The biggest nugget of gold
Melbourne is a city born out of gold. Originally founded via settlers from Tasmania, the city was a small farming settlement until the discovery of gold inland in the state of Victoria. The gold rush led to the city doubling in population within a year and continuing to grow and boom for nearly 40 years – a time when Melbourne was known as a “working man’s paradise”. By the end of the boom in the 1890’s Melbourne’s population was nearly half a million and for a time it was the 2nd largest city in the British Empire after London.
For me however, Melbourne was more interesting in its connection to our personal history because Mick McKiterick lives there. Mick was a good friend of mine when I studied abroad at Utrecht University
Neda does her version of the pose
Back then I was studying philosophy with several mates in Utrecht and Mick was studying law. We had great times contemplating philosophical and ethical issues while coming of age in the charismatic Dutch city. I most recently had seen Mick in 2005 when a visit to St. Louis saw us heading to a pub-crawl together with good friend Josh Finnell, who had also studied at Utrecht with us as well. On that fateful evening, I would meet a charming Bulgarian girl who liked to sing karaoke and throw back shots of tequila. Add to that her intoxicating laugh, quick smile, and generous heart and it wouldn’t be long before I asked her to marry me…and the rest is history! By being there on that special night, Mick has always had a place in Neda & my relationship mythology. To add to this dynamic, it is a particularly exciting time in Mick’s life as well as he is due to marry fiancée Marlene this coming May. Sufficed to say, we were excited to reunite on his home turf and meet his wife-to-be.
Dinner in Echuca with Mick, Marlene, Terry, and Allison
Old Steamer on the Murray River
The adventure started with a weekend trip out to Echuca, Mick’s home-town. There his Mom Allison treated us to delicious baked cookies and cakes (thus the sugar in the title). Both Allison and Mick’s Dad Terrence opened up their home to us and we shared delicious food and good conversation. Marlene, Mick, Neda and I also floated down the Murray River while enjoying the Aussie Labor Day.
With the weekend ending, Mick & Marlene generously loaned us their car and their camping equipment and we set off on the Great Ocean Road along the coast of Victoria. Built as a way to give jobs to returning WWI servicemen, the road winds its way down the coast passing stunning sea formations at multiple points. Hikes in the area feature the history of the Shipwreck Coast (over 50 ships were lost in the area between 1836 to 1940) as well as the beautiful limestone and sandstone rock formations of the Twelve Apostles, the Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, and the London Bridge. The Loch Ard Gorge is named for a ship that wrecked there in 1878. The only survivors were a ships apprentice who was washed up into the gorge and then rescued a woman who had also washed up on a piece of wreckage nearby.
Loch Ard Gorge
The Twelve Apostles
Koalas huddled in trees
Another highlight along the Great Ocean Road was camping in the Cape Otway National Park. The campground itself at Blanket Bay was filled with flies and not the most comfortable, but on the way out we saw heaps of cuddly Koala Bears huddled in the trees. But most of them were seemingly passed out as they nestled in the trees. Why you ask? It turns out that koalas only eat eucalyptus leaves, an ecological niche that they have cornered because the leaves are tough, oily and difficult to digest. This turned out to be a particularly good niche for them because the leaves act as a mild narcotic to the koala’s biology which means they are basically hanging out high all day long. With this in mind we felt lucky to see a few of the critters wake up out of their daze and forage along the branches for another “hit”
Look at that koala face! This one loved the camera!
Emus at Grampians Natl Park
Neda and I camped in Port Fairy at the end of the Great Ocean Road and had a romantic evening of ice cream and strolling around before waking early the next morning to head off to the Grampian National Park. We passed through the Brambuk Cultural Centre where we learned a bit about the aboriginal population who used to live in the park’s area and also saw some Emu in the wild. Then we pounded off on some great walks
including the Pinnacle Walk
, which passes through the Australian “Grand Canyon” on a fun rock-hopping hike. We also enjoyed the Boroka and Reeds Lookout walks and were dazzled at the end of the day by the sun piecing the mist as it shined down on majestic McKenzie Falls.
That night we bedded down at Trooper’s Creek campsite and some local kangaroos came around looking for some chow. Neda and I gave them some shredded carrots and got up close and personal with these fascinating marsupials!
The next morning we headed to Hollow Mountain for a morning hike. We climbed over rocks formed under water millions of years ago and lifted up during the formation of the continent. The water had left fluid marks on the rocks that made this hike incredibly unique and interesting to explore. The morning sun also shone wonderfully off the tangerine orange cliffs, making for some great photos!
On top of hollow mountain
Feeding the roos!
Mick & Marlene with some BBQ
We returned to Melbourne to a delicious homemade pesto pasta dinner with our generous hosts – Mick and Marlene – and a wonderful evening of chatting and catching up. Saturday morning, Mick took us to his yoga studio for a great class to start off the weekend and after we explored some of the hip Melbourne neighborhoods. That night we celebrated Mick’s birthday at the local bowling club (rain made for no bowling) which had delicious BBQ (the closest to Texas we’ve had)! We were amazed at the moist smoked brisket at Fancy Hanks
and painfully missed our old hometown of Austin. The next day, we explored Federation Square
and enjoyed Thai and Greek festivals, Chinese dumplings, and many cute lanes (Aussie for alley) decorated
with street art
, and packed with hidden restaurants and bars and street performers
. Mick and Marlene, thank you so much for your hospitality! It was solid gold!
Hosier Lane Street Art