06.06.2016 - 24.06.2016 14 °C
First visit (Mon 6th June - Tues 14th June)
We spent Monday morning getting everything packed up ready for our relocation campervan adventure to Melbourne. For the benefit of those who don't know about 'relocations' the idea is that a car or camper-van hire company (of which there are many in Australia) need a vehicle relocating from one place to another. Picture this scenario; Tristan and Brittany are archetypal American backpackers and have hired a funky 4-berth Jucy camper-van from Cairns and have driven south to Sydney and left it at an office there. Jucy Campers in Sydney already have their own fleet and so need to get this camper back to the Cairns depot. This is when they'll advertise on various relocation websites for some stingy, flexible sods (that's us) to drive said camper back to its hometown for not a lot of money (often $1 per day). Sound too good to be true? Well the cons are that you have to rely entirely on what trips come up on the websites and so must be very flexible with your dates. The other thing is that you are restricted by both a kilometre and duration allowance. So if you want to relocate the camper but fancy going on a bit of a detour for a week to Alice Springs - you can't. Overall though for us, the cost is benefit enough - we only have to pay for fuel and an 'admin' fee to cover tolls and linens etc. For those of you interested, during our time in Australia we have used 3 different relocation websites and had only positive experiences; Apollo, imoova and transfercar.
Anyway, back to the blog in hand...
To get to the Apollo camper depot from Coogee we had to get 2 buses and a train, a 90 minute journey. This wasn’t all bad as it gave me the opportunity for a few cat naps. I also managed to fit in a steak and onion pie from a Vietnamese-owned bakery while waiting for our last bus.
We finally made it to the arse-end of Sydney were our modern Toyota camper-van awaited. After finishing the formalities Lauren climbed up to the driver’s seat and tried to figure out the pull/push hand-brake and two pedals. Navigating Sydney’s foreign roads was a little scary but we did make it back to Coogee and even managed to find a parking spot outside the house. We had a cup of tea and chucked our bags in the van along with some carrot cake made by Jeanette. We set off from Sydney much later than we wanted to, mainly due to us not realising how far away the camper depot was. After only an hour of driving it started to go dark and the weather-front we’d been hearing about began to move in. One monster of a storm was about to annihilate the east coast with high winds and torrential rain. A few people had suggested taking the coastal roads to Melbourne as they were apparently very beautiful but, because of said storm, they were closed. Plus it was dark anyway.
While driving 3 hours along the Hume highway Lauren battled to stop the 2.6m high camper-van from blowing into the other lanes. Our windscreen wipers were on high and the roads were very badly lit so overall it wasn’t the smoothest of journeys. Soon enough though we landed at Yass Caravan Park where we would stop for the night. Yass town is a strange, sleepy place that looks like it’s stuck in the 1950s. The town has little to no television reception and the first sign we saw said “beware of falling limbs”. I thought this was some sort of pun until Lauren explained that limbs mean tree branches.
We parked up and ran to the toilet block where I suffered a sudden and nasty bout of diarrhoea. While I shivered on the toilet for 20 minutes Lauren plugged us in to the electricity, sorted out our bed and made us some toast and tea. Anyone would think my gastric troubles were a ploy to avoid doing chores. I eventually made it back to our mobile home and wrapped myself in a hundred layers. We were actually very cosy on our foam mattress with only the rain and wind to be heard outside.
The next morning we made the most of the hot showers and got off nice and early on our way to the funkily named Tocumwal (pronounced toe-come-wall). There we were meeting Peter and Sandra; our new friends that we met in Vientiane, Laos. The 3.5 hour drive was much more scenic than the night before; farms, forests and blue skies with lots of amazing colourful feathered creatures to be spotted.
