2019 tour travel blog

waiting for the train at Cootamundra

on the train to Melbourne

Great Ocean Road

Twelve Apostles (well, seven actually)

Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Rd

Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Rd

Home at the Mansion, Melbourne hostel

Melbourne Docklands

With Emma and Kevin at Proud Mary's cafe

Another fine sunny day, but not too hot. (Great-nephew) Michael picks us up from the Dickson, and we head into town for a cuppa while we wait for the bus. A bit “mickey-mouse” getting to Canberra… a coach links us to the rail network. We are due to leave at 0940, meet up with the train at Cootamundra around 1230, and arrive in Melbourne 1830. Two tickets AU$140 (NZ$151).

After booking the tickets Tony finds out they could have caught the train at Yass Junction, just a wee way out of Canberra. Also too late, Michael tells us he could have driven us to Yass… sigh, young people these days, haha.

The bus is quite late, and we are a bit worried, but a few others are waiting too, so we are not too worried. It is a connecting service, so the train will always wait for the coach if need be. It doesn’t take long for the trip to Yass Junction, literally a building in the middle of nowhere. A few people get off, and have an hour wait for the train – the same one that we will catch in Cootamundra. There is no café at the junction, a shame they have such a long wait. We were feeling annoyed that we didn’t know we could have connected here, but that soon went when we realised we would have had all that time on our hands. Not a biggie, we are used to waiting around on travel days. We later figured that the transport link website pretty much forces the coach trip on travellers to keep the bus full as possible. The service links to other trains at Cootamundra, and returns with passengers ex Melbourne. The only way you can book via Yass is to call them and insist on that booking, and then because you phoned, you are charged full price!

Anyway, the trip through to “Coota” is nice enough, and we see our first wild kangaroos, three of them bounding along the field beside the road (the first live ones that is, others we saw were roadkill!). We arrive with about half an hour to spare before train arrives from Sydney. We are told to check in our luggage, and of course the bloody luggage room is at the far end of the station from where we are parked. After lugging our gear aaaallll the way to the top end, the staff weigh our bags, and tell us they cannot take them. Cynthea’s is 500g over the limit, Tony is 2.5kg over. (Oops, didn’t read the ticket properly). Tony says what can we do about it (thinking we will just grab the heavy stuff out like we do on a plane trip). She says she won't touch it because of the weight, and says we are on our own. Tony takes this to mean we are not allowed to board the train, and queries what she meant. What she should have said was to take the packs on the train with us, and use the luggage racks at the end of the carriages. Tony asks how we find where to stand, and she says our carriage letter is on the platform, and to wait there. Our carriage is “G”, right at the far end of the bloody platform. They close check-in so we don’t have a chance to repack the bags (could have detached the small ones), and we lug our gear down to the other end, back past where we came from on the bus. It is too bloody hot for this nonsense! To add insult to injury, the bitches wait until Tony gets all the way down to “G”, and then come and tell him there are two carriages short today, so he has to get on at “E”. To say he is a tad pissed off is an understatement, and he fires off a couple of filthy looks.

The train is late getting in, a decent size even with two cars missing. When it stops the letter on the car in front is “A”, Tony queries that and is told this is “G” and to get on. A few of us could not check luggage in, the staff on the train bitch that it should have been. Not feeling the love here people.

The train is fairly basic, no power for laptops or usb chargers, no wifi (not that that worried us). Biggest nuisance is the lack of air control at our seats. The sun is streaming in through the big windows, and it is rather warm. Crew changes at Albury, on the boarder of NSW and Victoria. We wonder why here, we are well over half way through the trip from Sydney? Perhaps a boarder thing to do with the staff? Or maybe there was a crew change earlier, before we got on.

We are peckish and go for a meal, but the food is not really appealing at that price. We share a pie and a Devonshire tea, A$11.50. The pie is ok, but the scone is disappointingly small. Coffee is a cup of hot water with a coffee bag.

The train is very late getting in, it is past 1900 by the time we arrive at Southern Cross station. We try to sort out the transport, and have difficulty finding the right tram, and also somewhere to buy the travel cards that have to be used. We are tired and grumpy by now, and it doesn’t help when we find out we did not have to use any bloody cards as we are in the free tram zone. Then the directions to the backpackers where we are staying tell us to travel west 150m from the tram stop. Which frigging way is that (dark when we arrived). We walk 150m in the wrong direction, and turn back, grumpier than ever.

At least at “Home at the Mansion” they have put us on the ground floor as requested. 5 nights here cost $378, shared room but only two others in tonight. We have bottom bunks, woo hoo.

