanted to visit my Grandma in Melbourne. Then, Maggie mentioned she was going to book her busses to go to Melbourne during that same week! Magically, Amelia said “Well, my parents have a huge SUV that we can borrow. Let me call them. Melbourne would be fun!” She calls, and two minutes later, it was decided that all three of us would do a Sydney-Melbourne road trip. I love spontaneity in this sense. Just having met Amelia and Maggie two weeks ago, we would soon find out that our chemistry made for such a great trio! And that’s how the Easter adventure starts. Over the next week, we planned our 8-day drive from Sydney to Melbourne, hugging the south coast.
On the Thursday before Easter, we headed off, SUV fully packed. Maggie brought her friend (Alex) from Germany who was on an internship with AUDI here in Sydney. She was doing marketing for them, with a combination in event planning. Her job seemed really interesting and fun. Anyway, Alex joined us three down along the drive to Nowra, where Amelia’s close family friend owns a farm. She had a guest room for Maggie and Alex, and we each had a bed. What a luxury! Then, in the morning, we woke up to the sounds of the birds and the sunshine. It was so peaceful and quiet compared to the construction normally outside my window in Sydney. After grabbing a fresh breakfast with home-grown bananas, yogurt, muesli (aka granola), we were on our way to Bermagui, another rural town which is where Amelia’s grandparents own a farm.
Since we would arrive on the farm in the evening, we thought it would be a good idea to buy a bottle of wine for the dinner that was going to be prepared for us. However, it was Good Friday, and ALL stores are closed on Good Friday. Along the drive, we saw that a hotel/bar had their front doors open with a sign that said “Bottle Shop” on top of the roof. So, we slammed the brakes and went inside. At the bar, we asked if we could buy a bottle of white wine. Apparently, liquor is not allowed to be traded for take-away on two days in Australia: Christmas Day, and…. naturally, Good Friday. Amelia did not know that, and we were all skeptical. But, he seemed really serious. So, with sad faces, we turned around and headed out the door when, we heard “But….” Turning around, he then whispered “Put your money on the table, it’ll be eight dollars, and meet me around the back. Hurry, and don’t let ANYBODY see you.” It was as if we were smuggling something illegal out the back of this little shabby hotel bar, and when he handled the bottle (in a brown bag, even) to Amelia, he said “Quick, RUN to your car and HIDE it.” We were probably the only 4 people in New South Wales that were able to buy wine on Good Friday! Very exciting.
So, for Easter weekend, we spent a peaceful weekend out in the Australian country. Very green, much like Seattle. Also, the primary source of water for the whole house is RAINWATER! Surprisingly, it tastes better than “normal” tap water and it is really refreshing. Glenda’s horses were actually being kept there, and we got to play with the sheep as well. Amelia’s mother, brother, and father were down at the farm for Easter weekend as well, and it was nice meeting her parents. Amelia’s grandfather makes his own gin and keeps it in the basement, so we all had G and T’s over home-cooked meals. On Easter Sunday, Alex had to wake up early to catch a bus back to Sydney since she had to work on Tuesday. So, we all got up at 5 AM since we were going to leave at 6 AM to head to the bus station. Half-awake, we turn on the television as hot cross buns (traditional food during the Easter weekend) are being re-heated in the oven. We notice the TV news channel said 4:30 AM. WHAT? All four of us forgot to turn our clocks back for Daylight Savings, and I am just used to my USA mobile doing it automatically! Oh well, we got up super early on Easter Sunday, where piles of chocolate eggs and bunnies were in nice little piles for each of us to take. Amelia’s family was so hospitable and kind-hearted.
After dropping Alex off at the bus, we continued to head south along the coast. Maggie was slightly upset that she had not spotted a wild kangaroo, but on Easter Sunday, she finally found one bouncing in the green hills! Then, in Pambula, a whole group of them were just chilling on what looked like a farm, but it was just a park-type area, so
we could all get up close and take pictures. Maggie said it was the happiest day of her life, heh. It is nice to travel with people who are sentimental and get excited over simple things, like seeing a koala for the first time, or being ready to jump into the beach with you.
We visited Wilson’s Promontory, which is like a giant national park where you can hike, camp, and enjoy the getaway. It is here where you can reach the most Southern tip of Australia.
We also went to watch the world’s smallest penguins parade on Phillip Island. Normally, there can be hundreds of penguins that come onto shore at night after feeding in the beach waters to go back to their burrows on land. Of course, when we went, there were only 20 or so. Still cute and fun though!
Being in the city at Sydney, there is a lot of light pollution. It is extraordinary to lay on the beach in the country, in pitch darkness. The Milky Way shines through so vividly, where you can definitely see why it is coined “Milky.” You see thousands and thousands of stars. Absolutely beautiful.
Lastly, we finally reached my Grandma’s house in Melbourne! It was nice to see her since she only visits the US every two or three years for major events, such as weddings or high school graduations, etc. She made us French toast the morning after we arrived, and this truly is a treat. Because Grandma never cooks. NEVER. She even made homemade lentil soup. The secret to her amazing lentil soup, is to put some cooked spinach on top and squeeze a little bit of lemon juice. PERFECT. Unfortunately, we could only sleep there for two nights as we head to head back to Sydney.
Melbourne could take up a whole other post. It was very European, cosmopolitan, and young-hearted. I will definitely visit again before I leave Sydney to return to the motherland. Lots of shopping, and CHEAP drinks =). Craziest thing that happened in Melbourne that must be mentioned: I was standing at the entrance to Flinders Underground Metro Station when suddenly, I notice a guy standing a couple of meters away. It was an Australian who shared a hostel room with me in VENICE, ITALY only three months before! What a small world. Unfortunately, he was off to a show with a girlfriend, but we will meet up again to discuss our travels when I return to Melbourne again.
We drove back to Sydney along the boring main highway, through Canberra since it would be heaps quicker. Twelve or thirteen hours of boring driving. Not as fun as the coast. But, I did drive (with the wheel on the right-side of the car), and having to drive down the LEFT side of road took some adjustment. I got used to it fairly quickly, but sometimes I drift to the left. Oh well, back safe and sound. The most confusing part was that the blinkers are on the right-side of the steering wheel, so when I wanted to turn, I ended up turning on the windshield wipers full-speed in the middle of the day. Now, if I see that happen when I am driving in the USA, I will assume it is a person who is used to driving on the opposite side of the road/car. We ended the trip where we started, still in one-piece.
This was my way too short story about how pretty-much-strangers bonded so quickly over a road-trip adventure to become the closest of friends. The beauty of Australia – the landscape, the people, the wildlife, and much more – never ceases to amaze me. Even though you can do these types of these things with your closest friends at home, it is just as special and sometimes even more exciting when studying abroad. Spontaneity, a foreign country, and international friends make the perfect recipe for adventure.