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The Attack of the Killer Kangaroos

After getting a taste of mining -- which is still in my mouth -- I left Bendigo the next morning and continued my westward journey across Victoria, arriving at Grampians National Park in the early afternoon.  The Grampians are a beautiful mountain range and, considering how they suddenly protrude above the surrounding grassy plains, reminded me of the Black Hills in South Dakota.  Fortunately the similarity ends there, because the Grampians arenít very heavily visited and donít have any of the kitschy tourist places that are so common in the Black Hills -- not even a place like Wall Drug.

 

Here's the Aussie crooner, Lazy Harry, singing Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.

 
   

I wanted to check out the Grampians Visitor Center, because I'd heard that you could order a kangaroo burger in the adjoining cafe.  PETA people, please don't read this, but I really wanted to try a 'Roo Burger.  But first I strolled through the Visitor Center, where I watched a fascinating 45-minute movie on kangaroos.  As I learned, kangaroos have a complex social structure similar to wolves, and male kangaroos will compete against other males in the group by kicking each other with their massive feet while standing, believe it or not, on their tails.  I'd heard that kangaroos could kick-box, but I was absolutely amazed to see a couple of big 'roos going several rounds against each other.  After watching this fascinating movie, though, I couldn't bring myself to eat a kangaroo burger.  But maybe I'll try one in another week or two.

 

 
   

I drove through Grampians National Park for a few hours that afternoon, got lost a few times on the dirt roads, then found a remote and nearly-deserted campground where I set up my tent.  Shortly afterwards, I had my very first close encounter with a kangaroo.

 

I was making dinner at my picnic table when a large 'roo, about five feet high, started hopping towards me while sniffing the air, obviously looking for a handout.  Iíve dealt with a lot of large animals in the wilderness but this was something new because I wasnít used to them COMING AT ME.  Most big critters that Iíve dealt with, like deer, elk, mountain lions, and bears, have run away when they saw me.  However, here was a very large kangaroo (and with very large claws) hopping straight towards me.

 

Above:  Approaching the Grampian Mountains.

This was like a scene out of a Hitchcock movie and, despite my years of training as a Rocky Mountain ranger, I wasnít sure how to handle it.  First, I tried shooing the kangaroo away (real macho, huh?), but that didnít stop him.  Then I pushed him away, but that didnít work either.  I kept eyeing his very large claws which, quite seriously, were about the size of a grizzly bearís.  I was imagining the headlines in the local paper the next day:  ďIgnorant American Mauled By Hungry Kangaroo.Ē  

 

I got up from the picnic table to get my hiking stick out of the Camry (to try to push him away, or wave it at him or something), but he still didnít budge.  Finally, I shuffled my feet, which startled him and he slowly hopped away.  During the next hour, his little Ďroo friends hopped through my campsite several times, trying in vain to scrounge some food from me.

 

I have to admit that, despite my "near-death" encounter, it was fun to camp amidst the kangaroos and kookaburras that night, and I got a chuckle the next morning while lying in my tent, listening to the gentle ďhop, hop, hopĒ of the 'roos passing through my campsite.

 

       

Above left:  A western gray kangaroo, in the Grampians.  He's about four feet high.

Above center:  Looking for a campsite in Grampians National Park.  Where the heck am I??

Above right:  Here's a little kangaroo mooching for food at my campsite.  Check out the claws on Skippy's paws.

 

   

Above left:  Another freeloader (my tent's in the background).  Aack!  I'm surrounded!

Above right:  The next morning at McKenzie Falls in Grampians National Park.

 

       

Above left:  View of Halls Gap and the Grampians.  This is a terrific park and wasn't crowded at all.

Above center:  Driving through a eucalyptus grove in the Grampians.

Above right:  A humorous sign -- at least, Delly thought so.

