Off the Grid: Camping in Victoria

I am going to finally update my blog on some of my most recent trips that I have taken. Hallelujah!!  This is going to be a long one filled with lots of pictures so get prepared to be wowed by Australia’s fantastic beauty.

For my spring break, I mean my autumn break (damn the southern hemisphere messing with my seasons) I went on a road trip with a few other international students. We were a rag tag bunch that is for sure. At one point on our adventure, a woman asked us how we all knew each other because she felt that it was odd that a Danish, Malaysian, and 2 Americans one of whom is Vietnamese all knew each other and were friends. Don’t under estimate the positive effects of globalization.

The road trip was my idea of course; my ingenuity saved the day (Wow, conceited much). Unlike in Europe, where I was able to travel freely with little consideration of cost, I have been on a strict budget in Melbourne.  As everyone around me was packing for their week longs trips up the east coast or to Ayers Rock, I grew restless.   The Thursday before break, as usual instead of doing homework I was looking up places in Victoria that I wanted to go. I asked my roommate if she wanted to go, and then we contacted two of my other friends and my restless yearning turned into a reality.

Ever since I received my acceptance letter from Deakin Uni, I knew that I wanted to explore Victoria and go camping to really experience Australia’s natural beauty. I wanted to get outside of the hostels, big cities, and sleep under the stars preferably on a beach.  Luckily, my companions shared my sense of adventure and wanted to rough it in a tent, with no bathrooms (ok, we used McDonalds’ bathrooms along the way, but it sounds more adventurous without them) and live off of PB & J or in my case peanut butter, rice cakes and apples.

The places we decided to visit were Lakes Entrance, Wilson’s Promontory, and Phillip Island camping along the way and driving on the picturesque Princes Highway. We wanted to go old school and figure out the directions only with a map, no GPS or written directions. Luckily, even though we were driving on the wrong side of the road, we managed quite successfully.

Crammed in a two-door car with way too much stuff, you could barely see my friend Ann and I in the backseat wrapped like mummies in blankets. Sleeping bags are apparently a hot commodity because their prices are steeply inflated and there was no way I was spending fifty precious AUD on a sleeping bag I would use once. Needless to say we settled for dragging our pillows, comforters and extra blankets with us. We bought a child foam alphabet to lie on the inside of the tent (another one of my brilliant plans, yoga mats were 4 times as much) for extra padding and to prevent us from getting wet from the morning dew.

First, we headed 320 kilometers east of Melbourne to Lakes Entrance. It is a fishing port where the Gippsland Lakes and the Bass Strait meet. It is a popular place for campers and has some gorgeous views from the various lookout points as you approach the “entrance” where the lakes, ocean and river meet.  We wanted to camp near the ocean so we drove further north and headed through a forest until we reached an isolated camp spot right on the beach.  Two of the four us had never slept in a tent nor assembled one before so it became the two Americans’ jobs to be the team leaders. We assembled it fairly quickly before dark and walked along the beach feeling pretty content.  There was also an older couple there and they had a roaring fire going as well as a fancy caravan. They jovially invited us to sit around the fire and we chatted for hours and drank coffee with our new friends. I was awestruck at the sky. It was the most beautiful sky I have seen in my life (I really should use a thesaurus to look up other words for beautiful because by the end of this post I will have taken word overuse to a new level).  You could actually see the Milky Way and all the constellations.  It was a cloudless sky and the moon reflected on the water. I literally felt like I was at the edge of the world (despite the fact that the globe has no real edges since it’s a sphere). I spent most of the night looking up because I could not comprehend that I was gazing on something so beautiful. It was a lovely moment and I have come to the conclusion that Australia has some of the most gorgeous views of the sky in the world.

One of the biggest surprises about that night was how cold that it got. I knew that when you are by the ocean the temperatures are naturally much colder because of the wind. However, I was not expecting it to be this cold. Luckily, I brought a hat, infinity scarf, gloves, and my warm winter fleece. Note to the wise: Do not be fooled that Australia is always warm. Melbourne is literally the coldest place in Australia and even though by no means does it get close to the Midwest’s cold temperatures, it does get quite chilly.

