Fragrant Harbouring Feelings

Eventually my time in Australia came to an end, but that didn’t mean my trip was over. Without being able to fly back without a stop off somewhere, I also had a few days in Hong Kong.

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I can’t speak for everyone, but my “wise old Chinaman” was wrong…

I arrived in the “Special Administrative Region of China”, to give it its official designation, just prior to the Chinese New Year, and although I wasn’t there to enjoy the full festivities, I did get to see the city decorated and celebrating the time of year. Not only did I see displays in shopping centres honouring each of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, but I also discovered Dragon performances whilst wandering the streets, and was even given the chance to hold one when visiting the Happy Valley Racecourse. I was also told that doing so would bring me good luck, although my wallet at the end of the evening told a different story.

Although I obviously won’t complain at being there during this time, it was also hardly needed as the former British colony had its own sense of style regardless.

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Didn’t see his son, Luke, aged 5…

No longer part of the Empire and yet not fully Chinese either, Hong Kong’s uniqueness is around for all to see, with attractions such as the Avenue of Stars boasting its own home-grown film and TV talent, including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Located on the waterfront of the main harbour, not only does it also offer a great view of the world-famous skyline on the opposite shore, but the way it is lit up at night effectively offers two for the price of one.

While their unique architecture ensure they are even more impressive than most found in other cities (despite all my time in Australia it was here I found a skyscraper designed to resemble Koalas), when lit up they all combine to become one instantly recognisable dazzling display.

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It’s even bigger up close.

Although the city may have embraced the modern as much as any other, it is also one which still appreciates the more traditional as well. On Lantau Island is the Tian Tan Buddha, a Bronze statue which has dominated the landscape since it was built in the early 90s not just due to its 34 metre height, but also because of the 268 steps it takes to reach it.

It was built next to the Po Lin monastery, and the entire site is such a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of the main city. Not only are there various walking trails throughout the woodlands around the site, but there are also cattle which freely wander the ground. Despite being used to tourists and locals alike, they also are also at home enough to make you realise that you should be the one to move around them, rather than vice versa. Although this is all located some way outside of the city, it is easily reached via the metro and bus routes, or there’s also a cable car for the more adventurous, but will take up the better part of a day trip.

Although I had always wanted to stop off somewhere in a similar way to Kuala Lumpur on the way out to Australia, one reason I chose Hong Kong is that a housemate from university is now living over there, who I hadn’t seen since his wedding some four and a half years previously. Although we were only able to catch up briefly, it was still great to share a meal at a street market restaurant, and have someone a little more experienced than me when haggling for souvenirs to take home with me.

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Melbourne’s Streets Ahead

One thing Melbourne is famous for, its abundance of Street Art that can be seen almost everywhere you look. Building owners in Melbourne are allowed to commision street artists to adorn their walls with pictures and murals, and there are even a small number of alleys where anyone can come and graffiti legally. This is something often taken advantage of by up and coming street artists who wish to hone their skills and display their talents.

As well as these, a number of statues can also be seen dotted around in certain locations, including the Dockside area, banks of the River Yarra, and the various Gardens and Parks. Even the street names which have taken their names from some of Melbourne’s most famous citizens, including Dame Edna Everage and AC/DC have their signs adorned in unique ways.

Melbourne This Way

For the last five weeks of my Australian adventure, I stayed in the metropolitan city of Melbourne, Victoria. Often voted as one of the three most livable cities in the world (alongside Vancouver and Vienna), and at the southern tip of Australia’s east coast, I figured it would be a good place to put my working tourist visa to good use. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, but if there was anywhere I’d want to spend over a month without moving on, it was here.

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A view across the River ‘water’.

For a start, the city is far less cramped than those such as Sydney, the roads and pavements are wider with less skyscrapers bearing down on you, and so it has a much more relaxed and hospitable atmosphere. The plethora of laneways and arcades also adds to the European feel (the city is also home to the third largest population of Greek speakers, Greece included), and it also has a very bohemian nature with people walking round in whatever style they choose in a completely accepting environment.

I first stayed in Melbourne for a couple of days before Christmas, and took advantage of a walking tour which is free to join, and you merely tip the guide whatever you feel it was worth at the end. Turning up outside the State Library at the alloted time I found the guide in the bright green T-shirt as instructed, and had an amazing three-hour tour of the city. The guide (Matt, if I remember correctly) was friendly, polite, and knowledgable, and took us round the CBD and its outskirts, including the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was tried and hanged (and whose armour is housed in the Library at which we met).

