Dec. 20 - 22, 2014
Days 156 - 158
I meandered to the train station at dawn, bleary-eyed after a night of drinking and three hours' sleep. I caught the subway to downtown Melbourne, then bought a cup of coffee from a 7-11. A couple of guys were still out from the night before, stumbling through the streets in search of a bathroom. A bus pulled up to the corner where I was standing, and out walked Craig Martin, the man himself.
Craig and I met in Ushuaia, Argentina in January 2006.That same day, our mutual friend John got us a phenomenal deal on a cruise to Antarctica, which I chronicled in my book, 1000 Days Between. We shared a cabin on the ship, and a friendship was born. We met up again a few months later and traveled through the Amazon for six months, by far my longest travel partnership.
Craig and I hadn't seen each other in nearly eight years, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Luckily, there would be plenty of time for that – he was taking me for a drive along the Great Ocean Road, one of the highlights of southern Australia. We drove out of Melbourne and past Geelong, and soon we were on the southern coast. The high sandstone cliffs and plentiful surf made it immediately obvious why this was such a popular place for nature-lovers and thrill-seekers alike.
As we drove, Craig told me about his most recent adventure, a three-and-a-half year trip to eighty countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Somehow he had managed to visit several Middle Eastern countries before they erupted with violence in 2011 and 2012. Even more impressive was the two years he spent pedaling his bicycle over 80,000 kilometers to every country in Europe. He returned to Australia eight months ago, yet incredibly, he told me that he would soon take off yet again, this time to travel around the Caribbean islands for around six months, followed by three years in the US and Canada. Craig's ambitions had not let up a bit since I last had seen him.
Continuing on the Great Ocean Road, we headed through the Memorial Arch, where there was a monument dedicated to local miners. Next we stopped at Kennett River and watched some koalas sleeping in eucalyptus trees, white and yellow cockatoos and other birds, some of which apparently were terrifying. An echidna, the oldest mammal in the world, happened to be digging for ants at the park. The monotreme (egg-laying mammal) is extremely shy, so I was lucky to get to see one so close. Craig got an even closer look by picking it up. Don't worry, it got its revenge by peeing on him.
We also stopped at a few nice beaches and a section of temperate rain forest with some of the tallest ferns and trees in the world. The highlight of the day was the 12 Apostles, a set of rock formations created by persistent ocean swells over many thousands of years. One of the rocky spires recently fell, and at least one more is being formed, so it was cool to witness this ever-changing landscape.
Our last stop of the day was at Loch Ard Gorge. It was named after a ship called the Loch Ard, which sank nearby in 1878. A fifteen-year-old boy named Tom Pearce was washed ashore, and he managed to rescue seventeen-year-old Eva Carmichael. None of the other fifty-two passengers survived. Despite its grim history, this was a beautiful place, worthy of a long swim and a friendship reunion.
The next day was the summer solstice. The fact that it was the longest day of the year was actually a bad thing: the day's highlight wouldn't come until dusk. In the afternoon, I met up with Craig once again in central Melbourne and we drove to Phillip Island, south-east of Port Phillip. We stopped by Swan Lake, which, true to its name, was populated with swans. There were also a few kangaroos and lots of windswept trees that created some interesting patterns.
Late in the day we stopped along the coast to watch the resplendent seagulls circling overhead in search of a meal, and the majestic tourists, who circled the seagulls in search of a resplendent photo. The waves crashed against the rocky shore below us and the fur seals bathed on the monadnock further away.
A lookout point along the Great Ocean Road.
At last we headed up the road to watch the famous Penguin Parade. Each night at dusk, a colony of Little Blue penguins (that's their actual species name) emerges from the shore to spend the night nesting. The attraction has become so popular, the enterprising local government has built a visitor's center dedicated to the Penguin Parade, and a grandstand for viewing it. Unfortunately, it has also become so popular that they had to ban photography because the flashes were sending the penguins running. Over a thousand people looked on as the first few brave penguins waddled ashore, then made a run for the cover of bushes. Their brethren soon followed. Half an hour later, hundreds of penguins had made it ashore and the tourists made a mad dash for the exits. I didn't get any photos*, but the event was good for a laugh. There's something about the way penguins waddle that makes them ridiculously entertaining.
* Craig later found a dead penguin that had washed ashore, so I did end up getting a few pictures.
I had already seen a lot of Australia's southeastern coast during my first few days in the country. Luckily, Craig had some big plans in store for us in the following weeks.