Enjoying Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, and little penguins

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The Twelve Apostles, Great Ocean Road

This has been a roller coaster of a week. And that’s good, because roller coasters are fun. Come to think of it, every week since I left has been a roller coaster!

Let’s start with Tuesday, if I can remember that far back. That was a more low-key day; I did laundry (because I only have a week’s worth of clothes with me and so I do laundry in the hostel every week), got some groceries (to save money on food), did some travel research, and checked out the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI). That’s a free and fantastic museum in Federation Square, detailing the history of film/movies/tv, particularly in Australia. They mentioned a lot of Aussie-made movies and tv shows I’ve never heard of, but there were some really fun interactive exhibits (in one, you could stand in front of a projector and make shadow puppets, and a computer would add fun monster effects to your shadows, which made me giggle along with the 7-year-old girl next to me), and some intriguing artistic short films.

Wednesday was the most packed and fun day! I joined a small group tour of the Great Ocean Road. It started out rocky, and that’s because because the night before, the air conditioner was not successfully keeping up with the hot day/night. At least we did get it to work, but I was so hot that I felt like I couldn’t cool off, I couldn’t exactly get naked in a room with 3 other people (all girls, but still), and therefore, I could not sleep. I finally fell asleep around 4am due to exhaustion finally trumping the heat, and I was supposed to get up at 6:30 to get ready to be picked up at 7:15am for the day tour. Well, have you ever been so tired that you don’t even remember turning off your alarm? That’s what happened. So I woke up at 7:26am to someone else in the room getting ready, look at the time in sheer horror, and only a few seconds later hear a knock on the door. A guy downstairs is asking for me. I go down in my pajamas, and it’s a super nice tour guide guy! Now, every other tour I’ve been on I’m pretty sure would’ve just driven away after waiting for 10 minutes, but this guy not only came in and asked for me, but despite my saying I would totally understand if they went on without me, he came back another 15 minutes later after I’d thrown clothes on and he’d picked up the rest of the people. I was amazed. But after that initial horror and guilt at putting the whole group 0f ten behind half an hour, I had a fantastic day! They didn’t really seem to hold it against me. This whole thing still amazes me, because when I looked at the clock I was sure I’d missed the tour and may or may not be able to reschedule.

The tour included a drive to the 12 Apostles, a famously beautiful spot, a lot of other breathtaking views of massive rocks, powerful and dramatic waves, and beaches, and we walked along a few of the beaches as well, feeling tiny next to the colossal rocks before us. My favorite part was a stop at Maits Rest Rainforest Walk, which was a temperate rainforest full of tree ferns and super tall, old eucalyptus. It was so quiet; usually rainforests are loud, but all you could hear were a few distant birds and the crunch of your own footsteps in the leaves. I was in sheer awe of the place. If I had to pick a favorite landscape, it may be a forest; shade, green, and life all around you. And I adore ferns; there’s something so magical about them, and they’re so unusual where I’m from.

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At a beautiful beach along the Great Ocean Road

We also made a stop near a river, where we saw a koala in a tree, happily eating leaves. So cute! And we got to feed the birds there; colorful, big king parrots and rosellas. At one point, three king parrots landed on me at once! At a couple points in the trip, our guide also showed us some bush tucker (wild food), and so I tried some salty bush leaves and a sweet little fruit that grows in the bush as well. So fun!

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Feeding the king parrots

Thursday, I wandered down to the southeast suburb of St Kilda, walked along the peaceful pier, and sat and read a book for a while. Then I went up to the CBD (Central Business District, what Aussies call downtown) and checked out Queen Victoria Market, which is Melbourne’s big central outdoor market with a food court, a ton of fresh produce and other food, clothes, and cheap souvenirs. Mostly I like to just look around markets like this, but I did buy a couple gifts and postcards and ate falafel. And then I wandered into the State Library of Victoria, which I loved! I looked around for a bit, but ended up going back the next day for a free guided tour. The big domed reading room is my favorite to gaze at. That evening, I also enjoyed the South Melbourne Night Market, which isn’t far from my hostel. There was live music, which included a band that I’ve never heard of, but it was so good that they had a huge crowd of people dancing along.

 

Later, I sent an official goodbye email to my coworkers and started feeling all sentimental. I mean, I saw a lot of people come and go while I worked there, both in Indiana and my year in London; made a lot of coworker friends, grew apart from some, while others now feel like family. But that was 5.5 years of my life, my first full time job ever and my first job after graduating from college. That’s a big deal! And now, for the first time since the summer of 2010, I don’t know what lies in store for me more than 2 months from now. I might go back to live in Indiana, or I might drive across the country to move to Portland, Oregon, or I might even stay there in Australia for a while (less likely, but the option is still there).

