Meeting friends in OZ: Melbourne and The Great Barrier Reef

What a common thing it is to tell fellow travellers: “Call me and we’ll have a drink if you are ever in [insert city name]”. Rarely does it happen, but let it be known that I take these projects very seriously!

I met Piers and Rosie in Swakopmund, Namibia. We had similar itineraries, so we met up again in Etosha National Park, also in Namibia. A few weeks later, we were all in Livingstone, Zambia, rescuing a broken truck from the deep bush along with Piers’ brother Ollie, and we later went canoeing in the Lower Zambezi National Park. When they said they would be in Australia early in the new year, I said I would drop by to say hello, knowing I would spend a month there with my girlfriend right after Christmas. As it turns out, I had to drop by twice.


First, as soon as Michelle flew back to Canada, I flew to Cairns to meet Piers and Ollie on a live aboard diving cruise on the Great Barrier Reef. It was during the cyclone season and the weather looked pretty bad, but the company seemed unconcerned. I had come this far, so I went along with it. I boarded a small ferry ship which takes about 2 hours to transfer passengers to the mother ship, a 4 deck catamaran which stays for extended periods on the reef. People come on and off everyday. The transfer was pretty brutal. Most people were on the outside deck, in pouring rain, making full use of the vomit bags provided. I am lucky to never get seasick, but between the heat (broken air conditioning and too much rain to open the windows), the movement, the bad smell and people’s ugly green faces, towards the end, even I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. It only went downhill from there. The blue square in the picture is the mothership’s rudder, at the bottom of the sea.


And this is the ship’s tiny tender, trying to push a ~75 feet, four deck catamaran off the reef it had crashed in. Really pathetic. I’m sure the crew could run a decent show under normal circumstances, but this was much more than they could handle. Of course, nothing changes the fact that the ship slammed in the reef. In the Navy that means a thorough investigation will be conducted. But in the meantime, the Captain is fired.

Nine of my ten planned dives were cancelled, but I got most of my money back. In the end, I paid $170 for a funny 2h boat ride (watching everyone else get sick), a nice boat ride back (watching the scenery), one night accommodation, four meals, one dive and a great story. For Australia, that’s good value. I had no hard feelings, as I could tell several people working for the company were quite professional, but the workforce in Cairns also includes a number of beach bums who never grew out of it. When things go wrong, they simply don’t have the judgement to make sensible calls.

My favourite moment came when the captain decided to move the mother ship, while the transfer ship was still there. He called from the bridge on the intercom and asked if the tender was well secured to the ship. One of the guys looked back and froze. Ollie told him: “Yes, it’s well secured, but to the other ship”.

Piers and Ollie had to leave, but I spent a couple of days in Cairns planning what I would do in February and then flew to Melbourne to meet Rosie. Having just moved back to Australia, she was shopping for a house and staying with her parents, who were kind enough to host me for a few days. I learned a lot about Australian politics talking to her father. Of course (as I mentioned in a previous post), since all I knew about Australia I learned watching re-runs of “Skippy the kangaroo” dubbed in French, I suppose teaching me lots is not that difficult.

Shortly after picking me up at Melbourne airport’s terminal 4 (a fenced parking lot where low-cost carriers drop off their passengers), she took me to a family party celebrating her grandmother’s 89th birthday. As Rosie said, “you’re not going to get this with a tour agency”. While I remember very few of the names of the 27 people I was introduced to, I can now confirm from first hand experience that yes, Australians do like their BBQs! And this was no hot-dogs-and-a-tin-of-cole-slaw affair, but rather a BBQ feast of lamb, beef tenderloin, chicken, sausages and a slew of other delicious things.

Number of times a Church’s sign made me laugh: one.


One of Melbourne’s most photographed buildings, the old train station, with an old fashioned tram conveniently passing by. The city also has a number of beautiful modern buildings, but my quick visit was short on photos, as Rosie took me on a number of death marches around town, and on a run around the hilly botanical garden. At first, I ran next to her, but then I though about the fact that downtown parks can always be a little dangerous, so I ran a few meters behind. You know, to keep an eye on her. Running up the big hills, I figured I needed more situational awareness, so despite not being tired at all, I cut my pace down and ran about 100m behind her. Everything stayed under control and we arrived safely back to the starting point. I pretended to breath very heavily so she wouldn’t feel bad about her slow running pace.


While Rosie made me discover a wide array of Melbourne cafes, bars and restaurants, I could not help noticing this Scottish restaurant chain. While we have many nicknames for McDonald’s restaurants in North America (McDo in my native Quebec), franchisees don’t actually spell them out on their banners. Here they do. Also notice the ride. While some people in Melbourne travel in wooden trams, the majority use carriages like this one.


The best restaurant we went to was called “Claypot’s Seafood Bar”. This is the entrance. You pick it, they grill it. Like good Westerners, we order too much and wasted half, but it was really, really good.


Once a week, Queen Victoria Market, by day a normal food market, turns into a food stall and drink extravaganza. I was lucky enough to be there on that day and we went, along with 10,000 of Rosie’s best friends. This picture only shows a small portion of the event. It was really packed, but since there were so many vendors, one did not have too wait to long in line to get food or drinks (of course, the women’s washroom was another story, but I didn’t go).


After sampling a few yummy things, I did what everyone should do in Australia and ate their Coat of Arms (kangaroo in my mouth, emu sausage in the bowl, along with an unrelated piece of crocodile). This is a national pleasure we Canadians cannot share. For an astronomical price, someone in Toronto’s Chinatown could probably set you up with some lion meat. However, if they say they can sell you unicorn meat, it’s probably fake, as they are extremely rare.


Australia has a great coffee culture, although I could not figure out what they call what, or the difference between a long black and an americano. In the end, I just ordered long blacks, with a little bit of milk on the side. I got a few puzzled looks, but I liked the coffee. The coffees also come with little faces and, if you put enough Bailey’s Irish Cream in them, they talk to you.


Rosie, after being served a coffee with no face on it. I can still feel the sadness, the bitter disappointment.

It is also with disappointment that, after nearly 6 weeks, I left the Australian continent (or Oceania, or Australasia, or whatever else you call the region encompassing Australia and New Zealand – even Wikipedia doesn’t know.) I bought what will hopefully be the last expensive plane ticket I buy for a while and flew 6 hours to Bali – Denpasar. Next post, Bali.


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