Australia

The heat of the Coral Sea - Port Douglas by Marek Charytonowicz

Welcome to the tropical paradise. Please remove any t-shirts as they'll stay constantly wet in 33°C+ for the duration of your stay. Please put on the sunscreen generously as Queensland, Australia is the cancer capital of the world. Expect extremely high humidity, high temperatures and ocean that is as hot as a spa bath. Oh yes, and filled with marine stingers - so kind of out of action unless you wear a full body black neoprene stinger suit at all times (sexy).

Welcome to Port Douglas:)

Well, actually despite all of the above IT IS a tropical paradise. Located between an inlet of a forest river on one side and a four mile long beach on the other, this small town is a relaxing colonial town with one main shopping street with cafes and restaurants, several resorts and countless apartments for rent. All in the shade of massive palm trees lining the streets on both sides.

The bay and town is surrounded by mountains - which are always covered in clouds and seem to fully control the passing by summer storms. Meaning - no matter how hard it rains there, it hardly ever lands on Port Douglas.

It is a perfect place to stay for a while, a calm, relaxing base from which we took numerous day trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Forest and Mossman Gorge. It's tropical - humidity is constantly very high and so is the temperature. Even the ocean - filled with marine stingers at this time of the year unfortunately - is 30°C so you feel no refreshment at all. And you need to swim either in a stinger suit or within a designated area on the beach, surrounded by a special net that stops the jellyfish from going through. Either way - not much fun really.

It is still a stunning view though, with a stretch of sand going on for four miles, dotted with coconut shells and with stormy clouds above the mountains on the horizon. In the evening it turns into a purple and red stage where giant bats make their evening migration to the mangrove forests nearby. When you're sitting in one of the fish restaurants by the inlet, enjoying a delicious reef trout and waiting for George The Groper to come around - a six foot long local reef fish that comes regularly for feeding here - you're just amazed by this spectacle in front of you. And then you take a short walk to your apartment to cool down and plan another day in the tropics.

Having and apartment is amazing. We loved the road trip but constantly changing place means you need to find a place to eat everyday, make sure it's not closed, spend money, be limited to what you can eat - a bit stressful after a while. 
 
Our apartment in Port Douglas was a lovely little flat, just next to the beach in one side and the main street with coffee shops and a few restaurants on the other. Clean, simple and very comfortable it welcomed us with a nicely cool air when we came from the Cairns airport on the first evening, drenched in sweat in 33°C+ heat and 90% humidity. So we loved it from the first sight and that affection deepened as we started cooking our meals and enjoying the relaxed time of being in one place for longer. It actually became a benchmark for our future accommodation choices.

We loved Port Douglas and the relaxing atmosphere it offered. It was really hard to board a Quantas propeller plane to Townsville on the way to Airlie Beach. But there was a sailing boat awaiting us there to take us to the Whitsunday Islands and another adventure...

Coffee, Greek District, Murray & Djokovic - hello Melbourne! by Marek Charytonowicz

Melbourne welcomed us with sun. At least in the beginning. The storms and side roads of the day before, were gone. Ahead of us was a long weekend in the city that all of our friends described as cool, sophisticated and teaming with culture. We we curious and eager to find out - and to be honest - stay somewhere longer than a day.

But priorities first - we started with finding a quirky coffee and breakfast place nearby - Mr Jekyll. After a flat white and a delicious breakfast, all the road problems from the day before seemed like a distant memory and we set off to discover the feel of the city.

St Kilda was definitely a good choice to stay, with its bohemian atmosphere, quirky bars, famous amusement park and a beach. A little bit like London's Soho by the sea. The beach itself didn't really inspire us and despite several walks, we generally abandoned the idea of swimming in the sea or trying any of the water spots here.

Taking advantage of the tram transport, we ventured further into the city centre. It turned out to be surrounded by a free tram route so we jumped on the vintage tram no 35. After 15 minutes squeezed like a pack of sardines with other tourists, we abandoned it and walked to Federation Square, one of the main spots in the city that also happened to show all of the Australian Open games on a big screen. That looked like a very tempting idea for the evening but for now we walked back into the streets to get to know Melbourne a little bit and get the feel of it. 

