We had grand plans for our 10-day stretch in between Mumsy’s departure from Melbourne and the arrival of our Christmas guests, six members of the Demers family. To fill this gap we decided to take a “road trip to remember” along the beautiful Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide. We envisioned our oooohs and aaaahhs at the breathtaking vistas of turquoise waters and white sand beaches, singing happy songs like the Partridge Family as we wound our way along one of the most famous stretches of coastline in Australia. We would take our time, making stops here and there to traverse rain forest canopies on wobbly bridges or to explore caves dotting the many nature reserves. We would spend our nights sleeping in funky surf towns with little harbors, fish shacks and ice cream shops. Kangaroo Island was to be our grand splurge, with three nights of pristine, untouched beauty in a small cozy guesthouse on a cliff overlooking the sea. Jeff spent hours and hours planning this segment of the trip, booking accommodations and researching activities along the way. The joys of road tripping awaited us! The Great Ocean Road was our oyster!
BLAIR: Seriously? We completely overlooked the fact that road tripping is a joyous experience for 20-somethings, retirees, Jack Kerouac devotees, and anyone who doesn’t get carsick. In hindsight, Jeff and I now recall that our fond memories of road tripping coincide with our college and pre-“time to get serious” years, as in: “I am free as a bird and happy to risk my life (or at least contract bedbugs or scabies) driving across country with money for ramen noodles, gatorade, and beer as long as I have good tunes, dude.” Well, those glorious memories of life on the road quickly evaporated as we set off on our great adventure from Melbourne to Adelaide with the girls in tow. Here’s how our week went, really.
Day One: We piled into our minivan in Melbourne with glee and, as you now have guessed, grossly overestimated anticipation for the week ahead. First stop would be Apollo Bay, a fun little beach town about 3 hours southwest of the city. Along the way, two exciting things happened.
1. We spotted this handsome guy in a Eucalyptus tree within 30 minutes of driving.
Already, our road trip was AMAZING! A koala within 30 minutes! This is the BEST idea EVER!
2. We made a stop at a fairytale-themed park and let the girls run around for a while, pretending to be queens and princesses etc. Ostensibly this was a stop for Thayer, but we soon recognized that you are never too old for fairytales.
We left this fairytale wonderland feeling full of vim and vigor, and started along the official Great Ocean Road. The twists and turns along this coastline must be the photos in the dictionary next to “hairpin.” Within 10 minutes we discovered that it’s not just the occasional sharp curve either; the tight turns are literally one after another for miles and miles… and miles.
When we took the first few corners and caught the much anticipated glimpses of the rocky coastline below, we indeed shared ooooohs and aaaaahs. At least, Jeff and I did. The girls, well, they looked up from their technological distractions for about half a second, said “wow,” and looked back down. What was happening? Is it possible that our children do not enjoy nice views from a car window along a tortuously winding road? How can this be?
Within 15 minutes, the first to fall was actually Zoe, who started moaning that she was feeling nauseous. No problem, we threw her into the front seat (illegal, yes) and Blair pretended to be thrilled to join the others in the back. We ordered all three girls to stare straight ahead and think happy thoughts. Do not look down. Do not look to the side. Partridge family songs anyone?
Another 10 minutes go by and Schuyler feels sick. You might remember the incident on the small aircraft in South Africa, and so did we. Now Zoe is panicking that the vomit will once again fly while Schuyler turns various shades of green and assures us she has it under control this time. Jeff drives slower than he’s ever driven a vehicle in his life as if willing the car not to register the tight turns we are forcing it to make over and over again. More moaning. We pull over for some air. Again. But so far, no one has actually gotten sick, and we feel hopeful that we will overcome and triumph. Look at the views! Only 2 hours left! What?
Back on the road after a few minutes, Zoe is weepy, Schuyler is ominously silent, and within 15 minutes Thayer starts to chime in with “when are we going to geeettttt ttthheeerrreeee. I FEEL SICK.” Now we are really in trouble. Thayer has never in her life felt motion sickness. Within one hour of our 7-day road trip, all three girls are sick and suddenly the Great Ocean Road doesn’t seem so great. If you can literally limp along in a car, we mastered it that afternoon. For an hour and a half, we stopped about every 15 minutes for some fresh air and pep talks. Apollo Bay was felt like a shangri-la that we might never reach.