Surviving the Streets of Melbourne

After spending a day with the pushy kangaroos at the Grampians, I headed east and spent that night in Ballarat.  The next morning, Saturday, I continued east across Victoria and drove into Melbourne in the late morning.  Melbourne and Sydney are the largest cities in Australia, each with about 3.5 million people, and apparently have something of a rivalry.  Melbourne, I guess, thinks of itself as more refined and cultured than Sydney, while folks in Sydney, known as "Sydneysiders," think people from Melbourne ("Melbournians?") are pretentious and snooty.   It's kind of like a "New York - Boston" thing, apparently.

 

Above:  Downtown Melbourne from the Rialto Tower, the city's highest vantage point.

Iíd heard a lot of good things about Melbourne, so I spent most of Saturday walking around the city, stocking up on film, and visiting a few interesting sites.  The creepiest place I visited that morning was the Old Gaol (or prison) where Ned Kelly was hung back in 1880.  Afterwards, I walked through the new shops along the Yarra River, then rode an elevator up 56 stories to the viewing deck of the Rialto Tower, the highest building in Melbourne, where I took in a great view of the city.  Yeah, Melbourne is a bit pretentious -- but itís also a pretty lively place, even on a Saturday afternoon.  I wouldnít want to live in Melbourne, because there are too many people there for my taste.  But itís an interesting city, nonetheless, and there was a lot going on that day.

 

As I discovered, though, driving around Melbourne can be something of a nightmare.  That's mainly due to the small trains (or "trams") which constantly run throughout the city.  Normally when you're driving, you turn right from, of course, the right lane.  In Melbourne, though, because of the trams, you turn right from the LEFT lane, which means you have to cut across several lanes of traffic in the process.  They call this maneuver the ďMelbourne Hook Turn."  I just call it ďscrewy.Ē  Needless to say, I didnít make any right turns while driving around Melbourne and, after making several left turns, I got on the freeway and headed west.

 

For some reason, I had stayed in a lot of "B" towns during the previous week, including Bega, Bright, Bendigo, and Ballarat, so I spent that night in Belmont, about an hour's drive west of Melbourne.  At US$50 a night, the motel was a rip-off but this being late on a Saturday afternoon during the holiday season, I didnít have much of a choice since all the other motels in the area were booked solid.  At least the owners were really nice.  And I got to watch some more Winter Olympics on TV that night.

 

    

Above left:  The most beautiful building in Melbourne is the Flinders Train Station.  That's one of Melbourne's many trams in front.  

Above right:  The old and new in downtown Melbourne.  That's the Hyatt Hotel in the background.

 

       

Above left:  The Southbank area, a new development along the Yarra River.  Melbourne was pretty crowded, noisy, and a bit pretentious, but it's also interesting.

Above center:  Melbourne's creepy Old Gaol (or prison), no longer used except to empty the wallets of tourists like me.  

Above right:  The Gaol was Ned Kelly's last home (see News: March 1, 2002 - Part 1).  Here's his body-armor, which he was wearing when he was captured in 1880 after being shot 29 times (notice the dents).  Ned "hung" around in the Gaol for a while.

The Winter Olympics... in Summer?

I left Belmont the next morning and headed west along the Great Ocean Road, an amazing drive which is something like the Oregon Coast Highway.  I'd read a lot of literature claiming that Australia's Great Ocean Road was the finest ocean drive in the world, and yes, it's certainly a nice drive.  But sorry, nothing tops the Oregon Coast Highway.  Anyway, the most scenic part of the Great Ocean Road is a section called the "12 Apostles," with the Apostles being a series of sea stacks that dot the coastline.  Itís a beautiful area and was a glorious day, and I decided that the Apostles alone were worth a visit to the state of Victoria.

 

Above:  The Great Ocean Road between Geelong and Portland is one of the most beautiful coastal roads I've ever driven.

Around 3 p.m. that afternoon I pulled into the seaside town of Portland, the oldest city in Victoria, dating back to the 1830s.  Since this town shares the name of my hometown in Oregon, I decided to spend a night there (even though it didn't start with the letter "B.")  I ended up staying for two nights, actually, trying to get caught up with my website and spending part of one day watching the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.