Tony heads off to the supermarket, but settles instead for the closest IGA. First and last time he will shop there. Bread was $7 a loaf, and the first one he picked up was mouldy. Yuk. So was the second. Got some milk and crackers, and the rest will have to wait until tomorrow night. Time for bed…

11th April - Thursday

An early start for us again this morning, we are off for a tour of the Great Ocean Rd, and check–in is 0745, to leave at 0800. We can take a tram (one stop), but decide by the time we wait for the next tram we could have walked it, so we do just that. We arrive on time, and there is a huge queue, all Chinese. Then we spot the sign for the “English” people, and yes, there are even a couple of Aussies in the line. Straight away we get the feeling that this tour is primarily for Chinese, and a few unsuspecting “English and others”. The majority of those waiting are put on one bus, and the “English” group are marched a couple of blocks to their bus… back in the direction we had come from. Bloody déjà vu.

Our guide is Chinese, and can be difficult to understand, so we have to listen carefully. We finally get underway around 0830, and head out of town towards the Great Ocean Road. The road was built to employ ex-servicemen after WWI. It takes a while to get out of the city. There is a bit of a buildup of traffic on the bridge, a tunnel due to open in 2020 will take away a lot of the traffic from the bridge.

One thing that we notice looking at the new housing around here, is that the motorway noise barriers have clear coloured panels every now and then. Is that so motorists (or their passengers) can have a sticky beak at the homes every now and then?

There is no toilet on the bus, and Andy our guide emphases that we must use the dunny every toilet stop because it can be two hours or more between breaks. All our stops are short. First one is around 10am at the chocolate factory. Toilet first, then shop Andy tells us (more than once). Back here in 15 minutes. We have time to grab some chocolate, it is quite nice, but they know how to charge!

Next stop is at the memorial arch, the entrance to the Great Ocean Rd. The memorial is to WWI soldiers who built the road. 15 minutes, no toilets! We are having mixed weather today, mainly warm, but overcast with frequent rain. We are lucky in that every stop we make today the weather remains fine.

At Apollo Bay we have a whole hour for lunch, and toilets. We get lunch from the bakery, Tony has a cheeseburger pie (meat pattie, cheese, pickles – yum!), and Cynthea enjoys her scallop pie. We have time to wander around the many animal sculptures in the car park, tall poles scattered around have a variety of animals carved into each one, and in many the animals merge into each other. Very cool. And then down to the beach for a quick look, after we have been to the toilet! We are away from here before 1pm.

Just over an hour and a half later we are at the “Twelve” Apostles, Port Campbell National Park. We took up the offer of a free guided walk, and on the way to the viewing platforms get shown some of the local plants growing here. Two we get to try, a saltbush and a type of spinach, the leaves of which are very plump. Both plants are very salty, and we learn that they are used in salads. There are warning signs to stay away from the cliff edge, and to be aware of snakes (too cold for them today though). Even so, we won't be charging through the bushes any time soon! We are told that the 12 Apostles used to be called the Pinnacles, and later the Sow and Pigs, but that was deemed unworthy a name, so they were called the Apostles. As time went on they became known as the Twelve Apostles, despite there ever only being eight, and one of those toppled in 2005. They are impressive, more so when you realise that these 50m high stacks have been formed in just 6,000 years as about a kilometre of coastline has eroded. A few arches have also succumbed to the elements and are now separate stacks. As the climate changes, the sea has more CO2, so is more acidic, and coupled with big storms the rate of erosion increases. Our guide Wendo tells us there is quite a large penguin colony down at the base of the cliffs, and during an extremely low tide a fox managed to get on to the beach, where he was stranded. He nearly decimated the penguin colony, killing over 60 birds before a sharp shooter took care of the problem! We can see heaps of penguin tracks in the sand below, but unfortunately won't be here at dusk when the penguins return.

Soon after 3pm we are back on the bus (after using the toilets) and it is a short trip to Loch Ard George. This is the site of an 1878 shipwreck, from which there were only two survivors. There is a lovely beach inside the gorge, but we have less than half an hour here (and no toilet stop!). There are some great features in the limestone here, stalactites under overhanging rock are a wonderful sight, and fenced – either to keep people away from danger of falling rock, or to stop them nicking bits of it! We are in awe at the power of the ocean her as it slams against the cliff face.

Not long after 4pm we are heading off back to Melbourne (with a pee stop on the way). It is dark by the time we arrive back, and despite coming into town (supposedly against the flow of workers leaving) it is slow going, nearly 40 minutes to cover 11km. It is close to 7pm by the time we are dropped off, but we are close to a supermarket so we duck in for a couple of supplies for tea. Then it is a quick march back to the Mansion (we need the toilet ;-) )

12 April – Friday

A rest morning, and then off to enjoy the sunshine and take advantage of the free trams. We travel down to the Docklands area and get off at Marvel Stadium. We wander along the harbourside and cross the Yarra into South Wharf, it is a lovely warm afternoon, but it is not crowded here (yet). The river is a lot cleaner than last time we visited – Tony reckons it was flowing upside down back then (the mud was on the top).

