The last week of October we took off for our first Australia road trip. The impetus for our trip was Mae’s (our dog) release from quarantine in Melbourne. Rather than subject her to another flight from Melbourne to Sydney, we decided to drive down and pick her up. And, because there was so much around Melbourne we wanted to see, we decided to turn it into a week long road trip.
After some research, I decided our must-see places included the Yarra Valley, Dandenong Ranges National Park, Melbourne, Geelong, and the Great Ocean Road, with the latter being the focus of our trip. Our itinerary quickly filled up and a week was just barely enough to fit it all in.
We would normally choose to camp on a road trip like this; however, because we have yet to purchase camping gear here in Australia and because the weather is notoriously chilly in the Melbourne region we decided to explore other accommodation options. We ended up booking two Airbnbs, two cabins at campgrounds, and two different hotels. It ended up being really nice to have such a range of accommodations, although we definitely confirmed that Airbnbs are generally our favorite.
We split the 9 hour drive down to Melbourne over two days, knowing 4-5 hours in the car each day is about the max Theo would tolerate. The first day of driving turned out to be Theo’s worst of the whole trip – he fought his nap and screamed for over two hours before finally crashing for 20 minutes and then waking up. Nonetheless, we made it to our destination – Albury – which is about halfway. It was the only night we hadn’t pre-booked and we easily found a cute motel just a block off the main strip. Theo made friends with another little girl and the two of them chased each other around the parking lot before we scootered into town for a quick Indian dinner.
On our second day, we made it to the Yarra Valley by midday. We had a full day, including a delicious country breakfast in the cute town of Yarck, a trip to the Healesville Sanctuary where we saw our first koalas and kangaroos, and indulged in some wine tasting and cheese tasting. We arrived at our Airbnb in the Dandenong Ranges just before nightfall as a huge wind and rain storm started. We picked up takeout pizza and enjoyed a movie in front of our cozy fireplace.
We woke up the next morning to a very chilly, but dry day. We bared the cold and did two hikes that morning. The first was a quick jaunt to the Olinda Falls lookout where we saw flocks of parrots and cockatoos. Our second hike was a longer trek along the Mathias Track, which borders the Rhododendron Garden. Theo wasn’t a great trooper on the second hike, having lost his patience with sitting in the carrier, so we headed back early and instead enjoyed a picnic lunch by the car. We left the Dandenongs for our trip through Melbourne down to Geelong on the Bellarine Peninsula just in time for Theo’s nap (a technique we’ve mastered and put to use frequently!).
We spent the afternoon exploring Geelong, including an extended play time at the playground on the waterfront esplanade, and hiding out from the random frequent bursts of rain showers that punctuated the otherwise very sunny afternoon. We met up with a cell site owner and his family, including his three year old son, for some coffee and afternoon tea so that Matt could meet a client as this was partly a business trip. After tea, we continued wandering through the downtown, which wasn’t anything too special in our opinion, and ended up eating Mexican food for dinner (from our previous experience with Mexican food in Australia we knew this was a bad choice, but there were no other options).
After spending the night in Geelong, we headed further down the Bellarine Peninsula. We stopped in Queenscliff for breakfast and loved the quaint little downtown. On our way to the next town we headed off into the country to find and photograph the cell site of the owner we had met with the afternoon before, then continued on our way west towards the Great Ocean Road. We passed through Barwon Heads and then stopped in Torquay, which is the surfing capital of Australia and the home to Rip Curl and Quicksilver, for a play at the waterfront playground and a picnic lunch. We really should be writing a blog about all of the playgrounds of Australia – they are plentiful and we are certainly doing our best to visit each and every one 🙂
Just outside of Torquay was Bell’s Beach, a world famous surf break, where we stopped for a quick photo session. Matt was definitely wishing we had space to have brought his board watching the great waves here. I wrangled him back into the car to continue on and we arrived at the start of the Great Ocean Road by mid afternoon. The Great Ocean Road is an approximately 150 mile Australian National Heritage stretch of road along the southeastern coast of Australia. The road was built by soldiers who returned from World War I and is the world’s largest war memorial.
We spent two nights in Lorne, a small town near the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. We stayed in a little cabin along the Lorne River in the Lorne Foreshore Caravan Park and it was nice to settle in for a bit, although the place was tiny and we barely had any space for our stuff. The “kid room” was barely wide enough for the set of bunk beds it contained and there was no space for Theo’s pack’n’play – so we ended up having to remove the mattress from the top bunk and set up the crib up on the top. The things we’ll do to get a good night’s sleep! It was very stable and he slept wonderfully, so it worked out, but it was quite an adventure getting him in and out.