 

The Olympics coverage here has been a lot of fun to watch because the focus, of course, is on the tiny Australian team.  It's a small team because, well, there isn't a whole lot of snow or ice in Australia.  The television feeds of the Olympic broadcasts here are the same as in the U.S. but the commentators are Australians, who are all quite proud of their diminutive team, and understandably so.  Unfortunately, though, Australia had never won a gold medal in a Winter Olympics -- at least, not until short-track skater Steven Bradbury took to the ice. 

 

As you may have seen, and in what was probably the most unlikely victory of the entire Winter Olympics, Bradbury won the gold medal when the four competitors in front of him bumped into each other and tumbled to the ice on the last lap.  As you can imagine, this country went berserk after Bradbury's gold medal -- and then again a few days later when aerial skier, Alissa Camplin, won Australiaís second Winter Olympics gold medal.  For a while, the papers here were joking about the ďjuggernautĒ Australian team having won more gold medals (2) than that like-sounding alpine country, Austria (1).

 

Above:  Roy and H.G., live from Salt Lake City.

The best part of the Olympics coverage, though, is the hour-long wrap-up show called "The Ice Dream" which is broadcast every night after the 11 o'clock news.  This light-hearted spoof is hosted by a couple of hilarious middle-aged Aussie guys named Roy and H.G. who've been stationed in Salt Lake City during the Olympics, apparently for the sole purpose of poking fun at the Olympics and (especially) Americans.  On last night's show, they made fun of the fatty American diet and their studio desk was overflowing with all sorts of good ol' American food, like fried chicken, pizza, greasy hamburgers, and anything else with lots and lots of FAT.

 

Their upbeat show is broadcast all around Australia and is really popular, among both Aussies and Americans.  It's interesting to see how other countries view America, and I haven't laughed so hard in months.  Itís obvious that Aussies don't take themselves (or anyone else) too seriously, and thatís a refreshing attitude, compared to the intense, litigious, and nose-to-the-grindstone attitudes that are so prevalent back in the U.S.  NBC's multi-billion dollar Olympics coverage, as slick and polished as it is, doesn't hold a candle to Roy and H.G.'s "Ice Dream."

 

I left Portland the next morning after driving by what is, quite seriously, the biggest tourist attraction in town:  the aluminium plant.  And no, thatís not a misspelling.  What we call ďa-LUM-inumĒ in the U.S. is called ďal-u-MIN-iumĒ here.  I donít know why they added an extra letter, but there are a lot of things about Australia that I havenít figured out yet.

 

I continued heading west along the coast in the morning and in mid-afternoon reached the small seaside resort town of Robe, located in the state of South Australia.  Robe is a great town, the motel room here is nice, and the fish and chips at the local cafť are really good (there's that innate American craving for fat, I guess).  As a result, I decided to spend three days here.  I've been getting caught up with my website in Robe when I haven't been eating those delicious fish and chips.  Tomorrow morning, though, itís on to Adelaide.

 

   

Above left:  A trail through the rainforest at Mait's Rest in Otway National Park, on the south coast of Australia.  These ferns reminded me of New Zealand.  Not surprising, I guess, given that it's the same latitude as Auckland.

Above right:  The best part of the Great Ocean Road is the 12 Apostles, a series of sea stacks along the coast.

 

       

Above left:  Cliffs at the 12 Apostles. 

Above center:  Here's one of the 12 Apostles.  I counted only 11 of them.

Above right:  The Apostles viewpoint.  There were lots of Japanese and Germans here, but not many Americans (or, surprisingly, Aussies).

 

       

Above left:  Because of its name, I decided to spend a night in Portland.  In fact, I spent two nights here and watched the last of the Winter Olympics.

Above center:  Crossing into my third state, South Australia. 

Above right:  One of the crater lakes near the town of Mt. Gambier.  This is sort of like Crater Lake in Oregon but it's much smaller.  For reasons that are unknown, these lakes change color throughout the year.

 

   

Above left:  The South Australia countryside near Mt. Gambier, with the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Above right:  The harbor in the pleasant resort town of Robe, where I'm writing this update.  Time to get some more fish and chips!

 


 

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