Sunday, February 11, 2007

Melbourne to Sydney

Melbourne to Sydney was the last Oz Experience bus that I took during my visit to Australia. Taking the bus around Australia was not part of my original plans made in Ireland but given the amount of time I had it was the best way to travel. Sure I could have spent a few extra weeks in cities and towns along the way if I had flown or taken direct buses. Perhaps I would have had time to fly over to Perth and Darwin and see those cities as well but when visiting a place like Australia the adventure is not visiting towns and cities, it's visiting the country between those urban centers. Not only did I get to see much more of Australia on the bus but I got to meet some great people as well. Sure, I met some ass holes but the vast, vast, majority of people I met were cool, fun and interesting. When was the last time you made friends with someone on a plane, played cards with the person across the aisle on a train, or introduced your self to a boat loads of strangers. Lets face it, putting 24 strangers on a mini bus together for 3 days and driving them through deserts, rainforest's and mountains will make for great adventures. I would recommend it to anyone.

The trip from Melbourne to Sydney was a three night trip. Like many of the Oz Experience buses they take 2 or 3 days to travel a route main stream busses do in 14 hours or so. The "Oz Bus" travels off the direct route, going to different parks and sights along the way, staying overnight in different and unusual places. On one bus I remember seeing a sign post for the destination town that said 380 Kilometers and after two days of travel we were over 400 Kms away on the last day of travel. As one of the buses said "for those who believe the journey is as important as the destination".

While for me this was the last leg of my trip but for others it was the first part of their journey and it was fun to be one of the experienced backpackers on the bus. There was a couple of us on the bus and we compared notes on our travels, finding out that we had met the same people, and then passed on tips on places to visit to people who had just arrived in Australia and had not finalized their trip plans yet.

This was also the first bus in the whole trip that was not full. Several of us managed to get rows to our selves and it was great to be able to stretch out and relax on the bus. I suppose the main down side of traveling on a minibus for 3 days is the lack of space, I did get used to being cramped but it was nice to have a little extra space. Also after spending two weeks with one group of people most of whom were German and Dutch it appeared that I had picked up a German accent. Funnly enough the other people on the bus thought I was German for most of the first day, and apparently it was several days before I completely lost the accent. How weird is that!

On the first day I got the bus at 6:30am and by 11am we were in a town called Foster which was where we would spend the night. We only stopped here to buy a packed lunch and then headed to Wilsons Promentary and the town of Tidal River. Wilsons Promentary is the most southerly point of the Australian mainland. We went looking for kangaroos and emus in fields near the road, there were lots. We then stopped at Norman lookout to take photographs and have lunch.

After that the guide dropped us at a beach carpark and told us he would meet us at the other end of Squeaky Beach. We walked down the path, turned left and walked for about 15 minutes. People were a bit concerned because the beach seemed a little deserted, we were walking towards what looked like a dead end, passing dead seals and the sand didn't squeak. Turns out we were actually on the wrong beach, Norman Beach. A quick about face and hike over a hill brought us to the correct beach, though we had wasted all the time we would have had to enjoy the scenery. One thing we did notice is yes the sand on Squeaky Beach does squeak as you walk on it. Next we went to another beach where there was supposed to be wombats but unfortunately they must have been hiding that day and we couldn't find any, which is a shame since wombats were pretty much the only Australian animal I have not seen in the wild. Then it was back to Foster and we went out to the bar that night where I tried to play ping-pong but found out that it's one sport that I have zero ability to play.

The next day we drove to Tarra Bulga Park rainforest where we did another rainforest walk. As I've mentioned before by now I was a little bored with rainforests :-). Afterwards we drove to a town called Straford on Avon to get lunch. I had fallen asleep on the bus and when I woke I looked out the window and saw what looked like ominous rain clouds. I asked the guide if it was raining and he pointed out that it was not rain clouds but was dense smoke from massive bush fires. The fires were 100 Kms away but the smoke completely covered the sky. It was only when you looked at the blood red sun through the smoke that you could see for sure that these were not rain clouds. Strangely there was no smell of smoke in the air. Apparently the road we had just traveled through was closed shortly afterwards because of the risk of fire.

That night we stayed in a Buddhist retreat up in the mountains where we did a meditation session. I was never taken with the idea of meditation. I don't know why, but I had never paid much attention to it and had never tried it. It wasn't what I expected, for starters there was no chanting and no closed eyes, I would have fallen asleep. We sat cross legged on cushions, staring ahead and listening to the instructor guiding us through the meditation. It was actually quite relaxing, until the peoples legs start to cramp. The center itself was almost deserted. We seemed to be the only bus present and some of the staff themselves were preparing to leave because one of the bush fires was approaching and there was a risk to the center.

In the morning the fire situation seemed a little better as the sky was now clear of smoke. We drove into the Snowy Mountains and into New South Wales. The Snowy Mountains are very rugged. They seem to have an almost America Wild West tradition demonstrated by a poem called "The man from Snowy Mountain" which was played for us on the bus. We stopped and went for a swim in the Snowy River and then went horse riding. That night we stayed in a town called Jindabyne and went out on the beer and on to a night club. It was a fun night that seemed to revolve around the girls fascination with a song called "The Picky Picky Song". Strange, strange night.

Next day we drove to Canberra. Everyone was more than a little hung over so a quiet visit to Parliament House was probably as much as most of us could manage, though the guide Joel seemed worried that we would do something to get ourselves arrested or thrown out. I don't know if thats based on his past experience or a genuine concern that we were a group that could do something unusual. I'd been to Canberra before and written it off as one of the most boring cities I'd ever been to. Not much had changed, though they did seem to have a new shopping mall where we got lunch. I found the Starbucks I'd been to 5 years earlier and got another coffee to help cure my hangover.

After that it was back onto the bus and on to Sydney. After over 2 months of travel I was finally back where I'd started.

Melbourne to Canbera and Sydney: 7-10 December
More photos on Flickr

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