Great Ocean Road Trip Part II

Or, I Saw Koalas

I got up at 4:30am because Luke Barker told me to get on the 6am train. I actually woke up at 2:30am after three hours of sleep and then again at 3:30am, but as it turns out, it doesn’t really matter how much sleep you get when you are 13 hours jet lagged. It is easy to get up at 4:30am because the brain thinks it should be awake.

Mind the gap at melbourne central train station

The more things change, the more they stay the same

I took the 6am train to Geelong and he picked me up with smiles and a hug like we were old friends. His blue, four door Commodore sedan was nothing fancy – recently new to him but with plenty of miles on the clock. It had a great stereo which is all you really need for a good road trip anyway. We headed to the nearest grocery store to stock up on road trip snacks. I was about to mention I was vegetarian, but noticed he was picking up veg snacks anyway, and wondered if he was vegetarian too or if it was all just a coincidence, but held my questions. We made a stop at the cafe and were off.

Coffees in hand, we started our 12 hour journey along the Great Ocean Road and back to Melbourne. It was a bit of driving at first to just get out to the right road, and we had to make a a couple quick detours. The first was to Bell’s Beach in Torquay, just because it is the most famous surf spot ever and I had to see it. It was beautiful, but the waves were totally flat and unspectacular, and it was misting rain, so we didn’t tarry long. I didn’t even take a picture. We just stayed long enough to get covered in a dewy coating of mist-rain and say “I’ve been to Bells Beach!”

Kangaroos at Anglesea Golf Course

Kangaroos at Anglesea Golf Course

The second quick detour was to the Anglesea Golf Club because there was “a personal Luke Barker guarantee” that wild kangaroos would be there there. I was dubious. What would kangaroos be doing at a golf club? But sure enough, there were. WHAT? They were just out on the golf course chilling with people playing golf, eating grass. Mind blown. Kangaroos are very cute, but also very strange and foreign looking to my northern hemisphere eyes – fuzzy, sort of rabbit-like but sort of llama-like. I even saw a joey (baby) in its mum’s pouch! They were very tame and let you come right up to them. I was 10 feet from a kangaroo – can tick that off the bucket list.

We continued on our way and stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks of beautiful beaches, flanked by orangey cliffs, many with huge monolith islands towering just beyond the land, formed through many years of erosion, each with their own toupees of grass tufts and brush. The water was a lovely deep blue, fading to turquoise at the shore. He showed me his favourite surf spots. The waves there are named “Pink House” and “Juniors.” It was nearly flat today, but he showed me a photo of him surfing on a good day and I was shocked to see the waves so enormous – maybe 8 or 10 feet. He’s a Surfer.

Cliffs in Australia

Some of the cliffs we saw.

We stopped and had breakfast in a local town. Two veggie breakfasts. He is a vegetarian after all – he doesn’t like to kill things (swoon).

We talked about art and he played me the music he wrote and recorded for a class where they explored different genres. His favourite of the four was alternative and his alternative song’s composition was the best. I’m always so shy of sharing my work, fearful of judgements. I wondered if he was too. After his songs had played, I took over the DJing duties and put on Charlotte Gainsbourg, who he didn’t know but enjoyed. We talked about which accent was the best. We both agreed any accent but your own is sexy. He said French was his favourite. Everyone loves a French accent.

The roots of a giant tree at Maits Rest Rainforest trail

The roots of a giant tree at Maits Rest Rainforest trail

Next stop was a quick walk around a lovely loop trail in a chilly jungle, Maits Rest Rainforest Trail. Enormous ferns and palm trees were packed into every bit of space with sunshine, and there were giant Mountain Ash trees (30′ feet around and 100 meters tall?) dotted all over. I stood under the roots of a few and gazed upward into the trees’ cavernous insides. There were dew soaked moss tendrils all over all the trunks – they looked like gummy worms.

More driving to another beautiful beach. On the way there, we passed through some lovely forests and we took another quick detour to be sure we saw koalas. He said “no Luke Barker guarantee” here as they seem to prefer other places lately, but there were, in fact, koalas and it was a lot of fun to try to spot them. They are very small, fuzzy balls, tucked into the fork of a tree’s branches. Luke is a professional koala spotter and could point them out at speed. I got better as we went, but it really is a learned skill. They are actually pretty small and super fuzzy and they look so strange. Most of them that we saw were curled up sleeping. Luke says they get kind of high on the eucalyptus they eat and then they have to go to sleep. He was very kind to pull over the car several times and let me get out to ogle them with delight. There were tourists’ cars scattered all along the sides of the road; we were in good company.

The next beach we got to, I insisted we take a long walk down the sand. We left our shoes in the dunes near the path from the parking lot and headed down towards the rocky side of the beach, about a mile away. We talked about life’s next moves. He also finds himself at a cross roads, trying to decide what is next. He’s drawn to Norway, but what job could he find there? He was quite nihilistic, “Everything I do will be gone in a hundred years. No one will remember. Nothing matters. What’s the point?” and I have to admit, I was thrown. I’d never even considered that my impact on the planet, on life, on the human race would be forgotten in a hundred years. I was finding it hard to counter his concerns, because all I could think was, “Who cares?”

