“Life is all about timing…the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable becomes available, the unattainable…attainable. Have the patience, wait it out. It’s all about timing.” -Stacey Charter
It was the best week of my life, and that is without the shadow of a doubt. Savoring the momentum of my excitement from the last two weeks in Melbourne, Max and I hopped in our Wicked Campervan, complete with two comfy seats, a cozy place for me to rest my feet, a bed and small cabinet for food, and of course plenty of debaucheries littering the interior walls. Despite the fact that one anonymous girl apparently lost her virginity and there was a killer clown drawn under my visor, I vowed that our mark would be more legendary than any other.
Saturday: Rocky Roads are the Best Kinds!
The best week of my life started out, well, a little rocky. Team America was feeling a bit under the weather, and the rainy and blistering cold Melbs weather was doing nothing to help. Two hours and a bit of crankiness later, we pulled into Tarra Bulga National Park, and I slowly navigated our graffiti-on-wheels up a winding road to a completely deserted and jaw-droppingly gorgeous mountain engulfing my first ever rain forest. The giant ferns covered in dew, the sound of fresh running water in the distance, and namely the personable peacocks scampering through the parking lot tell me we are in for quite an experience. We are the only car parked in the lot, and upon stepping out it is clear that we are the only crazies walking through a freezing rain forest in the deep of winter. Convincing myself to stay warm with the thought that it is summer in America, I follow Max as he takes the lead down a winding path surrounded by quaint turnoffs, waterfalls and streams, and finally a hanging bridge, from which you can look out at tropical plants as far as the eye can see.
Destination next is Lakes Entrance National Park on the east coast of Victoria, with an unplanned and accidental stop in Paradise Island when I got a little turned around in the pitch black of the evening.
As I squinted my eyes to see where I could even turn around, not knowing what was two feet in front of our van, suddenly it happened. Not one but FOUR kangas hopped out past our car, and I screeched on the brakes squealing with childish delight.
I will never forget my first kangaroo spotting, followed by nine more on our way down the road to dinner. Following a delicious meal of spicy capsicum pizza near the beach, we parked ourselves in a nearby caravan park where we downed a couple bottles of red and bonded in true trailer park fashion.
Sunday: Patience is a Passion Tamed…
Beautiful pink cockatoos gathered around our van in the mist of the morning, and as they flapped away when we pulled out, our second day was off to a great start. Hitting the road, it didn’t take us long to realize we were pretty much in the middle of bufu Egypt. The entertainment ran high when we were flagged down to a complete stop at a fallen tree in the middle of the road. As Max mistook the gear shifter for being on the right side for the millionth time, I laughed uncontrollably at the scene unfolding before us. While nearly fifteen men jumped on and violently hacked away at the trunk of the massive tree, a dainty girl strutted up to the frontline having pulled safety earmuffs and a truly aggressive chainsaw from the “boot” of her car.
After that comical incident, we did have a few more setbacks with several national parks being closed due to recent storms in the area, but the picturesque scenery tugged our spirits into positivity. Rolling hills dotted with sheep, cows and all things country put us into relaxation mode, and our sense for adventure landed us at a charming town called Merimbula off of the coast of New South Wales. As we explored several lookouts and played with the settings on our new awesome camera that Max brought with him, we continued north to a town called Eden. Eden was a small town on the coast where you can go whale watching or sailing on pristine sparkling waters year round. Since dusk hits early in the winter, we were limited to staying in Eden for the night, but made plans to hit the ground running early in the morning. We grabbed a much-needed beer in the local pub and snuggled in our claustrophobic bed to sleep.
Monday: Up and Down and Round and Round We Go
Ben Boyd National Park welcomed us early in the morning, as our sleepy eyes faded at the natural beauty of The Pinnacles, boasting jagged cliffs of red rock against bright waters where we snapped a few great shots and shrugged off our fatigue with the fresh cold air.
We drove north through yet another national park called Mimosa Rocks, where we decided against our better judgement to take Betty, our affectionately-named camper van, for a spin on a real dirt road. We were certain we wouldn’t make it, and as we scaled the steep mountain we concluded that we could go no further without risking sure disaster and opted to hike down to the coast. After we made our way down and were once again amazed at the beauty of Pebbly Beach, we were greeted by several kangaroos and the remains of a vivid sunset.
We reset our GPS and set out for Jervis Bay to spend the night. At the end of Pebbly Beach and on our way to Jervis we came upon a welcomed surprise called Camel Rock, a huge pillar shaped like a camel and extending off the coast of New South Wales, surrounded by rocky clusters which transformed into hundreds of mini rock pools with each crashing wave. Reality hit slowly as I watched Max rushing down to check out the massive formation, and in his excitement I was reminded of the happiness he brings to my life.