Living in Melbourne, you forget how most of Australia is rural. There are only small towns with one gas station, a grocery store and if you are lucky they will have a McDonalds where you can access free Wi-Fi.  Soon, we started taking bets on whether or not the towns would have Mackers or not.  It is a very quaint drive and the wildlife is fantastic. We stopped all the time to snap photographs of kangaroos hopping in the grasslands and wombats on the side of the road.

They have gas stations like this circa 1970.

Next, we headed southwest towards Wilsons Promontory, which is a national park on the most southern tip of mainland Australia. It was once an important place for the aborigines and it dates back nearly 6,500 years. To this day it is highly significant to the Gunai/Kurnai and the  Boonerwrung clans who call it Yiruk and Warnoon respectively. It is the largest coastal area in Victoria and features sheltered coves, sandy beaches, granite cliffs, coastal dunes and swamps, and granite islands scattered off the shores. Its natural beauty remains unmatched, as it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  We found the most perfect beach that was nestled in a cove. The clouds looked like unreal, like little marshmallows suspended in the sky. We lounged on the sand, searched for shells, threw a footy around, took classic jumping pictures and breathed in the salty air.  We didn’t get to camp on the beach this time (such an Australian problem), but our tent was nestled in between a grove of eucalyptus trees. We went for a hike and found a field full of kangaroos; we then decided to go past this barrier marked ‘park staff’ to follow the kangaroos, there we found emus, wombats, wallabies, and of course more kangaroos.

Just chilling with a wombat.

Kangaroos have really become my favorite animal and luckily for me once you get outside city limits they are everywhere.  I am not afraid of animals mostly due to the fact that my family owns a farm and I spent nearly every weekend at my grandmother’s with potbelly pigs, sheep, horses, dogs, parrots, cats, and the occasional cow. My own home is quite the menagerie with 5 dogs, an Amazon parrot, turtle, and rabbit. I am the type of girl who gets in trouble for sneaking her pet rabbit in her dorm room and who rescues a wild duck that turns out to be a goose and raises him until the Human Society can find a flock for him to join. For some reason, my friends happen to be afraid of animals, an idea that is hard me to comprehend. Needless to say, as I was inching closer and closer to the kangaroos, my friends were nervously biting their fingernails and warning me not to get any closer. While I am not foolish enough to get too close because after all they still are wild animals and can act sporadically especially if they have a joey in their pouch, I did manage to get some great photos close up.

It started to drizzle so we started heading back but not before we saw a rainbow. At this point I was in disbelief at how perfect this day was. There are just some moments when I feel like I am in a movie and not real life. This was definitely one of those. We watched the rainbow fade away as the kangaroos hopped across the field.  Despite the rain that night, we stayed miraculously dry in our cheap K-mart tent. I personally think it was due to the foam alphabet, but then again that’s just me.

I feel like I should sing along with Judy Garland.

Lastly, we headed to Phillip Island just southeast of Melbourne. Even though the island is tiny, there are a plethora of activities to do. Most famously, the island is known for the Penguin Parade where Little Penguins (this is their official name not just me being facetious) come ashore at dusk and head to their burrows after days at sea gorging on fish.  They don’t allow you to take photographs because the penguins are very skittish and they do not want to scare them away, otherwise I would have created a post dedicated to them. They were precious. While we did this at dusk and evening, the day was filled with going to a chocolate factory and drinking/eating the famous chocolate shot (it was so thick that I needed to use a spoon), visiting Churchill Island Heritage Farm and making friends with a horse, chilling with koalas at the Koala Conservation Center, and walking around the Nobbies’ boardwalks on the rugged coastline.

Welcome to Phillip Island!

