Being in the South Pacific anyways, it seemed silly to me to have the time and funds but choose not to visit Australia. So I visited Australia. True to form, I found a long distance trail around which to craft my visit. But by the time I arrived in Melbourne, I'd been walking for the better part of 90 days, so rather than hike the entire 110 kilometer Great Ocean Walk, I hitched the road and hit the highlights. I was psyched to use my extra time exploring Melbourne and Sydney before flying back to the states. But I've gotten ahead of myself. (Typical.)
Landed in Sydney on Monday a week and a half ago with a half dozen hours to spare before flying on to Melbourne. Yeah, it would've been easier to fly direct to Melbourne except that I decided to go down there after I'd already bought my flight to Sydney. Noob moves, y'all. Noob moves. I arrived late and ended up stealth camping on the outskirts of Geelong. Took the bus to Apollo Bay the following day where I again stealth camped. From there, I began hitching the Great Ocean Road. Took almost an hour to catch a lift, but they were heading all the way to the 12 Apostles, which is the end of the Great Ocean Walk and my first stop. Perfect.
The road stays inland most of the way while the trail traces the coast almost the whole way. Not much of a Great Ocean Road for the first few hours. My ride took the road into Otway and explored the lighthouse for about an hour. I opted to walk along the coast, since I didn't want to pay the price of admission for the lighthouse grounds. Within a hundred meters, I'd already encountered my first Aussie snake. He was maybe two and a half feet long and sunning himself across the trail. Welcome to Australia, I thought. You know the horror stories about Australian wildlife. I have no idea what kinda snake it was, but let's just assume it could've killed me if it wanted to. Fortunately it darted off into the grass and that was that. After that, I decided to wait at the car.
After another hour of driving, they dropped me at the 12 Apostles, which were every bit as incredible as a quick google search would suggest. I snapped a few photos despite the harsh light, then threw my thumb out again to make my way down to the London Bridge before sunset. I was chasing the good light and figured the London Bridge was prime for sunset while the 12 Apostles would be prime for sunrise, so I acted accordingly. Barely made it out to the bridge in time. (I found hitching to be generally more difficult in Australia than it was in New Zealand.)
I could see the sky turning to twilight as my ride approached the pullout. I felt anxiety rise in my chest as I stepped out of the car and quickly made my way down to the overlook, hoping I hadn't forgotten anything in my rush. I stepped onto the boardwalk and was greeted by a spectrum of soft, colorful hues bursting across the sky. Eyes wide, I set up my camera and began snapping away. Short exposure, long exposure, and everything in-between. I must've taken over a hundred photos in just twenty minutes. By the time I'd finished, the light was all but gone. I packed up and walked most of the 14 kilometers back the way I'd come. It was pitch black but for the light of the crescent moon. And as I neared the 12 Apostles, I was lucky to see what I believe was a young kangaroo, just a little too big to be a wallaby, stand and hop off into the night. Australia is cool.
I stealth camped that night at the end of the 12 Apostles boardwalk. It was cold, and absolutely stunning. The sky was full of stars, and the waves crashed relentlessly far below my perch. The pink and orange hues the following morning were a sight to see. And again, I snapped away. Hundreds of photos in just a few short hours as I continued to explore the coast.
By the time I was ready to hitch back to Melbourne that afternoon, I'd captured some wonderful photos all along the Port Campbell coastline: features like the Gibson Steps, Loch Ard Gorge, Thunder Cave, and The Arch. The best part of skipping the long walk is that I had more time to be picky about where to be and when. The quality of photos I was able to capture offered a glimpse of what it would be like to be a photographer first and a hiker second. I've always been a backpacker first, which means that I just walk and deal with the conditions that I encounter in the places that I love. Here, I chose to be a photographer first. And man, those shots. It paid off. I still prefer the former, and it's nice to know that I'm a better photographer than the photos I usually snap. Just imagine what I might capture if I really sat down and studied the art. One day. Right now it's all I can do to explore and share. Seems there just aren't enough hours in the day.