Looking up at me from the beach and as we both took pictures of each other taking pictures with goofy gestures and faces, I thanked whatever divine power brought him to me, and once again felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
Jervis Bay was pitch black when we arrived and so we drove east as far as we could to the coast and came upon a camping ground called Green Patch in Booderee National Park. There was not a person in sight, and although signs warned that bookings were necessary, our extreme fatigue and starvation turned into rebellion. We pulled up to a parking spot and upon parking spotted both a wallaby and a small kangaroo, which was alarming only because the whole campground was pitch black. After two freezing cold outdoor showers, we bundled up in as many clothes as we possibly could, and set up shop to make dinner – pizza sandwiches on bruschetta bread with Australian tasty cheese. Despite my burning them and sticking them permanently to the aluminum foil, they weren’t half bad with a glass of red – we are two classy cats I tell ya.
Tuesday: I Think To Myself, What a Wonderful World
The first thing I wake up to is a bright-eyed Max who scolds the loudly chirping birds for about ten minutes in a silly voice until I am laughing so hard it hurts, and then upon returning from the shower tells me about how many kangaroos are on this campground. Never a dull moment with this boy. The campground looks entirely different than I imagined the night before. It is perfectly clean and chuck full of my favorite Aussie friends, kangaroos galore eating grass beside the car, on the grassy areas all over around the campsites, and all the way down to the gorgeous beach. We head a bit west to Hyam Beach, which is in short the most pristine and stunning beach I have ever laid eyes on. Flawless white sand so soft your feet sink right through it covers the coastline, which is intersected by a crystal clear stream running from the nearby town.
If I had any perception of Australia’s beauty, this topped it a thousand times over. I stood in awe of this place, staring at the gigantic houses dotted along the beach, imagining what life might be like waking up to this unimaginable beauty, stretching as you look out at the unending ocean and taking a stroll down your winding back stairs directly onto this blinding white sand to have a think before beginning your day.
The best thing about traveling is that it opens your eyes to the many different lives people live, different cultures and traditions, different environments and landscapes. It’s a strikingly different pace of life than living in bustling Chicago or partying it up in Miami Beach. Each has its own perks, but I really enjoy imagining the differences sometimes. I am truly sad to say goodbye to Hyam Beach, so reluctantly hop back in our hoopdy hoo and Max drives us to our next pitstop at Seven Mile Beach National Park. Yet another beach greets us with a new uniqueness as we pop a can of salsa and enjoy an afternoon snack as we lounge on a piece of driftwood and admire the scenery. Of course, the novelty of this beach is that it runs seven miles long, and had we more time to spare we would have loved to explore every inch of it.
But for time’s sake we headed on up to Kiama, where we hear of a truly impressive natural wonder – a blowhole formed by volcanic activity situated right on the coast in the personable town of Kiama. Try as they might, pictures could never do justice to the strength of the waves or the sound of their force beating along the inside of the blowhole’s tunnel. I was lost in the power that the ocean possesses, and once again said a silent thank you to whatever road led me here.
Onward to the town of Wollongong, which is quite similar to Kiama. After goofing around and taking pictures at a lighthouse we make lunch in the park and catch a quick beer at a local brewery as Max has a hobby of visiting breweries while traveling. I chase a flock of brightly colored birds as we both laugh at my stupidity and head out of town.
We hop onto the Grand Pacific Drive as instructed by my local Aussie friend Mel. The real beauty is yet to come for us. As we head out of Wollongong, we are shocked to realize that most of the prime real estate on the coast is occupied by none other than elementary schools. Children playing hopscotch and tag during recess, literally on the edge of one of the most serene and peaceful beaches we have ever seen. We come upon a one-of-a-kind cemetery on a grassy hill outside of Kiama and stop to admire this use of land. the highlight of our drive lies ahead and as we pull onto the famous Sea Cliff Bridge, we pull off straightaway to take as many pictures as possible. It is the sheer simplicity of Australia that I appreciate at times. Never littered with tourist traps or commercialized advertisements and retailers, this massive bridge drives directly over weathered boulders on the coast of The Tasman Sea. Determined to reach the outskirts of Sydney we continue on to Cronulla, just south of Sydney’s central business district.
On the way we take one more magnificent stop at Royal National Park for a short hike out to see my first waterfall! Royal is a magical park, with winding roads each leading to another gorgeous attraction. It is the second oldest park to Yellowstone National in the U.S, and was originally dubbed The National Park, making it the first ever to use that terminology.
Our dinner is quite interesting, spinach pasta with way too much cheese and tomato sauce, though nothing could spoil the breathtaking view of Sydney from our park hut in San Souci. After washing the salt out of my windblown hair, I curl up to look at all of our beautiful pictures as I get to know a little more about mysterious Max and we stay up having deep conversations to the wee hours of the morning.
Wednesday: Doing it All in a Day
We pull our offensive Betty bimbomobile out and head for Bondi Beach, the surfing capital of Australia. We are appalled that the parking meters are nearly $6 per hour and after 30 minutes we decide to head to Manly, which is east of the city and in a more remote location.
Max swears he doesn’t like big cities, and after my last Sydney experience I am determined that he will love this city just as much as I do. Manly Beach pulls through and converts this country boy and we consider what our lives would be like living here, vowing to apply for jobs and see what life hands us. We park about two kilometers outside the main centre and walk along the coast to the ferry to Sydney. The walk to the ferry is refreshing and entrancing, opening up to the beautiful neon waters that crash into natural rock tide pools that teem with swimmers each summer. Stopping for several photos we finally make our way to the ferry with minutes to spare.