Chocolate Shot

Cheers

The Nobbies

Nobbies

There was also still one more thing that I wanted to do on Phillip Island and that was go to the Phillip Island Wildlife Park. Because kangaroos are my new favorite animals, I wanted to do more than just see them, I wanted to pet them and feed them. I found a place on Phillips Island that lets you do just that.  Not only that but wallabies and kangaroos roam around the zoo in a free-range environment. Your admission price includes a bag of food (we also purchased an extra bag each) so that you can feed the animals to your heart’s content. I spent over 2 and half hours roaming around the grounds feeding kangaroos, emus and wallabies and seeing wombats, exotic birds, Tasmanian devils, koalas, and dingos.  It was amazing and honestly one of the highlights of my trip. The kangaroos were so gentle and use their hands/front feet to hold your hand steady as they nibble the food off or your palm. If they are feeling particularly greedy they will even lick the crumbs off your hand too which tickles and makes you giggle. They are such sweet and funny animals unlike the emus that are aggressive suckers when motivated by food. The kangaroos and emus were kept in the same open enclosure. The emus were smart and I swear understood that when a bag crinkled or rustled it meant food. They then proceeded to run across field towards you. While we all knew that they wouldn’t hurt us, having a pack of 6-foot birds come at you is a little intimidating even for my animal loving self. Sometimes if they felt you were not quick enough in feeding them they would peck you, not hard enough to hurt but it was still frightening.  Nonetheless the wildlife park was fantastic. My friend joked that she would have to drag me out of there and she was right. If we didn’t need to go home to return the rental car, I could have easily spent the whole days with the kangaroos.

Best travel trip: If you are on a tight budget, but still want to experience Australian nature, buy a tent, rent a car and go on a camping road trip. Plus, you can cross camping on a beach in Australia off your bucket list.  If it wasn’t on there, you should add it because it is definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

Overall, the road trip was fantastic.  It was a low budget way to see a lot of gorgeous Australian land. We didn’t even leave the state of Victoria but there was so much to see.  I will update soon (after I get this damn politics paper finished) on another road trip in Victoria in the opposite direction this time and about my trip to Sydney.

Cheers!

Music Frees the Soul

As it turns out procrastination leads me to actually write some more posts. This always happen, when you are supposed to do something, you end up doing something that you aren’t supposed to do. I think it was ingrained in us from an early age.  Flashback to the times your mother told you to clean your room. You grumble, make your way to the closet and then you start playing with all the things you found that you didn’t know you had because they were buried under your mess.  I suppose writing this paper is my room that needs to be cleaned.  I was searching through my iTunes to make a study playlist to encourage me to work when I was curious to see if any of my favorite bands were playing in Melbourne.  Once I started looking the bands up, I not only discovered that I had missed a lot of concerts in the beginning of my time in Australia including one of my all time favorites Bon Iver (from Wisconsin, Whoop, Whoop! Home state pride) but a lot of my favorite bands were drum roll please…. Australian. Why it never occurred to me to actually look the band info up is beyond me, but then again it was always more my prerogative to listen to the songs a hundred times on repeat rather than actually researching the artist. Sorry, if that makes me a bad fan.

I absolutely positively adore music. I am actually quite mad about it. Luckily for me, my summer job consists of working at Summerfest in my hometown of Milwaukee, which according to Guinness World Records is the largest music festival in the world. (There it is that word again, hometown. I always feel odd using it because Milwaukee isn’t actually a town; it’s a city. Then again, I didn’t create the cliché so I guess if I am using it I shouldn’t pick it apart).  While it is not as famous as Bonnaroo, Coachella or Lollapalooza, it has something for everyone and I do suggest heading to Milwaukee one time during the 11-day festival. Instead of catering to one particular group of people usually the young Indie scene, every genre is covered at Summerfest. The acts range from Florence  & the Machine to Eric Clapton, Kid Cudi to Santana, Kiss to Peter Gabriel, Lady Antebellum to ZZ Top and much more. I just realized I really sound like an ad sponsor for this festival; perhaps I should be paid more.

Anyway, now that I was a bit sidetracked, back to Australian music. Australia has a unique tradition in folk music going all the way back to the oral tradition of the aborigine people.  Traditional indigenous music includes the didgeridoo, considered to oldest instrument in the world. With European immigration, the  English, Celts, Scandinavians, and Germans also brought their folk music to Australia. “Bush band music” originated by the working convicts sent from England who sang  ballads about their harsh lives and isolationism. Thus, music that emerged was a mix between aborigine storytelling, folk songs, and melodic ballads. Now, folk rock and indie rock dominate Australia’s music scene but their folk origins can still be found in contemporary music.