As the sun goes down it starts to cool off, so we head back to Flinders Street to catch the tram. A tourist tram travels a circuit of the free ride boundary, there is a bit of a commentary but with so many people on board it is hard to hear. We forget to get off at Parliament, so it is a bit of a hike back to the hostel, but no big deal. We arrive back to hear it is $4 pints for the next hour, so we are off to the bar for a couple quick ones.

We expect it to be noisy tonight, being a Friday night. The room is full when we head to our beds, but not every one is home (some don’t make it back at all tonight!). The guy in the bunk above Tony is restless and constantly tossing and turning. He then gets up and changes bunks in the middle of the night, making such a bloody racket that Cynthea has words. By contrast the guy that comes in three hours later and has to make his bed in the top bunk hardly makes a noise, and there is no movements from him once he is up there. God knows what the other bugger was up to.

13 April – Saturday

We meet up with Kevin and Emma today. It has been eight years since we saw these two lovely people on our tour of Turkey. Another glorious day, we head to the Victoria St markets, taking the Aussie equivalent of a tiki tour around the area. Hot American jam doughnuts are on the menu, they are so yummy. And then off to the international food hall, where you can get pretty anything to eat, there is so much to choose from, and the spicy bratwursts are amazing. Then we are off to hipsterville, Fitzroy and Collingwood area for a coffee, or two, at Proud Mary. A busy wee café with amazing coffees.

It is comedy festival here in Melbourne, and there are a lot of shows on just along the road from where we are staying. Cynthea wants to try an impromptu show, “Impromptunes”. We thought that we shouted out song titles, and they made up their own version on the spot. Tony was thinking of maybe Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”, or Michael Jackson’s “Bad”… Cynthea was not happy with either of those! As it was, the cast made up and entire show based on a musical theme that had not been done before. So every show that they do is unique, and will never be repeated. They chose “Autumn Days” as a theme, and it was hilarious… but Tony still would have liked to see them to do a show called “Is Michael Jackson Bad?”

Back at the hostel the bar has Saturday night specials - $5 house spirits until 9pm. Tony isn’t interested, thinking it is just rubbish plonk being served up… but then he spots the Jim Beam... Woo hoo!

14 April – Sunday

Last day in Melbourne, Cynthea rests part of the day, Tony heads off on a wander around the parks that are close by. He has made his way into town, and gets a message from Cynthea about a bar in Exhibition Street. Tony is in that street, and just along the road is that bar. He wonders how she knows where he is at (pretty sure she hasn’t put a tracker on the phone, haha). Turns out that this is where we are meeting Casey Sutton later in the afternoon. It is great to catch up, been a couple of years since we saw her.

We look at options to get to the airport. No public transport at that time, so we would have to take a cab all the way (AU$70+ !!), or a cab to the train station and then the airport bus (AU$10 and AU$40), which is a lot of faffing around. We decide to try Uber, and need to download the app. Very, very frustrating!! And not good on the blood pressure. The difficulty was that once Tony chose the location and pick up time, he then needed to clarify the pick up location, and when he did that the app changed the pick up time to “now”. Of course there was a cab there before he could cancel it, but the driver was understanding and cancelled everything without charge. But then it happened again. And this time that driver charged a $10 cancellation fee. Bastard. If anyone has used Uber, they would know it is impossible to contact them. Tony put in a complaint, but was not able to elaborate what happened, and it was labelled as “other”, and the process immediately closed. More than slightly pissed off by now, but a message arrives to say hos claim had been accepted. Instead of a refund, there is a credit on his uber account, so he has to use it or lose it.

Third time lucky perhaps, and he tries a third time to book. This time his credit card is declined (but not by the bank). Uber say it is either pending, banned or deleted, and there is no way to rectify it.

By now it is time to meet Casey at the pub, so we give up for the time being. On the way home we call into a supermarket, and are surprised to see Yarrow’s hot cross buns on sale! Yes, Taranaki Yarrows. Two packs, AU$6, cheaper than at home?

Back home the bar is open, and we have a free wine to collect, something to wash down the plate of wedges :-) We have another crack at booking Uber, and the payment rejection message is still the same. So Tony uses another credit card, but that will not load on either, nor will the next one. Thinking there is more than one way to skin a cat, Tony tries Google Pay, but that is linked to the first card that he tried, so the reject message comes up again. Only one option left, and that is PayPal, but that fails because the credit card listed has expired, and it doesn’t matter that there are funds in the PayPal account already. Thinking here we go again, Tony uploads details of the credit card that has already been rejected by Uber, and is highly surprised that this time it works. He books the cab, but when he tries to use the first time user discount, he is told the code has been used. Fairly angry by now, but he books the cab anyway, as it is the cheaper option by a long shot, and he has the $10 to use. We just have to hope for the best… car will be here at 0455, and they estimate AU$40-$58 for the fare.

We have an early start in the morning, so most of our gear is packed up tonight to avoid disturbing the others in the room at 4am. Not a restful sleep, too scared of sleeping in and missing the flight.

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