We parked up on Peter and Sandra's drive and remarked at how much their neighbourhood looked like Ramsey street; large, fairly new spread-out bungalows and big gardens. We chatted for a while before Peter and Sandra drove us around the town. We saw the Murray river which was unusually low, where lots of people go to free bush-camp, canoe, swim and fish for Tocumwal's famous spotted Murray cod. There was a sweet old disused mill, a train station now only frequented by the occasional freight train. We even saw some wild kangaroos hopping around. It felt a bit like the wild west. Apparently what puts Tocumwal on the map is that it's a hotspot for gliders - glider planes than is. The famous four time world championship winning German glider Ingo Renner moved to and became naturalised in Tocumwal. He even has a street named after him (where he still lives to this day at age 77).
After sampling the sights we were then treated to a long dip in Peter and Sandra's hot tub along with an ice cold bottle of cider while a roast was being cooked on the BBQ. It was pretty delightful. We filled up on roasted goodies and wine while waxing lyrical about Australia and travel destinations before retiring to a proper bed with a proper mattress and everything. Needless to say we slept like babies.
The next morning we were on our way again, headed to our next state - Victoria. We made it to Melbourne in just less than 4 hours and dropped our camper-van off at an industrial estate miles away from anywhere. Luckily, Lauren's old friend Janya (whom she met 8 years ago when she herself lived in Melbourne) and her boyfriend Dan very kindly drove 40 minutes to collect us. Unfortunately, our welcoming weather in Melbourne was grey, rainy and generally miserable. Reminiscent of good old Blighty actually.
We spent our first evening in Melbourne chilling out and catching up with Janya and crew at her home in Balaclava. We sat in their lovely boho garden under the stars with Mollie the dog, a few chickens, a couple of sneaky possums and some drinks. Janya and her cousin Tom are kiwi and her boyfriend Dan is from Kentucky, USA.
The next day Janya took us on a pub crawl around St. Kilda; Lauren's old stomping ground - to both reminisce and introduce the area. We met a few of her eccentric friends; Tripper - an elderly guy who rides around on a chopper style bicycle wearing all leather with no teeth and comedy spring-eyes glasses and, most notably, Ray - an old, wise and very interesting aboriginal guy who calls Janya his daughter. What struck me about St. Kilda was the prevalence of many more old and interesting buildings than Coogee and also a completely different set of residents. Compared with Sydney, St. Kilda seemed to be brimming with (for want of a better word) 'riff-raff' - there were homeless people, drunkards, drug addicts wandering around begging for change or a light and in certain areas, sex-workers. As well as this there were also many more native Australians. Despite the very noticeable presence of the undesirables - the area didn't feel remotely unsafe, in fact it felt welcoming - to all people, hard-up or not.
That night, after a brief rest from beer-drinking, we went out again to a local bar called Lost where a live rock band was playing. Janya, Lauren, Ray and I enjoyed the music and chatted away putting the world to rights. When the band had finished we proceeded to dance around like idiots to our own music choices that we played through Youtube (a bit of Where's Me Jumper never hurt anyone).
For the next two days at Janya's we did next to nothing - a bit of shopping, a bit of reading and mindless telly-watching and a lot of sleeping. Such is the joy of not having an itinerary.
We then made our way to another one of Lauren's old friends from the same era; Claire. Claire lives right on Fitzroy street in the heart of St. Kilda in a lovely art deco style apartment with a cute courtyard in the middle. We met Claire's huge man-cat Ezra and got ready for a nearby house-party for another one of Lauren's buddies Bower. The party house was very modern and huge and right on the sea-front. We mingled, drank Passion Pop (like Lambrini) and managed to find the dog of the house (as we do)- a huge soft golden retriever. We spent the last hour drunkenly playing fuse-ball in the garage at the back before we sneaked out and on the way back to Claire's, ate a cheeky Coneheads (chips).
All hungover the next morning, we had big breakfasts at Miss Jackson café where a really weird Canadian waitress was awkwardly oversharing to all of the customers while getting everyone's orders wrong. We then walked around a cold but bright St. Kilda - along the pier to where the fairy penguins live in the rocks. The water at Port Phillip Bay glistened in the winter sun and all was calm.
