Monthly Archives: January 2015

Grampians National Park

Picture of Dan, Craig and Cain.

Me, Craig and Cain in the Grampians.

Dec. 28 - 30, 2014
Days 164 – 166

When Craig isn't adventuring around the world, he's working as a tour guide near Melbourne. He began a three-day trip to the Grampians, one of the area's nicest national parks. Before he left, he lent me his van and told me to pick up Cain and meet him in the park! Despite his generosity, there was a small issue: I had never driven on the left. I was really nervous when I got behind the wheel, like it was my first time ever driving. The good news was that the shifter had the same pattern I was used to (first gear was top-left), and the pedals were in the same location (right foot = gas/brake, left foot = clutch). I pulled onto a busy street and drove with extreme caution, thinking: stay to the left, stay to the left... After around fifteen minutes I started to get the hang of it. Maybe driving on the left wasn't so difficult, after all. Then I proceeded to pull onto the right side of the road. I only realized my mistake when a car came toward me, flashing its lights.

Eventually I reached Cain's place and picked her up. She helped me navigate through Melbourne's crowded streets, and I only pulled onto the wrong side of the road once. Soon, we were outside of the city and driving through the countryside. It was the classic Australian road trip.

We stopped for a kabob dinner in Ballarat (pop. 20,000), the last “big city” until Adelaide, 400 miles away. Continuing on our journey, the freeway narrowed to a two-lane highway. We were just a couple of hours from Melbourne and it already felt like the middle of nowhere. And we still were nowhere near the Outback.

When we got to the park, Cain and I went for a hike to the top of Mount Rosea. It was a brisk walk, and the view from the top was amazing. It was so windy, it felt like I was surfing. We didn't see anyone else, although the torrential downpour that hit us during our walk back to the van might have had something to do with that.

Picture of kangaroo.

Well hello there!

We drove to the visitor's center to dry off, and we bumped into Craig's tour group. The skies cleared in the afternoon, so we followed the others along the park's winding roads to several more lookout points and McKenzie Falls. At the end of the day, we saw a kookaburra, with a call that sounds like it's laughing at you. Finally, we went to a park where the local kangaroos congregate. They were fairly used to humans, and most were happy to lie in the sun. A large group of tourists surrounded them, occasionally spooking one of them into hopping for its life.

The following day we checked out The Pinnacle, the most famous lookout point with wide views of the Grampians. The hike back to the van took us through canyons that showed off the natural beauty of the park. It was quite the gob-stopping place, as the Aussie's say.

While Craig continued with his tour, Cain and I drove back to Melbourne. I took a long nap, said goodbye to Cain and met up with Craig once again after his tour had ended. He wanted to start a new adventure the next day, so he drove us to his hometown of Geelong to stock up on food. It was really strange to walk through a supermarket with a guy like Craig. He's at home chasing snakes in the Outback or paddling a canoe down the Amazon, but he seems out-of-place buying potatoes and carrots in a suburban megastore, even more so in a shopping mall. Nevertheless, by the end of the night we had a week's worth of food and we were camping in yet another park, ready for the next adventure.

More photos from the Grampians

Catching Cricket Fever

Picture of cricket.

Dec. 27, 2014
Days 163

I had never watched a cricket game, and seeing that it's Australia's national sport, I figured I should take in a match while I was here. Craig, being a big fan, was happy to oblige. I met him and his friend Cain outside of the famous Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG) to watch a test match of Australia versus India. It was the second day of the match, and Australia was still batting in the first inning.

It was a warm and sunny day, and we had front row seats. We arrived a couple of hours after play had started, but the game lasts seven or eight hours per day (and the match takes 20 days), so there was really no rush. Craig explained the basic rules, and I was surprised at how quickly I picked up on them.

It's amazing how long these guys need to maintain their concentration. Harris and Smith were batting together for the first several hours, then Harris finally went out. I found out that Smith had been batting for seven hours, and he accumulated 192 runs before finally losing his wicket. All it takes is one bad swing, and you're gone.

Picture of 23977.

Like baseball, cricket is a game in which fans can relax and have a conversation with their friends while taking in the action. And play stops every few hours for a lunch break or tea time. There are an impressive number of statistics to keep track of, so this game has a lot of appeal to me. I don't expect cricket to overtake baseball in popularity in the United States, but it was really fun to watch such an important match. By the time we left the stadium, Australia had scored over 500 runs in the first inning, which would prove to be an insurmountable sum.

Here are some videos we shot during the game:

And some more photos from the match

An Antarctic Reunion

Dec. 20 - 22, 2014
Days 156 - 158

Picture of Dan and Craig.

Me and Craig on Australia's Surf Coast.

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.

Picture of echidna.

An echidna.

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.

Picture of Great Ocean Road.

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.

More Great Ocean Road photos
More Phillip Island photos
Photos from a day walk at Point Addis
Photos from Torquay, including the dead penguin