In comparison to Sydney, Melbourne felt more like a typical large city - with wide streets flanked by tall office buildings, busy traffic and crowds of people passing by. A city you can get lost in - which we tried, discovering on the way Hosier Lane - a short street just off Federation Square - virtually covered in graffiti art from the pavements to the roof. You could see the real pulse of the city here reflected in the street art - the quirkiness, the politics, the vanishing aboriginal roots, the strangely peaceful coexistence of completely art painted street and the nearby office blocks avenues.

We also knew that Melbourne is home to one of the largest Greek communities in Australia so of course we decided to find the Greek District. The district we did find - at least judging by the blue and white painted street signs but it looked like the actual Greeks have moved somewhere else, leaving only the name behind. It was full of Chinese restaurants and shops instead. We found one Greek street food restaurant that served great food and we headed to the Federation Square to sit on the ground and watch some tennis matches with large crowd of other enthusiasts. Fun & games!

On the next day, we still had the car for one more day and we decided to try out the Peninsula Hot Springs - a hot springs spa that we discovered on the Mornington Peninsula, only an hour away. 

It turned out to be a great idea. The day was cloudy and it was spitting some rain so sitting in one of the dozen or more pools, with hot springs water between 36 and 40 degrees was absolutely relaxing. The place is designed as a walk that takes you from pool to pool, via hamam and sauna. You can use any pool you want as many times as you want. If hungry, there's a nice cafe serving drinks and food. There's a spa where one can book a massage - like Sabs:) and there's even a reflexology walk where one can experience various levels of feet relaxation (read - PAIN caused by different sizes of pebbles). Amazing!

We could easily spend an entire day there, sitting in the hot springs with cooling rain dropping on our heads. But the car needed to be returned by 3pm so we headed back. 

It was sad to say goodbye to our little Toyota - a good reliable car, so easy to drive - that took us all the way here - exactly 2231km. The road trip in Australia was over but there was many more adventures awaiting us. And we still had Melbourne to explore further!

Which we did over the next couple of days on foot and by tram. We walked around the places of familiar names - Southbank, Docklands, Richmond and finally we discovered Brunswick Street - very quirky buzzing street, filled with interesting looking bars, shops and restaurants - a little bit like Camden Town - where at least we found the Melbourne Greeks. When we rolled out of RESTAURANT NAME, we were completely stuffed with amazing Greek food and ouzo, and happily tired with the long day of exploration. 

There was one more thing that we needed to do in Melbourne - and that was to watch the final tennis match of the Australian Open between Andrew Murray and Novak Djokovic. Since getting to the Rod Laver Arena (where the games take place) was hardly possible we settled on Federation Square. This time it was completely filled up with tennis fans and we had great time long into the evening, supporting the players and surrounded by a spectacular sunset. Murray did his best but Djokovic was a machine and after over three hour game claimed the title. Well deserved!

Our time in Melbourne was slowly coming to an end and we were getting ready for our East Coast part of Australian adventure. We were looking forward to the sun and the ocean. Our journey needed to end in Brisbane, where some friends of ours were awaiting us with their little dog, but before that we wanted to see the sub tropical area around Port Douglas and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. 

So we said goodbye to this nice and vibrant city. We liked it but our hearts were in Sydney with its beach life culture, obsession with fitness and healthy food and it's laid back vibe. Melbourne with its quirkiness and buzzing streets was a bit too close to London feel. We loved our time here but the ocean was calling so the next day we caught a Quantas flight and left for Port Douglas.

Port Campbell to St Kilda by Marek Charytonowicz

Today we set off quite early as we knew the weather was going to be sunny and warm - so our aim was to relax on the beach for half a day and enjoy the first bit of sunshine in the last several days.

We stopped at Warrnambool and used our SPF 50+ sun tent for the first time! Yay! It worked a treat. The ocean was a bit choppy and we were tumbled by the waves several times but what fun we had just being in refreshingly cool water :)

After lunchtime we decided to pack our beach gear and make our way to Melbourne - St Kilda - a journey that should take about 3 hours. Marek was navigating and I was driving. It was scorching hot outside but we were in the haven of an air conditioned car.

