Subject: A Life On The Ocean Road (very long)
Dec. 18th 2005 Hello Everyone, here is the latest from Victoria

Flushed with a successful walk around a Koala compound on nearby Mt.Alexander, we decided it was time to set off on our first road trip. Before we get to that, I should tell you there were no Koala's to be seen. Most of them had managed to escape the Koala proof fence and the few remaining were far too canny to be seen by the occasional visitor. Still it was fairly challenging underfoot in Tony's condition, especially when our eyes were glued to the treetops in search of Koalas, so we were heartened when he made it around without incident or pain.

Australia, or I should say Victoria, reminds us so much of England as we knew it growing up. Not that the state or country is backward, far from it. It's partly we think because of the Australians use of language, they have retained far more Brit words and expressions than we Canadians and of course, it's so nice to be able to put out the 'rubbish' again. It's also a kinder, gentler place, which is why we feel so sad about the racial tension that has broken out on the beaches of Sydney; it marks a loss of innocence. Here in Victoria doors are left open, keys under stones by the front door and we have yet to see a burglar alarm, maybe when we go to stay in up-market Toorak Village Melbourne at Xmas we will find some.

The locals also have their own short form language which we love, they seem averse to using any word with more than 8 letters in it without shortening or changing it. Christmas becomes 'Crimbo' and relatives becomes 'rellies', the St. Vincent De Paul Society which admittedly is a mouthful for anyone, proudly calls itself 'Vinnies'. Tasmania is Tazzie. Tony is watching cricket on the TV again, something he hasn't done since he was a schoolboy in short pants.

However I think it is in the motoring around that we feel the kinship most. Like England the major roads are defined by letters, M is for freeway, which is really just a limited access dual carriageway type of road, if I tell you they allow peddle cyclists on bike lanes, you will see the difference. There is little or no traffic once we clear Melbourne city limits. Of course there is the occasional back up to allow the safe passage of a Roo or Koala, and that I admit is a bit different. The minor roads are B for paved roads and C, which may be paved or just sealed gravel. We can travel for hours at 100km. per hour and scarcely see another vehicle, just like the old days, the very old days before we were in the driving seat

We drove down from Castlemaine to Geelong through the most wonderful rolling green and golden countryside, mostly on the left hand side, we are getting the hang of that now but we still have trouble indicating, invariably we turn on the windscreen wipers, see how I am reverting to the old lingo? The stations are indeed large but the fields are broken up with seemingly randomly placed rows of trees so you don't get the vast prairie feel of Western Canada which is what I kind of expected. Still, early days yet, we have only seen Victoria so far. The towns along the way are full of well preserved Victorian public buildings and banks, two or three to a block in some places, namely the goldfield towns! The homes we pass are mostly small with lovely flower gardens and again more reminiscent of England than Canada. Crossing the road is a cinch, we just keep repeating Grandma's mantra "look right look left- look right again- before you cross the road'. It works just as well today as it did 50 years ago.

The Great Ocean Road is no misnomer; it is truly great, billed as the biggest war memorial in the world, having been built by returning soldiers from WW1 in memory of their fallen comrades. The road winds along the coastline, sometimes very close to the edge of the ocean at other times not, but every inch is a feast for the eyes. There are endless spots to turn off to see some of the most stunning ocean views imaginable, most complete with endlessly pounding surf. It is mostly deserted at this time of the year, the Xmas and summer school vacation not having started yet. We had a picnic at Urquhart Bluffs and couldn't get over the colours and patterns in the rock.

We found we couldn't bring ourselves to pass an 'lookout', after so many we would decided to make straight for the next town but as the signs appeared for yet another spectacular spot we found ourselves once again pulling over. It wouldn't do to miss the best view on the whole road for the sake of a quick look but in truth they were all wonderful in their own way. We particularly enjoyed watching the surfers. It seems like a lot of effort for a short ride along a wave but they go back again and again.

