Road-Tripped: 3 Days on The Great Ocean Road & The Grampian Mountain Range | #MaddietakesAUS Part 4

Wednesday, February 10th we got up at 6am to check out of our Melbourne hostel and head for the bus stop for the next leg of our journey. Helen and I had booked a 3-day tour along The Great Ocean road and into the Grampian Mountains through a company called Wildlife Tours, and I was admittedly very excited to start this more adventurous part of the trip. After we'd picked everyone up at their stops, we left the city and drove southwest for an hour until we hit the coast and stopped for coffee, tea and biscuits at what may have been the most southern point of Australia I've touched during my time there. 

Our tour guide's name was Eric, and we quickly came to realize he was AWESOME. Funny, kind, and full of fun facts since he was a native who owned property along the road, we spent the day with him pulling off at select spots along the coastal highway, learning interesting facts as we went. We spent some time in the afternoon at a local camping ground with a variety of parrots, cockatoos and lorikeets, as well as WILD KOALAS. This was really my first time seeing the sleepy bears since arriving, and it was amazing to see them in the wild rather than in a zoo or wild animal reserve. They were so close you could almost touch them, and the birds would eat seed right out of your hand and sit on your shoulders. 

wild Koalas doing what they do - sleeping in trees.

wild Koalas doing what they do - sleeping in trees.

We made our lunch stop just down the road from there at a city called Anglesea and started to meet the rest of the people on our tour. Most were between 18-28, all on holiday, their gap year before Uni, or on work visas traveling from city to city while they worked. We were lucky to get a super nice group that all got along well, and everyone became friends quickly over scoops of vegemite ice cream (yes it's real, and not overwhelmingly disgusting). The rest of our first day we spent walking through an ancient part of the rainforest with 300+ year old trees, pulling on and off the road, stopping to see landmarks like the Twelve Apostles and the London Bridge, and finally arriving to watch the sun set in Thunder Bay and spent the night in a city called Warrnambool. The hostel there had a built-in bar, so we all quickly changed into pajamas and got to know each other more over drinks before bed. 

The Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles

Day two we woke up, ate breakfast, and loaded into the bus again after a hilarious round of the name game. We started the day by driving through Tower Hill National Park, a reserve based in the creator of an ancient Volcano, and home to a variety of wildlife including a wild Emu that ran in front of our bus. We hiked to the top of the volcano that was once 5 kilometers wide and found a sleepy little Koala not far off the path. We then went more into the park and stopped for morning tea with ANOTHER koala sleeping in the tree right above our heads! 

From there we loaded in for a bit of a long drive, and stopped halfway for a picnic lunch on our way to the Grampians National Park. Once there we stopped at the park center and saw a topographic map of the park, and learned a bit about the aboriginal community inhabiting the area. We went to Mackenzie Falls for the afternoon, and walked down 260 steps alongside the beautiful waterfall. We continued down the trail and took a quick dip in a spring/pool area farther down the river and soaked in the sun while chilling in the brisk, fresh rainwater water for as long as Eric would let us. Driving downhill and back into the town, we pulled off at the local cricket field, and a "mob" of wild Kangaroos (that's actually the term) hopped out of the bush and came out to eat dinner on the field. They were SUPER mellow and let us sit and lay along them while they eat, even letting us pet them. It was so amazing to watch them do their thing, and we even got to see a Joey suckling on its mom - too adorable 😍

That night we all worked together to prep a delicious proper Aussie "barbie" complete with Kangaroo meat, awesome veggies, and TimTams for dessert. We all sat outside for hours talking, laughing and drinking local beers and wines until we finally turned in. 

The next morning we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and took a quick 10minute drive up into the mountains to start our final hike through the Grampians to "The Pinnacle", one of the most prominent rock formations in the mountain range. The hike took about 2hrs up and 2hrs down thanks to lots of stops for scenic views and epic photos. We spent quite a bit of time wandering off the path for views of the mountains, climbing through caverns, making the rocks echo. 

We finally reached the pinnacle around 9:30/10am, and the views were certainly worth it. This was the kind of hike/views I'd been hoping for during our adventure, and I felt a bit at home overlooking the massive drop-offs down the mountains and scenic overlooks across the valley. We took our last group photo atop the peak, and headed back down the path without many stops. Helen twisted her ankle early on during our hike, but made it the rest of the way up and down like a trooper. 

Leaps of Faith on The Pinnacle

Leaps of Faith on The Pinnacle

Once we made it down the mountain, we grabbed a quick bite in the town and then switched to another bus destined to Adelaide. It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to the half of our group headed back to Melbourne. I imagined this part of our trip to be fairly....lonely(?) since it was just Helen and I without anyone else we know, so it was super awesome to meet so many good people and and make such quick friends. Some of them are coming to Adelaide with us, so I hope we'll be able to meet up with them at least one night this weekend. 

Adelaide is the end of the line for me and my time in Australia. It feels like the end has come quickly, but so slowly all at once. This adventure has been nothing short of amazing at every single turn, and I'm quite heartbroken to face the reality that it's quickly coming to a close. I'm sure it will be nice to be back to a city where Helen is a familiar and for us to have more of a set home base than we've had for the past week, but man - I can't comprehend how much of this journey is already behind us. 