Driving along I suddenly realised we are actually on a B road - a 'land road' with a few potholes here and there - but not a biggy for our tough little Corolla car. 

Mmmm I thought - we were chatting in the car and Marek was still navigating - we are the only car on this road and there's no house nearby for about half hour or so.. Where are we? When I checked te map I realised that we are actually driving to Melbourne cross country on a C road - a thin line of asphalt with more potholes and gravel either side. Too late to turn around and change our route we decided to continue our journey on this road.

It was flat land with fields all around and hardly any trees - and we noticed a storm forming ahead of us. The sky got dark grey and then there was thunder and lighting and rain.. And when I say rain I don't mean London rain I mean chucking it down in buckets of water increasing by the minute, to the point where the 'windscreen wipes on max where no use anymore as there was no visibility for me to see anything in front of me. 

I was actually scared that a lightning is going to hit the car as at that point we were the highest sticking object from the wet ground for miles. And yes this one lane road with potholes was actually a dual carriage road so every couple of minutes we had a crazy Australian truck driver splashing a wave of water over the car and also going 100km/h!!! After an hour in the storm and thinking that we are now past that of course another storm starts brewing in the direction we were heading.

I thought: I've had enough of this rain! 

After an hour we finally reached the motorway - I can't stress the word 'finally' more. We reached St Kilda still in rain but so happy to be out of storms way and in a safe and dry haven.

That night we slept well dreaming of warm sunny days in Melbourne and this wish did come true ;)

Great Ocean Road III - Apollo Bay to Port Campbell by Marek Charytonowicz

This leg of the journey was pretty relaxed as we knew that it would be OK to reach Port Campbell before sunset - the best time to see the nearby Twelve Apostles, the famous group of limestone stacks just off the shore of Port Campbell National Park.

The Twelve Apostles used to be part of the cliff shoreline but constant erosion by water and wind separated them - and unfortunately makes them disappear one by one.

We counted only 8 now, with the sad looking 9th Apostle remains still visible among the waves! Although we didn't get a sunset that day cause the clouds were drawing in once again, the mystic views over the sand cliffs were still magnificent till dusk. 

We drove along Great Ocean Road once again towards Port Campbell where our motel was situated for the night. It felt like we're the only people on this road high above the ocean on the flat top of the cliff shoreline.

That night we missed dinner as Port Campbell restaurants close at 9pm!!!!! Literally locked doors. We weren't impressed by this town at all.

I was grumpy and went to bed dreaming of breakfast the next day :(

Great Ocean Road II - the girl and the mountain by Marek Charytonowicz

We started another day with a great brekkie in town, pancakes banana bread, coffee, mmmmmmmm. Our energy was running high after that! So high that once I looked on the map after breakfast and discovered there was a Mt Sabine about half hours drive inland I said, let's walk it ;)

I mean, how often do you realise there's a mountain named after you nearby? Not often I bet. So the moment Sabs noticed a small print on the map saying 'Mt Sabine' we knew we need to visit it.

The mountain itself is not very big and covered in dense rain forest. The road leading to it is narrow and winding with tall trees on one side and views over green fields on the other. At some point you almost squeeze between two walls of trees and giant ferns. Pretty much a jungle!

The top turned out to be a flat area cleared of vegetation with a view over low hanging clouds and forest. It's probably the first time since our arrival to this part of the world when some long sleeve jackets came handy. We left a car and decided to trek to a nearby waterfall - called of course Sabine's Falls. The indicated distance of '3-6 km' turned out to be more on the 6 km side. After an hour of trekking a narrow jungle path, with dense ferns, palms and bushes all around, we decided to go back and hit the beach instead.  

Little did we know what a surprise is awaiting us on the top. As we were slowly making our way up the path, we heard a loud thump and a koala bear literally popped out of an empty tree trunk ahead of us. 

He rolled on the ground, sat down, looked cautiously around and started trotting towards the car park ahead of us. We followed as quietly as we could but the bear didn't seem to be bothered by us at all. When we got closer to the car park, he stopped and posed for us for a moment then climbed the nearest tree a couple of meters off the ground for the classic 'koala on a tree' shot. We stood there for good ten minutes looking at the koala bear that came to greet Sabine on Mt Sabine.