So, life changes! But I’m not homesick (I only get homesick when I’m physically sick, generally), just thinking of the people in Indiana. I think about them often in between the new and fun things I’m doing from far away. The other day, I was just thinking about how incredibly lucky I am. I have such a great support system of both family and friends. They are honestly the reason I feel comfortable taking big risks like this; if something crazy happened, they would be there for me. And I’m grateful for the time we live in, when technology makes it so easy to travel – I rely so much on the internet to do research, to book things, and to stay connected to everyone I love despite the distance. Maybe it was the beauty of the Great Ocean Road that had me all philosophical and grateful.

Yesterday, I went and saw a parade of hundreds of penguins on Phillip Island! It was quite a drive there with Friday traffic, and there was strictly no photography of the penguins allowed (I’m sure because most people don’t know how to turn their flash off; I rarely have a flash on anyway, though I still respected the rule). But it was so worth it! They were adorable, waddling along from the beach to their nesting grounds, sometimes stopping for a rest or just trying to figure out where they need to go, looking for landmarks like rocks and bushes along the way. Their official species name is the Little Penguin, because they’re the smallest of all penguin species, which just makes them cuter. Did you know that a group of penguins in the ocean is called a raft, and a group on land is literally called a waddle?!

On the hour and a half drive back to Melbourne, I was in the front seat of the van, so I ended up talking about all kinds of random things with the guide: Australian wildlife, life in Australia, travel, politics, values, the future… Too much serious stuff, really, for someone I’d just met, but I think I have a weird talent for these things, and he was interesting to talk to. This morning I woke up to a text from him saying that if I end up wanting to work in Melbourne (because I told him this is still a possibility) to give him a call and he could help me with a job. I guess I left a good impression!

Today, my highlight was exploring the Australian National Gallery of Victoria, a free(!) art museum full of Australian art. I did a complimentary tour of the Aboriginal Art section, which was so interesting! Aboriginals were the original people on this land, going back tens of thousands of years and considered the oldest surviving culture on Earth, until European settlers came along and changed everything just a couple hundred years ago. It reminds me of the Native American story, except there were fewer Aboriginals than Native Americans to start with, and their cultures were pretty different. But some of their art is so interesting, and some of their people are really talented, so I enjoyed that. Apparently, a lot of Aboriginal communities still living in the outback rely on selling their art as their primary income. There was also a lot of other Australian art from the last couple hundred years to now, my favorite of which was the Impressionist painting series, as usual.

After the art museum, I wandered over to Moomba, a huge kind of street fair-style festival that’s going on this weekend near the Botanical Gardens. There were all kinds of colorful, loud rides, games, face painting, live music, a circus performer tent, food, and the one that was new to me, a big waterskiing competition going down the Yarra River. I didn’t even know that was a real sport, but it was fun to watch.

Tonight, I’m preparing for my trip to Tasmania tomorrow. I’ll be there for 3.5 days, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the island, which is not super far southeast of Melbourne. Well okay, mostly good things, except for the hostel roommate from Tasmania who, upon my saying I was from Indiana, answered, “Oh, we’re both from shit places then.” Haha! She was talking about the people, though, who are apparently redneck and conservative like some people in Indiana, being in a rural area. I think you can enjoy the landscape apart from that.

Overall, I think my favorite part about this week was all the wildlife spotting. I haven’t gotten to see much wildlife in my travels in general to date, and Australia seems to be great for that! All the animals you think of when you think of Oz really are everywhere here. Well, not so much in the Sydney area, but the rest of the country from what I can tell. To sum it up, just this week, I’ve seen:

  • Dozens of grey kangaroos grazing on a golf course and in hay fields
  • A bunch of wallabies, including one who jumped through the parade of penguins nearby, and another that crossed the road right in front of our van
  • A koala eating eucalyptus directly above me
  • Dozens of king parrots, and a bunch landed on me when I was feeding them
  • Several cookaburras, including one that flew really close to me in the botanic gardens today
  • A ton of other birds, including cape barren geese, rosellas, and purple swamphen (among a lot of other beautiful ones that I haven’t yet identified)
  • Hundreds of penguins. Waddles of them.

The only thing I still really want to see but haven’t yet is the echidna. On both tours, the guides said “oh, this is an area where you often see echidnas”, and I excitedly kept my eyes peeled, but no echidnas. I am determined, though – I looked them up, and they’re considered Australia’s most widespread animal and are found everywhere in grassy/sandy areas with lots of insects, so I’m going to keep looking on this trip!

 

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