Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Day 10: Matt and Nev's Road Trip - Day 1

"Don't worry Emma, the keys are absolutely safe with me."

So began my road trip with Matt, Emma's gift to me, as she handed me the spare keys - which cost $600 to replace - to her car. With Emma and baby Xavier flying on the Monday from Sydney to Melbourne, Matt and I were to take the long way there, by road. The car had been recently serviced to avoid any possibility of breakdown, and was loaded up to bursting point with their possessions as I was to accompany Matt on the 14-hour drive. Being such a long drive, we had decided to split it into two smaller bite-size chunks, and take the scenic route, the Princes Highway hugging the coast between Australia's two most significant cities. Such a road trip, with beautiful scenery, numerous little towns to stop over in, and the small sense of adventure as a new stage in life begun, was obviously an appealing one that Emma herself fancied, but she appreciated that my visits to Australia are few and far between, and this was a golden opportunity for me and Matt to have our own little adventure. Thus, she sacrificed her own place in the car for me, so that I could experience the joys of the open road. And how she would regret it...

The day began inauspiciously. At about 7am, with light streaming in through a window, I realised I was in the top bunk in a hostel bedroom. Massively hungover. The night before had begun with $3 Happy Hour beers, progressed onto the hostel rooftop and drinking huge measures of Burness's duty free Hendrick's gin with cucumber, then lurched onto the notorious nightlife of Sydney's King's Cross district. At some stage - my memory completely fails me here - we sneaked into Burness's hostel, where his room was mercifully otherwise unoccupied, and passed out on the spare bunks. Burness, incidentally, had left both me and Matt unconscious, and joined some other party in the hostel, which he lamented had left him feeling notably old. Feeling notably old may be a theme of these travels should the volume of uber-youth in Australia be mirrored in Asia.

Matt was much fresher than me, so we collected his car in Bondi and began the journey. Though a couple of hours behind our original schedule, time was still plentiful and our itinerary joyously unfixed. This was Day 1 of our quick two day jaunt. And I'm happy to say it went very well.

The Sydney to Melbourne coastal drive is a 1000-plus kilometres coastal route, established in 1920, that passes through numerous small seaside towns and national parks, winds up and down hills and cuts through forests. With this in mind, we had chosen to forgo the duller, more efficient direct route between the cities and opted for the scenic adventure. We would stop wherever and whenever we felt like and enjoy the sense of freedom a (two day) road trip allowed for.

Our first stop came soon after leaving Sydney, at a viewpoint near a place called Bulli Pass. It overlooked the larger Wolongong, and was awfully pretty.

I apologise for these.

Our next stop was a little longer, in Wollongong itself, the 9th largest city in Australia with a population somewhere between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, or a little more than Iceland, or for those who prefer just to go by numbers, a little under 300,000. It is an industrial city, but with the fine weather and long stretches of beach and bright sea, it didn't have the oppressive feeling usually associated with industry. We wandered fairly aimlessly at first, with the vague goal of finding some sushi. Technology was a minor theme of the trip, with Matt relying on it for many basic needs, such as directions and problem solving, and in this case his Blackberry was used to locate a sushi restaurant. We followed it and found ourselves in the middle of a crossroads: the address of 94 Keira Street appeared to not exist. So we went with my backup and wandered into a shopping mall, and immediately found a surprisingly cheap sushi stall. It was awful.

Wollongong sported a lovely stretch of beach, and being a sunny and gently warm day we had a brief exploration. There was a lighthouse and some cannons.


I apologise for these.

Back on the road, and a fairly dreary stretch of road. We were relying on Matt's "Tomtom", which was attached to his windscreen and gave him precise instructions on the most optimal route. Only later did we realise the more optimal route entirely cut out The Grand Pacific Drive, the stunningly beautiful road that clings tight to coastal hills. Oh well. Here's a photo of what we might have seen.

Our next stop was then in Bateman's Bay, a relaxed seaside town. We liked it, and Matt ate some fish there, and we took a short walk along the esplanade.

Again, apologies.

It was late afternoon and, due to our heavy night and insufficient sleep, by now we were getting quite tired and we considered staying at Bateman's Bay. But it would have made Day 2 too much of a mad rush to get to Melbourne by evening and we wanted to savour the day. So we decided to make one last push, to a small town called Merimbula, which was roughly midway between Sydney and Melbourne, and was tentatively recommended by the girls who worked in Bateman's Bay fish and chip shop. So we got back in the car for one final three hour push.

As the sun was setting, we passed a rather scenic church. In Australia, where most of the buildings are lighter and newer, such a seemingly old and chunky building stood out, and we both rather admired it.


A thousand apologies.

Upon leaving, the car developed a strange rattle. It sounded like a stone from the lightly gravelled path of the church had got into the car, and initially the car made some quite worrying groaning noises. Being pretty much in the middle of nowhere with the sun just set, there wasn't much we could do, so we ploughed on, and the rattle eventually disappeared.

It was after dark, at about 7pm, by the time we arrived in Merimbula, staying at the Pelican Motor Inn, with our hosts Terrie and Bruce, who were very inviting and friendly, and as the names might suggest about as Australian as you can get. In a town with a population of less than 3000, there wasn't much on offer with regards to restaurants, but we managed to find a Chinese just before it closed (at 8pm). It was an early night as we were both exhausted, and hoped to be refreshed and ready for an early start the following day, where our intention was a 7am set-off time, so we could do the majority of the trip before noon and be able to savour a leisurely afternoon.

Fortunately, I won a bet on the population of Merimbula (I said under 7800, Matt said over 10,000) and I was allowed the queen bed.

I cannot apologise enough.

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