And just to finish this little trek in a special way - we got invited for a cup of tea by a couple parking next to us. She turned out to be a Tasmanian girl named Chelsea, her husband Jarek was from Wroclaw, Poland (what are the odds to meet someone from my city on the other side of the world in the forest?) and their little 4 years old daughter was called Pola.

The world can be a small place after all:)

Great Ocean Road I - Geelong to Apollo Bay by Marek Charytonowicz

We set off from Geelong to start our Great Ocean Road drive! It was a beautiful sunny morning and after 45 min we decided to stop for breakfast in Torquay, the home of Rip Curl, Quicksilver and other surf brands.

We found a very nice breakfast place - called the Pond Cafe - where I actually had the most delicious and healthiest breakfast I've ever had - yums!

We couldn't resist to have a little (3 hours) :) browse around the Surf City - a village of surfing shops - where we got a 'few' things that dramatically decreased our baggage allowance and then made our way to the surfing museum, that had all info from the first surfboard ever used to board art, including this...

We learned some surfing....

We knew that Bells beach, a few more miles down the road was not one on the list to miss. The last scene of the movie Point Break was shot here. One of our favs!:)

Although we expected this spot to be very busy there were only two surfers braving the waves. But then this was not the time of the famous winter storms and giant waves that were so irresistible to Patrick Swayze in Point Break!

We carried on driving along serpentine roads, listening to Bruce Springsteen's 'Hungry Heart', occasionally stopping to see man made beach art like this...

Well, no, actually more like this ;)

...and taking in the magnificent sea views...

…until we arrived in Apollo Bay, a nice seaside town with quirky little shops and cafes. It was time for us to devour another mountain of ice cream by the seafront.

I love Australia for their generous portions in food especially the amount of ice cream you get when you ask for two scoops. In the UK the equivalent amount would be 4-5 scoops! Oh and did I mention, it's sooooooo delicious!!!

That night we stayed at the Great Ocean View Motel, a lovely coastal motel that offers what it says in the name. Through our window we could see the waves crashing on the nearby beach and the evening sky slowly filling with stars. Oh, the joy of laziness…

Dandenong to Geelong - almost the Great Ocean Road by Marek Charytonowicz

Today the weather got slightly better - read: the rain temporarily stopped, so we went down the Mornington Peninsula to explore the area.

Mornington Peninsula is a beautiful stretch of land south of Melbourne, covered by wineries and farms. It's green and lush and offers an opportunity to taste wine, have a coffee or visit a farm quite literally around every corner. It's a kind of place one would like to live in with large wooden houses surrounded by forests and narrow winding roads with randomly put together mail boxes from time to time marking entrances.

Our destination was Strawberry Farm where you can pick you own strawberries and - of course - indulge in everything that comes from this little red fruit. It was Saturday so the fields were quite crowded but nonetheless picking two boxes of massive ripe strawberries was great fun, especially when we got into a conversation with a little girl picking fruit nearby. She seemed very knowledgeable and even more talkative and we exchanged valuable opinions about various picking techniques and box capacity versus strawberry size issue.

We left completely strawberried out and hit the road to Sorrento (yes, Italy is here too, one always feels like in Europe). That's where we were supposed to catch a ferry to the other side of the bay to continue to Geelong. Sorrento offered amazing ice cream and rain, first of which was massive - the ice cream seems to be getting bigger and bigger every time we try which stays in direct relation to Sabs smile. Soon the smile is going to detach and have life on its own as her pretty face will be too small for it.

The other side of the bay offered a bit of sun finally. We walked a bit around the small town of Queens Cliff, attended accidentally a Board Riders meeting where best local surfers were given trophies for their achievements and then hit the road to Geelong to EconoLodge Hacienda Motel - that despite its strange name was a very nice place to stay. The owners were extremely friendly and helpful and not only gave us some tips on where to go in the evening (The Sails Festival on the beach) but also the next morning pointed us exactly to where we can find roos and koala bears on our way on the Great Ocean Road. For the ones interested in finding the bears, it's...

Bairnsdale to Dandenong by Marek Charytonowicz

As planned today was all about mileage. The road was going inland and simply taking us to the destination as we wanted to condense our itinerary to have time for the Great Ocean Road later on. Grey clouds, forests and fields with black cows and sheep, occasional 'watch for the kangaroos' sign and occasional unfortunate roo by the side of the road.

