Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bin, in Aussie Accentä) in the southern state of Victoria. I could not wait to check out this incredible city and the Great Ocean Road over the three-day weekend. My friends Marlee, Mallory, Arielle, and I decided to rent a car and spend two days following the scenic coastal highway. The last day I spent taking in the city sights and gorging myself on Melbourne’s hipster vibe. This trip has had its ups and its downs, but I have loved every minute of it.
After landing in the Melbourne airport at midnight, I found I was not able to get in touch with the people whose apartment I was actually going to be staying in that night. Not wanting to spend the night in the airport, I decided my best option would be to find a hostel in the city. A semi-desperate sounding phone call has me checked into a room with ten bunk beds lining the walls, all filled with snoring travelers. For those of you who have never stayed in a hostel, be ready for anything. At this point, it was nearing 2AM and I crashed immediately onto a bottom bunk.
The next morning, I woke at the crack of dawn and, with instant coffee in hand, figured out Melbourne’s public transportation system to the rental agency to pick up the car. For four people, the car was a dream. A white, four-door Hyundai with, most importantly, Bluetooth capabilities. I volunteered to drive the first leg and let me tell you, it takes some getting used to. Unlike in America, Australians drive on the left side of the road. While there definitely were some questionable turns made starting out, my fellow passengers didn’t let me mess up too badly. When one drives, we all drive.
We got on the highway blasting Ed Sheeran, Caroline by Animé, Unwritten, and a mix of other good jams. It was the perfect road trip: good vibes, windows down, summer sun, a literal box of snacks, and no set schedule. We made our way down the coast to this great lookout over Bells Beach before continuing on to the Aireys Inlet Lighthouse. I know I am going to say this a lot, but it is gorgeous here. Rough surf crashed against jagged cliffs out one window, breathtaking hills and forests rolled past in the other. It had this raw magnetism that I couldn’t get enough of.
We then made our way through Otway National Park, a temperate rainforest near the Great Ocean Road. The road wound its way through hundred-foot trees and enormous ferns that covered the forest floor. It was that delicious earthy, fern smell with the barest hint of smokiness that gave it a tang all its own.
After the forest, we drove through Apollo Bay, stopped to see some wild koalas (yes, we saw two and yes, we did try our best Steve Irwin impersonations), and finally reached the Twelve Apostles rock formation. Well, more like seven apostles as most of the rock spires had fallen down. We didn’t mean to, but we arrived right as the sun was setting over the water. I can easily say this was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. The setting sun filtered through the sea mist, bathing everything in a warm golden light. The cliffs and beaches were striped with the shadows of the rock formations, forming a mixture of colors and shades that danced with the foaming waves. Photo’s do not give this place justice.
As night fell, we grabbed dinner in Port Campbell and felt the exhaustion of the long day. We were ready to sleep. We drove back to the Twelve Apostles to the aptly named motel, “The Twelve Apostles Motel”. But this is where it gets weird. We turned off the highway onto a dirt road and followed it for about ten minutes into the pitch-black bush. We pulled up to the reception cabin and Marlee went to check in. There were some statues in the front yard that looked like people screaming and the car park was lit by one bleaching flood light. This is how murders happen. Creepy motels on creepy dirt roads in the middle of nowhere in a different country. At this point, Arielle and Mallory were freaking out. Mallory vowed that if Marlee did not come out in three minutes she would go in after her. Arielle left the engine running.
Luckily, we made it out alive. The motel owner was nice and showed us a surprisingly charming cabin all our own that looked out over the bush and millions of stars. We dove into bed ready for sleep, but not before locking the door, just in case.
We woke at dawn to start the trek back to Melbourne where Mallory and Marlee had their flights to Sydney. After several near-death experiences on the rainforest road back up the coast, we stopped in Lorne, a cute beach town just past Apollo bay, for some delicious pad Thai and gelato. Our road trip was too short and the time flew by back to Melbourne.
Arielle and I said goodbye and with the day not yet over, decided to do something adventurous. We had heard from a friend of a friend who heard it from a local about a secret cliff jumping spot an hour west of Melbourne. Very hush, hush. The only way to this secret spot is by walking down a highway then turning down a footpath to limestone cliffs about a hundred feet high. It looked over the Melbourne bay and a lower cliff section full of college-aged kids partying as the hot day came to an end. Many feet had worn the cliff face into a manageable if not slippery climb. We scrambled down, flip flops in hand, and joined the adrenalin junkies and spring breakers alike.
I had never done anything like this so I was understandably a little nervous. We started on a small five-foot jump, I mean we didn’t want to die on the first go. It went well and Arielle thinks were ready to go 0-100 and do the big jump, about a twenty-five-foot drop. A girl around ten years old gave us pointers on how to properly enter the water. The hilarity of the situation was not lost on us. We toed the edge of the cliff and jumped, screaming the whole way down.
So, you’re supposed to go straight in like a pencil to minimize your surface area. I, on the other hand, landed squarely on my butt. Oh, my god, it hurt. At first, I was like “do I have no pain tolerance because Arielle’s just fine”, then a lump the size of my fist grew on my right hip. You should see it now, a few days later; the bruise is spectacular.
Some locals talked me into jumping one more time but after, I was content to watch the sunset over the bay. Arielle and I said goodbye and headed back to Melbourne, exhausted from our wild day.
As Arielle had woken earlier to fly back to Sydney, I set out that morning ready to take on the city by myself. My first stop was the Shrine of Remembrance and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Shrine, a memorial for those who fought WWI, was like a Greek mausoleum, soaring and stately. I walked its perimeter and paid my respects at the Eternal Flame. The Botanical Gardens was free to the public and a lovely way to take in the Australian flora, an oasis in a bustling city.
The day was supposed to be well over 32°C (90°F) so I thought it would be a good idea to get the garden done with before the worst of it. I was right. After a relatively mild February, the heat was oppressive; the sun beat down with a vengeance. You know that feeling when the sun is so strong it feels like your skin is actually crackling with the heat? It was like that the whole day.
I finished the gardens and walked down to Hosier Lane to take in the street art there. Hosier Lane is just one of many designated alleyways that are free for artists to tag whatever they feel like. The youthful, artsy vibe of the city is unmistakable.
After an interesting afternoon visiting the Old Melbourne Gaol (pronounced jail, in Aussie Accentä) and learning about the Robin Hood-like outlaw Ned Kelly, I walked up and down Brunswick Street in Fitzroy looking for live music and the perfect bar for dinner. The neighborhood of Fitzroy is an up and coming area for young millennials. Despite being alone, I had a wonderful time listening to the music and meeting people from all over Australia. I take it all in and go to sleep that night with a smile wider than Pacific.
It was the perfect way to end the perfect weekend. From improvising sleeping plans to road tripping across the south of Australia to the motel to cliff jumping to wandering Melbourne, it has been a wild ride. I had so much fun trying new things, going new places, and meeting new people. Things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to but doesn’t that almost make that better?