Before I share this post, I want to clarify that I am blogging at a nearly 2-month delay. Since our departure from Australia, they have experienced a devastating wildfire season. 14 million acres of land has been burned (7x the acres burned in the 2018 California wildfires) and almost half a billion animals have been killed in the past few months. We have family near Sydney who has been pushed from their home and is living in limbo while the direction and severity of the fires remains unknown. This is a global crisis that highlights the very real implications of climate change. This article discusses some local organizations that need donations. Please help and share if you can!
The wind kept us up that night, so powerful that it sounded like ocean waves smashing into the windows. We woke up before sunrise, when the town was hushed. Seeing the 12 Apostles the day before at a popular time for tourists had left us feeling unsettled, so we decided to try for a solo viewing at twilight. There were no other cars on the road as we made the 15-minute drive back to the parking lot, but as usual, despite a rain-free forecast we encountered blinding downpours on our brief and sleepy journey. A few other brave early risers were seen wandering towards the viewpoint at the same time as us, camera equipment in hand. The wind was so intense that it felt like slaps to the face as we entered the precarious spit of land overlooking the rocky sea.
The backdrop was unfortunately grey and cloudy, so we didn’t stay long, but with a burst of unexpected energy we moved down the road to the Loch Ard Cemetery to take advantage of people-free viewing. The cemetery was home to victims of the Loch Ard shipwreck of 1878 which killed 52 people when heavy fog prevented it from reaching Melbourne. Two teenagers, Tom and Eva, represented the only survivors and defied all odds when they washed to shore unharmed.
The cemetery was deserted on that early morning except for a stray black cat which crossed the footpath, stopped, and stared at us for several minutes. An overwhelming and eerie feeling came over us and we bolted for the exit. The sky had begun to change at this point, from overcast and grey to prismatic and warm. We contemplated driving back to the 12 Apostles viewpoint for a better look but decided that with our luck the sky would shift from sun to rain before we made it out of the car.
Back at our motel, we slipped into bed for a few more hours of sleep as if we hadn’t just spent the whole morning exploring the seaside. The howl of the wind against our little room become more like a twisted lullaby the second time around. We later ate French toast by the freezing bay which had been warm enough the day before to attract swimmers. We left our town of ¼ mile in length with sadness, dropping into seaside lookouts all along our drive, learning about shipwreck history at a nearby museum, and watching white caps smash into limestone cliffs so ferociously that sea foam shot 100ft into the air.
After stopping at a small shop called “Cheese World” to taste some maple infused cheddar and stock up on snacks, we arrived at Port Fairy. It was a sleepy town with an old American south feel to it, lined with a Main Street full of old storefronts. For some reason most restaurants were closed on Tuesdays, so we settled on a popular local pizza bistro called Coffin Sally for a cheesy pie and some cocktails near a fireplace. By 8pm, the streets were whisper quiet, with stars above and dimly lit streetlamps. We stopped for one last beer at the “oldest pub in Victoria” which smelled like old wood and the plates of carb-laden pub food being consumed by an elderly woman who was barely tall enough to see over the table.
I felt very, very “on the road” settled that night. I was calmed by the soft carpet underneath my bare feet in our second story room with a small skylight and rattling heater. We were blessed with fresh air and moments of clear sky beyond the wind-driven clouds. My favorite feeling, without fail, is being tucked away in a secret, sleepy town somewhere that few people visit. Tonight, it felt like being in a quiet mountain town that was somehow adjacent to a roaring, untamed ocean. It felt more right and complete than anywhere else. It’s where I can finally breathe.
The next night would be our last one “on the road” before making it back to Melbourne. We turned north to drive inland and stay at an Airbnb in the middle-of-nowhere town of Pennyroyal (which even a few locals had not heard of). After taking a quick walk to the Port Fairy lighthouse and stocking up on Vegemite Jerky for the road, we were on our way.
The only place to purchase food near town was the Dean’s Marsh General Store, where we grabbed a buffet of locally made meat pies and sides. Down a dirt road and up a steep, loosely maintained driveway was our home for the evening. Our Airbnb was a guest cottage on a vegetable farm with two resident alpacas named Priscilla and Ray Charles. Our host graciously picked fresh greens and lemons from his stock and offered them to us for dinner alongside wine from a vineyard only a few yards away. We wandered the grounds along walking paths and ran into the two timid alpacas who were disappointed that we didn’t come bearing food.
That night, we made dinner by an outdoor fireplace and sipped wine to views of the valley off in the distance. Later we lounged in the low-lit living room playing music, putting together a puzzle, and reading an old “Discover Australia” book we found stuffed onto a dusty shelf. Hiding away in the country and falling asleep amongst the soft, cool air and stillness was utterly tranquilizing.