The only highlight was a coffee stop at Tralalong where we tried a mojito cake. It tastes as it sounds - great!

After about three hours we got to Dandenong and checked in at Punhill Hotel - a commercial apartment hotel catering mainly for businessman and conference attendees. It was however clean and spacious with a unforgettable sunset over rooftops of parking lots;)

We checked a 'local' beach facing again Australia's merciless early closing hour but we ended up finding a nice Yacht Club restaurant and walking along a local kitesurfing beach. Shallow and wide with perfect winds - one day we need to ask my brother to teach us some kite surfing! Looks like great fun!

Towards the end of the night we watched the Australian Open - we are getting closer and closer to the heart of it and are more and more interested in following the games. Also - watching Sabs unleash her tennis spirit is quite something ;)

Eden to Bairnsdale - riders on the storm by Marek Charytonowicz

The weather was definitely against us today. The day started innocently with discovering a beautiful miles long stretch of a beach, with waves crushing on a golden sand and almost no one around.

We spent over an hour walking around, crossing a small fast flowing river and discovering a group of beach rocks with little pools of seawater around. Since the tide was low, they were teeming with sea life - algae and time fish - like tiny aquariums. One larger rock was almost covered with small pebble stacks that must have been arranged by visiting people - these always look intriguing and great balancing there despite winds and sea spray.

We didn't know that but this was supposed to be the end of nice weather for us that day. After grabbing a pie in a roadside cafe (funny enough selling massive dolls houses as well) we were ferociously attacked by heavy downpour that lasted all the way to Bairnsdale. Again the road took us through the dense jungle like forests, this time occasionally filled with fog and never ending rain.

When we finally arrived at Bairnsdale, we were tired and happy to find a very nice hotel with good restaurant and a receptionist that turned out to be German and from Munich. After swearing repeatedly that she's never going back, she gave us a lot of helpful tips about Melbourne and it's restaurants. 

And that would have been a nice end to a tiring day but we realised that it's holidays here plus a weekend so the chances to find good accommodation might be slim. We ended up spending long evening online and managed to find places to stay in Dandenong and Geelong. Unfortunately the cost for that was skipping Philip Island - a beautiful seaside area with a koala sanctuary that we really wanted to see. All was completely booked out and we were lucky to find anything in Dandenong- a rather industrial part of the suburbs of Melbourne. 

Let's hope the room will be nice at least as tomorrow is a driving day!

Batemans Bay to Eden by Marek Charytonowicz

Sometimes trusting blindly the GPS will cost you dearly. In our case it costed us today a few hours of driving through never ending national parks and state forests instead of a beautiful coastline. 

Don't get me wrong, the forests are stunning - massive tall trees with a thin thread of the road getting lost between them. You feel you're surrounded by jungle all around. But still - miles and miles of them comparing to always changing coastline is very monotonous. And yes - it was my complete fault. Darn…

We did however got to visit some beautiful old gold mining towns - like Tilda, where tiny wooden houses line the narrow street and scones and tea places mix with Indian art shops. Why Indian? Who knows. They did however have a small gallery of aboriginal art run by a nice aboriginal lady who happened to be also a painter. We got a trademark Australian souvenir- a boomerang with an aboriginal depiction of a kangaroo on it. Check.

The weather didn't improve and since we spent day surrounded by forest, we visited Pambula beach, to sit down and watch kids learning how to surf with their parents. 

Eden was certainly not the place you dreamed of. The accommodation at the camping ground turned out to be a nice small bungalow with two bedroom and a kitchen. However, the city itself despite still dinner hour turned out to have nothing to offer. Well, apart from a Chinese restaurant, a dodgy looking fish and chips and a recommended by the receptionist Country Club at the golf club.

Thinking surely a gold club will offer some better standards we headed to theCountry Club only to find loads of kangaroos (awesome) and a sad looking restaurant serving food that was either Chinese or fried (very not awesome). Deep deep fried. One thing that clearly didn't work out being fried were boiled vegetables. Sad bunch of greenery but edible. A new standard of the road trip food.