Our guide also gave a more objective perspective on some of the cities bigger boasts, by reminding us that anything which held a Southern Hemisphere record did so for a region of the planet which is home to only around 10% of the entire population. In addition, the city is only home to the world’s oldest ‘continuous’ Chinatown due to San Francisco’s burning down and being rebuilt from scratch.

Unlike the urban legend of how the Kangaroo got its name from a misunderstanding and means “I don’t know”, we were also told about how the name of the River Yarra actually comes from the aborginal ‘yarra yarra’ meaning ‘lots of water’, which was shortened to just Yarra which means ‘some water’.

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Museum displays can be a tad distracting…

There was also an explanation as to why so much of Melbourne isn’t named after a crime fighting superhero, but is in fact named in honour of John Batman (man pronounced with a soft ‘a’, as in Gary Oldman), who helped found the city and had some of the earliest interactions with the aboriginals living in the area. Even after hearing his story though, it’s still fun to spot new signs for “Batman Park”, or “Batman Avenue”.

Only being able to touch on certain elements of the city’s history, the one down side to the tour is that there is so much to take in, but it was ideal not just to learn some of Melbourne’s history, but also to get some bearings for my hometown for the next month. Not only would I highly recommend it, but also went back a second time when Isabell, a friend from my trip around the Whitsunday Islands, was also in Melbourne.

And this is another great advantage that Melbourne had over staying anywhere else. With the backpacking route being the eastern coastline, naturally anyone travelling will either start north and head south, or vice versa. This makes it great to meet people along the way as it is not uncommon to bump into the same people in more than one place. While spending time in Melbourne at essentially the end of the journey heading south therefore, and with the added benefit of staying in contact via social media, I was able to meet with several friends who were travelling behind me.

In a great example of international co-operation through the medium of football, myself and Isabel, both from nations with a historic rivalry, also went to watch a match as part of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup: The Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea, V Saudi Arabia. As well as visiting a ground that both my BHAFC season ticket holding father and brother had never been to, I was able to see citizens of two nations most known by their inhumane reputations, but who presented themselves on the international stage with grace and civility, the Koreans especially in terms of thanking and cheering the fans who had been supporting them.

That said, the stadium’s security weren’t so appreciative of those a few rows in front of us wearing Kim Jong-Un masks, and a big-screen replay of a North Korean tackle was interrupted by the most  weirdly timed attendance announcement I’ve ever seen, so those with the strings were obviously still lurking somewhere.

Spending the entirety of January in Melbourne, I was also there for the Australia Day festivities, which are celebrated on the 26th every year. Held on the anniversary of the proclamation of British Sovereignty in 1788, there is some controversy over the date itself, although there were also a number of events which celebrated the history and culture of aboriginal Australians as well as the European settlers.

I spent the day with Bob and Saskia, two more friends I had met in Cairns and Arlie Beach respectively, as we wandered through a few events the city had on offer, including a musical stage at Treasury Gardens, and concluded the day with a great view of the evening’s fireworks at the Docklands area.

Happy Holidays, on Holiday

Despite having spent the best part of three months travelling down the Australian coast, I made pretty good time reaching Victoria for when I had aimed. As I mentioned before I was staying with some family friends, Ollie and Mike, and they were generous enough to invite me to spend Christmas with their extended family: an offer I was glad to have accepted.

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Surfing Santa. Says it all, really.

As you might expect from any westernised country the lead up to Christmas was a big thing, and I first saw big decorations being put in place when I was back in Brisbane a month earlier. Presents and toys were a big theme, something capitalised on with a rather festive Lego display in Sydney, but it was during my few days in Melbourne just after travelling on the Great Ocean Road that I saw citywide decorations in full swing.

Of course travelling is all about new experiences, and taking in the sights of polar bears, igloos, and Santa’s elves wearing shades was, to me at least, certainly a novelty. I might have been far into the southern hemisphere, but the North Pole rhetoric of Santa Claus was as alive and well as back home.

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Even the street art was festive.

For those who haven’t experienced one, an Australian Christmas is pretty much what you might expect, or at least what I was expecting from hearing about other peoples (plus maybe a few stereotypes thrown in for good measure). Firstly this included chilling out in the sunshine (and shade, complete with Slip, Slap Slop, routine) while before the finishing touches were added to the Christmas dinner.