But reach it we did, and the communal sigh of relief was audible for miles around. We stumbled into our rented beach cottage where we planned to stay for 2 nights, and looked out on a view like this:
After we got the girls to bed that night, Jeff and I chatted about the day’s events. Highlight: Koala. Lowlight: entire drive along the Great Ocean Road. Had this day occurred in the first month or even the first two months of this trip, we would probably have thought to ourselves, “Well, it’s going to be an interesting week ahead in the car. Time to pull out all of our circus tricks, or perhaps some heavy drugs, and get these kids through this!” But we were in month four of this trip which meant we were both travel savvy and travel weary. The travel savvy in us knew that pushing the kids through something this difficult was just not worth it for anyone, and that we had to let go of our best laid plans and focus on finding the right alternative. We are learning that it’s ok to change the plan in order to find the right solution for the family, regardless of what we originally wanted to see or do. The travel weary in us had run out of steam with regard to putting herculean emotional and physical energy into making some plan of ours come to fruition. Really, who wants to ride in a car with three moaning and groaning kids for days on end, creeping along a road that only the two non-carsick people think is worth looking at? Forget the Partridge family. At this point, we were unable to push through the pain.
So what did we do? We looked around at Apollo Bay and noticed that it boasted the following attributes: gorgeous beach, great playground and park, cute shops and cafes, easy access to forest hikes and picnics, and a laid back vibe that felt like the perfect antidote to our stressful hours on the road. The next morning we cancelled our entire trip along the (not so) Great Ocean Road and booked a 6 night stay in Apollo Bay. In an instant we had to let go of hours and hours of research and organization, great accommodations, planned activities, and anticipated road trip glory. And we didn’t even flinch at the thought.
It is getting easier to focus on what really matters and let go of the rest.
We made some wonderful memories in Apollo Bay. We spent a lot of time at the playground and on the beach, tide pooling and jumping off sand cliffs. Jeff and I took turns jogging along the coastal paths. We put some overdue time into homeschooling, organized our safari blog, saw a kangaroo in the wild while exploring the nearby forest. We took advantage of having a kitchen again after being in a hotel throughout our time in Melbourne, cooking and baking some of our family faves. One morning, Jeff and I surprised the girls with brownie sundaes for breakfast. Now there’s a first! We also had some hard moments. The girls started bickering more than usual and seemed travel weary themselves. Jeff and I were running low on energy and bandwidth for all the family togetherness we were experiencing (24/7 for four months straight has its drawbacks). We had limited wifi so connecting with family and friends back home was a challenge. Christmas was coming and we had hardly thought about it! Despite these frustrations, it was surely a lot more relaxing and enjoyable to spend 6 days in Apollo Bay than in our minivan along the Great Ocean Road. We had made the right choice. We just had to dig a little deeper to make the best of it.
After six days in this idyllic little town, we were ready to get moving back toward Melbourne from where we would fly to Sydney for the holidays. We still had a few days to kill before our flight, so we picked a kind of random spot halfway back to Melbourne, the town of Geelong (pronounced “Jilong”). It was more of a small city than a town actually, and we stayed at a “holiday park” here (trailer homes for rent, RV hook ups, etc.). This was our 3-bedroom cabin:
It felt kind of like an oversized RV without the wheels. We were all on top of each other and had to spend many hours finding ways to pass time outside the house. Playground across the street was a godsend. Discovering a Blockbuster (yes, still in business in Australia!) was an additional godsend. Geelong had some fun spots as well, like a big park with trampolines and a carousel. We tried, unsuccessfully, to entice the girls with the History of Wool in Australia museum. Not sure why they put up such a big fight on that one, but we let that go too.
Essentially, we were biding time for three days in Geelong. Flying up to Sydney meant welcoming six members of the Demers family for the holidays: Meme and Pepe (Jeff’s parents), Aunt JoJo (Jeff’s aunt), Cousin Tracy (like a sister to Jeff), and her 10 yr old daughters, Halle and Taylor. The anticipation was killing us. We were ready for the influx of fresh energy, kids for our kids to play with (YEAH!) and a good dose of Christmas cheer. When we said goodbye to our time along the southern coast, we felt ready to head north again. SO much to look forward to, and the holidays were upon us at last! Our next post will detail Christmas and New Years down under, Demers style. See you soon…