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: 

Brisbane and Back | #MaddietakesAUS Part 2

This weekend was a whole lot of the unnexpected mixed with a whole lot of fun. On Thursday Helen and I headed into the city for our last proper day exploring Sydney, and ventured through the most beautiful bookstore ever (Kinokuniya), and then wandered down to the Sydney Aquarium and spent the afternoon staring at sharks, Dugongs (a manatee type thing), and both Dory and Nemo fish in the same tank! It was super neat to see an aquarium that was built right into the natural habitat of the harbor.

Afterwards, Helen and I wandered through Koreatown, picked up some quick spring roll snacks, and got on a train to meet up with Reece out in a suburb called Penrith. We spent the night at his parents magical home in Korrajong, and hit the road bright and early for Brisbane. It’s about a 600mile trip up the Gold Coast to Brisbane from where we were staying, so why on earth would we waste a weekend doing this? Two things: RED PANDAS and The City Shakeup.

In the Northern Hemisphere, there aren’t many zoos that do any kind of “encounters” where you’re allowed to interact with the animals, but they are plentiful in the great "Land Down Under". A few of those encounters include the chance to meet the Red Panda, my absolute *favorite* animal in the world. The Australia Zoo was founded by Steve Irwin and is known for it’s “up close” animal interactions with a variety of critters. When I was doing research before the trip, the Australia Zoo was the only place to pop up that offered a Panda visit. It just so happens that my friends The City Shakeup - a wonderful band I got the chance to get to know during Warped Tour 2014 - are also from Brisbane, so this was a wonderful chance to see old friends, and make some new adorable ones as well.

this is the photo from Warped 2014 that most accurately describes my love of The City Shakeup

The drive was full of torrential rain, and felt a bit like the world was working against us, but after a long and tenuous 12 hours, the rain cleared up and we arrived in Brisbane in time to meet up with Shakeup boys for a delicious dinner. The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn and got on the road for one last 60minute drive out of town to the zoo.

We got to the zoo right at 8:05am, and it was quiet and empty for the most part. At 8:14am someone from the gift shop escorted us in to fill out paperwork, and I started finally realizing that this might actually happen. I’d been worried we’d be rained out, but the clouds had broken and the zoo hadn’t turned us away - it was time for destiny. Reece is also a Red Panda lover, so the excitement levels were through the roof! We boarded a little golf cart and were taken into the back alley of the zoo, and arrived at a little gate made of fake rock. The rain let up once again and they escorted us into the enclosure, gave us a towel to cover our legs to protect us from Panda paws, and waited anxiously as the keeper began to call for Psang the Panda.

After 20 minutes of anxiously watching his tail twitch from high above us in the tree, it became pretty clear that Red Pandas are my spirit animal in more ways then one: they are friendly, they love eating, but most of all, they are entirely lazy - so much so that Psang the Panda could not be bothered to leave his snuggly leaf nest to come down and meet us.

As much as I wanted to meet him, at the end of the day, Psang was still a wild animal, and he could not be controlled, so away we went without a so much as a Panda pat or nibble. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so it may be that Psang is not the panda i’m meant to meet, or better yet, maybe this just means that I’m meant to come back to Australia someday and meet another.

We left the zoo slightly disheartened, but had an amazing brunch at a Neverland-themed cafe which quickly changed the mood of the morning, and then hit the road for an outrageous dance-party all the way back to Sydney. Our last weekend in NSW may not have gone as expected, but it was still perfect in every way. Nothing beats a good road trip with good people, and good memories made.

Today we came back to Cronulla to spend one last day eating, relaxing, laughing and watching Disney movies with the amazing Ms. Kristen. Tomorrow morning (Monday) we leave Sydney and head to Melbourne for the second part of our journey, this time through Southern Australia via the Great Ocean Road. The trouble with making friends around the globe is how little time you get to spend with them. As excited as I am to continue exploring, it's honestly pretty heartbreaking to be leaving Sydney. I don't know the next time I'll see these amazing humans so I've tried to cherish as much of this time as I could. As they say, all good things must come to an end so that more good can come, but this has been to good to be true, and will definitely be hard to top. 

Check out more photos from this part of the journey below:

Seven Days in Sydney | #MaddietakesAUS Part 1

It's Thursday the 4th of February and I'm on the train from Sydney to Penrith. In Australia.

I've dreamed of visiting Australia since middle school and have been planning this trip since last August, so this entire week has been spent pinching myself with each new experience - in awe and disbelief that this is actually happening. It's crazy to think that today marks the end of my first week on the continent - equal parts saddening as to how fast it's going, and exhilarating to realize how much I've done in such a short amount of time.

