Melbourne disappearing behind us, stuck in the back of the bus, the bouncing of the shocks made it impossible to take notes; the wife and I were, nevertheless, thrilled to be outside the city. We boarded a tourbus with 20 strangers for a three-day sojourn along the Great Ocean Road, from Melbourne to Adelaide, traversing a portion of Australia known as ‘shipwreck coast’.
It was nice to let someone else do the driving and to meet some other travelers from around the globe. Although I got used to driving around New Zealand, I was fine with putting off doing it in Australia until later. The road itself is pretty gnarly and, although not as hairpin and steep, reminds of the PCH through Big Sur.
The Great Ocean Road is a treacherous stretch of pavement that took almost a decade for the soldiers and workers to build. I forget how many years exactly because I wasn’t exactly listening. I was too busy looking out the window at the scenery unfolding before me. This was our first foray into the bush, or at least anywhere outside the cosmopolitan city of Melbourne. In essence, I was in the suburbs and nowhere near real bush. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But I wanted some kangaroos, some koala, some earthy bush guy to tell me, ‘hey mate, killa willy roo with the fendiez of me car but this stubs wash the ding away, yee.'”
I’m pretty sure that’s not how any Austrailian speaks but I still wished for it like I wanted to see a koala riding in a kangaroo’s pouch — that’s what I told the bus when introducing myself to break the ice and I’m pretty sure the joke fell flat, like most of mine do — but anyway, there we were, 20 strangers introducing themselves on a tinny microphone while trying to stay balanced and upright at the front of the bus, while Emma, the young, lively Aussie tour guide extrodinaire steered us in a northwesterly way out of the city. Australia is such a big beast of a continent-country you have to use big, run-on sentences like that to describe it.
First stop was Bells Beach, possibly made famous by the movie Point Break, or by being an awesome surf spot and home to Quiksilver surf stuff. The waves were pretty impressive, the water blue and clean… nothing between us and Antartica… pretty cool thought for a kid who always pictured China on the other side of the ocean… A couple surfers living a good life out there…. we took a few pics and hoped back on the bus bundled up.
Look at that effin’ beach! Keanu never stepped foot on it though.
So it’s still unspoiled.
After that we stopped in a lazy beachside community, the kind of place that is hopping on summer weekends but in a coma the rest of the year. We took Emma’s suggestion and hopped around on the trampolines they had for rent.
We were the only adults jumping on them but we were giggling louder than the kids who surrounded us, probably because we’re not forced to wear some silly school uniform.
Interesting note: Austalia has the largest per capita percentage of trampolines.
My kind of country.
We were three minutes late to the bus and everyone was already on board and waiting for us. We walked up out of breath and blushing. Emma joked that our punishment next time was having to try some vegimite. I joked back that we’d never be late again in that case. It was only the second stop and we were the first passengers to hold up the bus.
It’s silly, I know, but I felt like I let my country down. Why am I so goddamn apologetic? I felt like saying, “yes, yes, I was late for the bus but I did not vote for George Bush.”
The sun was beginning to descend when we got our first sighting. Oh, it was magical! It was brilliant! It was the sweetest thing ever.
Behold, a wild Koala…
Emma quickly pulled over, cramming the bus into a turnout that would be a tight squeeze for a golf cart. (I’m still amazed she is able to drive the bus on the winding road and spot the little buggers. It took much finger pointing and comments like ‘over there, by that big tree, now look down, and to the left, see it? see it?’ for me to finally, indeed, see it.) The entire bus exited to get a better view, oohing and awhing, standing in the road, risking their lives to snap photo after photo and gawk. Cars passed by cautiously, apparently aware of the dangerous habits of tourists under the influence of their first koala sighting.
So far the passengers of the bus surprised me by being older than I pictured, but in addition, even the younger passengers, much quieter. Until now.
The koalas had everyone smiling at each other, laughing, noting the adorableness of the eucalyptus-eating, chlamydia-having marsupials.
Pauline, a sweet-as-pie Brit traveling with her husband, Jeff, both retired grandparents out to see the world, was especially charmed by the animals. She found the koala’s bum to be sublimely enchanting. “Oh, look at it, Jeff! Isn’t that the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen? Hello! Hi, there! Would you like to come home with me, Mr. Koala?” Sadly, the koalas never returned her gracious offers of friendship. My wife and Pauline hit it off, cooing over the koalas, and I instantly liked her too. Watching Pauline and Jeff in action would make a romantic out of even Snoop Dogg. Particularly at the diner table, but more on that later.
When we returned to the bus the vibe was more relaxed. There was a warm buzz in the air. The koala factor, you can call it. We were all a little looser now.
The sunset was spectacular too, ending a great day.
More animals, more beaches, a helicopter ride, a sand hill, and more, more, more… coming up.