Lorne had a lot of cute boutiques and cafes that I explored one day during Theo’s nap. We did a couple of hikes – Erskine Falls! – and enjoyed the views from Teddy’s Lookout. The beach was really nice, but it was too chilly to swim or even really play at the beach. There was a great waterfront playground though, of course! We had two great dinners – one at an Italian place just next to our campground where Theo consumed multiple plates of spaghetti – and another at a burger joint called The Milk Bottle. Theo ate more meals in restaurants on this trip than he probably has combined during the rest of his entire life. His energy and exuberance doesn’t mesh well with the sit-down restaurant setting and we usually opt for takeout or picnics. He did well for the most part though, and only a couple of times did we have to resort to playing episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on our iPhone to get him to sit still.
After Lorne we moved on to Cape Otway and the Great Otway National Park. We stopped for a short loop walk at Mait’s Rest Rainforest walk on our way, which although a bit crowded was beautiful and well worth visiting. We spent one night in a cabin at Bimbi Park and definitely could have stayed longer. On our drive in to the campground from the main road we saw four or five koalas and there were more in the trees right outside our cabin. Our cabin looked out on the forest and rolling hills and we felt immersed in nature. We hiked from our cabin to Station Beach and Theo happily tolerated 2+ hours in the carrier. The beach was gorgeous, rugged, and absolutely deserted. Just our kind of place! If only the water had been calm enough to swim…
We headed out early the next morning for the main attraction of the Great Ocean Road – the Twelve Apostles National Marine Park. We stopped at all of the lookouts and took the requisite 100+ pictures surrounded by hordes of other tourists. The views and coastal landscape were definitely worth stopping for, but after enjoying the peace and quiet of Cape Otway we were overwhelmed by all of the people. We then made the longish (4 hour) haul back to Melbourne from Port Cambell, with a quick stop at another dairy for some cheese tasting.
We spent our last two nights of our trip in the neighborhood of Collingwood, which is just outside the CBD of Melbourne. It was a bustling neighborhood with tons of cafes and bars and our Airbnb was right in the middle of it all. It was a great taste of city life and the perfect base to explore the city. We had tons of amazing food at our local cafes as well as in the laneways in downtown Melbourne. Our favorite were the roti wraps at the Plug Nickel cafe across the street from where we stayed – we went back a second time they were so good. Wandering the Melbourne laneways was a great way to experience the city’s food too and we timed it perfectly in the evening when everything went on sale just before closing so we got to sample a little of everything.
We explored Yarra Park and all of the sports grounds, including a quick stop at the Rod Laver Arena where the Australian Open is held. We then wandered along the Yarra River into the City’s CBD and rode the tram (probably Theo’s favorite activity if I had to guess). There is so much more to the city that we could have seen, but we got a pretty good taste in the two days we had.
And then, on our final morning came the highlight of our trip! At precisely 10 AM we drove through the gates of the Mickleham Quarantine Station that is about 45 minutes north of the Melbourne CBD and picked up Mae! The pick-up process itself was a bit anticlimactic after the long, arduous process of her importation, but it was still a very joyous moment. They checked our ID, handed us a packet of paperwork leftover from all of her vet visits and then wheeled her crate out of a large warehouse space to a parking lot. Once they closed the door to the warehouse she had come out of, we got to let her out of the crate. She ran around wildly, jumped all over us and knocked Theo over. We then proceeded to spend the next half hour unpacking our entire car, breaking down the crate into two halves, and packing it all back into the car – all while trying to contain Theo and Mae while other owners came in to pick up their pets.
Eventually we were all loaded into the car, with Mae happily curled up on the backseat next to Theo, and we jetted off towards Sydney. We made the entire 9 hour drive in one day, getting home just at Theo’s bedtime. Despite it being the longest drive, Theo did great. He watched 10 episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (which he calls Tiger Daniel) on loop for probably 70% of the time and spent the other 30% eating.
All in all it was a very successful trip. Theo seemed to improve in his ability to tolerate longish car rides over the week and definitely adjusted to the idea of moving on to a new place to sleep every night. It’s amazing how quickly young ones adapt. We also felt very satisfied to finally have experienced a part of Australia outside of Sydney. We really like the pace of life down in Victoria, the natural beauty and the easy driving!
Next up…New Zealand for the holidays!