Day 1- to Apollo Bay along the Great Ocean Road

Trip Start Mar 14, 2009
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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Saturday, March 14, 2009

1.    Assorted camping gear acquired from various Gumtree folks and many a     trip to Big W, including, amongst miscellaneous other tat, a tent     purchased for $10.  Check.  (Hmm, ten     bucks for a tent.  It can't be that     sturdy, but then it doesn't rain so much in Australia, right?)
2.    Much-debated blow up mattress and foot pump.  Check.  (Rhiannon claims mattress to be an essential item.  Yours truly [from the     hardier wilds of northern England]   considers it to be a cop out, but bows     to the experience of Duke of Edinburgh Bronze, Silver and Gold Award-    holding Rhiannon.)
3.     Car.  A 1991 red Toyota Camry, going by the name of Doris.  Check.     (Question.  Are we asking for trouble by calling our car Doris?  Does Doris     say 'frail old woman', rather than 'frisky, sassy go-getter'?  Are we in     danger of giving Doris a compromised self-image that will make her a     weak liability in the wilds of the deadly Nullarbor Desert [more on my     terror at my possible impending doom in this Godforsaken place later]).
4.    All other worldly possessions crammed into Doris.  Check.
5.    Two pages torn from [friend] Steve's Melways road atlas to get us to     Adelaide.  Check.  (Scale is small but we appear to be following a single     red line so am not too worried.)

With everything packed up, we set off on our epic adventure getting as far as Chapel Street (in the next suburb along) before we stop for coffee and raisin toast (a necessary, ceremonial goodbye, appropriate to Melbourne, as any who have lived/travelled here will know).  We also have to stop and pick up a tape/iPod converter from one of Chapel Street's many junk shops; Doris does not have a CD player, which I am choosing to view as a sign of her retro character, rather than her worrying age. 

We drove up St Kilda road, along Kingsway and onto the Westgate Bridge, the vast arch that sweeps over Melbourne's Docklands.  With the City's eponymous skyline disappearing behind us, we talked about how it could well be the last time we see it.  Melbourne isn't like other cities - it isn't a Hong Kong or a KL or a Dubai that will be passed through countless times between this country and that - for someone from my part of the world, you have to come a bloody long way to come here, so when you do it is a destination rather than stopover.

The sky was darkening overhead and the clouds were gathering, and it was strange to me how they could look so ominous and yet so beautiful.  Left aligned photo tag:
As we drove, the sky was so changeable - the heavy greys and purples opened up into a the luminous blue and fluffy white of a Monet.

The start of the Great Ocean Road is inauspicious.  Huge warehouse style out-of-town shopping centres, with giant golden arches and petrol forecourts line either side.  The main drag in the earliest stops, such as Torquay, are dominated by surf factory shops, (somehow unpleasantly reminiscent of Bluewater, Kent), but beyond that, the main drags of the small seaside villages of Anglesea and Lorne have a cosy feeling to them.  There are some beautiful houses to be seen in this part of the world, with 4x4s plus speedboat trailer parked below balconies  with state-of-the-art barbeques.  This is holiday home territory and the Ray Bans glaring through the windscreen of the 'Toorak [Brits, read 'Chelsea'] Tractors' definitely don't belong to locals.

Now, this road definitely delivers the great ocean it promises, curving past pristine beaches with rolling waves and the bluest waters. Apollo Bay is one of the most popular spots along this stretch of coast and it was here we headed to set up camp for the night.  Unfortunately, pulling into Surfside Backpackers two unexpected and undesirable events occurred.  Firstly, Rhiannon, a teacher, realised that a large posse of students from her former school were staying at this self-same hostel as part of a school trip.  Secondly, it started to rain.

We decided it was essential to maintain discipline - cracking and upgrading to a dorm room for an extra ten books on our first night of camping would surely lead to an expensive pattern emerging.  We put up our tent, and pumped up our mattress, musing on the now manifest advantages of the more expensive self-inflating alternative.  As the rain fell more heavily, the fact that the tent had two sides that were only mesh and a top sheet that failed to stretch over it's entirety seemed, even an inexperienced camper such as I, to be a potential problem.  So we went to find Rhiannon's students and got hammered on straight Johnny Walker.  When a frisky Colombian student started getting a little too friendly (something about 'Mama Sita')  we decided to call it a night.  Emerging from the common room to find temperatures sub-Arctic, we commandeered an extra quilt, complete with dinosaur pattern, from the friendly hostel owner.  To this quilt, I owe my life and my extremities.  I was particularly glad of it when I crawled back into bed at 2am, having re-pegged the wind-lashed corners of the tent.  (Rhiannon woke me up at 1.58am with a baleful, 'Rachel, it's raining on my face.')  It was a long night.
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