Great Ocean Road: Get Ready

Queensland was lovely, but I just didn’t have time to do it properly. I decided to save the Whitsundays and the rest for another trip and instead hire a car and drive the Great Ocean Road, which runs along the south coast in Victoria.

I decided to start a bit further away and flew to Adelaide, where the people at Adelaide Central YHA are so warm and friendly, I just love them. They instantly recognized me from last month, and were joking around (“Hey there, band chick,” I greeted the staffmember who has her own group. “How are you doing, computer geek?” came the reply.) and just making me feel welcome. Clearly, Adelaide was a good choice for my starting point — and as I found out the next day, the YHA had another advantage: it was a scant 500 meters from the Hertz office.

I’d prearranged the car on the Internet, so it was merely a matter of signing papers and dodging upsell attempts (personal effects insurance? fuel deal?) before I took possession of my Ford Falcon XT:

bright red Ford Falcon

I didn’t request red, but I did ask for the Falcon because it was the sportiest car they had — for my requirements. Though Hertz has a “Prestige Collection” which includes the BMW Z4 and Jag X-Type, those cars can’t be returned at branches in different states.

Mercifully, the friendly Hertz woman put the car on the street for me, so I didn’t have a witness for whom to feign nonchalance as I entered my first car with right-hand drive. Even better, the street was a one-way with a traffic signal just a block down, so I could literally ease my way right into traffic. Things were going swimmingly.

Until I was pulled over.

Minutes after I’d left Hertz, a police car fell in behind me, lights flashing and siren whooping. I signalled a turn to the curb, but strangely the wipers started. I cursed and switched hands, finally managing to get my “blinker” on and pull over. Meanwhile, I did a mental rewind: Did I miss some red light? Had I been going too fast? What was the speed limit anyway?

Soon the officer was at my window, and he offered an explanation: I hadn’t done anything wrong. During “Schoolies Week,” when the students are on break, police do random breathalyzer checks. Moments after I blew a .000 (this at 11am) he cheerfully sent me on my way. Deciding (wisely, I think) against asking the speed limit, I cautiously pulled out and resumed my original goal: finding how the hell to get out of Adelaide.

Hertz had thoughtfully provided a thick street directory for Adelaide and a much thicker one for Melbourne, but I had no clue how to connect the two. I’d been told the RAA would be the place for maps of all kinds, so I set off looking for it — and couldn’t find a damn thing. After passing through the intersection marked on the map at least five times, I pulled into a parking garage and set out on foot.

Naturally, I arrived at the new “around the corner” location approximately 2 minutes after they closed for the day. So after all that, I had to buy my maps at a newsagency.

But at least I was moving. I hit the M1 and opened her up. Damn, it was good to drive again! And drive I did, not stopping until 150km later, when I saw the oddest sight:

Pink lake, with clouds above

If that lake looks pink, that’s because it is. According to the helpful sign, the hue is caused by “a combination of dunalialla salina and halo bacteria,” the former of which is used as a natural food coloring. Great, but I still wouldn’t dip my toe in it.

Onward! When I came to Meningie, the next town on the B1, I elected for a pit stop. After ducking into the head, I came out to find my car refused to start. There was no possible way the battery could have been drained in the few minutes since I’d left it, yet the starter didn’t even turn over.

I tried a few more times and then gave up, more mystified than anything. Fortunately, Hertz has roadside assistance for those times when you’re in a town of 1,500 people on a Saturday afternoon. I rang them up.

After arranging a service call, I slid back in and realized the shifter wasn’t, ahem, firmly in “Park.” After rectifying this, the Falcon started instantly. One sheepish phone call later, I was ready to move over to get some gas — er, petrol.

Fuel pump, with unleaded and super

As you can see from this photo, gas was priced at AU$0.939/L for unleaded and AU$0.959/L for “super.” (That’s about US$2.57/gal and US$2.62/gal — a calculation I thankfully didn’t make at the time.)

I figured the 2¢/L difference was negligible and grabbed the “super” pump. Oddly, the nozzle was just a hair too big for the car’s tank. I found this strange but lined it up flush and gave the handle an experimental squeeze.

Ninety millileters of “super” dribbled down the side of the Falcon.

I was literally scratching my head when a service station employee came out to let me know that “super” was actually leaded and the too-large nozzle was a design feature to clue in idiots like me. So educated, I switched to unleaded.

After topping off with fuel and a wide assortment of sugary snacks and drinks, I was on the road again. What a varied road it was: when not right up by the ocean, I drove through pasture, forest, and vineyards. It was very much the case that you might find on the right a beach with some fascinating cloud (poorly captured here):

Clouds over the water

…and awhile later on your left you’ll find some “before and after” animals.

And if living animals aren’t your thing, there’s always The Big Lobster.

Really big metal lobster

For the record, that middle bend in the legs is about my height. Also for the record, I took this picture and scurried away.

OK, it wasn’t without considering for a moment whether I wanted to dine there. But I decided I would eat at Mount Gambier, which, incredibly, is the second largest city (22,000 people) in SA behind Adelaide (1,045,000.)

When I arrived in Mt. Gambier, the first thing to greet me was a roundabout. This is the guidance Hertz gives for roundabouts:

Drivers entering a roundabout must give way [yield] to traffic already on, entering or leaving the roundabout if there is any risk of collision. Decide before you enter the roundabout if you are going to turn right, left or go straight ahead.

To me, this translates as: “sit paralyzed at the intersection until there isn’t a car for miles kilometers and then creep in.” As it happens, though, the roundabouts were lightly used and I had no trouble with them.

I dined at a nice Chinese restaurant, where my waitress was friendly and flirty, and then managed to procure entertainment: though the cinema was only showing films I’d seen, the city had a Blockbuster! More importantly, it had the most friendly Blockbuster employee I’ve ever come across (save Matt, natch) as he laughed at the idea of a credit card imprint or deposit and gave me my own membership card with the motel as my address! Even better, he said now that I was in the system, I could translate the card to any other Bbuster in Australia and short-circuit all of the ID and money requirements. Brilliant!

Thusly I was able to end the night relaxing on my large and comfy bed, watching an Australian DVD — after catching the crucial final period of the Rugby World Cup, of course.

Then I had the best sleep yet.

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