The Beach in Australia

The Beach

I tried to take that angle and asked him why it mattered and he replied that it was human nature to not want to be forgotten, to make an impact. Again I had no reply. I had never thought that ever in my life! Surely it was a blessing that nothing mattered, that all would be forgotten and even the earth’s existence is a mere spec within an infinite universe. That frees you up from attempting something so impossibly grand and let’s you focus on what actually matters to you and those around you.

I don’t know if I managed to convince him that it didn’t matter that nothing matters, but he tried to convince me that if what I really want is to take a month off to write or just pursue my creativity, then I should. It’s funny how everyone else seems so certain of my abilities. I guess it’s easy to have faith in someone else when their terrifying plunge would have zero effect on you. Or is it really so clear to everyone else that I could be paid well to be a Creative Person and my own vision is just clouded by fear? We both seemed to be blocked by this lack of faith in ourselves. He doesn’t believe he has anything to share with the world. I’m afraid of being broke.

More driving and then pushing through an infinite supply of ant-like tourists marching along the coast lines, we arrived at the 12 apostles, which is a land formation of pillars in the sea. They were impressive stone monoliths, wading into the waves. It was hard to be moved, though their scale was definitely impressive and they were actually magnificent. It was strange to be shuffled out to a gated point with hundreds of other cattle-like visitors who came and snapped a selfie and shuffled out again. It feels like that kind of place requires a long sit-down and hours of silent contemplation to actually appreciate or soak in.

The 12 Apostles in Australia

The 12 Apostles

More driving to another formation that is just as beautiful, but not nearly as packed, called “London Arch.” This one had a monolith whose feet had been worn away to half the body’s width; it looked quite precarious. I snapped some photos here too. The sight is grand, but again, I wasn’t as moved as I thought I would be. I think there is something to spending time in a place, listening to its sounds, feeling its air. I find it hard to do in a line of other people. I’m not sure if they are attempting to have the same experience or if they are just there so they will have a good photo to put on Facebook, but either way, I feel like I want to have a moment with a place. Maybe a bit like talking to someone at a party. If we can’t have a moment where we connect and understand each other, what’s the point?

We stopped for lunch in a little town called Port Campbell. We walked up the hill going past restaurants. He pointed out the great pizza place, Nico’s, that was closed and the cafe that was really bad. I felt so glad that I was with someone who knew which cafe was the good one. The call of fresh mozzarella and hot tomato sauce burned into our minds, we both lamented the closed pizza place. We opted for the place with the good beer at the bottom of the hill instead. But upon walking back down the hill, the pizza place had somehow miraculously opened and the proprietor welcomed us with open arms. She was incredibly kind and very funny. He had a veggie deluxe and I had a pear/walnut/goat number. Two glasses of red wine. We exchanged all the ways we knew how to say “cheers” in other languages.

On each driving leg, there was more and more and more talking. We talked about relationships, and non-monogamy, jealousy, music, break ups, mantras, reiki, art work, channeling, surfing, the sea, fears, Australia, Australians, Melbourne, jobs, photography, traveling, travels, writing… I showed him my artwork and he loved it. By 5pm, we had been driving for about 11 hours and had to turn back toward home. We took the short way back to Geelong and stopped at his house to pick up a few things. On the final leg back to Melbourne, after much arguing, I managed to convince him that he had a great singing voice, and we sang at the top of our lungs to classics like “Psycho Killer” and “Major Tom.”

He dropped me at my flat in Fitzroy and we hugged goodbye. I thanked him for a great day, and he said to keep in touch and let him know when I’m next in town.

street art in Fitzroy, Melbourne

Fitzroy, Melbourne

It was just a dream. I had no way to prepare myself for that kind of chance happening; it was a total surprise. And somehow, a surprise like that makes you completely present in the experience. There was no room to worry or ponder or “what if.” It was pure.

I would never have thought I’d meet a lovely stranger on the plane with whom I had so much in common and then experience a magical and immediate connection. I’m so blessed! It was so nice to connect with someone deeply and immediately and not have the pressure of a romantic expectation as well. We were just two travellers – one coming home and one exploring a new place.

We connected in a lot of ways and also not in others. I was pleased that I didn’t say I agreed with him when I didn’t. I didn’t mould my interests or tastes to his. I showed him bits of myself that I wasn’t proud of and knew he wouldn’t like, like my irrational fear of the sea. It felt good to be so solidly me. Perhaps I’m finally maturing to the point that I would rather be myself than the person other people want me to be.

In any case, the whole thing was a beautiful experience. A gorgeous reminder from the universe that connection exists all around us if we are open. I am treasuring finding a kindred spirit with whom I share so much in common. I suspect we’d be great friends if we ever live in the same place and I will remember this day for the rest of my life!

Read Part I, Stranger on Plans
More Travel Writing