I fled half way around the world to escape being an adult, yet here I am with a full time job and a house in rainy Melbourne. Not quite what I had expected from Australia. Despite a severe hang over, I had somehow made it through the interview and the following training days to become a fledgling fund raiser for Bush Heritage Australia and an advocate for the Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby. With the emotional rollercoaster, assumptive language and four asks, drilled into me I was thrown onto the phones in a cut throat office.
“How’s your day going, have you been working or had the day off?” gave us something to get our teeth into once the 2 minutes of rapport building was up, prying into the lives of stay-at-home-mums, the retired and the unemployed. Two questions, one reveal is apparently the key to gaining the leads trust; it mattered little whether the reveal was truth or a fiction concocted to strengthen the tenuous connection between the English girl on the end of the phone and the Australian bush land charity she was waxing lyrical about.
“You told me you work full time, why can’t you afford to save the helpless rock wallaby?”
“I understand you’re retired, the full amount of $60 a month would be far too much for you. But you can definitely do just $1 a day, right?”
I actually ended up speaking to some fantastic people, but they each turned on me when the time came to cut the chat and cough up. I loathed it. Our grinning team leaders, who had lost sight entirely of the spirit of charity, slipping in threats of the consequences of not meeting your target between high fives, cheesy tag lines and hyperactive energiser games. But for $22 an hour I could just about bear it. I had heard Melbourne was notoriously difficult for backpacker work, and it’s true, there really isn’t much going besides charity work and door to door sales. Don’t allow me to dispirit you, hand out enough resumes in a smart outfit with a friendly grin plastered to your face and you will find something. The Victoria State Library has computer with Microsoft word free to use and prints at 15C a page.
Walking out on this “gold mine” was not an option, so falling into Turf Bar across the road, when we tumbled down the office steps at 8pm each night was a necessity. We missed happy hour by an hour but that didn’t matter. 4 pints in and a little giddy Mark suggests a trip to the Grampians he’s seen advertised for $40 with Newbies International and we book the tickets there and then, without any clue of where or what the Grampians were.
Fresh orange juice in hand, I met Mark outside Regent’s Theatre at 8am for our expedition, snuggled in my only warm item, a jumper Mike had left me; I’m woefully unprepared for Melbourne’s winter chill! We boarded a bus full of similarly bedraggled tourists, unused to the early start and promptly fell asleep. After the great Ocean Road I can’t say I was that desperate to see much more of Victoria’s monotonously flat, thirsty scenery. Sleep was definitely higher on my list.
I woke up for our first stop, a road house in the arse end of barren nowhere with some sort of garbage dump next to it. Not a hotspot on our Grampians checklist, just a breky break for greasy Macca’s. With an over priced Connoisseur ice cream dripping onto my fingers, I didn’t let my hopes get too high but it was starting to look like a nice day. I sank back into my seat and re-engaged with the dream world.
Returning to the land of the living once again, an hour or so further down the line the Grampians sloped, steeply wooded, before me. The colours aren’t as striking as WA, I’ve said this before, the tones are more muted but they are more consistent. A variety of fertile greens sprawl across the rocky hills of the Grampians, grown comfortable in the relative safety of their environment, unlike the soaring Kari trees of WA whose greens exhault in the pure fact of their survival. The base of the Grampians is very alpine in feeling, full of quaint tourist towns filled with carved wooden signs proclaiming their various attractions. Snaking towards their peaks however, the landscape is far from anything I’ve ever seen in Europe, with weather smoothed rocks reaching skywards from beneath the ground smeared in green. Impervious to the constant hassle of the elements, these rocks have formed a unique and diverse landscape of scarred, shallow slopes that might level out or extend jaggedly into the sky; precipices over breath snatching drops which fall to form bowls between peaks, often full of still, sparkling water.
One of these bodies of water turned out to be our first stop; Lake Bellfield, beautiful, providing you were standing on the dam looking out from it, and hence the grey insult of concrete is not marring your view. 45 minutes had been reserved for exploring the lake, all you could do was walk along the gravelled dam then climb an increasingly crowded rock at the other end to jostle for a photograph. Fragile white butterflies flitted incessantly about the lakeside, resting their wings for never much more than a second, I made it my mission to find one still enough to photograph.
Stop number 2, just 20 minutes here, a gorgeous view point with lake Bellfield glimmering from its mountainous cradle in the distance. We all jostled for a photo on a rocky outcrop; a prized, bucket list traveler photo perched on the precipice of a huge drop. We didn’t know yet, but the money shot was yet to come.
The day was well and truely warm by the time we reached Mackenzie Falls, stop number 3. Jumpers were whipped off and I was sweating through a light t-shirt clambering up and down the carved steps of the Falls. Approaching winter, a fair amount of water was cascading over the polished black rock, spilling over the banks to splash a little under our feet; I kept a tight grip on the railings. In summer I might have been tempted to plunge into the deep pool created by the thundering of gravity stricken water tumbling down the sheer face of the Falls, but not today; imbibing the peaceful rhythm of water in motion, inhaling the natural perfumes and absorbing the warmth that reached us at the bottom of the sharp V of the river etched valley, was much more desirable.
Turning left from the car park rather than right leads you to the Broken Falls view point. If less majestic than Mackenzie, these Falls are far superior in beauty, with modest trails of water spattering about the jet black, shallow slope. The raggedly uneven surface ruptures the downward flow into a multitude of paths; hence the apt name of Broken Falls.
Our guide had saved the best stop for last, a 20 minute walk through mellow, dusty bush trails to a sublime view stretching miles and miles over the fascinating, forested landscape of the Grampian mountains. Peaks stretched, ragged and humped to all sides with dense forests carpeting their bases, marked by deep fissures of shadow where furrows in the hard rock suddenly descend. Here was the real bucket list photo; a thin spear of rock projected from our view point out over a drop of hundreds of feet, the jungle below was just an indistinguishable mass of foliage. I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but we all queued to have our photo taken perched on this ledge, looking out on the true greatness of nature; a real #wanderlust photo!
We all assumed the day was over and I had returned to what I do best, napping, when we pulled over in Halls Gap. The wild kangaroos here are so used to tourists that they let you walk up and pet them, of course expecting food in return! My Tasmanian dorm mate told me if you touch them near their faces they will punch you with a surprising amount of force, so bravely I hung back and let other people test their patience. But they really didn’t care, and they’re incredibly soft, like a huge rabbit! Eventually they got bored of us as we had little to offer them food wise, it being the end of a long day of snacking on the bus, and they leant down on their strangely clawed hands and hopped away to graze in peace.
In all, we probably spent just over three hours exploring the immense Grampians, we barely scratched their surface, but that’s so true of almost all adventures in Australia. Everything here is so vast that it takes weeks if not months to truly discover a national park or a city. When walking through the bush, you are warned about the very real danger of snakes, something that I’m unused to as a Brit. I would always prefer to rent a car and cruise around at my own pace, but being a backpacker and under 25 (an additional fee is applied for <25’s hiring a car) I can’t afford car rental and this tour was a fabulous alternative. We enjoyed, unhurried, some of the most superb views on offer in the Grampians and didn’t have to worry about driving, getting lost or finding company for the trip.