The coastline of any country is, I suppose, technically the end of the earth. But some places feel more terminal than others. Australia’s southern coast is one of those places. The land drops into the ocean in a headlong rush of tangled green. White-barked eucalyptus trees seem to fling their branches overhead in startled free fall. The road—the Great Ocean Road—winds between inlets and headlands, stuck to the edges of cliffs by its hairpins.
I rode the bus south from Melbourne yesterday, finally shaking off the urban inertia. Rain chased us through the city of Geelong (gah-LONG) and the surfing town Torquay and then the curves and cliffs began in earnest. It’s still the summer holidays here, and traffic was thick. Around one tight turn I saw a loose cluster of people out of their vehicles, cameras in hand, eyes craned up into the trees. I know what this means, I thought: animal traffic jam! My first thought was birds, but I’d forgotten that I am in Australia. I caught a glimpse as the bus rolled past: KOALAS.
(Q: Why isn’t a koala bear a real bear? A: It doesn’t have the koalafications.)
The animal sightings are slowly accruing. Flocks (flocks!) of butter-white crested cockatoos and gray and pink galahs (geh-las) shriek in the trees. A wallaby peeped out of the bush on the side of the road for half a second before disappearing again. I went to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” in Melbourne and a possum interrupted the show as it noisily tried to climb a nearby tree. That same night, I looked up at the sky and saw bats—HUGE bats, with foot-long wing spans—cruising the twilight. I guess Australia is sneaking up on me.
(Q: How do you catch a unique rabbit? A: You ‘neak up on it.)
Today, I am in Port Campbell, in the middle of the Great Ocean Road. I rented a bike, helmet, and yellow high-vis vest from my hostel and did a little slow-tourism, biking 40 kilometers (25 miles) up and down and around the coast, visiting limestone outcrops and sea stacks and marigold beaches. I passed an electronic sign that reminded drivers of the speed limit and provided a read out of their actual speed. “WELL DONE!” it flashed at me as I pumped uphill. Aww, thanks, Australian highway council!
Tomorrow, I start work on an organic farm near the town of Warrnambool (stand by for pronunciation notes). A week of weeding and fence-building in exchange for room and board and Aussie culture, then it’s back to Melbourne…and beyond!