The sun beams brightly as we bounce over the rough waters and make the windy trek to Sydney’s Harbour. Max is loving the view and the experience, and though I have done it once before, the experience brings a fresh perspective to my Sydney visit, and I love seeing him happy. With just a few hours, we make what is probably the fastest round through Sydney ever attempted. Hopping on a free bus to George and Hay Streets, we hit the Paddy’s Markets, where vendors try desperately to sell clothes and services to us American tourists with our bulky camera around our necks. We stroll through Chinatown and practically sprint to the other side of the city to catch the sunset at The Botanical Gardens. Seeing the beautiful St.Mary’s church along the way we make it to the gardens and take tons of pictures as the sun transforms the sky into a melange of purples and oranges behind the palms and exotic species that decorate the gardens. We fast track back to the Opera House and jump on the next ferry back to Manly Beach, where we run through the cold of the night along the coast and drive down to the centre of Manly for dinner. After one mandatory stop at the Four Pines Brewery, we find comfort in a downstairs grungy pub called The Manly Boatshed, where we down two Aussie platefuls of steak and schnitzel. I am officially in a food coma. Actually I am so tired that I cannot keep my eyes open and fall fast asleep as Max drives us to a rest stop for the night. I wake up briefly to prepare for bed and then fall fast asleep, dreaming of the unreal day I have just had with the best man I know.
Thursday: Mother Nature is One Hot Chick
I wake up this time to Max having conversations with all of the cars that have congregated outside this morning – waking up laughing is awesome! I am shivering as I hike over to the bathroom to freshen up and then we are off to The Blue Mountains. We make it to The Wentworth Falls well before 10 a.m. and hike down to the falls, where I am still at a loss for words describing the ambience of the attraction. Again the only two on this hike, I skip down the natural stone steps, dodging puddles and singing stupid songs about how blue the mountains are, go figure. About 30 minutes later, we walk over a sparkling waterfall which is lined with stepping stones leading into a small limestone cave adorned with aboriginal drawings. Around a small bend we come to the main fall which is simply mind-altering. Brilliantly white birds fly overhead as kookaburras laugh playfully in the background, and we just stare at each other in disbelief of our surroundings. The waterfall slides gently off a cliff at just below eye level, and violently crashes down on smooth rocks below. To the left there are rolling valleys of pine and all types of trees surrounded by clouds since we are so high in elevation. Walking away from the fall It comes to me that this is the best experience of my life. I couldn’t ask for more than all of the adventure I’ve had here, and I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that I still have so many open doors ahead.
We leave the falls to head to Katoomba, where we are meant to visit The Giant Stairway and The Three Sisters rock formation. The Giant stairway is definitely giant, and so steep that each step down sends shaking nerves through my legs, and I dread dragging myself back up. We make it about halfway down and my legs tell me they are absolutely done with these shennanigans, and I tell Max we will have to go back – all of the hiking and running from city to city has begun to take its toll on me, and I want to enjoy these last days.
We have a quick lunch and then head to the Scenic Centre where we take great shots of The Three Sisters and then head back to our car to make our way south back to Melbs. On the way we decide to check out the Jenolean Caves, which are unfortunately all booked out for the evening so on to Melbourne it is. The road is completely outrageous, so steep that Betty threatens to give up trying, and it is definitely not big enough to be a two way street. Each curve we are scared that a car will be coming, and the side is guarded only by a measly fence against a deathly drop down into the depths of the forest on the valley floor below. Finally we made it out and started driving back to our cozy St.Kilda flat at the speed of lightning and searching for a place to stay for the night.
Friday: Savin’ the Best For Last (although not really, just sounded good)
Waking up completely reluctantly and fighting off our urge to stay asleep, we started off our last day just minutes from the renowned wine region called Yarra Valley. We swung through The White Rabbit Brewery and then off to The Long Gully Estate, where we turned off a hilly red dirt road and down a vineyard until we came to a beautiful country home where we enjoyed our own tasting of several varietals and settled down outside with a glass of delicious Chardonnay. As we admired the beauty of the plush valley, we watched a pack of ten or so kangaroos playfully hopping through the winery next door.
Last stop were The Dandenong Ranges, which are just an hour or so outside of the city, and showcase a memorable view of Melbourne’s skyline from atop a mountainous range. We made an appearance at William Rickett’s admirable garden sanctuary, headed home dragging ourselves to bed, and then we regretfully returned the wicked van we have become so fond of and headed back to reality.
I have learned a lot about myself and plenty about Max on this trip. I am reassured that you can go wherever you please in life, whether it be Nashville or the tippy top of an Australian mountain waterfall. I have seen wonders of nature I never dreamed I would, and all with an easy-going travel partner who is just as travel hungry as I am. I may return to my desk on Monday and be faced with five million emails and unreturned phone calls, or I may have to do damage control, but I have made memories to last a lifetime, taken hundreds of snapshots of our crazy adventures, and left my mark in this camper van to commemorate the best week of my life.