I expected that catching a ride the three hours to Melbourne would be difficult, especially so because I wanted to take the more direct route that avoids the popular Great Ocean Road. I was told by a local that it's illegal to hitch hike in Victoria, but that I wasn't likely to get into trouble so long as I didn't obstruct traffic. (Explains some of my trouble hitching.) That it was a Thursday sure wasn't helping my case. Figured I'd give myself an edge by standing at the intersection with the Great Ocean Road. I think I was technically on a highway, but you wouldn't know it. I saw maybe one car going my way every 2-3 minutes. I'd probably been there a half hour when a couple turned toward Melbourne and pulled off in front of me. They were definitely obstructing traffic, but I wasn't about to get picky. Their english was broken, but we both agreed on "Melbourne", so I eagerly hopped in the back seat and off we went. We carried on a polite conversation as best we could for a little while before turning our attention to the radio.
They dropped me in downtown around 1530, which gave me a full day and a half in Melbourne before continuing on to Sydney. Got my bearings that afternoon, then got up early and spent all of Friday exploring the street art scene. Melbourne is known for its alleyway street art, and for good reason. I walked from pre-dawn until well after sunset capturing images from downtown to Fitzroy and out to Collingwood. Hosier Lane in downtown and the whole neighbor of Fitzroy were my favorite spots for street art. Skyline views were epic from Albert Park, and the towering buildings along the Yarra River provided epic long exposure opportunities after sunset. Overall, I'd say Melbourne is a total winner. Loved that city.
I departed for Sydney on Saturday afternoon and wasted no time. We landed, and I set out toward the floating forest, a little-known wreck in Brush Bay. I'd read about it a few years ago, and I was excited to visit and photograph the site. Knowing that I would see it this trip, I'd intentionally set my expectations low. Many times I've seen talented photographers capture incredible photos of relatively benign scenes. I understood that my own experience and captures might well not measure up to what I'd seen on social media. Instead, I caught some long exposures that I'm totally psyched about! The clouds reflected the city lights back on the still waters of the bay as the tree canopies spilled over the bow. The reflection was crystal clear, and the scene itself seemed almost as if it were on fire. It was after 2300 when I finally wrapped up and headed over to the nearby Sydney Olympic Park to camp like a true dirt bag.
As I was walking through the park on my way to the floating forest, a security guard passed me twice and on both occasions warned me to be careful of the spiders. I'm sure my backpack gave away my intention to camp there, though I can't imagine it was technically aloud. But still, all he offered was a warning about the spiders. I should've asked for specifics, but instead I just said "Yes, sir" and carried on. I've pretty much been operating under the assumption that all snakes, lizards, and spiders in Australia are blood thirsty death-dealers, so I give them a wide berth anyways.
Of course I survived the night without incident. With three days left before flying back to the States, I went ahead and purchased an Opal card, which is good for all forms of public transit (buses, trains, and ferries) throughout Sydney. I headed for Royal National Park on the outskirts of the city. My intention was to walk the 27 kilometer Coast Track, a local classic, but I was so taken with the scenery at the Balcony - a mere two k's along - that I camped there instead and walked out the way I'd come the following morning satisfied with my excursion.
I spent my last two nights in a hostel near Kings Cross and the Sydney Harbor. The hostel was tiny, crammed, and unimpressive, but the location was worth the challenges. I met some TA friends for drinks one afternoon, and was out late both nights walking around taking long exposure cityscapes. Some of my favorite spots were: Bailman East Wharf, Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, and Pylon Lookout. Pretty much any view that includes the Sydney Oprah House is absolutely stunning, also. What a cool bit of architecture standing out like a ship on the water amongst a cirque of towering skyscrapers. I've found that in addition to shooting landscapes and wildlife, I really enjoy shooting cities, specifically skylines, street art, and urban decay. I surprised myself when I decided that I'd rather walk around the city for two days than take a quick train up to the Blue Mountains, which are supposed to be pretty gorgeous. I figured I'd seen quite a lot of mountains over the last three months, and I wanted to see more of the city. (Who even am I?)
I leave for Hawai'i in an hour, and I'm excited to be moving toward home. I'll be visiting some family and dear friends over the next few weeks before I start a sweet summer job as an Interim Assistant Field Director at a wilderness therapy organization out in Utah. Lots to look forward to! And as much as I appreciate not having unfeathered access to my phone and computer, so do I appreciate having that unfeathered access. Stoked to triage, edit, and share the nearly 4,500 photos I've captured since January. What an experience. I've learned and grown and connected at every turn these last four months. Man I've loved this trip; and I'm ready for it to be something that "I've done" rather than something that "I'm doing".