I've done nothing but fall in love with this country during my 20 days here - every last part of it. While each city has been drastically different both in scenery, climate, and culture it's been awesome to see so much rather than just one city, and realize how these landscapes feel just as familiar to as they are different to anything I've seen before. As I write this, we're one hour out of Adelaide after six hours in the bus. I'm ready to get "home", eat and sleep heavy after our big hike and long hours sitting. I'm excited to meet this side of Helen's family as well, a neat opportunity since they live so far away compared to many of our other relative's other extended families. I think my last days before I leave next Tuesday will be just as full of new experiences and adventure as they'll be full of downtime and good conversation - a perfect mix to end my holiday. Here's to making the most of my last four days in this hemisphere. 

Click through the slideshow below to see more photos from our three-day adventure: 

A Hot Minute in Melbourne | #MaddietakesAUS Part 3

While you all back home were celebrating Super Bowl 50, Helen and I were saying goodbye to Sydney for the last time. Before our trip I'd been worried we'd budgeted too much time in the biggest city, but by the time we left it felt all too short. I loved every minute we'd spent between the mountains with Reece and the beaches with Kristen, and even though we'd seen at least a little of everything, I still felt like I wanted more; the city had captured my heart. 

Au Revoir, sweet Sydney.

Au Revoir, sweet Sydney.

Saying goodbye to Kristen that Monday morning was heartbreaking - not knowing the next time I'd be able to enjoy her company. We both agreed that six years was far too long, and hopefully these next few years will allow us more adventures across the globe together. 

We returned to Sydney International Airport at 9am Monday morning,  and checked in for our flight to Melbourne easily. Both Helen and I were worried my bag would be a bit heavy, but the JetStar staff checked it without saying anything (success!), so we boarded our flight without much issue other than it being crazy delayed. That flight was easily the most annoying flight I've ever been on: crying babies, a miscommunication about two Chinese customers with nearly identical names who were assigned the same seat, rigid chairs with flimsy backs, and even more delays on the Tarmac. Once we got going, takeoff and touchdown went off easily, and the Broncos were up at halftime when we landed in Victoria, so I quickly got over it. We took the skybus from the airport into the CBD ("central business district" - the preferred local term for a city's downtown) and by the time we arrived at our hostel the Broncos had won, and I was somewhere new to explore - I couldn't stop smiling ear to ear.

I'd never stayed at a hostel before, and our experience at Green Backpackers Melbourne was a great first time. Check-in was easy and our roommates were kind and quiet. Upon arrival we dropped off our luggage, changed clothes, grabbed sushi from a place on the corner that completely satisfied my week-long sushi cravings, and began to explore the city and some of its famous street art laneways. We wandered for a few hours and got lost in an AWESOME Target (now proven to be my favorite place in the world) before heading back to the hostel, dropping off gear, and heading for dinner at Mrs. Parma's - a place Reece had recommended. On our way we stumbled across some amazing Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations including lion dancers being filmed for Master Chef Australia, and watched for a bit before dinner. The food was awesome and Helen tried a super yummy local cider alongside our parmesans for dinner. We tried to watch "The Blues Brothers" on the hostels rooftop, but I kept falling asleep the entire time and couldn't wait to get to bed. 

Day two, we made friends with one of our South Korean roommates named Seong Hun and he joined us for our adventures around the city. We started the day in the Fitzroy neighborhood looking for more street art, and stopped for lunch a quiet local cafe on the Main Street. After lunch, we walked back to the Old Melbourne Gaol (Irish spelling for "jail") and did "The Watchmen Experience" where a guard processes you as though you've been arrested. I was assigned the character Sammi Sun who'd been arrested for "resisting arrest", and was shown the padded cell among other features of the 100+ year old jail by our hilarious and snarky Sergeant. We kept exploring for a bit, learned about some crazy criminals from the 20th century, and then headed back to the hostel for some down time before our evening adventures. 

dinner on the Riverwalk in Melbourne

dinner on the Riverwalk in Melbourne

We started our evening wandering the beautiful city gardens alongside the river for awhile, and then headed to a bar recommended by Kristen and her friend Katheriene Nelson called The Ponyfish, which was built under one of the river's bridges and is actually set down right atop the water. We got some nice drinks as the sun set, and then headed a block over to The Edge - the Melbourne city skydeck. I spent an hour or so drooling over the beautiful cityscapes (my favorites) and took insane amounts of photos during the golden hour and sunset while Helen patiently waited for me to get my fill.

Once we were done there, we stopped at a restaurant on the river and ate a variety of appetizers for dinner before heading home and packing for our bus trip from Melbourne down along The Great Ocean road through the Grampian Mountain Range, with a final destination of Adelaide. While it felt super speedy, I think 2 days in Melbourne was the perfect amount of time for the city. We saw the basics, and were able fill our days, but not so much that we couldn't enjoy the moment. The city was much more "metropolis" feeling than Sydney in my opinion, but it's architecture and hidden alleyways filled with restaurants looked more like Europe than Australia. A neat change of pace, I'm happy to have seen another one of Oz's major cities, feeling the differences from state to state across the country. 

Check out a few more photos from our time in Melbourne below: