Adelaide on Foot
I was a bit confused when my driver dropped me in front of the Traveller’s Inn on Hutt Street. I knew the address of my hostel, but I was in a business district, and the storefronts didn’t have numbers on them. After waffling for a while I decided to ask the travel agency where the hostel was. Embarrassing – it was right behind the counter. (Only later did I see the words “Adelaide Travellers Inn Backpackers Hostel” on the door, at about knee height.)
I checked in and stowed my bags, then ventured out to explore more of Adelaide. Using the maps feature on Mark’s phone I saw that it was a short walk down Hutt Street to the Botanic Gardens so after chatting with a couple of women in the common room I set off in that direction.
I’m often asked why I choose hostels over hotels when I travel. Mostly it is convenience and price that dictates my decision, but I also enjoy the camaraderie that develops when you prepare meals in a communal kitchen, and sit around in an evening talking to people from all over the world. I used www.booking.com throughout this odyssey, and the hostels in Adelaide and Melbourne popped up at good prices, with good Yelp reviews, and with the option of a private room.
On the way to the Botanic Garden I read the menus on restaurant doors, visited a few shops, and did some errands. The rest of the afternoon I strolled through the gardens and enjoyed several special exhibits. I wasn’t the only one. Besides tourists, local residents were there too, picnicking, reading, and playing with their children. Passing a gazebo, I was hailed by Gun, my Swedish friend from the train; she had befriended a lady from the Seychelles who was also on her own and feeling a bit lonely. We drank tea together, agreed that Adelaide was a beautiful city, complimented ourselves in our independence, then went our separate ways. I have seen more women traveling alone on this trip than I remember from years past.
I ate dinner at Laksa House, a Malaysian restaurant just down Hutt Street from Travellers Inn – tasty hot broth with rice noodles. My Combination came with pork, chicken and shrimp, called prawns in Australia. I asked for extra greens and got lots of bok choy. It was very spicy but delicious. I cut the heat with a bottle of local cider. Got some help using my Australian phone to check in for the eco-tour the following morning, then retired to my room. After a shower I felt refreshed and ready for adventure. I would be picked up at 6:30 am, so I reorganized my stuff for the bus and went to bed early.
Lost in Australia, Day 1: Adelaide to Grampians National Park
I awakened an hour before my alarm so was able to sit in a garden patio and dawdle over breakfast: a tomato croissant I had saved from the Bistro brunch, an orange, yogurt and a coffee drink that I had purchased the day before on the way back from the Botanic Garden.
When the driver arrived, the streets were quiet. He commented, saying it was quite different when the tour originated in Melbourne – 1/4 of the population live there, he reckoned, and the streets are busy day and night. The only vehicles I saw between my hostel and the next two pickup spots were other tour buses and delivery vans. Our little van holds 24 people but we left our last pickup spot with only 10 others, two young men and eight women, mostly from the Netherlands. Once we were all on the bus, the driver introduced himself as Darren Donlen, and his stuffed koala as Charlie. Charlie would serve as an icebreaker and photo prop for the next two days.
Driving into the Adelaide Hills, we crossed the Murray River into Victoria in the first hour. Along the side of the road were some bushy, rather spindly trees – Darren told me they were one of the 700 varieties of eucalyptus, interchangeably called gum trees, growing in Australia. They didn’t look at all like the Eucalyptus we have back home. We continued along the Murray River, the longest river in Australia, and passed near Lake Alexandria. We were ready to stretch our legs when Darren stopped near some decorated silos in Coonalpyn for a bathroom and snack break. He pointed out an ice cream store and I treated myself to a berry smoothie.
We introduced ourselves when we returned to the bus – several of the young women are or have been traveling for as long as a year. One woman, from Hong Kong, has been working for a wilderness organization clearing brush and maintaining trails. When she’s at home she’s a lawyer. One of the men is from Oregon; the other, an expat from Kuala Lumpor, from Belgium. Darren is a former IT engineer turned tour guide and professional photographer. I had selected the seat right behind him as having the best view; I also realized after we climbed out of the bus repeatedly that it was also the easiest one to get in and out of. I settled into my seat now, and watched the landscape unfold as Darren headed for our next stop.