Since we touched down at Syndey Intl. Airport last Thursday, the excitement and adventure has been non-stop. I was swimming in the ocean within two hours of stepping off my plane, and my first morning I woke up in an apartment literally steps off Bondi Beach. The weekend was spent in the scenic Blue Mountains, and my week has been spent venturing through the various nooks and neighborhoods of Sydney.

I've seen more of this city in seven days than I thought I could see in two weeks, and have spent every minute surrounded by friendly faces both old and new. I've seen the most beautiful colored ocean water, explored national parks, taken rainwater showers, and drank on the steps of Sydney's Opera House. The city is vast but still feels small and comfortable - it's certainly not the intimidating metropolis I expected. The people are friendly and welcoming without question or reason. The views are scenic, the landscapes majestic, the food delicious, and the weather is summer at its finest. 

this was two hours after i got off my flight. Incredible.

The word "rejuvenation" feels pretty fitting right now. It's meant to describe a process of making something younger, fresher, and more "lively" - this trip certainly has been that. Learning to let go and be okay with not checking emails all day long, not dying for cell service or social media interaction, not worrying about anything other than myself in the moment has been hard. It's scary to let go, but man is it beautiful when you do. This freedom I feel to simply live in the moment is a freedom I've not felt in quite some time. It feels like learning to live again. I'm not just working, and not just "functioning in society", but actually living. I'm making time for genuine conversation, spending time reading and growing knowledge, I'm asking questions I might otherwise neglect, and taking time to be present in the moment instead of living through captured memories.

As if this journey needed any more connection to the "Everything In Transit" album, the only words to be rolling through my head all week long are the words to my favorite Jacks Mannequin song from that era, a simple chorus of the words "it's good to be alive".

 

Check out a few more of my favorite shots thus far below: 

#SXSW14

It's officially been seven days since we got home from this year's South By Southwest (SXSW) festival, and man oh man, that came and went in a hurry. Laurel, Tyler Rima (bassist of Churchill) and I all drove down together and had what was potentially the most fun road trip of my life. I fed a Donkey an apple, Tyler hopefully got a sweet new work gig out of it, Laurel rocked some sweet new Colorado swag and was properly educated on Austin Food culture. We survived 14hrs of driving with only 5 CDs in the disc changer and did not kill one another...I feel like that's a success right there.

Last year was my very first time in Austin for SXSW, and it was more or less an accident. I had bought a plane ticket with the intentions of just going to see what I could see. I wasn't yet 21, so I knew that there'd be some potential challenges since almost every venue is 21+, but I was sick of sitting around every year wishing I was there. A last minute phone call from my boys in Air Dubai guaranteed me an exciting week when they asked me to TM (tour manage) for them, and from there everything was set. SXSW 2013 was easily one of the most fun weeks of my life. The schedule was grueling, the work even more so, but it was incredible. I was in a city filled with people who did what I did. All the big wigs I'd studied, the people I admired, they were all within a 4 mile radius. And there was me: caught smack in the middle of it all. I met some incredible people who offered me great insight and great opportunities. I made connections, shook hands, and handed out every last little "Maddie-sized" business card I could in between loading the van and herding boys cross-city to their next interview. It was fantastic, so when March rolled around this year, I couldn't focus on anything else. I was ready to go.

me, Tyler and Laurel in front of the infamous "Austin" sign. 

This year was different, but not in a bad way. I wasn't out there working for a band, I was there simply as "Maddie". With my impending graduation just around the corner, I wanted to focus on networking as much as possible. I have a terrible paranoia that I've spent so long unfortunately turning down jobs due to school that my opportunities will have run dry once I finally have the chance to take them on! My goal for this year was to shake some hands, take some names, and let the industry know I'm ready and coming for them. I tried split my time in Texas in half: one part networking, one part covering shows for Ultra5280. I got to photograph and interview a lot of amazing artists for the blog, which was a blast! (Here's a link to my Interviews) But not being on a schedule as tight as a band is on down there (7+ shows in 4 days, PLUS interviews? Can you say hectic??!?!) gave me the ability to stay and chat with interesting folks when I met them. I had the chance to watch new artists, which i loved! And much to my surprise, this year was just as productive networking as it was last year. Admittedly I was worried I wouldn't be in the right spots at the right times since I wasn't with a band, but I feel like I did pretty alright for being all aloney on my owney.

SXSW hasn't let me down yet, it's been two years full of fun and absolute shenanigans. Whether that's meeting the man who runs my friend's "OKCupid" account, physically bumping into Denver's King of Radio (93.3's Nerf) on a street corner at 2am, accidentally talking myself into backstage VIP at a potential Stroke's reunion show, or just sitting back and watching my musical friends do what they love most, SXSW never fails to surprise me. I'm only seven days out, but I'm ready and waiting for round three next year.

Click here to see my photos on Ultra5280's website!