Having been up and down the most spectacular sections of the road twice we decided to go along the back roads through the Otway Ranges to our next destination. We, or I should say Tony, drove for two hours through a deserted temperate rain forest on sealed gravel roads not much wider at times than our car, to see --- another section of temperate rainforest. The kangaroo bush telegraph must have been working over time, "Hey mates, there's a car on the road, let go play chicken". Seventeen Roo's responded to the call, in the next hour ten brave critters jumped right out in front of us. The rest took one look, chickened out, then disappeared from whence they came. Fortunately the road was so narrow,going from one bend to another without benefit of a straight bit in between that we were traveling quite slowly. Tony likened the driving to a game on the X box.

Occasionally the forest road would spit us out into glorious countryside stretching as far as the eye could see, where sheep and alpaca safely grazed, or where vines or fruit trees marched off row on row. As suddenly as we erupted from the forest it would swallow us up again until the next time.

We were traveling to take a walk on the Otway Fly, a steel walkway built two years ago to take visitors 25 meters above the forest floor to a 47 meter high tower right up in the canopy. The dominant tree here is the mountain ash but it bears no resemblance to the one in Amy's garden. The biggest tree in this part of the forest is estimated to have germinated in 1642; the year Tasmania was discovered by the West, Sir Isaac Newton was born and Charles 1 was Cavaliering around England. Walking up through the various levels in the forest was wonderful but I would have liked to see some animals or birds. I guess up amongst the noisy swaying steel walkways is not the habitat of choice for wildlife. So we have yet to get up close and personal with Roos or Koalas. There are places where thatis possible and I may just have to resort to visiting one of them. I can't leave Australia without cuddling a real live Koala. You notice I haven't used the bear word once, the locals don't like that, they are not BEARS!

We left the ocean at Port Fairy, having spent two nights in the very pleasant old whaling town. Whaling is long gone but there is still a fishing fleet and marina in the harbour at the mouth of the river. It has a lot to recommend it, an interesting wide harbour with sandy beaches, a small island accessibly via a breakwater, which is home to a colony of shearwaters and other wading birds. A marsh with many species of birds to watch and best of all a shoreline into which the white surf comes crashing in - all the way from Antarctica. Imagine we are standing at the bottom of the world and there is nothing but ocean between Antarctica and us. There are lovely bed and breakfast places backing on to the river, many fine restaurants and the sort of trendy galleries, boutiques and décor shops that this type of area attracts as well as the IGA and fish and chippies. One could be very happy there for a few days or decades.

Time to move on, we had allowed ourselves four nights away before the mass influx of summer visitors packs out the accommodation and clutters the highways. The route back took us through the Grampians and it was my turn at the X box, quite unnerving at times. The scenery is magnificent but we were short of time so confined ourselves to visiting the acclaimed Boroka Lookout, Halls Gap visitor center and it's neighbour the Bambuk Aboriginal Culture Center. Being off- season there was not much going on there but we hope to come back and do some walking, maybe in February after the school holidays. Halls Gap is only 3 hours away from home.

One thing I will not be doing is any night walking. They are very relaxed here about access, you can go and camp almost anywhere that isn't one of the lookouts or slap in the middle of an area of outstanding natural beauty, there are rules about being too close to streams etc and for you own protection not camping under gum trees which have a tendency to drop their branches, but they do not restrict you to official organized camp sites, even at times of high fire risk, you can still go, just not light a fire, cooking stove or lamp. The visitor center was extolling the virtues of hiking the area at night. I can't imagine anything scarier. I can barely bring myself to step off the well trodden path in the daylight for fear of what I may disturb, so goodness knows what might happen at night. Half the nasties seem to come out after dark, why go then?

The last 200km into Castlemaine was good paved two-lane highway with ample passing spots for the half dozen other cars on the road that day. Having had to grind to a halt to let an interesting hedgehog like creature cross the road, I thought I could relax and enjoy the driving. I am used to the'Koala for the next 4km', 'Kangaroos for the next 7km' signs and manage not to freak out when I see the occasional animal on the road but 'Emusfor the next 3km' floored me, now that's a bird which would make a serious dent in the car.

Fortunately it was not National Emu Kamikaze Day, so we escaped without spotting a single emu. Better get used to it, in the dessert there will wandering Camels to watch out for. We looked up the 'hedgehog' and it turned out to be the Common Echidnas, one of only three egg laying mammals in the world. Hardly seems fair to call her common!

Regards Sue Waterloo ON (currently in Castlemaine Victoria Australia)