The next day Claire took us on a nice long walk around Albert Park where we saw plenty of wonderful wild Australian birds. That evening we partook in our first pub quiz (which they call trivia night in Aus) since Thailand at The Local Taphouse pub. We met Claire's friend Emily and her boyfriend Brian who joined our team (Quiz on your face was our name - original I know). The pub specialises in craft ale which is great or most people but for a non-beer drinker like myself it can be tricky to get hydrated. At one point Lauren was getting a round in and after being turned down for about 5 different spirits she knows I like, she settled on a recommendation from the barmaid - Campari. The barmaid told Lauren it was orange flavoured, and, knowing I enjoying a Cointreau, Lauren bought it over for me. As you may already know, Campari is actually hell-flavoured (grapefruit). She couldn't have picked a worse tipple for my awkward taste-buds. The Campari stayed put on our table for the rest of the evening.
Unfortunately we didn't win the quiz but we had a lot of fun nonetheless dancing to the 90s classics the cool quiz-master lady was playing.
The following day we left for our ride-share to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road (see Adelaide blog post).
Second visit (Mon 20th June - Fri 24th June)
We travelled back to Melbourne in a really great little Hyundai i20 car that we were relocating through Europcar. We collected the car from Adelaide airport where we were met with some very rude and condescending looks and grunts from the manager. Clearly he didn't like the idea of two unkempt backpacker females driving his spotless hire car the 725km to Melbourne. Little did he know I drive like a grandma not a boy-racer. This time we took the inland route along the National Highway A8 as we'd already done the Great Ocean Road on the way there.
As per our usual luck, the weather for the first hour of the 8hr drive was incredibly foggy and drizzly. I couldn't quite figure out how to put my fog lights on so I just used my dipped headlights and drove very slowly. The visibility couldn't have been more than a couple of metres ahead. I managed 4 straight hours of driving on what's an almost perfect straight, unchanging road. I was quite proud of myself. Lauren then covered the last 4 hours. Along the way we marvelled at the funny little towns; namely the inventively named 'Border town' and the mad looking Old Tailem Town - Australia's largest Pioneer village, complete with stables, a hydroplane and plenty of barns.
We arrived at Claire's in really good time at around 6pm and head straight off to another quiz night - this time at the Elsternwick Hotel pub. We met Claire's other friends Emily, Cat, Hannah and her boyfriend Alex. This time we called ourselves 6 girls and 1 cup, because we're classy like that. Again we didn't win but Emily DID win a jug of beer so that's pretty good.
Lauren dropped our favourite little car off the next day and then we spent the day doing some wandering and shopping at my favourite 'Op shop' Sacred Heart, followed by Aldi. Another quiz was awaiting that night at Windsor Ale House (aka Pint on't Punt) where Lauren managed to get a vegetarian parma made from aubergine. Thanks to our well-rounded genius, this time we actually won the quiz with first prize being an $100 bar tab. Fuck yeah! With a name like 'Get your Schnitz out for the dykes' of course we were going to destroy the competition!
The next morning while Claire was in work we had a mini disaster in the form of the shower not turning off. The crisis was averted quite quickly with the consultation of an emergency plumber and we eventually made it out to Melbourne centre where amazingly we'd not yet visited. We checked out the impressive and widespread street-art, perused the art gallery and ate curry from an amazing tiny Indian shop/café.
That night we went to Janya's to meet Roger (another one of Lauren's old friends from Liverpool) and his girlfriend Tara. I brought along a really cheap tawny port I'd bought from Aldi and pretty much polished the whole bottle off. It was an interesting 30 minute walk back to Claire's.
Our last day in Melbourne consisted of drinks in an Irish pub with Janya and some of her friends followed by a cosy night in with Vietnamese takeaway in Claire's with her friends. A fitting end to an indulgent and fun-filled week and a half in St. Kilda. Now back to Sydney to meet a certain new addition to the Jones family...