Something was similar to a British BBQ menu of burgers, salads, etc, but being cooked in Australia was a little bit more exotic. Luckily those with more experience were able to teach me exactly what to do with my King Prawns to make sure I didn’t eat the parts I wasn’t supposed to.

In addition, rather than a traditional nap the after dinner routine consisted of relaxing in the pool rather than on the sofa. About as relaxing as you’d want spending an afternoon in the pool to be anyway, as the inclusion of water pistols is always a welcome one.

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Thanks to Ollie for the photo!

Over all it was a Christmas I shall never forget as it is one which most reminds me of what Christmas is supposed to be about. Not presents or snow, but spending a day with wonderful company in such a welcoming atmosphere, regardless of what side of the world you are on.

After spending a great week enjoying the comfort and hospitality of several Australian households however, on new year’s eve I headed back to the big city. Melbourne was about two hours away by coach, and I’d booked myself into the north YHA. Primarily as the main hostel in the Central Business District was fully booked, but as luck would have it this actually gave me an even better experience.

The trek to get there was a bit further than literally just around the corner from Southern Cross Station but did take me past the Queen Victoria Market, one of Melbourne’s more traditional features in contrast to it’s built up CBD skyscrapers. Something which this YHA’s location gave me an unobstructed view of.

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A tale of two rooftops.

Having grown up surrounded by countryside I’ve never been a huge city person, and as much as I have enjoyed visiting them, to me they’re always at their best when lit up at night. Melbourne achieved the pinnacle of this on this particular night, as I stood enjoying a firework display that covered an entire cityscape that was lit way above head height and was shooting off even further into the sky.

Something which was highlighted by the fact that although I was travelling by myself, staying in a hostel ensured that meant I didn’t spend it alone, and toasted in 2015 with a lovely German couple who treated me to a glass of Champagne style sparkling wine.

The humble rooftop terrace of a three storey YHA might not have been tall enough to join in with these firewors, but I’d have struggled to have found a better place to watch them.

All about the Bass

When planning my journey of Australia’s east coast I specifically chose to travel south for a number of reasons, the main one being that I would here during the summer. Australia is generally hotter than back home regardless of season, and I didn’t want to be confronted by heat squared; heading into the summer, AND towards the tropics.

Check out that Bass

Check out that Bass.

Another reason is that I also have a few family friends down in Victoria who I wanted to visit. Unlike my big trip to North America 10 years ago which I began by visiting friends, this time I wanted to jump in on my own first, and then meet them as part of my journey. And so it was that the end of my East coast road trip took me to Victoria’s Bass Coast.

I first met Ollie and Mike when they moved just around the corner from me about 15 years ago. Despite being young at the time, and they closer to the age of my parents, I still enjoyed spending time with them and hearing their exotic tales of life on the other side of the world. They also got on well with my parents, and would often tell tales of their British exploits together when introducing me to their own friends and family over here.

I spent a week with them and they showed me the sights of their local area, somewhere not generally visited by backpackers due to being off the main tourist trail. This was a welcome change and allowed me to experience a slice of life in ‘actual’ Australia; whereas I had spent weeks meeting almost exclusively other travellers, now everyone I met actually came from the country I came to see.

It was also nice to spend time in some spectacular places and not have to share them with too many other people. In addition to this Mike had previously worked for Parks Victoria and was very knowledgable about the area. This meant I had the best of both worlds of being shown round by both a friend and tour guide.

Disused Lime Kilns. Or what's left of them.

A disused Lime Kiln. Or what’s left of it.

We went on several hikes, the first along the George Bass Coastal Walk. We drove to the Punch Bowl and walked the first section together, which included some great coastal views, people ignoring the no fishing signs on the rocks (as well as the don’t go on to the rocks signs in general), and a rather unique pink and triangular house that despite being architecturally impressive, stuck out like a sore thumb. I then continued along the trail on my own, taking in the scenery of the hills, beaches, and cliffs, and making sure the proper Aussie hat that Mike very kindly gave me didn’t blow off in the wind. Another similar trip took us to the aptly named Walkerville where we ambled along what remains of the Lime Kilns, and we also went for a bike ride along the Bass Coast Rail Trail.

I have to admit I was somewhat surprised at the presence of a rail trail in Australia. Although I have walked on the similar Tarka Trail back in Devon, I had mistakenly figured that the western history of Australia didn’t go far back enough to cover the building and dismantling of the railway lines. The Bass region had previously relied on railways to transport the materials being dug from the mines however, which were no longer operational and now only open to visitors on day trips.