Here is a list of some of my favorite bands that also happen to be Australian. Granted my favorite genres of music are indie, singer songwriter, folk and alternative rock which thrive in Australia It’s the perfect place for my musical taste.  I even included some links to my favorite songs.

Youth Group

Empire of the Sun

Hungary Kids of Hungary

Lisa Mitchell

Powderfinger

The Temper Trap (of course)

The Jezabels

The Woodenelves

Laura Jean

Sia

Boy & Bear

Tin Sparrow

Eskimo Joe

The Paper Kites

Washington

Angus & Julia Stone

I’ll also throw in a couple New Zealand favorites as well.

Ladyhawke

Kimbra

Betchadupa

Enjoy the tunes!! If anyone has any other Australian bands that they think I would love, post them. I always love finding new music.

Cheers!

A Passionate Plea to the Night

**Sorry folks. If you were expecting some new travel musings, I have to disappoint you. Rather, I wanted to write a creative personal piece that encapsulates who I am.  Fear not, more travel posts are in the works as my blogging wheels are already turning. 

Passion is both the bane of my existence and my purpose in life.  To say that I am a passionate person would be the understatement of the year. For those around me they either appreciate it or wish to tame the wild beast. My father is one of those who appreciate it; he calls me his fiery daughter. While that can also be attributed to my crimson hair, it mostly applies to my temperament.  When I go home, most often he antagonizes me with ludicrous statements just to see if my fire has withered at all. Our quarrels, which reveal to actually be incited quibbles, allow him to encourage my fervor and attempt to direct it. He loves testing me, but then again tests have always been his preferred form of assessment during his tenure as an educator. While infuriating, I understand that my passion gives him hope and also reminds him of his less cynical youth.

My passion has also gotten me in trouble; many political and ethical debates among friends have ended badly although with a victory on my behalf because much to my consternation most people do not like to debate or argue and detest conflict. More importantly, my nature provides the biggest battle for me internally. While, I don’t fly off the handle anymore; I have perfected the art of controlling my emotions or at least masking them behind a thin veil of self-protection.

I feel things, incessantly, at the most inopportune times, when I’m awake and when I’m asleep. It is constant.  It is an eternal smoldering ember that cannot be extinguished. It is a ravaging hunger that can never be satiated.  It urges me to keep searching, to keep fighting and to never surrender or relent. But it also pulls me in every direction. Some mornings I wake up and know that I will be compelled to act. In which direction?  I am treading water, neither sinking nor swimming, neither moving forward nor backwards. I am imprisoned by own desire to do everything, all the time, and everywhere.  My desire to do everything prevents me from doing anything.

It is at night, when I lie awake because my mind is rapidly firing and try as I might I cannot make it cease. Then for a singular moment calmness washes over me because my passion appears directed. All the murky possibilities line up and point to one direction. I can let myself sleep and wake with the dawn.

The sun warms my face as it peeks through the curtains and I rise with purpose. I feel light, light enough to take flight.  I craft a weaving of plans in my mind for my future and how I can live with integrity and passion.  I eagerly greet the day with abundant energy. The day is a mixture of action, reflection, appreciation, and gratitude.

However, time is fleeting.  Night blankets the earth again. I’m still tethered to the ground and I feel heavy. I feel myself being sucked under again, back into the bewildering world of thoughts, hopes, misdirection, chaos, and confusion. I am back to the start, full of passion and yet no further in my quest.  I despise the night for it makes me doubt the day.

Despite this, I cannot wish night away for it allows me preparation for the day. The passionate confusion allows possibility and inspiration to emerge. The uncertainty of my direction allows an endless future where my passion can lead me. I can only hope to learn to cope with night.

This is the struggle of the passionate. It is my battle. It is my curse. It is my salvation.  It perpetuates a life that seeks the great and the impossible.  I am governed by the light and hopeful day and the dim and poignant night. I am governed by passion.

Go Do

So in avoidance of writing my final paper for one of my classes, I decided it was high time that I made a quick video (slideshow really) of my time in Europe. This is the product of my procrastination skills and a little bit of nostalgia. It’s nothing special, but it is a nice way to reflect on all memories without wading through nearly nine thousand photographs. Cheers!