It was a lovely drive, gum forests interleaved with cut wheat bordered by more gum trees. We stopped several times at view points, or for Darren to point out wildlife in the underbrush. We were heading for the Grampian Mountains — generally called simply “the Grampians” — and the Grampian National Park. On the way we drove through many miles of forest destroyed by fire in 2014 and learned three different ways that regional trees and shrubs regenerate. I also learned that the local jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung tribes teach that the Grampians were created by Bunjil, the leading figure in their spiritual life.
We stood on the edge of Pink Lake, so called because of algae growing in the salt crust at the bottom of the lake that produces the red pigment, and, now officially in the Grampians, we hiked to the base of McKenzie Falls. Some of us paddled in the water. I left ahead of the others for the upward climb, since I walk more slowly than them, and enjoyed the solitude and the freedom to stop occasionally and look back at my companions, tiny as ants at the bottom of the fall.
It was still light when Darren stopped in Halls Gap to purchase groceries and pizza, and suggested that if we wanted any beverages that evening we get them there. It was a short drive then to our lodgings, a large group hostel with a very large sign reading “Welcome Backpackers.” After laying out several very loaded pizzas and standing back so we could attack them, Darren told us that kangaroos congregated in the nearby campground at dusk, and that they would provide great photo ops. We sat on the deck of the house to eat, entertained by several large cockatoos who thought the pizzas were actually for them, then spent an hour or so photographing marsupials at play.
Lost in Australia Day 2: Great Ocean Road
How did I end up on a minibus with a flock of young people traveling the long way from Adelaide to Melbourne? Blame it on Google. When I was planning my journey from Perth to my cousin’s wedding near Melbourne, I discovered that although a train does travel from Adelaide to Melbourne, it only does so on Mondays and Fridays. I would arrive in Adelaide on Wednesday. I googled “Adelaide to Melbourne” and up popped “Lost in Australia. Jump on the great Aussie road trip and head from Adelaide down to the Culture Capital of Australia, Melbourne via the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road.” Lost in Australia is the name of the tour group, hopefully not a condition. The itinerary was packed, it looked like fun, and would get me to Melbourne at about the same time as the ten-hour long Friday train. So I booked it.
Friday passed in a blur of color and sound. We were in and out of our bus a dozen times, staring up at trees and down at shrubbery, and by lunch time I was starting to think I’d seen enough birds and animals for a while.
The birds that had awakened me that morning were huge magpies, but they were soon joined by a duo of rowdy kookaburras. A flock of carmellas covered the lawn when we drove through Historic Keroit, an Irish settlement, white birds the same size as the magpies who had serenaded us that morning. A crimson Rosella flew across the road in front of us on the way to Tower Hill. Several black wallabies also crossed in front of us as we drove down out of the mountains. Darren knew where we could find a koala, a copperhead snake, an echidna, and an emu — he delivered in every case.
As we drove toward the ocean we left gum trees behind and suddenly there were rows of cyprus trees. The Great Ocean Road was built by returning servicemen after WWII and dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in that war. Many had served in Cyprus and liked the tree, so they planted it along the road as they built it. We visit a 30,000 year-old extinct volcano at Tower Hill Reserve (Victoria’s first national park, opened in 1892). Mourned the collapse of an offshore natural arch formation named London Bridge in Port Campbell National Park. “A beautiful vista of towering cliffs, a sparkling blue-green sea with a small sandy beach,” my tour book gushed.
Not far away were the beautiful limestone stacks that form the Twelve Apostles, although I could only see eight. One member of our party took advantage of an optional helicopter flight at Kennett River while the rest of us looked for more koalas.
Darren led a bush walk through a rain forest. (That’s where he pointed out the copperhead.) It began to rain but Darren clothed us in bright green ponchos and we carried on.
It was late Friday night when Darren delivered me to the Greenhouse Hostel in Melbourne. I was bone tired, and images of Australia’s animal treasures swam in my head. I hugged Darren and several of my companions and hoisted my pack onto my back. Another adventure had come to an end. Not one that I would soon forget. Lost in Australia, indeed.
The final episode in this six-part series will share glimpses of the countryside and my visits to friends and family in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. I will share my quest for magic Australian food, inspired by Mem Fox’s children’s book, Possum Magic. Check back next week for that. To get these posts in your email when they are published, subscribe by entering your email address in the form at the right. See you next week!