Better than a mole digging up your lawn.

Better than a mole digging up your lawn.

One of the biggest highlights however, like the rest of my trip, was the wildlife. In Mike and Ollie’s garden alone I was lucky enough to see an Echidna, Wallabies, Wedge Tailed Eagles, and Possoms living their nests. Driving around we also saw a mob of Kangaroos, although unfortunately the only Wombats I saw were dead at the side of the road, but you can’t have everything.

In true Australian style I also got bitten during my time here, but luckily it wasn’t the magnificent Huntsman spotted by the front door. Bull Ants aren’t that bad, and it’s not like I hadn’t been shown/warned about them beforehand; really it was my own fault for walking through the grass barefoot.

The Great Ocean Road trip

One great thing about befriending and staying in contact with people as you travel down Australia’s east coast is that you can arrange to meet up and do things together later on. Like Victoria’s Great Ocean Road for example, as it invariably needs a car, and sharing the cost of renting one is a lot more preferable than getting it on your own. Also, it gives you a chance to actually look at the scenery around you rather than concentrate solely on the road the whole time. The road itself is full of twists and turns, and it’s not uncommon to see a road sign for 80 or even 100kmph, with one behind it warning you of a sharp corner and recommending another speed less than half of the one you’ve just been told.

I had arranged to meet Lisa in Melbourne bright and early (we were both taking night buses to get there), and after breakfast and a chance to wake up properly (night buses are rubbish to sleep on), went scouring car rental offices. Although I had checked and planned ahead online, I failed to actually book one (in part due to our differing schedules and travel plans) as I had underestimated just how quickly they would run out on nice Summer days just a week before Christmas. Ringing an office further into the CBD than Southern Cross Station resulted in success however, and after trawling our backpacks through the city centre for half an hour and catching our breath back in the rather long queue, we were on our way.

Everytime you see a warning this obvious, you know there's a story behind it.

Every time you see a warning this obvious, you know there’s a story behind it.

Being English I’m obviously more used to driving on the left (of the road, righthand side of the car), but as I live in the country Lisa was more used to driving in busy city centres, and fortunately didn’t mind taking the first turn to drive. To her credit, for someone who had never driven on the opposite side of the road (and car) she did very well through both the city and the freeways, and didn’t need the constant reminders along the Great Road itself. I also can’t thank her enough for leaving it until the last day before sharing her driving horror stories.

After a quick break and swapping front seats, the first destination on our agenda was Torquay, small coastal town and start of the Great Ocean Road. We loaded ourselves up with maps, leaflets, and brochures, worked out a basic plan for our two days, and set off. Although there would be stops we would decide along the way, the first was one which had been on my agenda since before arriving in Australia: Split Point Lighthouse.

Have you ever? Ever felt like this?

Have you ever? Ever felt like this?

The Twelve Apostles might be the iconic image of the Road, but having featured heavily in the TV series Round The Twist, Split Point Lighthouse was an iconic image for anyone who had their childhood in the nineties. Apart from Canadians apparently, as Lisa had never heard of it before. Or maybe I’m just older than I realise? Either way, she found my descriptions rather amusing.

We hadn’t booked accommodation ahead of us, but luckily finding a room for the night was substantially easier than finding a car. In fact the only reason we had to phone more than one hostel was the rather large price tag attached to the first. Our luck in Apollo Bay soon ran out however, as our first choice of walk at Shelly Beach proved to be unfindable, and our second got rained on. Rain which was joined by cold winds, and I learnt the valuable lesson that just because you are visiting Australia in the summer, you still need to come prepared for the worst. Luckily the hostel had hot showers, and the most snuggly beds either of us had slept in.

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A small arch, for a very long road.

It’s well worth mentioning the history of the road, as it was commissioned to give employment to those returning to Australia from World War One, and as such is the biggest war memorial ever built. This is something highlighted by the memorial arch, which is actually the fourth to have been built. The road’s origins were also emphasised to us by a Wicked camper van driving under the arch with the ironic slogan of “Cheer up, the worst is still to come” emblazoned on the back of it.

Considering this post is about a road trip, I might as well also explain about Wicked Campers. They are a hire company which have either cars graced with quotes from the likes of Andy Warhol to Homer Simpson, or camper vans completely decked out with graffiti and a slogan on the back. Another we saw on the road was “Don’t drink and drive. Drop mushrooms & fight dragons.”

