We stepped off the plane and arrived to a party thrown in our honour, having not seen these friends since being a Best Lady at the McEvoy’s wedding 3 years earlier.
Complete with outside disco ball and a DJing 7 year old, the party was perfectly full of lovely, like minded folk, each of whom had answered a call to come dance around a fire one Sunday afternoon in honour of people they had never met. Hooray! What a welcome.
We threw ourselves in, naturally and spent the next few days catching up with friends, cycling round Melbs, languishing in our children reforging friendships that they could hardly remember. We had brunch (Lobster Benedict is a THING and it’s amazing) went to Fairfield Boathouse and generally pottered around. Somewhere between checking out the street art and jumping on the trampoline it dawned on us that it would soon be Christmas. Usually, we would have started baking and prepping and making gifts- the build up has always been the best bit, but we had kept away from any festivities so far.
We left the boys at home with our friends for a couple of hours so we could brave the shopping centre- found the Salvation Army Brass Band (which I have always loved) and had a nice slice of cake. We could have even been anywhere, (including in our retirement) or even at home. Then; panic.
In what could be the boys’ last year of still believing in Father Christmas, how are we going to do this without either giving the game away or leaving them disappointed?? It is all well and good only having what you can carry and being anti materialistic but they have been desperate for some new toys. The small plastic animals and Dobble have served us well but they missed actual toys not to mention their lego…
Mother Guilt set in and I was sure they would wake up on Christmas morning to unwrap their Itunes voucher and just want to cry. Can’t we just fly back to the UK for a bit? Our families miss us- what were we thinking, depriving everyone of a traditional Christmas?!
I bought a crochet hook and some wool in a bid to retain some normality: home made Christmas decorations for our cabin would do it.
On Christmas Eve we set off for the Great Ocean Road, having borrowed all our camping gear- car, tent, duvets (Or Doonas, as they call them here) air beds, the lot. Thank goodness for good friends.
We drove up the winding road whilst I furiously crocheted, watching as the scenery changed dramatically. The mist that covered the tops of the trees made it look more like Lombok than Australia- the lush green canopy towering over our little car as it snaked along the turquoise waters. Small towns came and went, with ornate bridges, swiss style chalets and sleek beach shacks.
It’s Summer here on the GOR so I expected it to be busy- but bearing in mind it was Christmas Eve I was surprised at how many people were setting up camp.
We reached Lorne and pulled up at Cumberland River Caravan Park to remote lusciousness. It was set in a canyon that was rife with parrots and cockatoos and had a shallow river winding through it. Our cabin was perfect for us- 2 bedrooms, with a killer view. I chopped off some branches from a nearby tree and stuck it in the pedal bin from the toilet. Perfect!
There were 11 friends in total, all who had moved from Bristol to settle in Melbourne (apart from Ian, who was along for the ride). We managed to sustain our tradition of Christmas Eve pyjamas- I have no idea how the children failed to notice Santa dropping some pyjamas down the chimney when we were all sat outside having dinner, but somehow they didn’t.
Christmas morning was magical- the few presents we had under the tree, the boys totally loved. Their stockings were rammed with sweets and lego minifigures and the gifts under the tree included some special ones sent by friends from the UK. They loved their few presents more than they had ever loved the pile of gifts they usually get- taking time over each one; this really was proof of less being more.
We all exchanged presents and I stopped worrying about how we are going to pack it all in our bags and just enjoyed it. The sun was out and the glorious weather meant we all took a walk up the creek to find a waterfall so we could have a Christmas day swim.
I have never experienced a Christmas day like it- total freedom and joy, splashing around in paradise- and here I was thinking I’d regret being here. We missed our family at home, but lucky for us we had family here too, of a different kind.
The day was a gift, an absolutely perfect blend of laziness and adventure and on Boxing Day the rain returned as we drove to Kennet River to see koalas and feed some wild parrots- also to get shouted at by locals for blocking the road. Twice (you’d think we’d learn)
Our camp for the night was Blanket Bay in the Otways National Park. There were Koalas everywhere and a beautiful beach right by the camp. Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that the tent pitch size was tiny, so all 3 tents squeezed in and we all slept on a slope. Lucky for us we didn’t spend much time at camp as the boys could run up and down the lovely beach whilst we sat around the barbeque for the evening.
The next stop: The Twelve Apostles. I said it was high season, right? It was rammed, tourists taking selfies everywhere- you could hardly walk along the walkway before garrotting yourself on a selfie stick. Still, the view was incredible, the rain lending an ethereal quality to the rock formations.
We rolled up to Port Fairy, ever hopeful that the rain would pass and holed ourselves up in our tent playing board games and wearing silly glasses.
We woke up the next day contemplating staying an extra night to see the place as the weather had turned quite bad and all we had seen was the campsite.
It was just the living area that head leaked and our clothes were sort of dry- weren’t they? We had not packed wet weather gear apart from waterproof jackets, not expecting a British Summer in Oz. Then the storm set in.
I remained optimistic till I looked under our mattress to see it had soaked through. The cherry on the top was the South Australian government issued a warning to the public not to camp near any trees for the next few days. That was that, then.
The great Ocean Road trip was aborted. We are lucky enough that the tent was not our permanent home and we have the luxury of choice unlike so many displaced people all over the world at the moment. It was not a sad end to the road trip, I just felt lucky that I have money in the bank and we are able to make choices.
We booked a motel in Adelaide for the night to get dry. After driving 6 hours there we found out that 50% of all properties in the area had a power cut, due to storms.
Second time lucky, we found a place called Highlander Inn who not only had a family room available but they also knocked $50 off because we were so bedraggled. The children hardly had to cry at all! (kidding) $100 was worth every penny for the sheer luxury of waking up to morning cartoons in a dry, warm bed. Not such a bad end to the road trip at all.
Where we stayed:
Cumberland River Caravan Park, 152 GBP per night. Extravagant, but it was Christmas!
Blanket Bay campground, Great Otway National Park. 14 GBP per night. Camping right on the beach, koalas everywhere and lots of trees for the children to climb
Port Fairy- Sorry, I have no idea of the name as we stayed in our tent the whole time before running for shelter.
Highlander Hotel, Adelaide, 57 GBP per night and we got a discount because they felt sorry focus drowned rats. Great food, clean and modern.