The second day started with a short walk round Maits Rest, followed by a hike to Triplet Falls. After going down an unsealed track however, it is only thanks to some other cars also searching for the falls that we headed in the right direction. We didn’t follow the group of teenage girls who decided to scramble down for a closer view of the falls, and continued along the track, and the Ocean Road, which soon left the ocean and went through farmland.

(A few of) the Twelve Apostles.

(A few of) the Twelve (eight) Apostles.

When it did catch up with the ocean again, it did so just past Princeton at the Twelve Apostles themselves. There are several places to view the Apostles, including Gibson Steps with its full car park where we couldn’t find a space, and the visitor centre which is where we got our first proper view of them. We walked down to the viewing areas where you can see, and pose in front of, several of the Apostles which are located on both sides. Although impressive, it is difficult to tell exactly how big they are with only the waves and cliffs to offer a sense of scale. They in fact reach a height of up to 45 metres, but as one of them proved by collapsing in 2005, size isn’t everything, and erosion from the waves is still taking its toll.

It is also here where it became apparent from just how far away people come to drive the Great Ocean Road, as we heard a number of different accents, which mainly came from the general tourist crowd rather than backpackers we had been used to down the east coast. It’s no wonder there are so many signs reminding drivers to drive on the left.

After the Apostles we moved on to the Arch, London Bridge, and the Grotto, three more impressive rock structures carved into the coastline by millenia of waves, as well as the Loch Ard Gorge; a small beach area sheltered from the destructive waves which sank the ship the gorge was named after, but with a great view of them between the rocks.

Soon though it was time to head back the way we came, and once more go our separate ways. For Lisa this was Tasmania, for me a few days in Melbourne before catching up with some old friends.

Yes we Canberra

Despite being the national capital and purposefully placed between Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra is a city that not many backpackers visit. One reason for this is that not all venture further south than Sydney anyway, but also because there isn’t as much to do there.

Far from the coast it doesn’t have any beaches or lagoons, and any buildings that could be described as landmarks are mostly functional rather than anything else. There are several galleries and museums, but again, these are not always at the top of young backpackers’ to do lists. Whilst I am glad I got to visit Canberra on my trip (which I have to admit was mainly out of curiosity), I was only there for little over 24hrs, which personally I found to be adequate.

Still looks rather swish, regardless of what it resembles.

Still looks rather swish, regardless of what it resembles.

The city really reminded me of Washington D.C., built specifically to be a capital city it is comprised almost entirely of government buildings and memorials to the armed forces and various wars and conflicts. I walked through the city to Capital Hill which involves walking past the old Parliament House to get to the current new one. The first being regal and ornate, almost exactly what you would expect from a building of its period, whereas the new was highly modern. So modern in fact, it has the appearance of being built right into the hill itself, much like something from the Teletubbies. I’ll leave you to make your own decision of what that says about politics in the 21st Century.

While Canberra might be lacking in quantity of places to visit, these certainly do not lack in quality; some deliberate, some just amusing. I continued walking down across Lake Burly Griffin, and found a great example of the weirdness of how the Commonwealth works. On Aspen Island stands a Carillon, a musical instrument composed of dozens of bell, and which was a gift to the people of Australia from the British government, and was accepted by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II. Seems a long way to come to accept something from people who are basically your neighbours.

G for George, kept in pristine condition since the 40s.

G for George, kept in pristine condition since the 40s.

Chief among those places of actual quality however, is the Australian War Memorial. A place to remember those who fought and died in Australia’s wars, going below the surface (both figuratively and actually) brings you to a museum of uniforms and artefacts, each telling their own individual story. These then lead you to the Anzac Hall, which houses the biggest, and most treasured pieces, chief among them being G For George, an original Lancaster used by Bomber Command in World War II. Sticking to the memorials principle of not glorifying, but commemorating war, George, along with various other planes, and even a Japanese Submarine, are accompanied by videos which use both original and recreated footage to give a sense of what happened on both sides of aerial conflict.

Over 62,000 names from WWI alone.

Over 62,000 names from WWI alone.

The exit again brings you to the memorial itself, along the walls of which are the names of all the Australians who died during World Wars I and II. These in turn lead up to the tomb of the unknown soldier, a feature used by several countries but here accompanied the emotional epitaph that recognises the bravery and sacrifice of a normal man who will never be known but represents so many:

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